Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Summer Garden - Sherryl Woods (Mira - Feb 2012)

Series: Chesapeake Shores (Book 9)

Falling for "Maddening Moira" O'Malley was the unexpected highlight of Luke O'Brien's Dublin holiday. So when she pays a surprise visit to Chesapeake Shores, Luke is thrilled...at first. A fling with this wild Irish rose is one thing, but forever? Maybe someday, but not when he's totally focused on establishing a business that will prove his mettle to his overachieving family.

Given Luke's reaction, Moira has some soul-searching of her own to do. Scarred by her father's abandonment, she wonders if Luke, with his playboy past, is truly the family man she longs for. Adding to her dilemma, she's offered an amazing chance at a dream career of her own.

Deep down, though, Moira knows home is the real prize, and that love can be every bit as enchanted as a summer garden.

Very good book. This book picks up where the previous book, An O'Brien Family Christmas, left off. In that book, the entire family had gone on a visit to Ireland, to see where grandmother Nell had grown up. While there, she reconnected with Dillon, her first love. Luke, the youngest of the adult grandchildren, had also gotten quite close to Dillon's granddaughter Moira. When this book opens, Moira and Dillon are in Ireland, remembering their visitors and planning a trip to America. Dillon wants to see Nell again, and Moira wants to know if there's a future for her and Luke. Back in America, Nell is missing Dillon, and wants him to come visit. She's feeling her age and is considering asking him to stay in America. Luke finds Moira invading his thoughts quite frequently, creating quite a distraction from his goals.

Luke had been at loose ends since graduating from college, unsure of where he wants to take his life. He also feels that he has to live up to his over-achieving family, which adds another layer of stress. While in Ireland, he realized that creating his own Irish pub in Chesapeake Shores was a career that he could be passionate about. With Moira's help he did the research and made his plans. He's ready to put his plans into motion, though he's somewhat nervous about his family's reactions. I loved seeing his enthusiasm as he revealed his plans and got their support. His feelings for Moira are there, and he knows what he wants in the long run, but he is determined to get his pub up and running and successful before he will allow himself to think of a relationship.

Moira is pretty sure of her feelings for Luke, but is frustrated by the physical and emotional distance between them. She also has felt the weight of family disapproval as she hasn't settled on any kind of career. While working at the local pub, her boss encourages her to pursue her talents in photography, something she had never considered. Just as it looks like that may take off as a career, she is invited to accompany her grandfather to America. She looks at it as an opportunity to see if there is any future in her feelings for Luke.

I loved their first meeting in America. Luke had been kept in the dark about Moira's visit, and his surprise and pleasure was obvious. He's also quite honest with her, that all his time and energy is going into getting his pub ready to open, and that any thoughts of a serious relationship are on the back burner. Moira appears to be on board with this, and offers to help him as much as she can. I loved their teamwork as they brought all the pieces together. Their chemistry is still strong, and they spend as much time "together" as they can. At the same time, Moira's photographic talents draw the attention of Megan O'Brien, who encourages Moira to consider putting together a showing of her photographs.

Moira realizes that she enjoys her photography and that it is satisfying, but her real dream is to be a wife and mother. Luke is the man that her heart has settled on, but his reluctance to even consider making a commitment has her questioning the depth of his feelings for her. I got a bit frustrated with her, as she kept pushing even though he had made it plenty clear that he wasn't ready to commit to anything other than his pub. She's also torn between her desire to be a wife and mother and the pressure that she feels to make something of her photography. I loved her conversations with some of the other O'Brien women, as they help her see the possibilities, and also that being true to herself is the most important.

I loved Luke and his happiness at having finally found his place in the family. He has normal doubts and fears about the big step that he is taking, but doesn't let them stop him. I loved his happiness at having Moira there. I was somewhat frustrated by his belief that he can't have a relationship with Moira at the same time he's working on the pub.

I enjoyed the progress of their relationship, roller coaster that it was. Together, they were fantastic. Moira was fully invested in his dream, and happy to help it come true. I loved her enjoyment at working with him, and how she helped bring a bit of balance to his days. She was good at diffusing some of his crisis moments and bringing him back to an even keel. I also loved Luke's support of her photography and how he wanted what was best for her. But both had a bit of tunnel vision where their relationship was concerned. Luke refused to even think about anything more serious until he had checked all his boxes, which made Moira feel like she was second place in his life. At the same time, Moira was quite sure that Luke loves her, but she can't let go of the idea that he needs to put his money where his mouth is and commit. Sometimes she would back off her demands, but at other times it would cause her to question if they had any future at all. Some added stress was caused by an old girlfriend who doesn't want to let go. There are a couple of good scenes that show Moira standing up for what she considers hers, though Luke doesn't always come out looking very good. It takes a health crisis for Nell and a heartfelt lecture from her, for both of them to see their way to the future.

I also loved the secondary romance between Nell and Dillon. It was sweet to see them come back together after all those years. Nell's love for her family is a big part of who she is, and I loved how Dillon saw it and appreciated it. It was fun to see the reactions of various members of the family, especially Mick. The conversation between Dillon and Mick, when Dillon made his intentions known, was awesome.

I loved seeing the various members of the O'Brien family again, and how things are progressing with their lives. As always, there isn't much that stops them from stating their opinions on anything and everything that is happening in each other's lives. There were some great conversations that Moira had with various women, all of whom made her feel welcome, and gave her good advice on dealing with O'Brien men. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Say Yes to the Marquess - Tessa Dare (Avon - Jan 2015)

Series: Castles Ever After (Book 2)

Your presence is requested at romantic Twill Castle
for the wedding of Miss Clio Whitmore and ... and ...?

After eight years of waiting for Piers Brandon, the wandering Marquess of Granville, to set a wedding date, Clio Whitmore has had enough. She's inherited a castle, scraped together some pride, and made plans to break her engagement.

Not if Rafe Brandon can help it. A ruthless prizefighter and notorious rake, Rafe is determined that Clio will marry his brother--even if he has to plan the dratted wedding himself.

So how does a hardened fighter cure a reluctant bride's cold feet?
- He starts with flowers. A wedding can't have too many flowers. Or harps. Or cakes.
- He lets her know she'll make a beautiful, desirable bride--and tries not to picture her as his.
- He doesn't kiss her.
- If he kisses her, he definitely doesn't kiss her again.
- When all else fails, he puts her in a stunning gown. And vows not to be nearby when the gown comes off.
- And no matter what--he doesn't fall in disastrous, hopeless love with the one woman he can never call his own.

Fun book. Clio became engaged to Piers when she was seventeen, and deemed too young to take up duties as a diplomat's wife. But she never expected her engagement to last eight years. She's tired of waiting for a man who obviously doesn't really want her. Having just inherited a castle, she's decided to break her engagement and make a life on her own terms. The only thing stopping her is her fiancé's brother.

Rafe has made a name for himself as a prizefighter, a life he prefers to the one he was born into. Since his father's death has been stuck overseeing the family's affairs, while his brother is off doing his thing. One of those charges has been to watch over Clio and provide what she needs. When he discovers that she wants out of the engagement, he is determined to change her mind.

I liked both Clio and Rafe. Both of them had definite ideas of what they wanted out of their lives. They had the confidence they needed to pursue those dreams. But they also had issues that prevented them from believing in their ability to be loved. Clio has had the misfortune (in her eyes) to be built on the curvier side. This feeling was exacerbated by her mother's attitude and determination to make Clio fit her ideals. Having her fiancé put off their wedding for so long doesn't help. Once Clio decides she has had enough, she goes full steam ahead with her plans to take up residence in her castle and start a brewery as a way to support herself. But she needs her dowry to fund it, and to get it she must end her engagement, which is why she contacts Rafe. She needs him, as his brother's representative, to sign the release papers.

