Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Baby and the Cowboy SEAL - Laura Marie Altom (HAR #1579 - Jan 2016)

Series: Cowboy SEALs (Book 2)


Former Navy SEAL Wiley James is lucky to be alive, but the war destroyed his health, his confidence and his livelihood. Now, back at his family's Montana ranch, Wiley struggles to find new purpose. Instead he finds an old childhood pal -- little Macy Shelton, who has grown into a beautiful woman. Wiley knows he should steer clear of the cheery single mom…if only she'd let him.

Macy doesn't recognize this new Wiley. A bitter stranger has replaced the young man she fell for as a teen. Though Macy's heart still wants so much more, what Wiley needs most right now is a friend, and Macy is the only one he'll let in. Her friendship is a lifeline, but will Macy's love be the one thing that can finally help Wiley begin to heal?

Good book dealing with a difficult subject. Wiley has come home to Montana a far different man than he left. Thanks to the injuries he sustained in the war, he has had to leave the service. The memories of what happened haunt him, and the pain gives him no peace. He has isolated himself on his ranch and avoids contact with everyone, until Macy forces herself into his life.

Macy is the single mother of a little boy, living on her grandparents' property next to Wiley's. She doing her own hiding after discovering that he husband was a lying cheat. She'd always had a huge crush on him, and having him back in town is like a dream come true - until a run in with him shows her how much he's changed. Common sense tells her to stay away from him, but her heart says she can help him.

I will admit to having moments of extreme frustration with both of them. Wiley has been coping with the pain in his leg by drinking instead of taking the painkillers the doctor prescribed. He has seen friends get addicted to them, so he wants nothing to do with them. Instead, he gets addicted to alcohol. When the pain is bad, he is really rude and mean to Macy when she comes by. He feels bad and apologizes, and lets her talk him into trying to help him. I liked the way that she takes his booze away and gets him to take his pills. Unfortunately, he totally forgets about his fear of getting addicted to them, and liking the way they reduce his pain, quickly starts taking too many. He lies to himself, believing that he can stop anytime, and to Macy, hiding just how many he's taking.

Macy is so happy to have Wiley back that she ignores all the things that others try to tell her. She sees that he is in pain and knows that the drinking doesn't help, so she pretty much forces her way into his life. Her husband's betrayal has done a number on her self confidence, but Wiley's presence makes her feel good again. Though she knows Wiley's problems are probably worse than he admits, she can't help dreaming and believing that being together is all that they need to overcome them. She even convinces him that marriage is the way to go.

Wiley's problems only get worse. He is so determined to make Macy believe that everything is fine, that his abuse of the pills rapidly spirals out of control. His mood swings get worse as he struggles to hide it all from her. There are also several episodes of flashbacks where he "checks out", making her worry about him even more. She senses that things aren't right, but ignores those feelings, choosing to believe him instead. It was obvious that it was all going to fall apart eventually, and it wouldn't be pretty when it did.

I did like the realistic portrayal of the problems some returning service members have. Wiley's alcohol and drug abuse aren't unusual, nor were his attempts to isolate himself. Macy's actions were also believable, as she wanted to believe that he was getting better. Ignoring her fears made it easier to do so. I ached for Wiley and Macy when he finally hit bottom and they had to face the truth. I loved that she didn't give up on him. I also liked the way that Macy's father, being a former service member himself, was able to recognize what was going on. His assistance and support were vital to getting Wiley the help that he needed. I really liked the fact that the resolution wasn't a quick or easy fix, but one they had to work at. There was a really sweet twist at the end.

I loved the part that the various animals played in Wiley's life. It was funny to see the way that the vet kept bringing more in need of rescue as a way to give Wiley a reason to face each day. I also adored Macy's llamas. Their names were especially amusing, with the male being Charlie, and the four females being Jill, Chris, Kelly and Sabrina. It didn't take too long to make the connection. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Willow Brook Road - Sherryl Woods (Mira - Oct 2015)

Series: Chesapeake Shores (Book 13)

Spirited, spontaneous Carrie Winters has grown up under the watchful eyes of not only her grandfather Mick O'Brien, but the entire town of Chesapeake Shores.

Now that she's home from Europe, a glamorous fashion career behind her and her heart broken, there seem to be far too many people watching to see if she'll live up to the expectations her family has for her.

As if that weren't enough pressure, Carrie finds herself drawn to sexy, grief-stricken Sam Winslow, who is yearning for someone to help him raise the nephew who's unexpectedly come into his life after a tragedy.

With her own life in turmoil, is Carrie really ready to take on a new career and a new man? Or is Sam exactly what she needs to create the strong, loving family she's always wanted?

I loved this latest addition to the Chesapeake Shores series, as one of the two little girls from the very first book has grown up and finds her own true love. Carrie grew up in Chesapeake Shores, but moved away in search of her own place in the world. After finding out that her boss and the man she thought she loved wasn't what she thought, she has come back home. She's been wallowing in her unhappiness a little bit, filling her time by taking care of the various children in the family. She hasn't decided yet what she is going to do, and is getting tired of the hassle from members of her family, especially her grandfather Mick.

Carrie is definitely going through a rough time, trying to figure out what she wants to do. She knows she wants it to be there, as she has missed her home and family more than she expected. A comment from her cousin Luke gives her food for thought, but she's distracted by the arrival of a handsome but harried looking man.

Sam Winslow is new to Chesapeake Shores, the web tech for the town newspaper. He'd barely arrived in town when he his sister and brother-in-law were killed in an accident, leaving him as guardian of his six year old nephew Bobby. As a formerly foot loose and fancy free bachelor, Sam is feeling overwhelmed by the thought of being an instant father. Dashing in to the pub to grab some take out, leaving Bobby snoozing in the car (though he keeps a close eye on the car while doing it), Sam runs afoul of Carrie. Their initial meeting has sparks flying, with each of them doing some judging of the other. Things get better once they both calm down. 

I loved both Carrie and Sam. Carrie has finally reached the point where she is ready to move on with her life. Luke's suggestion finds fertile ground as she realizes that taking care of children is something that she both enjoys and can get passionate about. She knows her family well and realizes that she will have to make sure she has all her ducks in a row before she tells them her plans. I was really impressed with the way she went about her research. It was also very helpful for her that she had Sam to talk to. I felt bad for her when she didn't get the immediate support from her family that she wanted. 

I thought Sam was terrific. Even though he had been a carefree bachelor, he didn't hesitate to step up when it came time to take care of Bobby. His fears were real and realistic, as he didn't know anything about kids or what they need. He is used to doing things on his own, so asking for help isn't easy. Even though he makes a few mistakes along the way, he is determined that he and Bobby will be the "team" that they need to get through it. There were some really sweet moments between the two of them as Sam went from nervous uncle to (semi) confident dad.

I loved seeing the relationship develop between Carrie and Sam. There were sparks from the beginning, but neither is ready to begin a relationship. Carrie is still recovering from her last one, and not all that confident in her ability to pick the right man this time. It doesn't help that her family members keep warning her against getting involved with Sam. At the same time, Sam knows that he needs to concentrate on Bobby's needs first. He's drawn to Carrie, but he also isn't so sure that she is going to stay around and doesn't want Bobby to get attached and then hurt. I loved that they became friends first, helping each other out when needed. Even when they admitted that their feelings were growing they tried to keep it private, not wanting to deal with interference from Carrie's well meaning but pesky relatives. I loved seeing them both overcome their fears and take a chance on each other.

