Thursday, January 26, 2017

Take Me All the Way - Toni Blake (Avon - Nov 2015)

Series: Coral Cove (Book 3)

You can't go too far when you're fighting for love . . .

Tamra Day swore off men a long time ago. Her art, her friends, and her garden have always been enough . . . until now. Suddenly, Tamra is aching for a connection. Unfortunately, Coral Cove's most eligible bachelor is the troublemaker who's building the mini-golf course she's designing. Brusque and sarcastic, he's made a habit of annoying Tamra. But more infuriating is the fact that Tamra can't help noticing how sexy he is.

They call him a war hero, but Jeremy Sheridan knows better. Still haunted by painful memories from Afghanistan, he's just hoping for a fresh start. So far, the only problem is his new boss, Tamra, a control freak who's easy on the eyes -- and way too fun to tease.

Despite their differences, Tamra and Jeremy aren't as alone as they think they are. And together, with a little Coral Cove magic, they'll discover how good it feels to embrace a bright new future.

Good book. Both Jeremy and Tamra have had things happen to them that have caused them to put up walls to keep people out. But when their lives collide in little Coral Cove, they find those walls getting pretty shaky. Tamra is a familiar character from the previous books, All I Want is You and Love Me If You Dare. She is part of the artist community who sells her work on the boardwalk each day. She has her friends to hang out with, but she doesn't date. Jeremy was mentioned in a few of the Destiny, Ohio books, where he was known as being the local sports hero and heartthrob in high school. He joined the Marines and went to war, and came back a changed man. After spending time with his family in Destiny, he realized he needed a change and moved to Coral Cove.

Tamra has designed the town's new mini-golf course and has been put in charge of getting it built. After hiding out for a couple weeks, Jeremy realizes he needs to force himself out and about and finds himself hired to help build the course. In their first few encounters, Tamra and Jeremy butt heads frequently. She thinks he's rude and he thinks she's uptight. And though neither wants to admit it, they are really attracted to each other. It was great fun to see Jeremy purposely irritating Tamra, just to see how she'd react.

All that head butting also stirred up a lot of sparks between them. Their personal issues first had them trying to avoid each other, but they quickly realized that wasn't working. I loved the banter between them as they moved from cautious truce to friendship to something more. Thanks to her past, Tamra has trouble trusting men. Jeremy is suffering from PTSD, aggravated by his feelings of guilt over something that happened during the war. As their relationship develops, they slowly start to open up to each other. I loved the challenge that they gave each other because of it, and how the results of that challenge increased the sparks between them. When the heat finally took over, there were some incredible moments. It was plain to see that the feelings for each other were growing. But a moment of passion inspired honesty from Tamra sends Jeremy running. I ached for Tamra, who had finally opened herself up to trusting someone with her feelings. I loved how she handled it, and seeing her with her friends warmed my heart. At the same time I wanted to smack Jeremy upside the head for being so blind. It just took him a little longer to get past his issues, with the help of one of his Marine friends, and the unexpected input from Abner. I loved his honesty with Tamra at the end, showing that it wasn't an easy resolution but a work in progress.

There was also a secondary story with Tamra's friend Fletcher. He, too, has been present throughout the series. He is a tightrope walker who performs on the beach every evening. He took up residence in Coral Cove four years earlier, when his wife, Kim, took off, leaving only a note that everything would be ok. He has been insistent that she would come back, so he would wait for her in the last place they were together. His friends aren't so confident, and by the middle of the book he is starting to have doubts himself. A visitor to Coral Cove has him seriously thinking of moving on with his life, until Kim shows back up. It was interesting to see the differences that four years apart made. I ached for Fletcher and his confusion. I seriously wanted to give Kim several kicks in the tail for hurting him. I really wondered how their story was going to end up and if it would be the way I wanted it to.

Though I would love to see the series continue, my feeling from the epilogue is that this was it. I loved catching up with what everyone was doing, and seeing some of the changes that have come to Coral Cove.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fully Ignited - Shannon Stacey (Carina Press - Feb 2016)

Series: Boston Fire (Book 3)

When Jamie Rutherford takes a temporary assignment as lieutenant of Boston Fire's Engine 59, she doesn't anticipate any problems. She's been in the fire service for a long time and, even though she's fairly new to Boston, she knows how to make any firehouse her home. What she's not prepared for is her reaction to firefighter Scott Kincaid.

Scott is looking for a wife. It's been a fun ride as a single guy, but he's tired of being the third wheel, and nearly losing his brother-in-law finally made him realize just how much he wants a family of his own. When the new guy at the firehouse turns out to be a capable, confident and very attractive woman, his plan is completely derailed.

Hooking up with a fellow firefighter has never been part of Jamie's plan, but she's tempted by Scott -- even though getting involved with him could tarnish the reputation she's worked so hard for. And Scott can't stop thinking about Jamie, despite the fact that she's his superior and not sticking around. Chemistry can crush the best-laid plans, though, and while Jamie and Scott might not be each other's future…there's no resisting the right now.

Good book. Scott Kincaid is a sixth generation firefighter. He is young, good looking, and has quite a reputation as a ladies' man. He's also a really nice guy under that player exterior. Nearly losing his brother-in-law in a fire-related accident has him realizing that he wants more in his life. And discovering his last girlfriend was more interested in his benefits than in him showed him that he was dating the wrong women. So he has taken a break from dating until he figures out just what he wants. When the substitute lieutenant turns out to be a really sexy, confident woman, he's facing unexpected temptation.

Jamie has been a firefighter for quite a while. Some assignments have been easier than others, as far as fitting in with the other firefighters. She's happy to feel right at home with the crew at Engine 59. But her reaction to Scott is unexpected and not entirely welcome.

The chemistry between Scott and Jamie is hot from the start, but both do their best to ignore it. Scott knows that getting involved with his boss is a very bad idea. Plus, she'll only be around for a few weeks, so it isn't like she could be a permanent part of his life. For her part, Jamie has always been very careful not to get involved with fellow firefighters. It's hard enough being a woman in the profession without getting the reputation of sleeping with your coworkers. But an unexpected and smoking hot kiss has them rethinking their plans.

I really liked the way that they handled their relationship. Both are determined to keep their professional and personal lives separate, and they do a really good job of it. It isn't easy, but both are motivated. I loved seeing the easy camaraderie within their days at the firehouse. The respect they have for each other's abilities is obvious. They handle their personal time together with the same kind of respect. I loved seeing how much fun they had together. Though both went into the relationship expecting a simple, short-term affair, neither expected to have deeper feelings develop. And therein was the problem. As much as Scott respected Jamie's abilities, when it came to the idea of marriage, he had a hard time accepting that she had as much of a chance of being injured on the job as he did. On her side, there was no way that Jamie would give up the career she loved any more than she would ask him to give up his. When Scott allows his personal feelings to interfere during a fire, then compounds the problem with an ill-timed declaration, it looks like the end of their relationship. I hurt for them both as they had to face a future without each other. I loved Scott's big moment as he went to her and made his case.

