Thursday, August 17, 2017

Christmas on Crimson Mountain - Michelle Major (HSE #2520 - Dec 2016)

Series: Crimson Colorado (Book 7)

LOVE ON THE MOUNTAIN

Peace and quiet -- that's all Connor Pierce wanted from the rented cabin on Crimson Mountain. Yet the caretaker turned out to be lovely April Sanders -- a total distraction. As were the two little girls she was caring for. Connor's plan to forget his painful past soon detoured into giving the ladies a Christmas to remember.

Being named guardian of two motherless girls has upended April's world. Add to the mix a mysterious, brooding writer claiming he wanted to be left alone while going out of his way to bring a little joy to the girls, and she has quite the quandary. April had counted herself out of a happy ending. But maybe Santa still had a few surprises up his merry old sleeve…

Fantastic story of loss, love, and healing. Connor, April, Shay, and Ranie have all been beaten down by life. Connor, who suffers from writer's block ever since the tragic deaths of his wife and son, has come to Crimson Mountain for the peace and quiet he feels he needs to finish his book. April is the caretaker of the cabin where he is staying and is tasked with providing his meals and whatever else he needs. She has also recently lost a good friend to cancer and is caring for that friend's two little girls. Twelve-year-old Ranie and five-year-old Shay are dealing with the loss of their mother and the uncertainty of their future.

The pain is evident from the beginning. April is on her way to her cabin with the girls. A breast cancer survivor herself, she is reeling from the loss of her friend and her fear of caring for the two girls. How can she commit to raising them when she can't be sure she won't get sick again? Both girls are suffering from the loss of their mother, though little Shay seems to be handling it well. Ranie, on the other hand, is snarky and sullen and determined to be as contrary as possible. When they arrive on the mountain, April discovers that Connor has gotten there first. To say that he isn't happy when he sees the girls is putting it mildly. Connor comes across as a veritable Scrooge, wanting the girls gone, and only reluctantly agreeing to their staying if they stay quiet and don't disturb him.

I hurt for Connor. He had lost his wife and young son in a car accident several years earlier. He blames himself for their deaths and has shut himself off from the world because of it. Just hearing Shay's laughter brings all that pain to the surface and he lashes out at April because of it. I loved that April stood up to him and forced him to see that he was unreasonable.

I ached for April, too. She comes across as having her life all put together. She's organized, friendly, warm and caring. She has made a place for herself in Crimson, and yet she holds a part of herself away from everyone. Her past has shown her that it hurts to care too much. The one person who should have stood by her, her husband, instead walked away in the middle of her treatment, unable to deal with her disease and its consequences. She's afraid that if she gets sick again, the next person to walk away will destroy her.

I loved the development of their relationship. April's innate kindness and compassion have her wanting to help Connor see that withdrawing from the world is not the way to honor his family. I loved seeing her and the girls slowly draw him out of his shell. It isn't easy on him, and his occasional panic attacks are believable and understandable, as the emotions he has buried for so long begin to reappear. There is also an unexpected attraction that flares between them. Connor is a bit freaked out by the depth of his need for April, as he still considers himself too broken, but he accepts April's declaration of "it's right for right now." In spite of his feeling broken, there's a tremendous amount of sensitivity in him. I loved how he showed April that she is beautiful even with the outward scars of her disease. Over the next few days and their stolen moments together, the feelings for each other deepen, but neither is ready to believe in a future.

Part of their growing relationship is the way they work together to make Christmas special for Shay and Ranie. Connor's initial antagonism is breached by the adorable Shay, who refuses to let his grumpiness keep her down. He is also drawn to the sulky Ranie, whose grief is so like his own. The two of them bond over an ice skating lesson. Connor fights it at first, but both girls wiggle under his defenses. I love his gentleness with Shay and his way of teasing Ranie. April is awed by his ability to help them and saddened by his refusal to believe that he can love again. April fights her own fears regarding the girls. She knows their mother wanted her to raise them, but she thinks that she is unfit to do so. She has come to love them and isn't looking forward to giving them to their aunt. As Connor and April accuse each other of being unwilling to risk their hearts again, a crisis with Shay causes a ceasefire. I loved that April finally saw the truth of her feelings for both Connor and the girls and that she embraced what needed to be done. I ached for both her and Connor as his fears sent him running. I loved his return and seeing him finally open his heart completely. The little bit with the pinecone figure was especially sweet. The epilogue was a wonderful opportunity to see how much life had changed for all four of them.

*copy received in exchange for honest review

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Fair Princess - Vanessa Kelly (Zebra - Sept 2016)

Series: Improper Princesses (Book 1)

Despite being the illegitimate daughter of a prince, Gillian Dryden is happily ignorant of all social graces. After growing up wild in Italy, Gillian has been ordered home to England to find a suitable husband. And Charles Valentine Penley, the excessively proper, distractingly handsome Duke of Leverton, has agreed to help transform her from a willful tomboy to a blushing debutante.

Powerful and sophisticated, Charles can make or break reputations with a well-placed word. But his new protégée, with her habit of hunting bandits and punching earls, is a walking scandal. The ton is aghast . . . but Charles is thoroughly intrigued. Tasked with taking the hoyden in hand, he longs to take her in his arms instead. Can such an outrageous attraction possibly lead to a fairytale ending?

Fun book. Gillian is the illegitimate daughter of one of the princes. She was raised in Sicily by her mother and stepfather on the fringes of society. After participating in a dangerous bout of revenge that puts her life at risk, her mother and grandmother decide it's time to go home to England and find her a husband. Before they can do that, they need to find a way to smooth her rough edges. Enter Charles, Duke of Leverton and paragon of virtue. Much to his dismay, he is enlisted to provide the transformation.

I liked Gillian. She has dealt with the scornful attitudes of others all her life. Outwardly she doesn't care what they say about her, but she is very protective of her mother. It hurts and angers Gillian to see the effect the gossip has on her. She is outspoken and blunt, but never intentionally mean. She is a bit naïve in her belief that her actions in Sicily won't have long term repercussions and that she can eventually return there. She is stubborn, certain that her way of doing things is the best way for her. She can be sweet and charming when she wants to be. She also has a definite idea of what is right or wrong and feels that it is up to her to fix those things that are wrong. This can and does get her into trouble.

I liked Charles, too. At the beginning, he comes across as quite stuffy and rigid, but it doesn't take long for that to go away. His issues with his father and a love affair gone wrong have turned him into a man with the reputation of always doing the right thing. He's also well known for his unshakeable composure under any circumstances. Gillian's grandmother uses that reputation and family connection to recruit him to provide the polish that Gillian needs.

I loved the development of their relationship. Gillian challenged Charles and his composure from the very beginning. He is horrified by her outspokenness and lack of feminine accomplishments. He is used to people doing what he says and is confounded by Gillian's resistance to his instructions. I loved seeing them butt heads as he tried to bend her to his will and she refused to give in. As much as she fights him, Gillian admits to herself that she may have met her match in stubbornness. The more time they spend together, the more they are drawn to each other, which confuses them both. Gillian is not the type of woman he had seen himself with as a wife, but her honesty, character, and liveliness grow on him. In spite of her frequent success in irritating him, Gillian finds that his opinion of her matters more than she thought it would. When a public confrontation with a gentleman at a ball results in some very bad gossip, Charles whisks Gillian into the country while the furor has a chance to die down. Away from the stresses of the Season, Charles and Gillian can relax a little and get to know each other and begin to understand what makes each other tick. As Charles learned more of Gillian's background his admiration for her resilience grew. As the attraction between them grew, so did their feelings for each other. I loved Charles's confusion as all his beliefs in what he wanted in a wife went out the window, but he's still trying to protect his heart. Gillian worries about her feelings for Charles because she can't believe that a woman with her background would be an acceptable match for him and fully expects to get her heart broken. I loved when they gave in to their attraction. Gillian surprises him once again in a scene that is sweet, hot and romantic and Charles comes through in an awesome way when she shares a big fear with him. There are still some fireworks to come as Gillian and Charles try to work out their future. An encounter with smugglers brings some clarity to them both as they realize what is truly important. I loved his big moment at the end when he told her how he felt.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

One Night with a SEAL - Tawny Weber, Beth Andrews (HB #943 - June 2017)

Series: Uniformly Hot (Book 71)

All Out by Tawny Weber

Navy SEAL Zane Bennett can't walk away from a challenge. He's determined to win a bet with his brother -- until he collides with the luscious Vivian Harris. Their attraction is immediate and searingly hot, but Zane can't bring himself to bow out of the bet. Now the game is really on…and Zane is embroiled in a wicked matchup he can't resist!