Rafe has never felt like he fit in with his family. He never did well in school, and the frustration added to his temper problems, getting him kicked out of school. He had no support from his father, who after years of putting him down finally kicked him out. The only way Rafe had to survive was to become a fighter, so he became a great one. He was a champion until he was defeated in a brutal match up. Now he's determined to make a come-back, but the distraction of dealing with Clio isn't helping. He has spent so long feeling like a failure to his family, that he refuses to let Clio dump his brother. He's determined to show her that she really wants to marry Piers.

The attraction between Clio and Rafe is obvious from the minute she confronts him for his signature, but both try to resist it. Clio is determined to show Rafe that marrying Piers is a bad idea, and he is equally determined to convince her it's a good one. All the time that they are trying to prove their points, the feelings between them continue to grow. There are some really funny moments as Rafe goes over the top in his attempts, ending in a cake fight between them. There are also some really sweet moments, as the connection between the two of them becomes clear. I loved the way that Clio sees the vulnerable man under prizefighter's surface. There are still signs of the boy who just wanted the love and respect of his father. I loved seeing her bring out that softer side. For his part, Rafe saw Clio for the beautiful and intelligent woman that she was. I loved how his attraction to her helped her see herself through his eyes. I also loved his astonishment and respect when she finally got him to listen to her plans for the brewery. It was great to see them finally realize that they belonged together, no matter what others tried to tell them. There were still a couple obstacles to get over, but that was managed pretty quickly. I loved Rafe's big moment at the end.

I also enjoyed the underlying theme of family. Clio's relationships with her sisters were good, but definitely had their challenges. Daphne was so much like their mother that it affected Clio's ability to just come out and announce that she didn't want to marry Piers. Daphne can be quite the bulldozer, and never actually listened to what Clio was trying to say. Her husband was really annoying and I loved when Rafe punched him. I liked Phoebe. She is honest and quirky and obviously loves Clio. I would like to see her get her own story in the future, as I'm sure her abilities could create some interesting situations. Rafe's relationships with his father and brother were heartbreaking at times. I never did like his father from all the things that came out about him. Piers irritated me because of the way he kept Clio hanging for so long, and then expected her to fall in with his plans when he finally showed up. Rafe had been determined to protect Piers's engagement because of his own guilty feelings over the death of their father. But he also wants out of having to do Piers's job as marquess, because he feels so out of place doing it. He also feels guilty over the fact that he has wanted Clio as his own for years. I liked seeing them start to repair their relationship at the end.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Wedding for Christmas - Lori Wilde (Avon - Oct 2016)

Series: Twilight Texas (Book 10)

The whole town is ready for the holidays:

The Cookie Club is baking,

Main Street glitters with lights, the carolers sing . . .

There’s even a Christmas wedding.

When bodyguard Ryder Southerland sees his best friend’s sister Katie at an L.A. Christmas party, he mistakes the slinky blonde for a celebrity stalker and tackles her. Then they tackle each other . . . at his place. The next morning, Katie’s gone, and Ryder tells himself it’s for the best. It isn’t. Now, one Christmas later, Ryder’s falling for the woman he’s been missing in the town he hasn’t missed at all...

Katie Cheek’s outgrown the romantic fantasies she had about Ryder when she was fifteen. Katie’s packed their hot night away in a box labeled “fling” -- or tried to. But Twilight’s bad boy is the best man in her brother’s wedding. And up-close and personal, Ryder’s impossible to ignore. So Katie can either go into hiding -- or surrender to Christmas magic.

Fantastic story. At the beginning of the book, Katie is in LA, having swapped houses for the holidays with Gabi (I'll Be Home forChristmas). While there, she uses Gabi's invitation to a Hollywood party, pushing the envelope of her comfort zone. While there, she is mistaken for a stalker by a bodyguard, who just happens to be her brother's best friend (and her old crush) Ryder. Sparks fly, and after a hot night together, Katie is gone.

Ryder was stunned to see Katie, especially looking as beautiful as he always thought she would be. He'd always had feelings for her, but a) she was just a kid and b) she was his best friend's little sister. When hauls off and kisses him while he's living with them, he knows that discretion is the better part of valor. He leaves the next day to join the army and hasn't been back to Twilight since. After the army he became a bodyguard, and avoids all kinds of commitments.

A year later, Katie has made some major changes in her life. She has a business as an organizer, sold her yurt and bought a house. She has also not forgotten her night with Ryder, but never expected to see him again. Until she finds out he's best man to her maid of honor at her brother's wedding. She's just hoping to maintain her cool through the lead up to the wedding.

Ryder has come back to Twilight to be best man at Joe's wedding. He also needs to check on his estranged father. He is also hoping to see Katie again. He hasn't forgotten their night together, and has found himself wondering what might have been if she had stuck around. He was stunned to find her at his father's house, and even more to find out why.

I loved both Ryder and Katie. Ryder had had a troubled youth. After losing his mother in an accident he blamed himself for, he became the town troublemaker. After a blowup with his father, who kicked him out, he stayed with Katie's family for his senior year in high school. His relationship with the town had never been good, and coming back brings up all kinds of unhappy memories. The one bright spot is his relationship with the Cheek family. He's torn about seeing Katie, because he wants to see if they can pick up again, but he's afraid that she'll reject him. He's much more vulnerable emotionally than he lets on, but we get glimpses of it in his encounters with her.

Katie's night with Ryder had been the motivation she needed to get out of the rut she had been in. One thing that she realized was that her girlhood feelings for him had never gone away, and that night with him had brought home the fact that she was in love with him. But he's a lone wolf who will never want to live in their small town again, so she has tried to put those feelings away. When he comes back to town, she wants to be with him again, but she's also afraid to risk her heart by believing that anything can come of it. I loved the way that, in spite of her fears, she does everything she can to help him during his stay.

I loved the development of their relationship. The sparks were still as hot as they'd been the previous Christmas, but their time together gave them a chance to connect on a deeper level. What I loved most was how real the relationship was. It was fun to see them circle around each other, wanting more than they think the other one wants. The flames keep burning higher and higher until they can't resist, and then they are determined to try to hide it from the rest of the town. Of course, it's Twilight, and it's perfectly plain to everyone else how they feel. I also loved seeing how protective they were of each other. Katie hates seeing the pain that Ryder is in as he tries to deal with his father and their longstanding estrangement. It was sweet to see her try to be the mediator that gets them talking to each other. I also loved seeing how Ryder tries to protect Katie from any repercussions of being with him, by agreeing to hide their relationship, even though it isn't what he wants (and he misunderstands her reasons). The truly heartbreaking part is when something happens that should draw them together and instead adds more stress. I ached for Katie as all she wanted was for Ryder to actually tell her how he feels. She's pretty sure she knows, but she needs to hear the words. And poor Ryder knows what she wants, but the words just won't come. I ached for him as he ran away, and wanted to smack him for his stubbornness. I loved his big moment at the end, when he turned out to be far more eloquent than he knew he could be.

The secondary characters were also fantastic. Though we only saw her a couple times, one of my favorites was Ryder's LA neighbor Clara. She is quite a character, and has gotten to know him very well. I loved seeing her read him the riot act over his relationship with Katie. I also loved seeing Joe and Cami again. It was especially fun to see the girls' night that she had with Katie, when she got Katie drunk. I also loved how they teased Ryder and Katie about their inability to hide their relationship. I also loved Ryder's dad, Jax, even though his initial treatment of Ryder was so terrible. Seeing the two of them finally talk about the things that had happened really gave a sweet resolution to their relationship. I can't wait for my next trip to Twilight. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A SEAL Forever - Anne Elizabeth (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Dec 2015)

Series: West Coast Navy SEALs (Book 3)

Even a hero needs someone to believe in him...

Parkour instructor Maura Maxwell has always denied her attraction for her bachelor neighbor because she's seen his revolving door of women and doesn't want to become another notch on his belt. But the man who rescues her from a sudden storm isn't the one she thinks she knows-he's Master Chief Declan Swifton of SEAL Team Five, and he literally sweeps Maura off her feet.