I really enjoyed the two family relationships - the blood family of the Kincaids and the firefighter family. Scott is the youngest and has a close relationship with his sisters. There is realism in their treatment of each other, which has plenty of laughter but also some more tension filled times. I loved how Scott's sisters bonded with Jamie right away. The dress shopping scene was so much fun. The relationships among the firefighters were just as tight. The teasing was a riot, especially when some of it landed on Scott and his search for his "television wife". I liked how they respected Jamie, and also accepted her as one of them. They also had each other's backs, and not just during fires. I loved the way the whole crew reacted to the gossip they heard. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Girls of Mischief Bay - Susan Mallery (Mira - Feb 2015)

Series: Mischief Bay (Book 1)

Nicole Lord wants to be a good wife, but there's a difference between being supportive and supporting her husband, who quit his job to write a screenplay she's never seen. He won't even help take care of their son, leaving Nicole to run the house and work full-time.

Sacrificing a personal life for her career is how Shannon Rigg became VP at her firm, but she wonders now whether she made the right choice. An exciting new relationship with a great guy convinces her that it might not be too late -- until he drops a bombshell that has her questioning whether she really can have it all.

Although Pam Eiland adores her husband, she feels restless now that the kids are grown. Finding sexy new ways to surprise him brings the heat and humor back to their marriage, but when unexpected change turns her life upside down, she'll have to redefine herself. Again.

Through romance and heartbreak, laughter and tears, the girls of Mischief Bay will discover that life is richer with friends at your side.

Good story about love and friendship. Nicole, Shannon and Pam are all friends who met through Nicole's exercise business. Each one is at a different stage in life. Nicole is a thirty year old fitness instructor with a husband and a four year old son. Shannon is a single woman, forty years old, with a successful career. Pam is a fifty year old, stay at home mom, with a husband and three grown children. Each of them is about to experience some major changes in their lives and it's their friendship that helps them get through.

Nicole arrived home one day to find that her husband Eric had quit his job to devote himself to writing a screenplay. While he spends his time surfing, writing and going to meetings, she is left running her business, paying the bills, and taking care of their son and the house. I thought Eric was a selfish SOB, concentrating on what he wants and whining about her lack of support for his dreams when all she wanted was a little help from him. I understood her frustration. When the unbelievable happens, Eric changes even more, leaving her wondering what will happen to their marriage. I liked the realism of her life, from trying to figure out how to fit everything she needs to do into her day, to her reactions to her son's current obsession with a cartoon character. I ached for her when it seemed that all her efforts weren't enough for Eric.

Shannon has made her career the focus of her life, but now she's ready for something more. She has dated some, but each relationship crashes when the man can't handle the demands of her career. She meets a terrific new guy with whom she has a lot in common. Having a demanding career himself, he understands hers. I really liked Adam. He's a sensitive guy who owns up to the mistakes he made in his previous marriage and is determined not to make the same ones in his new relationship. Shannon is falling hard for him, and for his two kids, and starts dreaming of building a family with him. But not everything goes smoothly. First he drops a bombshell that puts a kink in her hopes for that family. Then, an issue arising from his daughter's birthday party puts additional strain on the relationship. Shannon worries that it's the end of her dreams. I admit that I really wanted to shake him and make him see that he was being manipulated by his kid, and I was definitely pleased when the truth came out and he realized what an ass he'd been.

Pam was the oldest of the group. She has a happy marriage and three great kids. But she's suddenly feeling her age and that things may have gotten a bit too comfortable and predictable in her marriage. She takes steps to liven things up. It was great fun to read about their weekend away and how it turned out to be something that neither expected. I loved seeing their happiness, which made what happened next even more of a shock. I ached for her as she tried to deal with the pain and sorrow. I was especially worried about her with some of the decisions she was making, and loved seeing her make some new friends. The last day of her cruise was especially emotional.

The entire story was full of both fun and deeply emotional moments. Each of the ladies was someone I could relate to in one way or another. All of them are going through struggles and discover that they are easier to deal with when you have good friends backing you up. And sometimes, helping your friends with their troubles can point out the way to get through your own.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tell Me Again - Michelle Major (Montlake - Oct 2016)

As a teenager, Samantha Carlton used a career in modeling to break free from her painful childhood walking away from her reckless twin sister, an alcoholic mother, and the boy she loved. Yet she never outran the guilt of abandoning her family. When the past shows up on her doorstep in the form of her late sister s daughter, Sam opens her home and her heart to the girl she never knew existed. But it's not so easy to face the man she left behind.

Sam had shattered Trevor Kincaid s heart, and he'd sought comfort in her sister s arms. But he'd pledged to shield his daughter, Grace, from the drama that followed the Carlton women. Now Grace has tracked down Sam, and Trevor is forced to deal with the one woman he wanted to forget.

History has a way of repeating itself, and the sparks between Sam and Trevor reignite an old flame. But as much as Sam wants a new future, is walking away again easier than risking her heart for a second chance at love?

Very good book, at times heartwrenchingly emotional and at others laugh out loud funny. It is a story of second chances, family and friendship, and learning how to trust again. Sam is a former model who used her chance at a modelling career to escape from a rough childhood. But along with the pain, she also left behind the boy she loved. Then one day her late sister's daughter tracks her down, a girl that Sam had no idea even existed. Sam desperately wants a chance to get to know Grace, but her father isn't so sure that's a good idea.

Trevor had loved Sam with all his boy's heart, but didn't go with her when she asked. Instead he turned to her sister for comfort, and ended up as a single dad when Bryce turned her back on them and resumed her wild ways. After her death he was determined to protect Grace from what the chaos around the Carlton women. But now that Grace has found Sam, he has to find a way to deal with it.

Their first encounter, when Trevor comes to get Grace from Sam's house, was really intense. Sam is rightfully hurt and angry at being kept in the dark about her niece's existence. She also discovers that the attraction she felt for Trevor is still there. As a father, Trevor is protective of his daughter, but also dealing with the feelings that seeing Sam again has raised. I ached for Sam as she realized how much of Grace's life she had already missed, and at the hurt she felt for the way she had been excluded. I loved seeing her stand up to Trevor and refuse to stay away from Grace.

Trevor finds he really has no choice about letting Grace get to know Sam, but he's determined to supervise it. He decides to do the renovation work at Sam's camp himself, while Grace spends time with Sam. This gives the attraction between he and Sam a chance to reignite, but Trevor also has to get past his preconceptions about what Sam's life has been like. I had some problems with Trevor's attitude, as he frequently threw Sam's past in her face, even though she has left that life behind. He would show some moment of sensitivity, then turn around and say something really hurtful.

