Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Mighty Quinns: Mac - Kate Hoffmann (HB #867 - Nov 2015)

Series: Mighty Quinns (Book 32)

No strings. No tomorrow. Just here and now…

Luke ''Mac'' MacKenzie has no past. Orphaned at twelve, he doesn't remember his real name or why his parents were on the run. The name "Aileen Quinn" means nothing to him. Now Mac wanders through the country as a pilot, never settling down…until he finds something -- or someone -- who stops him in his tracks.

After all she's been through, Emma Bryant just wants a fling -- a hot man for a passionate night she'll never forget. Preferably someone tall, dark and really, really hot. Like Mac. The problem is, there's nothing casual about the heat between them…or the bond that threatens them with something neither thought they could have: a future.

Good book about two people who aren't looking for love but find it anyway. Mac has been mostly on his own since he was abandoned by his parents when he was twelve. A few years in the foster care system only solidified his desire to look toward the future and leave the past behind. As a pilot working for himself, it's easy to pack up and move on whenever anyone gets too close. Emma is the librarian for her small town library. Growing up she had been the ugly duckling that no one was interested in dating. Just when she passed that stage, her mother became ill with cancer and Emma devoted herself to taking care of her, leaving no time for dating. Now she's twenty-seven, has never been with a man, and the whole town knows it. Everyone is trying to fix her up, and all Emma wants is to find out what all the hoopla is about.

Then Emma meets Mac and decides he's the perfect choice for her dilemma. He's only in town for a short time and he's hot enough that she's sure that he knows what he's doing. All she has to do is convince him that she isn't interested in forever, just right now.

For all that the chemistry between them is smoking hot, this is really a pretty sweet romance. Mac listens to what Emma wants, but rather than go for the "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am" that she is asking for, he tries to give her the experience he thinks she deserves. Strangely enough, the combination of her sweetness and enthusiasm has him thinking of staying around longer rather than running the way he usually does. But he had already made it clear that he isn't a man who stays and she has said she doesn't want a relationship, so how can he change the rules? Emma has plans for her life, so she doesn't want to settle down, but she does want to get rid of the albatross of her virginity. Mac is perfect for the job since he'll be leaving soon. Though frustrated by his plan to take things slow, once they get going she couldn't be happier, until she realizes that she's falling for him. But she had promised that she would have no expectations, and she's determined to keep that promise.

Running throughout the book is the question of Mac's past. Mac prefers to leave the past where it is because he doesn't think that there would be anything good to find out. After all, his parents were cons who were always on the move, and who had ended up abandoning him. But Emma truly believes that Mac may have family out there looking for him. While helping a library patron with a similar question, she discovers a way for him to find out, all she needs to do is convince him. I loved the way that she was sensitive to his fears, but persistent in her attempts to persuade him. It said a lot about Mac that, though he would get angry, he didn't hold a grudge and would actually consider her point of view. It was bad of Emma to justify her snooping the way she did, but it all worked out in the end.

I really liked the fact that both Emma and Mac realized that they had to face their own issues before they could hope to have a future together. It was even better that they supported each other in that need and could give each other the space to do it. Their reunion was sweet and romantic.

I loved the epilogue with Aileen Quinn and her happiness at having tracked down the descendants of her four brothers. There was a lovely twist in the news that her research assistant brought to her, and her excitement was a wonderful cap to the Aileen Quinn set of the Mighty Quinns books. I am looking forward to seeing what is next for this family. Perhaps there will be stories for the children of the first Quinn books. 

The Fiery Cross - Diana Gabaldon (Delacorte - Sept 2005)

Series: Outlander (Book 5)

The year is 1771, and war is coming. Jamie Fraser's wife tells him so. Little as he wishes to, he must believe it, for hers is a gift of dreadful prophecy -- a time-traveler's certain knowledge.

Born in the year of Our Lord 1918, Claire Randall served England as a nurse on the battlefields of World War II, and in the aftermath of peace found fresh conflicts when she walked through a cleftstone on the Scottish Highlands and found herself an outlander, an English lady in a place where no lady should be, in a time -- 1743 -- when the only English in Scotland were the officers and men of King George's army.

Now wife, mother, and surgeon, Claire is still an outlander, out of place, and out of time, but now, by choice, linked by love to her only anchor -- Jamie Fraser. Her unique view of the future has brought him both danger and deliverance in the past; her knowledge of the oncoming revolution is a flickering torch that may light his way through the perilous years ahead -- or ignite a conflagration that will leave their lives in ashes....

The story of Jamie and Claire continues, October 1770 through October 1772. Jamie and Claire, along with Brianna, Roger, Fergus, Marsali and assorted other Scottish immigrants, have established their settlement at Fraser's Ridge. The book opens with a Gathering of the region's Scottish folks, where marriages are celebrated, children baptized, and news of the wider world exchanged and discussed. Tensions are growing between the colonists and the English government as shown by some of the things that happen at the Gathering. Jamie's continued possession of his land is dependent on remaining in the good graces of the governor, so he finds himself responsible for leading local militia if it is needed.

Major events for the book: A trip to River Run for his aunt Jocasta's wedding finds Jamie and Claire involved in a murder mystery where Claire's medical expertise discovers the how but not the why. Jamie's leadership is called on when the militia is required to stop a rebel group called the Regulators. Jamie attempts to stop the battle before it can happen, instead Roger ends up in a traumatic situation that nearly kills him, and alters his life as he knows it. A hunting trip nearly turns deadly for Jamie. Jamie and Roger continue their attempts to track down Stephen Bonnet, and Ian returns to the Ridge.

Interspersed with the major events are the details of daily life in Colonial America. The descriptions are vivid enough that I could easily picture the scenes as I was reading. Some of them were pretty funny, such as almost anything dealing with pigs.

In this book, the relationship between Brianna and Roger continues to strengthen and grow. Their wedding is both funny and very emotional. Both of them are still adjusting to life in the eighteenth century, though Roger sometimes seems to have a harder time of it. Though the true paternity of Brianna's son Jemmy is still not known, Roger works his way through his own feelings about it. After the events of the battle with the Regulators, Roger has to find his way through his depression to find his new reality. I really enjoyed seeing he and Jamie grow closer. Roger is moved by Jamie's confidence in him at various critical points in the book, which does good things for his confidence.

As always, the love that Jamie and Claire have for each other burns bright and strong throughout the book. They have settled into their lives on the Ridge, with each one contributing their individual strengths to the process. I loved their support of each other, even when they didn't agree. Jamie's protectiveness is always foremost in his mind, but he knows when it is a losing battle to argue with her. Likewise, Claire knows that asking Jamie to be anything but the Highland warrior he is would be asking him not to be himself. But for all his toughness, there is the romantic in him that he expresses so beautifully: “When the day shall come, that we do part," he said softly, and turned to look at me, "if my last words are not 'I love you'—ye'll ken it was because I didna have time.”  It is that love that brings him back from the edge in the frightening episode with the snakebite. There are also times when the things he says are laugh out loud funny, such as when he sees his sperm in Claire's microscope: 
“He bent and kissed me briefly, then headed for the door. Just short of it, though, he turned back.
"The, um, sperms ..." he said, a little awkwardly.
"Yes?"
"Can ye not take them out and give them decent burial or something?"
I hid my smile in my teacup.
"I'll take good care of them," I promised. "I always do, don't I?”

