Thursday, November 24, 2016

Big Luke, Little Luke - Dawn Stewardson (HS #653 - July 1995)

Series: 4 Strong Men (Book 3)

Luke Dakota--His life was sent into a tailspin the day he learned that Mike Alexander, his buddy during Desert Storm, had committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and child-a child who'd been named Luke, after him.

Caitlin Alexander-With a business in the red and a child to raise alone, Caitlin had her share of trouble. And she still couldn't believe that Mike had killed himself! Then Luke Dakota arrived on the doorstep offering to help, and he brought back feelings she thought she'd buried with her husband ....

Luke soon found himself in over his head. He'd made the trip because Mike had been closer than a brother to him. But there was nothing brotherly about Luke's feelings for Caitlin!

Oldie but goodie. Luke is a navy pilot who is currently serving as a flight instructor for the navy. He is surprised to get a letter from the wife of a pilot who was his buddy during the war, telling him that her husband is dead. Furthermore, they had named their son after him. He's about to go on leave, so he decides to drop in and say hi, and also find out if they need anything.

Caitlin was three months pregnant when Mike died, and eighteen months later she's just starting to get her life back together. She and Mike had used their ranch as collateral for their flying business, and she and her business partner are barely making ends meet. She can't let it go under or she will lose everything. To make matters worse, she's not convinced that Mike killed himself, despite what the evidence says.

Caitlin is wary of Luke until she realizes that he's the man who had saved Mike's life during the war. That made it a bit easier for her to accept his offer of help when she found herself down a pilot. She also found herself opening up to him when she discovered that he was skeptical of the suicide explanation also. 

Neither one expected the attraction that hit them as soon as they met. Caitlin is still battling her grief over Mike's death. Luke is wary of his feelings, as he's been burned in a previous relationship. Luke also feels an almost instant connection with Caitlin, which makes him feel a bit guilty at the beginning. It isn't long before he's thinking seriously about finding a way to keep seeing her after his leave is up. I thought that he was much more open to the idea much faster than she was. 

I loved seeing them get closer as they worked to find out the truth about Mike's death. There was also a big streak of protectiveness in Luke, that really came out when little Luke got sick. I loved his support for Caitlin and how he was there for her. Caitlin was really moved by the way that Luke took to little Luke and how awesome they were together. The biggest complication was how to be together after he returns to Florida, especially with her situation with the flight school. 

The mystery of Mike's death was very good. Caitlin's hunch that it wasn't a suicide put her at odds with local law enforcement, so she had pretty much given up pursuing it. There was one person in particular that she suspected, but there were also reasons that it couldn't be, The final confrontation was pretty intense. There were several twists before it was all done with the actual murderer being something of a surprise. I liked how it all ended and the epilogue was a nice wrap up.                          
                                                                                                                                                                                     

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Her Summer with the Marine - Susan Meier (Entangled - Aug 2014)

Series: Donovan Brothers (Book 1)

Their competition has never been so irresistible...

The last person Ellie McDermott wanted to run into after returning to her hometown is Finn Donovan, her high school nemesis and the guy she crossed the line from enemies to lovers with one night years ago. Now ex-military, tattooed, and still sexy as hell, Finn is a complication Ellie doesn't need-she needs to concentrate on saving her family business. 

Finn's entire life, Ellie was there, going head-to-head with him in every class, bee, and test. So it's no surprise she'd show up just as he was about to take over her father's struggling business. It is a surprise, though, that his attraction to her is even more explosive than it had been. Acting on their attraction is one thing, but Finn has to turn a profit to save his own family, and nothing-not even love-will get in his way.

Very good, very emotional book, with a setting I haven't encountered before - a pair of funeral homes. Ellie works for an ad agency in Pittsburgh and has just been awarded a big account when she gets an emergency call from the police in her hometown. Her father has been found wandering around town, disoriented and taken to the hospital. When she arrives in Harmony Hills, she finds that he has been hiding his Alzheimer's from her. Now he can no longer live alone, but must go to a nursing home, leaving her in charge of the business. She can't just close it because she needs the money for his expenses, but she is also committed to the ad campaign. To make matters worse, she discovers her old school frenemy, Finn, has come home and opened his own funeral home, putting McDermott's in danger.

Finn finished his time in the Marines and came home, ready to face the demons that sent him running after high school. His funeral home is starting to do well, but there's not enough business for two in town, so he is trying to buy out McDermott's. He needs to succeed in order to take care of his mother, and having Ellie show up and take over puts a crimp in his plans. 

Ellie and Finn had been competitors all through school, always vying for the top score or position. They were friends of a sort, always able to be themselves with each other. Each of them had issues with their lives in the small town and couldn't wait to leave. Ellie always felt that she was the object of pity and gossip after her mother was killed in a car accident with her lover. Finn is hiding the fact that his highly respected by the town father abuses Finn, his brothers, and their mother. Attraction that had been building between them explodes on a night when Finn came looking for comfort, leaving both unable to deal with the aftermath. Each of them views their encounter in a different way.

Ellie and Finn are thrown back into competition when she agrees to her father's request that she run things. Though they try to keep away from each other, their attraction is stronger than ever. Though each needs to win this competition, they are able to keep it mostly friendly. But each encounter fans the flames of their attraction, until they decide that maybe they can keep business and pleasure separate. Of course, that never works and this is no exception. Though the solution is obvious, their views on relationships have been affected by those of their parents and neither is looking to repeat those mistakes.

I ached for Ellie throughout the book as she tried to deal with her father's rapid decline. It was especially heartbreaking at the end, as she deals with both that and her feelings for Finn. He has his moments of obliviousness that nearly ruin everything before he finally sees the truth. I loved his big moment as he makes his desperate attempt to prove his love to Ellie. It's all wrapped up in an epilogue that shows there's more to their love than just heat.

I loved the secondary characters who added another layer of depth to the story. Ellie's father and the story of how he carried on after his wife's death, and the pain of watching his decline. I loved Finn's mom and seeing her go from broken to strong was fantastic. Ellie's staff at the funeral home were her saviors, and I especially liked BB. Though she seemed to be quite the airhead at the beginning, Ellie quickly discovered there was quite a brain under that hair. The Dinner Belles went from being the source of Ellie's teenage pain to some of her greatest supporters.

There were parts of the book that had me in tears, especially at the end. There were others that had me laughing out loud, most notably the fundraiser and the dunk tank. There were also a couple places that had me fanning myself from the heat coming off the pages. Now I can't wait to read the books for Finn's brothers.

*copy received from Netgalley in exchange for honest review

Billionaire Boss, M.D. - Olivia Gates (HD #2471 - Sept 2016)

Series: Billionaires of Black Castle (Book 5)

Will this doctor's passion trump vengeance?

Rumors swirl around the world-famous surgeon who just added Dr. Liliana Accardi's research lab to his vast empire. And from their first mesmerizing encounter, Antonio Balducci breaches all her defenses as he lures Lili into a passionate affair fueled by his own dark motives.

The gorgeous scientist is Antonio's entry into the family he's sworn to destroy. But his manipulations ensnare him. With his soul on fire for the woman he desires above all else, will Antonio's love prove stronger than his hunger for retribution?

Good book. Liliana is a research doctor at a lab that has just been acquired by a billionaire's company. She doesn't believe that he will allow the researchers to continue their work, but will instead have them working on things to increase his profits. An "all hands" meeting gives her a chance to confront him face to face.

Antonio has ulterior motives for his acquisition. A dark past has him seeking revenge, and Liliana is the doorway in. Basing his actions on past successes, he expects Liliana to fall in line. He is stunned when she not only doesn't meekly follow along with the others, she confronts him with her views on what he is doing. Her bluntness and refusal to back down confuses him and turns him on.