Good story. The book opens with Zane getting ready to head home for his ten-year high school reunion. He's doing some last minute training and pondering the fact that he works best when he's competing with someone else. He admits he doesn't like to lose, though losing to a fellow SEAL is bearable. One of his greatest competitors has always been his twin brother, Xander, who is also a SEAL working on the east coast.

Once back in his home town and hanging out with Xander and their high school buddies, talk turns to old times. Zane and Xander both have reputations for engaging in outrageous dares. One of their friends challenges them to win a date with Quinn Oswald, their high school princess, for the reunion dance. Zane can't turn down a challenge, even though he suspects that his brother has more interest in the lady than he does. Zane gets distracted from his goal when he meets Vivian. The attraction between them is immediate and explosive. Though he doesn't know it at first, Vivian is the little sister of one of his friends and has had a crush on him for years. Vivian has been working in the family bakery but has dreams of branching out on her own with her naughty treats. She gets no support for her dreams from her family and is hesitant to step outside her comfort zone and commit fully to those dreams.

Zane and Vivian settle into a hot and heavy fling that they don't expect anything to come of other than a few days of fun. Both are surprised to discover that they have more than just chemistry in common. Zane is a bit freaked out by the way that he suddenly realizes that what he feels for Vivian means more than winning a silly dare. Vivian wonders if her feelings for Zane will give her the courage she needs to take the chance of a lifetime. And what will happen when Vivian finds out about the challenge? I loved the scene between Vivian and her brother when he found her and Zane together. I also liked seeing Vivian stand up to Zane about the challenge and what she did about it. The scene at the reunion dance was pretty awesome.


All In by Beth Andrews

Of the Bad Boy Bennett twins, Navy SEAL Xander is always the gentleman. That is until he's challenged to go against his brother for a date with Quinn Oswald -- the girl Xander's wanted since high school! It takes only one kiss for Quinn and Xander's deliciously sexy chemistry to explode. But how much is Xander willing to gamble…before he goes all in?

Sweet and spicy second chance story. Xander is the quieter one of the twins. He just rolls his eyes at the latest challenge from his high school buddies, until the subject of the challenge becomes Quinn. All through high school he had crushed on her but had never tried to pursue her. The thought of losing her to his brother is unbearable and provides the kick in the pants he needs to go after her. Quinn has come back to town after her divorce to get her life back together. Her marriage had done a number on her confidence and her ability to trust.

I loved the start of their relationship. Xander is quite the gentleman and insists on escorting Quinn home after her shift at the bar. He's a bit awkward about it and sticks his foot in his mouth a couple of times, but eventually, convinces her to let him. Quinn really wants to refuse. She is intensely attracted to him but doesn't want to be. The sparks are flying between them, but Xander's scruples won't let him follow through when he senses that she isn't really ready. I loved seeing him show up the next day with a bolt for her door and a plant to teach her self-defense.

I enjoyed the development of the relationship as the attraction between them takes off and is enhanced by the way that they spend time getting to know each other. I especially liked Xander's opinion of her ex and the way that he was determined to show her how strong she is. Quinn realizes that she is falling for him and that against her common sense she has come to trust him. Xander is surprised by the way that he is looking past the reunion and staying in touch with Quinn. When she finds out about the challenge, she is hurt and furious at what she sees as his betrayal. Their confrontation exposes some deep vulnerabilities that both need to face. I loved Quinn's big moment at the reunion and seeing her take a chance on her happiness.

In both stories, I really liked the relationship between Zane and Xander. They are competitive with each other and have typical sibling interactions. But they are also always there for each other. I liked how Zane sensed that Xander was more interested in Quinn than was conveyed to their buddies. I also loved the scene where they were wrestling with each other and then their nephews, before Xander said something really stupid to their sisters. It made me laugh to see two big strong SEALs running scared from her.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Soldier's Seduction - Jane Godman (HRS #1954 - July 2017)

Series: Sons of Stillwater (Book 2)

From the front lines to unexpected romance -- and danger -- in small-town Wyoming

After a war zone bomb nearly destroyed Bryce Delaney, he's worked hard to hide his scars. Back in his Wyoming hometown, he can pretend the nightmares don't exist. But when a secretive, beautiful new woman in town disappears, Bryce's protective instincts put him on the front lines again.

Wanted for murder and on the run under an alias, former A-list actress Steffi Grantham can't return to her life until she clears her name. It's her boss, Bryce, to the rescue, but desire ties them together, and she's forced to make a choice that could cost them both. Trusting the wrong man once before almost stole her freedom. Now it might take her life.

Good book. Bryce has returned from the war a changed man. He still goes to work each day and does his job, but he's haunted by the things that happened. When one of his new employees blows off another meeting, he's had enough. Steffi has challenged him from day one, but it's that odd connection that has been helping him get through each day. When he arrives at her home to fire her, he discovers her weak and sick instead of purposely defying him. His inner protector is stirred, and he stays to take care of her and is there when someone attempts to kidnap her.

Steffi is more than just Bryce's newest driver. She is a famous Hollywood actress who is wanted for questioning in a murder investigation and is hiding out in Wyoming while she tries to figure out how to clear her name. She is wary of trusting anyone, least of all her boss. But she can't deny that he was there for her when she needed him most.

This book was a good mix of action and romance from the beginning. There is a definite connection between Bryce and Steffi, an attraction that simmers beneath the antagonism. When Bryce finds her and cares for her while she's sick, she has an unexpected feeling of safety with him. There's also something about her that won't let Bryce walk away from helping her. Things get very intense, very fast, when Steffi and Bryce are attacked and kidnapped. Steffi has discovered a connection between the murder she is wanted for and the murder of her parents. The man responsible desperately wants to get his hands on her.

It was an intense time as Bryce and Steffi play cat and mouse with the murderer. A brief encounter as they are captured reveals what the man wants before they can make their escape. Their attempts to find the proof they need have them barely one step ahead of the bad guy in several heart-stopping close encounters. Each new piece of information strengthens their knowledge of what they have to do. The final confrontation is beautifully planned and executed with the help of Bryce's brothers, though there are a couple of unexpected twists.

I enjoyed the development of Bryce and Steffi's relationship. The attraction is strong and pulls hard at them both, though each has reason to resist. Bryce's war related issues have him avoiding any kind of emotional entanglements. He limits himself to brief no-strings affairs, cutting ties when anyone seems to get too close. For Steffi, witnessing the deaths of her parents, then Greg has reduced her already limited ability to trust to nothing. I liked how the situations they found themselves in drew them closer together and encouraged them to share their fears. I especially liked Bryce's patience as Steffi learned that she could believe in him. Bryce's willingness to finally share what happened to him went a long way to getting him to see the possibility of a future with Steffi. The scene in the hospital, post confrontation, was romantic with just enough amusement to make it perfect. I liked the ending, and how, though love was declared quickly, they still took the time to get to know each other better. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Risky Engagement - Merline Lovelace (SRS #1613 - June 2010)

Series: Code Name: Danger (Book 15)

Secret Service Agent: Rafe Blackstone

Codename: Wolf

Mission: Prevent breaches in U.S. government security by any means necessary. Bring down Sebastian Cordell, international thief suspected of selling top-secret technology to the highest bidder.

Method: Zero in on target in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico -- and persuade sexy, brilliant medical researcher Dr. Nina Grant to help secure his undercover identity...as her fiancé.