Just as his teasing and tenderness start to work their way into Maura's heart, Declan and his team are called in for a dangerous op in the Middle East. The man who returns is facing the toughest fight of his life, and he needs Maura by his side more than ever...

Very good book. Maura and Declan are neighbors who share a balcony in their apartment building. Maura is attracted to Declan, but too shy to do anything about it, especially seeing the variety of beautiful women who pass through his apartment. Declan is a Navy SEAL who makes no secret of his avoidance of committing to any one woman. His job makes relationships difficult, and a SEAL is all he's ever wanted to be. When Declan rescues her from a stormy dip in the ocean, it's the impetus she needs to go after what she wants.

I really liked Maura. She may be shy around Declan, but when it comes to the rest of her life, she's a hard charger. As a gymnast, she lost her Olympic dream when she was involved in a car accident. Now she teaches parkour and gymnastics and dreams of owning her own gym - a dream that is about to come true. She's also a woman with a big heart, which shows in the way she cares for the kids and families who use her gym. I loved how her brush with death motivated her to overcome her shyness with Declan. She is also a woman with incredible inner strength. She used that strength to beat her injuries, and she used it again to help Declan.

Declan was great. He is a SEAL with a lot of years in the teams. What he does is a huge part of who he is. He has a great relationship with his Team brothers, and I loved the scenes of them together. Though I was a bit mad at Declan  that first night after he rescued Maura, when he followed through on his plans with another woman, that didn't last long. Once he really got to know Maura, that was it for him. Declan is a big, strong guy of course, but is also pretty sensitive. He has good insights into what makes people tick and has a talent for bringing out the best in them.

I loved the development of their relationship. Their first date, where she asked him out to say thank you for saving her, was really unexpected. I loved how it turned out, and it was a good indicator of how their relationship would go. Over the course of several weeks, Declan realized that there was something different about the way he felt for Maura. Instead of being bored after a few dates, there was always something new to be learned about her, or to do with her. This had never happened to him before and had him believing that there might be a future for them together. Maura feels the same about him, but she has a few doubts. She worries that she isn't enough, and an encounter with an old girlfriend of his has her questioning their relationship. She pulls away, and by the time she sees the light, he's been called away on a mission.

The description of the mission and its aftermath are very well done. During the whole thing I felt as though I was there. Declan's injuries were life-threatening and I ached for him when he found out just how bad they were. His own inner strength and determination came out as he knew he had choices in how he dealt with them. I ached for his fear that he would lose his work with the SEALs because of them. I was also a bit mad that he never contacted Maura the whole time he was in the hospital, though I sort of understood his reasoning. I loved how the closeness of the SEAL family was shown in the support that he got while in the hospital.

Declan was worried about how Maura would react when she saw him. I was a little surprised at how smoothly that went as I would have expected at least some anger over the long silence. Most likely because of her own injuries, Maura is very accepting of his. But she's also no pushover, and doesn't let him wallow in his fears for long. I loved her gentle butt-kicking, and the effect it had on him. Their progress together, as Declan learns to cope with his new reality, strengthened their relationship. I also loved how her push also got him looking at a new direction in his life with the SEALs. I loved Declan's big moment at the end, and the epilogue was a nice addition.

I loved all the interactions with Declan's Teammates, both his and Maura's. The closeness of the brotherhood really came out in the post-injury support. I loved that there was no pity, only the effort to make things as normal as possible. From adapting his motorcycle to being his support team for the triathlon, they were there for him. I also loved their acceptance of Maura, especially during his emergency surgery. I would love to see Leaper get his own story.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Christmas Getaway - Anne Stuart, Tina Leonard, Marion Lennox (HQN - Nov 2008)

Claus and Effect by Anne Stuart

Take Eloise. First she's kidnapped by Santa, and now she's camping out in an abandoned lighthouse with the most infuriatingly intoxicating cop she's ever met. Is she sleeping with the enemy or the man destined to make her Mrs. Claus?

This is a three part book, with each part written by a different author. In the first, Ellie is in a bridal shop, wearing a butt ugly dress belonging to her fiancé, and having second thoughts. Next thing she knows, the shop has been evacuated and she's been kidnapped by a Santa with a gun. James is a cop who has been set up to take the fall for murder and a jewel heist. He thinks Ellie may have some information he needs, but instead she ends up saving his life.

This was face-paced from the first page, with only a short time to tell the story. I loved that Ellie doesn't panic when James takes her hostage, but instead gives as good as she gets. Once he gets away, he doesn't want to keep her, but now that she knows he's hurt, she refuses to be turned loose. Between taking care of him and dodging the dirty cops who are after them, they also try to fight the attraction that's sparking. I loved the back and forth snark at the beginning and how it turns to real conversation as they travel. By the time they reach their destination and hole up waiting for their chance to talk to James's friend, the blaze is too much to ignore. The ending is exciting and funny, as both Ellie and James realize their feelings. Loved James's uncle and his suggestions.





Caught at Christmas by Tina Leonard

Meanwhile Jean is abducted to a remote ranch, stuck teaching a handsome Texas Ranger how to enjoy a little sensual Christmas cheer.

Jean is the maid of honor for her best friend at a society wedding. She's trying to figure out how to tell Molly that her groom is a no-show when the shooting starts. She's immediately grabbed and rushed away by Sam, a Texas Ranger who is also Molly's brother. It seems that Jean overheard something she shouldn't have, and the dirty cop groom and his cohorts feel he has to take her out. Sam is determined to protect her, and Jean just wants to get home for Christmas with her family.

Jean has trouble believing that someone actually wants to kill her until Sam makes her see the truth. He takes her to his ranch for safekeeping. Sam is pretty much a loner except for his sister, but something about Jean has him acting out of character. Jean is a cheerful, look at the bright side librarian, and finds herself irresistibly drawn to Sam. I liked seeing her start to break through his self-protective walls by bringing some Christmas cheer to his ranch. It was also fun to see her talk him into taking her home for Christmas, even though it went against his better judgment. This was proven out when they were attacked on the drive and escaped thanks to a Santa like truck driver. The attraction between them really starts to burn hot, but Sam is intent on protecting and trying to resist the sparks. Jean really wants a chance to explore the feelings. I loved the scene at her parents' house when he sneaks in during the night and disappears by morning, only to return with the news that he has to get her away again. He fumbles through that explanation and his real intentions in a totally adorable way.





Candy Canes and Crossfire by Marion Lennox

And Molly? Her nuptials are shot up and her fiancé's a no-show, but when she arrives at a supposedly private Australian hideaway to recoup, she's not alone and the heat is enough to melt the mere memory of a white Christmas.

In the final section of the book we have the bride, Molly. She's ready to go through with the wedding, but the groom isn't there. Instead, there is gunfire and a hunky good Samaritan who tosses her out of the line of fire. Once all the excitement is over, she just wants to get away, so she heads off to an Australian hideaway - only to find it's already occupied.

Joe is an Aussie who came to the States to see his orphaned nieces and nephew, attendants at a wedding. After the trauma that occurred at the wedding, he takes them back to Australia to their parents' beach house. Joe is a bachelor uncle who has absolutely no idea what to do with the kids. He's relieved by Molly's arrival and hopes that she'll stick around and help.

Both Joe and Molly are commitment-phobic people. Molly's marriage was going to be one of partnership, not love, and she's now questioning her judgment in getting involved with him at all. Added to a dysfunctional family and childhood and a tragedy as a teen, she's not looking for any kind of involvement for her future. Joe grew up in foster care, without much experience of love (except for one foster mother). His closest relationship was with a foster sister (Ellie, from the first story). He knows that he's all that the kids have and is really afraid that he'll screw things up.

