Saturday, April 30, 2016

Texas on My Mind - Delores Fossen (HQN - Feb 2016)

Series: McCord Brothers (Book 1)

The McCord Brothers are the most eligible bachelors in Spring Hill, Texas. But these cowboys are about to get wrangled by the love of some very unique women -- the kind who can melt hearts and lay it all on the line.

Air Force captain Riley McCord has come home on medical leave to find one heck of a welcome reception. Every unattached woman in Spring Hill, Texas, wants to nurse him back to health. That includes his childhood friend Claire Davidson -- the only person who understands how damaged he really feels. In high school, she chose his best friend over him. According to Riley's rules, that should make her off-limits forever. But when Claire suggests a no-strings fling, he can't refuse.

Claire always wanted Riley -- but she also craved the safety and stability he couldn't offer. So she chose another path, only to end up crazier about him than ever. She's even convinced herself that this time she won't be devastated when he leaves. Yet once Riley realizes the depth of Claire's feelings -- and his own -- he'll have to make the ultimate choice: return to the job he loves or stay home for the woman who's always lived in his heart.

Good second chance/friends to lovers story. Riley has come home to Spring Hill to recover from injuries received in the war. He just wants peace and quiet to do so, but discovers that every single woman in town is determined to be the one to help him. The only one whose attention  he wants, Claire, is his childhood friend, but she chose his best friend, making her off limits to him. However, there is a spark between them that cannot be denied.

Claire has always had a thing for Riley, but he was determined to put Spring Hill behind him and do something more with his life. Thanks to her somewhat turbulent childhood, she only wants to have a permanent home with a husband that is there for her. So she picked their friend Daniel as the one more likely to give her what she needed. But when it comes to her final choice, will her heart or her head take the day?

I liked Riley a lot, even though he was a bit stubborn about his "man rules". His calling was to help people, and he did that by becoming a combat rescue officer. His most recent mission ended up with him badly injured, as well as haunted by some of the things that happened. He is on medical leave, where he has a certain amount of time to get back to full strength, or risk losing the career that defines him. He wants Claire, but his rules put her out of reach, so he tries to keep things in the friend zone.

I liked Claire too, although she occasionally frustrated me. She is back in Spring Hill with her two year old son, to clear out her late grandmother's house and get it ready to sell. Her relationship with Daniel has been on-again, off-again, and he is currently pushing for her to marry him. Seeing Riley again brings back all her old feelings and creates a conflict for her. She wants Riley, but knows he'll be leaving again, whereas Daniel offers her the stability she craves. 

I really liked the development of their relationship. Because they've known each other so long, they are aware of each other's baggage. I loved seeing how Claire was so tuned in to Riley's struggles, especially his flashbacks. She always seemed to know just what to do to bring him out of them. Riley knows all about Claire's childhood, and is there for her as she faces some of her demons while she clears her grandmother's house. It was great to see that having Riley there gave Claire some of the strength she needed to deal with Daniel. Claire decided it was time to go after what she wanted from Riley, even if she was sure that she was going to end up hurting at the end. It took a little effort to overcome Riley's objections, but eventually he gave in to his own desires. This brought them closer, though both try to deny their true feelings. I loved Riley's surprise when he finally realized what was happening between them. The ending was sweet and romantic with a touch of humor thanks to Claire's son.

I loved Claire's son Ethan. He was adorable, and pretty typical of his age. I really liked the way he took to Riley, and found it funny that it just fed the town gossip mill. It was very telling to see the differences in the way he reacted to both Riley and Daniel. I loved the potty training scenes, and Riley's solution.

The relationship between Riley and Claire was complicated by three people - Daniel, Trisha and Jodi. I especially disliked Daniel. He was very close to being a bully in my opinion, in the way he treated Ethan and refused to take no for an answer from Claire. Trisha was one of the women who was trying to snag Riley for herself. Her interference in Claire's and Riley's lives seemed intent on making trouble between them. Jodi was a woman that Riley had had a kind of relationship with. Her appearance in Spring Hill came at a really bad time. She, too, had some issues letting go. It was funny to see what happened when the three of them came together.

I also enjoyed getting to know both Logan and Lucky a little better. Lucky is the wild brother, who travels the rodeo circuit and is a ladies man. I liked the way that Lucky was there for Riley during his visits to the base. It was interesting to see the relationship between him and his twin brother Logan. Logan is the oldest and the one that took over the family business and has made it successful. It's obvious that he really wants both Lucky and Riley back home, but doesn't know how to fix their relationships and make it happen. It will be interesting to read their stories and see what drives them.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Once a Family - Tara Taylor Quinn (HS #1930 - June 2014)

Series: Where Secrets are Safe (Book 2)

There's truth -- and then there's love

Sedona Campbell is an attorney who works with The Lemonade Stand, a unique women's shelter in California. She's called in to advise fifteen-year-old Tatum Malone, who claims she's been abused -- by her brother, not her boyfriend. It's Sedona's job to sort out truth from lie. She soon discovers that's not an easy task, especially once she meets Tanner Malone. Because despite herself, she's attracted to him.

Tanner has always protected his younger sister -- but she's lying about him. And he's falling for Sedona. Between them, maybe they can figure out why Tatum's doing this. Maybe then he and Sedona will be free to love each other….

Excellent book that had me hooked from the beginning and in tears at several points. The book opens with Tatum arriving at The Lemonade Stand women's shelter, claiming that her brother has abused her. Sedona, a lawyer who volunteers there, agrees to help her, but she has a feeling that there's more to the story than Tatum is saying. A feeling that is reinforced when she meets Tanner.

Tanner is the oldest of four and has always protected his brother and sisters from the time he was a child. Their mother was a drug addict and more, and care of his siblings often fell to him. By the time he was almost eighteen he had dropped out of school and had gained custody of them from their mother (the motivating event was heartbreaking). Since then he has done whatever needed to keep them safe and provided for. He doesn't know why Tatum is lying about him, but he's determined to find out.

Sedona volunteers at TLS for very personal reasons. She has gotten very good over the years at spotting abusers. Her gut reaction to Tanner is that he doesn't fit the profile, but she's also attracted to him which makes her doubt her instincts. So she makes a bargain with Tanner and Tatum, that she will spend time with them both in an attempt to learn the truth, if Tatum can stay at TLS in the meantime.

I really ached for Tanner during the whole book. He has devoted himself entirely to caring for his siblings, acting as parent since he was seventeen years old. He never had a good example to base his actions on, so has made some mistakes over the years. His brother left home for college and hasn't been back in ten years, barely staying in contact with the family. His sister Talia came close to following in their mother's footsteps, and has made choices that Tanner can't agree with, causing a rift between the two of them. Now he has this problem with Tatum. All the while, he can't help but feel somewhat alone, because he can't bring himself to trust anyone but himself.

I loved seeing the relationship develop between Tanner and Sedona. In the beginning of course, it was just so that she could try to discover the truth about the alleged abuse. But it quickly became obvious that the attraction was mutual, creating a conflict of interest for Sedona. She tries very hard to maintain a professional distance, but her heart hurts for the pain she sees him enduring. I liked how Tanner slowly opens up to Sedona about the things that led to where he is now, and how her support enables him to mend fences with his brother and other sister. Tanner learns that sometimes protecting his siblings means telling them the truth, rather than hiding the bad stuff. While Tanner and Sedona hit a rough patch in their relationship at the end, they were able to come together to save Tatum from a risky situation. I loved her part at the very end, in pushing Tanner and Sedona together.