I loved seeing the way that Sam had changed her life. After experiencing the highs and lows of a supermodel's life, she put it all behind her and started a camp for disadvantaged kids. She's putting her heart and soul into doing something good with the guilty feelings she has about her relationship with her sister. There's a heartbreaking scene dealing with one of the girls from her camp, and I cried right along with Sam. I loved the strength and compassion she showed during this section.

The relationship that grows between Sam and Trevor is one that does not run smoothly. Both of them have issues that must be overcome before they can have a future. Sam has trouble just believing that she deserves a chance to be happy. Trevor needs to learn to let go of his need to control everything that affects Grace, and also allow himself to have a life outside taking care of her. The memory of their former relationship is never far away and they find themselves falling back into that friendship pretty quickly. There are times that they are easy and comfortable with each other, as though nothing had ever come between them. Trevor can see the woman that Sam has become, likes her and is attracted to her. That Trevor is the one who sees Sam's distress and goes with her to a teen's funeral and is there to support her. There are other times that something sets off Trevor's fears and he strikes at Sam with hurtful words about her past. He usually knows he is being a jerk, but does it anyway. He's always sorry afterwards, but honestly, I want to smack him when it happens. The feelings between them deepen, and Sam is ready to tell him how she feels when a crisis involving Grace occurs. Trevor's reaction is protective of Grace, but vicious toward Sam and I hurt for her. Her devastation is exceeded only by her determination to protect Grace, and the lengths she goes to are extraordinary. I thought that Trevor deserved every bit of the guilt he felt, and that Sam may have let him off the hook a little too easily. I loved how Sam came out of it stronger and more confident in herself, ready to let go of the past and move forward.

The supporting characters of the story were wonderful. First and foremost was Grace. She has a good relationship with her father, but she's also hit the age where she needs a woman in her life. It was fun to see Trevor's confusion when trying to deal with some of her actions. I loved seeing her connect with Sam and how quickly the bond between them grew. There were several really fun scenes between her and Sam, such as the dress-up one. Trevor's reaction is a typical father's when he realizes that his daughter is growing up, and he manages to put his foot in his mouth anyway. I thought she dealt with the trouble at the end far better than Trevor did. I also enjoyed seeing her  call out Trevor for his treatment of Sam.

Sam's friends Kendall, Jenny and Chloe were wonderful. I loved how they were always there to support her, and how protective they were also. I liked the scene where all three arrived to check Trevor out and warn him that he'd better treat her right. I think Jenny was my favorite, with her blunt statements and refusal to back down on her opinions. It was also fun when Kendall's and Chloe's men also put in their two cents worth. Sam's reaction to both was fantastic, and though she fussed, I think she also appreciated the motivation behind it. I can't wait to read their stories, now that I know about them.

*copy received in exchange for honest review

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Better Man - Candis Terry (Avon - Apr 2016)

Series: Sunshine Creek Vineyard (Book 1)

Hockey star Jordan Kincade wasted no time ditching Sunshine Valley and everyone who mattered for a career in the NHL -- a truth Jordan confronts when his parents’ deaths bring him home. Now he’s back to make amends, which begins with keeping his younger sister from flunking out of school. It’s just his luck that the one person who can help is the girl whose heart he broke years ago.

Lucy Diamond has racked up a number of monumental mistakes in her life, the first involving a certain blue-eyed charmer. She has no intention of falling for Jordan Kincade again, but when he shows up asking her to help one of her students, Lucy just can’t say no. Worse, the longer he’s back, the more she sees how much he’s changed. And so when a blistering kiss turns to more, she can’t help but wonder if her heart will be crushed again . . . or if she’ll discover true love with a better man.

Terrific story of family, love and second chances. Jordan left his home and family behind at the age of eighteen, when he was drafted to play professional hockey. This had been his dream for many years, and it took precedence in his life. Everything came crashing down when he got a call from his oldest brother, telling him that their parents had been killed in an accident while on vacation.

I ached for Jordan when he got home. Thanks to his concentration on his career, he had spent little time with his family over the last fifteen years. He realizes that he doesn't know them anymore, and they don't really know him. The shock of his parents' death brings home to him the importance of his family to his life, and he is determined to make amends. I loved seeing him make it clear to the family that he is "all in". He offers to take on the challenge of finding out what has turned their little sister, Nicole, into what he calls a "baby dragon". This brings him in contact with one of her teachers, Lucy Diamond.

Lucy is Nikki's creative writing teacher. She is sweet and caring, a little bit vulnerable, but with an inner strength she doesn't realize she has. Lucy also has a history with Jordan. Back when they were in high school, she tutored him for one of his classes. At the time, he was a typical teenage jock - cocky, selfish, and quite the heartbreaker. She had a crush on him, but was concentrating on her studies as a way to get away from her dysfunctional parents. She resisted Jordan's advances until she finally agreed to go to their graduation dance with him, only to have him stand her up. She has never forgotten or truly forgiven him for that. She came back to Sunshine after a disastrous marriage and having taken a hit to her trust of men and her own instincts. She wants to help Nikki, but not get mixed up with Jordan again.

I loved the progress of the relationships in the book, both between Jordan and Lucy, and between Jordan and his family, especially Nicole. From the start, Jordan knew that he had screwed up with Lucy back in high school. I loved the way he admitted it right up front and had the class to apologize even after all these years. Even better was the way he made amends for that. He went to a lot of effort and it was fun to see it all happen from start to finish. I liked how Jordan asked for her help with Nikki, and how their work together brought them closer in their relationship. It was fun to see the buildup of the heat between them, and awesome to see Jordan's patience and understanding as he learned about her marriage and its effect on her. I liked seeing him go from self-professed playboy to thinking about Lucy as a permanent part of his life. He was a little freaked out by his feelings at the beginning, but really came to embrace them. Lucy had a hard time believing that he was really interested in her. She spent some time thinking that it was just a fling between them, and even that was a surprise to her. She was puzzled at times about how she could be falling for a man who was so different from her. Her confidence took a hit at the game she went to and she had an encounter with one of the groupies. I loved seeing Jordan's reaction to her trying to pull away. There was also a great scene involving the local newspaper that showed Lucy's growing confidence in herself and how much she cares for Jordan. The ending was great, and I loved Jordan's big moment.

His relationships with his family were a bit complicated. Because he had been away for so long, with infrequent visits, he felt like he had lost his connection with them. I ached for him as he looked at them and realized what he had done by staying away. I loved that there didn't seem to be any real resentment from his brothers, all of them understood the importance of his career to him. That was especially obvious when each of them showed up to keep him company as he watched his team play on television. However, that acceptance didn't extend to his sister. Nikki's teenage attitude and anger, especially at him, confused the heck out of him. I loved the way it didn't stop him from trying. He was not going to give up, and with Lucy's help he started to get through to her. I really enjoyed his decision to take her along when he had to return to work. The scenes at the practice and the game were great. I also loved seeing his support of her when she finally told him what was bothering her. I loved seeing the effect it all had on Jordan and the way he viewed his future. He had some important decisions to make, and I loved watching him work it all out.