Also running through the book is the continuing search for Stephen Bonnet. The grief that he has already caused for the family, plus the threat of his continued existence, makes it vital for him to be dealt with. As they learn more about his activities, it becomes obvious that he is a far larger threat than they had previously thought. Jamie holds himself responsible for Bonnet's freedom, and he and Roger have a plan to resolve it. Claire says it best when she states “While the Lord might insist that vengeance was His, no male Highlander of my acquaintance had ever thought it right that the Lord should be left to handle such things without assistance.”  A scary encounter between Bonnet and Claire, Brianna, and Marsali has an unexpected ending, but leaves the issue hanging to be continued in the next book.

The issue of time-travel comes up when Ian returns to the Ridge at the end of the book, bearing a gift for Claire from the old Mohawk woman. It is a notebook that had belonged to the one known as "Otter-Tooth". Its revelations are eye-opening and frightening and give the family quite a lot to think about.  Out of it all, my favorite part is "Mmphmm," Ian said, and his face lighted with an expression of profound satisfaction. "I knew ye weren't a fairy,  Auntie Claire!"

As frequently happens with Gabaldon's books, what appear to be minor characters move in and out of the story, often for little apparent reason. But it is a rare occurrence when one of these characters doesn't have a purpose, even though it may not be known for another book or two. I have learned not to dismiss anyone as unimportant.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The CEO's Unexpected Child - Andrea Laurence (HD #2431 - Mar 2016)

Series: Billionaires and Babies (Book 67)

CLAIMING HIS CHILD…AT ANY COST

A shocking fertility clinic mix-up has resulted in Luca Moretti fathering a child with a woman he's never met. There's no way the CEO will walk away from his baby girl. But he has thirty days to convince her distractingly beautiful mother to do exactly what he wants.

Widow Claire Douglas is still reeling from the loss of her husband when she discovers a stranger has fathered her child. And the rich bachelor will stop at nothing to gain joint custody. How can she possibly fight a man with such money and power…and a charm she can't resist?

Very good and very emotional book. Claire became a widow when her husband was killed in a car accident, accompanied by his mistress. Then she gets word that through a mix-up at the fertility clinic her daughter's father is actually another man, one who wants shared custody of little Eva. Luca had given up any hope of ever being a father after a devastating illness when he was a teen. When he discovers that he has a daughter thanks to the clinic mix-up there's no way he can walk away. But what are his chances of convincing her mother without a long and painful custody battle?

I must admit that my first impression of Luca was of a cold man who is only interested in getting his way. His threats against Claire really had me wanting her to fight back. But that quickly faded when his thoughts and feelings were described and I could see how much having a child would mean to him. I liked seeing the solution that he came up with, of the three of them spending a month together, getting to know each other. It also said a lot about Claire that she could see the benefit and was able to agree. I also liked the way that she had the graciousness to invite him to meet Eva before they left on their trip.

This is where Luca really began to shine. I loved the way that he was immediately enchanted by Eva and the effect that she had on him. Claire also began to realize that there was more to him than the ruthless businessman she first thought him to be. Something neither of them expected was the flare of attraction between them, something both were uncomfortable with. Luca had been burned by another woman and has serious trust issues when it comes to them. He had also determined long ago that a family was something he would never have. Claire no longer trusts her judgment when it comes to men, thanks to her husband's lies and infidelity. She isn't about to risk her heart again.

I loved their time at Martha's Vineyard. Claire quickly came to see that Luca would be a wonderful father to Eva. Luca also discovered that Claire was not as unreasonable as she had seemed before. I loved seeing them get to know each other and how easily they worked together as a family. I loved Luca's protectiveness toward Claire when he found out about her husband's treatment of her. She had never experienced that kind of caring and it only added to her growing feelings for him. Luca was also beginning to care for Claire, but tried to suppress those feelings. He was, however, willing to use her feelings to convince her that being married was the best option for them. He was also determined to keep the truth of his illness from her, as he felt it made him less of a man. It was interesting to see that Claire could tell that he was holding back on something important and that she was determined to get the truth from him before moving further with a relationship.

I loved seeing them grow even closer by the end of the trip. Luca was still guarding his feelings and I was sure that something was going to happen to crack the wall around his heart. And when it did, he made the world's biggest idiot of himself. I ached for Claire but loved the way that she stood up for herself. It was wonderful to see her call Luca out on his cowardice and stand strong. It was very satisfying to see him have to admit that she was right and do something about it. I loved his big moment at the end, and the twist that Claire added to it. 

I loved Luca's family and the obvious love and support they had for each other. I could also understand why he had kept Eva a secret from them for so long, as they were certainly overwhelming as a group. It was sweet to see the way that they all embraced Claire right away. I also loved seeing Gavin from His Lover's Little Secret. He got quite a laugh out of Luca's reaction to Claire and I'm sure he could see where it was heading. I also liked his support of Luca at the end, and how he backed up Claire's challenge. His comments after Luca got the results of his test were pretty funny.

Friday, February 26, 2016

One Secret Night, One Secret Baby - Charlene Sands (HD #2434 - Mar 2016)

Series: Moonlight Beach Bachelors (Book 3)

During a city-wide power outage, Emma Bloom turns to her old friend Dylan McKay for help. The Hollywood heartthrob comes to her rescue, action-hero style, and sees her safely home. But what happened next? The details are blurry -- because Emma was tipsy, and an on-set accident leaves Dylan's memory of that night in tatters.

But soon irrefutable evidence surfaces: Emma is pregnant. It's hard enough sharing her secret with a man used to fending off scheming women. But Dylan does the right thing and proposes. And then, one day, his memory returns…

Very good friends to lovers story. Emma and Dylan have known each other for a very long time. She is best friends and business partners with his sister Brooke, and has always had something of a crush on Dylan. One night when at a party she got a bit tipsy, then the power went out all over the city. Panicking, she called Dylan for help and he picked her up and took her home. She has vague recollections of begging him to stay because of her fears, and things went further than she expected. Dylan remembers nothing because of an on-set accident the next day that killed his best friend and stunt double and injured him.

I liked Emma. She is a strong and independent woman, determined to make her own way in the world. She is also a very good friend to both Brooke and Dylan. She cherishes her friendship with them and doesn't want what happened that night to change things with Dylan. She's not sure whether she's relieved or disappointed that he doesn't remember their night together, but decides to keep it to herself unless he remembers. Then she discovers that she's pregnant and knows she'll have to tell him.

Dylan was great. He's made it big in Hollywood, but it hasn't gone to his head. He loves his sister and by extension, her friend Emma. Still grieving for his friend and recovering from his injuries, she and Brooke are keeping a close eye on him. Dylan finds himself attracted to Emma, but as his sister's friend it should be hands off. 

I loved that Dylan and Emma were friends first. I loved the way he asks her to go with him to a hospital event because he knows he can trust her. His attraction to her starts to show, and she notices the way he keeps touching her. She's not sure what to do, because she wants him but can't believe that he'd really be interested in her. They're getting closer when she discovers her pregnancy. I loved the way that Dylan became so protective of her and wanting to take care of her. It's a circumstance that he never expected to happen to him as he's careful not to raise expectations in the women he's with. He'd been hurt once before and has been protecting himself ever since. 

It was sweet to see how Dylan wants Emma to move in with him so he can take care of her, but when she resists he backs off. Emma would like nothing more, but she wants to be wanted for herself, not because of the baby. Being an obligation is not what she wants from the man she is coming to love. I really liked the way that Dylan decides that going slow is the way to win her over, and uses old fashioned dates as the way to do it. I loved the progress he made, and the terrific scene where his wish comes true. Things are really looking good for them until his memory returns, revealing an unexpected twist from the night of the blackout. Dylan's insecurities rear up, causing him to react badly. The pain that both were in had me reaching for the tissues as I read.