Tatum was a very interesting character. As the youngest of the Malones, she had been exposed the least to their mother and her problems. Thanks to Tanner's protectiveness, she is somewhat sheltered and naive, which makes her a prime target for her boyfriend Del. In her own way, she was trying to find a way to help him, but she had no idea how he was using her. It made me mad that she made those accusations against Tanner, but she was also trying not to take it too far. When the truth about what drove her away finally came out, I understood her hurt and confusion. Having Del's subtle manipulation didn't help anything. The ending was nervewracking, with my fear that things were going to get much worse before they got better.

His Baby Agenda - Katherine Garbera (HD #2438 - Apr 2016)

Series: Sons of Privilege (Book 4)
           Billionaires and Babies (Book 68)

A nanny. A single father. A love stronger than revenge?

Ten years ago, someone framed him for murder. Kingsley Buchanan lost everything, including Gabriella de la Cruz. Now the billionaire is back to settle old scores. But he must protect his child. Kingsley needs Gabi -- as a nanny for his son.

But Gabi is no longer a naive girl. She's a businesswoman with needs of her own. The only thing that hasn't changed: her hunger for Kingsley. But Gabi won't risk her heart on a man she can't trust -- unless she can convince him that love is more powerful than revenge…

Good second chance story with an underlying mystery. Ten years earlier, Gabi and King had been college sweethearts when he and his friend Hunter were accused of murder. In order to protect her, King said hurtful things, driving her away. Now King and Hunter are back in California, determined to find out the truth and take their revenge. King hopes that Gabi might remember something from that night, and hires her as nanny to his son to get her into his home.

Gabi has never forgotten her feelings for King, though she has tried to move on. She is nervous about having him back in her life, afraid of getting her heart broken again. But resisting King now is just as hard as it was before, and now there is the added appeal of his adorable son, Conner.

I liked King. At the beginning he comes across as a bit arrogant and way too focused on his revenge, but it quickly becomes obvious that there is a lot more to him. First, he is completely devoted to his son. Though he is haunted by what happened to him, his biggest motivation for clearing his name is so that Conner doesn't suffer because of it. Second, he feels guilty about the way he treated Gabi, even though he had done it to protect her. Part of the reason for getting her to live in is so that he can try to make amends.

I liked Gabi, too, though there were times when she frustrated me. Though devastated by her treatment by King, she had attempted to move on with her life. I liked her independence and the confidence she had built up in the years since she had last seen him. I really enjoyed the way that she stood up to him when he barged into her office. And though she tried to insist on keeping things professional, it didn't take long for her to realize that the attraction was too strong.

I really enjoyed seeing Gabi and King get to know each other as the adults they are now. The chemistry between them is still strong, but there is more than that. I liked that Gabi is still convinced of his innocence, and that she wants to help him with the investigation. King is appreciative, but he still wants to protect her from the consequences of being involved. She worries about his fixation on revenge and that it could have worse consequences that just letting it go. She got a better understanding of his motivations when she experienced some of the backlash of being involved with him, but she still wants him to give up on the idea of revenge, even if he discovers who the real culprit is. I hurt for them both as that need for revenge pushed them apart. The ending was sweet and romantic as King and his son join forces to show Gabi that love is stronger.

Conner is adorable and shown pretty realistically. He isn't perfect, and has age appropriate reactions and meltdowns. He is also the motivating factor for King's attempts to clear his name. I liked the way that it is through their relationships with him, that the softer sides of both King and Hunter are shown. I also liked what I saw of Hunter. He has quite a reputation with the ladies, but I get the feeling it is a front to hide his real emotions.

The mystery is an interesting one, with a theme taken right out of current headlines. With ten years behind them, both King and Hunter are now mature enough to pursue the truth. Though some new information is discovered it isn't enough and we are left waiting for Hunter's story to get answers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Bachelor's Little Bonus - Gina Wilkins (HSE #2478 - May 2016)

Series: Proposals and Promises (Book 3)

A baby and a bride!

You're cordially invited to celebrate
the wedding of
Stephanie McLane and Cole McKellar…
and the impending birth of their child!

Free spirit Stephanie -- aka Stevie -- never expected to wed her good friend and neighbor, number-crunching Cole. But then she never expected to be pregnant and alone. Cole's offer of a marriage of convenience is the perfect arrangement. He's a widower who wants a child, and her baby needs a daddy.

As Stevie's pregnancy hormones rage, Cole's got it all figured out. But the financial analyst has overlooked one detail: he is attracted to his wife -- and the wedding night isn't part of their baby bargain. In six months they'll be parents…but will they ever be a family?

Very good book about two very different people brought together by their desire to give her baby a family. Stevie, a free spirit who has always been attracted to artistic type men, finds herself pregnant by her latest boyfriend, and dumped because he's not interested in being a father. After confessing her fears of raising a child without a father, she is stunned when friend and neighbor Cole proposes marriage.

Cole is a numbers guy, happiest when behind a computer. He's also a widower who lost his wife five years earlier. He wants a family of his own, but the dating process isn't his thing. Becoming daddy to Stevie's baby is the perfect compromise. 

I loved the two of them together. Stevie is so bubbly and outgoing, but also unsure about being able to give her baby the best life. She had grown up as the child of a single mother and always felt the lack of a father in her life.  Cole is calm and steady, but also yearns for the chance to have the kind of family he dreams of. His childhood was marked by parents who didn't get along, and a father who didn't understand why Cole wasn't interested in the same things he was. Cole and Stevie had been friends for a year, with Cole burying the attraction he had felt for her because he knew he wasn't her type. From the very beginning they were able to talk to each other about anything.

I loved the growth of their relationship. The attraction between them gave them another connection that helped pull them closer together. Cole was really sweet with the way that he wanted to take care of her and was so understanding of her fears. He tried to take care of her without stepping on her need for independence. He knew that he was falling for her, but didn't think that she felt the same way. Stevie was a bit of a worrywart and was afraid that she had taken advantage of him. She worried that he was only being kind to her, and was still in love with his late wife, while she was falling in love with him. I loved seeing them settle in to life together and how fantastic it was. There were some terrific moments, such as the ultrasound when they learned the sex of the baby and it all became so real to Cole. I also loved seeing Stevie read Cole's father the riot act, as she tried to help fix the relationship between them. Both Cole and Stevie had some pretty deep insecurities to overcome, but a crisis with the pregnancy gave them the impetus to face those fears. I loved seeing them finally come fully together, and the epilogue wrapped it up nicely.

I also liked the scenes with Jen and Tess, her friends from A Reunion and a Ring and The Boss's Marriage Plans. I liked how her friends were worried about her and gave Cole a bit of a hard time, but eventually came to see how right they were together. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

James Bravo's Shotgun Bride - Christine Rimmer (HSE #2474 - May 2016)

Series: Bravos of Justice Creek (Book 4)


Tied to a chair and staring down the barrel of a shotgun isn't how James Bravo planned on proposing to the woman he's secretly longed for for months. He also isn't the father of Addie Kenwright's unborn baby -- even if her grandfather thinks he is. James has never stolen so much as a kiss from the beautiful rancher…but all that changes when he and Addie say "I do."

Three times burned is enough to put a single woman off wedlock forever. Addie only agreed to this crazy scheme to appease her ailing grandpa. Now the mother-to-be can't get enough of the hunky, blue-eyed attorney. Are Addie and James ready to take the plunge for real and turn a temporary arrangement into the marriage of both their dreams?