I loved Molly's arrival at the house. The kids are thrilled, Joe is relieved, and Molly just wants to hide. But she can't refuse to help the kids. The only fly in the ointment is the attraction to Joe, and his obvious interest in her. She doesn't want to open herself up to that kind of pain again. Joe was great. I felt bad for him being so overwhelmed by trying to take care of the kids. He wanted to make them happy, but he was clueless. He hadn't been able to forget Molly, and having her show up at the house was like a dream come true. I felt that he turned out to be a pretty sensitive guy, comforting her when she needed it and backing off when she seemed overwhelmed. It was sweet to see him realize that he was actually falling for her.

There was some intense excitement at the very end when the bad guy showed up, forcing Molly, Joe and the kids to run into the woods. While the actual capture was rather anti-climactic, I loved the ending with all three couples coming together. Fun scene with foster mother Ruby also.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Scene of the Crime: Means and Motive - Carla Cassidy (HI #1673 - Nov 2016)

Series: Scene of the Crime (Book 13)

Gabriel Walters didn't need some know-it-all FBI agent charging in on his territory. But Jordon James wasn't about to let some local police chief derail her, not with three unsolved murders over at the Diamond Cove B and B. If she just immersed herself in the investigation, she could avoid the troubles she'd left back home…and run head-on into some new ones with Gabriel. He didn't want to discover a fourth victim, which, if the note slid under Jordon's bedroom door was to be believed, would be her. Now it will take their full cooperation to catch a killer -- before he strikes again.

Good book. There have been three murders at the Diamond Cove B&B and police chief Gabriel Walters is at a dead end in his investigation. Enter Jordon James, an FBI agent with an excellent track record. He isn't thrilled about have the Feds involved, but he wants the murderer caught. Jordon is used to getting attitude from local law enforcement, but she won't let it stop her from doing her job. Neither one expects the sparks that flare up between them.

I really liked both Gabriel and Jordon. She is a kick butt agent, very good at what she does. She also tends to be a loner, preferring to work by herself rather than with a partner. This got her into trouble a year earlier when she nearly became the next victim of a serial killer. She's sure that her boss has sent her on this job just because she'll have to work with the police chief. Her first impression of him is that he's intense and uptight, but also very sexy.

Gabriel had come to Branson from Chicago, looking for a job that wasn't quite so intense. He's frustrated by the lack of progress in this case. He'll do whatever necessary, even work with the FBI agent the mayor has foisted on him. He quickly notices her beauty and sexiness, but is determined to resist the unprofessional attraction.

I loved their first encounter. They reminded me a little of two dogs circling each other, trying to decide if they'll be friends or not. Both of them were guilty of a bit of prejudging, seeing what they expected to see. I loved seeing Jordon confront him right away about his attitude, and also that Gabriel admitted his fault right away. Air cleared, it made it much easier for them to move forward as a team. I also liked that Jordon was fully aware of her own faults. It was pretty sweet to see how protective Gabriel was of Jordon, even though he knew that she was a trained agent. His frustration at her insistence on staying at the B&B was obvious.

I enjoyed the development of their relationship. Constantly in each other's company, they quickly got to know each other. I loved seeing how tuned in to each other's feelings they were. It was especially obvious during their investigation of the house of mirrors, when Gabriel could sense Jordon's unease. I loved how he got her to tell him about what had happened to her. Their conversations were frequently filled with unexpected humor, as that was Jordon's way of dealing with the stress. It didn't take Gabriel long to realize that Jordon was exactly the kind of woman he had been looking for. She understands the life of a law enforcement officer, and he respects her abilities, too. But Jordon isn't so quick to reciprocate. She had been married before and her husband had done a number on her ability to believe that a man would ever love her. Added to the constant disapproval from her parents, she doesn't think that there is hope for a long term relationship, so she pushes him away. I ached for him as he laid his heart on the line for her and she was too afraid to accept it. I wasn't sure how long it would take her to realize the truth. The ending was great, and I loved the epilogue.

The suspense of the story was really good. The lack of clues was frustrating to both as they worked to develop a list of suspects. There were multiple possibilities and all of them seemed to have reasons to do it. There were several times I really wanted to smack Jordon for the things she did. She was way too determined to put herself in danger, and she took a lot of risky chances. Each time an attempt took place, I thought for sure they'd figure out who was responsible. When the final confrontation came, Jordon showed that she still hadn't learned her lesson. Back in the house of mirrors, with a killer whose identity I did not see coming, the encounter was scary and intense.  Jordon was very lucky that Gabriel had discovered she was missing. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mountain Shelter - Cassie Miles (HI #1682 - Dec 2016)

A mountain hideaway is all that stands between a bodyguard and the killer after his beautiful client…

As a highly skilled cyber security expert and bodyguard, there are few dangers Dylan Timmons can't handle. But his next assignment brings unexpected risks. Hired to protect brilliant -- but socially reclusive -- neurosurgeon Jayne Shackleford, Dylan seeks answers in what he suspects was a foiled kidnapping attempt. As the daughter of an oil tycoon, Jayne is the perfect target for ransom, so retreating to the mountains is the first step in keeping her safe. The second step is remaining vigilant in their secluded surroundings -- and resisting the beautiful brunette with a target on her back.

Good book that starts with intense action and never really lets up. Jayne is a neurosurgeon who escapes an attempted kidnapping. Dylan is the cyber security expert she hires to be her bodyguard. Together they work to find out who is after her and why.

I really liked both Jayne and Dylan. Jayne is brilliant, having gone through her schooling to become a doctor in a very short time. She is incredible at what she does, but outside the hospital not so much. Because she had concentrated on her studies from a very young age, she never really learned how to interact with people her own age. A few dating disasters have put her off romantic relationships also. But she recognizes her attraction to Dylan for what it is and is determined to pursue it.

Dylan is a brilliant computer programmer and has put his talents to good use with the security company he runs with his brother and friend. He is not the typical bodyguard type, instead he is a tall, lanky, glasses-wearing geek. His strength seems to be in out-thinking the bad guys rather than beating them up. He is attracted to Jayne right away, not just to her physical beauty, but also to her brilliant mind.

I loved the development of their romance. Both are incredibly smart and find that sexy in each other.  Dylan takes his job seriously and is determined to protect Jayne without getting involved with her, because that would be a distraction that could get them both killed. Jayne is equally determined to have her way with him. She doesn't expect anything to go past his time of protecting her, because nobody has ever wanted her for real. It was so much fun to see them connect on their nerd levels - the scene where she got excited over him having a 3D printer was priceless. I also enjoyed their time on the RSQ ranch and seeing Dylan teach Jayne how to have fun. It was such an unusual experience for her that my heart ached for her. Both of them tried to protect their hearts by attempting to ignore the depth of their feelings, but in the end they couldn't be denied. I loved the ending and the matter-of-fact way they made their decision.

The suspense of the story was also good. Once they knew who was after her, they had to figure out why. Many of the actions of Koslov didn't make sense in light of what they knew about him. As more information was uncovered it became pretty obvious who was behind it and why, the only question was how it was going to happen. I loved the intensity and fast pace of the final confrontation. It was great to see how her time with Dylan had given Jayne more confidence in her ability to handle herself, and she used that ability to hold off disaster. I loved seeing her medical talents hold true and how it brought about a satisfactory ending for most.

Jayne's relationship with her father was also a big part of the story. Their interactions had always been painful for Jayne, who felt that her father never appreciated her for who she was. I got the feeling that part of the problem was that he simply didn't know how to relate to her. The final scene with them was pretty sweet, and I have high hopes that the future will be very different for them.