There were a couple of questions running through the book that didn't really get answered, so I expect they will also run through the other books in the series. One question was who was responsible for the money missing from the business? Aunt Pippy behaves oddly whenever the subject comes up, but does she know anything? When they discover who, the question becomes why? Another question comes from Nicole and explains some of her angst during the book. An argument with her father before he left on the vacation has her wondering if there's something no one has told her. Telling her brothers brings no resolution, just disbelief and more questions. Then there is the fact that the business is in trouble, and they are all needed to help turn it around. I liked the sharing of ideas and am looking forward to seeing how it goes.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Too Much Temptation - Lori Foster (Brava - Mar 2002)

Series: Brava Brothers (Book 1)

Grace Jenkins has had little experience with men--feeling too awkward and insecure to free the passionate woman inside her. But that hasn't stopped her from dreaming about Noah Harper. Gorgeous, strong and darkly sexy, his rough edge beneath the polish promises no mercy in the bedroom. When Grace learns Noah's engagement has ended in scandal, she shyly offers him her support and her friendship. But Noah's looking for something extra...

Noah wants Grace--badly. He wants to possess those curves that go on forever, to savor her sweet innocence, to take her to the limits of white-hot desire...again and again. What he doesn't want is anything more complicated than that, and he knows Grace is a woman who deserves better. Grace, however, knows exactly what she wants--the kind of ecstasy only Noah can give her. Brazenly, she accepts, and Noah promises to make all her secret fantasies come true...

Good book, with some great humor, emotion tugging, and a good bit of heat. Noah is the grandson of Agatha Harper, a local society dame, restaurant owner, and bit of a snob. Noah was a street rat before she found him at the age of sixteen, the illegitimate son of her son. While she has accepted him, she doesn't seem to have that high of an opinion of him. He feels like he owes her, and has been engaged to the daughter of her good friends for the past two years. That all changes when he finds her in bed with someone else. Naturally, he breaks off the engagement, but being a good guy at heart, he doesn't tell anyone why. Agatha is furious, disowns him, and tries to figure out how to fix the problem. Noah isn't about to change his mind and stands up to Agatha, only confessing the truth to his half brother Ben during an evening of drinking.

Grace is Agatha's personal secretary, who has kept Agatha's life on track for the last three years. She's pretty enough, very curvy (she calls it fat), sweet, innocent, and has had a crush on Noah since the beginning. When she finds out what has happened, she is worried about Noah and goes to see him. Caught in a rainstorm, she arrives soaking wet, but determined to make sure he's okay.

I loved her arrival and her combination of worry and amusement. Noah is surprised by her immediate declaration of support, since everyone has made it plain it must be his fault. Suddenly he's looking at her with different eyes and seeing a woman who looks like a "goddess". He's somewhat the worse for drink, which lowers his self control, and he gives in to the urge to kiss her. His desire shoots up, but he knows he's in no shape to do anything about it, but convinces her to stay with him anyway. A slightly awkward next morning gets worse when she arrives late to work and gets fired by Agatha for being with Noah. It's a scene that is both funny and emotional, as Grace tries to protect Noah from his grandmother's anger.

Because Grace has had the hots for Noah for years, when he makes it plain he wants her, she's all for it. She doesn't have any experience, but she's happy to learn whatever he wants to share. Noah feels a bit guilty because he has no intention of any more relationships for a while, and he sees Grace as the settling down type. But she insists she fine with it, and off they go.

I absolutely loved the protectiveness they had for each other. Grace was quite familiar with Noah's reputation and had no illusions about him. But she also saw beneath the "street rat" persona he wore for public consumption. She thought that he was a lot more sensitive than anyone, including himself, gave him credit for. I loved the looks she got when she would put herself between him and whoever was mad at him. Though Noah started out looking at Grace as just a bed partner, he quickly became very protective of her. I loved the way that he worked so hard to show her what a sexy woman she really was. It was also really funny to see him watching over her when she went to work at Ben's bar.

The development of their relationship was pretty sweet. Besides their compatibility in the bedroom, they actually had a lot more in common which helped draw them closer. As the days went on and they were together so much, Noah began to realize that he wanted more than just the fling he had first insisted on. This freaked him out a little bit because it was so unexpected. Grace, while she dreamed of him falling in love with her, believed that she wasn't anything like the kind of woman he would really want. There were no big misunderstandings to drive them apart, but it took a crisis with Agatha to bring them fully together in a really fun hospital bedside scene.

The supporting characters were really wonderful too. The ex-fiancee, Kara, really wasn't the bad guy that she could have been. She was a bit spoiled and selfish, and could be really silly, but at heart she was a good person. I enjoyed seeing the progress of her relationship with the "other man". Noah's brother Ben was terrific. Though they are half brothers and hadn't known each other until they were teens, they are always there to support each other. The scenes that they had together were always fun, but I especially liked the morning after scene at the beginning of the book. Ben also has a much more contentious relationship with Agatha, whose attitude toward him gives him ample reason for his behavior. I really enjoyed seeing how he stood up to her at the end of the book, and how their relationship changes. Agatha was a real piece of work. She snobby, snotty attitude toward Noah's breaking of the engagement made me really mad, and I loved seeing him stand up to her. Her fixation on how she thought he "needed" Kara to make him acceptable was horrible, and I loved seeing him thwart her. Seeing the changes in her at the end was terrific, and I can't wait to see more of her in Ben's book.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A World of Love - Barbara Cartland (Eaglemoss - 1986)

When her beloved brother incurs a disastrous gambling debt, lovely Carmella knows that his reckless plan offers their only hope of escaping disgrace. But does their host, the formidable Marquis of Ingleton, really believe her to be a worldly Society beauty? Or does this disturbingly handsome man suspect the terrifying shame that Carmella must risk?

Fun trip into the nostalgia of my reading past. Barbara Cartland was one of the first authors of historical romance that I read when I was a teenager, and I read a lot of her books. They were very much the same in theme: cynical, jaded nobleman meets young, innocent beauty who transforms his life. This one was no different.

Carmella is eighteen and has moved to London with her ailing mother and twenty two year old brother after their father was killed in an accident. They have little money, and what they do have is used by her brother Gerald to keep up appearances. Carmella misses the country and worries about her brother. With good reason, as he comes to her one day and confesses that he has lost money they don't have to the Marquis of Ingleton. To make matters worse, he used a family heirloom as collateral, one whose jewels are fake. Gerald comes up with the idea of stealing the necklace back at an upcoming houseparty to which he's been invited, but he needs Carmella's help to do it. He intends to pass her off as a sophisticated society beauty while the two of them find and retrieve the necklace.