Terrific romance with an unusual start. The book opens with James face-to-face with Addie's grandfather, who is holding a shotgun pointed at him. Levi is convinced that James is the father of Addie's baby and determined that James will do the right thing. James is confused because he's never even had the chance to kiss her, much less sleep with her, though he definitely wants to get to know her better. Things get even more interesting when Addie arrives home and sees what her grandfather is up to, and he has a heart attack while she's yelling at him.

Let me start out by saying that I loved Levi. He was quite the interesting character. He's very old-fashioned and when he discovers that Addie is pregnant, he zeroes in on the man that he sees making eyes at her. He is stubbornness personified and nothing Addie says will convince him otherwise. His use of his recovery to force the issue was quite a risk. Later on, I loved seeing him dealing with Lola, the live-in nurse, with an interesting twist at the end. He comes through for Addie with some well-timed advice.

James has been yearning after Addie for months. He's built a house on land right next to hers, and they frequently talk when she's out riding. I loved his calmness in the face of chaos during the shotgun incident and heart attack. It was his chance to be there for Addie when she needs him. I loved his attempt to convince Levi, and how he ended up telling Addie he's willing to go through with the wedding to help her out.

Addie complains about Levi's stubbornness, but she is right up there with him. I had to laugh at her frustration as she tried to convince him of the truth about her baby. She's had three serious boyfriends and each time she's ended up left behind. She no longer trusts herself to pick out a man who won't leave her brokenhearted. She's attracted to James, but wary of opening her heart again. She agrees to the marriage, but only a temporary one until her grandfather is better.

I loved the development of their relationship. The chemistry between them is strong, and they dive right into that, while still trying to protect their hearts. Over the next couple months they settle in to what seems like a terrific marriage. James is quick to realize that he wants to continue the marriage. I loved seeing him try to let Addie know how he feels. Addie also realizes that she loves him, but she her fears cause her to push him away. James shows amazing understanding and patience while he waits for her decision. Once she accepts her feelings and sees that she's the one running away, she can finally open her heart to James's love. I loved her way of showing him that she was ready to face the future with him, it was so adorable. I look forward to seeing their progress in future books.

*copy received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Carter Bravo's Christmas Bride - Christine Rimmer (HSE #2444 - Dec 2015)

Series: Bravos of Justice Creek (Book 3)

Compatible? Check. Chemistry? Check. Love? Check…mate!

When Carter Bravo decides it's time to settle down this Christmas, the once-burned, no-strings-attached hunk chooses the one woman who isn't looking to be swept off her feet. Not only does his business partner and best buddy, Paige Kettleman, say yes -- the chemistry sizzling between them is further proof that she's his ideal mate.

Carter's no-nonsense proposition isn't exactly the romantic proposal Paige dreamed about under the mistletoe. After five years of building a business and sharing confidences, her dearest friend still has no idea how she really feels about him. If he did, he'd go running for the Colorado hills. Unless Paige can show Carter how to turn a test-run engagement into the real thing: a holiday wedding with all the trimmings -- including love!

Excellent friends to lovers story. Carter and Paige have been friends for eight years and business partners for five. He has seen his friends and relatives finding their perfect mates and getting married, and wants that for himself, but hasn't had any luck finding the right woman. A not-so-subtle push from his mother has him looking at Paige. Add a magazine quiz to that and suddenly both of them are looking at each other differently and wondering about the possibilities.

Paige is just about ready to tell Carter how she feels when he comes to her with a proposal of marriage. According to him, they're perfect for each other. They already have a deep friendship, and lots in common. They don't need all that love drama to be happy together. How about if they get engaged and see how it goes? Now Paige isn't sure what to do. Does she go ahead and accept a one-sided relationship? Tell him no? Or say yes and hope that he overcomes his aversion to love?

For all his obliviousness, I really liked Carter. He is a sweet guy who really cares about Paige and her sister Dawn. He just has a really bad hangup about love. He grew up with a mother who was known for her over-the-top emotional reactions in the name of love, and he wanted no part of that. Unfortunately for him, every woman he got involved with wanted at least some of that drama, which would then be the end of that relationship. Once he started looking at Paige in that way, he remembered what he had felt when he first met her, and decided to see if it was still there. The attraction is strong and he uses it to make his point about being together.

I also liked Paige. She had left college and come home to take care of her sister when their parents died. At the same time, the man she was involved with broke it off with her because he didn't want to be stuck taking care of Dawn. This has made Paige a bit cautious about trusting another man, but her friendship with Carter means everything to her. Realizing that she's in love with him throws her into a tailspin and she's not sure how to handle it. A businesslike marriage proposal from him isn't what she was looking for, but she can't deny the heat between them.

I loved seeing the two of them together. They know each other so well that they can tell when there is something wrong, and can usually talk it out. Paige's calmness is a good counterpoint to the drama of Carter's family life and keeps him grounded. Though Carter refuses to even consider the idea of love, his feelings for Paige show in the way he takes care of her and her sister. As their engagement goes on, it's obvious just how right they are for each other. But Carter hasn't told Paige about his mother's plan, fearing what her reaction will be, and the longer he waits the harder it gets. When it all blows up in his face, Carter succumbs to drama of his own and pushes her away, before realizing that love isn't a dirty word at all. Paige also realizes that she has made some mistakes of her own. The ending was really sweet and romantic.

I loved Paige's sister Dawn. They have a great relationship with each other and easily made Carter part of it. I really enjoyed seeing Dawn get involved in showing Paige and Carter that they belonged together. It was fun to see her reaction the morning she found him sneaking out of the house. I also loved the way that she was protective of Paige, but also understood Carter's feelings. Her part in getting them back together was just right.

I liked seeing other members of the Bravo family. Each one of them made sure that they told Carter that they knew he belonged with Paige. It was fun to see both he and Paige react to the idea that they were the last to realize they were in love with each other.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Marriage in Wyoming - Lynnette Kent (HAR #1596 - May 2016)

Series: Marshall Brothers (Book 3)


Rancher Garrett Marshall's life revolves around the Circle M, his work as a minister and his camp for at-risk kids. Until Dr. Rachel Vale comes to town. There's an instant and powerful attraction between Garrett and the beautiful doctor…one he's convinced could lead to something wonderful.

Rachel can't fall for the cowboy minister, no matter how kind and ruggedly handsome he may be. His whole life is rooted in faith, and her world is guided by facts. One fact she can't deny -- she's falling for Garrett anyway. Will Rachel keep her distance, or will she finally let her heart lead her home?

The continuing adventures of the Circle M Ranch and the men who run it. All four of the brothers have committed to helping at-risk teens, as well as running the ranch and doing their regular jobs. Ford is a lawyer, Dylan is an artist, Garrett is a minister, and Wyatt is a rodeo cowboy. This is Garrett's story.

Garrett has been happy with his work as a minister and working with the teens. He's a little lonely sometimes, but knows that eventually he'll find the right woman. Then the new doctor comes to town and he feels as though he's been struck by lightning. He's certain that there is something great in store for them, but convincing Rachel isn't going to be easy.

Rachel has come back to Wyoming to fulfill a dream of providing medical care to an underserved area. When she meets Garrett she is immediately drawn to him, but resists the attraction because of what he does. She feels they are just too different for any relationship to work out.

I loved Garrett. He is the type of preacher who lives his beliefs without forcing them on the people around him. He has incredible patience with the teens that are staying on the ranch. It was really sweet to see the way he worried about Lena when she was diagnosed with diabetes and her father avoided all responsibility. He's also great with his family. I liked the way they treated him as just another brother most of the time, but also understood the importance of his work.