The Holiday Gift - RaeAnne Thayne (HSE #2515 - Dec 2016)

Series: Cowboys of Cold Creek (Book 15)

A COWBOY FOR CHRISTMAS

With two kids and an active life, widow Faith Dustin only wants peace and quiet for Christmas. But her snowy Pine Gulch ranch is nothing but chaotic. All that keeps Faith going is her helpful neighbor, cowboy Chase Brannon. He's always been "good ol' Chase," her faithful friend. Until he kisses her under the mistletoe…

Years ago Chase blew his chance with the woman he's loved since childhood. Now he's determined to step out of the friend zone…and into the role of husband. But the scared and stubborn Faith won't let herself fall. With Christmas just days away, Chase will need all the magic of the season -- and the help of her two matchmaking children -- to unwrap a second chance at love.

Fantastic friends to lovers story. Chase and Faith have been best friends since she was sixteen. He'd been in love with her even then, but was waiting for her to heal from the traumatic events that brought her and her sisters to live with their aunt and uncle in Pine Gulch. But before he could tell her of his feelings, she fell in love with and married their other friend Travis, and he had to stay in the friend zone. Two years earlier Travis had died and Chase was there to help her with whatever she needed. Now he's tired a just being a friend and wants more, but he doesn't know if she's ready. When a mutual friend sounds him out about dating Faith, Chase realizes he needs to make his move or risk losing her again. Faith has depended on Chase and his friendship for a long time. He's always been there for her. But suddenly there's tension between them and she doesn't know why - until he kisses her. He wants more than she's ready to give.

I loved the development of the actual romance. I thought Chase was an amazingly sensitive and patient man. He also was determined that he wasn't going to lose out again, and when he saw that someone else was looking to date her, he knew he had to act fast. Faith knew him well enough that she knew something was up on the trip back from the auction, but she had no clue what it was. Chase's insistence that the stockgrower's dance was an actual date, not just friends going together, totally freaked her out. She was afraid that if they changed their relationship and she lost him, she would be devastated. It was interesting to see how oblivious she had been to his feelings for her, until he kissed her. She was also clueless about her own feelings for him. I wanted to shake her when she tried setting him up with another woman even though he had made his interest in her very clear. It was fantastic to see how patient Chase was, but that he also refused to be pushed away. I ached for him when he finally declared himself and had to watch Faith continue to deny her feelings. I loved seeing her finally face her fears. The scene in the barn on Christmas Eve was fantastic. I also loved the epilogue and catching up with everyone a year later.

There is also a strong sense of family throughout the book. Faith and her sisters are very close and are there for each other. I loved their cooperation on running the Christmas Ranch, even though some of it can be reluctant. I especially loved the way that Hope and Celeste and Aunt Mary all were fully aware of Chase's feelings for Faith and completely bewildered by Faith's obliviousness. It was fun to watch them all try to get Faith to open her eyes. I also loved how Chase was such a fantastic father. I loved his relationship with Addie. He's also terrific with Faith's kids. I loved the way that he thought of her family as his, and they felt the same way about him.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Nowhere to Hide - RaeAnne Thayne (SIM #1264 - Dec 2003)

Series: The Searchers (Book 1)

As an on-the-run single mother out to protect her little girls, Lisa Connors needed two things: money, and to keep her identity secret. But it was just her luck that the possibility of the former would threaten the latter -- for as the caretaker of the hunk-next-door with two broken legs, her ability to keep her distance was already shaky. When she found out said hunk's profession -- FBI agent -- it was downright demolished....

Gage McKinnon had spent most of his life trying to keep away from all things familial, so the last thing he needed was to have two adorable little girls take root next door. But it was their mother who posed his greatest threat. For in Lisa he felt that door in his heart -- the one that had been slammed shut twenty-five years ago -- start to open, just a crack.

Very emotional book, more than just a love story between two people. Lisa is at her wit's end when she ends up in Park City. Her husband had died two years earlier and his parents are involved in a custody battle with her. Terrified of losing her girls to the people her husband couldn't wait to get away from, she took them and ran. Aggravating the issue is her battle with diabetes. When her car breaks down, she finds a job cleaning houses, where she can remain under the radar. Then she discovers she is living next door to an FBI agent, which ramps up her stress.

Gage is an FBI agent working with the Crimes Against Children unit, which is pretty much his life. He lost his sister to a kidnapper many years ago, and the effects it had on his family has turned him into a hard and driven man. He is also eaten up by guilt, feeling he should have been able to stop it. Having two little girls right next door just increases the feelings.

I loved the development of the romance. It had a slow start, due to a rather contentious first meeting. But even that aggravation didn't stop both from feeling a spark of attraction. When Gage was injured on the job, his friend and landlady, knowing she had nursing experience, hired Lisa to take care of him. Gage is a stubborn man and the clashes between him and Lisa were fun to see, especially when he ended up agreeing with her. I ached for Gage, whose boatload of guilt had him trying to push both Lisa and her girls away. I loved the scene in the kitchen when little Gaby bulldozed him into doing what she wanted. I loved how seeing Gage with the girls also started to heal Lisa's heart from the loss of her husband. The attraction between Gage and Lisa kept pulling them together, no matter how hard they tried to fight it. But Lisa still fears discovery, and what would happen if Gage knew the truth. I cried for her when those fears sent her running again. The ending was fantastic, with a resolution that came about differently than I expected. I loved seeing the changes in Gage's outlook and how he and Lisa came together.

Also part of the book was how the kidnapping of his sister affected Gage and his entire family. His deep seated guilt had caused him to distance himself from his brother Wyatt and his mother. I loved the scene in which Wyatt showed up and read Gage the riot act for not telling his family about his injury. I also loved seeing Gage and his mother reconnect and clear the air between them. The part where they talk about the kidnapping was heartwrenching and had me in tears. I have also discovered that both Wyatt and the missing sister have their own stories and I can't wait to read them.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Everywhere She Goes - Janice Kay Johnson (HS #1896 - Jan 2014)

Series: Mysteries of Angel Butte (Book 2)

Standing between her…and danger

Returning to her hometown is Cait McAllister's chance to stand on her own. That means taking a break from men and relationships. Then she meets her new boss, the intriguing Noah Chandler. As the mayor, he's got bold plans for Angel Butte. As a man, he's so tempting that Cait's vow of independence is in jeopardy.

The most persuasive part of him, however, could be the way he looks out for her. Because when a threat from her past puts her in danger, Noah is there to protect her. And there's no way she can resist a man who has so much invested in keeping her safe.

Very good book. Cait has returned to Angel Butte, escaping from an abusive relationship. It also gives her a chance to reconnect with her estranged brother, who is a police officer with the town. She plans to stay away from men and relationships until she is more confident in her judgment. She takes a job as the city planner, working for Mayor Noah Chandler.

Noah moved to Angel Butte looking for his father, whose last known address was there. He stayed as he built his restaurant business, then ran for mayor. He's a solitary man who has avoided all relationships.

I loved both Noah and Cait. Cait moves to Angel Butte to escape the attentions of an ex-boyfriend who is stalking her. Having grown up in an abusive family, she's embarrassed that she got caught up in the same situation. She's determined to put it behind her and start a new life. Part of that entails getting the job as the city planner. I loved her confidence in her abilities as she stood up to every question Noah threw at her during her interview. Underlying it all is an unexpected attraction to him, one that she isn't comfortable with at the beginning. Cait is still dealing with issues caused by her father's and boyfriend's abuses, and worries that she can't trust her judgment about him. Her relationship with her brother is also still rocky, aggravated by tension between the two men.

One of the things I liked best about Noah is that he's not a drop dead gorgeous man. He's even a bit on the homely side by most people's reckoning. He's also pretty forceful, and has made a name for himself as a mayor who can't be pushed around. He's dismayed by his attraction to Cait, as getting involved with an employee has never been an option for him. But he finds that he can't stay away from her. He has issues that hold him back from committing to anyone, stemming from his own childhood in a dysfunctional family.

