Book Review – Her Hopes and Dreams

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This one is definitely a heart string puller …

*****

terri-osburn-her-hopes-and-dreams_600x900Her Hopes and Dreams

Ardent Springs, Book 4

by Terri Osburn

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Publication Date: November 15, 2016

Blurb:

As a newly single mother, Carrie Farmer isn’t quite ready to jump back into the dating pool in Ardent Springs—especially since her last marriage was such a disaster. But if anyone could entice her to wade in a bit, it would be her hunky neighbor, Noah Winchester. He’s the perfect man: strong, protective, and smoking hot. But her eyes have deceived her before, and she’s no longer willing to hand over her heart so easily.

After completing several tours in the Middle East, Noah returns to his hometown a very different man. The former soldier’s plan to rest and relax is soon waylaid by the intriguing woman next door and her heart-stealing little girl. Something—or someone—put shadows in Carrie’s lovely eyes, and he’s determined to clear them away. But when hidden demons can no longer be ignored, the couple gets a reminder from an unexpected source that love truly can conquer all.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30838672-her-hopes-and-dreams

Amazon Kindle: http://amzn.to/2eWYihT

Amazon Print: http://amzn.to/2feJhGm

B&N Print: http://bit.ly/2cjAPnE

*****

Excerpt:

Three days into life with her new neighbor and Carrie Farmer wanted to shove a tailpipe up the man’s nose. Sideways.

The newcomer had no respect for the people around him. Though, technically, they were the only two houses for half a mile, so in reality, he had no respect for her. And he definitely didn’t think twice about sleeping babies if the last two nights were any indication.

Enough was enough.

“I can do this,” she muttered, stepping through her side gate to cross onto his property.

The farmhouse had sat vacant since Carrie moved in a year ago. She’d assumed the family who owned it would sell off the rest of the land one plot at a time, in sizes similar to the one she’d purchased. Thanks to a small life insurance policy on her deceased husband, Carrie had been able to put a modest single-wide trailer on her lot, and she’d enjoyed blissful peace and quiet ever since.

That peace and quiet no longer existed thanks to the jerk next door.

When she reached his porch, she fortified her resolve with sev­eral deep breaths. Confrontation made her nervous, for good reason. Seeking conflict wasn’t Carrie’s style, but this man had messed with her child, and that could not be ignored.

Plucking up the courage, she knocked on the door and then shuf­fled several steps backward. Nothing stirred inside. She knocked again. No response. What the heck? The red truck next to the house meant someone was home. Carrie moved down the porch to peer through a window, but the second she pinned her nose to the glass, a roaring engine shattered the silence. She nearly peed her pants as her heart threatened to beat right out of her chest. With clenched fists, she bit back the profanity dancing on the tip of her tongue. As Molly was on the cusp of talking, Carrie did her best to keep her language baby appropriate.

But dammit to hell, that thing was loud. Much louder than it had sounded through her trailer walls.

“This is ridiculous,” she murmured, charging down the steps and around the side of the house. Nearly fifty yards away stood the scene of the crime—an old barn turned garage that did nothing to buffer the sound coming from inside. By the time Carrie reached the entrance, the noise cut off, and she hustled to take advantage of the quiet.

The dimness of the garage compared to the blinding September sun made seeing anything inside nearly impossible. One motorcycle hov­ered on a table to her right. Though, upon closer inspection, she realized the frame was empty. Clearly not the source of the problem. Another machine occupied the center of the space, and as her eyes adjusted, Carrie recognized a figure crouched down on the other side of it.

“Excuse me?” she said. “Can I have a word with you?”

Without getting up, a baritone voice said, “If you’re looking for money, I don’t have any. If you’re recruiting for God, I’ve already punched my ticket to hell. Anything else, I’m not interested, so haul your scrawny ass back to the road and take a hike.”

Undeterred, Carrie said, “I’m here to talk about that monstrosity that you’re hiding behind.”

Rising out of the shadows, he said, “Did you just insult my bike?”

Carrie swallowed hard. Dark eyes narrowed under full brows that matched the reddish-brown whiskers covering half his face. With slow, methodical movements, he wiped his hands on a dirty rag, causing the muscles along his shoulders to flex beneath stained white cotton. Years of living with her former husband had made Carrie an expert at recog­nizing danger. Keeping one eye on the looming giant, she scanned the area for a weapon, aware that without one, she didn’t stand a chance against a man this size. His arms were larger than her thighs, for heaven’s sake, and the rest of him was proportioned to match.

A crowbar leaned against the table to her right. She could probably get to it before he did.

“I’m not here to insult anything,” she assured him, hoping her bravado would hold out. “But I have a baby next door who needs to be able to sleep through the night without that thing thundering to life at two in the morning.”

Surely any reasonable person would feel bad about waking a baby. Then again, this bearded behemoth didn’t look at all reasonable.

Instead of offering an apology, he stepped around the bike, his heavy boots thudding in the dirt with each step. Carrie scooted closer to the crowbar.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

“Like I said. I live next door. I’m sure you’ve seen me in the last few days.”

He shook his head, releasing a long, wavy lock to hang over his right eye. “No, it’s more than that. I’ve met you before.”

As if she’d forget meeting a towering mass of muscle who bore an uncanny resemblance to a grizzly bear. “I don’t think so.”

“What’s your name?”

“Carrie Farmer.”

His eyes went wide. “As in Patch Farmer?”

Panic raced like a gas fire up her spine. “He was my husband.”

“You’re that married chick he was seeing the last time I was home.”

“Excuse me?”

“I can’t believe he married you.”

The insult stung like a slap.

“Life is full of surprises,” she said through gritted teeth. “Are you going to stop cranking this machine every night or not?”

He held up both hands in surrender, the rag dangling from callused fingers. “I get the message. I’ll work on something else at night.”

Satisfied, Carrie nodded. “Thank you. I won’t bother you again.”

“Hold up,” he said, following her out of the garage. “Is the kid Patch’s?”

This man took being a jerk to new levels. Without turning around, she replied, “Yes, she’s Patch’s baby. I was pregnant when he died last summer.”

“Slow down.” The moment his hand touched her wrist, she jerked away, spinning to protect herself.

“Don’t touch me,” she snapped.

“Whoa.” Again he held his hands palm out. “I’m not going to hurt you, lady. Patch was my friend. I just want to know about his kid.”

Reluctant to discuss Molly with this stranger, she asked, “If he was your friend, why weren’t you at the funeral?”

His stance tensed. “Because I was stuck in a desert trying not to get my head blown off.”

Recognition dawned. “Noah?” she said, trying to see the man beneath the beard. “Noah Winchester?”

“That’s right.”

She had met him before. Except he hadn’t been anywhere near this size, and he’d been clean-shaven with the typical military buzz cut. Of course, he’d been an ass back then, too. Of all the people who could have moved in next door, why did it have to be one of Patch’s friends?

Pointing out the obvious, she said, “You don’t look like a guy in the military.”

He tucked the rag in his back pocket, stretching the cotton over his broad chest. “The hair and beard were necessary to blend in for my last assignment. I got used to it, so I kept them after I got out.”

“So you’re living here permanently?” Please say no. Please say no.

“I am.” Of course he was. “This house belonged to my grandparents. No one told me a piece of the land had been sold off.”

“The trailer should have been a big clue,” she said.

The hint of a grin drew her attention to his full lips. The top one curved like a perfect bow. She felt the urge to follow that curve with her fingertip.

Blinking, Carrie gave herself a mental slap. Where the heck had that come from? There would be no lip touching. Or anything else touching, for that matter.

“You interested in selling it back?” he asked.

Dragging her brain back to reality, she said, “Sell what back?”

“The land. I’d rather be out here by myself.”

Of all the . . . She’d worked hard for this little piece of heaven, and she’d definitely earned it. Noah Winchester could blow it out his tailpipe if he thought she’d hand over her land so he could fire up his stupid toys whenever he wanted.

“This is my home. I’m not going anywhere.”

Tucking the loose hair behind his ear, he sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

“I have no intention of bothering you again,” she said, more than happy to give him his space, if not his land. “Keep the noise to the daylight hours and we won’t ever have to talk again.”

“Fine by me,” he said. “But I have one request.”

Carrie held the eye roll in check. She’d do just about anything to keep him out of her hair. “What’s that?”

“I want to meet Patch’s daughter.”

Anything but that.

*****

Review:

This is the first of this series that I’ve read – I remember coming across a couple of others and wanting to get an ARC but for the life of my I can’t remember why I didn’t … I loved Osburn’s Anchor Island series, so I have no idea what I was doing  :)  I don’t think that it make a huge difference but the previous couples are very involved in this story and I’m curious about how Carrie was portrayed before since she so entwined in everyone’s lives.  You can definitely read this as a stand alone but I think that it will have more impact for returning readers.

Having said that, I will admit to really liking these two.  Noah’s not your average hero – he’s not smooth or all that charming.  He suffers from PTSD and a few rought deployments mixed with some disappointments in his recovery has led him to believe that he’s better off alone.  He avoids most social situations and tends to be blunt in his conversation.  But at his core he’s a very good man.  He just has an awful way of showing it  :)  After a pretty rocky start, complete with some awful assumptions and not-so-nice things being said, time with Carrie has him hoping for something different.