I liked Rachel, too, though I got frustrated with her at times. She had been raised by a single mother who had health problems, one of Rachel's motivations for becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, her mother was also easily led and fell in with a con man "faith healer" and died of her illness because she wouldn't go to a doctor. This soured Rachel on religion and she preferred to depend only on herself and scientific fact. Though she is attracted to Garrett, she thinks their outlooks are incompatible.

I really enjoyed the development of their relationship. Because she is involved in Lena's care, Rachel ends up spending a lot of time at the ranch. She tries really hard to keep Garrett at a distance, but he is equally determined to show her that they have more in common than she believes. There are some really sweet scenes of them together before she gets scared of what might happen and pushes him away. There were times when I thought Garrett was making real progress, and others when I despaired of Rachel ever giving them a chance. 

I loved the way that the various townspeople got involved in trying to bring them together. Rachel had never really experienced the kind of care and support that makes up the town of Bison Creek. It was pretty sweet to see the way that they showed her that it was okay to accept help and lean on other people. But it was some very wise advice from one of her patients that made Rachel realize what was really important, along with some straight talk from Garrett. The ending was sweet and romantic, especially the part at Garrett's church.

I also loved seeing more of the teens at the ranch. They were realistically shown, especially with their sometimes oblivious attitudes. Marcos and Thomas were pretty typical teenage boys with their competitiveness with each other. Though they all certainly had their moments of idiocy, they all responded well to the Marshalls' care. I especially liked the scene at Rachel's welcome party. I also liked the realism of Lena's attitude about what had happened to her.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

When a Scot Ties the Knot - Tessa Dare (Avon - Aug 2015)

Series: Castles Ever After (Book 3)

On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shy, pretty, and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.

A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter . . . and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.

Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh. The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep -- handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He's wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters . . . and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.

This is the first book I've read by Tessa Dare, but it won't be the last. It was a fun book with a quirky heroine and a wounded hero. At sixteen, Maddie is set to be launched in Society, which terrifies her to no end. She is shy to the point of panic attacks and dreads the thought of all it entails. So instead, she invents a beau that she met and fell in love with, one who is a soldier away at war. To keep up the deception, she writes him letters, an effort that goes on for several years. Then, feeling guilty about the deception, she kills him off and goes off to mourn in private at the Scottish property she was given.

Happy in her solitude, with just her aunt and her pet lobsters, working as a nature illustrator Maddie is stunned when an all too real Logan MacKenzie shows up. Not only does he have the letters she wrote, he insists that she marry him for real. If she doesn't, he will give the letters to the scandal sheets. 

Logan is a rough and gruff soldier who is accompanied by several of the men he served with. Though welcomed as heroes at war's end, they returned to Scotland to find their families dead or displaced by the same English whose war they just fought. Logan is determined to make a home for them, and the land of this English miss will do just fine. He doesn't expect to find someone very different than the spoiled debutante he believed her to be.

What happened next was a boatload of fun. Maddie is independent and spunky, and not about to cave in easily. If she is going to marry him, he'll have to give a little also. I enjoyed the way their relationship developed. Maddie feels at a disadvantage at first, because she revealed so much of herself in the letters she wrote. But as a keen observer of nature, it didn't take long for her to see past Logan's shell to the man underneath. Their conversations were fun, as both are very intelligent and quick witted. I loved the way that they used quotes from the letters to ease the way into some of their conversations.

Though they had agreed on a marriage of convenience, Maddie worried that she would fall in love with Logan. Logan is a man who has never known love and has no interest in it. All he claims to want is a place for him and his men. I loved seeing how Maddie starts to understand Logan and the fears he tries to hide. Though she really resists losing her heart to him, his kindness towards his men starts the crack in her determination. Then his understanding of her fear of crowds and the way he tries to help her finishes the job. I also loved the way she came to see his vulnerability. Though Logan initially came across as a less than pleasant man, I quickly changed my mind. I loved his devotion to his men and  how determined he was to take care of them. It was fun to see his bewilderment as Maddie turned out to be different than he expected. I ached for him as more of his background was revealed, and I could see how much he needed Maddie's love. I also liked the way that he was so patient as the heat between them built. The ending was really sweet, as both of them had to let go of their fears before they could open their hearts to each other. I loved seeing Maddie take charge and go after what she wanted.

The secondary characters were really good also. I loved Maddie's aunt, especially at the end when she had so much to say about their choices. Each of Logan's men had their own personality and role in the story. I loved their advice to Logan when they thought he was having trouble with Maddie.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Match of the Century - Cathy Maxwell (Avon - Nov 2015)

Series: Marrying the Duke (Book 1)

Wedding bells are ringing… until the return of a rake throws a bride's plans -- and heart -- into a tailspin

Every debutante aspires to snag a duke. Elin Morris just happens to have had one reserved since birth. But postponements of her marriage to London's most powerful peer give Elin time to wonder how she will marry Gavin Baynton when she cannot forget his brother, Benedict.

Already exasperated at being yanked from the military to meet "family obligations," now Ben must suffer watching his arrogant sibling squire the only woman he has ever loved. Joining the army saved Ben from sinking into bitterness, but seeing Elin again takes him back to the day they surrendered to their intoxicating desire.

As the wedding draws near, Elin tries to push Ben far from her thoughts. When danger brings them together, there is no denying their feelings. But can Elin choose love over duty...?

Good book with an unusual set of circumstances for the romance. Elin has been promised to Gavin, Duke of Baynton since she was born, a match arranged by their parents. Circumstances have caused several postponements of the marriage, but the time has finally arrived. But Elin isn't looking forward to the marriage, as she doesn't know him that well, plus she can't forget her feelings for Gavin's younger brother Ben.

Ben had been sent off to the military after it was discovered that he and Elin had been indiscreet together. Though he hadn't forgotten her, army life suited him and he was well on the way to an excellent career. Then his brother pulled strings, ending Ben's military career and forcing him home to take up family duties. Seeing Elin again reminds him of what he's lost, and how much he wants her back.

Ben's arrival coincides with the ball meant to announce Elin and Gavin's engagement. Harsh words are exchanged between Gavin and Ben, before tragedy brings the ball to an abrupt end. Furious with his brother, Ben disappears, while Elin tries to come to grips with his reappearance and her own feelings. 

The three main characters, Gavin, Ben and Elin, were all complex individuals. At first I really didn't like Gavin at all. He seems cold and arrogant, more interested in appearances and his political work than in Elin. He was also unsympathetic to Ben's distress at losing his career. With Ben, I understood his fury at having his life interrupted. He knew that Elin was meant for his brother and the army kept him away so that he didn't have to face it. His disappearance after the confrontation seemed to be a rather over-the-top version of running away from home because he didn't like something, rather than stay and fight for what he wanted. Meanwhile, Elin knows that Gavin isn't what she wants. the life she'll have with him is one that makes her uncomfortable, but she sees no way out of it until Ben returns. But can she find a way to get what she wants without causing harm to others?

When the wedding is rescheduled and Elin called back to London for it, trouble finds her. On the road to London, her coach is attacked and she narrowly escapes being killed. Running from her pursuers, she luckily stumbles upon Ben, who has taken up with some local men. Ben is determined to protect her, and as they run from danger, their previous feelings return. I liked the way they finally talked about what had happened eight years earlier, and accepted that both had been young and naive. Older now, they know there are obstacles to being together, but they are determined to find a way. 

However, being found together by Gavin puts them both in an awkward position until Elin can find a way to end her engagement. Gavin seems willfully blind to the sparks between them, seeing only that Elin would be perfect as his bride. It is also pointed out to Ben that he really has nothing to offer Elin, and he realizes that he has to make some changes if he wants to get the girl. I liked seeing him take charge of his life, and finally start acting like the man he should be. Meanwhile, Elin is worried about her father's health, and the effect breaking her engagement could have on him.