As always, the various O'Brien relatives play important parts throughout the book. Mick is always the biggest presence, wanting to direct things the way he thinks they should go. It's always fun to see Megan and Nell find ways to rein him in. Nell had an excellent role in this book as she dispensed love and advice in the form of cooking lessons. She also showed her fair share of O'Brien deviousness when Carrie's ex showed up in Chesapeake Shores. But it was Mack and Susie that had the biggest of the secondary roles. They have had disappointment after disappointment in their quest to adopt, and it has affected Susie very badly. She turns into a real nasty piece of work and I was totally disgusted with her. I thought that Mack and Carrie had an incredible amount of patience with her. She knew she was wrong and would apologize, then turn around and do it again. I did like the way that things went for them at the end.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Georgia Gets Her Groom! - Carolyn Zane (SR #1739 - Oct 2004)

Series: Brubaker Brides (Book 11)

Georgia couldn't believe it! She'd been guilted into escorting her childhood neighbor around the town's big reunion. Yes, Carter was now grown up, but to Georgia, he'd always be nerdy Cootie Biggles. Yet when Georgia was threatened, who should swoop to her rescue but Cootie, unexpectedly transformed into a super secret agent, man of a thousand gadgets and a billion-dollar brain. Not to mention some very fine pecs!

Suddenly, the ex-geek next door was her knight in shining armor and the champion of her heart.

This was a fun book to read. Georgia is the youngest of the three sisters and feeling a bit left out of the "happily ever after" group. She's dating a guy, Brandon, that she thinks should be perfect for her but there's no spark. She gets a call to come home because she's needed for the big family party. Her job is to take care of one of the guests, her childhood friend Carter. When they were little, Carter was skinny, wore glasses, and always seemed to be off in his own world. Georgia spent a lot of time rescuing him from bullies before her family moved away. She doesn't expect him to have changed much, and first sight of him proves her right. Maybe not so skinny, but still has the geeky glasses and absent-minded attitude. She starts to get the idea that there's more to him than she thought when she finally gets him talking.

Carter has had a special place in his heart for Georgia ever since they were kids. He's still a bit of a nerd, being super intelligent and with multiple degrees. He gets rather tongue-tied around her, which only reinforces her belief. But there really is a lot more to Carter than she expects, and it all comes out in a rush when she overhears something she shouldn't.

When it looks like Georgia is in danger, Carter whisks her out of the party to his car and takes off. It seems that Carter is a mix of James Bond and Knight Rider, working with the FBI to catch some people who are violently anti-alternative energy. There's a car chase, disguises, a high-tech mobile headquarters in a semi-truck, and all kinds of mayhem. There's also some intense heat building between Carter and Georgia.

It was lots of fun to see Georgia's view of Carter undergo such a big change. His calm and cool attitude during their escape impressed her, as did hearing about the things he had done. What really amazed her was the way he made her feel. Whenever they would kiss, the world around them would disappear. Throughout the book, Georgia discovers that the magic she had been looking for was found in the most unexpected place. 

I really enjoyed seeing Carter pull out all the stops to protect Georgia. The methods had some pretty amusing moments. The scene in the motel the first night, between the bugs and the train, was terrific. I loved seeing the two of them really get into their disguise as Keith and Lori. But the part that had me laughing until I cried, was at the end with the cow, the bad guys, and Georgia's use of Carter's fancy car. There was an interesting twist involving the kidnapped man, but everything ended well. The epilogue was a nice wrapup.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Captain's Christmas Bride - Annie Burrows (HH #1261 - Dec 2015)

Wrong man…

Lady Julia Whitney is at her wit's end. Her perfect beau just won't propose! But she's struck upon a plan to ensure her marriage by Christmas. Between masquerades and mistletoe, she finds herself fully compromised…by the wrong man!

…Right husband?

Captain Dunbar cannot believe he's fallen for this chit's game! Now he must marry society miss Lady Julia with nothing to connect them other than incredible passion. But he's about to discover that the best Christmas presents come in surprising, and delightful, packages!

Very good book. Julia has found the man she wants to marry, but he isn't cooperating. It doesn't help that her father thinks he's a fortune hunter. So Julia comes up with a plan to force the issue. Unfortunately for her, she ends up with the wrong man. Alec has come to Julia's home following his sister, who he believes is in danger of doing something stupid. As a captain in the navy, he has spent most of his life with men and is taken unaware by Julia's actions. Suddenly, what he thought was an interlude with an experienced woman turns into so much more.

I must admit that I didn't like Julia much at the very beginning. Tricking a man into marriage is never a good idea. She came across as rather spoiled. It was rather amusing to see her get carried away in the heat of the moment, not having realized that things could go farther than she planned. I thought that she redeemed herself pretty well when she wanted take the blame for the whole fiasco.

I did like Alec. Yes, his actions weren't the best, but at least he thought he was with someone of like mind. When the truth came out, he immediately stepped up to do what was right. What especially impressed me was that he didn't lay the blame at Julia's feet, but instead tried to protect her from her father's anger. 

Once the initial brouhaha is over, both Julia and Alec accept that their marriage is inevitable, and determine to make the best of it. Alec especially sees the benefits, in that the passion between he and Julia had been incredible. Getting to know each other outside the bedroom, where they have no trouble at all, is a roller coaster process. Alec begins to see Julia as a warm and generous woman who puts everyone else's needs before her own. He is also still somewhat distrustful, believing that she is pining after the other man. He has moments of great kindness and understanding, such as when she discovers that the woman she thought of as her friend had actually betrayed her in the worst way. He is also a bit rough around the edges and tends to be rather blunt. This frequently gets him in trouble when something he says doesn't come out quite the way he meant. Julia quickly sees that Alec is a much better man than David ever was. She'd like to make their marriage work, but there are times that she thinks he doesn't even like her, much less want to be married to her. It seems to her that every time she tries to do something nice for him he takes it the wrong way. She loves what they have together behind closed doors, but she wants more than that.

Things are moving along quite well, when a major misunderstanding comes between them. Julia takes an action attempting to protect Alec's sister, Lizzie, but he jumps to the wrong conclusion. To make matters worse, he says some very cruel things and refuses to allow her to explain. I was impressed with Julia's ability to appear unmoved and carry on as if nothing had happened, and I loved the way that it drove Alec nuts. Eventually he realizes how badly he behaved and that he really wants to make things right. His method was a bit on the elaborate side, but ended up being very effective. I really loved the way that he brought the whole family into it.

The only other thing I would have liked would be a glimpse into their future. I would like to know if Alec went back to the navy or stayed ashore and took up his duties to his estates.

Back in the Game - Lori Wilde (Avon - Feb 2015)

Series: Stardust, Texas (Book 1)

Wanted: ghostwriter. Must be female, a baseball fan, and have a great pair of legs.

Ex-pitcher Rowdy Blanton never saw a woman he couldn't conquer or a team he couldn't beat. And now that he's off the field he's ready to tell all about when he played the field. So he chooses Breeanne Carlyle to do the job -- she's got the requirements, but more important, there's something about her that makes him want to be a better man.

Convinced there's more to Rowdy than a good fastball, a wicked smile, and a tight pair of pants, Breeanne can't help but be tempted. After all, it's boring always being the good girl, and Rowdy dares her to be just a little bad. The stakes are high, but win or lose, this time Breeanne's breaking all the rules playing the game of love.

A sweet and spicy romance, with a touch of magic and a little bit of suspense. Rowdy is an ex-pitcher for a big league team, trying to come to grips with the end of his career. He's been asked to write his autobiography, and has a couple motivations for doing so. To do it, he's going to need a ghostwriter. Enter Breeanne, a self-professed baseball addict, writer, and huge fan of Rowdy's since she was a kid. With the help of a magical hope chest, she gets the chance at the job of her dreams.