I liked Lili. She is brilliant, but socially rather awkward. What she thinks is written all over her face and pops right out of her mouth. She also has an amazing amount of insight into people and seems to be able to see past Antonio's public persona to the man underneath. Though confident in her professional abilities, Lili is quite insecure about her personal worth and appeal.

Antonio was a little harder to like in the beginning pages, but his quick succumbing to Lili's quirkiness won me over. Ever since he had been young, he had a talent for persuasion and manipulation which he used ruthlessly to build his empire. When he created his plan for revenge he hadn't counted on a key player being immune to his methods. 

From the beginning there were sparks between Lili and Antonio. Between those sparks and his fascination with her mind, Antonio was pretty much a goner right away. I loved the way she constantly kept him off balance with her attitudes and actions. Standing up to him didn't stop him from pursuing her, it only made him more determined. Lili was just as attracted to him, but didn't believe that he could be attracted to her. It was really fun to see him doing everything he could to impress her, in ways that had always worked before, and see her shoot him down over it. Her immediate depth of understanding of Antonio the man was something he'd never experienced before. I loved the effect that she had on his plans, both for the lab and his revenge.

But as quickly as the two of them fall and declare their love to each other, there are still issues bubbling under the surface. When Lili learns of his connection to her family, she feels hurt and betrayed. When she is badly injured in her rush to escape, Antonio realizes the mistakes he has made. He is devastated by her belief that he had used her. Even his attempt to give her the space he thinks she needs backfires for him. I ached for Lili, whose insecurity about her own worth, has her believing that Antonio never loved her. I loved the arrival of two of his brothers to confront Lili, and the re-emergence of her fighting spirit. Their protectiveness toward Antonio never really stood a chance against her once she made up her mind. The ending was terrific as the fears of both are finally overcome by their love.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Something Sweeter - Candis Terry (Avon - June 2014)

Series: Sweet, Texas (Book 3)

The men in Texas are hard to resist . . .

Seattle event planner Allison Lane is an expert at delivering the perfect wedding -- even if she might not exactly believe in the whole "'til death do us part" thing. When her father decides to tie the knot with a woman he barely knows, Allison heads to Sweet, Texas, to make sure his new honey is the real deal. What she didn't expect to find at the local honky-tonk was a sexy Southern man as bent on charming her pants off as he is on blowing her "true love doesn't exist" theory all to hell. 
And they always promise . . .

Veterinarian, former Marine, and Sweet's favorite playboy Jesse Wilder takes one look at Allison and knows she's a handful of trouble he can't deny. But even after a sizzling kiss and obvious mutual attraction, it seems Allison has no such problem. When Jesse uncovers her sweet side, can he crush his playboy image, melt her cynical heart, and change her mind about taking a trip down the aisle?

Good book. Allison has come to Sweet to check out the woman her father plans to marry. Her parents' marriage hadn't been a good one, and she wants to make sure he isn't making another mistake. On her arrival in town, she spends a little time in the local bar, where she meets a super sexy cowboy. Jesse is the local vet and is at the bar with his brother. He has a reputation as the town playboy. He notices Allison right away, including the heat that flares up between them. 

I loved their first meeting, as Jesse "rescues" his engaged brother from the advances of the beautiful stranger. There's some serious flirting going on between them, and Jesse is ready to take it to the next level when she leaves him high and dry. Both of them get quite a shock the next day when they discover that his mom is engaged to her dad. 

I liked Allison. She is a wedding planner who is quite cynical about love. Her parents' marriage was a bust, mostly due to her mother's selfishness. She has also seen many of the "love matches" she has done the weddings for end up in divorce. She is very wary of the whole Wilder crew when she meets them, finding it hard to believe that they are for real. She is protective of her father and doesn't want to see him hurt. I enjoyed seeing her watch the interactions between all the Wilders. For all of her cynicism about marriage, when Reno and Charli's wedding runs into some snags, she steps in to help. This puts her into further contact with Jesse, who is determined to change her mind about the existence of true love.

Jesse is fantastic. In the previous books, he is the brother with all the good advice. He helps his brothers through their relationship woes, while avoiding the same for himself. In this book we learn that he has a reason for that, which involves a promise made to his oldest brother who was killed in action a short time later. He feels it is his responsibility to make sure that they all have their happy endings before he can allow himself to look for his own. Jared has been a presence in all the books so far, as his place in the family is never forgotten. 

I loved the development of their relationship. It starts out simply, with Jesse determined to change Allison's mind about love. He doesn't have any intention of falling for her himself. It doesn't take him long to see the soft center inside her hard candy shell. It was sweet watching him bring out the softer side of her. At the same time, Allison begins to see that there is much more to Jesse than his public image as a playboy. She senses the conflict that he is going through and encourages him to share it with someone before it eats him up. As they grew closer, the attraction also heated up, until they couldn't resist any longer. Allison slowly begins to realize that not only is true love real, she is developing those feelings for Jesse. He is a bit slower to admit it to himself, and only after being on the receiving end of the same advice he gave his brothers. But it isn't an easy road to his dream of what could be when a crisis sends Allison back to Seattle and her fears come roaring back. I loved seeing how being around the Wilders changed her way of looking at things, and the effect it had on her handling of the crisis. Jesse had his own "aha" moment, thanks to his mom and brother. I loved his big moment at the end.

I loved the close relationship among all the Wilders and how they are there for each other. It was great to see how they absorbed Allison into the group with such ease. It made it very easy for Allison to want to help with the wedding issues. I loved the teasing among the brothers, but also how they had no problem getting serious when it was required. Their reactions when Jesse finally opened up were great. 

I also enjoyed the various characters in the town of Sweet. The two old ladies were quite a trip, especially when they were around Jesse. It was great to see how so many of them got involved when Allison needed help to rescue the wedding from disaster.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Traitor - Grace Burrowes (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Aug 2014)

Series: Captive Hearts (Book 2)

The past will overtake him...
Abandoned in France since boyhood, despite being heir to an English barony, Sebastian St. Clair makes impossible choices to survive a tour of duty in the French Army. He returns to England hoping for the peaceful life of a country gentleman, though old enemies insist on challenging him on the field of honor, one after another.

But this time, he will not fight alone...
Millicent Danforth desperately needs her position as companion to the Traitor Baron's aunt, but grieves to learn that Sebastian must continually fight a war long over. As Sebastian and Milly explore their growing passion, they uncover a plot that will cost Sebastian his life and his honor, unless he does battle once more-this time in the name of love.

Good book. Sebastian first appeared in the previous book, The Captive, as the man who carried out the torture on the English prisoners. The truth of who he is was revealed at the end of the book. Now Sebastian is back home in England, trying to put his life back together. Unfortunately for him, some of the men he dealt with during the war are challenging him to duels. He comes home from his latest duel to find his aunt interviewing a new companion.

Milly has gone into service to escape a miserable home life. She is the "poor relation" and has been relegated to unpaid drudgery in her cousins' home. Following the advice of her late aunt, she applies to be the companion of Lady Frederica St. Clair. I loved the interview, as Milly is pretty unflappable, and Lady Freddie is one of those outspoken old ladies who loves to shock people. In mid-interview, Sebastian arrives.

Their first encounter is brief but quite interesting, He wonders if she is all that she seems, she notices that in looks and attitude he seems to be the opposite of her. The next morning Sebastian finds her working on a flower arrangement and swoops in for his investigation. I loved their conversation, as he pries and she answers in her own way. In spite of his abilities as an interrogator, Milly holds her own quite well, and he accepts her presence in his aunt's life. They don't see each other much until Sebastian accompanies Milly, at his aunt's orders, when her aunt dies. I loved seeing them exchanging stories, as they got to know each other. Besides what was on the surface, each of them sensed some of the other's inner turmoil. Milly aches for the circumstances that made Sebastian the man he is now. Sebastian continues to be impressed by Milly's intelligence and strength. He also senses that there is something she is hiding and is determined to discover what it is.

