Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Dark Whispers - Debra Webb (HI #1660 - Sept 2016)

Series: Faces of Evil (Book 12)

Former homicide detective Clint Hayes has his first client as a private investigator: a fragile beauty he isn't sure he can trust. An injury has left Natalie Drummond with gaps in her memory, and she sees and hears things that aren't there. But she's sure she shot an intruder in her Birmingham mansion. So where's the body, the gun, the evidence? When it's clear someone is trying to kill his vulnerable client, Clint appoints himself her protector, working overtime not to fall for her. But someone is dead set that Natalie never regains her memories -- or makes new ones with Clint.

Good book. I haven't read any of the previous Faces of Evil books, but there was enough background information that I wasn't lost. Clint is part of a new PI firm, and his first case involves a woman who appears to have some mental issues. Two years earlier, Natalie had suffered a fall in her home, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury. She has mostly recovered, but she has some large gaps in her memory and may also be hallucinating. She is certain that she shot an intruder in her home, but there's no body, no gun, and the police don't believe her. So she has come to Clint for help.

Though a little skeptical at first, Clint is soon convinced that, not only did she shoot someone, there is something deeper going on. When someone tries to kill her by tampering with her car, Clint's protective instincts are roused and he is determined to keep her safe. The only problem he has is in not falling for her while he does it.

I liked the relationship that grew between them. Clint is protective, but also very admiring of how far she has come in her recovery from her injury. Unlike her family members and coworkers, he believes that she is far more capable than she thinks she is. The admiration turns deeper as his attraction to her also grows, but he believes that he is no good for her. Natalie believes that any relationship is out of the question for her because of her memory issues and other effects of her fall. But Clint's unwavering belief in her story and in her recovery have her dreaming of what could be. She's been fighting hard for her independence, but she finds it easy to lean on Clint for support. Though he tries to tell her that her feelings are a result of what is happening, she knows it's much more. I loved the ending as she goes after what she wants. 

The suspense was really good. Natalie's fears about the voices she was hearing were very real, as was her confusion over the events of the shooting. I loved the fact that Clint believed her. Trying to find out the truth was made more difficult by Natalie's memory loss. As they uncovered little bits of information, the puzzle became a little clearer, but there were still gaps. There were a couple people who looked like they were the most likely suspects. Natalie was determined to go to any lengths to unlock her memories, and once she did the race was on to get the evidence she needed. The final confrontation was intense with a player I didn't expect showing up.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Romantic Times: Vegas - Christina Skye, et al (13Thirty Books - Mar 2016)

Romantic Times: Vegas (Book 2)

Ex-Sighting by Pamela Morsi
Current day

Second chances. Jake and Regi had been high school and college sweethearts. But on the day they were to be married, Regi took one look down the aisle and realized that it wasn't what she wanted. She left him standing there in order to pursue her dreams of travel and international business. Ten years later, she's in Las Vegas and has been for two months, with her dreams taking a different path. She's sitting in the bar at the Excelsior Hotel, realizing that her nomadic lifestyle has actually left her pretty lonely. Then she looks up to see Jake and a woman walk into the bar.

Jake can't believe his eyes. Regi is the last person he ever expected to run into. He's never forgotten her, and seeing her again brings it all back. But to protect himself a little, he doesn't correct her when she thinks he's married to the woman with him.

I loved seeing Regi and Jake sitting there, catching up on each other's lives. With ten years of maturity, both realize that though they'd been in love, they had never actually talked about their future together. I liked the way that they both realized that they had made mistakes. Then Jake kisses her and they get lost in it, before Regi realizes she kissing (she thinks) a married man. I loved seeing Jake chase her down to explain. The scene in the elevator was great. I also love the tag about the historic first for the hotel that resulted from it.

The Promise by Linda J. Parisi

Mac and Sarah are in Las Vegas to get married. He is an Air Force helicopter pilot who is being shipped out to Vietnam in a couple days. I loved seeing the two of them as they crammed as much as they could into those two days. Their love for each other is strong and will have to carry them through the next year while he is gone.

It was really sweet to see how sensitive Mac was to Sarah's nervousness. He was so full of fun that he was able to hold off most of her worry. I loved the scene in the casino as his "honeymoon chips" brought him good luck.  I also loved the next day, as they made friends with Gil and Lenore. They were a very interesting couple and I loved seeing the fun they all had together. When it was time for them to leave, Sarah made Mac promise that they would spend their first anniversary back at the Excelsior. Mac didn't want to promise because he knew how many things could go wrong, but he did.

A year later, Sarah is back there, along with Gil and Lenore. They had maintained their friendship while Mac was gone, and they were there to support her. Mac had been reported missing four months earlier, but she was determined to keep the promise. I ached for her as she relived their honeymoon memories. I loved the surprise that the desk clerk had for her, and the effect it had on her.

Same Time, Next Year by Jeff DePew

The story begins with a couple in the hotel room. They've just made love and are talking. He wants to know when she's finally going to leave her husband so that they can be together. She's wary, afraid of her husband. He has said that he will never let her go. There's a pounding at the door, and when the man opens it the man on the other side starts shooting. The lady is shot and the scene fades to darkness.

Thirty years later a new desk clerk is faced with an unexpected problem. A woman has arrived, claiming she has a reservation for room 732. But that room is blocked and there is no key code for it. The clerk is rescued by the manager, who knows the deal with the room, finds the regular key, and checks the lady in. He explains the history of the room to the clerk.

Next we see the woman as she prepares to enter the room. She thinks back to the year after the shooting and everything she'd been through, her first visit to the room since the shooting, and what she found there. Thirty years later and she visits that room every year, with a love that never dies.

Interesting story with an ending I did not expect.

What the Hell Happened in Vegas! By Lori Avocato
Current day

Good little mystery story that reminded me a little of Stephanie Plum books. Pauline and Jagger are in Vegas to investigate a case of medical insurance fraud. Jagger is tall, hot, and always in control. He dresses in black. Pauline is more at home in comfortable clothes, has a huge crush on Jagger, and tends to lose focus when she's around him.

They are assigned to act the part of a high roller and his girlfriend and investigate a chiropractor who works out of the casino. Jagger, of course, needs no help. A drag queen associate arrives to prep Pauline for her part, and the description of that process is pretty amusing. Pauline's new look doesn't appear to get much of a reaction from Jagger, but she's certainly noticed when they arrive in the casino.

After a pretty successful evening of gambling, Jagger and Pauline are escorted to the doctor's office for his appointment. Pauline isn't too thrilled that the bombshell doctor is going to have her hands all over Jagger, but once they're out of sight she gets to work. I loved seeing her work and her coolness when Jagger and the doctor returned to the waiting room. The best part was her surprise when they got back to their room and Jagger did not do what she expected.

Kiss Me and Kill Me with Love by Connie Concoran Wilson
May 1960

Phyllis and her sisters are entertainers at the Excelsior. She is the youngest and a bit on the wild side. She likes the guys and is quite a flirt. She is also in a relationship of sorts with Sam, a known mobster, who is very possessive. At the same time she is more than flirting with an up and coming entertainer at another hotel, even though she knows that Sam wouldn't like it.

We also see Sam in negotiations with the CIA, who want him to assassinate Fidel Castro. Sam is willing, but he wants them to bug Phyllis's dressing room so he can check up on her. They agree, but one of the agents starts to have second thoughts. He goes to the oldest sister, Dorothy, and tells her what is going on. Dorothy, being the protective sister that she is, decides to go to Sam on her sister's behalf. The conversation is interesting, but the result isn't what I expected.

Not my favorite of the stories, as I prefer the romances.

There Will Always Be Vegas by Mathew Kaufman
Current day

Arthur is an older gentleman, CEO of a pharmaceutical business. He is also gay, but has had very bad luck with relationships. He is awkward around other people and has given up trying to find someone to love. He visits the Excelsior several times a year as it holds pleasant memories for him. This time, he meets a bellhop who he is very drawn to.