Carrie has had a pretty hard life (and this is one of those places where I wish I’d read the previous books so I’d have a better feel for everything she’s gone through).  She’s finally at good place – her own house, good job, supportive friends and only her daughter to be responsible to.  There’s no man or family to beat her down and she’s actually starting to feel good about herself.  Then she gets a new, crusty neighbor who just happens to have been good friends with her abusive husband.  He doesn’t think the best of her and isn’t afraid to share his feelings … but once they have a chance to clear the air about things, they start to see each other differently.  And Carrie sees the good man under the scruffy beard.  And thinks that maybe she’s finally found something worthy.

I’m sure that having gotten to know Carrie already, returning readers will be even more invested in her story but I definitely felt for her and was happy to see her put a better life together.  I’m curious how much growth she’s done in the earlier books because it seems like she moved pretty quickly into a relationship with Noah.  However she does talk about how seeing the other couples be so happy makes her realize that there are good men.  And Noah’s as good with his actions as he is with his words when it comes to his aversion to violence against women.  I’ve seen some comments in reviews that a woman who has survived abuse would be more hesitant to get involved again within a year or so of her husband’s death but I get the feeling that Carrie has been heading that way for a while (even if just in her own mind).

Maybe since he’s a new character, and she has to do all of his development here, I feel like Osburn does a great job of giving Noah’s PTSD its due.  It has a huge impact on his life and he struggles with how to handle it.  I feel for him as he describes some of the things that he’s gone through but I was happy that “love” didn’t miraculously cure him.  He needs real help and Osburn addresses that.

I’m reminded why I enjoyed my other Osburn books so much.  She’s great at creating interesting characters and an involved plot, plus her easy-to-read writing keeps readers involved.  With her newest, two wounded souls find each other and and work to find a happy, healthy place together.  It’s not smooth sailing but it’s more satisfying for having to make it through those rough patches.  I’m regretting passing over those other books but I’m definitely going to be picking up any I run across going forward  :)

*****

Be sure to check out the first three books in the Ardent Sprints series!

his-first-and-lastHis First and Last

Ardent Springs, Book 1

Blurb:

Sparks fly when high school sweethearts reunite in this first book in Terri Osburn’s Ardent Springs Series. Lorelei and Spencer thought they’d moved on, but find old flames never really die. But can they let the past go to find their happily ever after?

Buy Link:

Amazon Kindle: http://amzn.to/2e4k8Rz

Amazon Print: http://amzn.to/2feTXom

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/his-first-and-last-terri-osburn/1120885370

our-now-and-foreverOur Now and Forever

Ardent Springs, Book 2

Blurb:

A whirlwind romance landed Caleb and Snow in a Vegas wedding chapel making the biggest commitment of their young lives, but married life isn’t quite what Snow expected. Caleb has spent eighteen months looking for his runaway bride, and now that he’s found her in Ardent Springs, he isn’t about to let her out of his arms again.

Buy Link:

Amazon Kindle: http://amzn.to/2fk5CRL

Amazon Print: http://amzn.to/2fdZwGp

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/our-now-and-forever-terri-osburn/1122137426

my-one-and-onlyMy One and Only

Ardent Springs, Book 3

Blurb:

A desperate teenage mother becomes a common cause for Cooper and Haleigh, who have been friends forever and nothing more. Seeing this as his chance with the girl he’s always loved, Cooper turns on the charm, but Haleigh’s history, as well as her daunting mother, could be too much for even love to overcome.

Buy Link:

Amazon Kindle: http://amzn.to/2f3geFp

Amazon Print: http://amzn.to/2e4njZj

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/my-one-and-only-terri-osburn/1123097814

*****

osburn-author-picAuthor Info:

Although born in the Ohio Valley, Terri Osburn found her true home between the covers of her favorite books. Classics like The Wizard of Oz and Little Women filled her childhood landscapes, and the romance genre beckoned during her teen years. In 2007, she put pen to paper to write her own. Just five years later, she became a 2012 finalist for the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award, and her debut novel was released a year later. To date, she has released eight novels, two novellas, and one short story. You can learn more about this award winning author by visiting her website atwww.terriosburn.com.

Social Media Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TerriOsburnAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TerriOsburn

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6873792.Terri_Osburn

Website: http://www.TerriOsburn.com

*****

Giveaway:

giveaway-graphic-terri-osburn

A. Tour Wide Giveaway (for US and Canadian residents only)

One big winner will get:

1. One Red Kindle Fire

2. Four Ardent Springs books, signed and in a I-Love-Romance-Novels tote, and more

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/5ddfc19f15/?

B. Each Blog (open to all participants)    

$5 Gift Card at each stop

Leave a comment to this post, a name will be drawn on Sunday night (Dec 11th)

*****

terri-osburn-her-hopes-and-dreams-tour-graphic

November 15

Book Unleashed – Promo, Excerpt

Cali Book Reviews – Review

November 16

Happy Ever After Romance Book Reviews – Review, Excerpt

Stormy Nights Reviewing & Bloggin’ – Promo

November 17

Books According to Abby – Review, Excerpt

The Pen and Muse Book Reviews – Promo, Excerpt, Fun Facts

Books,Dreams,Life – Promo, Review, Excerpt

November 18

The Romance Reviews – Review, Excerpt

What is That Book About – Excerpt

November 21

Read Your Writes Book Reviews – Excerpt, Interview

November 22

Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books! – Excerpt, Fun Facts

November 23

Dawn’s Reading Nook – Excerpt

November 24

Lisa Loves Literature – Promo

November 25

Liz’s Reading Life – Promo, Excerpt, Fun Facts

November 28

Tory Richards – Promo, Excerpt

November 29

Diana’s Book Reviews – Review, Fun Facts

November 30

KT Book Reviews – Promo

Wander Girl Life – Review

December 1

The Avid Book Collector – Promo, Excerpt

December 2

Romancing the Books and More – Interview

December 5

Spunk & Hunks – Character Interview

December 6

Crazy Beautiful Reads – Promo, Excerpt

December 7

Delish and Yummy Book Boyfriends – Promo, Excerpt

December 8

Maari Loves Her Indies – Promo

December 9

Romantic Reads and Such – Review, Excerpt

December 12

Paulette’s Papers – Promo, Excerpt

December 13

The Silver Dagger Scriptorium – Promo, Excerpt, Fun Facts

December 14

Random Thoughts From a Book Nerd – Promo, Excerpt

Spotlight – The Watcher

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We’ve seen the first book in this series – The Keeper – so its time to see what Neely has in store for us next.  Book 2 has only been out a couple of weeks and is getting fantastic reviews already!

*****

32762306The Watcher

Crossing Realms, Book 2

by Rebecca E. Neely

Blurb:

Hell bent on avenging his own death, former Keeper Dev Geary eagerly accepts when the Watchers task him with returning to the human realm to discover the secret for rendering Similitude—the very thing that killed him.

But to succeed in the seven days he’s been granted, he’ll need to work with the one human who wants nothing to do with him, and who he can’t help falling for—Meda Gabriel, a cagey, street smart bar owner with a unique skill set, and maybe, the key to his mission.

With the clock ticking and the Betrayers barely a step behind, can Dev conquer his demons and find the answers the clan so desperately needs, with Meda at his side? Can love find a way, or will he be forced to abandon her and the clan, leaving them all to face imminent destruction?

Find out more: Goodreads / Amazon

*****

tw-dev-teaser-graphic

Excerpt:

He smoothed her bangs. His breath was warm on her ear, his lips too close to hers. “What if I kissed you?”

Her voice caught in her throat. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she got out.

“You’re absolutely right.” Closing the distance between them, he pressed his mouth to hers.

Soft. Warm. She could’ve stopped him, knew he would. But her lips moved beneath his, sampling, cautious, fearful that impressions would make their way through.

None did.

Normal, a part of her brain registered. And yet the farthest thing from it.

A moan stirred in her throat, and he deepened the kiss. She twined her fingers into that stubborn curl brushing the back of his neck, still damp from the rain. His face, rough with shadow, grazed her cheeks. He tasted like the night, dark and hot. She reveled in him, his warmth exploding around her, through her. A wicked blend of comfort and lust burned bright, searing her, even as warm, wet heat assaulted her. Her breath hitched. She knew now, knew she’d been starving.

And he was the feast.

*****

Rebecca NeelyAuthor Info:

A sucker for a happy ending, Rebecca writes the kind of stories she loves to read—those featuring authentic, edgy and vulnerable characters, smack dab in the middle of action that explodes from page one.

Raised on a down home blend of Johnny Cash, Jack London, Sherlock Holmes, the Steelers, and all things small town, Rebecca feels blessed to have grown up in a close knit, fun loving and artistic family. Her mother, a voracious reader and scratch cook, and her father, an entrepreneur, English teacher and lover of literature, taught Rebecca and her brother to work hard, aim for the stars, and live life.