I loved how Sebastian figured out her secret and, rather than condemning her for it, instead makes a point of helping her. I loved watching him stand up for her against her nasty cousin when he came to try to take her away. Spending time together as he helps her, the two of them grow closer. The attraction between them also grows, to the point where Sebastian has trouble concentrating when she is around.

Milly turns out to be quite ferocious in her attitude about Sebastian. She sees how he is haunted by his actions during the war and can't help being moved by it. She is adamant in her opinion that he has nothing to be ashamed of, as it was all part of being at war. I loved the way that she saw the good in him, even when he couldn't.

I had wondered at the end of the last book how the author was going to turn a pretty terrible villain into a hero. In this one we see how he is haunted by the memories, to the point where he accepts the challenges of all that accuse him. He fully expects that one of them will succeed in killing him, and almost looks forward to it happening. I ached for him and his desire to move on with his life, while at the same time believing that he doesn't deserve it.

I loved the development of their romance. When a passionate kiss between them is witnessed, Sebastian does the right thing and marries Milly. He doesn't feel that he is worthy of anything as wonderful as what their marriage could be. Suddenly he has much to lose if he is killed, and he becomes determined to find out who is behind the constant attacks on him. He also worries that he has put Milly in danger.  Milly throws herself into their marriage, determined to do whatever she must to make Sebastian happy. She doesn't believe that she has what it takes to be his baroness, but she is willing to try. I loved seeing her stand up to him and for him in her efforts to show him that he doesn't deserve the hate he has for himself. His protectiveness towards her has him keeping secrets from her, wanting to shield her from the more unsavory parts of his past. But Milly doesn't want protecting, and lets him know in no uncertain terms. I loved the scene on the dueling field as she comes to save him. It was pretty funny to see both men's reactions to her presence. It takes some effort, but both Sebastian and Milly let go of their own self doubts and embrace the love they have for each other.

The identity of who is behind the attacks is not a surprise as we get his point of view several times during the book. However, the full scope of his vendetta against Sebastian isn't known until the end. There is a very interesting twist involving Wellington that comes to light at the end. I loved the confrontation at Wellington's dinner party and how the truth sets Sebastian free.

I am looking forward to reading Brodie's story.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Unwrapping the Rancher's Secret - Lauri Robinson (HH #1304 - Nov 2016)

A ghost of Christmas past…

Heiress Sara Johnson is shocked when the stepbrother she believed was dead returns to Colorado to claim his inheritance! It might be the season of goodwill, but Crofton Parks seems determined to destroy his late father's empire.

Sparks fly as Crofton and Sara are forced to work together, and soon she begins to uncover the secrets behind his disappearance and need for revenge. But a far more unsettling discovery is the desire he awakens in Sara. This roguish rancher might just claim her heart by Christmas!

Good book. Sara has just buried her mother and stepfather who were killed in a carriage accident, leaving her heir to his lumber business. She's a bit nervous about stepping into the role, but her father's assistant has been assiduous in offering his help. She returns to her home to find a stranger sitting in her stepfather's office.

Crofton was separated from his father when he was a child by a mother who refused to follow him into the "wilderness". Winston promised to send for Crofton as soon as he was able to. Before he could, he received word that Crofton had died in a fire, and at the same time Crofton was told that Winston was dead. When Crofton discovered the truth he was determined to find out why his father had deserted him. But he also didn't want to show up with nothing to his name, so he spent time developing a cattle ranch that would use the railroad to get the cattle to market. When the proposed railroad fell through, Crofton blamed his father.

When Crofton arrived, he intended to investigate the death of his best friend who had been looking into the failed railroad project. Instead, he encountered Sara, who was not the gold-digger he expected. After a rough beginning, she insists that he is entitled to half the business. As they work together to keep the mill productive, an attraction begins to build. Crofton also becomes very protective as shots are fired, unexplained fires happen, and other accidents. It becomes obvious that someone isn't happy with Crofton's involvement. 

I loved seeing the sparks fly between Crofton and Sara. At first there is mutual distrust, but that doesn't last too long, as they are forced to work together. Sara spends a fair amount of time trying to figure him out, wondering why he is so angry at his father. I loved the way she was determined to show him just how much Winston had loved and mourned him. Crofton hadn't had any intention of getting involved with the mill, but he was determined to help Sara learn how to run it. I loved the way that he was so impressed by her intelligence and the inner strength that she was finding. It wasn't long before they were falling hard for each other. There are a couple scenes where his feelings are pretty obvious, though she doesn't see them. By the time she does, he's pulling away for reasons of his own. I loved the ending, with Sara taking matters into her own hands.

The mystery of the problems with the mill was really well done. The danger built in a steady manner that kept the story moving. As it built to a climax, Crofton became more worried for Sara's safety. The final confrontation brought danger to Sara, enlightenment to Crofton as he cleverly pieced together the truth, and a twist regarding one of the players. The person behind it all came as a real surprise.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Once Upon a Regency Christmas - Louise Allen, Sophia James, Annie Burrows (HH #1303 - Nov 2016)

ON A WINTER'S EVE by Louise Allen

Snowbound together, Lady Julia Chalcott and Captain Giles Markham try to fight temptation. But, as Christmas draws closer, their attraction proves too strong to resist!

Good story. Julia has returned to England from India, after the death of her husband. She has brought her half-Indian stepdaughter with her, hoping to give the girl a better future. She is also hoping to marry again. Instead, she discovers that men are far more interested in her bank account than her, and treatment of Miri has been less than honorable. So she and Miri leave London to go to the country house that she has inherited for the holidays. She is determined to make a plan for the future, and decides to play down her finances until she finds someone who wants her for herself. They get caught in a snowstorm and just a few miles from the house come across a stranded traveler.

Giles has sold out of the army and is on his way home to take over his inheritance. It's not something he expected or wanted, but he knows his duty. Unfortunately his horse went lame, so he left it in a cow byre and set off on foot. He also found a turkey stuck in a snowbank, and rather than leave it to die, picked it up and took it with him. He was grateful to be rescued by Julia.

When they arrive at Julia's house, it turns out no one expected her or prepared for them. All three turn to in order to make things livable for as long as they need to be there. Along the way, Julia and Giles discover an intense attraction to each other. They try hard to resist. Giles knows he can't get involved because he needs to find and marry a rich wife, and it wouldn't be fair to Julia to lead her on. Julia is wary of all men and their motivations.  But as they spend the next few days together, the attraction becomes harder to resist.

I loved seeing their interactions. Giles is a charming man with a pretty wicked sense of humor. He also has a way of saying something that on the surface seems innocent but can have a deeper meaning. Julia is a woman who has had to become strong and self-reliant over the last several years, so she has no problem standing up for what she wants. I loved seeing them make the decision to make the most of their time together. Neither expected to actually develop feelings for each other. Julia realizes that she has what Giles needs, but doesn't get the reaction she hoped for when she offers it. Giles is stunned by what she tells him, but reacts badly thanks to an experience in his past. It isn't until he finishes his journey that he admits that he overreacted. I loved his reaction to his kinswoman at the house, and how it emphasized what he left behind. The ending was great, with Giles's big moment being both sweet and romantic.





MARRIAGE MADE AT CHRISTMAS by Sophia James
Series: Penniless Lords (Book 5)

Christine Howard's frozen heart melts as she gets to know her new bodyguard. How can a man so scarred and mysterious make her feel so safe??