An attempt on his life has Dylan realizing that he had made some mistakes. When the threat suddenly extends to Emma also, he is terrified for her safety. I loved seeing him wake up to the truth of his feelings. The ending was so sweet and romantic and perfect for them.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Billionaire's Nanny - Melissa McClone (HSE #2352 - Aug 2014)

Series: Coles of Haley's Bay (Book 1)

TEMPORARY ASSISTANT…FULL-TIME FIANCÉE

Just when he thinks "problem solved," internet billionaire AJ Cole realizes he needs more than a temp. He needs a fiancée to show off when he returns home to Haley's Bay for the first time in ten years. His family has a habit of matchmaking, and AJ doesn't need the drama. But as soon as Emma Markwell agrees to his assignment, he learns that pretend love can feel oh-so real.

Once a nanny, Emma's played many games of make-believe. This shouldn't be any different -- until a few hot kisses meant for show blur the line between fantasy and reality! AJ doesn't do commitment, but Emma has always longed for true love and refuses to settle for less. AJ can't resist a challenge, and soon, he can't figure out if he's just trying to get into her bed…or keep her from getting into his heart.

Good book. AJ is really tense about going back to Haley's Bay after ten years away, but he's keeping a promise he made to his grandmother when he was eight years old. His assistant has the party plans well in hand when she comes down with appendicitis, leaving him in need of a temporary assistant. She recommends her best friend, Emma, a nanny who is between jobs, but can easily handle the job.

Their first meeting is a little rough, as Emma is also bringing her foster cat with her, a cat who doesn't like to fly any more than Emma does. Emma's fear of flying is bad enough that she gets sick on takeoff, causing AJ to wonder what he's gotten himself into. Things smooth out once the flight does, and they get a chance to talk. 

AJ had left Haley's Bay and never returned because of a falling out with his father. AJ wanted more from life than being part of the family fishing business and his father didn't approve. AJ earned a scholarship to MIT and went on to become a billionaire with his computer business, but hasn't spoken to his father or brothers since. He's had some contact with the women in his family. He lets Emma know that he will be depending on her to act as a buffer between his family and him. Unfortunately for him, the ladies in his family have a plan for getting him to come back to Haley's Bay permanently, and that plan involves the sister of his sister-in-law. Three minutes of conversation with this woman and AJ panics, telling everyone that Emma is his girlfriend.

I really felt sorry for AJ here, because he was definitely feeling cornered and says the first thing that pops into his head. It gets even more interesting when his eighty year old grandmother puts them in the same bedroom because "she was young once". Emma is horrified, but feels a bit sorry for AJ, so she goes along with it - but not before exacting a little revenge of her own. It was pretty sweet to see the effects her demands had on him.

Emma has a hard time accepting the way that AJ has cut himself off from his family. She lost her family in a fire when she was ten, spending the rest of her childhood in foster homes. She would like nothing more for herself than a family of her own. She goes along with the deception in hopes of helping AJ mend his relationship with his family.

I loved seeing the two of them dealing with their deception. First they have to "practice" which shows that it could be far too easy to believe that it is real. There is a very definite attraction between them, but they look at it in different ways. AJ would like to pursue it, enjoy it, then walk away. He avoids commitment of any kind with women, having been burned when he was younger. He's certain that he can win Emma over to his way of thinking, because women never tell him no. Emma looks at the attraction as a disaster waiting to happen. She believes in love and marriage and family, and falling for a man who doesn't is not the way for her to get what she wants. 

I liked seeing the relationship develop. Though he doesn't do commitment, AJ finds it incredibly easy to talk to Emma and share things with her. More and more often he pictures her in his life long term, which scares him and makes him pull back before allowing the thought to take root. He also discovers a feeling of protectiveness toward her, that exhibits in the sweetest way when she has an emergency back in Portland. Emma realizes that it would be very easy for her to fall in love with him. She has bouts of hope when some of his nicer moments happen, but when he advocates for a fling between them she knows she has to stand strong. I loved seeing her stand up for her own needs, and had to laugh at his confusion over her rejection. It was cool to see him bury his pride and ask his father and brothers for help. His big moment at the end was really romantic as he lays it all on the line. I also liked the way that Emma realized that she had been doing some running of her own before taking a chance on AJ.

It was interesting to see AJ's family dynamics. He had trouble seeing that he was just as stubborn as his father and it took a great deal of effort from Emma for him to see it. I enjoyed seeing the first steps when the guys were all out on the fishing boat. AJ's grandmother was also really sweet with a nice dash of sass to go along with it.

Waking Up Wed - Christy Jeffries (HSE #2459 - Feb 2016)

Series: Sugar Falls Idaho (Book 2)

THE BRIDE SAID, "I DID?"

Forget about her reputation. Kylie Chatterson is most definitely not that kind of girl. She's a conscientious CPA who has never even been with a man…that way. But when she wakes up in a Nevada hotel room after her friend's bachelorette party, the best man is in her bed…and he's wearing a wedding ring. And guess what: so is she!

For better or worse, Drew Gregson is now her husband. The hunky military psychologist doesn't remember the night any more than she does. Nevertheless, he seems in no hurry to end their impulsive betrothal. As she gets to know Drew and his adorable, squirmy nephews, Kylie has to remind herself this is all temporary -- and pretend. Or could it be the best mistake she ever made?

Good book with a really fun beginning. Kylie is the maid of honor for her best friend Maxine's wedding (A Marine for His Mom). When the groom's somewhat uptight best friend arrives for the bachelor/bachelorette party, Kylie offers him a drink to get him to relax a little. The next thing she knows she wakes up in bed with him and both of them are wearing wedding rings. Neither of them remember anything about how they got there.

Kylie has a reputation for being quite a flirt, dresses flamboyantly, and says what she thinks. But that is pretty much a front for a woman who really wants to find Mr. Right and have a family of her own. She still hasn't found the one she's ready to give herself to, and now she's married to a virtual stranger. She's determined to keep it quiet until they can figure a way out of it. 

Drew is freshly arrived from overseas, ready to take up his job at the military hospital and his turn as guardian to his twin nephews while his brother is deployed. He's always kept his emotions under control and determined to be sure that a woman is right for him before making a commitment, and that the commitment will be for life. Finding himself married to a stranger who seems to be the exact opposite of everything he wants is disturbing to say the least. He'll go along with her desire to keep it quiet for now, but something in him says not to give up.

Their next encounter is the night of the rehearsal dinner, when he has his two rambunctious nephews with him. He's at his wit's end, but Kylie takes them in hand. Suddenly Drew is thinking that maybe fate hasn't played him so false after all, though Kylie is still keeping distance between them. Things get really interesting at the wedding reception the next day, when one too many snide comments from the town gossip has Kylie blurting out the news of their marriage. Now they have to follow through and play the part.

What follows is sheer fun, as both Kylie and Drew cope with the chaos that living with the twins brings to them. There is also the burning attraction between them that each tries to resist but end up giving in to. I loved seeing them get to know each other and discover that deep down, they weren't so different after all. I really liked the way that Drew soon understood Kylie and the way she reacts to things, and was sensitive enough not to push her where she didn't want to go. It was also fun to see the way that she was able to chip away at his control, making him a bit more relaxed. But they do have a bit of a communication issue, as neither will take the first step in saying that they want the marriage to become a real one, fearing the rejection that they are sure would be the result. Their own insecurities rear up when Drew's brother returns unexpectedly. The ending was really sweet as multiple people make Drew and Kylie realize they have to fight for what they want.

