Thursday, December 29, 2016

Landon - Delores Fossen (HI #1671 - Nov 2016)

Series: Lawmen of Silver Creek Ranch (Book 9)

After returning home to investigate a brutal murder, Detective Landon Ryland is shocked to learn the body was discovered in the home of Tessa Sinclair, a woman he once knew intimately. Seeing Tessa again is like a jolt to his heart. Too bad the beautiful brunette has no idea who she is -- or why she's cradling a newborn. With evidence pointing toward Tessa and the baby being next on the killer's hit list, Landon refuses to leave their safety in anyone else's hands. Or admit that losing them would permanently destroy the future he secretly envisioned.

An exciting return to Silver Creek. Landon has given up his job in the city police department to return home to Silver Creek and become part of the sheriff's department there. He wants to help find out who murdered one of his cousins, leaving a note on the body that "this one's for you, Landon". A prime suspect is Tessa Sinclair, in whose house the body was found, and who is currently missing. Not something he wants to hear about a woman he had gotten very close to.

Leaving Emmet's funeral, Landon discovers an abandoned barn on fire, and Tessa's unconscious body inside. He barely gets her out in time, only to find that she is also holding a newborn baby. Stunned to see her and a baby, Landon has questions for her that Tessa is unable to answer.

When Tessa regains consciousness she has no idea who she is, where she is, or what has happened to her. After a trip to the hospital, a blow to the head and a body full of drugs explains how, but not why. Her memory begins to return, but there are holes in it.

From here begins a wild ride of a story.  Someone shoots at Landon and Tessa before they even leave the hospital, and again at the sheriff's office. As Tessa remembers more, she tells Landon that she had been looking for proof that her boss was involved in something crooked. There's a federal agent she's been working with who she isn't sure is on the up-and-up.  She is also caring for the infant daughter of a friend, who is running from an abusive ex. For his part, Landon has the murder of his cousin, which appears to be tied to him. And the belief that one of his former arrests, now out on parole, is responsible for it. The question becomes, are the two cases linked somehow?

It seems that Landon and Tessa can barely catch a break. Attacks on them come fast and furious as they try to find out who is trying to kill her. And what does baby Samantha have to do with any of it? There are multiple persons of interest, leading to great confusion over just what is going on. There is Joel, Tessa's former boss, who may be guilty of anything from drug trafficking to murder. There is Quincy, the felon that Landon locked up, who is now free on parole. He was injured in a prison fight and is confined to a wheelchair, but that hasn't improved his attitude any. Then Ward, who is supposed to be one of the good guys, but seems awfully intent on putting the blame on Tessa. And who is Courtney, and who is really little Samantha's father? The final confrontation was intense, with enough twists and turns to make me dizzy. I wasn't sure from one minute to the next who was really responsible, though I did have my suspicions.

Throughout it all, the attraction they felt before continues to grow. Landon isn't happy about it because he's not so sure she can be trusted, at least at first. He's also too intent on his investigation to want a relationship. Tessa knows she can trust him (at least after the drugs have worn off) but believes that she is putting him in danger.  I loved seeing them try to protect each other as things blew up around them, and their feelings grow in spite of the danger. Tessa admits to her feelings first, but it's Landon's realization, and his cousins' reactions and comments that I liked most. I loved the ending.

I loved seeing all the Rylands together as they worked to solve the case. It seemed like old times, right down to Mason's grumpiness and Grayson's leadership. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Secret Child and the Cowboy CEO - Janice Maynard (SD #2040 - Sept 2010)

With a disposition as untamed as the Wyoming landscape, Trent Sinclair was not known as the forgiving sort. He had certainly never forgiven Bryn Matthews and her lies. The CEO had turned his back on her, though not without another thought, when she'd claimed his brother had gotten her pregnant.

But now Trent's brother was gone and Bryn had returned…with a child he could not deny was pure Sinclair. Nor could he ignore the passion that had always coursed between them. Had the time finally come for Trent to take what he had always wanted -- family and honor be damned?

Good book about family secrets and second chances. Bryn had been raised on the Sinclair ranch, where her parents worked, and taken in by them when her parents were killed. When she was eighteen, she became pregnant with the youngest son's baby, but no one believed her. Sent away to another relative, she went on with her life and taking care of her son. When the patriarch of the family has a heart attack, he invites Bryn back to the ranch, wanting to mend fences with her. She only goes in order to see that her son is acknowledged as a Sinclair.

Trent had been furious at her lies six years earlier, and is in no mood to see her back on the ranch trying to worm her way back in. He doesn't trust her motives and is determined to keep a close eye on her.  He didn't expect to feel the same attraction that he had before.

Bryn had had a crush on Trent while she was growing up. He was a few years older and though attracted to her was far more interested in his own life and plans for his future. He wasn't particularly kind or sensitive when he turned down her invitation to her senior prom, and she ended up turning to his youngest brother Jesse. Their relationship was short lived, ending when she got pregnant and he denied any chance that it was his. Being back on the ranch raises both good and bad memories, including her feelings for Trent. She fights the attraction, wanting nothing to do with someone who doesn't trust her.

The sparks flew between them from the moment Bryn arrived. The attraction boiled below, while on the surface they tried to be civil. Neither wanted to cause more distress for Trent's father, Mac, while he recovered, but it was a real struggle. The family is in shock over Jesse's death by drug overdose, with none of his brothers believing it. Trent is struggling especially hard with the knowledge, and it only gets worse as he delves into the business side of the ranch and finds more evidence. Meanwhile, Bryn also makes a disturbing discovery involving Jesse, one that could further destroy his family's view of him.

The development of their relationship was pretty fast, thanks in part to having known each other for so long. The biggest obstacle between them was the truth about Bryn's son. I liked seeing Bryn hold her ground and not cave in to Trent's attitude. I felt badly for him as more of the truth about Jesse came to the surface and he had to deal with his feelings. I really felt that Mac had done his family no favors by keeping quiet about Jesse's problems. But that was nothing compared to the other secret he'd been keeping, one that left Trent reeling. When Bryn's son gets sick, I loved seeing how Trent and Mac rallied behind her, even believing what they had.  I loved their reaction when they brought young Allen to the ranch.  It helped Trent realize his feelings, but he remained a bit clueless on how to handle them. It was rather satisfying to see that Bryn didn't just fall into his arms, and that he had to work at it a bit to get the future they both wanted.

Mixed Messages - Linda Lael Miller (SD #568 - May 1990)

NOT JUST ANOTHER PRETTY FACE

Carly Barnett was determined to show the world she was not just another beauty queen pageant bimbo. Journalism was her lifelong dream, and she was determined to make it come true--despite top reporter Mark Holbrook's disdain. The infuriatingly sexy man had a Pulitzer Prize while Carly had an advice column. And he never let her forget it!

At first, Mark had looked down his nose at Carly. After all, her "talent" had been twirling a pair of flaming batons! Still, one glimpse of her big blue eyes made Mark decide to give her the break she asked for. Soon he was head over heels and determined to teach Carly a thing or two about the business--of love.

This one was okay, but not one of my favorites. Carly is a former beauty pageant winner (scholarship opportunity?) but is trying to move past that image. She graduated from college with a degree in journalism, anxious to make her dream come true. Hired to work at a Portland newspaper, on the way to Portland from Kansas she happens to meet their top reporter. Though sexy as can be, his rather condescending attitude toward her grates on her nerves.