While all of this is going on, both Ben and Gavin are trying to figure out who is trying to kill Elin and why. Joining forces also gives them the opportunity to overcome the animosity that has been present between them since they were children. I did like seeing them actually begin to listen to each other, though they still had moments when old habits resurface. But they worked together beautifully when Elin was once again in danger. I have to say that the person behind the murder attempts was not a surprise, as I figured out pretty early who it was. 

I loved the resolution of the love triangle, though I did feel rather sorry for Gavin. I thought he showed a lot of class as he did the right thing and let Elin go. I am looking forward to seeing him get his own story and hope that he gets someone who will shake him up a little. The epilogue was a great touch to bring it all together.

Heat Exchange - Shannon Stacey (Carina - Aug 2015)

Series: Boston Fire (Book 1)

Lydia Kincaid left Boston to get away from the firefighting community -- but family is number one, and her father needs her help running the pub he bought when he retired. Soon, Lydia finds it hard to resist the familiar comfort and routine, and even harder to resist her brother's handsome friend Aidan.

Aidan Hunt is a firefighter because of the Kincaid family. He's had the hots for Lydia for years, but if ever a woman was off-limits to him, it's her. She's his mentor's daughter. His best friend's sister. The ex-wife of a fellow firefighter. But his plan to play it cool fails, and soon he and Lydia have crossed a line they can't uncross.

As flirtation turns into something more serious, Lydia knows she should be planning her escape. Being a firefighter's wife was the hardest thing she's ever done, and she doesn't know if she has the strength to do it again. Aidan can't imagine walking away from Boston Fire -- the job and the brotherhood are his life. But if he wants Lydia in it, he'll have to decide who's first in his heart.

Good start to the new series. Lydia left Boston two years earlier, desperately needing to get away from the firefighting community. Between her divorce from her cheating firefighter husband and worry over her firefighter brother, brother-in-law, and friends, she couldn't handle the stress any more. But life in New Hampshire isn't all that great either, and when her sister calls and asks for her help, Lydia reluctantly heads back to Boston. She easily slides back into her old routine, but something is a little different. Her younger brother's best friend Aidan is looking a lot more interesting than he did before she left.

Aidan has always been attracted to Lydia, but there are too many obstacles between them. She's his best friend's sister, his surrogate father's daughter, and the ex-wife of another firefighter. All big reasons to stay away from her. But the chemistry between them is undeniable, and soon they are finding ways to be together. 

I liked both Aidan and Lydia, but both of them had some serious baggage to deal with. Lydia has made the decision that she will never get involved with another firefighter. Between growing up with them and then marrying one, she always felt that the brotherhood came first with them, with their families coming in second place. She wants to feel that she is more important to the man in her life. Aidan grew up feeling out of step with his own family, who has never understood his need to be a firefighter. Instead, he became a part of the Kincaid family, and his feelings for Lydia are in direct conflict with what he feels for them.

It was interesting to see how their relationship developed. At first, they were just indulging in the attraction for the short time that Lydia was going to be in Boston. Keeping it a secret wasn't too big a deal because it would only be for a little while. But it didn't take long for the guilty feelings to really start to get to Aidan. I hurt for him and the conflict he felt. He was really beginning to care for Lydia and wanted more with her, but was afraid that making things public would ruin his friendship with Scotty. He also knew her feelings about getting involved with a firefighter. Lydia also felt the strain of their deception. After all, it was her brother they were lying to. She kept trying to convince herself that it was just a fling, because she couldn't consider the idea of something permanent with him, but eventually she had to admit that she had fallen for him. I loved their connection and how they could be lighthearted and fun together, but also share more serious conversations.

I thought that Aidan was really a pretty sweet guy. He understands Lydia's hangups and tries his best to show her that he's not like her ex. His acceptance of her fears and his attempts to alleviate them were terrific, and showed just how much he wanted her to stay in his life. I sometimes got a bit frustrated with Lydia because of her tunnel vision regarding firefighters. She couldn't seem to see past Aidan being a firefighter to how right he was for her. She also couldn't see that she had changed in the time that she had been away from Boston, and was better able to deal with the firefighter life. 

Of course, eventually they get found out and things get just as messy as they had feared. I understood Scotty's feelings, but I also agreed with Lydia that he shouldn't get to interfere in her relationship. I liked seeing the typical man way that Scotty and Aidan dealt with the issue. Even better was Scotty's sudden insight and what he told Aidan then. I really liked the soul searching that both Aidan and Lydia did that made them realize that they belonged together. The ending was really sweet and romantic.

There was also a secondary story involving Lydia's sister Ashley and her husband Danny. The two of them were dealing with a rough patch in their marriage because of communication issues. Ashley needs Danny to be willing to talk to her about his feelings, but goes about it in a way that he doesn't understand. Danny grew up with parents who didn't get along and spent a lot of time yelling at each other. This caused him to go the other way of keeping his emotions under tight control, which made Ashley doubt his feelings for her. I understood her frustration with his reticence, but I also got Danny's confusion about just what it was she wanted. I hurt for both of them as they tried to find their way back to each other.

Family was a big theme, as the Kincaids work through their issues. I really understood Lydia's frustration with her father and his attitude. She worked hard to keep the peace with him, especially since holding in her feelings wasn't something that was easy for her to do. She had the same kind of frustration with her brother. But in spite of those frustrations, the love among them all was obvious and the support was there when it was really needed. There was also time spent on Aidan's and Danny's relationships with their own families, and the effects those relationships had on their ways of dealing with their women. I'm looking forward to more books in the series, especially seeing whoever gets to deal with Scotty.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Captive - Grace Burrowes (Sourcebooks Casablanca - July 2014)

Series: Captive Hearts (Book 1)

He'll never be free...

Captured and tortured by the French, Christian Severn, Duke of Mercia, survives by vowing to take revenge on his tormentors. Before the duke can pursue his version of justice, Gillian, Countess of Greendale, reminds him that his small daughter has suffered much in his absence, and needs her papa desperately.

Until he surrenders his heart...

Gilly endured her difficult marriage by avoiding confrontation and keeping peace at any cost. Christian's devotion to his daughter and his kindness toward Gilly give her hope that she could enjoy a future with him, for surely he of all men shares her loathing for violence in any form. Little does Gilly know, the battle for Christian's heart is only beginning.

Good book, with a hero who is dealing with the Regency version of PTSD and a heroine who has a traumatic past of her own. The book opens with Christian as a prisoner of the French, being tortured and tormented in an attempt to get him to confess what he knows. Seeing what he went through made me ache for him, but also impressed me with the fortitude he showed in enduring it. He was determined to survive in order to take his revenge on them later. There was something a little odd about his treatment, and the memories of it carried throughout the book. When the war ended and he was released, he had to find his own way back to the British army. That arrival was not what he expected, and his treatment by his cousin was disturbing. I really liked Christian's dignified attitude as he attempts to prove his identity. I liked seeing Devlin St. Just again, and enjoyed his matter-of-fact treatment of Christian, both now and later in the book. Once Christian is back in London, he avoids contact with everyone, still attempting to deal with the physical and mental effects of his captivity. Everything changes when Gillian bursts into his life.