The secondary characters were terrific. The twins were adorable and perfectly portrayed. I ached for them and their fears when the reasons for their actions came out. I loved Kylie's dad, especially when the truth of his treatment of her came out. It was hysterical that everyone saw it except for her. I also really like Drew's brother Luke. Being Drew's twin gave him some extra insight into his behavior, and I loved the way he helped Drew through his crisis with Kylie. I'm really looking forward to his story.

My only complaint is the cover of the book. Kylie is a redhead, not a blond, and Drew wears glasses. I would really have liked to see those glasses on the cover model, as that is so unusual in a hero.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Morrow Creek Marshal - Lisa Plumley (HH #1259 - Dec 2015)

Series: Morrow Creek (Book 10)

Dylan Coyle was all man. Tall. Handsome. Not to be trusted...

Dancing girl Marielle Miller makes sure no cowboy steps his spurred boots out of line. But then one night, she tumbles from the stage into the arms of Dylan Coyle...

Marielle doesn’t need a man in her life-especially a wandering gunslinger unwilling to put down roots. Except as Morrow Creek’s new stand-in lawman, Dylan will be around to vex her for a while yet. And when she becomes embroiled in his latest case, Marielle starts to hope this particular drifter will stick around for good!

Good book. This story picks up where Morrow Creek Runaway left off. Dylan was one of Rose's security guys and now that the threat is over, he's planning to leave town. Before he can do so, the men of the town coerce him into being their temporary sheriff since the previous one has disappeared. Marielle is the senior dancing girl at Murphy's saloon, one with very exacting standards. She works hard to protect herself and the other girls from patrons with trouble on their minds. A confrontation one night has her falling off the stage right into Dylan's arms.

Dylan and Marielle strike sparks from each other from the very beginning. Marielle has a very poor opinion of most men, believing that none of them can be counted on. Even though he is the sheriff, Marielle knows that Dylan isn't the kind to settle down anywhere, so she is always on the lookout for his departure. Dylan is a man who refuses to put down roots anywhere and goes wherever the wind blows him. He's not thrilled about staying in Morrow Creek, but something about Marielle makes the prospect more appealing.

One of Marielle's motivations in life is to take care of her younger brother, who seems to have a talent for getting into trouble. He's rather immature, though very protective of Marielle. Unfortunately, he also seems to have gotten tangled up with some bad men, who blackmail Marielle into "cozying up" to the sheriff for their own purposes. It was really fun to see her dial back her antagonism in order to do what she must to protect Hudson. What really surprised her was that, once she did, she found that she actually liked the man, and that liking began to grow into more.

On his side, Dylan discovered that he was actually enjoying his time as sheriff. Getting to know the people gave him a sense of belonging that he'd never felt before. He also has a purpose for being there, and that is to track down the previous sheriff and the money he stole. That's proving to be a little more difficult than expected, especially with the distraction that Marielle provides. 

I loved seeing Dylan and Marielle getting to know each other. Though her motive at first had been for the wrong reasons, she's soon enjoying it for herself. I liked how she saw past his tough guy surface to the sensitive man that he's determined to hide from the world. She also discovers that she trusts him, but can't bring herself to tell him of the trouble she is in. I liked seeing Dylan discover that it was okay to show his softer side, that it didn't stop him from doing his job. 

Their relationship progresses quite nicely with Dylan actually considering staying in Morrow Creek and Marielle believing that she can finally have everything she wants in life. Then the bad guys come back to town and Marielle is caught in the middle of a dangerous situation. Suddenly Dylan doesn't know if she's really in trouble or has been playing him for a fool the whole time. Though the danger is dealt with, hurt pride and heartbreak seem to be what's in store for Dylan and Marielle unless they can find a way past it. I loved the way that the men's club and ladies' society got involved and put them back on the path to love. The ending was really sweet and romantic.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

His Pregnant Princess Bride - Catherine Mann (HD #2427 - Feb 2016)

Series: Bayou Billionaires (Book 1)

A princess and a Southern billionaire are expecting twins!

His focus is on his family's football dynasty. Louisiana billionaire Gervais Reynaud has no time for romance. But he can't say no to a tryst with Erika Mitras. True, she's a princess, but in no way prim…or proper. Their time together is unbelievable…and all too short.

When Erika said goodbye, she meant it. But now she must tell Gervais the truth. He's about to be a father…to royal twins. After leaving her overbearing family, Erika wants nothing from Gervais. But the tempting tycoon just may charm her into a future she desires all too much.

Good book. Gervais and Erika met at a soccer match in England and had a passionate weekend together. But Erika has plans for her life that don't include an affair with a hot American, so she ignores his attempts to contact her afterward. Then  she discovers she is pregnant and has no choice but to let him know.

The first meeting between Erika and Gervaise gives a good feel for what their personalities are like. Erika is there representing her family. She's not happy about it and it shows. Her mind is on her own plans for her future. She is about to leave her career in her country's military, something she did against her family's wishes. Thanks to their interference she wasn't allowed to do the job she wanted to do, so she is preparing to follow her dreams on her own. Her plans are to become a nurse practitioner and she is set to begin. Gervaise is there checking out the stadium because his football team will be playing there. His family has their reputation but he's determined to make his own place in the world. The team that he owns is his and all his efforts are placed on achieving his goals. That isn't to say he isn't interested in a brief fling with Erika, because he is. Her independence intrigues him, as does her lack of interest in the sport that runs his life. 

Two months later Erika shows up in New Orleans to tell Gervaise that she's pregnant and find out if he wants to be part of the baby's life. Her intent is to tell him her news, then continue with her plans, expecting nothing of him. But that isn't Gervaise's way of doing things. He immediately proposes marriage, which she refuses just as quickly. He's not going to give up, and talks her into staying two weeks so they can get to know each other, and he has a chance to change her mind.

I liked Erika, but she also frustrated me. She developed her independence and stubbornness because of her family's tendency to try to run her life. I loved seeing her go after what she wanted in spite of their meddling. However, with her pregnancy, especially after they found out it was twins, I felt like she should have been a little more open to options. Every time Gervaise made a suggestion she would shoot it down immediately. She was so determined to hang on to her independence that she wasn't thinking about her pregnancy's effect on Gervaise and his life at all.

I really liked Gervaise. He's ready to step up the minute he hears that Erika is pregnant. He has experience with the kind of man who doesn't, as his father has quite the philanderer's reputation and he doesn't want that for himself. He understands her goals and he doesn't ask her to give them up, just alter their timing a little bit. I loved his protectiveness and how he tried to do everything he could think of to get her to stay. I really liked that he tries not to push her to give in, but gives her the space she says she needs.

As the visit goes on and they get to know each other, the passion grows into more. Erika slowly realizes that she doesn't want to be wanted just because she's pregnant and it's the right thing, she wants to be loved for herself. She's afraid of risking her heart so she doesn't tell Gervaise how she feels. Meanwhile, Gervaise doesn't want to drive her away by confessing feelings that he thinks she doesn't want to hear about. It doesn't help when her entire family shows up, adding their own special brand of pressure. I have to say that I didn't like them much, except for one surprising conversation with her oldest sister, Astrid. I loved the ending and seeing them finally opening up to each other.