With music, books and laughter as constant companions, she grew up working, cooking and eating in the family’s restaurant business. A certified book and hoagie junkie, Rebecca thrives on live music, mysteries and the outdoors.

She’s a cheddar enthusiast, lover of cats, teddy bears, hot coffee, cold beer, thunderstorms, the blast of a train’s whistle, the change of seasons, country roads, woodpeckers, spoon rings, cool office supplies, and the Food Network.

Careers, past and present, include freelance writing, accounting, mother, problem solver, doer and head bottle washer.

Rebecca is a member of the Three Rivers Romance Writers, a PAN member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), and is honored to serve as a judge for several writing contests each year.

Connect with Rebecca: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads | Pinterest

*****

the-watcher-meda-teaser-1

Giveaway:

Rebecca is giving away one $25 Amazon Giftcard and 5 Kindle copies of The Watcher!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b050ef29299/

*****

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Book Review – One Christmas Wish

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Looking for a fun holiday read? Check out ONE CHRISTMAS WISH by Sara Richardson!

*****

onechristmaswish_coverOne Christmas Wish

Heart of the Rockies, #2.5

by Sara Richardson

Blurb:

‘TIS THE SEASON FOR SECOND CHANCES . . .

There’s nothing like a Christmas wedding to warm a girl’s heart-or to distract everyone else from the fact that one particular bridesmaid intends to quickly skip town. Julia Noble’s accident was years ago, and she’s tired of being overprotected. She needs to be on her own. But before she flees Aspen, Colorado, Julia wants to make sure her brother has the perfect wedding and all her ducks are in a row. Yet duty soon turns to pleasure when three days before the big day Julia runs into the only man she ever dreamed of marrying.

Fresh out of the navy, Isaac Nash just wants to feel normal again. But starting his new life means winning back the girl who captured his heart years ago. Isaac didn’t know the truth behind the tragedy that changed Julia’s life forever, and he can’t stop blaming himself for not being there for her. After all this time, he knows that Julia is what he wants, this and every Christmas. Now Isaac just has to convince her that she’s earned a miracle, too . . .

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1W2Jv5F

B&N: http://bit.ly/1LkZBQ6

iBooks: http://apple.co/1QNmQUi

GooglePlay: http://bit.ly/1hOCcM6

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1QNmPzV

BAM: http://bit.ly/1QNmNrN

*****

ocwteaser1

Review:

(This is the first book in this series that I’ve read so everything below is based solely on this story.  If there are any additional bits of information in the others then it won’t be reflected here.  I think that this story can stand on its own as it feels complete to me, but I can’t say that for sure  :) )

I know I shouldn’t, but I’m going to start with things that didn’t work and move things that did, so make sure you read to the very end!  I want everyone to know that there is so much to recommend this book and not to get held up on anything else.

I wasn’t a fan of Julia hiding her plans from her family.  I understand her reasoning, with the wedding and how they treat her, but she has to know how much it is going to hurt them when they find out.  But it kinda works to make the story more realistic.  Characters don’t have to be perfect all the time and as long as they have growth a good author can make it work.  And I think that Richardson definitely does just that.

I do admire how resilient Julia is.  She had a horrible experience as a mid-teen, something that forever changes her.  Overall though, she seems to have bounced back and made a life that works for her.   But time spent with Isaac does show that in some ways she’s just pretending and he helps her look at some of those things a little more closely.

Isaac is all sorts of fantastic.  He’s caring, supportive and tries hard to win Julia’s trust & her heart.  The way he goes about winning her back after he messes up in her eyes is just beyond fantastic.

But I feel like Richardson may have glossed over Isaac’s PTSD just a little bit.  We get a glimpse of it but I’m not sure that it was properly addressed.  And I’m also not 100% sure why he was never in contact with these people after leaving for the Navy.  I get that life as a SEAL is difficult and that he left under not-so-great circumstances, but some sort of communication wouldn’t have been amiss.

While the story isn’t perfect, it holds together really well, especially for a novella, and any complaints I have are easily overshadowed by the multitude of good parts – the pacing is solid, the characters are real, and their journey to a HEA (over a decade in the making) is so very touching.  I’ll definitely be looking for more books by this author.

*****

ocwteaser2

Author Info:

Sara Richardson grew up chasing adventure in Colorado’s rugged mountains. She’s climbed to the top of a 14,000-foot peak at midnight, swam through Class IV rapids, completed her wilderness first-aid certification, and spent seven days at a time tromping through the wilderness with a thirty-pound backpack strapped to her shoulders.

Eventually, Sara did the responsible thing and got an education in writing and journalism. After five years in the corporate writing world, she stopped ignoring the voices in her head and started writing fiction. Now, she uses her experience as a mountain adventure guide to write stories that incorporate adventure with romance. Still indulging her adventurous spirit, Sara lives and plays in Colorado with her saint of a husband and two young sons. Her first contemporary romance, No Better Man, was released by Grand Central forever 2015.

Website: www.sararichardson.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/sararichardsonbooks

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/SaraR_Books

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarar_books/

*****

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Spotlight – Like a Closed Fist

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Author E.H. Nolan was nice enough to come by today to answer a few questions and give us a peek at Like a Closed Fist.  This book is getting some great reviews – people seem to love the drama and angst and growth and messiness of love.

*****

*What do you like best about writing romances?

I like being able to fix what isn’t perfect in real life. I don’t mean a happy ending, but the little intricacies inbetween, like a declaration of love, or saying just the right line to make someone forgive you. In real life, sometimes there’s an interruption, or too much pressure or too little time, and you can’t always say what you wanted to say. I like to write out a perfect scene where everyone gets to say what they wanted to say. Most of the time I end up cutting the perfection out the scene to make it more realistic; I add the interruption and the pressure. But it’s still fun.

*What is your favorite romantic story (movie/book, fact/fiction, whatever you love most)?

Obviously The Great Gatsby is an incredibly romantic tale, but it reaches far beyond relationship love. The romance of the era and yearning for the past are even more powerful than the boy-girl drama. I cry every year watching It’s a Wonderful Life, when Mary says, “This is what I wished for,” on their wedding night, so I’d have to say that’s one of my favorite love stories. I love happy endings, even though I write sad endings almost exclusively.

*If you could be any romantic character, who would it be and why?

Peggy from The Best Years of Our Lives. She’s strong and capable, and has found adulthood through WW2. She falls in love with the married friend of her father’s, a fighter pilot with PTSD. I really like that Peggy hasn’t become impervious to emotion, even though she’s been forced to be tough. She’s got the perfect blend of being able to take care of Fred and needing him to take care of her. Plus, Fred’s a total hunk!

*Which of your characters/books was the most fun to write? 

Hands down, Like a Closed Fist was the most fun to write. My other two books were heavy dramas, and I was always killing characters off! At least, in Fist, no one dies. There were difficult and sad parts to write, but mostly it was extremely fun. Phoebe is a love, and I really enjoyed getting into her head, and her many men were pretty cute too!

*If you weren’t a writer and could be anything you want, what would it be?

I’ve always wanted to be an English teacher, because I’d love to spend my days and years talking about The Great Gatsby and Ragtime, just like it was when I was in high school. My junior year English teacher had an incredible impact on me, and in fact, I took her last name as my pen name. If it wasn’t for Ms. Nolan, I never would have written any of my musicals, or probably my books either (since I started my first musical before my first novel).

*****

32326198Like a Closed Fist

by E.H. Nolan

Blurb:

It was harmless enough: her best friend’s wedding. But for California girl Phoebe, forty-eight hours in North Carolina changed her life.

As Phoebe keeps up long-distance romances with the two very different men who captured her heart—gloomy hotel concierge Mason and carefree groomsman Frankie—she also juggles her growing attraction to her dad’s married friend. Throw in two old flames from her past and a hunky masseur and you’ve got a most complicated love hexagon!

Thrilled by her unexpected adventures, Phoebe jumps from one love affair to the next, desperate to preempt disappointment and pain. But an unplanned pregnancy and the abandonment of the man she learned to love forces her to face the tragedies of her new adult world in this cautionary tale about love, sex, grief, and growing up.

Buy it on Amazon

Find it on Goodreads

*****

Excerpt:

My dad wasn’t too pleased that all I seemed to do with my free time was daydream about Mitch. At least he hadn’t gone so far as to forbid me from attending the baseball games. There wasn’t really any need, in his mind, to separate us. I was just a little girl with a crush, and Mitch was devoted to his family.

One of my dad’s friends, Tad, was recently divorced and had started to notice me. I always sat in the front row, and I made sure I looked incredible when I knew I’d be seeing Mitch, so I wasn’t really surprised when Tad started hitting on me.

Tad wasn’t bad looking; he had all his hair and nice teeth, but I wouldn’t have strayed from Mitch for all the teeth in the world. None of the other Pasadena Parrots could hold a candle to their coach, either. None of them had perfectly tanned skin, hair peppered with just enough salt to look distinguished, fun-loving brown eyes, and a grin that said, “I just saw you naked.” Randy had a shaved “Mr. Clean” head and an impossibly thick Sam Elliot mustache, and more often than not he was seen chewing on a toothpick. Leo had strawberry blond hair that was unfortunately styled in a perpetually bad haircut, and his thin-framed glasses were almost always smudged. Joe had insufferably bushy eyebrows, and Brick had a beer belly and gray hair with highlights of white.