Obstacle: It's too easy to be "engaged" to Nina. Despite the dangerous circumstances of their alliance, the peril excites her. The intrigue is powerful -- the attraction sizzling between them, unstoppable. In the end he must choose: keep Nina safe by walking out of her life, or be her only protector...forever.

Good entry in the Code Name: Danger series. Rafe is on the trail of an international thief with some stolen information when he encounters Dr. Nina Grant. Nina is on a forced vacation after her staff threatened to mutiny if she didn't take some time off. She meets Sebastian Cordell when her car breaks down, and Rafe is quick to use that chance meeting for his own purposes.

The book starts with a tension filled scene and the intensity never really lets up throughout the entire book. We are dropped right in the middle of the op, as Rafe and company are watching Cordell. He is suspicious of Nina's arrival on the scene even after it appears to check out as innocent. Thanks to who she is and what she does, he feels that she would be the perfect accomplice to help him get closer to Cordell.

I liked the initial meeting between Rafe and Nina. There are sparks between them from the beginning, and Nina briefly contemplates the idea of a vacation fling. That is until Rafe blackmails her into helping him with his mission. Though it makes her angry, it doesn't do much to reduce the attraction. Once she hears the reasons that Rafe needs her help, she is all-in for doing whatever she can, including having Rafe pose as her former fiancé.

I enjoyed the development of their relationship. Rafe is a loner who has avoided ties and entanglements throughout his career. He is attracted to Nina more than any other woman he's known. He knows he should keep it professional, but his body and heart have other ideas. When the need arises to make their relationship look even more genuine, he has no trouble doing so. He is surprised by the depth of the protectiveness he feels for her, and the way his mind and heart tell him he wants to keep her in his life. Nina is drawn to the strong and sexy Rafe, but wary also. She recently ended her engagement when she discovered her fiancé stealing proprietary information from her computer. She's not sure how much to trust Rafe or her growing feelings for him. But the intensity of their situation and the danger they are in makes them realize just what they have. It was pretty sweet to see the tough guy have a little trouble expressing his feelings at the end, but he did manage quite nicely.

The suspense of the story was good. Rafe needed to find Cordell and stop him before he could sell the information to the highest bidder. Cordell is smart and slippery which is why he hasn't yet been caught. His interest in Nina was because of her business and what he could do with it. Rafe's determination to succeed caused him to go a little overboard in his methods of recruiting Nina, but she eventually understood why he did it. I was impressed with the way that Nina handled herself throughout the whole thing. Though she started out unwillingly, by the end, she was quite coolheaded. The danger to Nina increased as the sale time grew closer. The final confrontation was very intense. I loved that it was Nina who figured out where the disc was and saved the day.

Million Dollar Cowboy - Lori Wilde (Avon - Apr 2017)

Series: Cupid Texas (Book 5)

The illegitimate son of a Texas ranching dynasty, Ridge Lockhart left home ten years ago with one goal: to become more successful than the father who never accepted him.

Mission accomplished, but now he’s back at the Silver Feather Ranch for a wedding -- three days of best man duty until he can hightail it out. Then he spies Kaia Alzate, and suddenly leaving isn’t quite so appealing.

Kaia Alzate grew up the daughter of the ranch foreman, servants to the mighty Lockharts in the mansion. Back then, she followed Ridge around like a puppy. Now, she’s fighting the attraction she feels for this sexy CEO. She’s determined not to make a big mistake -- but when Ridge takes her in his arms she’s stunned…could he be the man she’s waited for all along?

Very good book. Ridge is back in Texas after ten years away, but only because he promised his best friend that he would be there for his wedding. He plans to stay for the bare minimum of time required before leaving again. But those plans become a little less urgent when he sees Kaia again. Kaia, who is his best friend's bratty little sister, is all grown up and very intriguing.

I loved both Ridge and Kaia. Ridge tugged at my heart from the beginning, when his mother left him on his father's doorstep at the age of three. His father was a cold, hard man and his wife was even worse. Ridge never felt loved, or even wanted by his father, no matter what he did to try to win his approval. Ridge left home after college when he arrived at his new house to find his girlfriend in bed with his father. He has spent his time since then working nonstop, determined to become richer and more important than his old man. He has succeeded in that ambition, but he is also alone. He doesn't trust easily, and he never allows himself to get emotionally involved with anyone. He is stunned by his reaction to seeing Kaia again, and not quite sure how to deal with it.

Kaia is six years younger than Ridge and as a child used to tag along behind her brother Archer and Ridge. Ridge used to call her "Braterminator" because she was such a pest. She didn't care because she was never happier than when she was with them, and as she got older, she developed quite the crush on him. When he left, she was devastated and buried herself in her studies and her work. Then she was involved in an accident that nearly killed her and made the decision to embrace life. Now she looks on the brighter side of things and does what makes her happy. She believes that she has gotten over her feelings for Ridge until she sees him again.

I loved the development of their relationship. The sparks fly hot and hard from the start, though both try to resist at first. After all, he's only going to be in town for three days, and she doesn't want the heartbreak. And she's his best friend's little sister, definitely a no-no. But they've also been friends for a long time. When Ridge is injured, Kaia is the one who takes care of him, and their connection is reestablished. I loved the banter between them, as Kaia stands up to his attempts to resist her treatment. It doesn't take too long for them to give in to the heat between them. It is much more intense than either of them expects, and Ridge especially doesn't quite know how to deal with it. Kaia is very familiar with the reasons he left Cupid and feels that he has allowed those reasons far too much influence over his life. I loved watching her try to teach him how to let go and live a little.

Ridge really struggles with his feelings toward his father. Their relationship is strained at best and antagonistic at worst. Their confrontations are intense and painful. But when Duke has a heart attack, Ridge steps up to do what needs to be done. He learns some unexpected things about himself, but stubborn resistance keeps him from believing that there is anything lasting possible between Kaia and himself. Kaia accepts her feelings for Ridge much more quickly but has her family's traditional indicator to fall back on to convince her. The "Song of the Soul Mate" is something she didn't believe in until it happened to her. I ached for Kaia as Ridge pushed her away when she opened up about her feelings. I loved her courage in standing up for herself and telling Ridge her expectations. It takes Ridge a little longer, but when he finally sees the truth, he is all in. I loved his big moment at the end and the vulnerability that is evident under the confidence. I loved the actions he took that showed what a changed man he was.

I also liked seeing the importance of family. Kaia's is obviously strong and supportive. I loved her sisters. Their teasing was fantastic, but they are also there when someone needs help. I would love to see each of them get their own story. Ridge's family was quite interesting. No matter what he did, Ridge always felt that he was an outsider. We didn't see much of his brothers, but the feeling was always that they were in Ridge's corner. His relationship with his father and stepmother/ex was definitely complicated and it was interesting to see how it worked out.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Stranded with the Secret Billionaire - Marion Lennox (HR #4563 - Apr 2017)

Rescued by a brooding stranger…

Jilted heiress Penny Hindmarsh-Firth sets her broken heart on escaping high-society city life. Instead, she's trapped by floods in the Outback and a handsome stranger on horseback comes to her rescue!

After a betrayal shattered his life, Matt Fraser withdrew from the world -- but he can't deny Penny a refuge. The secret billionaire is reluctantly intrigued as the society princess starts proving there's more to her than meets the eye…

Fantastic book. Penny is on the way to a new job in the Outback, escaping the heartbreak and notoriety of her broken engagement when she gets stranded by rising floodwaters. She's rescued by Matt, a sheep farmer out checking his land. He sees a blond woman with a pink car and a poodle, stuck in the stream and immediately writes her off as a ditz, but can't just leave her there. He reluctantly invites her to stay with him until the flood waters recede.

I loved their first meeting. Penny is trying to remember that she is a strong woman who doesn't need a man in her life ("I am woman. Hear me roar."), but reluctantly admits that she needs help getting out of her present predicament. Matt's mind is on the fact that he has twenty shearers ready to start work and the cook he's hired is on the wrong side of the flood. He's brusque but amused at Penny's bravado and figures he can handle a couple of weeks of company. After all, he'll be busy with the shearers and won't see much of her. When she offers to help with the cooking, he doesn't expect much from a society princess, but he'll take what he can get.