I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series and seeing what happens with Gervaise's brothers.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Dr. Forget-Me-Not - Marie Ferrarella (HSE #2456 - Feb 2016)

Series: Matchmaking Mamas (Book 16)

DIAGNOSIS: TRUE LOVE!

Filling the lives of orphaned kids with hope is what gives meaning to Melanie McAdams's own life. So what if she's a little lonely? That doesn't mean she's ready to fly into the arms of Mitchell Stewart, the shelter's handsome new volunteer. Or that her totally irrational attraction to the dedicated doctor means she's ready to put the pain of the past behind her.

Everyone needs dreams, including the compassionate teacher who thinks staying single is a hedge against heartbreak. But Melanie can't deny the powerful chemistry not even science can explain. And with the help of some special matchmakers, Mitchell plans to take their we-won't-call-it-a-romance to the next level…which is beginning to look a lot like love.

Very good book. Melanie has taken a leave of absence from her job as a teacher to work at a shelter for women and children. This gives some meaning to her life after her fiance was killed overseas, shortly before he was supposed to come home and marry her. Then one of the shelter workers asks her to assist the doctor who has volunteered to help out at the shelter. Mitch is an excellent surgeon whose work is his life. He doesn't socialize and his small talk and bedside manner are nonexistent. His mother despairs of him ever getting married and mentions it to a friend who happens to be one of the matchmaking mamas. The next thing he knows, he's been volunteered to provide medical care at the shelter.

Their first meeting is pretty funny. Mitch isn't sure how he got talked into doing this, but he figures he'll spend an hour and that will be it. Instead he's paired with Melanie, who will be his assistant, and she pretty well bulldozes him not just into staying longer, but in coming back a couple days later. I loved their interactions as his aloofness collides with her involvement. I loved seeing her read his reluctance to return and the way she chased him down that Friday. Their conversations are always fun to see as Mitch tries to figure out how to deal with her.

The development of their relationship is great. Mitch finds that the distance he keeps between himself and patients is eroded by Melanie's presence and her involvement in their lives. She drags him into their lives also and his rough edges begin to soften. There is also an intense attraction between them, one that Melanie tries hard to resist. She's not so sure that she's ready to open up her heart to the risk of more pain. A tragedy involving a shelter resident sends them looking for comfort in each other's arms, and Mitch's eyes are opened as to what the strange feelings he's been having really are. 

The ending is deeply emotional and intense as they deal with the fallout from the tragedy. Mitch's support of Melanie against that horrible social worker was awesome. He also dropped a couple of bombshells that rocked her world. He was pretty sweet in his awkwardness, but he sure did get his point across. I loved Melanie's reaction and the realism of her response. Seeing them both with April was a really sweet scene. 

A Laramie, Texas Christmas - Cathy Gillen Thacker (HAR #1141 - Dec 2006)

Series: McCabes: The Next Generation (Book 5)

All Kevin McCabe wants for Christmas is to get closer to Noelle Kringle. A party planner from Houston, she and her young son are in Laramie to help out a friend. Kevin can't stop thinking about her, and he can tell the feeling is mutual. But as quickly as he's falling for her, Kevin can't help but think she's hiding something.

All Noelle Kringle wants for Christmas is a distraction from the very sexy Deputy McCabe. She hasn't felt anything like this since the death of her husband several years ago. And she sees her son, Mikey, responding to him like a father figure. However, despite what her heart tells her, Noelle knows it can never go anywhere. She has secrets in her past that make it impossible for her to be with a lawman like Kevin.

Then again, you can never underestimate the power of a Laramie, Texas Christmas....

Sweet romance with just a hint of mystery to it. Kevin is on his way home from a fishing trip when he sees what appears to be someone robbing the home of one of Larmie's leading citizens. As a deputy with the local sheriff's department he stops to check it out. Noelle is a friend of Miss Sadie's and has stopped at the house to pick up some things for the old lady to have with her while she recovers from some broken bones. Noelle sees a dirty, scruffy man who looks like he's casing the place for a future robbery. Noelle is protective of her friend's property and Kevin is amused by her actions. After an intervention by one of Kevin's fellow deputies, both admit to their mistakes.

Kevin is attracted to and intrigued by the feisty young woman. He is determined to get to know her better and see where the attraction goes. There is a small obstacle though, in that she could be a suspect in a case of identity theft involving Miss Sadie and others. He should keep his distance until the investigation is over, especially since he gets the feeling that she is hiding something from him.

Noelle is getting her life back together after the death of her husband. She's determined to give her son the best life she can. Spending time in the small town of Laramie is giving her a chance that she doesn't have in her regular city life. Kevin is a distraction that she doesn't need, but one that is increasingly hard to resist.

It was fun to see this romance develop. Kevin is interested in Noelle and isn't going to let anything get in his way, neither the investigation nor the fact that another man has made his interest in her plain. Kevin is basically a really nice guy and enjoys doing things for Noelle. I loved seeing how he and Mikey took to each other. He can also tell that his interest is returned, but that there is something holding Noelle back. Having been burned once in the past by a woman who wasn't what she appeared to be, Kevin digs deeper into Noelle's past, but really wants her to trust him with the truth. Noelle finds herself drawn more and more to Kevin. He's wonderful with her son, fun to be with, and brings an unexpected passion to her life. But she's got some trouble in her past that could change the way he looks at her. She has to decide if she can trust that their feelings can overcome her fears. I loved their big moment at the end as love and trust win out over fear and loneliness. 

I enjoyed the bit of mystery about the identity theft. I liked Kevin's determination to find the mastermind behind it. I especially liked his dealings with Scooter and how he was able to get the truth. Scooter's parents were a real piece of work and I hurt for him over their treatment of him. I loved Noelle's comments and how they reflected her own experiences. The ending was realistic and satisfying. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Truly Sweet - Candis Terry (Avon - Aug 2015)

Series: Sweet, Texas (Book 5)

WHEN THE ONE YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED. . .

At sixteen, Annabelle Morgan hoped her crush on Jake Wilder was just a passing phase. Now she's twenty-nine and nothing has changed -- except Jake. The once-carefree Marine has come home with a giant chip on his shoulder. He insists a single mom like Annie deserves more than he can offer. Yet no matter how gruff his gorgeous exterior may be, Jake's toe-curling kisses convince her that this attraction is definitely mutual.

BECOMES THE ONE WHO WANTS YOU BACK . . .

Butting heads with feisty Annie was always a thrill. Add other body parts to the mix, and Jake is in serious trouble. He can't be a forever-and-family guy -- and Annie's not a friends-with-benefits kind of woman. But love has a way of changing the best-laid plans, and surrender has never been so tempting . . .


THE OUTCOME IS TRULY SWEET.

Terrific ending to the Sweet, Texas series. This is the story of Jake, the youngest of the Wilder boys. Like his brothers before him, Jake joined the Marines and expected to make a career of it. Instead, he was injured in a mission that went wrong, losing his best friend in the same battle. Now he's home, trying to pick up the pieces of his life, but sinking under the crushing guilt he feels over his friend's death. The last thing he expects is to start seeing his old friend Annie as the beautiful woman she is.

Annie has had a crush on Jake since she was sixteen. Even leaving Sweet for a few years did nothing to reduce her feelings for him. Now she's back in Sweet, with a toddler son and trying to get her own life back together. Jake's return brings back all her old fantasies about him.

I loved the relationship between Jake and Annie. They had been friends when they were younger, able to talk to each other about anything. As they got older the relationship changed, as Jake got a bit on the wild side and Annie had no trouble calling him out when he was being a jerk. Annie hates the changes she's seen in him since he got back, but refuses to coddle him. Jake has always seen her as just his friend until his first encounter with her after his return. Suddenly he sees her as a woman and his attraction to her freaks him out. 