I humored Tad for the most part, since it was just a little harmless flirting. Evidently, Mitch was not amused. He saw Tad fold me into a giant bear hug before the game started, and his eyes tightened.

“Getting a little cozy with Tad?” he asked, his voice strained.

“Everyone loves me; you know this,” I shrugged, as though the constant male attention was exhausting. “Tad said the guys were thinking of making me the team’s unofficial mascot. Cute, isn’t it?”

“I don’t like seeing his hands all over you,” Mitch said, ignoring my attempt to distract him.

“His hands aren’t all over me,” I insisted. “And even if they were, I don’t know why you’re getting so jealous. It’s not like you’re my boyfriend.”

“Aren’t I?”

I was caught off-guard, and probably gaped a second longer than I should have. “I don’t know, Mitch. You’ve never told me what this is. All you ever do is kiss me then say something like, ‘oh shit,’ and leave. I’m tired of that, by the way. You’re not the only one in this situation, you know? You’re not the only person who’s confused—”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am the only one who’s married. I’m the only one who’s doing something really shitty to a woman I’ve been married to for twenty years. And I’m the one going home to my wife after kissing you, screwing her and thinking of you. I have no idea what your situation is, but mine just might be a little more complicated.”

“You’re right, you’re right; I’m sorry.” I placed my hands on his chest, grateful for our privacy in the dugout. “I put too much emphasis on the word ‘boyfriend’. I’m sorry.”

Mitch took a small step towards me—there wasn’t that much space between us to begin with—and kissed me. “I’m crazy about you,” he said. “Sometimes I have to remind myself you’re just a kid. There’s no way you’re taking this as seriously as I am.”

“I’m not a kid.” I tugged at his bottom lip with my teeth and deepened the kiss. He broke away from me, a little rigid.

“Sex doesn’t make you a grown-up. I’m not sure you know that.” Mitch sounded very much like a coach, and I tried to suppress my smile as I reminded him we weren’t having sex. “I know,” he said, breathing deeply. “And we’re not going to until you grow up a little bit. And,” he continued, raising his eyebrows like he was putting me on restriction, “I’m not gonna be the guy you sow your wild oats with. Being with me can have a hell of a lot of consequences, and if you’re just looking at this as a little fun, then—”

I shook my head forcefully. “I want to be with you. I can’t even imagine wanting to be with anyone else.”

“Where’s Coach?”

As soon as he heard Henry’s voice, Mitch leapt away from me like the bad side of a magnet. He rounded the corner and addressed Henry’s problem, then came back to me as soon as he could.

“Gotta go,” he said hurriedly, kissing my cheek.

Half a whimper escaped my lips, and Mitch grabbed my waist a little tighter. He whispered in my ear, telling me what my noise made him think about. I struggled to keep my balance; the vibrations of his voice felt like an earthquake—a really sexy earthquake that turned my hormones upside down.

The Parrots won their game, so everyone was in a good mood and looking forward to going out afterwards. Mitch and I walked together to the parking lot. Mrs. Mitch hadn’t been in the stadium that day, but neither of us mentioned her absence. Mitch looked over our shoulders and straightened his posture. I heard footsteps and male laughter approaching, so I plastered a smile on my face.

My dad clapped a hand on Mitch’s back. “Coming out with us tonight?” he asked.

“No,” Mitch said quickly.

“Yes, he wants to so badly, but he just can’t.” I corrected. It sounded so much nicer when I said it.

“Oh yes, of course.” Mitch caught on quickly. “Did I say that all wrong?”

I returned his smile. “Yes.”

“Bruce, I’d love to go out with everyone tonight, but I just can’t. I’ve got a big day tomorrow, with Little League practice and a bunch of angry parents to deal with.”

“Little League?” I asked.

“I coach the kids, but sometimes another coach has to step in for the games when they conflict with the Parrots. Usually I’m able to make all the practices, though. Anyway, there’s this one parent, he was really mad at me. He totally yelled at me last week, called me up after practice to keep yelling at me. It really shook me up.” Mitch looked down. “I have thin skin about those things.” My heart melted.

“So what you’re saying is you’ll really need a drink tomorrow night,” my dad joked.

“I’ll buy you a gin and tonic,” I offered.

“You know me!” Mitch beamed.

“How do you two know each other?” Tad asked, the green-eyed monster clearly visible on his shoulder.

“We go way back,” Mitch grinned at me, obviously titillated that we shared a secret.

Mitch and I were parted by the other men, conversation carrying him further and further away from me. I didn’t know when I’d see him again; the next game was in two weeks, and I’d be missing it because of Annie’s wedding. Now we were forced apart for who knew how long, and without so much as a goodbye or a wave.

“Phoebe!” Mitch called, just as I was about to open the car door.

I turned around, more dramatic than I had intended. Mitch jogged over to our car and wrapped me up in a hug. “Hey, girl. You didn’t think I’d let you leave without saying goodbye, did you?”

I laughed into his shoulder, because that was exactly what I’d thought. “I don’t know when I’ll see you,” I said. “I guess next month?”

“Next month?” Mitch faltered for only a moment after I told him about Annie’s wedding, then said, “We’ll just have to get together outside of game day. Get drinks before you go or something.”

“Really?” I whispered.

“Sure. You’re my girl, aren’t you?”

I nodded and he smiled, pulling me in for one last hug. “See ya, Bruce,” he called loudly to the other side of the car. He jogged a few steps away, then turned back around to look at me again. “God, you look great!” he grinned before continuing his journey to his car.

I snapped myself back to reality long enough to sit in the passenger seat and close the door after me. Once again, that stunned look appeared on my dad’s face.

“Wow.”

“I know,” I sighed.

“This is getting inappropriate,” poor Bruce said. “He shouldn’t be noticing the way you look. And he’s complimenting you . . . in ways I wouldn’t expect.” My dad frowned, fiddling with the keys in his hand. “I’ve really been looking for it, but I’ve never seen him act this way with anyone else. I was hoping I could tell you this is just how he is, but he’s never like this.”

“He loves me,” I sighed. When my dad offered silence to my suggestion, I spoke again. “Did you know he coached Little League?”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that sweet? He cares about children.”

“Of course he does. He has two of them.”

*****

Author Info:

Nolan graduated magna cum laude from Chapman University, earning a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Film Studies.

Heavily involved in the arts, Nolan is an award-winning actress and an accomplished composer and playwright. She has written three musicals, music, lyrics, and libretto.
Nolan loves to read and participates in a family-run book club, finding inspiration from both classic literature and modern masterpieces.

http://ehnolan.weebly.com

 

Last Excerpts – Judith McNaught

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Today is the last of our excerpts from the Judith McNaught e-books that started November.

With the books last time I mentioned when I first read Perfect that it tied me up in knots (and does every time I read it).  Out of this set, the one that stands out for me is Remember When, which is a little different from most of the others.  We spend a good portion of it in the past when the characters first knew each other, but there is a part in the present that just catches my heart every time.  And I always remember it when I think of McNaught’s work.  One of the most perfect moments of any romance I’ve read.

Make sure that you read to the bottom, not just so you can find some great reads, but also you can find out how you can get your own copies of these fabulous books!

*****

cover-untilyouUntil You

9781501145490

$7.99

In this unforgettable romantic adventure, a teacher of wealthy young ladies finds her life changed forever when she travels from the wilds of America to elegant London. Sheridan Bromleigh is hired to accompany one of her students, heiress Charise Lancaster, to England to meet her fiancé. But when her charge elopes with a stranger, Sheridan wonders how she will ever explain it to Charise’s intended, Lord Burleton. Standing on the pier, Stephen Westmoreland, the Earl of Langford, assumes the young woman coming toward him is Charise Lancaster and reluctantly informs her of his inadvertent role in a fatal accident involving Lord Burleton the night before. And just as the young woman is about to speak, she steps into the path of a cargo net loaded with crates. Sheridan awakens in Westmoreland’s mansion with no memory of who she is; the only hint of her past is the puzzling fact that everyone calls her Miss Lancaster. All she truly knows is that she is falling in love with a handsome English earl, and that the life unfolding before her seems full of wondrous possibilities.

S&S:  http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Until-You/Judith-McNaught/9781501145490

IBOOKSTORE (ebook):  http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781501145490?at=10lrBC&ct=untilyou_9781501145490_sscom&uo=8

KINDLE (ebook): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M1KAHIH?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B01M1KAHIH&linkCode=xm2&tag=sscom-ebooks1-20

NOOK (ebook):  http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-7567305-11819508?SID=simonsayscom&url=http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/?ean=9781501145490

GOOGLE PLAY (ebook): https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Judith_McNaught_Until_You?id=yhsmDQAAQBAJ&PAffiliateId=110l3H&PCamRefID=untilyou_9781501145490_sscom

…Chapter 1

 

Propped upon a mountain of satin pillows amid rumpled bed linens, Helene Devernay surveyed his bronzed, muscular torso with an appreciative smile as Stephen David Elliott Westmoreland, Earl of Langford, Baron of Ellingwood, Fifth Viscount Hargrove, Viscount Ashbourne, shrugged into the frilled shirt he’d tossed over the foot of the bed last night. “Are we still attending the theatre next week?” she asked.