In her innocence, she doesn't recognize the kind of help she is receiving, or who it is coming from. She is also surprised and disturbed by the actions of the people she meets, knowing that they are cheating on their wedding vows. She is especially nervous around the marquis, sure that he will discover her deception.

Tyrone is the typical Cartland hero. He is shown with his current mistress, who he is tiring of. He also realizes that even his upcoming houseparty won't truly relieve his boredom with his life. He feels somewhat guilty about his win against Gerald, but figures the boy wouldn't have gambled what he couldn't afford. His invitation to Gerald had been impulsive, and he now wonders if it was a mistake. But when Gerald and Carmella arrive, he is intrigued by the woman he believes is Gerald's mistress. There's something about her that is different.

It was quite sweet, the way that Carmella asked Tyrone's help in keeping Gerald from gambling with the other men, and rather surprising that he agreed. I loved seeing the two of them go riding the next morning. Tyrone was puzzled by the contradictions he saw in her, and wanted to know more. It was rather convenient timing that allowed Carmella to discover the location of the necklace, and gave her more time with Tyrone.

An unexpected complication arose when Carmella attempted to take the necklace, one that put Tyrone in her debt. It also kept Carmella and Gerald there for several extra days, during which time Carmella thought a lot about her situation. Of course, she can no longer keep her secret, and fears what will happen when she confesses. It's all wrapped up quite conveniently when Tyrone decides he's in love with her, and all is forgiven.

I enjoyed parts of the houseparty, especially when the woman, Daisy, befriends Carmella. It was fun to see how Carmella's innocence contrasted with the nasty attitude of Tyrone's mistress, and who came out on top. I got frustrated with Gerald, who pretty much left Carmella on her own while he fell victim to Sylvia's machinations.

Gerald's immaturity is obvious throughout the book, from his gambling losses to his behavior at the houseparty. Even his behavior toward the actress Yvonne shows his selfishness. I  liked how Tyrone takes him in hand at the end of the book.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cold-Hearted Rake - Lisa Kleypas (Avon - Nov 2015)

Series: Ravenels (Book 1)

A twist of fate . . .

Devon Ravenel, London's most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl's three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon's own.

A clash of wills . . .

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny -- and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she's ever known?

Very good book, though I did have my doubts at the very beginning. Devon has inherited the title and estates after the unexpected death of his cousin. Both the debts and the responsibility are unwelcome, and he plans to sell the properties to pay off the debts as soon as he can. The opening conversation between Devon and his brother West shows two men who are focused on their own pleasures and avoid anything that hints of respectability. Devon even states his intention to turn his cousin's widow and sisters out of the house as soon as possible. Unfortunately for him, he is overheard by Kathleen.

Kathleen has not had an easy life. At the age of five her parents sent her to live with relatives. They were not loving, and were very focused on appearances. She learned early to keep her emotions to herself and to rely on herself for everything. She had married a man she hoped would give her the family she craved, only to have him die in a drunken accident three days after their wedding. Now she discovers she's about to lose her home too.

There were sparks between Devon and Kathleen from the beginning, mostly of the adversarial variety, but with an underlying attraction. Devon's callous decision to sell everything grated on Kathleen's sense of responsibility. She tore into him over his disregard for the effects his actions would have on so many people. He made it plain he didn't want the headaches that came with keeping the place. But something she said went to work on the conscience he didn't even know he had, and he found himself deciding not to sell. His brother's reaction wasn't complimentary, but when it came down to it, West agreed to help.

By this time, Devon has decided he wants Kathleen, but she isn't cooperating. She's attracted also, but is mindful of appearances since she is still in mourning.  There are some pretty amusing exchanges between them over the next few weeks, as Devon is in London attempting to find ways to save the estate, and Kathleen remains in Hampshire. Devon makes the occasional visit, and the chemistry between them burns hotter.

At the same time, West is in Hampshire, unwillingly helping Devon. West has been even worse than Devon, with his careless behavior and heavy drinking. But a confrontation with Kathleen causes unexpected changes in him. I loved how she stood up to him. It was amazing to see the transformation he went through in both appearance and attitude. It also created a change in the relationship between West and Devon.

Devon's return to Hampshire created further tension between him and Kathleen. He hasn't given up on his plans to seduce her, and Kathleen is still desperately trying to resist. When Devon invites a friend for the holidays Kathleen is angered by his plans.  Then a devastating accident makes both of them admit that whatever is between them is growing. But even giving in to the desire between them doesn't guarantee a future. Devon is adamant that he will never marry, and Kathleen doesn't want someone who avoids commitment anyway. It was fun to see her stand up to his plans for them with her own conditions. I loved Devon's "aha" moment, when he realized just how he felt about her, and how he finally convinced her of those feelings.

Though I didn't like Devon at the beginning, I really enjoyed seeing him change from irresponsible rake to a man who could be relied on. It wasn't an easy transformation, and he fought it each step of the way. It started with a protectiveness he didn't recognize, and his desire to stay near Kathleen. I had fun with their confrontations as the sparks flew between them. His protectiveness and jealousy at the end surprised them both. Though I liked Kathleen from the start, she too had her issues. I liked the way she looked out for the sisters, and how she was determined to keep them safe. Her upbringing had her very concerned about appearances, and there were times I was definitely on Devon's side to get her to lighten up. I liked the way she stood up for the people of the estate and opened Devon's eyes to his responsibilities. Her experience with her late husband made it difficult for her to trust Devon with her heart. I also got a bit angry with her interference in Helen's life, even though her intentions were good.

There was also a secondary relationship between Devon's friend Winterbourne and Kathleen's sister-in-law Helen. Devon had planned to set the two up as a way to marry off Helen and gain financial assistance from Winterbourne. The railway accident that badly injured Winterbourne gave he and Helen a chance to get to know each other a little. But Winterbourne is a blunt and rough around the edges man, and Helen is a very sheltered, innocent and shy young woman, and things don't go smoothly between them. A misunderstanding, and interference from Kathleen, puts their fledgling relationship at risk. At the end of the book, Helen takes her courage in hand to talk to Winterbourne about what happened. It's an interesting lead in to the next book, which is their story.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Simple Hope - Rosalind Lauer (Ballantine - Mar 2014)

Series: Lancaster Crossroads (Book 2)

HOPE SHINES THROUGH
LIGHTING A PATH IN THE DARKNESS

Ever since the accident that confined him to a wheelchair, James Lapp has fought relentlessly to regain his strength. He knows he must be whole and healthy to run his family’s orchard and provide for Rachel King, the young woman he plans to marry. But when he defies his father’s wishes and seeks treatment outside their close-knit Amish community, James discovers just how long and treacherous the road to recovery will be. Unwilling to saddle a wife with his troubles, James decides he must part with the woman he loves.