Breeanne is a young woman who is ready to start living. After spending most of her life with a heart defect, enduring many surgeries, she is finally healthy. She is also ready to get out from under the overprotective umbrella of her family. A chance encounter with Rowdy at an estate auction gets her fantasies going, and a wish for a writing job brings them together.

I loved their encounter at the auction, as sweet and innocent Breeanne is totally flummoxed by Rowdy's assistance when she gets hit by a baseball. Rowdy is drawn to her and doesn't understand why, as she's nothing like the women he's always pursued. When she shows up to interview for the ghostwriter job, he has every intention of turning her down, but ends up hiring her instead. That scene is really funny as he uses her appearance to get rid of the other applicants.

Rowdy has an agenda in writing this book, dealing with the general manager of his former team, his injury, and some other reason that is hinted at but not explained until the end of the book. The problem is that he really doesn't want to talk about any of the things that will be included in the book. Instead, he uses his attraction to and fascination with Breeanne to distract her.

I loved the two of them together. Rowdy easily sees that Breeanne is an innocent, and once he finds out why, is determined to help her have some fun in her life. He doesn't treat her as if she's fragile, instead he sees her as a strong survivor. As for Breeanne, she wants to do right by the book, and knows she has to get Rowdy to open up to her. Because of the pain she's had in her own life, she can see that there is something that is haunting him. She pushes at him when she needs to, backs off when she sees he's reached his limit. She also has no problem standing up to him when he's being a jerk. I liked the way that they became friends first, before anything else happens.

The romance itself was good. Rowdy doesn't do commitment and makes sure that women he gets involved with know that. He doesn't expect to find himself wanting more out of his developing relationship with Breeanne. Even though she puts the moves on him (a really fun scene), he doesn't want to take advantage of her. His "Rookie Rules" were really sweet as he tries his best to do right by her. Breeanne knows that she's probably going to fall in love with him and get her heart broken, but she can't imagine being with anyone else that way. His insistence on taking things slow frustrates her, but she can't deny that she enjoys it. I loved seeing the changes they went through, thanks to the caring they experience from each other. It's all going great until something happens that drives them apart. Rowdy behaves like a jerk, and though he regrets it right away, making amends doesn't happen immediately. I loved his big moment at the end, as he did a fine job of groveling. 

The suspense of the story centers around Rowdy's scumbag of a general manager. A little bit is revealed at the beginning, with more exposed as Rowdy's trust in Breeanne grows. Rowdy is a man who is caught between a rock and a hard place, as he wants to do what is right, but he also wants to protect those he cares about. The tension built as he got closer to confessing all to her. What happened next was something that could be seen coming, though the method was a bit of a surprise. Once it was out there, Rowdy had decisions to make, and what he did was very satisfying. Breeanne also had her moment to shine as she confronted the person responsible.

Family relationships also play an important part in the story. I loved Breeanne's family and their obvious love for each other. Though she often feels smothered, Breeanne knows that they love her and will support her in whatever she does. Each of her sisters has a unique personality and I'm looking forward to their stories. I also liked Rowdy's brother, though he definitely has some growing up to do. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Warrior of Fire - Michelle Willingham (HH #1262 - Dec 2015)

Series: Warriors of Ireland (Book 2)

A warrior with fire in his soul!

Fleeing an unwanted betrothal to the cruel king, Lady Carice knows her days are numbered. She has never felt desirable -- until she meets Norman soldier Raine de Garenne. Soon she longs to experience passion, if only for one night…

Aiding beautiful Carice's escape jeopardizes Raine's mission, for if he does not kill the king, his sisters will pay the price. And as each step toward his goal brings him closer to betraying Carice, he knows he'll have to make a choice. His duty…or his heart.

Excellent book. This is the second book in the series, but takes place at the same time as the first book. Carice has been promised in marriage to the High King of Ireland, a marriage that she does not want. On top of the stress of her impending marriage, she has been suffering from a debilitating illness for several years, one that is getting worse. Convinced that she is dying, she wants to live out her last days in peace, so she finds a way to escape. Cold and weak, she stumbles across a deserted abbey where she takes refuge. She awakens from a pain filled sleep to find a strange man in the room with her.

Raine is a Norman soldier who came to the abbey to bury the monks who died in a fire there. He felt responsible for their deaths, the guilt added to that which he already carries. He is a nobleman's son who has been forced into the English king's service. His father died at the king's hand, trying to protect his wife from the king's unwanted attentions. His mother killed herself, and his sisters were taken hostage by the king to force Raine to follow his orders. Raine is required to find a way to assassinate the Irish High King. When Raine discovers Carice hiding in the abbey, he knows the smart thing to do would be to return her to her father. Carice begs for his help, and something has him wanting to protect her the way he hasn't been able to protect his sisters.

Raine is conflicted because she brings out a part of him that he thought was lost forever. With her he is kind, protective, and feels that he is doing something good. But he also knows that he could use her to get close enough to the High King to do what is necessary to save his sisters. Never far away is his commander, who takes every opportunity to remind Raine of just what is at stake if he should fail. The more time they spend together, the more Raine wants to be the man she believes he is. He is falling hard for her, but knows that she will hate him when she realizes what he has done.

Carice knows she is falling for this hardened warrior who takes such good care of her. Though she is often weak and sick, she has an amazing amount of inner strength, and calls on that when she feels most like giving up. She believes that she will not live much longer and wants to experience as much of life as she can in the meantime. The things that Raine makes her feel spark more life in her than she has felt in a long time. Though he tries to resist, Carice eventually breaks through his control. But just as she is beginning to feel hopeful about the future, the extent of his deception becomes apparent.

There were so many ways for things to go wrong that I wondered how Carice and Raine were ever going to get their happy ending. Both Carice and Raine were determined to protect the other, even at the risk of their own lives. From poison to trial by combat, it looked like fate would succeed at keeping them apart. Help came as a repayment of a good deed done, and the redemption of a previously unlikeable character. There was a lovely twist to the ending as Carice tried to find the perfect wedding present for Raine. The epilogue was a sweet wrapup to the story.

Warrior of Ice - Michelle Willingham (HH #1242 - July 2015)

Series: Warriors of Ireland (Book 1)

Locked in a deadly game!

Physically and emotionally scarred, Lady Taryn of Ossoria knows no man would want her for a wife. Nonetheless, she's determined to free her father from his merciless overlord and enlists powerful warrior Killian MacDubh to help.

He has his own motives for confronting the High King... Born a bastard, Killian longs to carve out a place for himself. Unaware of her true beauty, Taryn is an alluring distraction to his plan, but as traitors are revealed and loyalties tested, their forbidden love becomes the only thing worth fighting for!

Very good book and twist on the Beauty and the Beast story. Killian is a very handsome man who has scars on the inside from the way he has been treated all his life. Born a bastard to a woman who took refuge with the tribe, Killian has been treated as the lowest type of servant. He is determined to set out on his own and win a place for himself. The only person who has every treated him well is the girl he thinks of as his sister. Carice has been promised to the High King as his bride, but will do anything she can to get out of it. Killian has promised her he'll do whatever he can to help her.

Taryn is the daughter of the King of Ossoria. She was badly scarred as a child and has been rejected by many people because of it. The only person who has treated her well has been her father. Now he has been imprisoned by the High King and Taryn is determined to free him by whatever means necessary. Her mother has forbidden her to get involved, so Taryn sets off on her own.

When they meet, Taryn and Killian agree to a bargain. She will help Killian find a way to free his sister if he will go to Tara with her to free her father. Killian is a cynical realist and holds out little hope for Taryn's mission to be a success. However, he has his own reasons for wanting to go to Tara, so he agrees. Taryn has great sympathy for Carise and her predicament. She is also a person who believes in the good in people, so she believes that they will succeed. Things don't go quite as planned and early in the journey Killian and Taryn are separated from the group.