That first day was a real eye opener for Penny. Her initial offering was pitifully inadequate, and Matt's reaction was a blow to her feelings. But it was also a boot to her pride, and a challenge she couldn't resist. I loved seeing her go from slightly cowed to Iron Chef in a heartbeat. Her no nonsense instructions to Matt and the speed with which she was able to improvise was amazing. By the end of the day, Matt realized just how much he had underestimated Penny.

I loved seeing the development of their relationship. Over the next ten days, they got to know each other pretty well and formed a solid friendship. Though their days were busy, in the evenings they talked. I loved how Penny was able to share what her life had been like, the good and the bad, and begin to overcome the humiliation she had felt. Matt was more closed off at the beginning. His difficult childhood and then the disintegration of his marriage had destroyed his trust in people. I liked how Penny's willingness to share her story helped him to open up about his. By the end of the shearing time, each of them has realized that there is something more growing between them. I liked how Matt asks Penny to stay longer, using the excuse of needing help to get the house ready for a possible visit from his daughter. The attraction that has been building between them comes to the surface, and they agree to see where it takes them. But when Matt learns that his daughter will be visiting much sooner than expected, both his and Penny's fears return. Penny leaves to go back to Sydney, feeling rejected all over again.

Penny's return isn't all bad. Her time with Matt has given her the confidence to stand up to her father. I loved seeing her take this time to pursue her own dreams. She misses Matt and still hurts over the way they parted. She is in for a surprise when Matt arrives at her home in time for the dreaded family dinner. This scene is so emotional, as Penny fights her desire to lean on him and accept his help, yet has trouble trusting that he doesn't have some motive of his own. His patience and kindness, along with a bit of amusing deception were a joy to witness. He continued his gentle assault on Penny's fears the next day, as he also requests her help with his daughter Lily. But the real icing on the cake was when he and Lily arrived to take Penny and her mother to the wedding. I loved how perfect they all were together and the effect it had on Penny. Matt wasn't finished, though, and I loved the plans he had made with Lily's help and collusion. His big moment there was sweet and romantic exactly what Penny needed to push her over the edge of her fears. There was a final perfect moment on the last few pages that cemented how right they were for each other.

I loved the author's descriptions of life on the sheep farm. I could almost hear the sheep bleating and smell the atmosphere around the sheds. The rigors of shearing and the effort it takes day after day made a vivid picture. I also loved the amazing beauty and peace of the waterfall and pool, which reminded me of places I had visited in Hawaii. It has intensified my desire to visit Australia someday.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Bride, a Barn, and a Baby - Nancy Robards Thompson (HSE #2560 - July 2017)

Series: Celebration TX (Book 2)

And the prince wore spurs

A bourbon-tinged evening turns into a night of spur-jangling passion. And wrapped in the arms of hunky cowboy Zane Phillips, Lucy Campbell feels like her dreams have come true all at once! But she knows Zane needs a chance to let their move from friends to lovers sink in. That is, until reality knocks…and Lucy discovers she's pregnant.

This wasn't how Zane imagined daddyhood would happen. And with pretty Lucy…his best friend's little sister! He wants to do right by her and the baby, but Lucy wants the fairy tale, not a marriage of obligation. And while this simple cowboy isn't sure he can measure up as her Prince Charming, the real magic is that he's had her heart all along…

Emotional friends to lovers story. Lucy and Zane have been friends for most of their lives, and Lucy has been in love with him for almost that long. But Zane doesn't see her that way - after all, she's his best friend's little sister. When Zane's mother dies, Lucy shows up one evening with Chinese food and old movies, hoping to give him a little respite from his grief. With a little too much bourbon blurring the lines, comfort turns to a passion filled night together. Lucy thinks that Zane has finally seen how they belong together until he gives her the "just friends" talk. Then Lucy discovers she's pregnant.

I loved Lucy. She has finally gotten her life just where she wants it. In the previous book, The Cowboy's Runaway Bride, we see her pursuing her dream of turning an old barn into a wedding venue. Her business has taken off, and life is just about perfect. She loves her life in Celebration, where she realizes that she has belonged all along. I loved her upbeat attitude and way of looking for the best in things. She tends to have a fairly romantic view of life, which goes well with her chosen profession. She's loyal to those she cares about and wants what is best for them.

I loved Zane too, though he also frustrated me at times. He and his brother were raised by their mom after their father abandoned them to marry another woman. Seeing what his mother went through soured him on the idea of love, which he believes is just short-lived passion wrapped up in flowery words. I ached for him and his feeling of being adrift after his mother's death. He's ready to leave Celebration behind and start a new life. Lucy's news stuns him, but he's ready to step up and do the right thing. She stuns him again when she turns him down and tells him just why she has no desire for a marriage of obligation.

One of the things I loved most about this book is that Lucy and Zane are completely open and honest about their feelings. She knows that marrying without love would be a huge mistake for her. The last thing she wants is for Zane to feel that she trapped him, especially if he were to fall in love with someone else later on. Zane doesn't believe in love, but he does believe that the genuine liking and respect that he and Lucy feel for each other would be enough to build a life together.

The progress of the relationship was a very emotional one. I ached for Lucy as she gave up her dream of happy ever after with Zane for the reality of sharing the raising of their child. I loved that she was willing to visit the job site in Florida with him, even though she was pretty sure that she would not be going with him. I hurt for Zane, who was trying to reconcile his feelings with his beliefs about love. It was obvious that he cares for Lucy; the way he listens to her about the nursery and gets the paint for it is his way of showing it, even though he can't say the words. Watching Lucy send Zane off to his new job without her had me in tears as I wondered how they were ever going to find their way together. Their happy ever after came thanks to a surprising twist, and I loved Zane's big moment at the end. The man who hadn't believed in love turned out to be an even bigger romantic than Lucy.

I enjoyed seeing more of Ethan and Chelsea. Their wedding was everything I expected it to be with Lucy and Juliette in charge of it. I loved seeing the realism of the relationship between Ethan and Lucy, where he still has to fight treating her like the flighty girl she used to be. I loved seeing her stand up to him when he did so, and that he was man enough to admit his mistake. It was also fun to see Ethan and Zane deal with the effect Lucy's pregnancy has on their friendship. There are also hints of a relationship for Lucy's other brother, Jude, and her friend Juliette.

Sea Glass Sunrise - Donna Kauffman (Zebra - June 2015)

Series: Brides of Blueberry Cove (Book 1)

In seaside Blueberry Cove, Maine, friends are just another word for family, and big-city politics take a backseat to local pride. But the real treasure on these shores is always love…

When D.C. lawyer Hannah McCrae heads home for her brother’s wedding, she’s dragging a lot of baggage along with her -- and she doesn’t mean suitcases. Betrayed personally, and humiliated professionally, the last thing she wants is a new man. That’s fine with square-jawed, rugged contractor Calder Blue. He and Hannah may be wildly attracted to one another, but all he wants is to build the town’s hotly contested new yacht club and mend a centuries-old family feud. Yet thanks to resentments old and new, day after day the pair wind up tangled in each other’s business -- and maybe soon in each other’s arms.

Every bride needs something “blue”…

Fun start to the new series. Hannah is on her way home for her brother Logan's wedding (Pelican Point). Her family doesn't know that she's coming home to stay after a relationship gone wrong that also wrecked her career, and she hopes to keep it that way until after the wedding. The last thing she expects is to be involved in a car accident and rescued by a hot visitor to the town, putting her "no men" resolution at risk.

Calder Blue is a contractor who has been offered the job of building the new yacht club. He has come to Blueberry Cove to scope out the job, but also to see if he can end a long-standing family feud. Getting involved with a local woman is not on his list of things to do.