Stephen glanced at her in surprise as he picked up his neck cloth. “Of course.” Turning to the mirror above the fireplace, he met her gaze in it while he deftly wrapped the fine white silk into intricate folds around his neck. “Why did you need to ask?”

“Because the Season begins next week, and Monica Fitzwaring is coming to town. I heard it from my dressmaker, who is also hers.”

“And?” he said, looking steadily at her in the mirror, his expression betraying not even a flicker of reaction.

With a sigh, Helene rolled onto her side and leaned on an elbow, her tone regretful but frank. “And gossip has it that you’re finally going to make her the offer she and her father have been waiting for these three years past.”

“Is that what the gossips are saying?” he asked casually, but he lifted his brows slightly, in a gesture that silently, and very effectively, managed to convey his displeasure with Helene for introducing a topic that he clearly felt was none of her concern.

Helene noted the unspoken reprimand and the warning it carried, but she took advantage of what had been a remarkably open—and highly pleasurable—affair for both of them for several years. “In the past, there have been dozens of rumors that you were on the verge of offering for one aspiring female or another,” she pointed out quietly, “and, until now, I have never asked you to verify or deny any of them.”

Without answering, Stephen turned from the mirror and picked up his evening jacket from the flowered chaise longue. He shoved his arms into the sleeves, then he walked over to the side of the bed and finally directed all his attention to the woman in it. Standing there, looking down at her, he felt his annoyance diminish considerably. Propped up on her elbow, with her golden hair spilling over her naked back and breasts, Helene Devernay was a delectable sight. She was also intelligent, direct, and sophisticated, all of which made her a thoroughly delightful mistress both in and out of bed. He knew she was too practical to nurture any secret hopes of a marriage offer from him, which was absolutely out of the question for a woman in her circumstances, and she was too independent to have any real desire to tie herself to someone for life—traits that further solidified their relationship. Or so he had thought. “But now you are asking me to confirm or deny that I intend to offer for Monica Fitzwaring?” he asked quietly.

Helene gave him a warm, seductive smile that normally made his body respond. “I am.”

Brushing back the sides of his jacket, Stephen put his hands on his hips and regarded her coolly. “And if I said yes?”

“Then, my lord, I would say that you are making a great mistake. You have a fondness for her, but not a great love nor even a great passion. All she has to offer you is her beauty, her bloodlines, and the prospect of an heir. She hasn’t your strength of will, nor your intelligence, and although she may care for you, she will never understand you. She will bore you in bed and out of it, and you will intimidate, hurt, and anger her.”

“Thank you, Helene. I must count myself fortunate that you take such an interest in my personal life and that you are so willing to share your expertise on how I ought to live it.”

The stinging set down caused her smile to fade a little but not disappear. “There, you see?” she asked softly. “I am duly chastened and forewarned by that tone of yours, but Monica Fitzwaring would be either completely crushed or mortally offended.”

She watched his expression harden at the same time his voice became extremely polite, chillingly so. “My apologies, madame,” he said, inclining his head in a mockery of a bow, “if I have ever addressed you in a tone that is less than civil.”

Reaching up, Helene tugged on his jacket in an attempt to make him sit down on the bed beside her. When this failed, she dropped her hand, but not the issue, and widened her smile to soothe his temper. “You never speak to anyone in an uncivil tone, Stephen. In fact, the more annoyed you are, the more ‘civil’ you become—until you are so very civil, so very precise and correct, that the effect is actually quite alarming. One might even say . . . terrifying!”

She shivered to illustrate, and Stephen grinned in spite of himself.

“That is what I meant,” she said, smiling back at him. “When you grow cold and angry, I know how—” Her breath caught as his large hand slipped down beneath the sheet and covered her breast, his fingers tantalizing her.

“I merely wish to warm you,” he said, as she reached her arms around his neck and drew him down on the bed.

“And distract me.”

“I think a fur would do a far better job of that.”

“Of warming me?”

“Of distracting you,” he said as his mouth covered hers, and then he went about the pleasurable business of warming, and distracting, both of them.

It was nearly five o’clock in the morning when he was dressed again.

“Stephen?” she whispered sleepily as he bent and pressed a farewell kiss upon her smooth brow.

“Mmmm?”

“I have a confession.”

“No confessions,” he reminded her. “We agreed on that from the beginning. No confessions, no recriminations, no promises. That was the way we both wanted it.”

Helene didn’t deny it, but this morning she couldn’t make herself comply. “My confession is that I find myself rather annoyingly jealous of Monica Fitzwaring.”

Stephen straightened with an impatient sigh, and waited, knowing she was determined to have her say, but he did not help her do it. He simply regarded her with raised brows.

“I realize you need an heir,” she began, her full lips curving into an embarrassed smile, “but could you not wed a female whose looks pale a little in comparison with mine? Someone shrewish too. A shrew with a slightly crooked nose or small eyes would suit me very well.”

Stephen chuckled at her humor, but he wanted the subject closed permanently, and so he said, “Monica Fitzwaring is no threat to you, Helene. I’ve no doubt she knows of our relationship and she would not try to interfere, even if she thought she could.”

“What makes you so certain?”

“She volunteered the information,” he said flatly, and when Helene still looked unconvinced, he added, “In the interest of putting an end to your concern and to this entire topic, I’ll add that I already have a perfectly acceptable heir in my brother’s son. Furthermore, I have no intention of adhering to custom, now or in future, by shackling myself to a wife for the sole purpose of begetting a legal heir of my own body.”

As Stephen came to the end of that blunt speech, he watched her expression change from surprise to amused bafflement. Her next remark clarified the reason for her obvious quandary: “If not to beget an heir, what other possible reason could there be for a man such as you to wed at all?”

Stephen’s disinterested shrug and brief smile dismissed all the other usual reasons for marriage as trivial, absurd, or imaginary. “For a man such as I,” he replied with a mild amusement that failed to disguise his genuine contempt for the twin farces of wedded bliss and the sanctity of marriage—two illusions that flourished even in the brittle, sophisticated social world he inhabited, “there does not seem to be a single compelling reason to commit matrimony.”

Helene studied him intently, her face alight with curiosity, caution, and the dawning of understanding. “I always wondered why you didn’t marry Emily Lathrop. In addition to her acclaimed face and figure, she is also one of the few women in England who actually possesses the requirements of birth and breeding in enough abundance to make her worthy of marrying into the Westmoreland family and of producing your heir. Everyone knows you fought a duel with her husband because of her, yet you didn’t kill him, nor did you marry her a year later, after old Lord Lathrop finally keeled over and cocked up his toes.”

His brows rose in amusement at her use of irreverent slang for Lathrop’s death, but his attitude toward the duel was as casual and matter-of-fact as her own. “Lathrop got some maggot into his head about defending Emily’s honor and putting a stop to all the rumors about her, by challenging one of her alleged lovers to a duel. I will never understand why the poor old man chose me from amongst a legion of viable candidates.”

“Whatever method he used, it’s obvious age had addled his mind.”

Stephen eyed her curiously. “Why do you say that?”

“Because your skill with pistols, and your skill on the dueling field, are both rather legendary.”

“Any child of ten could have won a duel with Lathrop,” Stephen said, ignoring her praise of his abilities. “He was so old and frail he couldn’t steady his own pistol or hold it level. He had to use both hands.”

“And so you let him leave Rockham Green unscathed?”

Stephen nodded. “I felt it would be impolite of me to kill him, under the circumstances.”

“Considering that he forced the duel on you in the first place, by calling you out in front of witnesses, it was very kind of you to pretend to miss your shot, in order to spare his pride.”

“I did not pretend to miss my shot, Helene,” he informed her, and then he pointedly added, “I deloped.”

To delope constituted an apology and therefore implied an admission of guilt. Thinking he might have some other explanation for standing twenty paces from his opponent and deliberately firing high into the air instead of at Lord Lathrop, she said slowly, “Are you saying you really were Emily Lathrop’s lover? You were actually guilty?”

“As sin,” Stephen averred flatly.

“May I ask you one more question, my lord?”

“You can ask it,” he specified, struggling to hide his mounting impatience with her unprecedented and unwelcome preoccupation with his private life.

In a rare show of feminine uncertainty, she glanced away as if to gather her courage, then she looked up at him with an embarrassed, seductive smile that he might have found irresistible had it not been immediately followed by a line of questioning so outrageous that it violated even his own lax standards of acceptable decorum between the sexes. “What was it about Emily Lathrop that drew you to her bed?”

His instant aversion to that question was completely eclipsed by his negative reaction to her next. “I mean, was there anything she did with you—or for you—or to you, that I do not do when we’re in bed together?”

“As a matter of fact,” he replied in a lazy drawl, “there was one thing Emily did that I particularly liked.”