I enjoyed the development of their relationship. They can't fight their attraction as it simmers under every time they are together. When Cait is targeted by someone from her past, Noah's protectiveness really comes out. It was fun to see him and Colin on the same side in this, when they are adversaries in so many other ways. As they spend time together and find so many things in common, their feelings begin to grow. Cait realizes what is happening and is afraid that she's going to end up getting hurt. Noah is pretty clueless about what is happening to him. He gets flashes of what it would be like to have Cait with him always, but fights them off. When he finally clues in to what is really going on, he doesn't handle it very well.  It takes a life threatening crisis to bring them back together and show them both what they could have together. I loved the ending, especially the visit from the three council members.

The mystery of what was happening kept me hooked throughout the book. Cait left Seattle for Angel Butte, hoping to leave her problems with her ex behind. A series of attacks after she arrives in town make it clear that she is still in trouble. Besides the corruption and other problems that came to light in the previous book, there has also been another murder. As both Noah and Colin work to protect Cait, it becomes apparent that there is more going on than a simple stalking case. There are several unexpected twists and turns to the case that show an unexpected connection between Noah and Cait. The final confrontation with an unexpected foe was very intense, with both Cait and Noah fighting for their lives. While the main mystery of this book was resolved, there are still ongoing issues in Angel Butte. I've read some of them, and each book is just as riveting as this one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

His Secret Baby Bombshell - Jules Bennett (HD #2476 - Oct 2016)

Series: Dynasties: The Newports (Book 4)

Expecting her rival's baby!

Driven businesswoman Eve Winchester has big plans to take her father's Chicago real estate empire global. But when she ends up pregnant by her family's personal and professional nemesis, she's thrown into the shark tank of corporate intrigue. Now she's doing damage control as she falls even deeper for Graham Newport.

Graham has never had such a heated, secret fling. But suddenly Eve is pregnant, and no strings attached turns into the ties that bind. Graham won't turn his back on what's his, but will family friction tear apart their fledgling affair?

Good book. From the first book in the series to this one, the attraction between Eve and Graham has been obvious. The problem is that their two families have been enemies for years, making a relationship between them difficult. Graham is a lawyer who is excellent at what he does. He also has no desire for any kind of permanent relationships in his life, though mutually satisfying affairs are just fine with him. Eve is a driven businesswoman who has taken over her dying father's real estate empire. She is smart, beautiful and focused on her career. A relationship with Graham is not a smart thing on her part.

Whatever it is that is burning between them can't be denied, and they give in to the heat. Because of their families' enmity, both have been warned to stay away from each other, but they can't do it. The moments they steal together are hot, passionate, and never enough. Keeping their secret is vital, but fate has other plans. Eve ends up pregnant and they have to make some decisions.

I loved the progress of their relationship. Though Graham is shocked at her news, he knows that he wants to be an involved father. I loved how protective he gets, and how his attitude changes from thinking of it as an affair. He finds himself thinking of something more, which freaks him out because he has never considered that with anyone else. He's still resisting the idea that he's in love with her, but knows he wants to marry her. He convinces himself that it is for the baby. Eve is quicker to realize her feelings, but the obstacles in their way seem insurmountable. She also has worries about the pregnancy itself. When they get a chance to go away together, it doesn't go quite as either had hoped. I ached for them both as they dealt with what happened. I loved Graham's big moment at the end, as he put everything on the line for her.

The family drama is still there, as Graham and Brooks try to find out the truth about their father. I liked the relationship between the two of them, as they support each other in the search. There's also tension as Graham's relationship with Eve becomes more obvious. I also liked the changes I'm seeing in Eve's father, as he appears to be making an effort to repair his relationship with his daughters. His reaction to Graham's appearance at the end was a surprise. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Heir for the Billionaire - Kat Cantrell (HD #2462 - Aug 2016)

Series: Dynasties: The Newports (Book 2)

Will a single mom and her baby become an instant family for this all-business tycoon?

After learning her billionaire father is dying, Nora Winchester O'Malley rushes to his bedside in Chicago -- and right into an old friend's arms. Reid Chamberlain is there to comfort the young widowed mom when she needs it most. But what passes between them isn't mere compassion…it's sheer passion.

Reid has been all business for so long, shutting down his emotions as he built up his hotel empire. Now Nora and her adorable child have come along, stirring up demons he must face to have a shot at a future…

Good book. I haven't read the first in the series, but there was enough backstory that I didn't feel lost. This was a friends to lovers story, with some family drama thrown into the mix. Nora has returned to Chicago and the bedside of her estranged, dying father, hoping for some change in their relationship. While there she sees her old friend Reid Chamberlain, who has changed a lot from their high school days.

Reid has devoted himself to his business ever since a family tragedy, becoming something of a hermit. Hearing that his old friend Nora is back in town, he surprises her by sending food to the hospital for her and her family as they deal with her father's illness. Her appearance in his office to thank him brought back memories and made him want to know more.

I loved the development of their relationship. From the moment they met again there were incredible sparks flying. Reid has fond memories of their friendship and has nothing like it in his life now. He also can't deny the intense attraction he feels for her, and is torn about whether to pursue it. Their encounter in his office was fantastic, with both of them feeling the heat. An agreement to have dinner that night promised to be interesting indeed. And it was, until a phone call about her son brought everything to a screeching halt.

Reid freaked when he found out that Nora is a mother.  Because of his own problems with his father and what his father did to the rest of the family, Reid is convinced that he is unable to be a father to anyone. Therefore he makes it a rule never to get involved with a woman who has a child. He said some really awful things as he basically kicked her out of his apartment. I loved seeing him suffer over the next couple days, as he dealt with the guilt of the things he said. I also laughed out loud at his assistant's comments and advice, followed by his brother's advice.

Nora has also been affected by her father's treatment of her. It has left her with an abundance of caution when it comes to men and their attitudes toward children. She would be more than happy to take advantage of the attraction between herself and Reid, but she isn't going to let herself fall for him.

From this point on, Reid and Nora spend as much time together as possible. In spite of claiming it is just an affair, it is obvious that there is more to it for Reid. I loved his protectiveness toward Nora and Declan, and how he goes out of his way to give her the support and comfort she needs. And even though he claims that he isn't cut out to be a father, his connection with Declan is really sweet. I especially loved that first encounter between them - Reid was all but terrified of the boy, but handled the situation beautifully. It was interesting to see Reid try to fight what was happening between him and Nora, thinking that he was protecting them. I loved the way that Nora saw beneath Reid's hard exterior to the vulnerable man underneath. As they all spent time together, she fell more and more under his spell, wishing for more but knowing it wasn't possible.

I loved how Reid became a different man when he was with Nora and Declan, and cried for him when something happened that brought back all his old fears. It was wonderful to see that Nora had enough confidence in her own feelings and belief in his, that she refused to put up with his running away. I loved seeing her go after what she wanted and Reid's reaction to it. The epilogue was terrific as we see a totally different Reid.

The family drama is interesting as the Winchester patriarch is dying after dropping a couple really big bombshells. It has created some serious conflict between his daughters and the Newport brothers. There is also the relationship he has, or doesn't have, with his daughters, who suffered from his neglect while growing up and his manipulations as they got older. I loved that the three girls were so close, giving each other the support that they needed. I also loved seeing how Nora had had the strength of will to walk away from it all and live her own life. I'm looking forward to reading Eve and Grace's stories.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The CEO's Little Surprise - Kat Cantrell (HD #2446 - May 2016)

Series: Love and Lipstick (Book 1)

It's a corporate takedown in the boardroom and the bedroom -- until a little secret raises the stakes!

Cassandra Claremont's favorite position is CEO -- and she's sure as hell not stepping down for Gage Branson, the sexy playboy who once broke her heart. When inside intel threatens her company's success, he's her number one suspect. So why is she still entranced by his sexual spell?

Gage is determined to stoke the fire beneath Cass's icy exterior and clear his name. Fortunately, working after hours with the blonde beauty allows him to pursue both goals. But when secrets from Gage's past are exposed, will Cass lose her company, her heart or both?