I loved the development of the relationship between Killian and Taryn. There is a physical attraction between them but each believes themselves to be unlovable. Taryn believes that no man will want her because of her scars, a feeling reinforced by her rejection at the hands of the man she was supposed to marry. Killian has been treated so badly for so long that he can't see any woman wanting him for himself, certainly not one who his so far above him. What I liked about the two of them was that they saw past the surfaces. Killian was aware of Taryn's scars, but they made no difference to him. He thought she was beautiful as she was and treated her that way. At the same time, Taryn never saw Killian as a servant, only as a warrior. It was interesting to see that neither truly believed that the other was honest in their treatment because of what they believed about themselves. 

I loved Killian's protectiveness toward Taryn. Though he believed that her mission would end in heartache for her, he was going to make sure she got there. There were bumps along the way. Because of how she got her scars, Taryn is afraid of animals. Killian ends up being very patient with her and helps her overcome those fears. And despite knowing that she can never truly be his, he can't help but look at her that way. There is a possessive streak that shows up when they are at the MacEgan's that gets him in some trouble with her. I also loved Taryn's confidence in Killian and what he can do. She never shows any doubt that he can do what was promised. She finds herself falling in love with him, even though she knows it can't be.

Killian devised a way to protect Taryn that would also get him what he wanted. Of course, he doesn't take into account her feelings. Taryn resists his idea because she wants to be wanted for herself, not her lands. Then necessity forces them into a deception that throws them more closely together and their feelings become too much to resist. I loved the ending as they both realized what was more important, and through that got everything they could have wished for. 

The story of why they are going to Tara, and the connections of the various characters to the High King was very interesting. Taryn's father has been accused of treason and is due to be executed. She doesn't believe her father is guilty and is determined to appeal to the King. Taryn's mother is equally determined that she not do so, and takes her own steps to stop her. Carise is supposed to marry him, but is terrified of his reputation as a cruel man. Killian is a bastard son to him, and has been ignored his entire life. When everyone converges on Tara, things get really interesting. There are several twists and turns that happen before everything is all over. I really didn't see the one involving Killian coming.

I loved the setting of this story and the chance to learn more about Irish history. The details of conflicts among the Irish tribes, the High King, and the Normans was really interesting. I was also intrigued by Killian's background and what his life had been like. This book also takes place during the same time period as the MacEgan Brothers series, and includes some of them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Texas Ranger's Nanny - Rebecca Winters (HAR #1578 - Jan 2016)

Series: Lone Star Lawmen (Book 2)


Vic Malone took a solemn oath when he joined the Texas Rangers, and devastating loss only hardened the widower's resolve to do good in the world. When his only son is kidnapped, he finds invaluable help in Claire Ames, who is just as committed to bringing home the boy they both love.

Sweet young Jeremy wasn't the only male Claire would miss when the chemistry grad left her nanny job to start a career in Houston. But all that matters now is helping Vic find his son. When they do, will she be able to leave, proud of her part in his rescue? Or will her Lone Star lawman realize what she's known all along -- that they share something too wonderful to lose?

Good book. Claire has been Jeremy's nanny for nine months and adores the little boy. She is devastated when he is kidnapped and is determined to help Vic however she can in finding the boy and bringing him home. Jeremy is Vic's whole life. He had lost his wife and parents a few years earlier during a tornado, and Jeremy is all he has left. Failure is not an option, even when he is taken off the case because he is too close to it.

The kidnapping and search scenes are very intense. I could feel Vic and Claire's fear as they worried about what was happening to Jeremy. I was surprised that Vic had been allowed to question the suspect at all because of his personal connection to the case. That he lost his cool and got put on leave was not unexpected. Neither was his plan to continue investigating on his own. I loved the way that Claire insisted on helping and how her scientific way of looking at things came up with different ideas on how to approach the search. Their success was very satisfying.

The kidnapping was only the catalyst for the relationship between them to come to the surface. This was a classic case of the principals having feelings for each other but not doing anything about it because of their professional relationship. Claire had fallen for little Jeremy almost immediately, and it didn't take much longer for her to fall for Vic. She admires his devotion to his duty, but also his obvious love for his son. However, she keeps her feelings to herself since she has had no indication from Vic that he sees her as anything other than his son's nanny. Vic has been attracted to Claire from the beginning, but doesn't want to do anything that would make her quit so he doesn't do anything about them. Working together to find Jeremy only intensifies the feelings that they have.

Claire is still determined to leave when her time is up because being near those she loves without being loved in return is too hard. Even when Vic asks her to stay longer, she believes it is only for Jeremy's sake. I loved her conversation with her mother, even though she refused to believe her mother's assertion that Vic cares just as much for her. 

Vic had it a little tougher. He realizes his feelings for Claire, but there is so much else going on that they kind of get lost. He knows he doesn't want her to leave, and comes up with several ideas to keep her there, but none involved telling her how he feels. I really enjoyed his talks with the therapist his boss ordered him to see. It forced Vic to face the truth of everything that was going on. 

I loved seeing how both of them wanted to do the right things for Jeremy. He was a great kid and I thought that he came through the kidnapping really well. It was the upheaval of Claire leaving that caused the most trouble. It was really sweet to see how it was Jeremy that got them to admit their feelings. There was one more part to the kidnapping that had to be dealt with and that was exciting. The final chapter was a really sweet wrap up.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Playing With Fire - Rachel Lee (HRS #1859 - Aug 2015)

Series: Conard County: The Next Generation (Book 25)
           Conard County (Book 43)

The cunning arsonist targeting Conard County has fire chief Wayne Camden stymied. Teaming up with investigator Charity Atkins seems like a no-brainer. She has the expertise to track down the firebug before he kills someone. But Wayne never anticipated making Charity a target.

Since his wife left, Wayne's had little interest in relationships. The single dad is unsettled by the electrifying attraction Charity ignites. Wayne is rooted in the community, and Charity's a nomad. But with danger stalking them, irresistible desire forces them both to reevaluate their lives.

Very good book with excellent suspense and a terrific romance. Wayne is frustrated by his inability to find the arsonist plaguing Conard County. The latest fire nearly killed a family and he wants it stopped before someone dies. Charity is the arson investigator for the company that insured the latest victim. Her job is simply to decide if the victim set the fire to defraud the insurance company, but something about this case has her wanting to do more.

Wayne is the single dad of a teenage daughter and eats, sleeps and lives his job. He doesn't have the time or inclination for a new relationship. However, there is something about Charity that makes him want to get closer to her, even though he knows she's only there for a short time. Charity is single, and though she's had a few relationships, they never last. She is very attracted to Wayne, and though she doesn't do short-term hookups, she's really tempted by him. 

I loved the development of their relationship. At first it was strictly work, though the attraction was simmering beneath the surface. Because both are so good at what they do, they connect immediately over the investigation. I loved seeing the way they were able to bounce ideas off each other as they tried to find the arsonist. They both acknowledged the attraction but agreed that it couldn't go anywhere. I loved seeing them get to know each other and become friends while trying to resist the heat. Wayne's natural protectiveness came out as the danger to Charity increased. At the same time, Charity's independence and stubbornness had her digging in her heels and insisting on seeing the investigation through.

Both Charity and Wayne had some issues to work through as their feelings for each other grew. Wayne had to let go of the self blame over the dissolution of his marriage and believe that he has a future with a different type of woman. Charity had much more to work through. One of the biggest things was to learn to share her feelings, overcoming the training of her early years. She also has to learn about herself and get past what she thinks she should be doing to what really moves her. I loved Wayne's patience and how he helped her to see that she has the courage to go after what she really wants. I loved the ending and seeing both of them step past their vulnerabilities and fears to embrace a future together. The epilogue was fantastic and gave a good indication of what is in their future.