In her eagerness to discover another woman’s secret, Helene overlooked the sarcasm edging his voice. “What did she do that you particularly liked?”

His gaze dropped suggestively to her mouth. “Shall I show you?” he asked, and when she nodded, he bent over her, bracing his hands on either side of her pillow so that his waist and hips were only inches above her head. “You’re absolutely certain you wish to take part in a demonstration?” he asked in a deliberately seductive whisper.

Her emphatic nod was playful and inviting enough to take the edge off his annoyance, leaving him caught somewhere between amusement and exasperation. “Show me what she did that you particularly liked,” she whispered, sliding her hands up his forearms.

Stephen showed her by putting his right hand firmly over her mouth, startling her with a “demonstration” that matched his smiling explanation: “She refrained from asking me questions like yours about you or anyone else, and that is what I particularly liked.”

She gazed back at him, her blue eyes wide with frustrated chagrin, but this time she did not fail to notice the implacable warning in his deceptively mild voice.

“Do we have an understanding, my inquisitive beauty?”

She nodded, then boldly attempted to tip the balance of power into her favor by delicately running her tongue across his palm.

Stephen chuckled at her ploy and moved his hand, but he was no longer in the mood for sexual play or for conversation, and so he pressed a brief kiss on her forehead and left.

Outside, a wet gray fog blanketed the night, broken only by the faint eerie glow of lamplights along the street. Stephen took the reins from the relieved footman and spoke soothingly to the young pair of matched chestnuts who were stamping their hooves and tossing their manes. It was the first time they had been driven in the city, and as Stephen loosened the reins to let them move into a trot, he noted that the curb horse was extremely skittish in the fog. Everything unnerved the animal, from the sound of his own hooves clattering on the cobbled streets to the shadows beneath the streetlamps. When a door slammed off to the left, he shied, then tried to break into a run. Stephen automatically tightened the reins, and turned the carriage down Middleberry Street. The horses were moving at a fast trot and seemed to be settling down a bit. Suddenly an alley cat screamed and bolted off a fruit cart, sending an avalanche of apples rumbling into the street. At the same time the door of a pub was flung open, splashing light into the street. Pandemonium broke loose: dogs howled, the horses slipped and bolted frantically, and a dark figure staggered out of the pub, disappeared between two carriages drawn up at the curb . . . and then materialized directly in front of Stephen’s carriage.

Stephen’s warning shout came too late.

*****

cover-rememberwhenRemember When

9781439140802

$7.99

When multinational tycoon Cole Harrison approaches her on a moonlit balcony at the White Orchid Charity Ball, Diana Foster has no idea how life-changing the night ahead will be. The most lavish social event of the Houston season had brought out Texas aristocracy in glittering array but Diana only agreed to attend to save face after reading about her fiancé leaving her for an Italian heiress in a sleazy gossip magazine. Her Beautiful Living magazine is her family’s success story, and Diana knows that as a single, childless, and suddenly unengaged woman, she is not living up to its lucrative image of upscale domestic tranquility. But when she spots the pride of Dallas billionaires, Cole Harrison, closing in on her with two crystal flutes and a bottle of champagne, she has no idea that he has ulterior motives for seducing her tonight. And he certainly has no idea that a match made in what he considers logic’s heaven might be headed straight for an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime love. “Judith McNaught once again works her unique magic in this charming, sparkling romance” (RT Book Reviews, 4 stars).

S&S: http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Remember-When/Judith-McNaught/9781439140802

IBOOKSTORE (ebook): http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781439140802?at=10lrBC&ct=rememberwhen_9781439140802_sscom&uo=8

KINDLE (ebook):  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M0L4H1H?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B01M0L4H1H&linkCode=xm2&tag=sscom-ebooks1-20

NOOK (ebook):  http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-7567305-11819508?SID=simonsayscom&url=http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/?ean=9781439140802

GOOGLE PLAY (ebook):  https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Judith_McNaught_Remember_When?id=dDMjDQAAQBAJ&PAffiliateId=110l3H&PCamRefID=rememberwhen_9781439140802_sscom

Chapter 1

DIANA, ARE YOU STILL AWAKE? I’d like to talk to you.”

Diana stopped in the act of turning off the lamp beside her bed and leaned back against the pillows. “Okay,” she called.

“How’s the jet lag, honey?” her father asked as he walked toward her bed. “Are you exhausted?” At forty-three, Robert Foster was a tall, broad-shouldered Houston oilman with prematurely gray hair who normally exuded self-assurance, but not tonight. Tonight, he looked distinctly uneasy, and Diana knew why. Although she was only fourteen, she wasn’t silly enough to think he’d come there to talk about whether she had jet lag. He wanted to talk to her about her new stepmother and stepsister, whom she’d met for the first time this afternoon when she arrived home from a vacation in Europe with school friends. “I’m okay,” she said.

“Diana—” he began; then he hesitated, sat down on the bed beside her, and took her hand in his. After a moment, he began again. “I know how strange it must have seemed to you to come home today and find out I’d remarried. Please believe that I would never have married Mary without giving you a chance to get to know each other if I hadn’t been positive, absolutely positive, that the two of you will learn to love each other. You do like her, don’t you?” he asked anxiously, searching her face. “You said you did—”

Diana nodded, but she didn’t understand why he’d married someone he hardly knew and she’d never met until today. During the years since her mother died, he’d dated some really beautiful and very nice Houston women, but before things got too serious, he’d always introduced them to Diana and insisted the three of them spend time together. Now he’d actually married someone, but it was a lady she’d never set eyes on before. “Mary seems really nice,” she said after a moment. “I just don’t understand why you were in such a hurry.”

He looked sheepish, but his answer was unquestionably heartfelt. “There will be a few times in your life when all your instincts will tell you to do something, something that defies logic, upsets your plans, and may even seem crazy to others. When that happens, you do it. Listen to your instincts and ignore everything else. Ignore logic, ignore the odds, ignore the complications, and just go for it.”

“And that’s what you did?”

He nodded. “I knew within hours of meeting Mary that she was just what I wanted for myself, and for you, and I knew when I met Corey that the four of us were going to be an exceptionally happy family. However, all my instincts warned me that if I gave Mary more than a little time to decide, she’d start thinking about all the obstacles and agonizing over them, and that in the end she’d turn me down.”

Loyalty and common sense made that possibility seem entirely unlikely to Diana. Previous women had gone to absurd lengths to attract and hold her father’s interest. “It seems to me that practically every woman you’ve taken out has wanted you.”

“No, honey, most of them wanted what I could give them in the form of financial security and social acceptance. Only a few have truly wanted me.”

“But are you sure that Mary truly wanted you?” Diana asked, thinking of his statement that Mary would have turned him down.

Her father grinned, his eyes warming with affection. “I’m completely sure she did, and she does.”

“Then why would she have turned you down?”

His smile widened. “Because she’s the opposite of mercenary and status conscious. Mary is very intelligent, but she and Corey have led a simple life in a tiny little town where no one is wealthy, not by Houston standards. She fell in love with me as quickly and deeply as I fell in love with her, and she agreed to marry me within a week, but when she realized what sort of life we live here, she started trying to back out.

“She was worried that Corey and she wouldn’t fit in, that they’d make some sort of inexcusable social blunder and embarrass us. The longer she thought about it, the more convinced she became that she’d fail us.”

He reached out and gently smoothed a lock of shining chestnut hair from Diana’s cheek. “Just imagine—Mary was willing to toss away all the material things I can give her, all the things everyone else was so anxious to grab, because she didn’t want to fail me as a wife or you as a mother. Those are the things that are important to her.”

Diana had liked her new stepmother well enough when she met her today, but the tenderness in her father’s eyes and the love in his voice when he talked of Mary carried an enormous amount of additional weight with Diana. “I like her a lot,” she confessed.

A smile of relief dawned across his face. “I knew you would. She likes you, too. She said you’re very sweet and very poised. She said you’d have had every right to get hysterical this afternoon when you walked in the front door and met a stepmother you’d never heard about before. And wait till you meet your new grandparents,” he added enthusiastically.

“Corey said they’re really neat,” Diana replied, thinking back over all the information her thirteen-year-old stepsister had provided during their first day together.

“They are. They’re good, honest, hardworking people who laugh a lot and love each other a lot. Corey’s grandfather is an excellent gardener, an amateur inventor, and a skillful carpenter. Her grandmother is very artistic and very talented at handcrafts. Now,” he said, looking a little tense again, “tell me what you think about Corey.”

Diana was quiet for a moment, trying to put her feelings about her new stepsister into words; then she leaned forward, wrapped her arms around her knees, and smiled. “Well, she’s different from the other girls I know. She’s  . . . friendly and honest, and she says what’s on her mind. She hasn’t been anywhere but Texas, and she doesn’t try to act cool and sophisticated, but she’s done lots of things I never have. Oh, and she thinks you’re practically a king,” Diana added with a grin.

“What a clever, discerning young lady!”

“Her own father ran out on her mom and her when Corey was just a baby,” Diana said, sobered by the thought of such an unspeakable act by a parent.