Gillian is recently widowed, ending her eight year marriage to a man three times her age, who was physically and mentally abusive to her. She was cousin to Christian's late wife and has been trying to watch over Christian's young daughter Lucy. Disturbed by the child's withdrawal and refusal to speak, Gilly confronts Christian, forcing him to see that he has a responsibility to Lucy. Her own past enables her to handle Christian with tact and sensibility for the most part, with a bit of steamroller tossed in when necessary.

I enjoyed seeing them get to know each other, as the two of them settled in to life at Severn, Christian's country estate. His return to health can be partially credited to Gilly, who doesn't fuss but makes sure that he has what he needs and is able to handle. I liked seeing how Christian reestablishes his bond with Lucy, and how their care for her helps bring him and Gilly closer together. Their friendship begins to grow into more, but there are some obstacles holding them back. Because of her marriage, Gilly is reluctant to put herself under the power of another man, even one such as Christian. There are also several accidents that happen to her, that Christian feels aren't actually accidents. This brings out a protectiveness in him that rubs up against Gilly's fears. On Christian's part, he feels that he really can't move on with his life until he deals with his past, which means following through on his vow of revenge. This is made somewhat more difficult by his knowledge that Gilly is against violence of any type.

There were some beautiful scenes between Gilly and Christian. I loved his patience and sensitivity as he learned more about what her marriage had been like. The part with the exposure of what she considers her biggest shame was especially moving. Gilly's way of helping Christian through his toughest moments was also beautifully realistic. I especially loved her tailoring efforts, and later her reaction to what Christian considered his worst scar.

The ending was great, as Lucy breaks her silence in time to reveal the truth about what had gone on during Christian's absence. Christian's confrontation with his tormentor yields satisfaction of a completely unexpected variety, and the truth of his captivity is exposed. I did suspect early on that this person was not what he seemed, and was happy to be proved right.

I loved the parts that Devlin St. Just played in the book. His early support of Christian, getting him safely to England from France, made the transition a bit easier. I also liked his visits to Christian, how he would listen to him without judging, dispensing practical advice. Some of the things he said made a huge difference to Christian's outlook. His presence at the end was also a big part of ensuring that all ended well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Anything for You - Kristin Higgins (HQN - Jan 2016)

Series: Blue Heron (Book 5)

Before you get down on bended knee... should be pretty darn sure the answer will be yes. For ten years, Connor O'Rourke has been waiting for Jessica Dunn to take their on-again, off-again relationship public, and he thinks the time has come. His restaurant is thriving, she's got her dream job at Blue Heron Vineyard--it's the perfect time to get married.

When he pops the question, however, her answer is a fond but firm no. If it ain't broke, why fix it? Jess has her hands full with her younger brother, who's now living with her full-time, and a great career after years of waitressing. What she and Connor have "is" perfect: friends with an excellent benefits package. Besides, with her difficult past (and reputation), she's positive married life isn't for her.

But this time, Connor says it's all or nothing. If she doesn't want to marry him, he'll find someone who does. Easier said than done, given that he's never loved anyone but her. And maybe Jessica isn't quite as sure as she thinks...

Good book. I've been waiting for Connor's story and I was so happy to finally get it. Connor is the chef and co-owner of his restaurant, and always seems so happy and carefree. At the beginning of the book, he is really nervous, because he is about to propose to Jessica. He's been in love with her since he was a kid, and they've had a relationship of sorts for ten years. It's been a secret one for various reasons but he's ready to share it with the world. Unfortunately for him, Jessica's not of the same mind. She likes things the way they are and sees no reason to change anything. This doesn't make Connor very happy because he wants more, and is ready to pursue it with her or someone else.

I loved Connor. Throughout the series I have enjoyed his teasing relationship with his sister Colleen. Their conversations, with the insults the throw back and forth, are always fun. There is always an undercurrent of love and support there, and it really showed when Colleen discovered that Jessica had turned him down. As a determined matchmaker, it was fun to see her setting him up with dates, and even more fun to be present at those date. His inner dialogue during them was hysterical. I also quickly suspected that she had an ulterior motive. Though he is a marvelous chef and restaurant owner, he also has some issues with confidence in himself. He tends to feel that he stumbles around when he's talking, especially when it's something important. We see his thought processes, but what comes out of his mouth never quite matches up. This creates some majorly awkward moments, such as his presentation to possible investors. He's also really sweet, and a scene with an old lady at a rest home is funny, sweet and adorable.

I had a little more trouble warming up to Jessica. I thought her response to Connor's proposal was pretty mean, and I really wanted to smack her. As the book went on and I learned more about her I did feel better about her by the end, but she's not one of my favorite heroines. Jessica's parents were alcoholics and from a very young age she was the responsible one in the family. When her little brother was born, he suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and has many challenges because of it. She has always taken care of him, and he lives with her now. Davey has always been her first priority in her life, often to the detriment of other things. Because she has grown up being able to depend on no one but  herself, she never asks for help from anyone. She has done things in the past that she isn't proud of but seemed necessary at the time. She has worked hard to improve her life, and now has her dream job at Blue Heron Winery.

Their relationship is a complicated one. Because of something that happened when they were kids, Davey hates Connor, making Jessica unwilling to have a public relationship with Connor. Every time Connor tries something to push them along, something happens that makes Jessica break things off with them, but they end up getting back together. After the proposal, Connor says he's had enough back and forth and they are through for good. Though he really tries, it doesn't last, and soon he's trying to figure out how to overcome her objections. Jessica has spent so long depending only on herself and protecting her brother, that she has trouble with even the idea of letting someone else in, even if that person is Connor. She cares about him, but she's really afraid of what could happen if she said yes to him. 

Both Connor and Jessica have some growing to do in this book. Connor realizes that Davey will always be a part of Jessica's life and that if he is going to have a chance with her, he has to find a way to deal with her brother. I loved the way he finally learned just how complicated Davey's situation was. I loved seeing how he went about gaining Davey's trust. He may have made a few misteps along the way, but overall it was well done. Jessica has her own issues to face. Her guilt over her brother's condition has made her very protective of him, and she tends to go overboard with it. She has been so focused on him and his needs that she has ignored her own and pushed away the one person who can give her what she needs. I loved seeing her learn to let go a little. She also has to learn to let go of her past before she can fully embrace her future. I loved her big moment and the twist it put on the way things are usually done. The epilogue was fantastic, and the last line was the perfect cap to it.

Also in the book is the secondary storyline of Jessica's new coworker, Marcy. The woman is an irritation from the start. She seems intent on undermining Jessica every chance she gets, and Jessica starts to worry about her job. I was really hoping that Marcy would do something to get herself fired. I had a feeling about what she was doing and it was so satisfying to see that I was right. The scene where she gets found out was great, and the additional twist just added to it.

As always, I loved the inclusion of characters from previous books. In this one especially, I loved the parts with a very pregnant Colleen. She always has a wicked sense of humor, and it had even more zing now. I also loved the support that Jessica got from the various Hollands.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reclaiming Jake - Patricia Keelyn (Harlequin - Aug 2001)

Series: Heart of the West (Book 16)

Lost Springs Ranch was famous for turning young mavericks into good men. So word that the ranch was in financial trouble sent a herd of loyal bachelors stampeding back to Wyoming -- to put themselves on the auction block!


NAME: Jake Merrill
AGE: 29
OCCUPATION: Mountain Rescue Squad Coordinator
IN FIVE WORDS: Rugged, Wild, Ready and Willing
BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT: Finding lost children...alive.
WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU: In the mountains
IDEAL WOMAN: One who won't try to tie me down.