Hunter started working at the Excelsior just a few months earlier. His life hasn't been so good. His father died when he was young, leaving his mother to raise Hunter and his brother. When he was sixteen, she had a stroke and was unable to work. He tried to earn enough to support them, but it wasn't easy. Then he was attacked one night and then forced into prostitution for a couple years. Some of it he didn't mind, but others he did. When his pimp was imprisoned, Hunter was able to escape that life.

Even though this sort of story isn't what I usually read, I liked seeing the relationship develop between Arthur and Hunter. For Arthur it was love at first sight. He is still awkward in his advances, and was afraid that he had scared Hunter off. Hunter couldn't believe that Arthur was interested in him, and felt that he wouldn't be once he knew more about him. I thought Arthur's dinner invitation was sweet and liked seeing the way they connected.

I really liked the ending, with the surprises that were in store for Hunter and his family. It was great to see Arthur finally find someone to make him happy.

Love at the Las Vegas Bake-Off by C.H. Admirand
Current day

One of my favorite stories in the book. Peggy is in Las Vegas to participate in a bake-off. Ben, his brother and two cousins are there to provide security for her, as she has been receiving threats. Peggy doesn't believe the threats are real and isn't at all happy about their presence. She's especially angry at Ben, as she had previously made him one of her special pies and he hadn't even acknowledged it.

It's obvious there are sparks between Ben and Peggy right from the beginning. He is really interested in her, but his relationship skills are really terrible. I loved his determination to protect her, even though she insisted she didn't need it. Peggy is just as attracted to him, but is hurt and angry over the lack of response from him. She also seems to have some self image issues, believing that she's too tall to appeal to him. I loved their interactions as he tries to concentrate on protection while wanting to pursue her, and she stands up against him in spite of the way she feels about him.

I liked how Ben was so certain that the threats were real.   I could easily feel his frustration with her refusal to believe. As he and his partners worked through the information they had, the origins of the threats became more obvious. The final confrontation at the bake-off was really intense with a bit of a surprise twist.  When it was all over, there was a great scene at the hospital and right after, as Ben finally makes his feelings known. Peggy doesn't make it easy, and Ben's brother Matt adds his own two cents to the process.

Finding a Hero by Christina Skye
Current day

Maddie is in Vegas as part of a secret government agency on a security mission for a senator. She returns to her room and discovers an unknown man in it. She overhears him in the bathroom, where he is speaking Russian. Even though she hides while she figures out what she's going to do, he discovers her and knocks her out. She recovers quickly and holds him off with her own weapon while waiting for her backup.

Gabe is also in Vegas for the same reason, part of the same agency. Someone messed with the hotel reservations which is why he was in the same room. He's taken surprise by Maddie, and intrigued by her at the same time.

The story takes place over just a few hours. I loved the initial meeting between the two. Maddie is tough and doesn't hold back, Gabe is puzzled but determined. Once they discover that they are on the same side, the attitude changes a little. Maddie is an amazing computer genius and uses her skills to find out who is behind the current threats. Gabe is good also, but in different ways, and watches over her as she works.

Both are attracted, but try to resist. Maddie has had man issues and is avoiding them, Gabe feels that she is way too young for him. When the confrontation with the bad guy comes, Gabe rescues her. There's a brief interlude with a kiss before they are separated. As she and her boss leave Vegas, she's bummed that she hasn't heard from him again. Then her boss delivers something from Gabe, with a note about the future. We're left hanging a bit, so I'd like to know what happens.

There's also a touch of paranormal, dealing with a blue light that makes her hands glow. There isn't really any explanation of it. I'd like to know more.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

It Happened One Christmas - Carla Kelly, Georgie Lee, Ann Lethbridge (HH #1255 - Nov 2015)


Christmas gets more interesting when sailing master Ben Muir takes lodgings with Mandy Mathison! Because when her scandalous past is revealed, only he can save her future... 

I love Carla Kelly's stories. It's great to read about the "real" people once in awhile, and hers are always so well done. In this one, Ben Muir, sailing master, has arrived in Venable to tutor a midshipman from his ship. The young man is the son of a nobleman, spoiled and lazy, and Ben is not looking forward to it at all.  Things get a little brighter for him when he enters Mandy's Tearoom for a meal and an inquiry about lodging. Mandy and her Aunt Sal offer him a room in their home, and he's floored by Mandy's sweet and kind nature.

Mandy is sweet and charming and quite lovely, especially to Ben's lonely eyes. She's fascinated by his stories, and quite taken by his gentlemanly ways. Ben finds himself more interested in spending his free time with her than in the peaceful pursuits he'd had planned. I loved how she looked after him and worried about him.

I loved seeing the two of them grow closer, quite obviously falling in love. But Ben is certain that Mandy would not care to be married to a man who is gone so much and always in danger.   Then Ben learns something that could change Mandy's life. What happens next is heartbreaking and heartwarming. The actions of the local lord are cruel, and I loved seeing Mandy stand up to him. I felt badly for Ben, who feels responsible for it all. He's afraid to declare his feelings for Mandy, and instead leaves to visit his father in Scotland. The consequences of Mandy's defiance come home to roost, and their future looks bleak indeed. I liked the solution the vicar came up with. Meanwhile, Ben's visit home isn't what he expected, with an unexpected twist that sends him rushing back to Venable. I loved what happened when he arrived, as he found his courage, with a little bit of a boost from Mandy herself. I'd love a glimpse of their future, a few years down the road.


Lily Rutherford is shocked to learn the man who snubbed her years before will be staying for Christmas. Can she forgive the viscount in time for a stolen kiss under the mistletoe?

Good story of second chances. Four years earlier, Lily and Gregor had met at a London ball. They were both young and somewhat unsure of themselves. Gregor, as the second son, was due to leave for military service. He also suffers from being the unwanted son, his older brother being the heir and chosen one. Desperate for his father's approval, Gregor treats Lily badly after an unfortunate occurrence at the ball. Taking their cue from him, other people followed suit, making Lily's life miserable. Hurt, angry and ashamed, Lily returned to their country home and hasn't been back to London since then.

Now Gregor, a good friend of Lily's brother, has been invited to spend Christmas with the Rutherford family. Since that ball, Gregor has experienced the horrors of war, been injured, and lost both his father and older brother.  He has never forgotten Lily, nor been able to stop feeling guilty over the way he treated her. All he can do is hope that she will allow him to apologize. Lily is horrified to find out that Gregor will be with them for the holidays. She's quite certain he hasn't changed, and is sure that he will look down on their family even more.

Their initial meeting doesn't go that well, as the typical household chaos once again puts Lily at a disadvantage. She's surprised by Gregor's more relaxed attitude, but doesn't really trust him. I was a bit irritated with her, as I thought she was a bit hypocritical. She is so sure that Gregor will look down on her family, but her attitude toward them is terrible. I thought she spent too much time on the things she didn't like about them, totally ignoring the fact that there is a great deal of love in the midst of the chaos. I really liked Gregor's determination to apologize. He also realized that he is just as intrigued by her now as he had been previously.

I liked the development of their relationship. Gregor realizes that he wants to keep Lily in his life, but isn't sure that she will ever be able to see him as the man he is now. I liked seeing the way that he was able to tell her about his experience in the war and how it has changed him. I had high hopes that she was going to be able to let go of her grudge and open her heart to him. But an overheard conversation between her older sisters sends her back to believing the worst of him. She says some unkind things to him because of it. I liked seeing him stand up for himself, and point out a few of her own issues. I felt bad for him, as he now believes that there is no chance for a future between them.

I loved seeing her crazy aunt show Lily that she'd been wrong. Now Lily must decide if she has the courage to make her own apologies and go after what she really wants. I loved her big moment at the Christmas ball, and seeing how history tried to repeat itself, but with a very different result.

WALLFLOWER, WIDOW...WIFE! by Ann Lethbridge

Penniless widow Cassandra Norton faces Christmas on the run with her two stepdaughters, until Adam Royston sweeps her off her feet and into his country estate!