Rachel won’t give up her dream of being a devoted wife to James, and it breaks her heart to watch him shut her out. Then their lives change forever when a runaway Englisher girl hides in the Lapp orchard. Rachel and James feel they must risk the disapproval of their friends and neighbors to help her. Will the young stranger bring them closer -- or will the consequences of a shared secret tear them apart once and for all?

Good book. James and Rachel are survivors of an automobile crash and are dealing with the emotional and physical consequences. James was badly injured and is now stuck in a wheelchair. He is determined to do whatever is necessary to regain the ability to walk, because he feels like "half a man". Rachel wasn't injured, but because of her love for James, the accident is still affecting her life.

I really liked how Rachel hasn't given up on her relationship with James, even though he keeps trying to push her away. She doesn't care whether he can walk or not, she just wants to be with him. She's even willing to support them with her painting. At the beginning of the book she doesn't truly realize that that is the last thing he wants. She doesn't understand that his personal self-worth depends on him being able to support her, not the other way around. As she becomes more involved in helping him get to his treatments, they are able to spend far more time together, talking about their dreams and worries. I liked that how she became more accepting of his attitude, while trying to show him that she loved him no matter what. I also loved her joy in her art, and how that art was a big part of how she coped with the turmoil in her life.

James occasionally frustrated me, especially at the beginning. He was so focused on what he couldn't do that he lost sight of what he could. At the same time, I cheered for his determination, and ached for him when he thought his father was going to stop him from getting any more treatments. It was a bit frustrating to see how impatient he was for progress, especially considering the severity of his injury. He was also frustrated by his inability to do his usual work in his family's orchard, a job that is a bone deep part of who he is. I understood his anger at his father, who didn't seem to appreciate what the orchard means to James. His relationship with Rachel is also strained because of his pride. He doesn't like feeling like "half a man" and thinks that he needs to end his relationship so she can find someone better. It was fun to see him deal with her refusal to go away. I liked seeing their relationship improve as they talked and shared their dreams and hopes.

James's life grew a little more complicated when he found the Englischer girl hiding in the shack at the back of the orchard. Though he knew what his father would tell him to do, he felt that the right thing was to help her, not send her away. Having Rachel find out was both good and bad, as having her assistance was helpful, but it put her in an awkward position too. I loved James's protectiveness, and Rachel's "mothering", as they tried to help Shandell after running away from her abusive friend. It was interesting to see how the people from two such different worlds were so easily able to learn to relate to each other. I felt bad for the situation Shandell found herself in, and loved seeing how exposure to the Amish life gave her a new perspective on her own. When her presence was discovered, it created a whole new set of problems for James and Rachel. It was interesting to see the consequences and how they affected all three.

James's father Jimmy played a big part in the book. His attitude that James should just accept his handicap was a major irritation to me. When he made the decision that the Englisch medical people could no longer come to the house, I was almost as mad as James. It was obvious that he was allowing something from his own past affect his decisions, and that James was going to suffer for it. I was glad when he grudgingly allowed James to get the treatments, even though he couldn't accept transportation help from them. His lack of empathy for James and his constant negativity toward his future was disturbing. I also didn't like his reaction to James and Rachel helping Shandell. There was a very interesting twist at the end involving the two of them that I found very satisfying.

This was the first book I have read by this author. I will put her other books on my "want to read" list, as I would like to read the others in this series.


*I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Maverick's Holiday Surprise - Karen Rose Smith (HSE #2510 - Nov 2016)

Series: Montana Mavericks: Baby Bonanza (Book 5)

Rust Creek Ramblings

A WEDDING IN THE WORKS?

We here at the Gazette are amazed to report that trust-fund cowboy Hudson Jones may soon be off the market. The boyish billionaire has been spending more time than ever with Bella Stockton, who manages his day-care center. It seems impossible that quiet, reserved Bella would have captured the fancy of such an alluring specimen of manhood.

Bella finds it hard to believe herself, and she keeps pushing Hudson away. What are the odds the footloose cowboy will stick around once he finds out she can't have kids? Don't tell Bella, but our sources report Hudson has his heart set on a Christmas proposal. When he finds out the truth, will it still be a holiday to remember?

Good book. We first met Hudson and Bella in Maverick vs.Maverick, when Hudson came to help out his brother Walker, because the day care center was in trouble. Hudson has the reputation of being a love them and leave them man, one who never stays long in any one place. Bella is the director of the center. She returned to Rust Creek Falls to help her brother when his wife died, leaving him alone with their triplets.

I loved the relationship between Hudson and Bella. It started as a good working relationship that became friendship, then evolved into more. There was also an immediate attraction between them, but Bella was determined to resist it. First she felt that someone like him wouldn't be interested in her. Second, she knew he wasn't the committing type. Third, even if he was, she was sure he wouldn't want someone who couldn't have kids. I ached for her in those moments when the loss would hit her and she could see a lonely future ahead of her. I loved how she tried to stay mostly upbeat, and how working at the center was a big part of that. I liked how Hudson also tried to resist the attraction because he knew that Bella was the kind of woman who deserved commitment and he wasn't interested in it.

The development of their relationship was sweet. In spite of Hudson's  reputation, he went all protective on her. He began by encouraging her to take time for herself. I loved seeing him send her to his house for an afternoon of rest, and making sure she was fed. I also loved how he encouraged her photography efforts. It was fun to see his feelings grow and his confusion as he realized that he was changing in unexpected ways. Bella went from resisting to accepting the chemistry between them, even though she was sure her heart would get broken. I liked how she saw that there was more to him than he showed to the rest of the world, even though he didn't always see it himself. It was great to see him realize his feelings and immediately want to do something about them. The ending was quite emotional as the truth comes out and both of them have to make decisions about their future together.

I also enjoyed seeing more of Bella's brother and the babies. I ached for his loss and his desire to do the best he can for his children. I loved seeing the people of the town come together to help him. He has a little trouble with his pride getting in the way, which made for some awkward moments between him and Hudson. That awkwardness didn't stop him from trying to help Hudson in the end. I'm looking forward to reading his story.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

If You Only Knew - Kristin Higgins (HQN - Aug 2015)

The drama, hilarity and tears of sisterhood are at the heart of the thoroughly captivating new novel by New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins -- a funny, frank and bittersweet look at marriage, forgiveness and moving on

Letting go of her ex-husband is harder than wedding-dress designer Jenny Tate expected…especially since his new wife wants to be Jenny's new best friend. Sensing this isn't exactly helping her achieve closure, Jenny trades the Manhattan skyline for her hometown up the Hudson, where she'll start her own business and bask in her sister Rachel's picture-perfect family life…and maybe even find a little romance of her own with Leo, her downstairs neighbor, a guy who's utterly irresistible and annoyingly distant at the same time.