Very good second chance story with some mystery added to the mix. I was already somewhat familiar with the mystery, as I have previously read the second book in the series A Pregnancy Scandal. I was very happy to read the first book and get some of the backstory I had missed.

Cass is the CEO of a cosmetics company that she founded and runs with three friends. They have recently discovered that information on their newest product has been leaked to the press, putting their company's success at risk. A short time later, a rival CEO arrives offering to buy the formula for that product. Cass isn't interested in selling, especially to Gage - the college love that broke her heart. Besides, she's not so sure he isn't the one behind the leak.

Gage has his own very successful line of skin care for men, but Cass's new product could put a serious dent in his business. He was her mentor in college, and plans to use that fact as leverage to get her to sell him the formula. He has fond memories of their time together, and hopes for some replays of those times. He doesn't expect the cold reaction he gets to his appearance.

I really wasn't too sure about these two at the beginning. There is no doubt that the sparks are still there, but both of them have been corporate big-wigs for a long time. Gage knows exactly what he wants, and he is willing to do anything to get it, even use seduction. He remembers Cass well from all those years ago and is intrigued by the changes he sees in her, but still looks at it as a challenge. I was a bit disturbed by his attempts to manipulate her. Cass remembers all too well her devastation at the end of their relationship. She took her pain and channeled it into her business plans. She also hasn't trusted a man since then. She is suspicious of the timing of his appearance and determined to do what it takes to find out if he's playing both sides. She, too, is willing to use whatever means she can to find the truth.

I began to enjoy the back-and-forth between them as each one tried to figure out what the other was thinking and planning. Gage tended to use charm and flirting to get under Cass's skin, while she tried to give the image of someone who was simply humoring him. Both of them were far more affected by the heat between them than either would admit. Cass decided that keeping Gage close was the best way to get the truth, and talked him into helping her find the leak. I was a bit disappointed in Gage when he kept putting off the promised help, until he realized just how important it was to her.

The passion between them wasn't diminishing at all, and Cass quickly realized that she was in serious danger of getting hurt again. She knew that Gage's attitude about commitment hadn't changed in the years apart, and believing in a future together wasn't going to happen. Then Gage is blindsided by a secret from his past, and Cass is the only one he can turn to for support. I loved seeing the huge changes that he experienced, and the effect those changes had on Cass. But trust is still a huge obstacle, and when Cass confronts Gage with some disturbing information he doesn't take it well. I loved seeing him have to take a hard look at his own actions and see that he was equally at blame. I loved his big moment at the end and the epilogue that leads into the next book.

At the heart of this book is the friendship among Cass, Trinity, Alex and Harper, and the business they built together. Each one has her own niche in the company. Unfortunately, the presence of a corporate spy has put a strain on the business and the friendships, as Cass feels the pressure of being unable to find out who it is. There are times when Cass feels very alone, but I wanted to shake her because she wasn't asking for help. Though one name has come up as suspect, there is no resolution at the end of this book. I expect that the truth won't be known until the end of the fourth one, but I can't wait for the journey.

The Fairest of Them All - Cathy Maxwell (Avon - June 2016)

Series: Marrying the Duke (Book 2)

The penniless orphan of a disreputable earl, Lady Charlene Blanchard thrives on the adventure of picking the pockets of unsavory gentlemen to survive. But due to her extraordinary beauty and prized bloodlines, she is hand-chosen as a potential bride for the Duke of Baynton, who is on the hunt for a suitable wife to provide heirs. All Char has to do is act the part she was born to play and charm a duke she’s never laid eyes on into proposing. Except the duke turns out to be the tall, dark and sexy stranger who just caught her red-handed as a thief!

Or is he? Jack Whitridge is the duke’s twin who had “gone missing” over ten years ago. Now back in England, he knows that the supposed Lady who has his brother’s love is hardly duchess material -- except he needs her to save his adopted country from war. He is willing to bargain with her heart, until he finds himself falling for Char . . .

Good book. Lady Charlene is the daughter of an earl but is a penniless one, living with her mother's illegitimate half-sister and trying to make ends meet. She has discovered a talent for picking pockets and uses that talent to augment her aunt's theater income. Her career nearly comes to an end when she is caught by the companion of her latest victim. She manages to get away, but her relief is short-lived. A family friend has managed to get her an introduction to Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Bayton, who is looking for a wife. But he also happens to be the twin brother of the man who had caught her stealing.

Jack Whitridge had disappeared without a trace more than ten years ago. He has unexpectedly returned to England as a member of an American delegation trying to prevent war between England and America. He'd like to reconcile with his family, especially Gavin, but the gulf between them may be too wide to do so. It doesn't help things that he's also attracted to the woman Gavin wants for his wife.

Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Baynton, just can't win. He had been engaged to Elin Morris all his life, until she fell in love with his brother Ben (The Match of the Century). Now he is on the hunt for a wife and settles on Lady Charlene. He is smitten with her from the moment he meets her, and courts her in a sweet, yet awkward way. The reappearance of his brother Jack throws a kink in his plans, as he must deal with his feelings about his twin's arrival.

There was an immediate spark between Charlene and Jack when they met. I loved that first meeting, as Char robs his friend and Jack gives chase. Her escape from him is pretty funny, though not for Jack. Both are stunned to discover that they are linked to the Duke. Char knows that she should pursue the proposed match between herself and Gavin, whom she likes but feels no spark with. Her aunt and godmother are both pushing her toward him, wanting Char to have the life they feel she deserves. But she can't keep Jack out of her mind. Their connection gets even closer when he saves her from the nefarious plans of a local group of criminals. Jack also can't stop thinking about Char. He is there on a diplomatic mission, which isn't going all that well. He needs Gavin's help to make the connections he needs. Jack and Char are frequently thrown together, thanks to those efforts, and their attraction grows.

Things come to a head when Gavin realizes what is happening right beneath his nose. His jealousy causes him to take action against Jack. A rescue by Char, followed by a run for Gretna Green and a chase by Gavin and Char's aunt Sarah, make an exciting ending to the story. I loved the journey made by Jack and Char as they discover just how right for each other they are. The pursuers, Gavin and Sarah, don't have as amiable a trip, as they constantly rub each other the wrong way. The confrontation at Gretna Green finally has Jack and Gavin talking honestly with each other, leading to hope for a true reconciliation. I liked the epilogue and the update on Char and Jack's life together.

I liked Charlene and her determination to help her aunt Sarah. Her internal conflict as she was torn between duty and love was very real. I ached for her as she tried to find her way. I liked Jack and his loyalty to his new country. He really wanted to help stop the war that he saw coming. However, I thought he was a bit selfish for not contacting his family once he was settled in America and letting them know he was alive and well. I was rather glad that he had to work at reconciling with them. I did like his protectiveness toward Char. The one I felt the most for was Gavin. He had lost his twin, leaving him feeling very alone as he was growing up and dealing with a demanding father. Then as an adult, to lose not one, but two potential brides to his brothers, was especially frustrating for him. He was also pretty complex, sometimes being really nice, understanding and supportive, and at others he was arrogant, cold and devious. I'm looking forward to the next book and seeing him finally find someone to love. If the hint during this book is true, he's in for a wild ride.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Marry Me at Christmas - Susan Mallery (HQN - Oct 2015)

Series Fool's Gold CA (Book 19)

To bridal boutique owner Madeline Krug, organizing a Christmas wedding sounds like a joy - until she finds out she'll be working closely with the gorgeous brother of the bride, movie star Jonny Blaze. How will a small-town girl like her keep from falling for the world's sexiest guy? Especially with mistletoe lurking around every corner!