Good story about two people whose past experiences with marriage have left them with no desire to try it again.  Cassie is a young woman who, for the time, is rather tall. This makes it difficult to find a husband and she ends up as the third wife to an old man. He married her for her connections and when things didn't go the way he wanted, he treated her badly. The only bright spot was her two young stepdaughters. When her husband died, her nasty stepson made her life miserable, until she took the two girls and left, making a new life far away.

Adam married young and loved his wife. But both were rather immature, which led to some bad decisions on both their parts. Adam's wife and unborn child were killed in an accident for which he blames himself. Now he spends his time as estate manager for his father and doing what he can to avoid being trapped into another marriage. He is currently assessing the property for sale.

In a meeting engineered by Cassie's stepdaughters, Adam is surprised by his immediate attraction to Cassie. Ever cautious about the intentions of unmarried women, he deliberately misleads her about who he is. Though he knows he should keep his distance, he finds both Cassie and her girls irresistible, and joins them on their hunt for greenery. Cassie is disturbed by the way Adam makes her feel. It's nothing like she's experienced before.

I liked seeing their relationship develop. Adam has held himself apart for so long, allowing the guilt he feels to stop him from moving on. Suddenly, Cassie and her girls have him thinking of everything he has missed. Part of him wants to keep her close, but another believes that he doesn't deserve it. I really liked seeing him lose himself in the enjoyment of just being with them. Cassie is just as attracted to Adam, but with her secret hanging over her, knows there is no chance of anything coming of it.

There's trouble when Cassie's stepson appears, trying to get them to come home. Cassie is suspicious of his motives. Her refusal causes him to make threats that mean if she wants to keep the girls safe, they are going to have to run again. His threats turn to actions that put them in danger, though luckily Adam is there to rescue them. I loved his need to care for them. The danger of what happened brings out the passion in both, and I loved seeing them finally give in to the heat between them. It wasn't all just physical, as Adam learns the truth of what had happened. When Herbert appears again, Adam is shocked to learn of Cassie's identity, but not nearly as stunned as Cassie when she finds out his.  But best of all was seeing Adam deal with Herbert, then take his courage in hand and go after his future. The last chapter was a lovely wrapup.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Courted by the Cowboy - Sasha Summers (HWR #1607 - Aug 2016)

Series: Boones of Texas (Book 3)


Kylee James is giving hope one more chance, this time in Stonewall Crossing, Texas. Hope wasn't supposed to come in the form of a hunky cowboy -- local veterinarian Fisher Boone. But a good man like Fisher deserves a life without Kylee's baggage, so letting him go is the best way she can love him.

Fisher wants to help Kylee find a fresh start and happiness, especially if she found it with him. But Kylee seems intent on pushing him away. When her painful past resurfaces, will Kylee finally open her heart to Fisher, or will she run from the one man who'd do anything to protect her?

Good book. I liked Fisher in the previous books, but he really shines in this one. He is what I would call a "gentle giant". He is a big man, tall and muscular, but is also sensitive to people's feelings and amazing with the animals he treats. He has a great sense of humor and a fantastic relationship with his family.

Kylee was a little harder for me to warm up to, but once I understood her I wanted her to find happiness with Fisher. Kylee had come to Stonewall Crossing with her twelve year old brother, trying to escape from a bad situation in Las Vegas. Because of everything that she had been through, she doesn't trust people, especially men. She has also learned to rely on only herself, as she has never had anyone that she could depend on for help. 

Fisher is taken by Kylee from the moment he met her. He wants to get to know her, but she doesn't seem to be interested. He's impressed by the way she takes care of her brother and wants to find a way to make things easier for her. I liked the way he connected with Shawn. It was fun to see how fascinated Fisher was by Kylee and the way he watched her. He endures a great deal of teasing from his friends and family because of it, as he has never been known for his way with the ladies. The more he learns about her previous life, the more he wants to show her what life could be like with him. 

Kylee doesn't know what to make of Fisher. Where she comes from, people don't do things to be nice, there is always a price to be paid. She isn't proud of the things she had to do to survive and take care of her brother. Even now, far away from their old life in Las Vegas, she is constantly looking over her shoulder, afraid that someone will come after them. She is drawn to Fisher, but certain that her past makes someone like him far out of her reach.

I really enjoyed the development of their relationship. Fisher is determined to get through to Kylee, but also has the patience to take it slow. I liked seeing him reach out as a friend first, getting her to accept him that way. I loved Kylee's confusion when he didn't behave the way she expected. She began to believe that he was the real thing the more she saw of him. Her heart started dreaming about what it would be like to be with him, but her head wouldn't let her believe that it was possible. I liked how Fisher drew Kylee and Shawn into the circle of his family, giving them a taste of something they had never had before. It was kind of funny, but also heartbreaking, when Kylee offered to help Fisher win the heart of his fellow vet. She was sure that he was interested in Brooke, and wanted to help him win someone who was worthy of him. Meanwhile, Fisher was just confused by her insistence that he wanted Brooke. 

I loved seeing Fisher finally convince Kylee that she was the one he wanted. She really started to believe that a future was possible with him. Then her past reared its ugly head and she returned to her old "flee" mode. I loved seeing Fisher's unexpected eloquence in showing her that staying and believing in his love will give her everything she dreamed of. The epilogue was really sweet, and I loved the surprise at the end.

The secondary characters were great. I loved seeing more of the Boone family and how the various members are doing. I loved Fisher's sister Renata and would love to see a story for her. I also want to see a story for Archer. He is one that will be a real challenge for some poor woman. My favorite was Kylee's brother Shawn. He has been through so much that I loved seeing him have a chance to be a normal kid. He has some great moments with Fisher, as he experiences things he'd never even dreamed of before. He also makes a mistake at the end that creates a big problem for Kylee, but fortunately it all works out.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Second Chance Rancher - Patricia Thayer (HWR #1610 - Sept 2016)

Series: Rocky Mountain Twins (Book 2)


Single dad Kase Rawlins wants to give his little girl, Addy, a fresh start in life by moving back to the family ranch. The only downside to that plan is seeing his neighbor Laurel Quinn every day -- his first love and the woman he walked away from.

After being jilted at the altar, Laurel decided to focus her attention on training and breeding her quarter horses. But being around Kase, she's finding her heart is being stolen once again, and not just by the rugged rancher. Because it seems Addy's mission is to make Laurel her new mommy!

Good second chance story. Laurel and Kase had been high school sweethearts, until Kase went away to college. Then he decided that if he was going to make his dream of becoming a big-city lawyer come true, he was going to have to focus on his studies. So he broke things off with Laurel, breaking her heart. He went on to achieve his dream, but it also came with problems. Now he's come home to Hidden Springs, but he isn't alone.

It took Laurel a long time to risk her heart again, only to have it tromped on once more. This time, the man she chose turned out to be much worse. Not only did he leave her at the altar, he also embezzled money from the ranch. Laurel feels responsible, and is determined to pay back every bit of the money, even though her father and his business partner don't want her to. So she concentrates on training her horses, working her part-time job, and avoiding getting involved with another man.

It was obvious from the moment they met again that the sparks between them were still alive. Laurel tries to avoid Kase, not wanting to be hurt again, but finds herself ambushed at every turn by one very determined little girl. Kase has come home to help out his father on the ranch (the same one he couldn't wait to escape from) and to give his daughter a different life after the death of her drug addicted mother. He also wants to get away from his in-laws, who are fighting him for custody of Addy. Kase freely admits that he regrets his actions from before and would really like the chance to try again.

I loved the fact that Kase could acknowledge his own past stupidity. He was a bit hesitant about trying to get involved again because of Laurel's obvious reluctance. But with the way that little Addy took to her, Kase was willing to ask for Laurel's help with his daughter. His obvious love for Addy was really sweet, and I loved his determination to do whatever he had to in order to retain custody. This was especially important the more I learned about his in-laws. 