Good story. Christina is the younger sister of Lucien, from Marriage Made in Rebellion. She was engaged to a man who died during the war and has now put the idea of marriage behind her. Instead, she has devoted her time and effort to a string of seamstress shops where she employs women who are in desperate need. She is doing quite well, but has recently started receiving threats telling her to stop what she is doing. She's out walking one day and sees a man following her, which makes her nervous. A man came to her rescue, offering to "take care" of her follower.

Will Miller is an American who has come to England following up on a letter he received. While scoping out the sender of that letter, he is working as a groom for a local nobleman. He comes to Christina's aid and later brings the man that was following her to her brother's house. From that, Lucien hires Will to be her bodyguard while she is out and about, while he sets out to discover who is behind the threats.

I loved the developing relationship. First, there is definite attraction between the two of them. Christina's heart has been pretty locked up since her fiancé's death, but something about Will is awakening her feelings. Will has his own issues with relationships after witnessing the bitterness of his parents. I liked seeing them get to know each other during their time in the country, as their feeling started to grow from attraction to something more.

But there is more to Will than Christina knows, and it turns out that there is a link between him and the person threatening her.  I loved seeing how Will confronted him and made his requirements clear. There was a twist at the end of that confrontation that brought extra danger to Will, danger that manifested quickly. He was attacked, beaten badly and stabbed, though he still came out on top in the fight. I loved how Christina cared for him, and finally admitted to herself what she felt for him.

As Will's life dramatically changes, Christina is left wondering where she stands. I loved the scene at the ball, where Will appears in his new role, and takes his courage in hand to dance with Christina. I loved his big moment there, his hint of vulnerability as he goes after what he wants. I loved her reaction. I also enjoyed the brief appearance of the other "Penniless Lords" at the end.
 




CINDERELLA'S PERFECT CHRISTMAS by Annie Burrows

Shy Alice Waverly's kiss with Captain Jack Grayling makes her wonder if he - and his little children - could be the Christmas miracle she's always dreamed of?

Good story. Alice is the poor relation, living with her cousins. She is basically an unpaid servant, condemned to doing whatever they want her to do. Shortly before Christmas she comes down with a nasty cold and rather than being cared for, all they can think about is that she not infect them. They have been invited to a neighboring estate for a house party, to be attended by a widowed earl. The two young ladies are determined to do whatever necessary to snag the earl, and they want Alice there to fetch and carry for them. Though she feels a bit guilty about it,  Alice makes out that she's sicker than she is, in hopes of being left behind. She succeeds, leaving just her, the scullery maid, and the boot boy in residence. A bad snowstorm hits, and a stranger comes knocking on their door, asking for shelter.

Jack has recently sold his commission in the army and come home to take over his inheritance. He had sent his pregnant wife and young son back to England to her parents to protect them from harsh army conditions during the war. His wife died, and her parents cared for the children. But when Jack arrived, he was horrified by how his children and been treated and took them away immediately rather than wait until he got settled. Now he and his sergeant and the two children are caught in the storm.

Alice and the others were logically frightened by their first sight of Jack and company, but the presence of the children rapidly changed that. Alice feels bad that she can't offer Jack and his group better accommodations, but she does the best she can. I loved Jack's willingness to do whatever necessary to make it all work. There is a connection between Alice and Jack from the beginning, not just attraction. I ached for Jack and his guilt over what had happened with his kids. Alice is quite sensitive to his feelings and goes to great lengths to help him connect with them and bolster his self-confidence. I loved seeing the simple fun they all had together.


Jack is quite drawn to Alice, but he knows who he is and what is ahead of him. As much as he'd like to, getting involved with an innocent servant, which is what he thinks she is, wouldn't be right. However, he does make an offer that he hopes she'll accept, and is quite upset when she turns him down flat. Alice, not knowing his truth,  was expecting quite a different offer and is hurt by what he says. As the weather clears and Jack and company leave, he finally sees the light. I loved his big moment at the end, especially since he didn't know the truth about her. The ending was great, and I especially loved her family's reaction.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Kidnapped by the Highland Rogue - Terri Brisbin (HH #1302 - Oct 2016)

Series: A Highland Feuding (Book 3)

The Highlander's prisoner

There's more to hardened outlaw Niall Corbett than meets the eye. Despite his merciless reputation, he's on a mission he must defend with his life. One that means taking beautiful Fia Mackintosh prisoner for her own protection!

Fia may have dreamed of being swept away by a gorgeous Highlander, but never of being held hostage by a gang of outlaws! While her head screams for her to run, her heart beats a little too fast for her captor, a man she shouldn't, yet can't help but trust…

Good book. Fia is lady's maid to Arabella, the heroine from the first book in the series. She is rather envious of the relationship between Arabella and Brodie, especially the "romantic" nature of its beginning. She dreams of being kidnapped by her own Highland hero and finding a love like theirs. 

Niall is a member of the outlaw gang that has been raiding villages belonging to Brodie. When they raid the village closest to the castle while Brodie is away, Niall spots Fia. He is stunned by her beauty and knows that he needs to warn her away for her own safety. Unfortunately, he's not quick enough, and to save her from danger by two other outlaws, he takes her captive himself.

I really enjoyed the development of the relationship between Fia and Niall. Both of them are keeping secrets at the beginning, but it doesn't stop the attraction from building. Fia is not very happy that the reality of her kidnapping isn't anything like her dreams of it, but she makes the best of the situation. She doesn't let on to Niall that she knows their campsite very well. She plans to use that knowledge to help her escape. She also doesn't let on that she is closer to Laird Brodie than he suspects and that a rescue party is likely. I loved her powers of observation and how she watched everyone, trying to figure out who they are and why they are doing what they do. Niall is even less happy with the situation. Fia is a terrible distraction from what he is supposed to be doing. He has been sent to find out who is behind the attacks, something he doesn't tell Fia. He plays the outlaw very well around the others, but when he is alone with her his real nature comes out. Niall is trying to recover his lands after losing them. He is haunted by the guilt of some of the things he has done.

It was fun to see the two of them trying to hide their feelings from each other. There were some terrific scenes in the cave, especially involving the exchange of "boons". It didn't take long for Fia to fall for Niall, especially once she realized that there was more to him that first appeared. However, she doesn't hold out much hope for a happy ending. It takes Niall a bit longer to admit his feelings, but he also knows that nothing can come of them. After all, he is a nobleman destined to marry elsewhere, and she is just a village girl. I loved the protectiveness he showed, especially when he sacrificed his own safety to make sure she could get away. Naturally, Fia's feelings wouldn't allow her to just leave him, and I loved seeing her go back for him after the others were gone. Her strength of will (stubbornness) really showed in her determination to help him.

I liked seeing them get closer over his healing time, as they had the opportunity to talk more. Fia fell harder for Niall. Meanwhile, Niall realizes the biggest thing she needs protection from is him. I ached for her when they got to Edinburgh and he purposefully turned into a snob to drive her away from him. I ached for him too, as he really did love her and was torn between duty and love. He was stunned by her final gift to him, and felt even worse.

I knew they were going to end up together somehow, and I loved the way it came about. The scene in the great hall, between Brodie and Niall was great, though I also would have liked to see the conversation between him and Brodie after the conference. I loved Niall's big moment back in the village when he went after Fia.  The epilogue was great and I loved seeing Mistress Murray and her reaction.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Her Secret Christmas Agent - Geri Krotow (HRS #1925 - Dec 2016)

Series: Silver Valley PD (Book 3)

Can a former Marine and an undercover cop crack a deadly Christmas case?