I have to admit that, like Carly, Mark's attitude bugged me. There was more to her than her pageant activities and he knew it very quickly, but frequently brought them up. He was definitely attracted to her and had no problem with letting her know it. I also felt as if Carly was a bit naive, and that he took advantage of that. Within a few days he had overwhelmed her reservations and they started a hot and heavy affair. There were quite a few times when he seemed determined to be in control of her and her reactions, even when she tried to put him off. It wasn't quite a case of force or intimidation, but at times it felt close. There were also times that I really liked him, such as when he encouraged her to go after a story she was interested in. I really liked his devotion to his son.

The development of their relationship was really fast, and seemed to be based mainly on their physical intimacy. Carly was pretty open about what she wants from life. I liked seeing her attempts to stand up against his attitudes, even though I thought she gave in more than she should. I liked seeing her try to get Mark to open up more with her. She got a pretty good idea of what some of his issues were when she found the play that he wrote, though he didn't have the reaction she had hoped for. That play creates some trouble between them when she takes him at his word about it. In the time they spend together, Mark seems to be ready to push things along really quickly. But a crisis involving his son and ex-wife, on top of a misunderstanding about his play, drives them apart.

I ached for Carly's unhappiness, and cheered for her determination not to let it wreck her life. I loved the description of the raft trip she reported on, and how she toughed things out. She discovered a twist to her life plan part way through the trip, but took it right in stride. I also loved the new friend she made, and the opportunity she was offered because of it.

I felt a little bit sorry for Mark because he was so miserable, but he brought it on himself. He finally admitted his feelings and that he needed her, but convincing her wasn't as easy as he thought it would be. It was nice to see that he had to work a little for her forgiveness. I enjoyed the glimpse of their lives a year later, and especially loved the ending.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Snowbound with the Bodyguard - Carla Cassidy (SRS #1521 - July 2008)

Series Wild West Bodyguards (Book 6)

Her shelter from the storm

She'd been stranded by a snowstorm with nowhere to turn. But when all seemed lost, mom-on-the-run Janette Black saw the sign for Wild West Protective Services--and found Dalton West.

The loner of the West clan had no time for love and family. But protecting was in Dalton's blood--and he knew when a woman carried secrets. He would take Janette and her baby into his home to wait out the storm, and bar the door from any danger. And when Janette's demons tracked her down, Dalton would take on hell itself to keep her safe from harm.

Good book. Janette is a waitress at a small café in a small town. She hasn't had an easy life, abandoned by her mother and raised by her grandmother. She quit school to take care of her grandmother when she became ill, but was determined to get her GED.  At the beginning of the book, Janette is working her job at the café when the local sheriff comes in. He shows an inordinate amount of interest in the fact that she has a five month old son, terrifying Janette with his questions. There's definitely a feeling that there is history of some kind between them.

The next thing we see is that Janette has taken her son Sammy and is at the bus station in a town thirty miles away. She is determined to get as far away from the sheriff as she can. Unfortunately, the weather is working against her and the bus isn't running. Alone, with little money, she's not sure what to do until she sees a light shining through the snow. The building is West Protective Services and she remembers an article in the paper about how they helped someone. Taking a chance, she enters and asks for help.

Dalton has been working in the office almost exclusively for several months. After a bodyguard job that became more, and then ended, he's been avoiding getting involved with any other people. When Janette shows up, needing a place to stay for the night, and claiming she needs protection, he is reluctant to get involved. But something about her won't let him turn his back either.

Both Janette and Dalton are wary of each other and their circumstances. He suspects that what she tells him isn't the whole truth, but he'll take care of her for the few hours he needs to. When the storm turns out to be worse than expected, they are stuck with each other's company. Thanks to a nightmare, Janette opens up a little more about her problems, but still doesn't tell the whole truth until forced to do so by the arrival of the sheriff asking questions.

I liked the way that Dalton listened to what Janette had to tell him and didn't judge her. It was wonderful to see that, not only did he believe her, he was determined to keep her safe. Though he has insisted on being a loner for awhile, suddenly having Janette and Sammy around opens his eyes to how lonely his life has become. I loved seeing Sammy wiggle his way into Dalton's heart. I also liked the way that Dalton was so impressed by Janette's strength of will.

I liked Janette's devotion to her grandmother and her son. I was a bit worried about her at one point when she wanted to keep running as I thought she was stronger than that. She battled with herself as she tried to decide what to do, and I loved seeing the right thing come out on top.

The relationship between them developed really fast. I loved Dalton's reaction to what happened to her, and how gentle he was with her after he found out. The scene between them when he lets her be in charge was great. He's still intent on keeping her at a distance emotionally because he doesn't want to repeat the pain of his last relationship. Janette falls for him too, but believes that he wouldn't want something permanent with someone like her. I liked when he finally realized the truth and opened up completely to her.

The suspense of the story was really good. Sheriff Sinclair was an especially nasty kind of guy. His sense that he could do anything he wanted and get away with it made him really obnoxious. I liked seeing Dalton go up against him, and the vast difference in their attitudes. It was nervewracking to see how Sinclair used his office to pursue her, and how he even got Dalton's brother involved. The final confrontation was very intense, with me wondering how close it was going to be before Janette would be safe. The epilogue was a nice wrap up.

Glory, Glory - Linda Lael Miller (SD #607 - Dec 1990)

FIRST LOVE...ONLY LOVE

Eight years ago, Glory Parsons had said goodbye to her first love, Jesse Bainbridge. She'd been forced to flee her hometown--and leave behind the man who'd stolen her heart. But he would never know about the heartbreaking price she'd paid--or about the child born of their fiery union...the child she so desperately longed to find.

Jesse had once wanted Glory with all the passion in his soul. She'd been his whole world--until she walked out on him and their dreams without a backward glance. Now she was back with shocking news that would change his life forever. Could he trust the only woman who'd betrayed him--the only woman he could ever love?

Oldie but goodie, and highly emotional. Glory is returning to Pearl River for the first time since her brother's funeral eight years earlier. She'd been forced to leave, breaking her heart and her boyfriend's, but given no choice. She's back for a brief visit, to see her mother married, then moving on from a new heartbreak. But there's one thing she wants to find out before she leaves - what happened to the baby girl she had and gave up for adoption.

She didn't expect Jesse to be the first person she saw when she arrived back in town, or the sparks that flew between them. Likewise, Jesse was stunned to see Glory, and not happy to see the woman who had broken his heart. A heated confrontation ends in a scorching kiss that shows them both that the past is still alive and well.

Then Glory makes the startling discovery that her baby girl had been adopted by Jesse's older brother and his wife. They were recently killed in an airplane crash, leaving Liza in Jesse's custody. Glory is convinced that Jesse was in on his grandfather's scheme the whole time, while Jesse is stunned to discover that he isn't just Liza's uncle, he's also her father. Glory decides then and there that she isn't going to leave Pearl River again, she'll get a job locally and get to know her daughter. Jesse is equally determined at the time to keep them apart.

This begins an emotional roller coaster of a story. I spent the last third of the book in almost constant tears, aching for Glory, who wants to get to know her daughter. I was also equally mad at and aching for Jesse. I loved watching Glory get to know Liza, being excruciatingly careful not to give away the truth, while desperately wanting to do so. The two of them bonded quickly, aided by Jesse's cousin Ilene. I loved the part where Glory was helping Liza with an angel costume. She is so happy just spending time with Liza, but is also determined not to give up hope of eventually telling her the truth. I got a bit frustrated with her when she started to cave in to the pressure to leave Liza alone.