I admit to getting a little frustrated with Laurel at times. I admired her desire to make amends for what had happened with the money, but her stubbornness was getting in the way of her moving on. I loved seeing Addy work her way past Laurel's walls, which then opened the door for Kase to follow her in. But she still isn't sure that she can trust Kase to stay in Hidden Springs and not leave, taking her heart once again. She tries pushing him away when she thinks she's gotten too close, but this time he's determined to do it right. I loved his big moment at the end, as he overcame all her fears.

The story of the custody battle was good, but the reason behind it wasn't really a surprise. With his in-laws' attitudes, and the way they had raised their daughter, Kase's determination was completely understandable. I also understood his worry, since they were "model citizens" and friends with the judge. I loved that it was Laurel that figured out the motivation and brought it to Kase's attention.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cavanaugh Cold Case - Marie Ferrarella (HRS #1899 - June 2016)

Series: Cavanaugh Justice (Book 32)

Working in a morgue, medical examiner Kristin Alberghetti hardly expects a living, breathing man to walk through the door and make her heart pound. So she's floored when gorgeous playboy Malloy Cavanaugh is her partner on a new case. The cold-case detective has a rep for charming the clothes off every woman…except her. And it's tough to keep her eyes on the prize as the two investigate recently excavated, long-buried bodies at a cacti nursery.

Malloy has no plans to change his bachelor lifestyle, until reclusive Kristin catches his eye. Something about this case -- and his beautiful colleague -- touches his heart. But can a flowering romance survive the rigors of a brutal case and its infinite dangers?

Another fantastic Cavanaugh story, with the mystery heavy on the puzzle side rather than action packed. Kristin works as a medical examiner for the Aurora Police Department, something that her mother just doesn't understand. But Kristin learned early on that she prefers bringing closure to families of crime victims to the emotional trauma of dealing with life and death of patients. She is dealing with yet another plea from her mother for grandchildren when she gets a call that multiple bodies have been found and has to go to work - much to her relief.

Malloy is a detective in the cold case division and is called in as the investigator when twelve decades old skeletons are uncovered at a nearby cactus nursery. He arrives to find Kristin intent on processing the scene. Being the red-blooded male that he is, he is immediately drawn to her, and employs some of his well-known charm and flirtatiousness to get her attention. He's surprised and intrigued when she doesn't bite.

I loved these two right from the beginning. Malloy has never had to work so hard to get a woman's attention, and it makes him even more determined to break through her barriers. Kristin doesn't understand why he keeps bugging her. No matter how hard she tries to get rid of him, he keeps coming back for more. Pretty soon she's drawn into a more active role in the case. She and Malloy actually make a good team, as she brings a certain amount of warmth and compassion to the process. 

I really enjoyed the interactions between Kristin and Malloy. He is determined to get to know her better and she is just as determined to avoid his advances. For all his flirtatiousness, Malloy is very much a gentleman, and I loved seeing him change her tire, make sure she gets home safely, and just treat her well. Kristin is used to being independent, cautious, and is constantly suspicious of his motives. It was really fun to see the determined bachelor as he realized that Kristin was everything he hadn't been looking for. This increased his desire to break through her barriers and get her to see what could be. I had fun seeing Kristin's confusion as Malloy refused to be driven away. The more time they spent together, the more she got used to his ways and actually looking forward to their time together. I loved seeing the heat between them continue to build until it exploded between them. That scene was hot and fun, as it didn't begin the way I expected. Kristin believes that Malloy is indulging in a fling, and is determined to enjoy it while she can, while he is surprised to realize that he wants more from her than he has from anyone else. I loved his big moment at the end.

The mystery of the story was really good. It was definitely of the putting the pieces of a puzzle variety, rather than the action packed danger of some of the others. Fortunately, both Kristin and Malloy are people who love puzzles. Assembling bits of information to make the big picture is why each of them is so good at their job. As they started off with twelve bodies, eleven female and one male, and no clues, it wasn't going to be easy. I loved seeing how one small piece of information helped identify one victim, leading to the possible identification of another. There were also a couple times when Kristin came up with ideas that Malloy hadn't thought of. As they found more pieces of the puzzle, I started to get an idea of who the culprit was. However, there was a very interesting twist to the story that I didn't see coming at all. 

There were a few appearances by other Cavanaughs, of course. Malloy is very good at using his charming ways on his female relations, too, as he requests some of the specialized help they can give. There was also mention of an upcoming Andrew get together that Kristin and her mother were specifically invited to, but we didn't actually see it happen. I would have liked to see Kristin's mom's reaction.

The Marine's Embrace - Beth Andrews (HS #2044 - Aug 2016)

Series: In Shady Grove (Book 8)

If only he had something to give her…besides love
He's only looking for a room and a fresh start, but Zach finds more than he'd bargained for when he checks into Fay Lindemuth's bed-and-breakfast. The single mom intrigues him with her quiet strength and gentle beauty. He knows he should keep his distance from Fay and her young sons. Not only is she still hung up on her ex-husband, but as an ex-Marine, Zach Castro has no idea what he can offer them. No matter how much he begins to feel for her…

Good book, with unusually realistic look at depression and its effects on a person's entire life. We first see Fay as she has awakened from sleeping with her ex-husband, to find that he is attempting to sneak away. She is rather whiny, begging him not to go, and wondering what she did wrong. Shane is cold, making excuses, and leaves without even a nice word. Fay doesn't understand his actions, since she's so sure that they are going to get back together. Shortly after that, she begins to descend into a funk, but has to pull herself together to take care of her boys.

At this point I really wanted to shake her, smack her, tell her to open her eyes. Shane is only using her, and she can't see it. However, we do start to learn that Fay has a real problem with self esteem and depression, and I began to feel a bit sorry for her. Though I still wanted her to wake up and see the truth, I could see that it was going to be a struggle for her.

Zach has come to Shady Grove to try to get his own life back together. He lost an arm and a leg in the Marines and is trying to figure out what comes next. One of his half brothers lives in Shady Grove, and Zach gets a job working for him. His relationship with his half brothers has been a bit rocky, as Zach is the illegitimate one. He holds great resentment against his father because of the way his mother was treated. I liked the way that he and Kane came to an understanding, with Kane treating Zach as any other employee. Zach's independence comes through when he refuses the apartment over the pub, and instead looks for his own lodging. He ends up at Fay's B&B.

Their initial meeting is a little rough. Fay thinks he looks dangerous, with her imagination off and running. Zach thinks she's a bit flaky, but eventually accepts a room. Then he witnesses a visit (more like a confrontation) from her ex-husband's pregnant fiancee. She's in shock and he helps her out, but realizes that she has more issues than he thought. He figures that, even though he's attracted to her, it's better to stay away from her. Even so, he again comes to her aid when he witnesses her trying to gather the courage to confront Shane while being fussed at by her best friend. I liked the way that he stepped in and rather than telling her what to do the way everyone else does, tells her what her options are and that what she does is up to her and no one else.

This is the beginning of an interesting relationship. Zach is drawn to her in spite of her problems. They become friends, with Zach connecting with her sons and being the kind of example their father isn't. He and Fay become workout buddies, as he helps her see that exercise can help with her moods. All the time, we see how close Zach is getting to her, and how much he starts to care. Fay is getting closer to Zach also, and his influence helps her break the cycle with Shane. Her feelings for him start to grow, but she's not sure that she can believe what she feels is real. She gathers the courage to make advances to him, but then panics the next morning and pushes him away. I ached for Zach because he cared so much and her reaction hurt him badly. I loved that it was the pregnant ex-fiancee that pointed out to Fay what an idiot she was being, and that if she wanted Zach she was going to have to go after him. I enjoyed her big moment at the end and seeing the beginnings of the woman she could be, and the one that Zach has seen all along.