“His stupidity and irresponsibility are my good luck, and I intend to make certain Mary and Corey feel lucky, too. Want to help me pull that off?” he asked, standing up and smiling at her.

Diana nodded. “You bet,” she said.

“Just remember, Corey hasn’t had a lot of the advantages you’ve had, so take it slow and teach her the ropes.”

“Okay, I will.”

“That’s my girl.” He leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “You and Mary are going to be wonderful friends.”

He started away, but Diana’s quiet announcement made him turn back and stop. “Corey would like to call you Dad.”

“I didn’t know that,” Robert Foster said, his voice turning gruff with emotion. “Mary and I hoped she might want to someday, but I thought it might take a long, long time before she came around to that.” He studied Diana for a long moment, and then hesitantly asked, “How do you feel—about Corey calling me Dad—I mean?”

Diana grinned. “It was my idea.”

*  *  *

Across the hall, Mary Britton Foster was seated on her thirteen-year-old daughter’s bed and running out of small talk. “So you had a nice time with Diana today?” she asked Corey for the third time.

“Yep.”

“And you enjoyed going over to the Hayward children’s house and riding their horses when Diana took you there this afternoon?”

“Mom, we’re all teenagers; you aren’t supposed to call us children.”

“Sorry,” Mary said, idly rubbing Corey’s leg beneath the blankets.

“And it wasn’t what you’d call a house; it’s so big, it’s practically a motel!”

“That big?” Mary teased.

Corey nodded. “It’s about the size of our house.”

The fact that she’d referred to Diana and Robert’s house as “our house” was very revealing and immensely reassuring to Mary. “And do the Haywards have a barn at their house?”

“They call it a stable, but it’s the same as a barn, only it looks like a beautiful stone house from the outside, and it’s as clean as one on the inside. They even have a guy who lives down at the stable and looks after the horses. They call him a groom, and his name is Cole, and the girls think he’s a complete hunk. He’s just gotten out of college at—I forget where—but I think he said it’s here in Houston.”

“Imagine that,” Mary said, shaking her head in amazement. “Now it takes a college degree just to get a job looking after horses in a barn—er—stable.”

Corey suppressed a laugh. “No, I meant he’s just finished the semester, and pretty soon he starts another one. The horses are just awesome!” Corey added, switching to the topic of primary interest to her. “I get to ride again at Barb Hayward’s birthday party next week. Barb invited me, but I think Diana asked her to do it. I met a bunch of Barb and Diana’s friends today. I didn’t think they liked me very much, but Diana said I was just imagining it.”

“I see. And what do you think of Diana?”

“Diana’s  . . .” Corey hesitated, thinking. “Diana’s cool. She told me she’s always wanted a sister, and maybe that’s why she’s being so nice to me. She’s not a snob at all. She even told me I could borrow any of her clothes that I want.”

“That’s very nice of her.”

Corey nodded. “And when I told her I liked the way she wears her hair, she said we could practice different styles on each other.”

“And  . . . um  . . . did she say anything about anyone else?”

“Like who?” Corey asked with sham confusion.

“Like me, and you know it.”

“Let me think. Oh, yeah, I remember now! She said you looked mean and sneaky, and she said you’ll probably make her stay home and scrub floors while I get to go to balls and dance with princes. I told her she was probably right, but that I’d ask you to let her wear the glass slipper as long as she didn’t leave the house.”

“Corey!—”

Laughing, Corey leaned forward and hugged her mother as she finally told the truth. “Diana said you seemed very nice and she likes you. She asked if you were strict, and I said you were sometimes, but then you feel guilty and bake up batches of cookies to make up for it.”

“Did she really say she likes me?”

Sobering, Corey nodded emphatically. “Diana’s mother died when she was only five. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I didn’t have you, Mom—”

Mary hugged her daughter close and laid her cheek on Corey’s blond hair. “Diana hasn’t had a lot of the advantages you have. Try to remember that. Having lots of clothes to wear and a big bedroom isn’t the same as having Grandpa and Grandma to love you and teach you all the things you learned when we lived with them.”

Corey’s smile faded a little. “I’m going to miss them something terrible.”

“Me, too.”

“I told Diana about them, and she was really interested. Could I take her to Long Valley sometime soon so she can meet them?”

“Yes, of course. Or maybe we could ask Robert to let them come for a visit.”

Mary stood up and started to leave, but Corey’s hesitant voice stopped her. “Mom, Diana said I could call Robert, Dad. Do you think he’d mind?”

“I think he’d love it!” She looked a little sad then and added, “Maybe someday Diana might want to call me Mom.”

“Tomorrow,” Corey said with a knowing smile.

“Tomorrow, what?”

“She’s going to call you Mom, starting tomorrow.”

“Oh, Corey, isn’t she wonderful?” Mary said, her eyes filling with tears.

Corey rolled her eyes, but she didn’t deny it. “It was my idea that she call you Mom. All she did was say she wanted to do it.”

“You’re wonderful, too,” Mrs. Foster said with a laugh as she kissed her daughter. She turned out the light and closed the door when she left. Corey lay there, thinking about the conversation and wondering if Diana was asleep. After several moments, she scrambled out of bed and pulled on an old plaid flannel robe over her nightshirt emblazoned with “SAVE THE TURTLES” across the front.

The hallway was dark as pitch as she groped her way across the hall toward the door of Diana’s room. Her fingertips finally encountered the doorframe, and she raised her hand to knock just as the door flew open, startling a muffled squeal from her. “I was just coming over to see if you were awake,” Diana whispered, backing up and beckoning Corey into her room.

“Did your dad have a talk with you tonight?” Corey asked, perching on the edge of Diana’s bed and admiring the cream lace ruffles at the throat and wrists of Diana’s high-waisted, pale rose robe and the delicate lace trim on her matching quilted slippers.

Diana nodded and sat down beside her. “Yes. Did your mom have one with you?”

“Yep.”

“I think they were afraid we weren’t going to like each other.”

Corey bit her bottom lip and then blurted, “Did you happen to ask your dad about me calling him Dad?”

“I did, and he loved the idea,” Diana said, keeping her voice low so that this cozy pajama party for two wouldn’t be ended by parental decree.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. In fact, he got all choked up.” Diana looked down at her lap and drew a long breath, then lifted her eyes to Corey’s. “Did you mention to your mom about me calling her Mom?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say anything?”

“She said you’re wonderful,” Corey replied, rolling her eyes in feigned disagreement.

“Did she say anything else?”

“She couldn’t,” Corey replied. “She was crying.”

The two girls eyed one another in smiling silence, then, as if by mutual agreement, flopped onto their backs. “I think,” Diana said after a moment’s contemplation, “this could turn out to be really, really cool!”

Corey nodded with absolute conviction. “Totally cool,” she proclaimed.

Yet later that night, as she lay in her own bed, Corey found it hard to believe that things had turned out so well with Diana.

Earlier that day, she would never have believed it was possible. When Diana’s father had married Corey’s mother after a two-week courtship and brought his new wife and daughter to his Houston home, Corey had dreaded meeting her stepsister. Based on what little she’d already discovered about Diana, Corey figured they were so different they were probably going to hate each other. Besides being born rich and growing up in this huge mansion, Diana was a year older than Corey and a straight-A student; and when Corey took a peek into Diana’s feminine bedroom, everything was so neat it gave her the creeps. Based on what she’d heard and seen, she felt sure that Diana was going to be disgustingly perfect and a complete snob. She was even more sure Diana was going to think Corey was a dumb hick and a slob.

Her first glimpse of Diana when she walked into the foyer this morning had confirmed Corey’s worst fears. Diana was petite, with a narrow waist, slim hips, and real breasts, which made Corey feel like a deformed, flat-chested giant by contrast. Diana was dressed like a model from Seventeen. magazine, in a short tan skirt, cream-colored tights, and a tan-and-blue plaid vest topped off by a jaunty tan blazer with an emblem on the front. Corey was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.

And yet, despite Corey’s absolute conviction that Diana would be a conceited snob, Diana had been the one who broke the ice. It was Diana who had admired Corey’s hand-painted sweatshirt with the horse on the front, and Diana who’d first admitted that she’d always wanted a sister. Later that afternoon, Diana had taken Corey over to the Haywards’ house so Corey could take pictures of the Haywards’ horses with the new camera Diana’s father had given her.

Diana didn’t seem to resent the fancy camera her father had bought for Corey or hate the idea of sharing him with Corey. And if she thought Corey was a dumb hick, she definitely hadn’t shown it. Next week, Diana was taking her to Barb Hayward’s birthday party, where everyone was going to ride horses. Diana said her friends would become Corey’s friends, too, and Corey hoped she was right.

That last part didn’t matter nearly as much as having a sister so close to her own age to spend time with and talk to—and Corey wouldn’t be doing all the taking either—she had some things to give Diana. For one thing, Diana had led an awfully sheltered life, in Corey’s opinion. Earlier that day, she’d admitted she’d never climbed a really big tree, never eaten berries right off the vine, and never skipped rocks across a pond.

Closing her eyes, Corey sighed with relief.