Ali Kendrick can't seem to put the past behind her -- a past that revolves around bachelor Jake Merrill. As teenagers, she and Jake had spent endless hours in each other's arms. Then he ran away, leaving her alone and pregnant. Now, Ali's got the chance to get Jake out of her system for good. But once Jake discovers he's got a daughter, will he be able to walk away again?

Good conclusion to the series. Jake is one of the "graduates" of Lost Springs Ranch and has come back to help with its bachelor auction fundraiser. He hadn't been back since he left, and the memories are both good and bad, many of them revolving around Ali. They had been very close as teens, but just when she thought they had made a commitment to each other, Jake disappeared. What he didn't know at the time was that she was pregnant.

Ali, though heartbroken at Jake's disappearance, went on with her life. She had her daughter and followed through on her dream to become a vet. Then she moved back to Licking Springs to join the local vet and raise her daughter. The one thing she hasn't been able to do is forget Jake and the way he made her feel. When she sees that he is part of the auction, she's determined to buy him and get him out of her system. She also realizes that she has to tell him about their daughter.

Jake doesn't know what Ali has in mind when she buys him, but he knows that he owes her an apology. What he doesn't expect is that the heat between them is just as strong as it had been years ago. Unfortunately for him, the issue keeping them apart is still the same. She comes from a good family with money and he is the son of an alcoholic mother with little to his name. 

When Jake arrives to fulfill his obligation things are initially very awkward between him and Ali. Once he makes his apology it gets a little better. Ali is also feeling awkward because she quickly realizes that the things she felt for Jake are still there. I liked seeing the way that Jake worked to ease things between them as they went on a hike together. There were several moments where their attraction got the better of them, but they were able to pull back. After they returned to the cabin, it happened again and they gave in. All the time, Ali had in mind that she needed to tell him about Sam, but she didn't get to it. Then she got a call from her friend that Sam and two of her friends were missing from a campout, and Jake immediately stepped in to help.

Jake's job is in search and rescue and he is very good at it. He immediately joins the search parties and is the one to spot the kids from a helicopter. Because of weather conditions he ends up getting to them and staying with them until the storm passes. As soon as he sees Sam he realizes the truth and is stunned. Fortunately he realizes that he can't blame Ali for his not knowing. I loved his reaction and how he wanted to get to know her. It was great to see what he does to makes sure he has the time to do so.

With Jake staying on her property to get to know Sam, it also means that Ali is spending more time with him. It doesn't take long for her to realize that she is still in love with him. She is wary of trusting him though, worried that he would just up and leave, breaking her heart again. She does realize that he wouldn't disappear completely, because he wouldn't desert their daughter. Jake loves getting to know Sam and discovers that he loves being a father. He starts to dream of them becoming the family he's always wanted. Then Ali's parents arrive and he is quickly reminded of their differences. 

I got a bit frustrated with Jake's downer view of himself. He has a stellar reputation in his rescue work, as is shown when he rescues the three kids. He is also a humble guy, and I really liked his reaction to the reward that one boy's father tried to give him. In the end, he had to decide if he really wanted what Ali and Sam  were ready to give him. I really liked how he stood up to Ali's father. I loved the way that Ali saw him so clearly and pointed out what he was doing. I also liked the way she had a clear view of herself and made up her mind what she wanted and that she was going to go after it. I loved the solution that he came up with, and his actions at the end were really romantic.

I loved their daughter Sam. She was a tomboy with very definite ideas of what she did and didn't like. She also had quite an imagination, which is what got them into trouble in the first place. I really enjoyed her reaction to Jake, and her ideas of what should come next. It was great to see the way that she and Jake connected so quickly and how much alike they were. 

The epilogue was fantastic and a great wrap up to the series. It was fun to see the lengths that Ali and Sam went to in order to make sure that Jake was there for it. I loved seeing what it meant for the ranch and for Jake and Ali.

Nick of Time - Janelle Denison (Harlequin - Aug 2001)

Series: Heart of the West (Book 13)

Lost Springs Ranch was famous for turning young mavericks into good men. So word that the ranch was in financial trouble sent a herd of loyal bachelors stampeding back to Wyoming -- to put themselves on the auction block!


NAME: Nick Petrocelli
AGE: 32
OCCUPATION: Ex-Marine, now a DEA agent
IN FIVE WORDS: Honorable, Dedicated, Daring, Self-sufficient, Loner
BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT: Becoming one of the "Good Guys."
WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU: Usually on a stakeout.
IDEAL WOMAN: Someone who can live with the fact that my work comes first.

Nick Petrocelli had done some risky things in his life -- but nothing compared to cutting a deal with Amelia Bainbridge-Campbell. The aged matriarch wanted her granddaughter to loosen up and give her a great-grandson. Nick's mission: to flirt with Samantha, to tease prime her for another man. Problem was, Nick wanted to keep sexy Samantha to himself....

Good book. Nick is a "graduate" of Licking Springs Ranch and has agreed, reluctantly, to take part in the bachelor auction fundraiser. He came to the ranch originally because his mother died and the owners were the only family he had left. He's grateful to have had a place to go, and will do what he can to help his cousin continue their work. He's surprised when he's "bought" by an elderly lady instead of one of the young women who have been bidding on the others, but he'll go with it. He's even more surprised when the lady asks him to spend time with her granddaughter and get her to start thinking of men again.

Samantha married young to a man who had been more interested in his wild living than in settling down. She has decided that she will bury the parts of herself that led her to such a reckless marriage, and only keep the cool, practical parts of herself, always conscious of appearances. The only time she allows her inner self to come out is when she paints. She also has a daughter that she wants to be a good example for.

I liked seeing the relationship develop between Nick and Samantha. Nick has been alone for a long time, putting his work first at all times. He had been married once, but it hadn't worked out, and he blamed himself and his devotion to his job. A deeply buried part of himself always regretted the loss of the chance for a family of his own, but he feels that he doesn't have what it takes to be a good family man. Though he knows that a relationship with Samantha isn't possible, he is attracted to her and loves spending time with her daughter. Samantha sees Nick as another man similar to her late husband, one who lives for the thrill of what he does. That's not the sort of man she needs in her life, but she can't deny that she is attracted to him. She is far more interested in him than in the safe and secure man that has been pursuing her. As Nick helps her with the things that Amelia has asked him to do, they learn a lot about each other and themselves.

I really liked the way that Nick saw the passionate woman underneath the controlled surface that Samantha showed the rest of the world. I loved his reaction to her paintings, and the way he tried to show her that it was an important part of who she is. Though he was supposed to be opening her mind to the idea of getting involved again with someone else, he really wanted to show her that she deserved more than she was settling for. 

I ached for Samantha. She was so worried about screwing up her life again that she went too far in the other direction. It hurt to see her bury the best parts of herself. I also got a bit frustrated with her determination to stick with a "safe" man as a way of making up for past mistakes. As she spent time with Nick, her attraction to him grew, but she didn't want to risk getting involved with him in anything other than a short fling. What she didn't expect was to start falling for him. 

I loved the scene at the dinner party when Nick needed to get away from seeing Samantha with the other man, and wandered off looking at the man's collections. When Samantha came to find him, needing to get away herself, there was an easy camaraderie between them. Things got a bit out of hand when they found themselves locked in the wine cellar. I loved seeing Samantha get a bit tipsy and lose some of her control. The reactions when they were found were great, and really showed peoples' true colors. But it scared Samantha into withdrawing back to her old self. I liked Nick's thing with the paintings to show her the truth of her talents and that she had more to offer than she thought.

In the end, both Nick and Samantha had to decide if their love was worth working past their fears. I liked Nick's soul searching and what he finally realized about himself. Samantha also accepted that Nick had been right about not settling. The scene at the garden party was definitely romantic, as Nick stepped up in a really big way. I also loved Samantha's big announcement and the courage it took to do it.