I really liked Fay's sons. Like most kids, they are pretty adaptable, and they soon accept Zach just as he is. There are several really great scenes as they interact with him in their own styles. I also loved seeing how he treats them when they're being obnoxious little twits.

I did not like Maddie at all in this book. She treated Fay like she was an idiot and kept telling her what to do instead of supporting her. I liked seeing Zach tell her off, and Fay finally stand up to her. It was an eye opening experience for Maddie.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Stone Hard SEALs - Sabrina York (Sabrina York - Apr 2015)

Series: Stone Hard SEALs (Books 1 and 2)

Book One: Ryder
A hostage rescue mission turns Ryder "Stone" Maddox's world on its ear when he comes face-to-face with his greatest fear: A woman he cannot resist. But he has to resist Lily Wilson. He's vowed never to fall in love. Besides, as the daughter of a senator, she is definitely off-limits. Lily sees things differently. Irresistibly drawn to this hot, hard SEAL, she is determined to prove they belong together...and that her man does not have a heart of stone.

Book Two: Drake
Drake Ronan is all man-a rock hard SEAL who doesn't need help from anyone. Doesn't need anyone. But when he's shot during a dangerous rescue mission, and has to rely on a beautiful nurse to survive, he realizes he has to rethink his resolution. Suddenly he can't imagine his life without Brandy in it. It's a damn shame she has a secret that could ruin everything.

Book One: Ryder

Fantastic book. Fast paced, funny, steamy, and intense. Lily is the daughter of a senator. She has been protected all her life, and when she finally seizes a chance to do something without her parents' okay, all hell breaks loose. The ship she's on with other aid workers is seized by pirates and she and the others are taken hostage. It's up to the SEALs to rescue them.

I loved both Lily and Stone. Because she's been so sheltered, Lily is just a little bit naive about the danger they could be facing. I thought she held up really well when they were captured, possibly because she didn't really know what could happen. She's also a bit stubborn and had a great sense of humor. Stone is super protective and determined to get her to safety. Besides keeping her safe from the pirates, he's also determined to protect her from himself. Because of his own family history, he is determined never to get involved with a woman. However, he's never had to deal with one like Lily.

There is a connection between them from the start. Not just attraction, which is off the charts as it is. Stone expects to have to deal with a spoiled princess, but Lily surprises him. Their escape across the island and to the next one is full of danger, but she handles it amazingly well. Stone is used to telling people what to do and not being questioned, but Lily always has something to say. I loved the way that she refused to accept half-answers and stood up to him until he cooperated. The heat between them continues to build, and Stone succumbs to a couple of really hot kisses. He immediately backs off, knowing that he's exactly wrong for someone like Lily. However, she doesn't see it that way. I loved seeing her go after him, leading to an experience unlike either have ever had, and deepening their connection.

Rescue comes, and Lily is reunited with her senator father on the navy ship. Not everyone has made it back, and the SEALs have to go back to extract another pair. I loved seeing the changes that have come over both Lily and Stone. Lily's determination to stay until Stone is back safely runs up against her father's will. I loved his reaction when she stated her intentions. I also loved Stone's actions when he got back. I liked that this wasn't a case of instant love, but they care enough to want to see where it goes.

Book 2: Drake

This is a partner to Book 1, Ryder's story, and takes place at the same time. The team has been called in to participate in the rescue of some aid workers who have been taken by Somali pirates. Drake has just been assigned to Ryder's team and it isn't going well. Drake and Ryder have some history. They grew up together, both sons of SEALs, whose fathers were killed at the same time. Drake is a bit younger than Ryder and always looked up to him, even to the point of joining the SEALs. Drake has a bad boy attitude combined with little boy charm and has perfected the use of both.

Brandy is one of the aid workers who was captured and is Lily's best friend. She has plenty of street smarts and knows the trouble they are in. She isn't someone who is content to sit back and wait for rescue, so she is on the lookout for opportunities to escape. 

I loved the relationship that Brandy and Drake had right from the beginning. Drake considers himself something of a super SEAL, and isn't exactly thrilled when Brandy knocks him down when he arrives in her hut. He is, however, quite attracted to her. Brandy feels the same attraction, but really isn't happy about it. Her one rule in life is "No SEALs". Her first real boyfriend was a SEAL who had pursued her because he thought it would be a way to advance his career, as her father was a SEAL commander. She has since painted all military men with the same brush. It doesn't help that she hasn't seen her father since she was twelve and he left the family. When Drake is shot in their escape attempt, Brandy goes into nurse mode to take care of him.

I loved their interactions. Drake is ticked because this mission, which he hoped would prove to Ryder that he deserved to be on his team, has been one SNAFU after another. He got shot in the butt, missed the extraction timeline because of it, and is now trapped on the island because of it. Plus, because of his injury, he's no longer the one in charge. It was fun to see Brandy take control, doing the things that he feels he should be doing. Drake has a tendency to pout and try to use his charm to get his way and Brandy doesn't succumb to any of it. Stuck in each other's company with little to do but talk, Brandy begins to see that not all SEALs are alike. I loved seeing her discover Drake's insecurities and try to show him that he's wrong. The attraction between them also grows to the point where they can't help but give in to it. Just when they think they have a shot at getting away, they are caught again, and again as they attempt another escape. Drake is furious at himself, feeling that he has failed Brandy, and that he'll never get Ryder's approval now. Brandy's own protectiveness has been running nonstop, and I loved seeing her stand up to the pirates with her need to take care of Drake and his injuries.

I loved their rescue and seeing the reactions of the various team members, especially since they know something about her that he doesn't. There's a bit of tension when one of the other team members is hurt, and it's Drake whose stubbornness provides what is needed, even though he's injured himself. The best part of the story comes after they are back on the ship. Drake discovers who Brandy's father is and has to make a decision. I also loved Brandy's reaction to "the code". It's really funny to see Drake stand up for his relationship to Brandy, especially since he's under the influence of some pretty strong painkillers at the time. Seeing history repeat itself was just the icing on the cake.

I liked the epilogue, showing the two couples a year later. The scene is a get together at Lily and Ryder's house, involving the whole team. I loved seeing how happy Ryder and Lily are. There is also no doubt of the heat that is still burning between Drake and Brandy. He has a wonderfully romantic, though slightly awkward, big moment with her that culminates in a surprise for her and an even bigger one for him. 

I can't wait to read more about these team members.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Third Time's the Bride - Merline Lovelace (HSE #2487 - July 2016)

Series: Three Coins in the Fountain (Book 2)

Third time lucky?

Take a vacation to Italy and land a husband? Well, at least fiancé number three. Dawn McGill's fear of marriage has halted two weddings, but millionaire Brian Ellis and his adorable little boy might change all that. After all, a marriage based on convenience is less frightening than one based on love.

Brian will do anything for his young son, and what Tommy wants even more than a puppy is a mom. Dawn is great with his boy and she's even beginning to fill a void in his own heart. Yet he can't shake the feeling that his bride-to-be is getting cold feet. What will it take to get Dawn all the way down the aisle this time?

I loved this book just as much as I did the first one in the series. We met Dawn, Brian and Tommy in the first book "I Do" ... Take Two!. Dawn was in Italy with her two best friends, Kate and Callie, on a long awaited trip. Kate unexpectedly reunited and reconciled with her husband Travis, leaving Callie and Dawn to continue by themselves (though with the help of some new friends). Brian was there on business that involved Travis and others. He had also brought his young son along, but ran into problems when his nanny fell and broke her leg. Dawn and Callie stepped in to help, and by the time the trip was over, Dawn had bonded strongly with Tommy. She'd also developed quite an attraction to Brian. He's attracted also, but she's nothing like his late wife, and he's not so sure he approves of her. But he's desperate for help, and asks Dawn if she'd fill in as Tommy's nanny until he can hire a new one.