 Jesse is torn between allowing Glory to spend time with Liza and wanting her gone from Pearl River entirely. He has moments of being so understanding, like when he brought Glory the pictures of Liza from when she was small. He also has his moments of being a real butt-head, such as when he told Glory she needed to stay away for awhile. Jesse tells himself he is protecting Liza from being hurt by a woman he doesn't trust to stick around, but he is also protecting his own heart. Jesse was so inconsistent with his behavior toward Glory that I really wanted to grab him and shake him. And knowing his grandfather as well as he does, it bugged me that he had listened to and believed what the old man had told him ten years earlier. I loved what happened when he discovered the truth and how he admitted his idiocy. His big moment at the end was good, and I especially loved Glory's response.

Liza was a big part of the story of course, and I really liked that she played an active part. She's smart and sweet and her relationship with Jesse is already good, so she doesn't have any trouble accepting that he's her father too. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her get to know Glory and figure out the truth there.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Trace Evidence - Carla Cassidy (SIM #1261 - Dec 2003)

Series Cherokee Corners (Book 3)

SOMEONE WANTED HER DEAD...

But the only man who could keep proudly independent Tamara Greystone safe was brooding crime scene investigator Clay James, who insisted she do things his way if she wanted to see tomorrow. Terrified by a crazed stalker, the Native American teacher had no choice but to move in with her stubborn, sexy protector. But who would come to her heart's rescue? Because living with this man, touching him, kissing him, was the last thing she needed. And the very thing she wanted.

Good book. In the previous books of the series, Clay's mother has gone missing and he and his sisters are determined to find her. By this book, she has been gone several months. While putting in as much time as possible on that investigation, Clay also has other cases to deal with. The latest is a call to the local high school, where summer school teacher Tamara's classroom has been viciously vandalized. 

Tamara is an artist and teacher who has been teaching a class on Cherokee legends. She arrives at school one day to discover that her room has been trashed. Both she and Clay believe that it is a disgruntled student and that there's not too much to worry about. Clay just wants to catch whoever it is so he can get back to his mother's case. But when a dead animal is left on her doorstep, and then her house is also vandalized, he can't deny that the danger is increasing.

Complicating matters is the attraction that burns between Tamara and Clay. Neither of them is very happy about it. Tamara returned to Cherokee Corners after time spent in New York City. There she got involved with a man who wreaked havoc with her sense of self, especially her self-worth as a Native American. After coming home, she swore she would not get involved with another man who was not Native and did not fully appreciate his heritage. Clay has turned his back on his heritage, wanting nothing to do with any of it. This makes both of them realize that a relationship between them isn't wise.

I enjoyed seeing their relationship develop. The attraction can't be denied, and no matter how they try, they continue to be drawn to each other. Clay is pretty closed off emotionally, especially suffering from some guilt over an argument with his mother before she disappeared. He is determined to keep messy emotions out of his life, preferring the logic of the science he works with. But the more time he spends with Tamara, the more he finds that she brings a sense of peace to his life. He's terribly confused by it, which makes him even grumpier.

Tamara is just as drawn to him, which doesn't make her any happier. She knows that he has turned his back on his heritage, something she doesn't understand, and has sworn to stay away from. But there is something about him that speaks to her own soul and she can't stop wanting to help him. I really liked the way that she was there for him when the stress of his job got to him. She sees that there is more to him than he wants to admit, but doesn't push him about it, until she can no longer deny her feelings for him. I ached for them both when he pushes her away. It's a discussion from an unexpected source that opens Clay's eyes to why he's become as he is, and that he can change it if he wants to. I liked the ending, as it showed a realistic desire to change and grow without making it look easy.

The mysteries in the book were really well done. There were three of them. Central to this book is who is tormenting Tamara and why. I found the use of the legend fascinating, and how the attacker was using it. It was definitely scary and intense, with the final confrontation a truly frightening experience. I loved Clay's protectiveness, and also Tamara's self-reliance as she has a big part in her own rescue. Also occurring through the books is a case of a serial killer, who kills men and leaves them naked in places around town. Whoever is doing it leaves no clue behind for the CSI team to use. At the end of this book, three men have died, and the killer is still at large. The third mystery is that of Clay's missing mother. Clay is doubly frustrated because of the lack of evidence there also. Until one tiny piece is discovered. I loved seeing how Tamara makes a connection that Clay, as a man, hadn't picked up on. I have to say that I wasn't surprised by who the kidnapper was, and ached for Clay's feelings of betrayal. I really enjoyed how all three were interwoven through the book. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stone Cold Texas Ranger - Nicole Helm (HI #1687 - Jan 2017)

A Texas Ranger puts it all on the line for a woman who has everything to lose

Texas Ranger Vaughn Cooper doesn't need or appreciate the "help" of some frivolous civilian on his case. Yet even this seasoned lawman can't argue that Natalie Torres is on her game. She might even unlock the answers he needs to crack this kidnapping…if the bad guys don't erase Natalie first.

With her home burned to the ground, Natalie has no choice but to hide out with Vaughn in a remote cabin. Spending time with the stone-cold officer should keep her mind strictly on the case. But there's an unseen fire burning deep within Vaughn, and it's making Natalie wonder just where the true danger might lie.

Good book. Natalie is a hypnotist who has been working with the Rangers for several years. Vaughn is a Ranger who doesn't believe in hypnotism and thinks that it is a con of some sort. When Natalie is tasked with hypnotizing a suspect in the Rangers' latest case of drugs and trafficking, she breaks the rules by asking some questions herself. Vaughn is furious because she may have wrecked his case, Natalie is angry because he stopped her before she got the answers she was looking for,

Natalie's sister Gabby has been missing for eight years and she's certain that she's still alive somewhere. To hear that someone named "The Stallion" "keeps the girls" gives her hope that had been beginning to fade. When her house is torched that same night, and the suspect she hypnotized is found dead on the property, Vaughn knows she has to be kept safe, and he's the only one who can do it.

Vaughn has devoted his adult life to the work he does. His depth of commitment caused his marriage to collapse, and since then he has been in work-only mode. He keeps his emotions under control at all times. He's not at all happy about the way that Natalie gets under his skin and threatens that control.

It was interesting to see their relationship develop and go from extreme antagonism to love. There had always been a physical awareness between them that both tried to ignore. Vaughn's attitude toward her caused her to think of him as "Ranger Jerk", and Vaughn just plain doesn't trust her. Thrown together to keep her safe, both Natalie and Vaughn have to find a way to get along. I loved seeing how surprised Vaughn was that she didn't fall apart under the stress of the danger they were in. Natalie was equally surprised to see that Vaughn wasn't as emotionless as he appeared. It was fun to see her poke at him and see how he reacted. Both of them have issues holding them back from believing a relationship is possible. Natalie's last one ended because her ex couldn't handle her obsession with finding her sister. She fears getting involved with someone else who wouldn't understand. Vaughn's ex-wife accused him of putting his job before their marriage, accusing him of being unable to find any balance. He doesn't believe that there is anyone out there who could live with his dedication to his work. This causes him to push her away even as he wants to pull her closer. It was fun to see his awkwardness at the end as he tried to be romantic. 

The mystery of who was after Natalie and why was pretty good. The level of danger she was in steadily increased, keeping up the tension throughout the book. The clashes between Natalie and Vaughn were pretty rough until they figured out that they were working toward the same solution. The final confrontation was a little anti-climactic after all the buildup, but still satisfying. I definitely got the feeling that there was something going on between Nat's sister and the undercover agent, so I hope there is going to be a story for them.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Enticed by the Operative - Lara Lacomb (HRS #1904 - July 2016)

Series: Doctors in Danger (Book 1)

The lives of a beautiful surgeon and her DEA agent protector are at stake in this thrilling tale!

On a medical mission to South America, Dr. Olivia Sandoval hardly expects to be threatened by a drug cartel. To save lives, Olivia agrees to transport drugs for them. When DEA agent Logan Murray appears as her partner-in-crime and rescuer, Olivia's relieved…and drawn to her knight in shining armor.