When a cult threatens the high school where he teaches, ex-Marine Mitch Everlock is on the case. His priority: protecting his students. His world is rocked when one of his pupils, Nika Pasczenko, reveals she's an undercover police officer! But can the agent with secrets of his own trust his partner-in-crime?

The last thing Nika expected on this investigation was meeting a sexy veteran who makes her heart light up like a Christmas tree. But with both their lives at risk, and the students in danger, neither of them can afford the slightest distraction. Especially one as big as falling in love just as a killer closes in…

Very good book. Continuing the story from the previous two books (though it can be read as a stand alone), the True Believers cult has gotten a foothold in Silver Valley. Someone is making threats against former Marine and chemistry teacher Mitch Everlock. He is also the academic adviser for the school's Rainbow group, and is worried that his students are in danger. After taking his concerns to the police, they send an undercover cop to investigate. Nika is assigned to the case and tasked with posing as a high schooler to discover who is making the threats. 

Sparks flew between Nika and Mitch from the very beginning. There was immediate attraction, but there was also some antagonism. Nika is a trained police officer and doesn't appreciate a civilian butting in on her case. Mitch is more than a chemistry teacher - he's also a former Special Forces Marine, as well as being a member of a shadow law enforcement agency. His protectiveness goes bone deep and it is difficult for him to put aside. 

I loved seeing the relationship develop between them. The attraction between them roared to the surface several times, but both would stop it before it went too far. There were several obstacles to overcome. First was the case they are working on. With Nika pretending to be a high school student, starting a relationship would be a bad idea and they both knew it. Her cover could be blown if they were seen together, plus it could become even more of a distraction than it already was. Nika also needed to get past her broken relationship, caused by a man who couldn't handle her job. She fears that Mitch would be the same. Mitch has to realize that he can't be responsible for the whole world and also admit to himself that he's in love with her. I really enjoyed seeing them get closer and learn to trust one another. I really liked his big moment at the end.

The suspense of the story was really good. Nika's investigation started easy, with trying to figure out who was leaving the threatening messages. We get a glimpse of the perp and discover his motivation. A rock thrown through the classroom window almost injures them, then one through her windshield nearly kills Nika. I loved seeing Nika make friends with Rachel, and how Rachel became a link to the cult for the investigation. There was a really tense scene with the two girls and the cult members that really had me on the edge of my seat. The final confrontation had a surprise twist that I didn't see coming. I'm looking forward to the next book.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Kentucky Confidential - Paula Graves (HI #1668 - Oct 2016)

Series: Campbell Cove Academy (Book 1)

The return of the wife he thought was lost and a baby he never knew existed will make this a Christmas to remember…

Captain Connor McGinnis has seen a ghost. Staring at a surveillance photo of a Kaziri immigrant, there can be no mistaking that the starkly beautiful -- and visibly pregnant -- woman in a head scarf is his wife, Risa. The woman he presumed was dead after her plane crashed into the ocean.

Risa McGinnis, relocated by the CIA when they learned of a price on her head, has settled into the guise of a widowed immigrant. Confronting Connor again resurrects sweet memories and a burning passion. But until this unknown enemy is captured, Risa must focus more on Connor's protection than on their attraction. After all, the strength of her marriage -- and the safety of her baby -- depends on it…

Good book, with terrific suspense and a love that has to find its way back after a nearly unforgivable deception. Connor is working an operation with his new employer when he sees a very familiar face in some surveillance footage. How is it possible that the wife who died in a plane crash is working in a restaurant in Cincinnati?

Risa had been an operative for the CIA, even after she and Connor were married. When the CIA learned she had a price on her head, they faked her death and put her to work undercover in an immigrant community. She hadn't been happy about deceiving Connor, but believed her handler when he said it was for her husband's safety. She's stunned when he shows up at the restaurant, just as she has seen a face that looks familiar. They agree to meet later to talk.

Connor shows up at her apartment building just in time to save her from the men who were following her. Though angry at her deception, he is still protective of her and their unborn child and he takes her back to his surveillance apartment to hide. There they are met by Quinn, Connor's boss, who "suggests" that it would be a good idea to get Risa out of town until they can find out who is after her and why.

This begins several days of intense action. They arrive at the safe house, but it isn't long before it becomes obvious that it isn't so safe after all. Risa and Connor set out on their own, being very careful who they trust and how much they reveal. They become more certain that it is something out of Risa's past cases that is behind their trouble. The difficulty is trying to figure out which one. It seems that with every new bit of information they uncover, the pool of suspects gets larger instead of smaller, until a connection is finally made. Who is behind it is a shock to them, and the problem then becomes keeping safe until they can do something about it. I loved seeing characters from previous books as they become part of the circle that Connor and Risa can trust. I especially enjoyed seeing Cooper and his wife. The rescue scene was especially fun, with Cooper's loss of a bet with his wife and the assistance of the local sheriff. The final confrontation at the hospital, while not too intense, was very well done. I really enjoyed the face off between the senator and the Homeland Security guy. It definitely left the impression that we'll be seeing more of them both.

The reunion of Connor and Risa was also very well done. It was clear that Risa had done what she thought she had to, but that the decision wasn't an easy one. Being close to Connor again just reminded her of what she had lost when she went into hiding. I liked that she understood his anger and was still hopeful that they could rescue their marriage. Connor was happy that Risa is alive, but he's having a really hard time getting past the fact that she had let him believe that she was dead. I liked that Connor was proud of her and her work, and confident in her ability to take care of herself, even though he just wanted to protect her. I loved seeing them talk out their issues and decide how to proceed based on their feelings. The epilogue was pretty sweet.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Black Sheep's Secret Child - Cat Schield (HD #2474 - Oct 2016)

Series: Billionaires and Babies (Book 74)
           Las Vegas Nights: Club T's (Book 1)

A second chance with her son's secret father!

Widow Savannah Caldwell faces the challenge of her life: begging Trent Caldwell -- her former fling and late husband's brother -- to save the family's ailing music business. That she's still attracted to Trent makes things hard; that Trent is her son's secret father makes things impossible!

Trent is fiercely proud of making his own fortune, despite his controlling father. And he's always believed his brother got the girl who should have been Trent's. Now he'll have the family business, and his brother's widow in the bargain. But will their romantic reunion be waylaid by Savannah's shocking baby secret?

Good reunion/secret baby story. Savannah had spent her teen years as the niece of the Caldwell's housekeeper. She knew Trent and his brother Rafe pretty well and was good friends with their sister Melody, but had always had a crush on Trent. When she grew up she went off to New York and became a model, then an actress. At that point, Trent saw her as a woman and they began a fling. But he wouldn't give her the family and children she wanted, so she broke things off with him. Rafe offered her the life she wanted, and even though she didn't love him, she listened to him. A quick weekend fling with Trent showed her there was no hope, so she said yes to Rafe, not knowing she was pregnant with Trent's baby. By the time she did, it was too late. Since he'd made his disinterest in family clear, and Rafe wanted the baby, she kept quiet.

Now Rafe has died and left his shares of the family music business to Dylan.The business is in trouble and her father-in-law is creating more problems. Savannah comes to Las Vegas to ask Trent's help to save the business. 

Trent grew up as the second son, unappreciated by his controlling father. He reacted by being the rebel, always in trouble. Not allowed to be part of the family business, Trent went out and built his own. He thought of Savannah as his until she went and married his brother. But he never forgot her, and it was a bit satisfying to him to have her asking for his help now.

Neither expected the attraction to be as intense now as it was then. From the beginning they couldn't keep their hands off each other. Trent was still resistant to the idea of helping, but he couldn't quite leave Savannah to deal on her own. I liked the protectiveness that had him returning to LA with her, putting him on the spot to help her when her father-in-law tried to use baby Dylan as leverage to get what he wanted. Trent scoops them up and takes them both back to his home in Las Vegas to protect them, while he and Savannah decide what to do about the business.