The sparks fly between them right from the beginning. Dawn is cautious about any kind of relationship, as she's been engaged twice and both have ended in disasters. She adores young Tommy and though Brian seems a bit uptight when she first meets him, it's obvious that he loves his son. As she settles into her nanny job, she and Brian connect over Tommy's care and discover they have more in common than they thought. At the beginning, Brian isn't so sure that Dawn is a good influence on Tommy, but he can't deny that she's good with him. It's his own reaction that has him spooked and he's determined to find a replacement as fast as he can. I enjoyed his interview attempts, and his realization of what he really wants. Still emotionally cautious because of the death of his wife, he considers offering Dawn marriage as a way to keep her in their lives. His proposal was pretty funny in its awkwardness, as he managed to mess it up several times. Fortunately, Dawn has a sense of humor about it, and they agree on marriage. No word of love has been spoken, but their attraction has been given a green light.

With Dawn bailing on her first two weddings, Brian is understandably a bit nervous. Dawn also has the occasional twinge of nerves. Through it all their feelings continue to grow. I loved the openness of the discussion between Brian and Dawn about his first wife. Dawn's sensitive and accepting attitude toward her was really sweet and went a long way toward Brian realizing that he loves Dawn. I loved the differences in Dawn's feelings toward this wedding and confidence that it is right. As it comes down to the wire, thanks to issues with her parents, Dawn gets really stressed. The wedding day arrives and suddenly the bride is missing. I loved Brian's confidence in their love and how it stood strong. There were some really fun spots as Brian and the others tried to find out what happened to her. I loved Brian and Dawn's reunion and how he handled her fears. The ending was great, especially the scene at the fountain.

I loved Brian's son Tommy. He was quite a handful at times, but really a good kid. There were some pretty funny things that came out of his mouth. I especially loved his comments about marriage.

I liked seeing more of Kate and Travis and how their reconciliation is progressing. I also enjoyed how the support that the three women give each other continues. Kate and Callie are there for Dawn as she works through her feelings for Brian. Kate and Dawn are also there for Callie as they discover just what has had their friend on edge for the past several weeks. Their new friend Joe, also from the first book, plays a part in that. I'm looking forward to Callie's book, as I expect that Joe has plans for her. I also loved seeing Carlo again. His playboy ways are still there and it was fun to see him try to use them on Dawn and Callie. I also enjoyed seeing him use them on Dawn's mother.

I liked the Washington DC area setting for this book. As it is home for me, I recognized a lot of the places mentioned. This made the whole story feel even more realistic for me, as I pictured the characters in those familiar places.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Out Rider - Lindsay McKenna (HQN - May 2016)

Series: Jackson Hole Wyoming (Book 11)

A fresh start -- that's all Devorah McGuire wants. As a former Marine and current Ranger with the US Forest Service, she's grown accustomed to keeping others safe. But when the unthinkable happens, she can only hope that a transfer to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, will allow her to put the past behind her for good.

Dev's mentor at Grand Tetons National Park is fellow canine handler and horseman Sloan Rankin. He shows Dev the spectacular trails, never knowing the terror that stalks her every move. Despite her lingering fear, Dev feels an attraction for Sloan as wild as their surroundings.

With Sloan, Dev can envision a new life -- a real home. Unless a vengeful man fresh out of prison succeeds in finishing what he started…

Lovely conclusion to the series. I am really going to miss all the characters I've gotten to know over the last several years. In this one, the romance is sweet and gentle, and the suspense builds to an intense confrontation.

Dev has moved across the country for a fresh start. In her previous posting she was stalked and assaulted by a coworker. One of the effects of the attack was to aggravate her PTSD from her time in the Marines, and she hopes that the move will allow her to get past it. Sloan has a failed marriage in his past that makes him reluctant to risk his heart again. A blown tire on her horse trailer brings Dev and Sloan together, as he stops to help her change it. They quickly discover that they will be coworkers, and Sloan offers to lead her to where she'll stable her horse and then to her apartment complex. There is an immediate connection between them, though both are wary of pursuing it thanks to their pasts. 

I loved seeing the relationship develop between Dev and Sloan. Dev doesn't trust men at all. Her father was an alcoholic who neglected and emotionally abused her. Then the men who should have helped her after the attack instead took the side of her attacker. She isn't sure, at first, that Sloan isn't another just like them. They first began as friends, as Sloan was assigned to mentor her as she got to know the ins and outs of the park. She quickly discovered that just being around him calmed her spirit. As Sloan got to know her, he saw the woman under the fears. I loved his patience and kindness as she opens up to him about her experiences. Though he is very attracted to her, he doesn't push and waits for her to be ready to move further in their growing relationship. It was really sweet to see the way that he included her in his friendships with Miss Iris  and Miss Gus, giving her a family type relationship unlike anything she had experienced before. Sloan also understands the strength of her empathy to others' emotions, and is able to help her understand. It was interesting to see how Dev soaked up the peace that surrounded Sloan and how it helped her heal. I really liked that they didn't rush their relationship, letting it grow at a slower pace. The intensity of their feelings grew when the danger that threatened Dev got closer to home. Sloan's protectiveness and inner warrior stepped up to ensure that Dev was safe. I liked the way that Sloan was able to accept his feelings and had the courage to share them with her first. Dev is still cautious about trusting her own feelings, and it takes a crisis for her to take that final step toward her future.

The suspense of the story was really good. Seeing Dev start to settle in and relax in her new surroundings made the shock of Bart's reappearance that much greater. Her recounting of what happened was vivid and it was easy to feel her fear. Having that followed by Bart's version of the events, and also seeing what his plans are, increased the anticipation of what was going to happen. The intensity increased as he became bolder, and the invasion of her apartment was definitely scary. I liked Sloan's support of her, and that this time law enforcement reacted properly. The final confrontation was nerve-wracking. I liked seeing Dev having reacquired the strength of will to defend herself. The pursuit through the forest was exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat until it was all over.

The best secondary characters were the two dogs: Dev's lab Bella, and Sloan's Belgian Malamois with the unlikely name of Mouse. Both are former combat dogs who have new missions. I loved their relationships with Dev and Sloan, especially the way that they sensed their emotions. I adored Mouse and his awesome tracking skills.

I loved seeing characters from earlier books. From Cade's essential help in identifying and then pursuing Bart, to the ranch families and their obvious love for Sloan and then Dev, it brought back fond memories of their stories. I loved the surprise for Dev that they had colluded on, and then the bigger surprise that Sloan had for her. I am truly going to miss these folks.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Man of Action - Janie Crouch (HI #1650 - July 2016)

Series: Omega Sector: Critical Response (Book 4)

He was a man of action -- especially when it came to protecting his new undercover partner…

At nineteen, Andrea Gordon's life was forever changed. After proving herself instrumental in a bank hostage crisis, she became one of Omega Sector's top agents. Four years later, her skill at reading people is unrivaled -- until she meets fellow profiler Brandon Han. Paired together to track a serial killer who has been targeting at-risk women, the two become entangled beyond the case. Their mutual attraction deepens as they get closer to the truth. But when Andrea's own sordid past surfaces, they will both be forced to question everything about the assignment…and each other.

Very good book that drew me in right from the start and didn't let go until I'd read the last page. Both Andrea and Brandon were fascinating characters. Andrea is introduced first when, at the age of nineteen, she's already been through more trauma than most people experience in their entire lives. Then she becomes instrumental in preventing a slaughter during a bank robbery, and her life changed forever. Her talents earn her an offer of training and a job, enabling her to leave her troubled past behind.

Brandon's life was almost exactly the opposite. He was the son of loving parents who were supportive of all his endeavors. When he misbehaved as a child they quickly figured out why and took steps to solve the issue. As a result, he has multiple degrees and an excellent job with Omega Sector as one of their top profilers.

Four years later, Andrea and Brandon are tagged to work together to solve a serial murderer case in her old hometown. Brandon prefers to work alone, ever since the death of his previous partner, and isn't at all happy to be forced to work with Andrea. She can sense his antagonism, which adds to her own insecurities. Though she is respected in her work, Andrea keeps herself apart from everyone, always afraid that someone will discover her past and judge her for it. I ached for her, as she always lived with the fear that she was about to be fired because of it (even though her boss knows all about her past).