Rachel's idyllic marriage, however, is imploding after she discovers her husband sexting with a colleague. She always thought she'd walk away in this situation, but her triplet daughters have her reconsidering her stance on adultery, much to Jenny's surprise. Rachel points to their parents' perfect marriage as a shining example of patience and forgiveness; but to protect her sister, Jenny may have to tarnish that memory -- and their relationship­ -- and reveal a family secret she's been keeping since childhood.

Both Rachel and Jenny will have to come to terms with the past and the present and find a way to get what they want most of all.

Good book. It's a combination of romance and women's fiction, dealing with family drama and the relationship between two sisters. It is told in first person from each sister's point of view, in alternating chapters. It took me a few chapters to get used to the abrupt changes, but all-in-all it really worked.

Jenny is the younger sister, a talented and increasingly popular wedding dress designer. She has been divorced from her husband for almost two years, but is still friends with him and his new wife. She's increasingly uncomfortable with that closeness (he calls her several times a week) and decides a little physical distance is a good idea. She moves back to her small hometown where she opens a custom bridal gown shop and rents an apartment in a charming brownstone. The "super" and downstairs neighbor is Leo, a handsome and charming piano teacher who arouses and frustrates her all at the same time. She's also excited to be living near her sister and her adorable triplet girls, and witnessing Rachel's perfect marriage.

Rachel has been married to the perfect man for ten years and loves being stay-at-home mom to their little girls. She's incredibly happy with her life, until she discovers that Adam has been sexting with a coworker. She's afraid that he's doing more than that, and isn't sure how she wants to handle it. She's always been sure that she would walk away from that situation, but now that's she's facing it, she wonders if that's the right thing to do.

I loved the relationship between Rachel and Jenny. They are typical sisters in that they don't always see eye-to-eye on everything, but they've always been there for each other in a crisis. I liked how Rachel was there when Jenny needed her, and tried to make Jenny see that her ongoing relationship with Owen and his wife was weird and not really in Jenny's best interests. Rachel also finds herself leaning on Jenny when her marriage to Adam is in trouble. But it isn't all sweetness when she feels that Jenny is judging her and pushing her to take actions she's not ready for. At the same time, I loved how Jenny is always ready to take care of the triplets whenever Rachel needs a break. Though she had an idealized view of Rachel's marriage, when push came to shove she was completely on Rachel's side, to the point where she was pretty obnoxious to Adam (not that he didn't deserve it). There were a couple times when their relationship became rather strained, but in the end their ties were strengthened.

There were times when I absolutely adored Jenny, such as when she was helping Kimber with her wedding dress. But there were also times when I wanted to shake her, especially for hanging out so much with her ex. I enjoyed her relationship with Leo, from their initial snarkiness to their growing feelings for each other. I liked Leo's attitude at the dinner party when he refused to be the shallow type that the others were and how he tried to show Jenny that she wasn't doing herself any favors. I also liked seeing him try to protect her from herself. He saw her more clearly than she did herself. I also liked how Jenny saw the sad and lonely Leo beneath the "just for recreation" charmer that he showed the rest of the world. She pushed a little harder than he was comfortable with, but in the end he was able to share so much with her.

As a character, I loved Leo. I suspected his true connection to the house well before he admitted it. It was so much fun to see Jenny give him a hard time about his lack of skills. I loved his connection with his various students, especially Evander. I ached for him as various pieces of his past came to light. I cheered at Evander's audition, when Leo broke through his own barriers to help a boy in need. I wasn't sure if he would ever open himself up to the possibility of loving again, especially right at the end. I'd love to see more of him in another book.

Rachel was also an interesting character. She may be older, but she frequently seems young and naïve. Her shyness and social awkwardness don't do anything to change that impression. But she is a fantastic mother to her three girls, and I loved seeing everything she did with and for them. Of course, the early emphasis on how perfect her marriage is  simply foreshadows that things aren't what they seem. I understood her need to believe the best of her husband, but also her underlying doubt. Their counseling sessions showed that, while she had some responsibility, Adam came across as a selfish prig. His attitude made me mad, and I completely understood Jenny's disgust with him. There were times I wanted to smack Rachel for her attitude, and I cheered for her when she took that weekend for herself, though I didn't like the conclusion she reached at the end of it. I was just waiting for Adam to screw up again, because I knew he would. It was great to see Rachel finally grow a backbone at the end.


There were supporting characters that added terrific depth to the story. Jenny's mother and her attitude were an additional stress, especially to Jenny. The backstory of her marriage and what Jenny knew of it added to Jenny's questions of what she should share with her sister. I loved the whole bit with Kimber, Mrs. Brewster, and the saga of the wedding dress. I felt for Kimber having to deal with that witch of a woman, and was mad at Jared for not seeing what it was doing to her. I loved the end result of the wedding dress fiasco. There was also a surprising twist involving Kimber's mother.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Blame It on the Cowboy - Delores Fossen (HQN - Oct 2016)

Series: McCord Brothers (Book 3)

Every cowboy has a wild side -- all it takes is the right woman to unleash it…

All of Logan McCord's carefully laid plans erupt the day he walks in on his would-be fiancée getting…well, not so carefully laid. Tonight, just once, Logan is acting on instinct. And that instinct is telling him to say "Happy to oblige" to the cute stranger looking for a no-strings fling with a Texas cowboy.

When chef Reese Stephens made her bucket list, she mistakenly thought she had weeks to live. Not that she regrets her one-night-stand with the gorgeous rancher. But she does regret leaving an heirloom watch as a parting gift. Tracking Logan down is easy. Walking away again is another matter. Because Reese's crazy past and Logan's battered heart are no match for the kind of chemistry that could turn one night into the start of a passionate lifetime.

Terrific  conclusion to the McCord Brothers series. This is the story of Logan, the oldest brother (by a few minutes). In previous books we have seen him as the serious, conservative, rather stick-in-the-mud brother, who keeps tight control of his emotions. He's had a long relationship with a woman named Helene, who he sees as the perfect accompaniment to his well-planned future. At the beginning of this book he is ready to propose marriage to her, and enlist the help of his family to make it memorable. Which it is, but not in the way he expected, as they walk in on her having sex with a clown. Stunned by what happened, he escapes to San Antonio with the express intention of getting drunk enough to forget what he saw. There he meets a woman with her own agenda for the night.

Reese has recently been given a diagnosis that led her to believe she only has weeks to live. Determined to live it up while she can, she makes a bucket list of things she wants to do, one of which is a fling with a hot cowboy. The stranger in the bar fits the description perfectly and she makes him an offer he can't refuse. After a night of passion, she leaves him her prized possession, her grandfather's pocket watch, as a thank you, only to discover later that she isn't going to die after all.  Now she has to try to find that cowboy and get her watch back.