The rekindling of their relationship got its start in a purely physical form. Savannah knows that Trent's attitude toward marriage and family hasn't changed, and that she's bound to get hurt, but she can't quite stop hoping. She also knows that she should tell him the truth about Dylan, but she's afraid of what his reaction would be. Trent's attitude toward marriage and family is because of what he witnessed and experienced with his own, and he has no desire to experience it himself. He was pretty adamant, and I loved seeing the effect Dylan had on his attitude about kids. I loved how they took to each other right away, and seeing Trent cuddle with and read to Dylan softened my heart and Savannah's toward him. 

There was a bit of a mystery going on with the business, a question of why it was doing so poorly. I loved the scene in the office, as Savannah and Trent confront Siggy and the manager to get access to the financial files. I loved the brief appearance of Logan from At Odds with the Heiress, as Trent gets assistance from him in solving the mystery. I also liked how Savannah has built up some backbone over the last few years and uses it when Siggy pulls a dirty trick on her. 

That threat, however, motivates Savannah to finally come clean with Trent, creating another set of problems. Trent, of course, is stunned and furious, and must now deal with a new reality. I loved the eye opening conversation he had with his mother, and the difference it made to his outlook. Savannah realizes that she had made some bad decisions, but her reasons are understandable. As much as she still loves Trent, she isn't going to settle for less. I really enjoyed the ending, with Trent's big moment, including the surprise about the business.

There was also a bit included about Trent's sister Melody and her boyfriend Kyle, who is also one of Trent's partners in the club. There are some problems in their relationship that I suspect are going to be the subject of the next book. I liked what I've seen of both Melody and Kyle, so it will be interesting to see what happens there.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Western Christmas Proposals - Carla Kelly, Kelly Boyce, Carol Arens (HH #1299 - Oct 2016)

CHRISTMAS DANCE WITH THE RANCHER by Carla Kelly

Stranded, Katie becomes chore girl on Ned Avery's ranch. He shows her unexpected kindness and in exchange, she teaches him how to dance!

Good story.  Katie had come to Wyoming from Massachusetts to marry a man she knew from her job at the mill. But when she arrived he was nowhere to be found, until word came that he might have been killed in a bar fight. About that time Ned arrived in Cheyenne, looking for a "chore girl" to help him take care of his bed-ridden father. Katie is a bit wary of going with a stranger, but he seems honest, so she accepts his offer.

I liked Katie. She's a practical woman who looks at her options and moves on. She ran away from an abusive stepfather when she was twelve and made her own way in life from there. He made her cautious, so all she really asks for from Ned is a room of her own in his house. When she arrives, she steps right in to her position. I loved the way that she handled Ned's father, quickly overcoming his grumpiness and finding a way to fix it. She did the same for Ned's younger brother Pete, helping Ned to see that there was an alternative. But mostly I loved how everything she did seemed to revolve around making Ned's life better, including teaching him to dance so that he could go wife hunting.

I liked Ned too, though there were times that his occasionally negative attitude bugged me. He spent some time thinking about how difficult it was to have everyone depending on him and how hard ranching is. His need for a chore girl came about because he couldn't depend on his brother to watch out for their dad. He did redeem himself with how nice he was to Katie. He was sensitive to her fears and tried to make her feel comfortable.

It was sweet to see the relationship develop. By the time Ned got to "wife hunting" at the dance, he realized that he'd rather be with Katie. She had formed a few dreams of her own. But when word came that her fiancé wasn't dead after all, she felt she had to go to him, even though her feelings had changed. I loved the scene at the hotel, as Katie had to decide between the two lives. Ned also knew what he wanted, but had to find the courage to go after it. I really liked their conversation about life in Wyoming. It was real and it was honest. The final scene at the Christmas party was great, though I wouldn't have minded an epilogue.






CHRISTMAS IN SALVATION FALLS by Kelly Boyce
Series: Salvation Falls (Book 2.5)

Willa Stanford moved to Salvation Falls to start afresh, but then the past - in the shape of her former sweetheart - arrives at her door.

Once upon a time, Willa and Morgan had been in love. But she was the daughter of the town's richest man, and Morgan was only an employee. He knew that if he wanted to give Willa the kind of life she was used to he would have to strike out on his own. Unfortunately, he waited until three days before their wedding to make that decision, promising that he would send for her as soon as he could. But things didn't go as he planned, and too ashamed to tell her, he quit writing to her. Willa held out for a year, but when her father threatened to throw her out with nothing if she didn't marry the man he chose, she gave in. Unfortunately for her, that marriage was a disaster and when her husband was killed she was left with almost nothing. Remembering Morgan's stories of Salvation Falls, she made her way there and created a new life for herself running a successful boardinghouse.

Morgan's shame at failing in his plans caused him to go back on his promise to Willa. When he found out about her marriage he gave up his law practice and became a drifter. But he never forgot her and was haunted by all the things he did wrong. When his uncle Bertram wrote and asked him to join his law practice in Salvation Falls, Morgan decided he was tired of drifting. He did not expect to find Willa living there.

Their reunion was not a happy one. Each was stunned to see the other. Willa's first reaction was joy, but her heart was afraid to trust him again. Morgan was sure that he had blown his chances long ago and that there was no way he could win her again, until he got the slightest hint that maybe she wasn't as indifferent to him as he'd thought. The rekindling of their relationship was not an easy one, as both of them were different from their past selves. Willa had to overcome her fear of being hurt again, and trust that she had the inner strength to stand up for herself.  After Morgan puts his foot in his mouth during a hasty proposal, he needs to find a way to show her that he really has changed. It takes the efforts of the whole town to make these two finally find their way together.
 





THE SHERIFF'S CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL by Carol Arens

When widower Roy Garner falls for lovely Belle Key, he's hoping for a very happy Christmas. Until he discovers Belle's dark secret...

Good story. Roy is on his way to a new town and a new job accompanied by his four children. A former US Marshal, he had lost his wife a year earlier while he was away on a case. Haunted by the guilt of not being there when she died, he is determined to be a better father.

Belle and her grandmother are on the same train. What Roy doesn't know is that they are following him. They believe that he has stolen Grannie Em's wedding ring. They plan to get it back and then let everyone know that he is a thief. Grannie Em believes that the ring is enchanted, and that if she doesn't have it back by Christmas Day she will die. Belle doesn't believe in the curse, but she isn't taking any chances.

Belle and Roy are drawn to each other from the moment they meet. Roy feels a little guilty at the beginning, feeling that he's being disloyal to his late wife, but he's ready to move on. Belle is much more conflicted. She doesn't understand how she can be falling for a man who is a thief. I loved seeing them grow closer, Roy falling so quickly for her. I ached for Belle and how much she wanted Roy and the children to be part of her life, but afraid of what his reaction would be if he knew the truth. Her confession was the right thing to do and his response was understandable. I loved Roy's big moment at the end.

Grannie Em was quite a character. Her belief in the power of the ring was unshakeable. She was also determined to get Roy and Belle together. Her attitude toward Roy's "theft" was definitely unique. I also loved the children and how quickly they took to Belle and Grannie Em. I did think that the reason the town hired Roy was rather silly, but he did fulfill their needs.

 

Friday, November 4, 2016

His Princess of Convenience - Rebecca Winters (HR #4503 - Jan 2016)

Series: Vineyards of Calanetti (Book 7)

From Cinderella to royal bride!

Christina Rose secretly longs for a fairy-tale wedding, but her betrothal to Prince Antonio of Halencia was just a ruse to prevent a royal scandal!