I hurt for Jake as his guilt over his friend's death has affected the way he looks at his life now. Before it happened, he was a fun loving guy who loved his family, was great with kids, and had plans for his future. Now, every time he's around kids all he can think about is that his friend is not going to see his child grow up. Jake is so eaten up with guilt that he hasn't even been able to visit his friend's widow, and that makes him feel even worse. He's attracted to Annie and could have feelings for her if he'd allow it, but feels that he's too broken to give her what she deserves. Fortunately for him, she's not ready to give up on him.

I loved Annie. In spite of all the things that have gone wrong in her life she refuses to give in to it. She is determined to be a good mother to Max and give him the best life she can. She also doesn't put up with any crap from Jake. She can see that he is hurting and challenges him to take control of his life. She can also see that he is just as attracted to her as she is to him. 

I enjoyed seeing the changes in their relationship. Jake is, at first, more interested in just the physical attraction to Annie, but also realizes that she's not booty call material. Annie wants him just as much as he wants her, but isn't going to settle for less than she feels she deserves. I really enjoyed seeing how she knew just when to push Jake and when to back off to make him see what he needed to do. There were several fantastic examples of this, my favorite being when she talked him into going to the animal shelter to look at dogs. Eventually her love for him gave Jake the confidence to face his demons. His visit with his friend's widow was incredibly emotional. I loved his big moment at the end when he was finally able to offer all of himself to Annie.

I also loved the closeness of the Wilder family. All of the guys served their time in the Marines, and each one was affected by it. This gave them another bond with each other because each understood what the others had experienced. I really enjoyed the teasing that went on with the knowledge that serious support was always available if needed. One of my favorite characters was the Wilder's mother, Jana. With the experience of raising all those boys she had a wonderful way of cutting through the testosterone and making her point. It was lovely to see her get her own happy ending. There was an unexpected surprise on her wedding day and it was heartwarming to see the effect it had on everyone.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Come Home, Cowboy - Cathy McDavid (HAR #1581 - Feb 2016)

Series: Mustang Valley (Book 6)

A COWBOY'S SECOND ACT

To provide stability for his two young children, retired rodeo rider Josh Dempsey returns home to his family's Arizona ranch, part of which is used as a mustang sanctuary run by Cara Alverez.

Working with horses helps Cara deal with a tragic loss. When Josh asks her for parenting help in return for his support with the sanctuary, Cara is torn. She is captivated by his adorable toddler son and baby daughter but isn't sure she can survive another blow to the heart. Unless a cowboy looking for his own second chance can show her how to love again.

Very good and highly emotional book. It opens with Cara desperately trying to deal with her grief on the anniversary of her son's death. The last thing she wants to do is face Josh, single father and part owner of the ranch that houses her mustang sanctuary. There's been tension between them since he and his brother tried to get her to give up her claim to part of the ranch in Her Holiday Rancher. But she won't give up the one thing that gives purpose to her life as it now is.

Though Josh hadn't been happy with the terms of his estranged father's will at the beginning, it has turned out to be a good thing. He needed a stable home to bring his children to after retiring from the rodeo and gaining custody from his drug addicted ex-wife. But now that he has them, he's feeling overwhelmed by everything he doesn't know about parenting. So he offers Cara a bargain: he will help her with her mustang rescue operation if she will help him learn how to care for his kids.

I hurt for Cara as she was so weighed down by the grief and guilt over her son's death. She blames herself for what happened to him rather than seeing it as a tragic accident. It affects her to the point where she isn't sure that she should be trusted around Josh's kids. But his belief in her combined with the time she spends with the kids, the easier it gets.

There is also a definite attraction between the two of them, something that Cara fights just as hard as she can. Josh is far more willing to pursue it and see where it might go. Though his marriage hadn't been a good one, and his parents' had been even worse, he hasn't given up on the idea for himself. I loved his patience in waiting for Cara to be ready, though he certainly had no problem with pushing the limits a little bit here and there. 

I also loved his support of her and her mustang sanctuary. She doesn't have an easy time accepting help and tries to keep him at a distance at the beginning. But Josh has more than his fair share of charm and humor to go along with his good looks and he has no trouble using them to get his way. There are some really sweet moments when his care and patience take precedence over his own feelings. And when the strength of her growing feelings cause her to panic and pull away, he overcomes his own hurt to show her the depth of his feelings and what they can have together.

Also running through this book is a continuation of the struggle to bring the ranch back to financial health. More debt is discovered, making their position even more precarious. Cara feels especially bad because of the additional strain of the mustang sanctuary. I loved seeing them all work together to run a successful fundraiser to help it become self-sufficient. I especially loved the big part that Josh played in it and the sweet surprise he and his young helper provided. There was also a fantastic development that came out of that surprise that made things even better. I'm really looking forward to Cole's story and hopefully a happy resolution for the ranch.

Count on a Cowboy - Patricia Thayer (HAR #1585 - Mar 2016)

Series: Rocky Mountain Twins (Book 1)

WAITING…TO FALL IN LOVE

Stepping onto her estranged father's Colorado ranch, Brooke Harper hopes to find the missing piece of the puzzle that's left a hole in her heart -- her long-lost sister. But the Bucking Q Ranch is deserted…except for the tall and rugged cowboy, Trent Landry, who is taking care of the place while the owners are away. She's determined to wait until the family she's never met returns home…

And Trent will keep an eye on the mysterious Brooke until he finds out if she is telling the truth about finding her sister. Spending time alone with her, watching her take to ranch life as if she's a natural, he realizes she is definitely not a threat -- except maybe to his heart.

Very good book. Brooke's mother has developed Alzheimer's and has let slip the fact that Brooke has a twin sister. Now she has been charged with making contact with Laurel and bringing her to see their mother. Brooke is happy to know that she has a sister, but is worried about what her reaction to the news will be. When Brooke arrives at the ranch, she discovers that her sister and father are gone, leaving their neighbor Trent to look after things.

Trent is suspicious of Brooke at first, especially after he calls her father. Rory judges Brooke by what he knows of her mother and that isn't good. Keeping a close eye on her is no hardship, as Trent finds her beautiful and intriguing. I loved the way he did that by including her in ranch activities. I liked Trent's protectiveness toward his friends, and how that quickly extended to Brooke.

Even though she grew up in Las Vegas, Brooke takes to ranch life very quickly. There are some really fun scenes of her as she learns to ride and deals with the aftereffects of time in the saddle. She and Trent form a connection very quickly, but hesitate to think in terms of a future. Trent is carrying a boatload of guilt from the death of his little brother years ago, and thinks that makes him a bad bet for a relationship. As much as Brooke would like to think of staying in Colorado, she is committed to returning to Vegas to her job and taking care of her mother. Plus, there's more to her visit than she has shared with Trent, and she's certain that it will affect the way he looks at her.

I loved seeing them grow closer. When Laurel and Rory return to the ranch, things get both better and worse for Brooke. I loved seeing Trent's protectiveness toward Brooke and how he tried to ease things for her. Their attraction grew stronger and I loved seeing Brooke go after what she wanted from him, even though she knew there was no future. Trent is surprised by the strength of his feelings for her and begins to consider the possibility of more.