Brandon irritated me at the beginning, and at several points throughout the book, because he comes across as very judgmental. He sees Andrea as young and inexperienced, in spite of her reputation, and thinks that she is going to be a liability rather than an asset. It made me very happy to see her prove him wrong right from the beginning. It was quite satisfying to see him have to readjust his thinking.

Also from the beginning, there is a sense of attraction between them. Brandon is taken by her beauty, and also finds himself feeling quite protective of her. There's a pretty sweet scene where he cares for her after she's had something of a flashback to her previous life. She opens up to him a little bit about her early life, but doesn't reveal her biggest secret to him, afraid of what his reaction would be.

When the case that they are working on gets to the point where they want to draw the killer out, Andrea volunteers to go undercover. Intellectually Brandon knows now what she did in her previous life and claims to be fine with it, but when he actually sees her doing the job his reaction is very different. I was very angry with him over the way he acted, especially since he knew he was being an ass, but kept doing it anyway. I hurt for Andrea, who had started to come out of her shell, thanks to Brandon's belief in her and her abilities. Feeling his negativity hurt her so much because she had begun to care for him. I loved the way that comments from their boss and a lecture from one of Andrea's former coworkers made him feel like the jerk he was. I did like the fact that he was able to admit his stupidity and apologize for it, though I wish she had made him work a bit harder for her forgiveness.

The suspense of the story was really good. Both Andrea and Brandon have complementary skills when it comes to figuring out who the killer is. Together they are a great team. I could feel their frustration at the way local law enforcement was less than totally committed to the investigation because of who the victims were. The tension was a slow build as they followed the few clues they had to narrow the field. When Andrea went undercover, I was just waiting for the killer to go after her. I was right there with them when the evidence pointed to the lead suspect, even though both of them wondered how they could have missed the signs. What came next was a complete surprise, with an added twist that doubled the intensity of the final confrontation. I liked that it had realistic consequences for Brandon, and that it was Andrea's turn to be there for him. There was one loose end left hanging that I suspect will be addressed in the next book.

Her Maverick M.D. - Teresa Southwick (HSE #2491 - Aug 2016)

Series: Montana Mavericks: Baby Bonanza (Book 2)


Rust Creek Ramblings

I'm sure you've heard there is a new doctor in town. Sexy Jon Clifton looks more cowboy than pediatrician, he's good with kids and dogs, and what we all want to know is: "Why is this man still single?"

Though there are plenty of ladies in Rust Creek Falls who would like to change the confirmed bachelor's status, Dawn Laramie alone seems to be immune to his charms. The dedicated nurse works side by side with Dr. Jon day after day, intent on keeping things professional and distant. Meanwhile, we here at the "Gazette" can practically hear the tension thrumming between these two. Our diagnosis? A classic case of lovesickness with an age-old cure But will the doctor's proposal heal Dawn's wounded heart?

Good book. Jon is new to Rust Creek Falls, having answered an advertisement for a pediatrician. He has some heartbreak in his past and has kept his emotions under control ever since. Dawn grew up in Rust Creek Falls and has come home after working in a city hospital. A recent romance has reinforced her distrust of men.

The initial meeting between Dawn and Jon didn't go very well. Jon isn't very good at talking to women, as he'd always been more interested in doctoring than flirting. Unfortunately, he managed to come across as judgmental and pompous and wasn't able to correct the impression before she walked away. Dawn had noticed his good looks when he first came in, but when she found out he was the new doctor she'd be working with, all her warmth and friendliness vanished. She was also irritated by his attitude about the infamous spiked punch incident (series Montana Mavericks: What Happened at the Wedding). 

Dawn had been burned by getting involved with a doctor at her previous job. It turned out that he was engaged and hadn't told her, making her look like she'd knowingly been involved with another woman's man. After it came out, she was treated badly by others at the hospital, making her working life miserable. She left there to come home and work at the clinic, vowing she'd never get involved with another coworker. His lies and omissions also reinforced her distrust of men, thanks to the actions of her father. He had left the family, and his subsequent actions were extremely erratic and unreliable. Since that time, she has had trouble believing that men could be relied on.

Jon had his own issues that kept him somewhat isolated. While working as a doctor in a hospital, he had lost a young patient unexpectedly and it made him question himself. He took a job in Thunder Canyon to get away and heal. The effect the loss of his patient had on him also caused a rift between himself and the woman he was living with, making him reluctant to get involved again. After a few months of quiet at Thunder Canyon, Jon is ready for something more and joins the clinic at Rust Creek Falls. 

Though their first meeting didn't go well, there were obviously sparks between them. Dawn is determined to keep it professional and treats Jon very differently than everyone else. I liked that Jon was determined to fix it and loved seeing him challenge her. Jon would really like to get to know her better, but accepts her reasons for being just friends. However, it's pretty obvious that they aren't going to be able to stick to it.

I loved watching the relationship develop. With Dawn's help, he finally saw that he wasn't solely to blame for the end of his previous relationship. I liked seeing the way that he was there for Dawn during some of her family issues, and that he helped her see things from a different perspective. When they cross the line from friends to lovers, both of them panic a little and try to go back to being just friends. He resisted the idea that he was falling for her until it was impossible to deny. Dawn realizes she has fallen for a man who probably won't stay in town. A medical crisis that has the potential to pull them apart, instead opens their eyes to what they really want. I loved Jon's big moment at the end.

I also liked the storyline involving Dawn's mother and father. His reappearance in their lives gives Dawn the chance to see her parents' relationship through the eyes of an adult rather than a child. She's very antagonistic at the beginning, but slowly begins to get to know him. I liked the tipping point in their relationship, as Hank is there for her when she thinks things are falling apart between her and Jon. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Conard County Spy - Rachel Lee (HRS #1895 - May 2016)

Series: Conard County: The Next Generation (Book 29)

Hunted by an anonymous killer, rogue CIA agent Trace Archer seeks out a trusted buddy in Wyoming. With danger stalking him, the last thing he expects is innocent civilian Julie Ardlow to offer him help. But when the beautiful kindergarten teacher with a brave heart gives him a cover he can't refuse -- pretending to be an old flame -- sparks begin to fly!

Brave heart? Try crazy. Because though Julie will do anything to save the sexy spy's life, he's eventually going to leave, right? But she can't resist emotionally withdrawn Trace and his soulful eyes. And the deeper they dig into his past to suss out a murderer, the closer danger creeps toward them both…

Very good book that kept me hooked from beginning to end. It's a little short on action until the very end, but full of building tension as Trace and Julie try to find out who is out to kill him. It starts out as Trace is moving around the country, trying to stay ahead of a possible threat, while at the same time recovering from a career ending injury. He stops in Conard City to see his friend Ryker, then realizes that he may have brought danger to his friend's new family. Though prepared to move on, Ryker and the sheriff convince Trace to stay put and set a trap for his pursuer. They enlist the help of Julie, who will pass him off as an old flame.

There are sparks between Trace and Julie from the moment they met. Julie is a kindergarten teacher with a pretty sunny outlook on life and an adventurous personality. She is also protective of her friends, and offers herself as cover in order to protect her friends Marisa and Ryker. She doesn't expect the intense attraction she feels to Trace. Trace has spent years keeping his emotions under tight control, but she constantly finds ways to surprise him. Keeping her safe is his first priority, and he's reluctant to do anything that could distract from that. A raging blizzard protects them from outside danger, while their proximity draws them closer together.

I really enjoyed Julie's attempts to break through Trace's walls. She's drawn to him, but accepts that he's not going to stick around. That doesn't mean that she isn't going to go after what she wants from him. Her attempts to get him to talk didn't always go well, and I liked the realism of her frustration with him. She can also admit when she lets the stress get to her and she feels like she's being unreasonable. I felt for Trace as he was caught in a bad situation. He feels guilty for putting Julie in danger, but at the same time being with her is fantastic. He struggles to open up with her. I loved seeing how he would expect one reaction from her and be stunned at getting something completely different. The strength of the feelings that he has for her frequently has him backing off as he tries to figure out what to do about them. I liked the ending as Trace has his chance to really share his feelings. 