The suspense side of the story was really good. There was a brief glimpse of the arsonist's point of view, where you see that there is something driving them but you don't really know what. The intensity of the fire, and the danger that Wayne was in definitely grabbed my attention. I loved the way that Wayne asked for Charity's help. Though reluctant at first, she is quickly drawn in. The arsonist shows their worry over being discovered and willingness to do whatever necessary to remain undiscovered. After the first attack on Charity I was pretty sure I knew who was behind it, and by the second I was sure, but I still had questions about all the motivations. One was obvious, but the other was not. I loved the details of the steps that Wayne and Charity were taking as they tried to figure out who it was. As the arsonist became more desperate I was on the edge waiting to see what would happen next. The final attack was scary and I was glad that Wayne was there to save her. The resolution was good, though I would have liked to see Wayne face the arsonist rather than hear about it afterward. 

I liked Wayne's daughter Linda very much. She has a great attitude. It was fun to see her tease her father at the same time she was trying to look out for him. It was sweet to see her questioning Charity at dinner, and later as she found ways to throw them together. I loved that the title of the book seems to have come from a comment she made at the end. It was also great to see Maude in all her grumpy glory. Other residents of Conard also made appearances, especially Gage and his part in nabbing the arsonist.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Nanny Makes Three - Cat Schield (HD #2420 - Jan 2016)

Series: Texas Cattleman's Club: Lies and Lullabies (Book 3)

This rich Texas rancher has his hands full with an abandoned baby…and her irresistible nanny!

Mistaken for the father of his twin brother's child, Liam Wade takes in his fussy infant niece and needs a nanny fast. Hadley Stratton knows all about Liam's reputation with the ladies, and really doesn't believe that the baby isn't his! But as she settles into her role, she begins to see the man beneath the Stetson. And when they're stranded together during a storm, she really gets to know him. Is she just the latest woman to fall for Liam's charms, or are this rich rancher's single days numbered? 

Good book. After the death of his grandfather Liam gave up his playboy lifestyle and devoted his time to the ranch. When a woman showed up at the ranch with a newborn baby claiming it was his, he knew otherwise. However, he was pretty sure that the baby belonged to his twin brother, so he accepted custody of little Maggie. But he's over his head with her, so he hires a nanny to help him out. He's surprised when it turns out to be Hadley. Hadley remembers Liam from when they were both competing in rodeos. She'd had quite a crush on him back then, but life intervened and she hasn't seen him in ten years. Now that she's working for him, she can't let herself get attached.

I liked Hadley, but I did get a bit frustrated with her at times. She has a habit of taking responsibility for things that aren't her fault. One of those things was an accident that left her best friend at the time confined to a wheelchair. Hadley has been punishing herself for ten years, mainly by giving up her horse and riding that she loved so much. Early on in her nannying career she had also fallen for her employer and his children, only to have her heart broken when he went back to his ex-wife. She blamed herself for not being enough for him. 

I liked Liam. He had already decided that the playboy lifestyle was getting old and had settled in to work the ranch. He wants to find the woman for him, but hasn't made the time to do so. When Hadley shows up to be Maggie's nanny, he's reminded of how much he had liked her back when they were teenagers, and wants to get to know her now. I also loved the way that he was so determined to do what was right for Maggie. 

I liked the development of the relationship between Liam and Hadley. He realizes very early that she is the woman he wants, but also that it will take some work to convince her, especially since she still sees him as the womanizer he used to be. As they spend time together taking care of Maggie, Hadley begins to see the man that Liam has become. Getting snowed in together while on a trip gives them both a chance to see what could be, but both have issues from their pasts to deal with before they can move on together.

Both Liam and Hadley have to take hard looks at themselves and the choices they've made. I loved the way that Liam faced up to how his mother's abandonment affected all of his relationships up until he got involved with Hadley, and nearly ruined that one too. His moment of self awareness was really moving. I also liked seeing the way that Hadley realized how badly she had sabotaged her own life, and that it would be up to her to fix it. I loved the ending and seeing them both finally able to open up completely and let the other in.

The only real problem I had is that Liam's brother Kyle still doesn't know about Maggie. I really want to know what's going to happen when he does.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Blue Ridge Ricochet - Paula Graves (HI #1618 - Feb 2016)

Series: Gates: Most Wanted (Book 2)

The mountains are dangerous -- but not as dangerous as what's building between them…

Missing and presumed dead, wanted FBI staffer Dallas Cole is running for his life…until undercover agent Nicki Jamison finds him lying crumpled in the road. To his relief, his rescuer doesn't ask questions, doesn't call the cops. Who is she? What secret is she hiding? Not trusting Nicki any more than she trusts him, Dallas joins the headstrong agent's mission to take down a ruthless militia group. But when she falls into their brutal trap, Dallas will do whatever it takes to be reunited with Nicki and her irresistible, tough-as-nails charm.

Very good book in which the suspense continues to build from the moment Dallas stumbles into the path of Nicki's car to the very end. Nicki first made an appearance in Two Souls Hollow, as Anson's trouble magnet cousin. In this book she is working for Quinn at the Gates, undercover in an attempt to get close to leaders of the Blue Ridge Infantry militia group. Dallas was introduced in Smoky Mountain Setup as Cade Landry's contact in the FBI. His actions caused repercussions for both Cade and himself. Dallas has just escaped from three weeks as a prisoner of the BRI.

Their initial meeting is an exercise in mutual distrust. Nicki recognizes Dallas from the information she has seen at the Gates. No one knows if  his disappearance is related to the BRI, and if he is working for them or been captured by them. Though it appears that he has escaped captivity, his reluctance to contact anyone makes her suspicious of him. Dallas agrees with Cade that there is something fishy going on at the FBI and as a result doesn't want to let them know where he is. Nicki's quick agreement to leave the authorities out of it has him wondering what she is up to. He finds out in an interesting display of her distrust and his resourcefulness.

I liked Nicki. She's resourceful and independent. She grew up in the hills and is familiar with groups like BRI and what they do. She is driven to help take down the group because of guilt she feels from a previous job she did. She is using her EMT training as a hook to catch the interest of the leader she is after. She also uses her training to help the women and children who need her. Dallas is also driven by his need to find out who at the FBI betrayed him and Cade. He also had a hill country upbringing that he has to call on a couple times during the book. Once they realize that they are on the same side they find a way to combine their resources and work together. 

Working together also brings out the attraction they feel for each other. I liked the way that they admitted it, but also realized that this wasn't the time to indulge themselves with it. With the attraction came protectiveness as they worried about each other's safety. The attraction grows quickly to love, surprising them both. 

The suspense of the story was excellent, as there were two things going on. There was Dallas's escape from the BRI and his attempts to find out who set him up. The other was Nicki's mission to get herself close to the local leadership of the BRI. The closer she has to get to one of the men, the more nervous she gets, but her determination doesn't waver. There is an interesting twist when she finally reaches her goal. She is surprised by what she finds there, and her determination and compassion come together to help someone who really needs it, even as her life is in danger. Dallas has trouble of his own as his investigation brings him unwanted attention. He doesn't trust Nicki's boss Quinn, but has to suspend some of that when Quinn sends an agent to warn Dallas of the impending arrival of the FBI to take him into custody. He has a pretty amusing conversation with said agent about his opinion of Quinn and the fact that Quinn is a "spook". Things get even more intense when they discover that Nicki has been taken and it is up to them to rescue her. That ending was really exciting and kept me hooked until it was all over. While Dallas and Nicki come through okay, there are still unresolved issues regarding the BRI.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Lost Gentleman - Margaret McPhee (HH #1221 - Feb 2015)

Series: Gentlemen of Disrepute (Book 7)

Is she his downfall or redemption?