The encounter between Reese and Logan after she arrives in Spring Hill is hilarious. Logan is with Lucky, his twin brother, leaving Reese unsure which brother she slept with. Logan, of course, recognizes her right away, but is extremely suspicious of her presence. He is determined to find out what she wants and get her out of town before their connection is discovered. Reese is more than willing to agree, but discovers that circumstances are working against both of them.

I loved seeing the relationship develop between these two opposites. Logan is the uptight, plan everything to the nth degree man, while Reese is a fly by the seat of her pants woman who doesn't stay anywhere for very long. Both of them also have some serious baggage holding them back. Logan lost his parents when he was nineteen and blames himself for arriving at the accident scene too late to save them. Reese is the daughter of two con artists who used her in their schemes until she was old enough to resist. She also feels responsible for the death of an abusive ex-boyfriend. Logan goes from suspicion to protectiveness as he sees her accosted by someone from her past. He realizes he doesn't really want her to leave town, but he's not so sure about a relationship with her either. However, he can't deny the attraction. Reese can't deny the attraction either, but feels that sticking around will only bring trouble Logan's way. She doesn't want her presence in his life to cause problems for him. I loved the ending as Logan sees that Reese gives him what is missing in his life. Their return to the San Antonio bar where they met is sweet, romantic and steamy.

There was so much going on that there was never a dull moment. Logan had to deal with the gossip about his breakup with Helene, and then with her return. Reese had to face multiple issues from her past showing up in Spring Hill, including her con artist mother. There are attempts to blackmail both Reese and Logan. The merry-go-round of who is blackmailing who and why is hysterical, as is the final resolution of the various attempts. I loved seeing the always on the straight and narrow Logan out con the con artists with the help and support of his family and friends. I also loved Reese's friend Jimena and her protectiveness toward Reese. Her colorful threats were fun as well as direct and to the point. I'd love to see her get her own story.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Lone Star Nights - Delores Fossen (HQN - June 2016)

Series: McCord Brothers (Book 2)

No strings attached is pretty much Lucky McCord's calling card in Spring Hill, Texas, but when family is on the line, this cowboy's honor and heart are about to get lassoed, tied and branded

Every family needs its black sheep, and Austin "Lucky" McCord is happy to oblige. The bad-boy bull rider lives fast and loose, until his business partner leaves him an unexpected bequest. Suddenly Lucky is sharing custody of two children with Cassie Weatherall, one of the few homegrown women he hasn't bedded. And not from lack of trying…

Cassie fled her messy past to become a celebrity therapist in LA. So why does it feel so right to come back and share parenting duties -- and chrome-melting kisses -- with a man she's striven to avoid? Loving Lucky always seemed like a sure bet for heartache. But for this perfectly imperfect family, Cassie might just gamble with everything she's got.

Good book. Emotional, funny, and sexy. Lucky is a rodeo bull rider and lives the free and easy life. He is quite the ladies' man. The book opens with Lucky at the bedside of his friend and business partner Dixie Mae. Besides being his partner in a successful business, she has been like a mother to him since his own passed away. Her death hits him hard, as does the surprise she has waiting for him in her will.  He has been given joint custody of two children, along with Dixie Mae's granddaughter, Cassie. Cassie left Spring Hill as soon as she could, escaping from a less than ideal childhood. She has become a therapist to the rich and famous in LA. But she drops it all to come home and fulfill her grandmother's dying request.

Lucky and Cassie are shocked to be paired together in the guardianship of the two girls. Lucky had a huge crush on Cassie when they were in school, but she wouldn't give him the time of day. He always thought she disapproved of his wild ways. Cassie avoided him in high school because she always sensed that he could easily derail her plans to get away, and she didn't want to take that chance.

I loved the pairing of Lucky and Cassie. Both of them have issues that keep them from believing that they deserve to be happy. Lucky carries an immense amount of guilt over the deaths of his parents, believing that he is responsible for what happened to them. Cassie is suffering from panic attacks, brought on by her feelings of guilt over the death of one of her clients. In letters to each of them, Dixie Mae has tasked them with showing the other that their guilt is misplaced.

Neither Lucky nor Cassie believes that they are the right people to care for two young girls, but both step up to the plate to do so. At first they are determined to find the next of kin, someone better qualified to take care of the girls, but quickly find themselves growing attached. Though neither thinks they have what it takes, it was really sweet to see how they bond with the girls. Four year old Mia wiggles into their hearts with her cuteness and belief in the magic she expects from them. Thirteen year old MacKenzie tugs at their hearts with the tough girl exterior that hides a vulnerable heart. I especially loved seeing Lucky have to deal with a teenage girl who was so much like him (though he refused to see it). It was really great to see his protective instincts kick in when MacKenzie started having boy problems. I ached for them as they prepared to give up the girls to their aunt.

I loved seeing the relationship develop between Cassie and Lucky. He is a love them and leave them guy, keeping all relationships very shallow. He doesn't quite know how to deal with it when he finds that what he experiences with Cassie is more than just lust. I loved seeing him deal with unexpected jealousy when her ex-boyfriend showed up. Cassie knew from the beginning that her heart was in jeopardy. At first she tried resisting his advances, but it was a losing battle. It was fun to see her decide to just go with it, accept that she'd get her heart broken, and enjoy whatever time she had with him. She didn't expect to actually fall in love with him. I loved her courage in declaring her feelings, and how she made him work to actually win her in the end.

There were fun places that lightened the serious moments. Cassie's grief at the loss of her grandmother, and having to deal with her scumbag father, were countered by the great cat caper. I also loved the way that Dixie Mae knew her son so well, and left him the "inheritance" that he so deserved. It was also pretty amusing to see Lucky have to deal with the consequences of his reputation with the various women that he encountered, at the same time that he was trying to deal with his feelings for Cassie. I also loved seeing him deal with his "fatherly" feelings when he came to MacKenzie's rescue.

Secondary characters were also well done. Cassie's father was definitely one that was easy to dislike, with his entitled attitude. Csssie's ex, Andrew, was another one to dislike. His condescending attitude toward Lucky made him seem quite the snob. I also hated his attitude toward Cassie, and was really glad when she finally developed enough backbone to stand up to him. But my favorites were Mia, MacKenzie and Dixie Mae.  Dixie Mae was rough around the edges, blunt, but also loved deeply. I really enjoyed her legacies to everyone, and her beyond the grave meddling. Mia and MacKenzie were wonderful. I liked seeing the changes they went through, thanks to the love and attention they received from Cassie and Lucky. MacKenzie was especially appealing with her teenage attitude. I could see the trouble coming her way with her "relationship" with Brody.

I liked seeing the other members of the family, especially Logan. We learned a little more about how his parents' death affected him. I am looking forward to reading his story.