The suspense of the story was good. Trace went from the possibility of trouble to knowing it for sure.  He went to Ryker for help, but then had to adjust his plans. I liked seeing him accept help from Ryker and Gage. Trace is recovering from a horrible injury and still on pain medication for it, medication that he complains about because of the way it makes him feel. Trapped by the blizzard, but also protected by it, Trace, Julie and the others work to figure out who is behind the pursuit. Each bit of information they uncover adds to the big picture until Trace finally figures it out. What he discovers along the way points to a betrayal of the worst kind. When the blizzard ends, the intensity picks up as they prepare for the bad guy's arrival. The final confrontation was intense, with both Trace and Julie in danger. I liked the way that Julie kept a calm head and was able to help herself. Trace's fear for Julie's safety kept him focused on what he needed to do. The result was satisfying along with the follow up actions taken by Trace and Ryker.

Monday, August 8, 2016

An American in Scotland - Karen Ranney (Avon - Feb 2016)

Series: MacIains (Book 3)

Rose MacIain is a beautiful woman with a secret. Desperate and at her wits' end, she crafts a fake identity for herself, one that Duncan MacIain will be unable to resist. But she doesn't realize that posing as the widow of the handsome Scotsman's cousin is more dangerous than she knew. And when a simmering attraction rises up between them, she begins to regret the whole charade.

Duncan is determined to resist the tempting Rose, no matter how much he admires her arresting beauty and headstrong spirit. When he agrees to accompany her on her quest, their desire for each other only burns hotter. The journey tests his resolve as their close quarters fuel the fire that crackles between them.

When the truth comes to light, these two stubborn people must put away their pride and along the way discover that their dreams of love are all they need.

Good book, though a little slow at the start. Rose arrives in Glasgow at the end of her rope and the end of her resources. The Civil War has hit her family hard back in South Carolina, and she has come to see if the Scottish branch of the family will brave the blockade and purchase the last of their cotton. She's taken some liberties with the truth in order to ensure that she'll be listened to.

Duncan is a mill owner who is struggling to keep his business going. The war in America has made it difficult to get the cotton necessary to do so. The arrival of his cousin's beautiful young widow gets his attention, especially when she faints at his feet. Her proposition is interesting, but could it be even more dangerous than it appears?

There were sparks between Rose and Duncan from the very beginning. It was fun to see the effect that they had on each other. Duncan was constantly finding himself distracted by her beauty. He was so intrigued by her that he would come home for lunch every day and leave work earlier than usual, just to be able to spend time with her. Rose is just as intrigued by Duncan, and begins to regret her deception. Duncan had previously decided not to accept Bruce's offer to sell him the cotton. He didn't care for the impression he got of Bruce's character and lifestyle from the letters he received and was reluctant to support it. His conversations with Rose only reinforced that decision. Rose is desperate to get Duncan to buy their cotton. She needs that money to support the few people that are left living at the plantation. I loved his surprise at finding himself giving in to her pleas.

Rose has a mind and will of her own. When she sets out on a course of action there isn't much that can get her to change. As hard as Duncan tried to get her to stay in Scotland while he retrieved the cotton, he could not get her to agree. Nor would she agree to remain in Nassau. It was fun to see Duncan start to respect and expect Rose's willingness to express her opinions and stick to her decisions. Forced into close quarters on the voyage, it isn't long before their attraction gets the better of them. I enjoyed seeing him realize his feelings first, and express them in an incredibly romantic way for such a previously controlled man. It took Rose a little longer because of her fears, but she too is eloquent in her expressions of love.

Things take an unexpected turn when they arrive in South Carolina and discover that Bruce is back home from the war. He has lost a leg and his cruel nature has become even worse. I ached for Rose as she learned the heartbreaking truth about her sister's attitude toward her. Things got a bit intense when Bruce tried to exact his revenge upon Rose. Help came from an unexpected source, and Bruce ends up as the focus of someone else's revenge. That was very satisfying. Duncan and Rose also receive some unexpected good news that contributes to the success of their trip. 

I enjoyed the epilogue and seeing where everyone is a few months later. I loved the teasing that was going on among all the family members. Their love and support is obvious, but there is also a great sense of fun now that they have all found their loves.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Expecting the Rancher's Child - Sara Orwig (HD #2456 - July 2016)

Series: Callahan's Clan (Book 1)

The rich rancher's irresistible offer…

From the moment they met, their intense attraction has been off the charts. It's rendered Blake Callahan's judgment inoperative. Because the billionaire rancher has offered millions to lure Sierra Benson away from her charity organization to work for him. The offer's just too good for the former designer to refuse.

Working together at Blake's ranch, there's no escaping the powerful desire that draws them closer. But Blake's driven by his need for revenge against his father, while Sierra is all about helping those in need. So how will they bridge their differences when Sierra discovers she's pregnant?

Good story of opposites attracting. Sierra is a former interior designer who has left that career behind to run a non-profit charity. She's much happier doing that work and can't conceive of going back to her former life. Blake is a billionaire rancher and real estate developer. He's building a new wing on his ranch house and wants only the best to decorate it. For him, that is Sierra, and he refuses to let anything get in the way of what he wants.

I really enjoyed their first meeting. From the moment he walked into her office, the sparks flew between them. Blake is determined that she will decorate his place, and she is equally adamant that what she does now is more important. Not only does Blake want her decorating expertise, but as attracted as he is to her, he also wants to spend time with her. Throwing caution to the wind, he writes a large check to her for the job, and an equal amount to her charity, if she will do it. He also promises the same amount to the charity for the next three years. Unable to turn away a donation of that magnitude, Sierra gives in. The negotiations between them were very interesting. Blake can't understand why she gave up such a lucrative profession to run a charity. His opinion is that people are only out for what they can get, and that she's naive for thinking that she's really going to make a difference. Blake is extremely cynical about people, starting from when he was a child. His father divorced his mother, married again and had more children, and paid no attention to any of them. He also cheated on his wives. Blake has harbored a great deal of anger toward his father and has spent the last several years taking quiet revenge by trying to put his father's hotels out of business.

Once Sierra arrives at the ranch and begins work, every time she and Blake are near each other the fire between them burns hot. Sierra doesn't want to get involved, as she doesn't see it turning out well, but she's helpless to resist. It's interesting to see that when they avoid his need for revenge and her charity work, they have a lot in common. They don't have a lot of time together, as both have to travel, but when they are apart they miss each other. Neither is willing to consider that they are falling in love because they are just too different.

I liked seeing Sierra try to convince Blake that his quest for revenge isn't worth what it is doing to him. She even invites him to go with her to a charity picnic, where he can see some of the good his donation is already doing. It becomes obvious to Sierra that he's not quite as hard as he thinks he is, which softens her heart toward him a little bit. I liked seeing Blake around her family, as he fit in better than I thought he would. But in spite of it all, he insists that she isn't going to change him.

Their differences become a much bigger stumbling block when Sierra discovers she is pregnant. Blake is all for getting married, even though they aren't in love, because he wants to be a full time dad to his child. He thinks that their passion and how well they get along is enough for a successful marriage. Sierra grew up with parents who loved each other and their children, and she refuses to settle for anything less. I really liked seeing her stand up to him and not be guilted into settling for less. By standing firm, Sierra forces Blake to actually think about what it is that's keeping them apart. I loved seeing the steps he took, and the difference it made to his outlook. It wasn't a warm and fuzzy experience, but it felt realistic. There was an interesting twist to the conversation that opened Blake's eyes to what was truly important in his life. It also brought an unexpected windfall into Sierra's life. I liked Blake's big moment at the end. The epilogue was a nice lead in to the next book.