Kate Medhurst's days on the high seas are numbered with the fearsome Captain North on her tail. Once captured, pirate Kate knows she should fight him -- should hate him -- but she cannot.

Captain North is no gentleman -- at least, not anymore. But his vow to regain his honor has given him a fresh start. Until he confronts Kate and everything changes. Because suddenly breaking his vow seems a small price to pay to save the woman he loves…

Very good book with a different kind of heroine. Kate is an American widow, whose husband and friends became privateers as a way to support their families after British blockades destroyed their livelihoods. Kate's husband was killed when his ship was captured by the British, so Kate took over as captain of the ship. She and her crew have wreaked their vengeance on British merchant ships, while hiding her identity from them.

Kit North is a man driven to make reparations for his past. As a young man he had done things that buried him in dishonor and ruined his family's lives. After spending a short time as a pirate himself, life intervened in a way that helped him become the man he is now - a well known and tenacious pirate hunter. He has one final mission before he retires - to capture the pirate La Voile.

The story has an intense start as Kate and crew spot a lone ship just asking to be boarded. They don't know it is a trap until it is too late. Thanks to Kate's deceptions, Kit North believes her to be a woman captured by the pirates and "rescues" her, after killing the man he believes to be the pirate leader. Kate is horrified and desperate to find a way to escape from him and return to her crew. Things don't go as she had hoped, and after an encounter with a shark and a British island dealing with yellow fever, she finds herself a guest of Captain North and bound for England.

There is an immediate attraction between Kate and Kit, something that neither of them welcomes. Kate made a vow that she would never forget her husband, and being attracted to another man, especially one of the hated British, is unacceptable. Kit is equally attracted to her, but his past prevents him from believing that he deserves any kind of happiness.

Over the course of the journey, Kate discovers that though Kit is one of the hated British there is much about him that she admires. Kate learns a little bit of what Kit has been through, but senses that there is more to what drives him. Kit finds himself somewhat envious of her late husband because of the love she had for him. He also gets the feeling that there is some secret that she is keeping from him. He figures it out as they arrive in England, which puts him into a quandary. Since he became a pirate hunter, his personal vow was that his honor came before everything else. This means that he cannot lie, but telling the truth could put Kate's life at risk.

Kit's battle with himself and his feelings is a hard one. The solution to his dilemma is one that allows him to retain his honor, but also keeps Kate safe. Another problem arises when America declares war on England, stranding Kate in dire circumstances. The only thing he can do is marry her.

The completion of Kit's final mission as a pirate hunter also signals the beginning of the reason for his return to England. Kit has chosen to return and try to make right the results of his actions three years earlier. I loved seeing him return to the public eye and face those he had wronged. He finds it easier to do so with Kate by his side, but her feelings for her late husband still stand between them, as well as his own secrets. Kate has to find a way to let go of the past if she wants to be able to move forward with the love that has grown for Kit. I loved her support of him and how she helped him through his own crisis. The scene with his sister was especially emotional and the confrontation with his friend was intense. I loved the ending and the decision they made about their future together.

I really enjoyed the journey from the Caribbean to England. The details of shipboard life were interesting. I also loved the secondary characters of Gunner and Tom. Kit's relationships with them showed a different side of him, one that started Kate's change in feelings toward him.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Soldier's Dark Secret - Marguerite Kaye (HH #1225 - Mar 2015)

Series: Comrades in Arms (Book 1)

The truth behind the hero

Officer Jack Trestain may have been one of Wellington's most valued code-breakers, but since Waterloo, he's hung up his uniform. If only he could just as easily put aside the tortured memories he carries deep within… Perhaps enchanting French artist Celeste Marmion might be the distraction he so desperately craves?

Except Celeste harbors secrets of her own, and questions that she needs Jack's help to solve! With Celeste's every touch an exquisite temptation, how close can Jack get without revealing his darkest secret of all?

Good story about two emotionally wounded and vulnerable people. Jack has left the service after thirteen years, most recently as Wellington's best code-breakers. With the end of the war there is nothing to keep the memories at bay. He is haunted by the things he has seen and done, and the peace of his brother's country home only seems to make it worse. Celeste is an artist who has come to England to paint various scenes around his brother's home. The recent death of her mother has also brought forth some questions that she hopes to get answers to.

I hurt for Jack and the pain he is going through. Since his return from the war, he can't eat, can't sleep without nightmares, and has a hair-trigger temper. The care he gets from his family just makes him feel worse, as he feels he does not deserve it. He desperately wants to feel normal again but has no idea how to make it happen.

Jack and Celeste get off to a rough start, as she witnesses an intensely private moment. Her first glimpse of him delights her artistic soul as she admires his physical form, but it's the anguish she sees on his face that sends her running. Though angered by her invasion of his privacy, he quickly finds himself drawn to her and offers to show her the grounds. I thought it was interesting to see how each sees the other's pain and wants to help relieve it, without being willing to share their own.

Celeste grew up with parents who were emotionally distant from her, and was sent away to school when she was ten. She has spent the years since then feeling rejected by those who should have loved her. She has been estranged from her mother for years. A letter written by her mother shortly before her death has Celeste drowning in guilt, thinking that she might have prevented it, and with unanswered questions about who her mother really was. Jack's questions and suggestions have Celeste looking at her past in a different way, tearing down the walls she has built around her emotions. She takes Jack up on his offer to help her find the answers she's looking for.

Jack starts out looking at Celeste as a distraction. Her search is just the sort of puzzle he is good at, and concentrating on that could give him a break from the memories that haunt him. The more he finds out about her quest, the more he wants to help her avoid the crippling guilt that he is experiencing himself.

There is also an intense attraction between them. Jack is surprised by it, as he hasn't felt anything like it in years. He also considers himself a bad bet, and tries to resist giving in to it. Celeste is a grown woman, confident in her own needs. She is just as attracted to Jack and has no problem with the idea of indulging in it. She quickly comes to realize that what is between them is far more than she has ever experienced before. As they work together on her quest, they are drawn closer together by their empathy for each other's pain. I loved Jack's determination to get Celeste her answers, and his need to keep her from suffering the way that he does. I also loved the way that Celeste's own personality and empathy enables her to stand up to Jack when he is being a jerk. 

Celeste's growing love for Jack is especially apparent when she agrees to go to the dinner honoring Wellington with him. Though feeling out of her element, she is determined to support him in whatever manner he needs. The scene with his fellow officer was heartwrenching, as Jack's memories of that horrific event are finally exposed. Her ability to get him through it said so much about her feelings for him. 

A trip to France finishes off the search for Celeste's answers. All that is left is for each of them to be able to see that they bear no responsibility for the actions of other people. It is not something that is easily done, and it takes the help of the one they love to be able to move forward into the future, The epilogue was great, as it showed how they have turned their pain into something good.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Texas Rebels: Quincy - Linda Warren (HAR #1573 - Dec 2015)

Series: Texas Rebels (Book 3)

A Heart Divided

Quincy Rebel lives by a strict code of honor. Family first. Which means Jenny Rose Walker, his younger brother's ex-girlfriend, will never know how deeply and devotedly he loves her. The woman of his dreams is off-limits…until his brother gets engaged to someone else.

Jenny is ready to sever all ties with the ranching clan who has been like a second family to her. Even if it means giving up working with her best friend, Quincy, who she helps train paint horses. Quincy…the tall, masculine Rebel who's always been there for her. Is she developing feelings for him? Or are they headed for a rebound romance that will leave them both brokenhearted?