I also loved Samantha's daughter. It was a lot of fun to see the way that she and Nick bonded. I also loved the difference in the way that she reacted to Nick and to the other man. That really became obvious the day that Samantha and she spent with the other man. I loved her reaction to Nick's return.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Colton Baby Homecoming - Lara Lacombe (HRS #1888 - Mar 2016)

Series: Coltons of Texas (Book 3)

Someone has left a baby on the porch of search and rescue expert Ridge Colton's log cabin. Who? And why? A loner, Ridge knows nothing about caring for an infant. But when the woman who broke his heart years ago shows up to help, he's reminded of everything he once almost had.

From a wealthy family, Dr. Darcy Marrow was dissuaded from loving the man whose name meant one thing in town: shame. But with a dangerous thug trying to kidnap the baby, Ridge discovers how far he'll go to protect the little one, Darcy…and his long-guarded heart.

Very good book and continuation of the mystery of the Alphabet Killer, along with the mystery of an abandoned baby. Ridge and his dog Penny, a member of the local search and rescue group, came home from a call to find an abandoned infant on his porch. Worried first about the baby's condition, he takes her to the hospital to get checked out. There he encounters Dr. Darcy Marrow, his high school sweetheart, who had broken his heart all those years ago.

Darcy is filling in at her hometown hospital while she waits for her new job in New York to start. She is surprised to find Ridge in her ER, especially with a baby. The story of how he got the baby doesn't really surprise her though, as she remembers Ridge's quiet, protective nature when they were teens. She regrets the way she let her parents break them up. She feels sorry for Ridge and his cluelessness about the baby and sends him home with some supplies for her.

The attraction between Ridge and Darcy is still there, and both feel it, though both try to ignore it. Just seeing each other again brings back the memories of the good times and dreams that they shared. Darcy shows up at his cabin with more things for the baby and the intention of helping. When an intruder bursts in, intent on kidnapping the baby, they work together to fight him off. Darcy gets stranded there by a bad storm, and Ridge is determined to protect her and the baby.

Over the next few days, as they work together to take care of the baby and protect her from whoever is trying to kidnap her, Ridge and Darcy find their feelings for each other growing stronger. Ridge is reluctant to risk his heart again, especially knowing that Darcy is planning to leave again.

I liked Ridge a lot. He is the quiet one in the family, who coped with his family issues by pretending they didn't matter to him. He also worries that his father's "bad blood" could also come out in him. He is a loner, but also has a deep well of caring and compassion for others. This really comes out when he was taking care of the baby. I loved how quickly he bonded with her. There were several really sweet moments between the two of them. I also felt for him, as seeing Darcy again made him realize the things that he had given up, and that his life was lonelier without her. As his feelings for her grow, he has to decide if he's willing to try again. I also loved his dog, Penny. The bond between her and Ridge was great, and I loved seeing her interact with him.

I also liked Darcy. She has followed her dream of becoming a doctor. She also has family issues, dealing with parents who never seemed to care about her. Instead, they were more concerned about appearances, which was why they disapproved of her relationship with Ridge. Now that she's older, she is better able to stand up to them. I loved seeing the way she still believes in Ridge's goodness, and how she tries to convince him. It was sweet to see the way that seeing him with the baby melted her heart. As her feelings for him grow, she realizes more about what has driven some of the decisions she's made, and must choose what she wants for her future. There's an interesting twist with her parents at the end that helps her see what her dreams really are. The ending with Ridge and Darcy at the cabin is really sweet and romantic.

The suspense side of the story was great. The attacks on Ridge and Darcy, as the stranger tried to take the baby, were intense. The fights were realistic, as Ridge did not come away unscathed. Both were puzzled about why someone wanted to take her, and determined to protect her until her mother could be found. The truth behind it was something neither of them expected. I loved their compassion for the baby's mother. The final confrontation with the kidnapper was great, with Ridge once again being in the right place at the right time.

In a continuing story from the previous books, the Alphabet Killer is still on the loose. The killer strikes again, and we see it happen. The investigation turns up a little more information, helping the cops identify who it is. There is a connection to the Coltons' father, and more work on their part helps in the investigation.

It is also Ridge's turn to visit his father and receive the clue to where their mother's body is. Even though he is dying, Matthew Colton is still playing games with his family. Facing his father is another way for Ridge to put his past behind him.

I liked seeing Ridge with his family. They are all close and are there for support when needed. There is also a good amount of teasing among them, some enjoyed and some not so much. There is also another possible sighting of their missing sister Josie, this time by Ridge. I'm looking forward to seeing what her story is.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Trouble With a Badge - Delores Fossen (HI #1629 - Apr 2016)

Series: Appaloosa Pass Ranch (Book 3)

A woman and baby on the run. A Texas lawman sworn to protect them both.

A tip about a serial killer's next target sends former big-city lawman Levi Crockett on a fool's errand. The willowy blonde he finds isn't the intended victim. But Alexa Dearborn is on the run and needs Levi's protection. So does the newborn she's guarding with her life.

With Alexa's WITSEC identity compromised, the Texas deputy is Alexa's best hope of survival. And although Levi isn't ready to trust her after the tragedy that tore his family apart, he'd never turn his back on the PI and baby girl in her care. Still, as a ruthless murderer stalks them, Levi finds himself fighting an even more powerful enemy: the dangerous desire bringing them closer together…

Good book that had plenty of action from the very beginning, along with a romance between two people who try to resist what's happening between them. In previous books, the characters have been dealing with a serial killer called the Moonlight Strangler. Alexa is a PI who has been trying to find him. In the previous book, a woman was killed by him and Alexa feels responsible. Complicating matters is the fact that the woman was the ex-wife of Levi's brother.

At the start of this book, Alexa has been under WITSEC protection, until her identity was compromised. Besides continuing her investigation into the Strangler, she got involved in helping a young woman who has a stalker. Levi gets an anonymous call offering information on the Strangler and heads off to meet the informant, only to discover Alexa instead, who is talking of a murder she witnessed and the baby she is protecting.

There's tension between them immediately, because Levi doesn't trust Alexa, thanks to her involvement with the Strangler case. Alexa accepts the distrust because she still feels guilty about her part in what happened. But Levi is a lawman first, and commits to protecting Alexa and baby Violet. However, neither of them can deny the sparks that are there between them. Over the next few days the attraction grows as they are forced into each other's company. Levi slowly loses his distrust, as he sees the lengths that Alexa goes to in order to protect Violet's mother. Alexa's guilty feelings are slightly relieved by Jax's acceptance of her presence in Levi's life. Both of them are a little freaked out by the strength of what they feel. The final scene at the sheriff's office is really good. I especially liked Levi's version of their moving their relationship ahead slowly.

The suspense portion of the story is fast paced and complex. Alexa has someone who is trying to kill her, and there are multiple possibilities. There is the man who is stalking her friend, and his anger at the way he thinks that Alexa is keeping him away from her. Alexa is also a witness against a man accused of money laundering, who has made no secret of the fact that he holds her responsible for "setting him up". And there is the Moonlight Strangler, who she is still determined to identify. There is also a US Marshal who she suspects of being dirty, and who keeps turning up at suspicious times. As attacks on Alexa continue to escalate, Levi and the others scramble to figure out who is really behind them. Options begin to narrow as the book progresses, and the final confrontation reveals all in a very intense standoff. There's an interesting and somewhat creepy resolution that pushes some things off to the next book.