Now the press can't get enough of this Cinderella princess, but Christina's still waiting for the clock to strike midnight on their arrangement. It may have started out purely for convenience, yet now that their wedding is upon them, dare she hope that Prince Antonio has more than just "I do" to say…but "I love you," as well?

Sweet Cinderella type story. Christina became friends with Antonio's sister Elena when the two girls were teenagers at boarding school. Christina was often included when Antonio would come to visit his sister and they would all do things together. Christina developed quite the crush on Antonio. She and Elena remained friends as adults and it was Christina that Elena called when she was in trouble. Antonio and Christina came up with the idea of a fake engagement to take the heat off Elena.

Four years later they are still engaged, as the country has embraced Christina as their future queen. The book opens on their wedding day, as Christina is wishing that it was real. She is moved when Antonio takes the trouble to find one of her family heirloom pins and delivers it to wear on her gown. At the same time, Antonio is worried that Christina is unhappy about the marriage and feels very guilty about her being stuck with it. He is determined to do everything he can to make her happy.

Antonio and Christina had spent little time together over the past four years, thanks to her charity work in Africa and his business interests in America. So he was stunned when he saw her coming toward him in the chapel. Then the words "you may kiss your bride" put the final nail in his coffin, as unexpected heat flared between them. I loved the way they couldn't keep their eyes off each other during the reception, which boded well for their future.

Though Antonio's parents don't have the best reputations, they put together a surprise honeymoon for Antonio and Christina, away from all outside distractions. After an honest conversation with each other, both agreed that they need to take the time to get to know each other in order to make their marriage work. I loved seeing their relationship develop against the beautiful backdrop of Tahiti. Each hour seemed to bring some memory of their youthful times together to the present, cementing the idea that they really do have much in common. I also loved seeing Antonio's appreciation of Christina's mind as well as her beauty, and the effect it had on her. Christina had been ignored and demeaned growing up, especially by her father, so Antonio's attitude is a welcome change. I also loved how Christina supported Antonio's plans for the future of the country. He worries so much about their people and their future. 

They have just started to enjoy each other when a crisis calls them back home. Elena's past has become news, as has the background of Antonio and Christina's marriage. There are a lot of accusations and wild stories being thrown around, and they must find a way to deal with them. To make matters worse, Christina's father shows up and says some things to her that make her question her future with Antonio. I ached for Christina as she tried to do what she believed was right for him and the country. Antonio had so much he had to deal with on top of his worry about her. I loved his big moment at the end, as he showed Christina just how important she is to him.

This was a story that had all of the depth of emotion and heat of attraction that is expected in a romance, yet has a gentle "fade to black" when it comes to the details. That did not detract from the story at all, but in some ways made it more intense.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Sweetheart Secret - Shirley Jump (Berkley - Sept 2014)

Series: Sweetheart Sisters (Book 3)

The Sweetheart Sisters are ready for some good ol' matchmaking...

Colton Harper, Rescue Bay's resident physician, gave up his wild ways years ago, in exchange for a straight and narrow life. But then a one-night stand comes back to haunt him when the intoxicating woman he left behind shows up in Rescue Bay.

Once upon a time, fiery Daisy Barton was Colt's wife--and still is, thanks to a paperwork glitch. Now she's here in Rescue Bay, with a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a fresh start--renovating a crumbling B&B. The catch? The loan she needs requires her "husband's" financial backing.

Colt wants to turn Daisy away, but when he sees her coax a smile from his cantankerous grandfather, Colt realizes maybe she can help him, too. It's the perfect arrangement--until the sparks start flying. Suddenly Colt realizes he's still head over heels in love with Daisy, and that he'll have to risk everything...or risk losing her forever.

Good conclusion to the series and second chance love story. Colton and Daisy had known each other one summer fourteen years earlier. Daisy was staying with her aunt and cousin at the Hideaway Inn, getting a taste of what a normal family is like. Colton was in a rebellious period, reacting to the extreme expectations put on him by his parents. The two spent all their free time together, and as soon as she turned eighteen they eloped and settled in New Orleans. Three weeks later, Daisy came home to a note from Colton that he had to go and he'd call her, but he never did. She received divorce papers, which she signed and sent back, but never heard anything else. Until three months ago, when Colton was in New Orleans and ran into her. Sparks flew, one hot night together giving her hope, but then he was gone again.

Then Daisy's aunt becomes ill and asks Daisy and her cousin Emma to restore and run the old Hideaway Inn. Daisy is ready to make a new start in her life and agrees, but gets some unwelcome news when she applies for a construction loan. It seems she needs her husband to cosign the loan. Apparently Colton had never filed the paperwork, and they were still married.

Colton had left his wild ways behind and gone to medical school. He is now Rescue Bay's resident doctor, and a more boring and uptight man would be hard to find. He reacted to the tragedy that brought him home by becoming quite the control freak. Among his patients are the old folks at the retirement home, including Greta, who likes a little bourbon in her morning coffee. He is also the caretaker for his beloved grandfather. Unfortunately, the same tragedy that brought Colton home also drove a wedge between Earl and Colton. Colton tries to get Earl to be more healthy, with better food and more exercise, and Earl resists every step of the way. Colton is frustrated and Earl doesn't seem to care about anything. The last thing that Colton expected or wanted was to have his past, in the form of Daisy, show up in Rescue Bay.

The sparks really fly between them, which doesn't make either of them happy. It's even worse for Colton when Daisy connects with his grandfather and succeeds in getting him to do things that Colton has been attempting for years. So Daisy and Colton strike a bargain. Daisy will move in and help with Earl in exchange for Colton's signature on the loan paperwork. Then they will file the divorce papers and finally be done with it. 

Neither counts on the feelings that are still there between them, or the issues that keep them from exploring those feelings. Colton had never told Daisy what sent him home and drove him to stay there. He keeps that information to himself for most of the book, the guilt still haunting him. He can't see that by talking about it, Daisy might understand and forgive him, allowing them to move on. For her part, Daisy is afraid of failing. She grew up with a mother who could never stay in one place for long, so Daisy never learned how to put down roots. She continued in that lifestyle, working dead-end jobs and constantly moving, until taking in the Inn project. She discovers in herself a desire to settle down, but she's afraid that it won't last. Both Colton and Daisy have changed in the last fourteen years, but they still have to be able to talk to each other to make a relationship work. Daisy seemed to be more willing to open up, but she felt like she was getting nowhere getting Colton to reciprocate. I loved how her innate kindness and sympathy came through when she finally discovered what had separated them. I ached for Colton and the pain he was still in. I really wondered what it was going to take to finally bring them together. I loved Colton's big moment at the end, and the re-emergence of the man that Daisy fell in love with.

There was more to the book than just the story of Colton and Daisy. There was also the contentious relationship between him and his grandfather. Both were suffering because of the same event, but instead of supporting each other they were wallowing in their own guilty feelings. I loved seeing the effect that Daisy had on Earl, and how it brought the two men together. Daisy's cousin Emma also had her own issues to resolve regarding her marriage. She escaped to Rescue Bay and the Inn, trying to decide what to do. Her husband Roger seemed like a real ass and I thought for sure that she was going to find true love in Rescue Bay. She did, but not the way I expected. Then there was the ongoing saga of Greta and Harold. Those two were like oil and water. I loved Harold's optimism and refusal to let Greta's attitude discourage him. Greta was very much "the lady doth protest too much" when it came to Harold, and I loved seeing the two of them go at it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Firefighter's Secret Family - Shirley Jump (HSE #2484 - June 2016)

Series: Barlow Brothers (Book 4)

All it takes is one spark…

A month ago, Colton Barlow was a decorated Atlanta firefighter haunted by a tragic accident on the job. Now he's taking the grand tour of a North Carolina town he's never heard of -- and being welcomed into a family he didn't know existed! His newly discovered half brothers aren't the only ones making Colton feel right at home. If he isn't careful, Stone Gap -- and one winsome wedding planner -- could steal his heart.