Then Brooke overhears something that sends her back to Vegas without revealing the biggest part of her news, hurt by the rejection she experienced. I ached for her and the loss she felt. I loved seeing Trent's confrontation with Rory, and Rory's shock at what he learns. I loved Trent's big moment as he shows Brooke exactly how he feels. The ending was emotional and the epilogue a nice segue into Laurel's story.

A Baby and a Betrothal - Michelle Major (HSE #2464 - Mar 2016)

Series: Crimson, Colorado (Book 5)

WANTED: HUSBAND & DADDY Serious Candidates Only!

Katie Garrity is proud of her work at her Life is Sweet bakery, but it's high time she showed the town of Crimson that she's more than just "The Cupcake Lady." She wants to be "Mrs." and "Mommy" so badly she can't stand it! But in the small mountain town, the pickings are slim…until the one who got away returns.

As a forest ranger, Noah loves protecting the places and people he loves -- he just can't commit to forever. Katie has been his best friend since high school, but when did she turn into such a lovely woman? And is that desire he feels? Still, Crimson holds too many memories, and Katie wants things Noah can't give. But after one explosive night, it just may be too late. Only nine months will tell…

Very good book. Katie and Noah have been best friends since they were in high school, but Katie has always felt more than just friendship for Noah. She also knows that he'll never feel the same way about her, so she's decided that if she ever wants a family of her own she'll have to move on. Finding someone in tiny Crimson is going to be a real challenge, but she's trying. Then Noah comes back to town and she's right back where she started, still hung up on him.

Noah hasn't spent much time in Crimson over the last ten years due to the memories of what he sees as his failures. He hadn't handled his father's illness and death well and the guilt of his actions still affects his relationship with his family. At the same time he discovered that the girl he loved and was going to propose to was cheating on him. Since that time he has kept all his relationships superficial, protecting his heart from any more hurt. But now he's back in Crimson for the summer, to help take care of his mother during her recovery from major surgery. The plus side is getting to spend more time with best buddy Katie.

I loved Katie, but she sure did frustrate me at times. She is a sweet, caring woman who loves to take care of her friends. Thanks to her treatment by her parents, she has always felt as though she needed to "earn" her place in peoples' lives. She's always so worried about disappointing people that she doesn't say no to anything asked of her. Even with  Noah, she's there for him, listening to his woman woes, even though it hurts to hear about them. She does have a few shining moments of doing something for herself. I especially loved the swimming section.

It was fun to see Noah suddenly realize that Katie was a beautiful woman. He's attracted to her and it freaks him out. When he loses his head and kisses her he's stunned when she kisses him back and they end up in bed together. The experience is so amazing that he panics and sneaks out, heading for the woods for a few days (supposedly for his job) so he can get his head together. When he comes back, ready for round two, he's shocked when she tells him to get lost. I loved seeing her tell him flat out that she wants more than he's willing to give and that she's got a date with a man who shows promise for a real relationship.

I loved seeing the shoe on the other foot as Noah is now the one who wants more. He knows he has to prove himself and he can't depend on his old ways of getting the girl. It was really sweet to see how well he knows her and how he puts that knowledge to use to try to win her over. Katie is now the one trying to protect herself. She has to decide if she's willing to take whatever she can get and deal with the pain when he leaves, or stay with just being friends. Just when things are looking promising, an old secret and an unexpected pregnancy send Noah running again. Now both Noah and Katie have to face their fears if they want a life together. I loved Noah's big moment at the end as his love for her breaks through everything else.

I really liked Noah and Katie's friends and how they were there when they needed someone. I loved the way that Noah's friends were there to support him the day of his mom's surgery whether he wanted it or not. I also liked the way that Jase read him the riot act when he needed it. I also loved how Katie's girlfriends listened, provided ice cream and sympathy, but also reminded her that she had loved Noah for a long time and not to give up.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

His Rodeo Sweetheart - Pamela Britton (HAR #1587 - Mar 2016)

Series: Cowboys in Uniform (Book 2)

LOST AND FOUND

After serving in the Army, veterinarian Ethan McCall isn't sure where he belongs. So visiting Claire Reynolds's family ranch to help with her military dog rescue seems as good a place as any. Except that he can't stop thinking about the beautiful single mom. Ethan's happy to lend Claire a hand, but he can't offer his heart, as well. As far as he's concerned, it's damaged goods anyway.

Claire recognizes the pain in Ethan's green eyes. With a son to raise, there's no room in her life for romance…or so she tells herself. But Claire and Ethan can't deny their attraction forever. Can two broken hearts come together to make a family whole? Or will Claire and Ethan continue to run from the thing that scares them most?

Very good and emotional book. It opens with Ethan delivering his deceased friend's military working dog to Claire, who runs a rescue organization for MWDs. He's still hurting over the loss of his friend and not sure about what he wants to do with his life now that he's left the army. When Claire invites him to spend some time at the rescue, he accepts.

Claire started the rescue as a way to honor her husband, a former MWD handler, who had died of cancer. Her life got more complicated when her son was also diagnosed with cancer. He's well on the way toward remission now, but Claire can't let go of the fear that she could lose him too. A connection with Ethan is something she just can't handle right now.

I loved both Ethan and Claire. Ethan's love for animals, especially the military dogs is obvious. His pain over the unknown future of his friend's dog Janus is clear, and he's glad that Claire has the care of him. When he arrives at the rescue ranch, I loved the immediate connection he made with Thor, and how working with Thor helps Ethan heal from his own pain. I really liked how he bonded with Claire's son Adam and tried to show Claire that she could let go a little. Claire has been through so much, and I was impressed with how strong she has been. Her overprotective attitude is completely understandable. Since Adam has been sick, he has become the focus of her attention.

I really enjoyed seeing the relationship grow between Ethan and Claire. Both of them are a bit broken, emotionally. Ethan is suffering from a bit of PTSD and between that and his inability to decide on his future, feels like a bad bet romantically. But the more time he spends with Claire and the animals, the stronger he feels. He is also increasingly attracted to her, but she is fighting it. Claire is attracted to Ethan too, but tells herself she has no time for a relationship, that Adam is her sole focus. Each time that she gives in a little, she ends up feeling guilty. As the weeks go on, her feelings for him grow, but she's afraid to give in to them. I ached for Ethan as she pushed him away, and for her as she let her fears win. The ending was sweet and intense as they were brought back together by their love of a dog. The epilogue was great and not quite what I expected from the beginning of it. I loved the decision that Ethan had made about his future and how it was working out.

I really loved the three main secondary characters of Janus, Thor and Adam. Janus was so lost after the death of his handler. I ached for the way he looked for Trevor when he saw Ethan. It was fantastic that the rescue was working to find him a new and loving home. Where he ended up was absolutely perfect and had me crying happy tears. Thor was a different case altogether. I loved seeing Ethan figure out what his issue was, and the total change in him once Ethan started working with him. His fate was exactly what I expected to happen, and I loved his part in the epilogue. Adam was a terrific kid. His illness had made him pretty mature for a six year old. I thought he had an amazing amount of patience with his overprotective mother. I loved seeing him continue to improve throughout the book and behave more like a kid. His part in getting Ethan to stay at the beginning was really good - he made a great little bulldozer.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Doctor's Baby Dare - Michelle Celmer (HD #2426 - Feb 2016)

Series: Texas Cattleman's Club: Lies and Lullabies (Book 4)

Pediatrician Parker Reese likes to play the field and usually has women at his beck and call. Until caring for a newborn in crisis sets him on a collision course with beautiful but standoffish nurse Clare Connelly. He's willing to wager he can seduce her despite herself. But as they bond over healing the baby, the question becomes: Who's seducing whom? Soon all bets are off, but can Clare trust her heart to this player or is it just a game?