The book starts with a bang and doesn't really let up. Hannah is driving through town, thinking about the mess her life is in when she nearly hits another vehicle. Though she misses it, she ends up crashing into a sign hard enough that her airbag deploys, dazing her. I loved this first encounter between Hannah and Calder, as each makes assumptions about the other. I enjoyed their banter as each tries to deal with the situation in their own way. There are also some definite sparks between them which they try to ignore. Over the next twenty-four hours, they run into each other several times, each time in increasingly amusing situations.

Hannah and Calder are both terrific. The disaster back in DC has dented Hannah's confidence in herself, but being back home gives her the chance to rediscover who she really is. I loved seeing her reconnect with her family members and friends and soak up the atmosphere that nourishes her soul. She is intelligent with an awesome sense of humor that really comes out when she's with Calder. Calder is laid back, confident, and charming. He's been burned once and wary of getting involved again. His sense of humor is right up there with Hannah's, and some of their conversations are downright hilarious.

I loved the development of their relationship. The sparks between them are intense each time they encounter each other. I loved how quickly they connected and how easy it was for them to confide in each other. I liked the way that Calder's interest in her helped Hannah get past her treatment by her ex. I also loved how Calder was able to tell Hannah about his suspicions over the yacht club project and her willingness to help him figure out what was going on. The attraction continued to build, and the kisses became even more incendiary. But it wasn't just the physical connection that was growing. Both Calder and Hannah found themselves thinking of each other as far more, and it freaked them each out a little bit. Neither was sure that they could trust something that was moving that fast. However, they hit a bit of a road bump when the yacht club issue escalates, then Calder's father is taken ill, sending him back to his hometown. There's a period of self-doubt that made me want to reach into the book and shake them. Hannah comes to her senses first, and I loved her big moment as she takes a chance on the future she wants. Calder's vulnerabilities show also, but he comes through like a champ.

The underlying mystery of the book was good. One of the residents, Winstock, has plans to build a fancy yacht club and most of the town doesn't want it. The man has been pretty ruthless in his methods of getting it done. Calder is suspicious of why the man wants him as the contractor, especially considering the family feud going on with another of the waterfront owners. Concerns mount when Winstock keeps delaying his meetings with Calder, then an explosion on the docks throws suspicion on Calder. The mood is lightened a little bit as Hannah gets involved in defending Calder to her brother, the police chief. Calder's and Hannah's investigations raise more questions than answers until one piece of information suddenly makes all clear. But it may not be soon enough, as a situation arises that puts a little girl's life at risk. Calder reaches hero status with his actions in a tense confrontation. The revelation of the culprit was a bit of a surprise, as it was not who I thought it was.

I loved the closeness of the McCrae family. Hannah, Fiona, and Kerry each have their own distinct personalities, but their love for each other and Logan is obvious. I loved the stories that they told about each other. I also loved how they had each other's backs at all times. Fiona's appearance at Hannah's accident was heartwarming and hilarious. The events leading up to the wedding, instigated and planned by Fiona were a riot to see. I loved Hannah's protectiveness in keeping her problems to herself until after the wedding so that she didn't ruin the happiness of it. Fiona sometimes seems manic in her actions, until it comes out that she's going through some issues of her own. Kerry just seems wild most of the time, but I have the feeling that she's hiding some issues of her own. I am looking forward to reading their stories.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Say Yes to the Cowboy - Vicki Lewis Thompson (HSE #2559 - July 2017)

Series: Thunder Mountain Brotherhood (Book 10)

From lone wolf to family man

When trick roper Zeke Rafferty sees Tess Irwin standing on his front porch, memories of two unforgettable days -- and nights -- come flooding back. But when the pretty schoolteacher reveals that one plus one will soon equal three, Zeke is stunned. Then he remembers his manners. And asks Tess to marry him.

If you turn down a handsome cowboy's proposal, is it okay to still want to kiss him? Wait, no! Tess doesn't want a husband. Besides, she's holding out for love. A man has a right to know he fathered a child, but beyond that, Tess is raising this child alone. Zeke proved he can make a baby. But can he make the grade as a loving husband and dad?

Good book. Zeke is one of the many boys that was fostered at the Thunder Mountain Ranch. When he's injured during a rodeo, he returns there to recover, where he stays at his foster brother Matt's place. One day he arrives at his foster parents home for a meal to find a former weekend lover waiting for him with shocking news. She's pregnant, and the baby is his. Tess is an elementary school teacher who, at the time of their encounter, was recovering from her divorce. All she had wanted was a weekend of no-strings fun. She also knows she has to at least let Zeke know about the baby, even if he doesn't want to be involved.

I loved both Zeke and Tess, but I hurt for them also. Tess is the only child of very strict parents who weren't particularly loving. When she discovers that she's pregnant, she knows they won't be happy and that she won't be able to count on them for support. She wants this baby and will do everything she can to give him all the love she has in her, even if she has to do it alone. After all, Zeke had been clear on that weekend that he didn't do relationships and never planned to have kids. Zeke came to the ranch at the age of fourteen, older than most of the others when they had come. He had already experienced so much loss, with his mother abandoning him and his father and then his father committing suicide. He has built high walls around his heart, protecting himself from any more loss and pain. He has even kept himself a little apart from his foster family, never quite allowing himself to call them family.

Tess arrived at the ranch ready to tell Zeke about the baby and absolve him of all responsibility. She doesn't want a man who would treat her or the baby as an obligation. Instead, she discovered that, once he was over the shock, he very much wanted to be a hands on father. She isn't quite sure how to deal with the disruption of her plans, or with the intense attraction, she still feels for him. Zeke is stunned at the news, but once he has accepted it, he knows there's only one thing to do - ask Tess to marry him. He's shocked when she turns him down. He does convince her to stay a few days so that they can talk about arrangements.

I really enjoyed the development of their relationship. Both Tess and Zeke had assumptions to overcome, both about each other and themselves. Zeke has always kept himself apart and suddenly finds himself letting people in. I loved seeing him with little Sophie, who had wriggled her way into his heart without him realizing it. Tess had made assumptions about Zeke based on his lifestyle and the things he had said, and now sees an entirely different side of him. I liked how the two of them were able to sit down and discuss issues without too much drama. One of my favorite scenes was the two of them talking about baby names and trying to decide what they liked. Something else they had to deal with was the undeniable attraction that they felt for each other. When they were together, it seemed like anything was possible, but complete trust is still hard to come by.

I loved Zeke's all-in decision about being a father. His panic over some of the things he read in the baby book was pretty amusing. It was great to see the no nonsense way his foster mother helped straighten him out. He was a bit slower on the uptake about his feelings for Tess, having to get past his fears before he could see the truth. I got a little frustrated with Tess and her stubborn adherence to her plans. The way Zeke's family accepted her should have made things so simple, but her own fears held her back. I did understand why she kept turning down his proposals, but her behavior after the last one was rather reckless and put her in danger. I liked Zeke's lightning bolt realization of the truth and his big moment at the end was awesome.

This was the first Thunder Mountain Brotherhood book that I have read, but it won't be the last. I will have to go back and read the earlier books. I loved Rosie and Herb and the obvious love that they have for all their boys. I especially loved Rosie's non-judgmental ways of helping them see where they go wrong. The support that all the brothers show for their parents and each other is heartwarming. I especially loved the part where Damon talks to Zeke about the Brotherhood, which blew a pretty big hole in the walls around Zeke's heart. I can't wait to see what's ahead for the next brother, Austin.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Get a Clue - Jill Shalvis (Kensington - May 2015)

And you think you've had a bad day?

City girl Breanne Mooreland gets left at the altar, takes the flight from hell to her honeymoon--alone--loses her luggage, and ends up snowed in at a Sierra mountains lodge run by the kookiest staff this side of the Addams Family. Oh, and there's a gorgeous naked man taking a shower in her suite who says he isn't going anywhere. That's just the first 24 hours...