Jonny came to Fool's Gold looking for normal, not for love. Happily-ever-after only happens in the movies. Still, nothing about this quirky town is quite what he expected, and "ordinary" Madeline is the most extraordinary woman he's ever met. Refreshingly honest, disarmingly sweet. Achingly beautiful.

Planning the perfect wedding leads to candlelit dinners and strolls through snow-covered streets. And Madeline finds Jonny in real life even more captivating than her celebrity crush. But will the action star be brave enough to risk his heart and step into the role of a lifetime?

Mayor Marsha strikes again, bringing together two people who seem so different but are just right for each other. Madeline grew up in Fool's Gold and after several attempts, has finally found her niche. She is part owner of the local bridal shop, Paper Moon, and loves helping brides find the perfect dress. She hopes that someday she'll find that same happiness for herself. When Mayor Marsha comes to her and asks for help planning a wedding for the sister of a local resident, Madeline can't say no. But she panics a bit when she learns it's the sister of new resident and movie star Jonny Blaze - someone she's had a crush on for a while. She's not sure she can even breathe around him, much less plan a wedding.

Jonny moved to Fool's Gold to escape the craziness of Hollywood life. He just wants a chance to be the regular guy he was before his movie career. He finds it in Fool's Gold, where nobody makes a big fuss over him. He loves his sister, Ginger, and wants to give her the wedding of her dreams, so he gladly accepts Mayor Marsha's offer to find him help.

I loved seeing the relationship develop between them. It was fun to see Madeline start out with the somewhat starstruck feeling that she worked to hide, making sure she behaved professionally while inside she was having trouble believing it.  She was a little surprised by the tingles she felt, making her think of her mom's stories of falling for her dad, but attributes them to star power. She's quite certain that someone like Jonny would never be interested in a small town girl anyway. As they worked together on Ginger's wedding, Madeline quickly got to know the man instead of the star. Jonny finds that Madeline is easy to talk to and easy to work with. She doesn't treat him any differently than anyone else, which makes it possible to relax in her company.

Over the weeks leading up to Ginger's wedding, they spend a lot of time together. A simmering attraction heats up, leaving both wondering where it's heading. Madeline doesn't believe that she's the type that would attract Jonny in any permanent way, and vows to just enjoy it while it lasts. Jonny has a couple issues holding him back. One is that nearly every time he has allowed himself to love, his mother, his father, a girl in high school, tragedy has struck. He holds himself back, even with his sister, because he is afraid of losing again. The other issue is his star status. He has seen what the limelight does to relationships and doesn't want to inflict that on Madeline. I loved seeing Jonny's protectiveness toward Madeline. His double date with her and her ex was beautiful, sweet and hilarious. I really liked how much they just enjoyed being together. I also loved those instances where Madeline had to rein in his tendency to go a little overboard, as they handled it with humor and maturity.  Their reactions to their growing feelings for each other cause a few hiccups in their relationship, but actually talking things through makes a huge difference.

A huge part of their relationship is, of course, where it takes place. Jonny had come to Fool's Gold to get away from the Hollywood hype, but is sometimes surprised by just how normally he is treated. I loved the scene with his car, and the mayor and her request about the ballet narration. It was also great to see how the town has his back when it comes to protecting him from tourists. There's a terrific scene where Gladys rescues him from a woman who thinks she recognizes him. Of course, Gladys and Eddie have their own moments of hilarity, made even better by Jonny's willing participation. Madeline's family also plays a part in his assimilation into the community. Fool's Gold itself also has its effect on Jonny. He quickly feels a part of the community, which leads him into greater participation. I loved his participation in the toy drive and the story behind it. The most heartmelting part, though, was his help with the Pet Adoption event, and what resulted from it. Just that would have cemented him in my heart, as it does with Madeline. I loved catching up with other residents of the town, and enjoyed the surprises that were thrown into the mix.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Going Overboard - Kay Wilding (HAR #463 - Nov 1992)

HE HAD A GLASS SLIPPER...

...but his Cinderella had vanished! The nearly naked stranger who'd fled from his stateroom bath -- leaving only her slipper behind -- now haunted his erotic dreams.

Aboard the luxury cruise ship American Dreamer, a regular bevy of beauties circled the powerful tycoon. Jackson "the Shark" Sherrod knew he was considered the finest catch in the sea. But after one glimpse of his elusive enchantress's enticing flesh, he knew just the woman he wanted.

Jackson wasn't called Sherrod the Shark for nothing. What he wanted, he usually got. Only this time, when it came to this woman, he had to find her first. And Sherrod the Shark was no Prince Charming.

Oldie (25 years!) but still good. Frances is a modern day Cinderella. She had spent the last thirteen years caring for her father, while her older brother and sister went on with their lives. When her father passed away, she got the shock of her life (and so did they), as she inherited almost a million dollars. With her siblings furious at being left out, Frances takes her sister-in-law's advice and goes on a month long cruise to get away. She ends up in the wrong cabin and is in the bath when the rightful occupant arrives. Horrified and embarrassed, she flees, hoping not to see him again.

Jack is a businessman in the midst of a takeover that has run into some problems. On the advice of his partner and best friend, he heads out on a cruise while waiting for developments. He's stunned by the beauty he found in his cabin, and determined to find her again.

I really enjoyed their first meeting. Frances is shocked and frightened by the appearance of a man in what she thinks is her room. Having been sheltered due to her past circumstances, she overreacts just a bit. Jack is suspicious of why she is there and not terribly inclined to believe her explanation. There are definitely sparks flying between them, and Jack wants to know more. But when he answers a phone call, she sneaks away. Frances goes to great lengths the next day to avoid discovery, especially when she finds out that he has been seated at the same table as she for the length of the cruise.

I liked Frances. She was a bit innocent and naïve, her only real exposure to the world coming from reading and watching television. But she was ready to embrace new experiences. It was fun to watch her reactions to Jack, especially at the beginning. She succeeded in hiding from him until a couple too many drinks brought out the gentleman in him and the exposure of her disguise. I liked seeing her relax in his company once they got past their initial meeting. She also has a pretty uncomplicated view of the world - what is right is right, and what isn't is wrong.

I liked Jack also. He's more cynical and world-weary. Having witnessed his father's company being taken over, and his father's reaction to it, Jack has been bent on revenge for the last ten years. He's almost there, and just waiting on some financing when problems arise. Hiding out on the cruise isn't his first choice, but he'll do it if he has to. He looks at finding his mysterious visitor as a welcome distraction, and doesn't expect to have his life changed by her.

I enjoyed the development of their relationship. It started out as friendship, when Jack realized just how innocent Frances was. He's attracted to her, but sees her as far too good for him. He's determined to keep it that way, but finds himself unable to keep from kissing her. Once Frances gets over her embarrassment, she enjoys Jack's company. They have fun with their sightseeing, and they share quite a few laughs. She is also blown away by his kisses, and wants to experience more. Convincing Jack of that seems to be an uphill battle.

I loved seeing Frances's confidence in herself grow thanks to Jack's attention. It was fun to see her plan to get her way with him. Though things didn't go quite as expected, they did end up moving their relationship forward. But as they grew closer, Jack began to feel guilty. He knows that he isn't planning anything permanent, having already made a hash of his personal life once because of his work. He's afraid that he's going to hurt Frances, and he hates that idea, but he also can't force himself to stay away from her. At the same time, Frances's feelings for Jack are growing. She knows that he's not interested in something permanent, but she can't help dreaming a little. A sweet offer from her has Jack taking another look at his own feelings. Then her confidence in her ability to be part of his world takes a hit, and nothing he says can convince her that she is what he needs.

I ached for them both as they parted ways. Both were miserable without each other. I loved seeing Frances's new persona standing up to her sister, but she was still hesitant about fitting in to Jack's life. It was fun to see her sister-in-law try to convince her to try again. I loved Jack's big moment, as he sees the changes he has to make if he is to get the future he wants. The epilogue is sweet, with Frances making some changes of her own.