Rachel Morris doesn't see many sexy strangers passing through her tiny Southern town. And falling for the hunky firefighter sure wasn't part of her life-on-hold plan. But is Colton here to stay? Are they both ready to say "I will" to a future together?

Good story about overcoming regrets and starting over. Colton came to Stone Gap at the end of the previous book, The Tycoon's Proposal, to see the father he never knew and meet his half brothers. He's been warmly welcomed by his brothers, though things are still rather awkward with his father. He's also on leave from his job as an Atlanta firefighter, where a tragic accident has left him wondering if he still belongs there.

Rachel has put her wedding planner business on the back burner since the death of her mother sent her father into a tailspin of depression. She is determined to run his hardware store until such time as he can go back to it, even if it means the death of her own dreams. 

I loved the meeting between Rachel and Colton. He was sent to her store to buy a fishing rod for his interview with the town's fire chief. He's a bit confused by it, but Rachel helps him out. The two of them connect pretty quickly, even though neither is looking for a relationship. Rachel is far too busy looking after the store and her father, and Colton isn't sure he's even going to stay in Stone Gap.

I really loved the development of their relationship. They had so much in common, even though they didn't know it. Colton is haunted by the deaths of his two friends, feeling that he was responsible, that he wasn't fast enough or good enough to keep it from happening. He feels that his coworkers back in Atlanta either pity him or blame him, which makes it hard to go back to work. Rachel blames herself for not being there during her mother's illness and subsequent death. Because of that, she is determined to take care of her father for as long as he needs her. Both of them were having trouble moving forward with their lives. I loved seeing Colton try to help Rachel with her father. He had some experience dealing with depression in his mother, and put that knowledge to use. It was sweet to see the change it made in Ernie. Rachel sensed that there was something more going on with Colton, and that it had to do with his work, but was careful not to push too hard. As they got closer, both panicked a little bit, unsure if they are ready for a real relationship. A near tragedy gives Colton back a little of his self respect, and makes him realize that he wants Rachel in his life. That same event and its aftermath force Rachel to look at her life and face her fears. The question is, can each of them let go of the past enough to make a future together?

I loved the small town setting. There's the fire chief, who conducts interviews while fishing and bases his hiring "on a man's heart and soul instead of words on a paper." There are also all the people who have known each other all their lives, and have no trouble butting their noses in as they see fit. I loved seeing Rachel's friend Melissa try to "sell" Rachel's qualities to Colton. There was the occasional downside, as Colton's father worries about the effect Colton's presence and the potential gossip will have on his beloved wife, and the memories Rachel has of the gossip surrounding her mother. But when all is said and done, small town people are also there for each other in times of trouble, as shown when Ernie's store is damaged by fire. I can't wait for the next trip to Stone Gap.

Cassandra - Marie Ferrarella (Pinnacle - Aug 1998)

Series: Moonlight (Book 4)

1783. Cassandra MacGregor had first seen Morgan's Creek, Virginia, in a dream. A haven from the danger and persecution she was running from, this young town promised new life for a young woman accused of witchcraft--a woman who dared not trust her secrets to any man, nor surrender herself to love ...until she met Riley O'Roarke.

The rakish editor of The Virginia Gazette, Riley O'Roarke learned his trade at the hands of Benjamin Franklin and embodied all the spirit and optimism of a newly free America. Riley knew nothing about Cassandra's past or her secretly guarded abilities as a healer and seer. But her ethereal grace, her quiet dignity, and her fathomless blue eyes cast a spell over him that left a passionate and turbulent yearning in its wake. Now, while fate and desire entwined their destinies, a menacing danger once again stalked Cassandra-a threat so dire, so brutal, it could destroy all she held dear.

From the halls of Monticello and the brilliance of Thomas Jefferson to the passionate furor of local government and a country finally at liberty, Cassandra and Riley would have to fight for a love that could not be bound...

Good book. I really enjoyed the setting of a brand new United States. Cassandra, her sisters and her father have come to Morgan's Creek, fleeing from a man who would do anything to have Cassandra as his own, even accuse her of witchcraft. Cassandra is a healer, but she is also a seer, someone who has visions of the past or the future. This got her into trouble in New York, and she hopes to start a new life in Virginia. 

Shortly after arriving, she meets Riley O'Rourke, owner and editor of the town newspaper. She knows immediately that he will play a large role in her new life, but she isn't sure how, I loved that first meeting and the interaction between them. She is attracted, but wary, and determined to keep him at a distance. But Riley is fascinated and intrigued and determined to pursue the connection he feels between them.

I really liked Riley. He is a smart, self-made man, who got his start in the newspaper business under the tutelage of Ben Franklin. As an Irishman, he supported the colonies in their quest for independence, and is now a part of the fledgling country. He takes his job as a newspaperman seriously and works hard to make it a success. He is also determined to make sure his new country doesn't repeat the mistakes of the old, and gets involved in local government issues. I loved his fascination with Cassandra and how he sensed that there was more to her than appeared on the surface. When she came to him with the warning about the imminent attack on his office, I loved how he didn't laugh at her, but actually believed what she said. With his new knowledge of what she is and how it affects her, Riley becomes even more protective of her. He also falls deeper in love with her, but can't seem to get past the barriers she has put up against him.

Cassandra has been badly frightened by what happened in New York, and the threats made against her and her family. She is determined to keep her abilities secret and thus prevent it from happening again. But she has no control over when the visions happen or who they are about. She is attracted to Riley, but fears his reaction if he were to find out about her abilities, so she tries to keep a distance between them. She knows that she could fall in love with him, but doesn't want to bring trouble to him. 

I loved the development of the relationship between them. They can't stay away from each other. I loved the scene in the woods when Riley had followed her because he was worried about her being out alone. He is totally blown away when he finds her swimming, to the point where he doesn't notice what's around him. It was great seeing him have to trust her when he ended up in the water (he can't swim) and the sparks that flared when they were close. Riley continues to fall fast and hard for her, and is frustrated by her resistance to him. Cassandra comes to realize that she loves him, but protecting him and her family has her top priority. Her fears come to pass when the man from her past arrives in town and tries to pursue her again. Standing up to him brings the trouble she feared and she ends up in grave danger. I loved seeing Riley come to the rescue and finally put her fears to rest. The ending was terrific as Cassandra is able to believe that she and Riley can now have a future together.

There is excitement and tension as the men of the town work to set up a new town government. I loved the discussion between the older, more traditional men and the insistence of the younger ones that they can't repeat the past. Riley's power of the press brings trouble to his door, but with Cassandra's help they overcome it. His follow-up at the tavern was intense and I wondered for a bit how it was going to turn out.

The secondary characters were all fantastic too. Cassandra's two sisters each play important parts. Rose is kind of the peacemaker of the three sisters, quiet and a homebody. Brianne is just the opposite. She is young and impatient, and also rather self-centered. She believes that she deserves the finer things in life and has a plan to get them. I got a bit frustrated with her brazen attitude around Riley at the beginning and wanted either Cassandra or Riley to set her straight. I ached for Cassandra's father and the intense grief he still suffered from. His actions (inactions?) put his family at risk, but he couldn't seem to pull himself out of it.

I also loved Riley's connection to Ben Franklin and the story of how they met. It's obvious that the connection also had its effect on Riley's views and beliefs. I also loved the inclusion of Thomas Jefferson and his family. His love for his wife and his despair over her death were real. I liked how Cassandra helped move him forward. Now I want to go back and read the earlier books in the series.