Burned-out vice cop Cooper Scott is in serious need of this vacation, and he's not about to give up the only available room because an upset--okay, make that insane--woman is having a conniption fit. They'll just have to make the best of it--her side of the bed versus his. But when Cooper wakes up kissing the long, leggy Breanne, he wants to show her exactly what the honeymoon suite is intended for. But that will have to wait, because a screaming Breanne has just stumbled on a very dead body. So much for vacation...

Fun book. Breanne has had a really bad day. She got left at the altar for the third time and decided her only option was to escape by going on her pre-paid honeymoon alone. A turbulent flight with unpleasant seatmates and lost luggage just adds to the stress. She arrives at her destination in the midst of the blizzard of the century to discover that there is a sexy man taking a shower in her room and claiming that it's his room.

Cooper is a vice cop who has reached the end of his rope. His plan for this vacation is to eat, sleep, and maybe find a couple of snow bunnies to spend some time with. The last thing he needs is a crazy woman claiming the room is hers. But he's willing to share the room...

I loved the first meeting between Breanne and Cooper. Him all wet and soapy in the shower, giving Breanne quite an eyeful, and her wielding the only weapon she could find - a bright pink, glow in the dark vibrator. There are sparks between them right away, but both are determined to resist. Cooper is not relationship material. He feels that his job and the effect it has on him is death to anything lasting. Breanne has sworn off men after her latest disaster. But while the minds are saying no, the bodies and hearts have different ideas. A platonic sharing of the bed turns into a hot make-out session before either is really awake, setting the scene for what's to come.

Things go from bad to worse when Breanne discovers a dead body. The weather being what it is, the murderer has to be someone currently in the house. But who? Shelly, the sweet and petite cook? Or Dante, the butler who looks like a street thug? Maybe Lariana, the knockout maid or Patrick, the inept handyman? The storm knocks out the power, and as Breanne and Cooper look for clues, things just don't seem to add up.

I liked Breanne and Cooper, though I will admit that Breanne had her truly flaky moments. One moment she seemed to be holding up well, and the next she was panicking in the dark. Her attraction to Cooper was strong, but she was really stubborn about her no new men rule. Her internal conversations were pretty funny as she would remind herself to stay away from him, even when she was in his arms. Cooper was pretty terrific. His burn out was real, but when the body was found, his inner cop stepped up. I loved his determination to protect Breanne, even when she was driving him nuts. I liked the development of their relationship. Cooper accepted what was happening much faster than Breanne did. He wanted to see where it would lead and sometimes got frustrated by Breanne's pulling away. Breanne is freaked out by the way Cooper makes her feel. She isn't sure how to deal with it, so she tries pushing him away by claiming what they have is just sex. I liked how Cooper finally confronted her about it and told her how he felt. Her epiphany takes a little longer but is quite satisfying when it comes.

The mystery of the dead body is both simple and complex. Each of the staff members has both means and motive, but none of them really seem the type to commit murder. There are some pretty funny moments as both Breanne and Cooper look for clues and get caught in some awkward situations. The resolution came with an unexpected twist that was heartwarming and heartwrenching at the same time. 

Lone Star Baby Scandal - Lauren Canan (HD #2528 - July 2017)

Series: Texas Cattleman's Club: Blackmail (Book 7)

One night changes everything…

It's bad enough that straitlaced Sophie Prescott fell for her boss Clay Everett's charms the night of Royal's masked ball -- now she's pregnant with his baby! Too bad the former rodeo star turned billionaire entrepreneur's emotional defenses are impenetrable and Sophie doesn't stand a chance of breaking through. So where does that leave her? And with a blackmailer hounding the town's A-list, is their secret the next to be revealed? Or is an even bigger surprise in store -- that maybe, just maybe, Sophie has discovered the chink in Clay's armor…?

Good entry in the Blackmail series. Sophie has been the secretary/personal assistant for Clay for more than five years, since before the accident that wrecked his rodeo career and has had a crush on him the entire time. The story opens at the TCC masquerade ball, where Clay convinces Sophie to dance with him. The sparks between them are incendiary, and Sophie finds herself in his arms and in his bed that night. But she also knows that nothing can come of it, and to try to protect her heart she refuses to give in again.

Both Clay and Sophie have things from their pasts that have made them wary of relationships. Sophie was involved in an incident as a teen that resulted in the death of a man, and she has never forgiven herself. She wants a husband and family, but she's not so sure that she deserves it. Clay was engaged to a woman who dumped him after his accident, making him believe that he's not cut out for relationships. Instead, he devotes himself to his business, with the occasional no-strings encounter.

I enjoyed the development of their relationship. They have been friends since he hired her. When he had his accident, she was the one who stood by him, alternately encouraging him and bullying him into working toward his recovery. What she doesn't know is that he's been attracted to her also. When they give in to the attraction the night of the ball, Sophie is determined not to give in again, and Clay is equally determined to get her back in his bed. That determination succeeds occasionally, but Sophie always puts her walls back up. When she discovers that she is pregnant, she doesn't know what to do. She knows she has to tell him, but he's made it clear he isn't the settling down type. She doesn't want an offer of marriage from obligation. Clay is drawn to Sophie in ways he hasn't been to any other woman. He's a little freaked out by the depth of his need for her. I really liked how their feelings showed in their support of each other. Not only was Sophie there for Clay during his recovery, but she is also right there with him during his business troubles, and not just because it's part of her job. I loved her sensitivity to his moods and how she tried to make things better for him. I also liked how Clay tried not to push too hard when Sophie would withdraw from him, even though he wanted to. I also liked what he did for her father, without telling her about it. Though they hit a rough patch when Sophie finally tells him about the baby, Clay does see the light and go after her. She just needs to get over the hurdle of her past to believe that she can have the future she wants. I liked his big moment at the end, as he is finally able to lower his own walls and take a risk on telling her how he feels.

At the same time this is going on, someone is doing his best to destroy Clay's business. Rumors have been spreading that his company has had major data breaches and customers are leaving. I loved seeing Clay and Sophie working together to do damage control. Clay's efforts reveal that someone named "Maverick" is behind the troubles, the same name that has been causing problems for other residents of Royal. Clay's frustration is obvious as is his determination to find out who it is. I liked how he got the other business owners together to compare notes and the support that they offered him. I am more and more curious about who this Maverick person is and what his problem is.

The only issue I had with the book was that the editor/proofreader did a terrible job. Sometimes the hero's name was Clay, sometimes it was Cole, which could be very confusing and would pull me out of the story. There were also several instances of the wrong word being used, which would do the same thing. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Talk Cowboy to Me - Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Mar 2017)

Series: Lucky Cowboys (Book 1)

One cowboy. One cowgirl. One ranch.
Who will win the Double Deuce by the Fourth of July?

Adele O'Donnell knew that Double Deuce Ranch had to be hers the second she walked onto the property. Freshly divorced, she sees it as the perfect spot for her and the kids to start a new life. Remington Luckadeau was always a carefree playboy...until his suddenly orphaned nephews became his responsibility. The Double Deuce Ranch would be the perfect place to raise two boys. But some fiery woman is fighting him for it, and Remington is not sharing-no matter how the sparks fly when he and Adele are together.

Very good book. It is a ranching Brady Bunch kind of story. Adele is a single mother of two girls, Jett and Bella. They were dumped by her ex-husband for his mistress. He has cut all contact with them, including selling the ranch they live on out from under them. She wants a place of their own where they can put down roots and move on with their lives. Remy is now the single father to his two nephews. He was the ultimate player until six months ago when his brother died, and he became responsible for the boys. He wants his own ranch, where he can give them the kind of upbringing he had. The owner of the ranch can't decide between the two, so he has them move to the ranch to care for it while he is gone for a month. When he comes back, he will decide who gets it.

This was a fun story from the very first page. Both Adele and Remy are determined to win the contest, as are their kids. The adults have the added complication of an intense attraction between them. Adele is wary of getting involved with Remy, whose reputation as a player is well known. Besides, she isn't ready for a new relationship since she's still dealing with the fallout from her marriage. Remy is equally wary. He's never seen himself as the settling down type. Now that he has the boys, his attention is all for them. Plus, there aren't too many women around who are willing to take on someone else's kids.