Logan jumps at the chance to guard a beautiful woman and bring down a drug ring. After all, neither he nor Olivia are looking for forever love -- just justice. But one kiss changes that as they go on the run. When taken hostage in the jungle, they must not only defeat the enemy -- but also escape with their lives!

Exciting start to the new series. Olivia is a plastic surgeon who spends a month every year in Columbia, providing medical services to those who need it. Her work has caught the attention of some unsavory people, who want her to transport money and drugs for them. She would like nothing better than to refuse, but they have threatened the lives of her two best friends if she doesn't cooperate.

Logan is her next door neighbor and while taking some misdelivered mail to her realizes that there is something very wrong. As a DEA agent, when he hears about what is happening he knows just what needs to be done. He doesn't expect it to become so personal, so quickly.

I really enjoyed the development of their relationship. As neighbors, they knew each other a little bit, though rarely coming in contact because of their busy career. That doesn't mean they haven't noticed each other in a deeper way, but both have been hurt in the past and are therefore wary. Logan had been betrayed by his fiancee with his best friend, so trust is something that is hard to come by. Olivia's ex had left her after her parents' deaths, unable to deal with and give her the support she needed. She's wary of getting involved with someone who would leave her too.

I liked how Logan was so impressed by Olivia's caring and intelligence, and Olivia by Logan's determination and protectiveness. Being together every day gave them each a chance to really get to know one another. Each day the attraction grew stronger, only adding to the feelings that were growing between them. But there are still challenges to overcome, not the least of which are the threats hanging over Olivia's head.

The entire scenario was actually very easy for me to get lost in. The idea of a drug cartel trying to use a reputable doctor who is known for her good works seemed perfectly plausible to me. Her contact, Carlos, was definitely a scary guy and I understood her fears when dealing with him. Having some sections from his point of view just added to the tension, as the reader becomes aware of things that Logan and Olivia don't know. The tension of everything from the exchange, to them being taken hostage, to their escape, kept me turning the pages until the very end.

I ached for both Olivia and Logan at the end. She had to face her fear of losing him when he was injured so badly. Logan had to face his fears of being betrayed again when one of his coworkers made him doubt Olivia and her motives. The final confrontation brought all of it to the surface. I have to say that I loved how Logan came clean about his doubts and Olivia's way of looking at what happened without going into dramatics. I especially liked that they both learned from it.

I'm really looking forward to Avery and Mallory's stories.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cowboy Trouble - Joanne Kennedy (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Mar 2010)

Series: Cowboy (Book 1)

Fleeing her latest love life disaster, big city journalist Libby Brown's transition to rural living isn't going exactly as planned. Her childhood dream has always been to own a chicken farm, but without the constant help of her charming, sexy, cowboy neighbor, she'd never have made it through her first Wyoming season.


Handsome rancher Luke Rawlins is impressed by this sassy, independent city girl. But he yearns to do more than help Libby out with her ranch--he's ready for love, and he wants to go the distance. When the two get embroiled in their tiny town's one and only crime story, Libby discovers that their sizzling hot attraction is going to complicate her life in every way possible.

Good book. It started off really well. Libby has come to Wyoming to start over after a series of personal disasters. Her dog died, her boyfriend was cheating on her with her boss, and she lost her job. So she decided to follow a childhood dream and become a chicken farmer, She's just arrived at her new place when her nearest neighbor shows up to introduce himself. Luke is good looking, laid back, and quite taken with his new neighbor. He's glad to help her out with whatever she needs, and hopes that it will help him get even closer. 

Then Libby sets out to use her other skills, those of an investigative reporter. The small town is relatively crime free, except for the two year old case of a missing young woman. This is something she can sink her teeth into, and she dives right in to asking questions. When those questions draw some unwanted attention, Libby knows she's on the right track. But the more information she finds out, the more difficult it is to figure out who the culprit is. To make matters worse, she now has two men trying to protect her, when she just wants to stand on her own.

Luke really wants to get to know Libby better. He was pretty cute when he showed up to welcome her with a casserole and all. He's so taken with her that he just can't help doing anything he can to spend time with her. Libby is much more wary. She's been burned badly by her previous relationship and is pretty bitter about men in general. She insists that she doesn't want a relationship, but she is definitely attracted to him. She spends a lot of time trying to keep him at arm's length. 

I really liked Luke. He was sweet and thoughtful and protective. He listened to what Libby said and tried to do what was best. I loved when he brought her the dog for protection. He is also absolutely wonderful with his parents, especially his mom. He is also loyal to his friends, and protective of those he thinks need it. I liked how steady he was throughout the book.

I had a much harder time liking Libby. I understood her bitterness and wariness when it came to relationships. She had a soft heart, which really came out with the puppies. But for an investigative reporter, she flip flopped all over the place. I really didn't like the way that she was so easily led/manipulated by others' opinions. She really made me mad toward the end of the book when she actually spent time believing the worst about Luke, in spite of the fact that she loved him. She did redeem herself somewhat when she listened to her heart rather than her head. I liked seeing them come together at the end, with Luke's protectiveness showing again, but also his desire to do what would make Libby happy.

The mystery of the missing woman was fairly interesting. It wasn't overly intense, but it did keep me reading to see how it finally ended. I figured out who it was pretty early on, but the details weren't as clear. There was a little bit of a surprise twist in the identity of Libby's rescuer at the end.

Several of the secondary characters were especially well done. Crazy Mike was an interesting character. I really enjoyed Libby's interview with him about his taxidermy as it showed a different side to him. There were times when he seemed really sweet and harmless, and others when he was really creepy and scary. Another one was the sheriff. He has had this missing woman case for two years and doesn't seem all that intent on solving it. He's a good looking guy who knows it, and expects women to fall all over him. There were times I found him really obnoxious and wondered about Libby's intelligence when she was with him. I really didn't like his attitude about Mike and Luke. I loved the dogs, from giant Ivan to Penny and her puppies. Each of them had a distinct personality.

Montana Refuge - Alice Sharpe (HI #1392 - Dec 2012)

Series: Legacy (Book 2)

HER RANCHER PROTECTOR

The last person Montana rancher Tyler Hunt expected to see on his ranch was his soon-to-be ex-wife. True, he had yet to sign the divorce papers, but Julie had sworn never to return. One look in her eyes, however, and he knew why she was back. Julie was in desperate need of his help.

She'd left Tyler, fearing the loss of her identity. But that desire for independence had caused her life to be put in jeopardy, and Tyler was the only man she could trust. Yet even as the mystery surrounding her new life brought them back together, a secret from Tyler's own past was threatening their reunion. Would they ever have the chance to recapture the bond they'd once shared?

Good second chance story brought about by a mystery. Julie had left her husband, Tyler, the year before, feeling a need to do something other than be a ranch wife. She got a job working for a professor in Portland, Oregon, one that gave her a chance to travel and to have a variety of experiences. But when she got caught in the middle of a phony investigation, her life was suddenly in danger. The only way to feel safe was to go back to Tyler and Montana.

Tyler never really understood why Julie left in the first place and was stunned to see her come back. Nor was he particularly happy about it. He's still dealing with the pain of her leaving, he certainly doesn't want to risk going through it all again. But as much as he wants to protect himself, he can't turn his back on her.

The initial meeting between Julie and Tyler didn't go well at all. She was exhausted, afraid and hopeful of sanctuary. Tyler's attitude was pretty harsh. I got that he was still hurting, but he was nasty to her. He relented a little bit, but even when she told him what was happening to her he wasn't nice. I liked seeing her stand up to him at one point and make him leave. It showed a little more backbone than I'd seen her have to that point. 