Good story. Quincy has been in love with Jenny for years, but she is his brother's on again off again girlfriend, so she is off limits to him, so he loves in silence. Then Paxton gets engaged to someone else and Quincy is ready to see if there's something there for him. Jenny and Paxton have been dating since high school, so she is devastated when she learns that Paxton has found someone else. It hurts too much to even continue working with Quincy and his horses. 

This was an interesting love triangle. Quincy has loved Jenny for years, but has limited himself to friendship. He's been there for Jenny whenever she's been on the outs with Paxton. Jenny has clung to her relationship with Paxton, even when he hurts her by being with other women. And Paxton comes back to Jenny whenever his latest fling doesn't work out.

I loved Quincy. He's always looking out for the people he cares about. He's frustrated by the way Paxton treats Jenny, but he won't break the "bro-code" and go after his brother's girl. He's furious when he hears about Paxton's engagement and discovers that he hadn't had the decency to tell Jenny in person. He's also hopeful that with Paxton out of the way, Jenny will see how much he cares for her. I loved seeing how he was always there when she needed him.

I really didn't like Paxton. He's very immature and selfish. He doesn't see anything wrong with chasing other women while he's out rodeoing. He always manages to charm Jenny into taking him back, and then turns around and does it again. He's also too much of a coward to do the right thing and tell Jenny about his engagement himself. Even his engagement seems to be for all the wrong reasons. The only thing he does right, when he finally does talk to her face to face, is to explain to Jenny that what they had had for the last several years wasn't a relationship but a friendship.

I was a bit conflicted about Jenny. I couldn't understand why she kept taking Paxton back over and over again, when someone as wonderful as Quincy was right there. I liked her a little more as she woke up to the truth about her feelings for Paxton and why she had stuck with him for so long. 

I loved seeing how Jenny finally started to realize that Quincy was more than a friend. But after deluding herself for so long about her feelings for Paxton, she was afraid that she was just using Quincy to feel better. There was a strain on their growing relationship though, because Quincy wasn't really sure that she was over Paxton. He was worried because of the way that Paxton still called her and was afraid that Jenny would go back to him. Both of them had some work to do in gaining the confidence in themselves that would allow them to believe in the love they shared. I loved the way they came together at the end.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Housekeeper Under the Mistletoe - Cara Colter (HR #4496 - Nov 2015)

Maid for the millionaire?

Angelica Witherspoon is hopeful that a housekeeping job is the fresh start she's been looking for. Until she arrives at the remote lakeside mansion full of enthusiasm and has the door slammed in her face!

Reclusive millionaire Jefferson Stone clearly stated chatterboxes need not apply, but Angelica is tenacious, and reluctantly he gives her a trial. Recently widowed, Jefferson has cut himself off from the world, but Angelica's warmth and stunning smile are tempting him to step out of the shadows and sweep her under the mistletoe!

Good redemption story. Angie is on the run from a stalker and is at the end of her resources. When she sees an ad for a housekeeper in a remote mansion it seems like the perfect solution. Unfortunately, her first encounter with her potential employer gets the door slammed in her face. But she is desperate and persistent, and convinces him to hire her.

Jefferson has shut himself off from the world ever since the death of his wife. He blames himself for what happened to her. He needs someone to get his house into shape for a photo shoot, but he doesn't want to interact with anyone. His first impression of Angie is that she's too young and cheerful. But he sees something in her eyes that tells him she needs help, and against his better judgment he hires her.

I hurt for Angie and all she'd been through. Left by her fiance because she was "boring", then stalked by a coworker, all she wants is a place where she can feel safe. I loved her strength in taking her safety into her own hands, and her determination to get the job. The pain she has suffered made her empathetic to Jefferson and his losses, and her nurturing personality made her want to make things better for him.

I loved her first day on the job and their conversation about her grocery list and how he does his shopping. It tells a great deal about why he eats the way he does. Though he sounds put out that he has to take her with him to shop, there's a feeling that maybe he doesn't mind as much as he says. Their journey back from town, across the lake, is interrupted by an intense summer storm. When they stop to wait out the storm, something changes between them. I loved the scene as they eat the melting ice cream, and how it emphasizes the electricity growing between them. It also lowers their defenses a bit, and Angie tells him what has driven her to his door. His own innate protectiveness kicks in, as he tells her she can stay as long as she needs to. A kiss of thanks rocks both their worlds, and Jefferson is hit with feelings he doesn't want to have.

There's a bit of avoidance that goes on over the next few days, as Angie works on the house and Jefferson hides in his office. That doesn't last long as he is slowly drawn out of his shell and begins to live again. The scene with the spider was unexpected and great fun. Angie also opens up to him and in doing so realizes the truth of her feelings. But in confessing those feelings to him, Jefferson is reminded of why he had closed himself off. His pain and hers as he rejects her love is intense, and nothing she says will change his mind.

Angie also sees that before she can convince him, she has to confront her own fears. I loved the strength and courage that it took for her to do so, and the satisfaction she got from doing it. I loved her return to him, and how she got there as he was facing some of his own demons. The ending was sweet as she returned to him and he finally saw what could be.

I really liked the epilogue and that it took place several years later. Seeing the changes in Jefferson's life and the happiness they share made a very satisfying ending.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Soldier, Hero ... Husband? - Cara Colter (HR #4491 - Oct 2015)

Series: Vineyards of Calanetti (Book 4)

The tortured hero's happily-ever-after

Former navy SEAL Connor Benson is in beautiful Tuscany, but he can't forget his time on the frontline. Meeting beautiful Isabella Rossi reminds him of everything he once fought for…and everything he can't have.

Isabella understands what it's like to be stuck in the past -- since becoming a widow she's been sleepwalking through life. But handsome Connor's delicious kisses are waking her up, and his courage inspires her: she must fight for the love they both deserve!

Sweet and intensely emotional story. It all starts when Connor awakens in the dark, disoriented because he can't remember where he is. As a former SEAL he is used to life on the edge, and before he is fully awake he has catapulted through the door and grabbed the person he heard sneaking around. He's embarrassed when he realizes that he is in a house in Italy and has just accosted his landlady. After some heartfelt apologies, they part ways, both of them more affected by the encounter than they want to admit.

Connor left the SEALs after his actions during his last mission resulted in his best friend being badly injured and confined to a wheelchair. The memories of the things he has done have him convinced that love and family are something that will never be his. 

Isabella has been a widow for six years. Her husband had been her best friend from the time they were children. He had always been ill and she had married him knowing that he was dying. She has been grieving for him and her dreams ever since, and has resigned herself to living her life alone.

From the moment they met, Connor and Isabella were drawn to each other. Isabella saw past the shell that Connor shows everyone else, to the lonely man inside. She wants to show him that he's a better man than he believes, and that he has much to offer a woman. At the same time, Connor can't stand to see Isabella locked away in her grief, never having experienced the joy possible in a relationship between a man and a woman. 

I loved the way that Connor and Isabella's relationship developed. Each is wary of risking their heart, taking two steps forward, then one step back, as the intensity of feeling gets to be too much. I loved seeing each of them use what they know best to reach out to the other. My favorite part was the swimming lessons that Connor gave to Isabella. He thought he would be safe from his attraction to her by concentrating on the lessons, only to be confronted by her determination to get his attention the best way she knew - with very tiny bathing suits. Oh, the battles he fought with himself!

There were also walks, moonlit picnics, and dancing under the stars. Mixed in were also moments of pain shared. And just when it looks like Connor finally believes in a future with Isabella, his past rises up to ruin it all. Fortunately for him, Isabella has learned her lessons in living well, and refuses to let him go. I loved seeing the lengths she went to in order to find him and the effect that she had on him when she did.

"So love could be this, too. Not just gentle and sweet and quiet and compliant. But this: as strong as steel forged in a fire."