The competition and its progress were great. It starts out very antagonistic, with both sides determined to beat the other. The kids are especially competitive. Jett and Bella have lived on a ranch most of their lives and are well accustomed to everything that must be done, and they have no trouble rubbing that in. Nick and Leo are city boys but determined to learn what they have to in order to win. Though Remy and Adele start out intending to divide the work, it isn't long before they realize it makes more sense to cooperate. There are some terrific scenes of various types of ranch work and how it gets handled. I loved seeing the kids go from adversaries to friends to sibling-like behavior.

I loved the development of the relationship between Adele and Remy. Remy realizes right from the start that he's in trouble. He's attracted to Adele and knows that could be quite a distraction. Plus, he's trying to put his player reputation behind him and be a good example for the boys. Adele also knows that she has a battle on her hands. Remy is just the type of man she's attracted to, but she's been burned once and doesn't want to go there again. It doesn't take them long to move from adversaries to friends. I loved their growing respect for each other and their abilities. It's obvious that they are falling for each other, but each continues to fight it. Remy doesn't think he's good enough for her, and Adele is certain that he'd rather be with anyone but a tall, red-headed rancher. It was also really sweet to see how each of them fell for the other's kids and felt guilty that winning would wreck their dreams. Of course, the solution is obvious, but it takes them a while to see it. It's difficult for each of them to overcome their fears, but eventually, they can see and admit their feelings for each other. I loved the ending and the surprise they had for their families on the Fourth of July.

One of the things I liked most about the book is that the relationship developed without any over-the-top drama. They have a few instances of disagreements, but they can talk honestly and deal with whatever the issue was. I also liked how they used some of their own actions as teaching moments for the kids.

I loved the kids as secondary characters. Each of them has their own personality and place in the story. Of the four, Jett was my favorite. She was feisty and fun. She had quite the mouth on her, and it was fun to see her rile up the boys. She was also kind hearted, and I loved her quick connection with Dahlia. That was a brief piece of the storyline, but a very emotional one.

I also loved seeing various members of the Luckadeau and O'Donnell families from previous books. It's always a good time when the families are together. It was especially fun to see the unsolicited advice and comments that Remy and Adele were on the receiving end of.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Angel Wore Fangs - Sandra Hill (Avon - June 2016)

Series: Deadly Angels (Book 7)

A Viking vangel’s otherworldly mission pairs him with a beautiful chef who whets his thousand-year-old appetite . . .

Once guilty of the deadly sin of gluttony, thousand-year-old Viking vampire angel Cnut Sigurdsson is now a lean, mean, vampire-devil fighting machine. His new side-job? No biggie: just ridding the world of a threat called ISIS while keeping the evil Lucipires (demon vampires) at bay. So when chef Andrea Stewart hires him to rescue her sister from a cult recruiting terrorists at a Montana dude ranch, vangel turns cowboy. Yeehaw!

The too-tempting mortal insists on accompanying him, surprising Cnut with her bravery at every turn. But with terrorists stalking the ranch in demonoid form, Cnut teletransports Andrea and himself out of danger -- accidentally into the tenth-century Norselands. Suddenly, they have to find their way back to the future to save her family and the world . . . and to satisfy their insatiable attraction.

Good book. Cnut is the last of the brothers to have his story told. Each of the brothers was guilty of embodying one of the seven deadly sins. Cnut's was gluttony. The story starts in 850 AD, with Cnut showing just how far he has fallen. He weighs more than 400 pounds, constantly eats even though his lands are suffering a famine and his people are starving to death. He also overindulges in drink, sex, gathering wealth, anything that can be done to excess. Then the Archangel Michael shows up to let Cnut know just how much trouble he is in, but also giving him a chance for redemption. All it takes is becoming a vampire angel in God's fight against evil. Though he might have wanted to reconsider after Michael's first decree is "you're going on a diet."

A thousand years later, Cnut is a lean, mean fighting machine who has been tagged with defeating ISIS and the Lucipires that egg them on. He just isn't sure how to start, until a woman arrives at his security agency, looking for help getting her sister away from a Montana cult that is recruiting for those same terrorists. Andrea is a pastry chef who has spent her entire life watching out for her beautiful but flaky younger sister. However, this escapade is the worst she's had to deal with, and she's grateful for the help of the sinfully sexy man. Not so grateful, though, that she's willing to stay behind.

There are sparks between Cnut and Andrea from the moment they met, sparks that neither wants to admit to. Those sparks lead Cnut to take Andrea with him to Montana, even though he's sure that it's a bad idea. I loved Andrea's determination and refusal to back down, even though she knows she's out of her depth. Their trip to Montana was pretty funny, with her nerves making her chatter and getting on Cnut's nerves. His forebodings are borne out when they arrive to find the place apparently deserted except for some puddles of slime - until he spots hordes of lucipires converging on the lodge. The only way to escape is to teletransport out of there, but something goes wrong, and they end up back in Cnut's homeplace and time.

I really enjoyed this part of the book, as Cnut is forced to face his past and poor example of a man he had been. Unable to contact his brothers or Michael, he realizes that maybe he is meant to make amends for the sins of his past. I ached for him because even though he is so different in looks and behavior now, he still sees himself as the fat glutton and selfish bastard that he used to be. Andrea has her own self-esteem issues after years of comparing herself to her beautiful and vivacious younger sister. Both of them have some interesting and amusing inner dialogs wondering what the other sees in them. I liked the way that they grew closer as they worked together, and understood each other's fears. The heat that grows between them is explosive and when they finally give in their connection is undeniable. I loved seeing the trust that makes it happen.

I loved the way that Andrea took her arrival in the past in stride, once she got over the shock. She's determined to help Cnut save his people from starvation, and I enjoyed seeing her team up with the castle cook to do it. There are some terrific cooking scenes -- soup! turnips! -- and I loved the use of menus at the beginning of some of the chapters. There are also some really funny insertions of modern life into Viking times, such as "Save a longship - Ride a Viking!" and teaching Viking women about birth control.

It's not all fun times though, as Cnut discovers that there are lucipires lurking in the woods around his home. Though easily dealing with those he finds, there's more to come. A woman from his past unexpectedly appears, bringing trouble with her. It was interesting to see him try to deal with her when all he wants is to be with Andrea. It doesn't help things that the woman and her traveling companions all carry the scent of rancid lemons, a sure sign that the lucipires have struck. This is confirmed by the unexpected arrival of Zebulon who has been given direct orders by Jasper regarding Cnut. There's a great deal of angst as Cnut tries to do the right thing as he sees it and still protect Andrea. I ached for him as things don't go the way he expected and the guilt tears at him. I had a hard time liking Michael at this point. Though things ended well for the vangels, poor Zeb is left to face the music. I can't wait to read his book, as he surely deserves to have his own happy ending.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Even Vampires Get the Blues - Sandra Hill (Avon - Aug 2015)

Series: Deadly Angels (Book 6)

A Viking vangel's otherworldly mission teams him with a Navy SEAL who's more than his match -- she's his predestined mate . . .

The fact that vampire angel Harek Sigurdsson was a Norseman in his mortal life doesn't make thawing out after exile in Siberia any easier. But things heat up when his search for evil Lucipires connects him with Camille Dumaine, a human who thrums with sensual energy that can mean only one thing: she's the mate Harek's been seeking for centuries . . .

The SEALs call her "Camo" for her ability to blend into a crowd -- yet Harek's intense blue gaze singles Camille out like a white-hot spotlight. The security wiz was hired to help bring down a ruthless band of international kidnappers, but Camille senses an unspoken agenda -- besides Harek's bold declaration that she's his "destiny." Just Camille's luck that the sexiest man she's ever met may also be . . . a vampire!