Though Tyler is reluctant to get involved with her again, his mother has no such qualms. She sets things up so that Julie has to accompany Tyler when he takes the ranch guests on a cattle drive. This forces the two of them together, with the chance to see if there is anything worth saving from their marriage. From the little pieces of background that were dropped, I got the feeling that both Julie and Tyler had been pretty young when they married. He had one thing in mind for their future, and didn't see her growing dissatisfaction. For her part, though she tried to talk to him about her feelings, she hadn't been very good at making her point. The love was still there, but they couldn't figure out how to mesh the lives they wanted. Even though she had been gone for a year, Tyler still hadn't signed the divorce papers.

I enjoyed watching the revitalization of their feelings. The attraction was still there, but they were wary of trusting their feelings. After a year away, Julie has begun to realize that Montana feels more like home that Portland had. Being near Tyler again reminds her of the good parts of their marriage and makes her wonder if there's still a chance. But she also worries about losing the progress she has made with her own self-confidence. Seeing Julie work the cattle drive with him, he begins to see that she isn't the frail flower he'd thought of her before. I liked the way he was impressed by how she handled herself on the trail. The question becomes one of whether Julie can see that she can make the life she wants on the ranch, or if she thinks she has to be alone to be independent. I ached for both of them at the end, until Julie finally saw the truth of where she belonged.

There were two mysteries going on during this book. The first and most predominant, was the one involving Julie and whatever it was she got mixed up in back in Portland. I thought she had been pretty naive to fall for the story that Trill told her, but I was also a bit suspicious about her boss's reaction when she confessed to what had happened. The attack on her in Portland was definitely scary, and her flight was perfectly understandable. The "accidents" that happened on the cattle drive were worrisome, since it was hard to figure out how someone could know that's where she headed. Each attack got more intense. The final confrontation on the ranch was intense, with an unexpected twist in the attackers' identities. But that wasn't the end of things, as the person behind the attacks still had to be stopped. That was quite a convoluted series of events, which had me on the edge of my seat until it was all over.

The second mystery involved one of the guests on the ranch and why he was there. His interactions with Tyler's mom were interesting, and became understandable once we find out their connection. Though I was suspicious of him at the beginning, he grew on me quickly. I liked his protectiveness toward Julie and his willingness to help however needed on the cattle drive. He really came through when the danger was at its worst. I liked the ending when he was finally able to explain why he was there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Lawman's Christmas Proposal - Barbara White Daille (HAR #1575 - Dec 2015)

Series: Hitching Post Hotel (Book 3)

A husband for Christmas?

Mitch Weston's back in Cowboy Creek, and self-proclaimed matchmaker Jed Garland has his single granddaughter Andi on his mind. Mitch is a lawman, good with the little ones and easy on the eyes. He and Andi were high school sweethearts, for heaven's sake! Why can't they see they're perfect for each other?

Because Andi already lost one husband to a dangerous job, and now she's all about playing it safe, for her sake and her children's. Being a cop is everything to Mitch. After discovering Jed's plan, Mitch and Andi come up with their own: they'll pretend to get engaged and then break up due to irreconcilable differences. Jed's got his work cut out for him -- because this match needs a Christmas miracle!

Very good book. Andi has brought her two kids back home to Cowboy Creek for an extended visit after the death of her husband. Part of her time will be spent working as a wedding planner for the family business. She's still trying to deal with the truth behind her husband's death and the fallout from it. Dealing with her grandfather's matchmaking ways is not something she wants to do, but when her high school sweetheart comes back to town, she doesn't have a choice.

Mitch left Cowboy Creek years ago to become a cop in Los Angeles. At the time, he was also escaping a broken heart. Now he's back, recovering from an injury received in the line of duty and trying to deal with his guilty feelings over the death of his partner. Seeing the woman who broke his heart all those years ago is the last thing he needs.

Mitch was still harboring a lot of anger from their parting as teenagers, and he was ready to let it loose when he saw Andi for the first time. That anger swiftly dissipated when he finally got the explanation of what happened, though honestly I didn't understand her reasons at all. Be that as it may, both of them had moved on with their lives, though tragedy has brought them back together. It quickly becomes obvious to them both that the attraction is still there, but neither wants to do anything about it.

Enter Andi's grandfather, Jed. He's been very successful getting his other two granddaughters matched up, and now he's decided to help Andi along. Simply on his memories of them as teenagers, he has decided that Mitch and Andi are a perfect match. Even before seeing them together as adults, he has made his plans. Not only does he find multiple creative ways to throw them together, he has enlisted help in doing it. One of those helpers came as a surprise to me.

The development of their relationship was not an easy one. Mitch is a great guy, wonderful with her kids, and happy to help with the things he's asked to do. He is definitely still attracted to Andi, but is avoiding any idea of a relationship with her. He no longer trusts his instincts thanks to what happened on the job. He has also buried his feelings about what happened and refuses to talk about it with anyone. Andi senses that something is wrong, but he dodges every time she tries to get him to open up to her.

He does trust one instinct and that's the one that tells him that something is eating at Andi. Though he doesn't want to talk about his feelings, he has no trouble pestering her about hers. Andi's issues are complex, but all stem from her husband's death. One of the biggest of those issues is her refusal to get involved with anyone who has a dangerous job, as she doesn't want to suffer that kind of loss again.

Both are dismayed by Jed's matchmaking attempts, but rather than stand up to him, they decide to pretend to give in. They stage a fake engagement that is supposed to give them the space to escape his machinations. Instead, they find themselves wishing it could be real. Unfortunately, their fears keep them from seeing the possibilities. Both of them have to find a way to overcome those fears if they want to have a future together. I have to say that Mitch's solution was not a surprise, given his background. I liked his realization that just talking to Andi had helped him sort through his feelings, though it took a visit back to LA to see it. I loved seeing who helped Andi with hers. The ending was really sweet.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Her Cowboy Hero - Tanya Michaels (HAR #1501 - June 2014)

Series: Colorado Cades (Book 3)

He's Just The Hired Help…

What kind of cockeyed Pollyanna is Colin Cade working for? Her porch is rotting, her "guest cabin" is cheerless and her land and livestock have only a geriatric cowboy to care for them. Yet Hannah Shaw is positive she can turn her ranch into a successful B and B -- and that Colin's the man to make it happen.

But Colin can't stick around. He lives with the loss of his family by avoiding the memories, and the way he feels around Hannah and her young son is like a knife to the heart. Trouble is, he's better at ignoring his own pain than someone else's, and bright, cheerful Hannah has a heart as haunted as his own. She deserves to be happy -- but could she really be with him?

Good book about two people dealing with their losses in completely different ways. Colin lost his wife and son in an accident, and spends his time running from the pain and memories. He goes from job to job, never staying long in the same place. His latest job ended earlier than expected, when the boss's wife makes unwanted advances, leaving him with a month before his next job. He hears about a "widow woman" who needs help with her ranch and decides to check it out.

Hannah is living on the ranch with her four year old son. She has no family other than little Evan, having grown up in the foster system. Her husband was killed overseas before their son was born, and his parents are gone also. The ranch had been in her husband's family for a long time, and she is determined to make it a success. She plans to turn it into a B & B, but it needs work and she has a limited budget. However, she refuses to let the problems get her down, and makes the conscious decision every day to look on the bright side of things.

At the start, Colin and Hannah are like oil and water. She is nothing like he expected, and her little boy is the same age his son would have been. This aggravates the pain he is running from, and he's determined to stay only a few days and then move on. Hannah is grateful for whatever Colin can do to help, but frustrated by his standoffishness. Within a couple days, Evan and Hannah start to have an effect on Colin. He keeps finding more things that need to be done before he's willing to leave. A sense of protectiveness toward both of them leads him to stay longer than he had planned.