I loved the sense of wonder and healing as the two lonely and hurting people found their second chance at love.

The descriptions of the setting, from the river to the quality of the light to the recently discovered fresco were so vivid that I felt as though I was there. 

Indecent Proposal - Molly O'Keefe (Bantam - Oct 2014)

Series: Boys of Bishop (Book 4)

With his chiseled jaw and thick blond hair, Harrison Montgomery was born to lead. Four generations of Montgomery men have served the state of Georgia, and now he’s next in line. Harrison, though, is driven to right wrongs: namely to clean up the political mess left by his father’s greed and corruption. But Harrison must first win his congressional bid, and nothing can get in his way -- not even an angel who served him whiskey and gave him a shoulder to lean on and a body to love for a night. Problem is, she’s pregnant. Scandal is brewing, and there is only one solution: marriage.

Damage control? Ryan Kaminski can’t believe that a cold, calculating political animal now inhabits the body of the emotionally vulnerable stranger who gave her the most unforgettable night of her life. Really, she doesn’t want anything from Harrison, except to be left alone to have her baby in peace. But Ryan is broke, jobless, and essentially blackmailed by Harrison’s desperate family to accept this crazy marriage deal. For two years, she will have to act the role of caring, supportive wife. But what is Ryan supposed to do when she realizes that, deep in her heart, she’s falling in love?

Good book, with a marriage of convenience between two very different people. It opens with Ryan working her job as a bartender, and seeing the same good-looking "Ken doll" man come in for the third night in a row. The first two nights he had been glued to his phone, ignoring everyone around him, but on this night he sits there looking sad, alone and lost. Ryan is drawn to him and, as she frequently does, gets him to talk a little about what is troubling him. Then she breaks all the rules and spends a hot night with a man whose full name she doesn't know.

Harrison is part of a family with a history of public service, and he is starting his first run for office himself. He is determined not to follow in his father's corrupt footsteps and keeps tight control on his own actions. The one exception was that night with the beautiful bartender who was his port in an emotional storm. He can't forget her, but he can't see her again either. Then he finds out she's pregnant, and to protect himself from scandal he knows he'll have to marry her.

My feelings about Harrison went back and forth between liking him and detesting him. His vulnerability at the beginning had me hoping that everything would turn out all right with whatever problem he had been facing. Even when he left the next morning, he did so with a bit of class. But his reaction when he found out Ryan was pregnant had me going the other way, especially with his threats against her. There were times when he seemed to be two different people. I found him to be rather judgmental, especially regarding his parents, when he wasn't exactly perfect himself. He could also be very kind, as shown when he was trying to take care of Ryan when she was sick. He was very focused on his goal of political office, even though I frequently got the feeling that it isn't what would make him truly happy. As the story went on, the good Harrison was more frequently seen. I liked the way that he came to appreciate Ryan and her support of him. He also started to care for her. When things started to go bad with his campaign, he wanted to protect her from being affected by his troubles, so he tried to drive her away. But in doing so, he finally realizes that it is Ryan who has given him the true reason to be a better man, and has to find a way to win her back. How he goes about it shows just how much he has changed.

I really liked Ryan. She had a working class upbringing and was something of a wild child. She had a brief stint as a model, a mistake of a marriage, and a serious falling out with her family. She's been on her own for six years, trying to get her life back in order. She's really good at reading people and wanting to help them through their problems, which is how she ended up with Harrison in the first place. Even when she finds out who he is, she has no plans to contact him, knowing that it could wreck his plans. Interference from her protective brother takes the decision out of her hands. Her encounter with the political Harrison is painful and leaves her with no choice but to go along with his proposal, but she has the strength to add a few conditions of her own. I loved that she didn't just give in to his demands. 

What happens next is a roller coaster of feelings. Ryan may be the complete opposite of Harrison and everything he is, but she isn't stupid. I loved her transformation from bartender to political wife, and the way it completely floored everyone around her. The scene at the press conference that introduced her as Harrison's wife was fantastic. She doesn't try to hide her past or gloss over it, the way that Harrison tried to do, but steps up and owns it and moves on. There's also a wonderful scene at an event at a food bank, where Ryan's past experiences show an empathy that people like Harrison can never have. Harrison starts to gain a new respect for Ryan. She is also a place of normalcy in the craziness that is his life and he grows to need her far more than he ever expected. 

The secondary characters were great. Harrison's parents are his example of what not to do with his life and his career. They are really unlikable until the very end, when I developed a little bit of sympathy for them. Ryan's family is an interesting contrast. They obviously love each other, but Ryan's past actions have put a strain on their relationships. I was intrigued by Ryan's brother Wes, and would like to see him in his own story. My favorite of the secondary characters was Harrison's campaign manager Wallace. He's definitely a good friend to Harrison and wants what is best for him. I loved his interactions with Ryan, especially the one when she first arrives in Atlanta. It was great to see him go from disdain and dislike to a real respect and liking for her. I loved his part in bringing them back together.

*copy received in exchange for honest review.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

High Country Christmas - Joanna Sims (HSE #2448 - Dec 2015)

Series: Brands of Montana (Book 2)

This cowboy's in a family way!

It was supposed to be a harmless summer fling. Until a night of passion leaves ranching student London Davenport with an unexpected preholiday gift. And although wedlock wasn't in Tyler Brand's immediate plans, the footloose rancher is ready to step up and do the honorable thing by the stunning woman he secretly adores. The only obstacle is the stubborn mother-to-be.

London can't let anything stop her from returning to Virginia at the end of the semester…not even the irresistible father of her unborn child. How can she tell Tyler the truth about why she can never live happily-ever-after on his cattle ranch? But London's about to find out how far one determined cowboy will go to fight for her and the future of their family.

Good book. London is a summer intern on the Brand ranch. She loves the work that she does, especially working with the horses. She's also very attracted to Tyler Brand. One night of giving in to the attraction, and a malfunctioning condom, leaves her pregnant and conflicted. On the one side she wants to stay in Montana, but on the other side is her need to return to her home in Virginia. Tyler has been drawn to London from the beginning. The rules of the ranch are to stay away from the interns, but that hasn't been possible for Tyler. Resisting her that night had been impossible. 

One of the things I really liked about this book was that they handled the whole pregnancy issue in a mature manner. Tyler made sure that London knew that they were in it together. I thought he showed a great deal of sensitivity when they got the tests, and how he knew she needed the privacy to deal with them. I loved the description of where he took her. Tyler wants her to marry him, but London insists that it isn't possible. 

I felt bad for London because of the conflict she was suffering. When she finally gets up the courage to tell him about the son she has back home, she worries that it will change the way he looks at her. She never really got wholehearted support from her family with her first pregnancy. I loved Tyler's complete acceptance of her past and how he handles the details. He continues to tell her that he wants her to marry him, but is also wise to the fact that if he pushes she'll dig in her heels.

It was really sweet to see how Tyler takes care of her when she's sick, and helps her to see that she has to put off finishing school. He's always there when she needs him. London slowly begins to realize how much she cares for him, but needing to get back to her son is always at the back of her mind. If she could convince her son that living in Montana was a good thing, she'd be able to have the life she wants. I loved Tyler's plan to invite JT to the ranch for Christmas, and show him what it would be like.

I loved the whole visit to the ranch. JT is a typical teenager and his attitude at the beginning is less that cooperative. It was great to see how the whole family got involved in the visit. London was worried that Tyler and JT weren't connecting, but Tyler was confident that it would happen. I loved seeing that bonding moment when it came, and the difference it made to London's hope for their future. The ending was sweet and romantic and perfect for Tyler and London. 

My only dissatisfaction was that there were mentions of possible trouble with JT's father, but nothing more was said about it.