 A fun addition to the series. It opens with Harek in his own time of 850 AD. One of seven Viking brothers, Harek is the merchant of the family, whose greatest pleasure is accumulating wealth in any way that he can. It doesn't matter how much he has, it is never enough. He has just dipped his toes in the business of buying and selling people when he gets a visit from Archangel Michael who lets him know that he's finally crossed the line. All is not lost when he is given the option of repenting and going to work for Michael as a Viking vampire angel, or vangel.

I liked Harek. He's super-smart, confident, with a bit of rebel that remains a part of him. He has adapted pretty well to modern day and is quite the wiz with computers. He still likes the better things in life, which regularly gets him into trouble with Michael, and banished to Siberia while he contemplates his mistakes. He is called out of his banishment when his talents are needed in a joint mission to stop terrorists and Lucipires (Satan's vampires) from kidnapping young girls into slavery. He is sent to work with a joint force, including a female SEAL named Camille.

Camille is a young woman from a prominent New Orleans family. She has chosen to take a different path than her parents and brother, who are highly regarded academics, instead devoting her life to her military career. She has made her place in the teams with her ability to go undercover. She's tough and scrappy on the outside but has a well-hidden center that would like to be loved.

The initial meeting between Harek and Camille doesn't go particularly well. He thinks she's unattractive and pushy, she thinks he's vain and over-moussed. But there is also an unexpected and unwanted zing of attraction that hits them both as soon as they shake hands. It's the kind of zing that tells Harek that Camille is his life-mate, something that completely freaks him out. It also messes with his mind, and he finds himself offering to go with her to her brother's wedding in New Orleans. It was great fun to see the two of them trying so hard to resist each other and failing miserably. The chemistry between them was explosive when they finally gave in to it. It's not an easy relationship, as Camille has a couple issues that could bring everything to a screeching halt. First, she has some trust issues thanks to a cheating ex-fiancé. Second, because of her heritage, she has some very strong opinions on slavery. Harek knows that if she finds out about his past it could mean trouble.

I really enjoyed the development of their relationship. Once they got past the first impressions stage, their chemistry took over. It was fun to see the push and pull as they got to know each other. I laughed out loud when Camille changed her clothes before they got to the rehearsal dinner and totally blew Harak's mind. Harek could be very charming when he wanted to be and he used that charm to get closer to Camille. When his past comes back to bite him, it takes all the charm and determination he can muster to get past her fury. Harek is still reluctant to fully commit to his feelings and it takes some forced contemplation and some unexpected interference from Michael for him to see the light.

The mission that brought the vangels and the SEALs together was taken right out of the headlines. Their job was to stop a band of terrorists from kidnapping a school full of young girls. These terrorists are aided and abetted by lucipires, which is what brings the vangels into the mission. Things get really intense when Camille goes undercover as one of the schoolgirls. The rescue scene had me on the edge of my seat as Harek went charging off to save Camille. I loved the battle scenes, both between the vangels and the lucipires and then the SEALs and the terrorists. I liked that they didn't have a fairytale ending, in that there were injuries and not a 100% success rate. In spite of the fantasy aspect of the book, it lent a note of realism.

I also enjoyed seeing characters from other books, not just the Deadly Angels series, but also the Viking series and Cajun series. Even Tante Lulu made an appearance and a prediction. I love the way that the seven brothers tease each other but are also there when one of them needs the support. I also enjoy the relationships with Michael. Though he frequently displays disappointment in them, I get the feeling that he really has quite a soft spot for them. I also suspect that he has had a hand in the finding of their mates. One of the most fascinating of the secondary characters is Zeb, the lucipire double agent. I am really looking forward to his story. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lady Pirate - Lynsay Sands (Leisure - Jan 2001)

OUT OF THE FRYING PAN
Circumstances had changed; they had gotten worse. Valoree no longer had to masquerade as her murdered brother and scourge the oceans as Captain Red. She no longer had to command his pirate band in a quest to regain his birthright. She had been named heir to Ainsley Castle. But no executor would ever hand over the estate to an unmarried pirate wench and her infamous crew--no matter to whom she'd been born. And the will had distinctly stated that in order to inherit, Valoree must be married to a nobleman . . . and pregnant.

INTO THE FIRE
Upon learning that, the virgin captain had been ready to return to the seas, but her crew had put it to a vote--and for those rascally cusses she would do anything. Reluctantly, she agreed. If they could find a way--Henry and One-Eye and Skully--to put on her a sweet face that would fool the ton, she would handle the rest. Even with a drunken prostitute as an "aunt" and her merry cutthroat crew as "servants." But to herself she swore one thing: she could only marry a man who fired her blood, a man who was not afraid of a .. .LADY PIRATE

After the deaths of her parents and guardian Valoree was raised aboard her brother's pirate ship. In order to protect her, she was disguised as a boy the entire time, with only one crew member knowing her secret. Her brother's plan was to acquire enough money to restore the estate he's inherited, then retire from the sea. He had promised his crew that they would have a place with him. Just as Jeremy had reached his goal, he was captured and tortured by another pirate, and the money stolen. Valoree took over as captain, determined to avenge her brother and to replace the riches and follow her brother's plan, all the while keeping her secret from the crew. That plan hits a bump in the road, however, when she discovers that to inherit, she must be married to a nobleman and either have a child or be pregnant by the time she's twenty-five years old - only nine months away. She's ready to give it up and return to the sea, but her crew convinces her to give it a try.

Daniel is in a similar predicament. He has inherited the title and the lands, but not the money needed to maintain them. Instead, his grandmother's will states that he must be married and have a child before he can claim the money she has left him. He's not happy about having his hand forced, and his mother's efforts to help are making his life miserable.

Daniel and Valoree meet briefly at the lawyer's office on the day they each find out about the wills' requirements. Daniel is intrigued by Valoree, who is unlike any woman he's ever met and ponders the idea of them joining forces to gain their inheritances. Valoree is determined to find a husband that she can control, retaining her independence. To do so, she must enter society and check out the prospects. There are some pretty funny scenes of the "help" she gets from her loyal but clueless crew members. Her entry into society does not go smoothly, and in each of her attempts, Daniel is there to rescue her. He becomes more intrigued each time and feels an unexpected attraction to her. Valoree also feels the pull but feels that Daniel would not be the compliant husband that she seeks. Her attempt to find said husband results in an influx of worthless fortune hunters and her "interview" process is pretty funny. Daniel has determined that he wants Valoree for his own and inserts himself into her life whenever he can. He also takes advantage of their attraction to press his point. Valoree still resists, until her crew takes it upon themselves to force the issue. The abductions are carried out, but a secret involving Daniel ends up putting them at odds. There are some interesting maneuverings as roles are reversed, and Valoree presses for the marriage and Daniel resists. Valoree's solution is unique but effective, and they end up tying the knot.

But not everything goes smoothly. Valoree's fears are realized when it seems that Daniel has taken over everything in her life. She is left with nothing to do and her resentment builds. It takes Daniel's mother's arrival to open his eyes to what he has been doing. I loved Valoree's reactions to the various instructors and Daniel's cluelessness. Daniel has finally realized that he is in love with her, and his actions were an attempt to take care of her. Unfortunately, Valoree saw them as an attempt to control her. I loved seeing him confess his feelings. Though he wanted to hear that she felt the same, I loved seeing the patience that he had as he waited for her to be able to see it. It took Valoree a while to realize why she was resisting admitting her feelings and I enjoyed the self-examination that had her finally facing the truth.

There was a little bit of suspense/mystery running through the book. There were several "accidents" that happened, putting Valoree's life in danger. The truth behind the attacks came as a surprise as it was not at all what I expected. The final confrontation was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed the punishment that was rendered.

The only thing left was the revenge on the pirate responsible for Jeremy's death. That was wrapped up pretty neatly by the end. It was fun seeing how the relationship between Valoree and Daniel drove their way of dealing with the threat.

As much as I liked Daniel and Valoree, I think I liked the secondary characters even more. Valoree's pirate crew were hilarious and heartwarming. I loved how much they obviously loved and respected her and the lengths they were willing to go to for her. From the pink livery to their "votes" on what was best for her, she was always their top priority.