I liked seeing how they developed a friendship before anything else happened. Because she had also suffered a devastating loss, Hannah is very empathetic to Colin's feelings. I loved the scene where he'd had the nightmare and she was just there for him. They didn't need to talk, just the presence of another person helped Colin through it. That was the crack that started the breakdown of his walls. But it wasn't an easy thing, because he was still afraid to risk his heart again. I ached for her when it looked like she was about to have another loss. I loved how it was Colin's turn to be on the receiving end of blunt advice when it came to love, just as he had done to his brother and sister.. His big moment at the end was really good.

Private Bodyguard - Tyler Anne Snell (HI #1628 - Mar 2016)

Series: Orion Security (Book 1)

As a bodyguard, it was his duty to protect her -- not fall for her all over again…

Orion Security Group's mission is to protect those in serious danger. So when Oliver Quinn's latest assignment unexpectedly brings him back into Darling Smith's life, he knows it's going to be his most challenging case yet. And from the moment he comes face-to-face with the beauty from his past, Oliver can't deny their history is going to make for some tension-filled days -- and frustrating nights. But keeping her safe, even though she denies she needs his help, has to come before exploring their lingering feelings. She may not have asked for his protection, but with the killer on her trail, she can't afford not to have it…

Good start to a new series. Darling's day starts out rather rough, when she gets arrested for trespassing on the local millionaire's property. The deputy, who she used to date, is having a little too much fun at her expense. But the day goes from bad to worse when the millionaire's bodyguard comes to question her, and it turns out to be the same man who broke her heart eight years earlier.

The last place Oliver expected to see Darling was in a small town in Maine, and on the opposite side of a case from him. The suspected mistress of the local millionaire has been murdered and Nigel is the top suspect. Darling has been investigating Nigel for infidelity, but Oliver is certain he's innocent of both charges. 

When Darling begins getting threatening notes, Oliver can't just step back and ignore it. It may have been eight years, but there's still something there between them. The problem is that Darling doesn't want protecting. She's done fine without him. But when one attack puts Darling in danger of dying of exposure, even she has to admit she may need his help.

Even though it has been so long, the heat is still there between Oliver and Darling. Both try to resist, since Darling's place is in Maine, and Oliver works out of California. When Oliver puts her safety ahead of the job he was hired to do, he finds himself with some decisions to make. I loved seeing how he managed to work the job and the girl into a promising future.

The suspense of the story was really good. Who killed the woman? Who was she really? Someone seems to be helping Darling with her investigation one minute, then turning around and threatening her the next. I had a pretty good idea of who was responsible for the murder early on, but I couldn't figure out why. It wasn't until an unexpected twist at the end that the motive was revealed and it was quite a stunner.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Babycakes - Donna Kauffman (Brava - Nov 2012)

Series: Cupcake Club (Book 3)

It's Christmas on Georgia's charming Sugarberry Island - and there's no better time to enjoy delicious confections...and the sweet thrill of falling in love...

Molten Chocolate...Cinnamon Spice...Gingerbread...Old-Fashioned Vanilla...You can't stop at just one. And the women of the Cupcake Club love to indulge...

Kit Bellamy was raised on pie. Mamie Sue's "Peanut Pies", to be exact, the family company her scheming brother-in-law sold out from under her. Now Kit needs a new recipe for her life - and sleepy Sugarberry Island is the first ingredient. Running mail-order cupcake business Babycakes is a chance to get her baking on again - until she meets tall, dark, and adorable lawyer Morgan Westlake. New to the island to raise his goddaughter, he's as mouth-watering as any of Kit's creations. It's just her luck that he's the spawn of the very law firm that helped crush her dreams...Fortunately, Kit's new friends can assure her that Morgan is no typical Westlake - and that even lawyers, not to mention single dads, need romance. If Kit can just be persuaded to follow her appetite - and set another place at her holiday table - her sweetest dreams just might come true...

Good book. After her brother-in-law sold Kit's family company out from under her, with the help of the cut-throat Westlake law firm,  Kit needs a new start in her life. A friend has offered her a job with her cupcake business on Sugarberry Island, so off she goes.

Morgan Westlake is raising his niece after the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law. He is a lawyer from a well known family, but he has separated himself from them for many reasons. He has come to Sugarberry Island to raise Lilly close to her other grandmother and away from the influence of his own family.

There are sparks between Kit and Morgan from the moment they met, but Kit is especially reluctant to get involved. First, he is a member of that family and that's hard to get past. Second, she has a hard time trusting her own judgment. She feels that she let down family tradition as well as all the people who worked for the company. She worries about getting involved with him and then letting him and Lilly down as well. Morgan is determined to give Lilly the childhood she deserves, and worries that he's going to mess things up.

I loved the development of their romance. Morgan is hooked from the beginning, but understands Kit's wariness. He is patient and willing to let them become friends first. They spend a lot of time together with little Lilly, doing things at the turtle research center. Kit begins to see that Morgan is nothing like the rest of his family, and lets down her walls. The feelings and attraction between them really start to heat up. Things are moving along at a steady pace for them when Morgan's mother shows up. I loved how Morgan stood up to her, and how his feelings for Kit were a big part of his motivation to do so. Kit finally realized that what they had was real and that leaning on Morgan

A big part of the story is Morgan's guardianship of Lilly. I loved how he was part of her life from the beginning, but becoming her parent has him all tied up in knots. It was sweet to see how determined he was to break her out of the cage she was in, thanks to his mother. I really liked seeing her go from timid and shy to a much more typical five year old. Her fascination with the sea turtles was sweet. I loved how a big part of Morgan's decision to come to Sugarberry was so that Lilly could get to know her other grandmother.

Once again, the members of the Cupcake Club play their parts in Morgan and Kit's romance. None of them have any trouble "nudging" them along the path they think should be taken. There are some really funny scenes, especially involving Alva, as they do their own kind of matchmaking. I loved how they pulled Kit right into their group and made her one of their own. The group plan for Thanksgiving was terrific, and even better was when they jumped in to help when there was a crisis with the turtles.


One of the things I like best about this series is that the characters aren't perfect. Morgan and Kit obviously have their problems. Introducing Lilly to her Grandmother Birdie doesn't go as smoothly as they had all hoped, which is more realistic than them bonding right away. Secondary couple Olivia and Carlo are having their own problems thanks to cultural differences. But no matter what is happening, they support each other in times of trouble.

The Rancher Returns - Brenda Jackson (HD #2473 - Oct 2016)

Read December 12, 2016

Series: Westmoreland Legacy (Book 1)

Returning from active duty to find his ranch being dug up by a beautiful stranger isn't the homecoming navy SEAL Gavin Blake expected. Layla Harris is convinced there's buried treasure on his land. But the only treasure this wealthy rancher wants to uncover is the professor's secret desires! When Layla unearths family secrets -- and mysterious threats -- he vows to do whatever it takes to protect her. Even as her revelations change everything…

This is the first book in a spin-off series about friends of the Westmorelands. Gavin is one of Bane Westmoreland's SEAL friends, whom we first met in BANE. When the book opens, the team has just finished a mission and is due for some leave. Gavin is feeling frisky and looking for some one-on-one time with a woman, until he gets a call from a neighboring ranch owner. It seems that Gavin's grandmother has given some college professor permission to conduct a dig on their ranch, looking for gold from a Jesse James robbery. He's certain that this professor is running some sort of con on his grandmother and he heads for home, determined to stop it.