Fun book. Parker showed up as one of Liam's friends in Nanny Makes Three, a popular doctor who has a reputation with the ladies. In this book he has set his sights on Clare, a woman who has intrigued him from the moment he met her. Though she discourages his advances, he gets the feeling there is some interest. Caring for a critically ill newborn together gives him a chance to get a little closer.

I really liked Parker. He always seemed to have an upbeat attitude and wasn't one of those arrogant, know-it-all doctors. I loved seeing how much he cared about baby Janey and finding out what was wrong with her. Clare's touch-me-not attitude was a challenge for him, and he loved poking at her with his pet names and flirting ways. 

I liked Clare too. She is just as drawn to Parker, but a bad experience when she was younger makes her keep her distance from doctors as relationships. That experience also makes it difficult for her to trust men, especially ones that she sees as players like Parker.

I loved the development of their relationship. After several months of not quite adversarial interactions, they came together over their mutual concern for baby Janey. I loved seeing Parker's sensitive side come out when he was talking to her in the stairwell. Then his protectiveness when he found her stranded with car trouble, and the way he used it to his advantage. He was really funny when he took her home and kept teasing her with his outrageous actions. Out of the hospital it was harder for Clare to deny her attraction to Parker, and seeing her just go for it was awesome. Again, Parker shows great sensitivity when Clare shows evidence of some hangups, and that makes Clare soften even more toward him. As they get closer, both of them are able to open up to each other about the things in their pasts that have affected them the most, which only deepens the feelings that are starting to develop. Things are really looking good until a boneheaded action of Parker's threatens the trust that Clare has shown in him. I loved the advice that he got, and who it came from, showing that there have been some really big changes in his outlook. I also liked Clare's big moment at the end, and the changes it showed in her own life. 

There's also an interesting twist regarding the identity of baby Janey. Who she turns out to be also solves the riddle of what had been making her so sick. I'm looking forward to the rest of her story in a later book.

I will say that the title really didn't seem to have much to do with the book. The only baby was Janey and there was no dare involving her. The only dare I saw was Parker daring Clare to take a chance on them.

Lone Star Twins - Cathy Gillen Thacker (HAR #1569 - Nov 2015)

Series: McCabe Multiples (Book 6)

BEST FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

For two people who aren't in love -- and don't plan to be -- Poppy McCabe and Air Force Captain Trace Caulder have pretty amazing chemistry. And now the longtime buddies and sometime lovers are about to get their most passionate wish: becoming the adoptive parents of twin babies! The catch? They have to get married.

For two people who prize their independence above all else, a pre-Christmas wedding with all the trimmings could be a major game changer. Suddenly, Trace wants to be there for Poppy 24/7. Except he's stationed overseas. So he only has a thirty-day leave to convince the woman who shares his complicated past that they can have it all: family and forever!

Good book. Poppy and Trace have been friends since they were in high school and occasional lovers since they were in college. Though she never plans to marry, Poppy really wants to be a mother, and Trace has been more than happy to help her fulfill that wish. Unable to get pregnant, they have been selected to be the parents of twin babies. But the birth mother and the adoption agency would prefer that they are married.

Both Poppy and Trace are very independent people. As the oldest in her family, and the only single born one, Poppy grew up depending on herself rather than trying to fight for attention from her parents. She sees marriage as another dependent relationship and wants nothing to do with it. Trace's parents have been married multiple times so he figures he's a bad bet for a marriage of his own. Their relationship is one of friendship and mutual respect. Trace will do whatever he can to help Poppy achieve her dream, and if that means marriage, he'll do it.

The relationship between them is very interesting. Though they think they are friends with benefits who will also be co-parenting, neither has been in a relationship with anyone else in years. The sudden requirement to be married has them both looking at their relationship through new eyes, but neither is sharing what they feel. I loved Trace's reaction to a proxy marriage and the idea of someone else standing in his place while they exchange vows. The surprise he pulled off was pretty sweet, and a good indication of what his feelings really were, even if he wasn't ready to admit it yet. Poppy looks at Trace and realizes that she wants more from their relationship, but has spent so long denying her feelings that now she doesn't know how to tell him the truth. She's afraid of making him feel trapped, and he doesn't want her to think that she has to give everything up for him.

I liked seeing how the home visits and interviews with the social worker are used to get Poppy and Trace talking about the things that have made them who they are. Poppy's exposure to other military wives has her thinking about what the future could hold for them if she stops holding so tight to her own desires. Meanwhile, Trace starts to realize that his own dreams are changing and that he has some decisions of his own to make. I loved the solution he came up with, though it wasn't really a surprise given his activities while he was on leave. There was also an interesting twist at the end that took both of them by surprise. I loved seeing them both accept what everyone around them had always seen - that they belonged together.

My only real quibble with the book as a whole was that the back of the book called Trace a captain, while he was referred to as a lieutenant in the book itself. Captain made much more sense, as at the age of thirty-five, he was too old to still be a lieutenant. Overall, it is a small gripe and likely an editing slipup.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Conard County Witness - Rachel Lee (HRS #1875 - Dec 2015)

Series: Conard County: The Next Generation (Book 27)

I found you. The game begins. The note wasn't a threat exactly. But Jess McGregor senses danger. The wounded ex-soldier offers Lacy Devane a place to feel safe after her stint in witness protection. But someone is after her… Or is Jess the intended target?

Jess and Lacy are practically strangers. And the powerful attraction stirring between them may feel like a betrayal to Jess's late wife -- Lacy's closest friend. But as a big freeze envelops Conard County, the warmth and healing they find in their growing friendship will be put to the ultimate test by a deranged killer.

Good story. Jess and Lacy have known each other for a long time, through Jess's late wife. After Sara died, Lacy stayed in touch with Jess. He's the one she thought of when she needed a safe place to stay. So Jess invited her to stay as long as she needed, not expecting their friendship to grow into something more.

I really liked both Jess and Lacy. Jess has had it rough the last few years. Sara died while he was on deployment as a combat medic and he is still dealing with some guilty feelings because he wasn't there when she died. When he returned to the war he ended up badly injured and losing part of one leg. After his recovery he left the military and became a physician's assistant. Lacy had a good life and career in Dallas until she discovered her boss was laundering drug money. After going to the FBI about it, she ended up spending a year in witness protection until it was all over. Now she's dealing with the fallout and feeling like she's being watched. 

There's a little awkwardness between Jess and Lacy when she first arrives. They soon realize that their friendship, up to now, has been fairly superficial, and that they want more. Because of what each has been through, opening up isn't something that is easy to do. Long conversations and a few outbursts of frustration deepen what is building between them. I liked seeing Lacy deal with Jess's insecurities about his injuries and how he worries about her reaction. Also, always present in their thoughts is Jess's wife Sara. He feels a bit odd at first, having feelings for his wife's friend, but seems to come to terms with them pretty quickly. Lacy has a rougher time, guilty about her feelings, but also worried that Jess only sees her as an extension of Sara. I loved seeing them confront their issues and deal with them together as they realized they wanted to move forward with each other.

The suspense of the story was really good. There's a little question at the beginning who the "hunter" is after, but that is revealed pretty quickly. There is tension throughout the story as Jess and Lacy feel the stalker's presence and experience his attacks. Glimpses of his viewpoint show his motivation and determination, as Jess and Lacy work to figure out who he is. The final confrontation was pretty intense with a very satisfying end. I loved Lacy's part in it.