Layla is a young and very beautiful college professor who has been researching this particular subject for a long time. She has overcome stiff opposition from other faculty members in order to pursue this dig. She has gotten this far by concentrating on her goals and not allowing herself to be distracted. We first see her at the ranch house, talking with Gavin's grandmother about the project, and hearing that Ms. Melody suspects that her grandson won't be as enthusiastic about the project as she is.

The first encounter between Gavin and Layla is great. He is stunned by his immediate attraction to the woman with his grandmother and it takes several minutes for him to realize that she is the professor in question. He's still determined to stop her dig, but decides he wants to sleep with her first. Layla is just as attracted, but determined not to be distracted from her purpose. She is certain that she can resist his advances.

I have to say that I didn't care for Gavin's attitude at the beginning. He is so used to women falling all over him that he ignores Layla's resistance to his advances. Yes, she responds when he kisses her, but no should mean no. It was rather fun to see this guy who has resisted all entanglements so far, get turned completely inside out by a woman.  I loved seeing him have to actually work to get her.

I liked Layla's independence and determination. She isn't going to let anything keep her from her goal, not matter how sexy he is. I liked seeing her stick to her goal and wait until she was ready to go any further with him. Of course, once she did, they were incendiary together.

The development of their relationship seemed to be built a lot on their physical needs for each other, but they slowly began to get to know each other outside the bedroom. I liked seeing Gavin share his feelings about his mother's desertion of him and his father, as it gave insight into his attitude toward women and commitment. Layla shared memories of her grandfather, who fostered her interest in Jesse James, and her problems with her parents who hadn't supported her career choice. Their feelings for each other grew and deepened, but neither spoke of those feelings.

Gavin was still skeptical about her claim, but figured letting her continue the dig would keep her around for a couple weeks. Things got a little weird though, when some strange things took place. He may not really believe in the treasure, but he wasn't going to let someone else mess things up for her. When a fire destroyed her equipment, and a vindictive student caused the university to cancel the dig, Gavin stepped in. I loved seeing his protective streak come out, and how his team came out to help find out who wanted the dig stopped and why. Who it was, and his reasons, were an interesting twist in the story.

When it was all over, both Gavin and Layla had to decide what they wanted to do about their relationship. Gavin makes assumptions about her, and it isn't until his grandmother gets involved that he actually talks to her about his feelings. Layla had made assumptions of her own based on his actions. I really liked seeing how a little communication made a world of difference. The epilogue was a good ending. 

The Secret Affair - Brenda Jackson (HD #2341 - Dec 2014)

Read December 12, 2016

Series: Westmorelands (Book 29)

It has been a year since Jillian Novak ended their affair -- a year that left Dr. Aidan Westmoreland determined to win back his lover. He knows they shouldn't have to keep their relationship a secret and he'll follow her around the world to prove it. Fourteen days on a cruise ship -- just Aidan, Jillian and the deep blue sea…and a passion that won't be denied.

In previous Westmoreland books there were hints that there was something going on between Aidan Westmoreland and Jillian Novak. Jillian is a younger sister to Pamela, who is married to Dillon Westmoreland. Jillian had had a crush on Aidan, who is five years older, since she was seventeen. At her twenty-first birthday party they discovered that there was something deeper going on.

Aidan is a typical Westmorland man. He is good looking, successful, charming, and has quite a reputation with the ladies. At this time he is finished with medical school and going on to his residency. He has no intention of getting married anytime soon. However, he can't deny the strength of the attraction he feels for Jillian, and goes after her.

Jillian is preparing to enter medical school. She's had a crush on Aidan for years, and having him being a doctor is icing on the cake. She does her best to keep her fascination with him under control, but when a kiss between them burns hot and out of control she's not sure what to do. She wants him, but she doesn't need the distraction. She also believes that if anyone were to suspect something was going on, it would create problems within the family. So she agrees to a relationship with Aidan, on condition that they keep it a secret.

Aidan isn't particularly happy to do that, but he goes along with her. Over the next three years they get together when they can. Aidan spent a week with Jillian, helping her study for her MCAT, where they got to know each other better along the way. But carrying on a relationship over long distances isn't easy, especially when each of them has their own professional stresses to go along with it. There is also the strain of trying to hide their feelings when around the family.

After three years, the stress has reached the breaking point. Aidan has begun to resent her insistence on secrecy. He cares for her and wants their relationship out in the open. He also frequently feels that he's the one making all the sacrifices. He's angry when she refuses to come spend his birthday with him. Jillian is feeling the stress also. She changes her mind about his birthday and plans to surprise him. Unfortunately, she's the one that gets the surprise when she finds him in the middle of a big party, attending by scantily clad women. When she sees one of them all over Aidan, she leaves without seeing him, and later breaks things off with him.

I was a bit angry with her at this point. She ended the relationship without talking to him about what she had seen. She'd always been a bit insecure about their relationship, thanks to his reputation. But they had been together for three years and she should have trusted him by now. I was also a bit disappointed in Aidan's actions, feeling that he made some bad decisions the night of his birthday.

This was all followed by a year of them being apart and miserable about it. I loved how Aidan decided it was time to resolve the issues between them. I really enjoyed seeing the help he got from friends and family, who hadn't been as clueless as he and Jillian had thought. It was fun to see her shock when he showed up on the cruise ship where she was celebrating her med school graduation. Their attraction hadn't decreased over the year, it had only burned hotter. I loved seeing them straighten everything out, with both admitting to some responsibility in their breakup. I loved Aidan's big moment at the end, which was really romantic. The epilogue with Dillon and Pamela was a fun wrapup.

Meet Me at the Chapel - Joanna Sims (HSE #2501 - Sept 2016)

Read December 11, 2016

Series: Brands of Montana (Book 7)

One Magical Montana Summer

Circumstances took Casey Brand's vacation plans with her sister and new niece on a slight detour. Now she's staying in Brock McCallister's garage apartment in exchange for her help with his daughter with autism. But she still has horses to ride, sunsets to savor and a handsome man to admire…who is proving more friendly than expected.

Getting divorced and dealing with custody issues has pretty much beaten Brock down. Yet how can he stay in a foul mood with Casey's optimistic outlook right next door? Because of her, his daughter is communicating better, his home shining brighter. She's even brought life back to the ranch's old chapel. But is she ready to perform the same dramatic transformation with his tattered heart?

Good book. This story is about Casey Brand, sister of Taylor from High Country Baby, and Brock, Clint's stepbrother from the same book. Casey is a special education teacher who has come to Montana on her summer break to visit with her sister and new niece while Clint is on the road. Her truck breaks down near Brock's ranch just as a big storm is approaching. He rescues her, and they spend the storm in the basement along with Brock's autistic daughter.

Brock is pretty stressed. He's foreman of one ranch while owner of his own. He's been separated from his wife for awhile now and is going through a rough custody battle with her. He just wants what is best for Hannah and is willing to do what he has to in order to get it.

There's a quick connection between Casey and Brock, and also between Casey and Hannah. Brock is impressed with how easily Casey handles Hannah. When Clint is injured and ends up coming home for the summer, Brock offers Casey the apartment over his barn if she will work with Hannah over the summer. She snaps it up, not wanting to intrude on the newlyweds.

Over the next month, the three of them spend a lot of time together. I loved seeing the changes that Casey brought to Hannah's life, and how much it meant to Brock. Casey and he met regularly at the little chapel on the Brand ranch to have lunch together. I loved how they got to know each other, sometimes talking, sometimes just being quiet together.

But technically Brock is still married and Casey is cautious about risking her heart. It was interesting to see Brock's reaction when the divorce became final. I enjoyed seeing Casey see him through it, then give him the kick in the pants he needed to get on with his life. Brock knew exactly what he wanted and had no trouble going after her. Things are looking good for them when Casey gets hit by a health crisis that really shakes her up. I loved Brock's support of her and how he was there with her as much as he could be.

Casey still has some trouble making a final commitment to Brock. I liked how he went to Taylor for advice and then made his plans. His big moment at the end was sweet and romantic and I loved it.

There was a lot made over the last two books about the rift between Brock and Clint. We get an idea of why from something Brock says to Casey. I liked that they were making steps to repair the relationship, but I would have liked a little more detail about how it was going.

Never Too Late - Robyn Carr (Mira - May 2006)

Read December 10, 2016

Three seconds is all it takes to turn a whole life around.

And if anybody knows about bouncing back after disaster, it's Clare Wilson. She's had it with being married to a serial cheater, and no way is he getting another chance. Even her own son thinks she should have kicked his dad to the curb ages ago. Now she's done it for good, and Clare is finally feeling the rush of unadulterated freedom.

But when a freak car crash lands Clare in the hospital, her life takes another detour. She might be banged up and bruised, but suddenly men are coming out of the woodwork. Even her ex is pining for her. It seems being an independent single woman is a powerful aphrodisiac. But amidst all the lust, the last thing Clare expects to find is love.

Good book with a central theme of relationships. The main character is Clare, middle sister, who is going through some major changes in her life. Her older sister Maggie and younger sister Sarah also have important roles in the story.

The story opens with Clare, who has left her husband of sixteen years for the fourth time because of his cheating, finding him in bed in their own home with yet another of his women. Furious with him and herself, she drives off in a state and promptly gets stopped for speeding. The nice young cop, Sam, lets her off with a warning, then watches in horror as Clare's car is t-boned by a car running a red light. He stays with her until she's taken off by the ambulance.

Her injuries are extremely serious, requiring surgery and months of physical therapy. Her family rallies around her, but Clare realizes it's time to take control of her life. She lets cheating Roger know that she's not coming back this time and starts to make plans for her future. During this time, she makes some new connections and revives some old ones.

One of her new connections is Sam, the cop who stopped her the night of the accident. He makes his interest in her plain, which is flattering to an ego that has been battered by her husband's infidelities. Sam has a very romantic side and is intent on showing her his feelings. While his attentions make her feel good, is it enough to build a relationship on? I loved the honest way that she looked at herself and her feelings, and that she had the courage to do what she felt was right.

Clare also reconnects with her high school friend Pete. He is the younger brother of the guy she had loved through high school and college. She and Pete have a history that kept them apart even after Mike's death. Clare makes the decision that it is time to face that history and see if their friendship can be repaired. Once they have faced and talked about what happened back then, they move quickly back into their old comfort with each other. But there is something different, and when Pete drops a bombshell about that past event, Clare finds herself looking at him in a whole new way. There were some really sweet scenes between them, and I especially loved the one the night of her birthday party. There were also some pretty steamy scenes.

Clare also has to deal with the effect of his father's actions on her son Jason. He seemed like a pretty typical teenager, sometimes smart and sometimes not. The author makes his reactions very believable. I especially liked seeing him confess to Clare what was bothering him the most, and I thought she dealt with it beautifully. When Jason does something really stupid, I loved seeing Clare and Roger come together as a team to deal with it.

Roger was thoroughly unlikable at the beginning with his cheating ways and attitude. It was interesting to see how he changed through the book. I loved that he took ownership of the failure of his marriage and that he was determined to improve his relationship with Jason. His persistence was admirable, and the scene where that first step was made was fantastic.

Clare's sisters also have their own issues going on in the book. Maggie is the oldest, married with two girls and a successful lawyer. But the magic seems to have gone out of her marriage, and she is a bit envious of Clare's romantic life. But whatever else is going on, she is always there to support Clare. There are a couple of really fun sister scenes, including one that takes place the night that Clare has a date with Sam.

Sarah is the youngest one. As a teen and young adult she had been a wild child, taking risks that her family tried to talk her out of. Her relationship with her mother was especially bad. When her mom died before she and Sarah could fix things, Sarah went into a depression and completely changed her life. Now she buries herself in her art and dresses very dowdy. Then an introduction to a gorgeous man has her wanting to make changes of her own, and she's off and running. I loved the development of the new relationship as the two seem perfectly suited to each other. An unexpected bump in the road has Sarah questioning his feelings, and it takes a near disaster for him to realize what they are.

What I really liked about this book is that it didn't end with everything all sunshine and roses. There are ongoing issues that will have to be dealt with but they all have the foundation to do it.

High Country Baby - Joanna Sims (HSE #2481 - June 2016)

Read December 10, 2016

Series: Brands of Montana (Book 6)

All Taylor Brand wanted was a baby of her own

But at nearly forty and recently divorced, embarking on a "solo" trek on the Continental Divide Trail, her time was tight and her options slim. Maybe the curt cowboy who'd been charged with watching out for her was her best shot. After all, Clint McAllister was shadowing her on a high-country horseback trip for the money. Would he be up for being hired for something else?

Classy ladies like Taylor didn't normally give a rough rodeo-rider like him a second glance…much less ask him to father a baby. And while Clint didn't need an excuse to take Taylor to bed, he did wonder if this plan was perhaps the wisest. Who knew what would happen once he got to taste the forbidden?

Good book. Taylor is nearly forty and recently divorced. Desperate for a change in her life, she has challenged herself to spend a month on the Continental Divide Trail. Her overprotective uncle won't agree to her going alone and has assigned cowboy Clint to be her trailguide. She's not happy about it, but she doesn't have a choice. Clint isn't any happier than she is, especially when he finds out how long she plans to be out. But he's been off the rodeo circuit for awhile due to injury and he needs the money, so he'll just have to suck it up and do it.

I really enjoyed the development of their relationship. From unwilling companions to friends to lovers, it was a voyage of discovery for both of them. When they first met, Clint thought Taylor was a clueless city woman and she thought he was a slightly scary drunk. But after a couple days of practically ignoring each other, they decided to make the best of things and work together. It wasn't long before Clint saw that Taylor had put a lot more thought into this trek than he'd realized and he grew to respect her determination. Taylor began to see that there was much more to the rough cowboy that she had thought. I loved seeing them get to know each other, with a background of their love of nature. There were times when I felt like I was right there with them.

Partway through the trip, Taylor put a business proposal in front of Clint. She will pay his debts, allowing him to get back to rodeoing, if he will get her pregnant. Both will get what they want with no obligations on either side. Right from the start the connection between them is deeper than either expected, even after they got back to the ranch. When their plan is quickly successful, neither is quite ready to let go. As Clint returned to the road and Taylor's pregnancy progressed, they stayed in touch, growing ever closer.

I loved how Clint returned to support her when problems with the pregnancy arose. His care for her was more important to him that his rodeo career. What was really nice was that their realization of their feelings was a result of how close they'd gotten, not the result of some argument or disaster. I also adored how Clint fell under the spell of baby Penny.

I really liked both Clint and Taylor. Both had issues at the beginning that they had to overcome. Thanks to her divorce and problems that came up during her marriage, her self-confidence was pretty low. Her trip on the Trail, and then her pregnancy and subsequent relationship with Clint went a long way toward fixing that. She especially had poor body image, and Clint had a bit of a battle to show her that she was exactly what he wanted. For his part, Clint knows that he drinks too much and smokes too much. He also feels that without even a high school diploma Taylor is way too good for him. What she quickly came to see was that he was actually very smart, being a man who reads and listens. I loved how he set out to make changes in his lifestyle to better fit the life he wants. I'm looking forward to seeing more of them in future books.