*****

cover-nightwhispersNight Whispers

9781439140833

$7.99

In this “exciting tale of loyalty, love, and danger” (Publishers Weekly), Sloan Reynolds, a small-town Florida policewoman, knows that her modest upbringing is a long way from the social whirl of Palm Beach, the world inhabited by her father and her sister, Paris. Total strangers to Sloan, they have never tried to contact her—until a sudden invitation arrives, to meet them and indulge in the Palm Beach social season. Reluctant to accept the long-overdue familial gesture, Sloan is convinced to visit when an FBI colleague informs her that her father and his associates are suspected of fraud, conspiracy, and murder. The only catch is she must hide her true profession from her family. Sloan is on top of her game until she meets Noah Maitland, a multinational corporate player and one of the FBI’s prime suspects. She finds herself powerfully attracted to him, against her deepest instincts. When a shocking murder shatters the seductive facade of the wealth and glamour surrounding her, Sloan must maneuver through a maze of deceit and passion in this superb and enthralling tale of breathtaking suspense.

S&S: http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Night-Whispers/Judith-McNaught/9781439140833

IBOOKSTORE (ebook):  http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781439140833?at=10lrBC&ct=nightwhispers_9781439140833_sscom&uo=8

KINDLE (ebook):  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LZXSLVK?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B01LZXSLVK&linkCode=xm2&tag=sscom-ebooks1-20

NOOK (ebook):   http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-7567305-11819508?SID=simonsayscom&url=http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/?ean=9781439140833

GOOGLE PLAY (ebook):  https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Judith_McNaught_Night_Whispers?id=mTMjDQAAQBAJ&PAffiliateId=110l3H&PCamRefID=nightwhispers_9781439140833_sscom

Chapter 1

He’d been following her for three days, watching. Waiting.

By now, he knew her habits and her schedule. He knew what time she got up in the morning, whom she saw during the day, and what time she went to sleep. He knew she read in bed at night, propped up on pillows. He knew the title of the book she was reading, and that she laid it face down on the nightstand to keep her place before she finally turned off the lamp.

He knew her thick blond hair was natural and that the startling blue-violet color of her eyes was not the result of the contact lenses she wore. He knew she bought her makeup at the drugstore and that she spent exactly twenty-five minutes getting ready to go to work in the morning. Obviously, she was more interested in being clean and neat than in enhancing her physical assets. He, however, was very interested in her considerable physical assets. But not urgently and not for the “usual” reasons.

At first, he’d taken great care to keep her in sight while ensuring that she didn’t notice him, but his precautions were more from habit than necessity. With a population of 150,000 people, 15,000 of them college students, the little city of Bell Harbor on Florida’s eastern seaboard was large enough that a stranger could move unnoticed among the population, but not so large that he would lose sight of his prey in a jumble of metropolitan expressways and interchanges.

Today he’d tracked her to the city park, where he’d spent a balmy but irksome February afternoon surrounded by cheerful, beer-drinking adults and shrieking children who’d come there to enjoy the Presidents’ Day picnic and festivities. He didn’t like children around him, particularly children with sticky hands and smudged faces who tripped over his feet while they chased each other. They called him, “Hey, mister!” and asked him to throw their errant baseballs back to them. Their antics called attention to him so often that he’d abandoned several comfortable park benches and was now forced to seek shelter and anonymity beneath a tree with a rough trunk that was uncomfortable to lean against and thick gnarled roots that made sitting on the ground beneath it impossible. Everything was beginning to annoy him, and he realized his patience was coming to an end. So was the watching and waiting.

To curb his temper, he went over his plans for her while he turned his full attention on his prey. At the moment, Sloan was descending from the branches of a big tree from which she was attempting to retrieve a kite that looked like a black falcon with outstretched wings tipped in bright yellow. At the base of the tree, a group of five- and six-year-olds cheered her on. Behind them stood a group of older adolescents, all of them boys. The young children were interested in getting their kite back; the adolescent boys were interested in Sloan Reynolds’s shapely suntanned legs as they slowly emerged from the thick upper branches of the tree. The boys elbowed each other and ogled her, and he understood the cause of the minor male commotion: if she were a twenty-year-old coed, those legs of hers would have been remarkable, but on a thirty-year-old cop, they were a phenomenon.

Normally, he was attracted to tall, voluptuous women, but this one was only five feet four with compact breasts and a slender body that was appealingly graceful and trim although far from voluptuous. She was no centerfold candidate, but in her crisp khaki shorts and pristine white knit shirt, with her blond hair pulled up in a ponytail, she had a fresh wholesomeness and prim neatness that appealed to him—for the time being.

A shout from the baseball diamond made two of the older boys turn and look his way, and he lifted the paper cup of orange soda toward his mouth to hide his face, but the gesture was more automatic than necessary. She hadn’t noticed him in the past three days as he watched her from doorways and alleys, so she wasn’t going to find anything sinister about a lone man in a park crowded with law-abiding citizens who were enjoying the free food and exhibits, even if she did notice him. In fact, he thought with an inner smirk, she was incredibly and stupidly heedless whenever she was off duty. She didn’t look over her shoulder when she heard his footsteps one night; she didn’t even lock her car when she parked it. Like most small-town cops, she felt a false sense of safety in her own town, an invulnerability that went with the badge she wore and the gun she carried, and the citizens’ sleazy secrets that she knew.

She had no secrets from him, however. In less than seventy-two hours, he had all her vital statistics—her age, height, driver’s license number, bank account balances, annual income, home address—the sort of information that was readily available on the Internet to anyone who knew where to look. In his pocket was a photograph of her, but all of that combined information was minuscule in comparison to what he now knew.

He took another swallow of lukewarm orange soda, fighting down another surge of impatience. At times, she was so straight, so prim and predictable, that it amused him; at other times, she was unexpectedly impulsive, which made her unpredictable, and unpredictable made things risky, dangerous, for him. And so he continued to wait and watch. In the past three days he’d collected all the mysterious bits and pieces that normally make up the whole of a woman, but in Sloan Reynolds’s case, the picture was still blurry, complex, confusing.

Clutching the kite in her left fist, Sloan worked her way cautiously to the lowest branch; then she dropped to the ground and presented the kite to its owner amid shouts of “Yea!” and the sound of small hands clapping excitedly. “Gee, thanks, Sloan!” Kenny Landry said, blushing with pleasure and admiration as he took his kite. Kenny’s two front teeth were missing, which gave him a lisp, both of which made him seem utterly endearing to Sloan, who had gone to high school with his mother. “My mom was scared you’d get hurt, but I’ll bet you never get scared.”

Actually, Sloan had been extremely afraid during her downward trek through the sprawling branches that her shorts were snagging on the limbs, hiking up, and showing way too much of her legs.

“Everyone is afraid of something,” Sloan told him, suppressing the urge to hug him and risk embarrassing him with such a show of public affection. She settled for rumpling his sandy brown hair instead.

“I fell out of a tree once!” a little girl in pink shorts and a pink-and-white T-shirt confessed, eyeing Sloan with awed wonder. “I got hurted, too, on my elbow,” Emma added shyly. She had short, curly red hair, freckles on her small nose, and a rag doll in her arms.

Butch Ingersoll was the only child who didn’t want to be impressed. “Girls are supposed to play with dolls,” he informed Emma. “Boys climb trees.”

“My teacher said Sloan is an honest-to-goodness hero,” she declared, hugging the rag doll even tighter, as if it gave her courage to speak up. She raised her eyes to Sloan and blurted, “My teacher said you risked your life so you could save that little boy who fell down the well.”

“Your teacher was being very kind,” Sloan said as she picked up the kite string lying on the grass and began winding it into a spool on her fingers. Emma’s mother had been another classmate of Sloan’s, and as she glanced from Kenny to Emma, Sloan couldn’t decide which child was more adorable. She’d gone to school with most of these children’s parents, and as she smiled at the circle of small faces, she saw poignant reminders of former classmates in the fascinated faces looking back at her.

Surrounded by the offspring of her classmates and friends, Sloan felt a sharp pang of longing for a child of her own. In the last year, this desire for a little boy or little girl of her own to hold and love and take to school had grown from a wish to a need, and it was gaining strength with alarming speed and force. She wanted a little Emma or a little Kenny of her own to cuddle and love and teach. Unfortunately her desire to surrender her life to a husband had not increased at all. Just the opposite, in fact.

The other children were eyeing Sloan with open awe, but Butch Ingersoll was determined not to be impressed. His father and his grandfather had been high school football stars. At six years old, Butch not only had their stocky build, but had also inherited their square chin and macho swagger. His grandfather was the chief of police and Sloan’s boss. He stuck out his chin in a way that forcibly reminded Sloan of Chief Ingersoll. “My grandpa said any cop could have rescued that little kid, just like you did, but the TV guys made a big deal out of it ’cause you’re a girl cop.”

A week before, Sloan had gone out on a call about a missing toddler and had ended up going down a well to rescue it. The local television stations had picked up the story of the missing child, and then the Florida media had picked up the story of the rescue. Three hours after she climbed down into the well and spent the most terror-filled time of her life, Sloan had emerged a “heroine.” Filthy and exhausted, Sloan had been greeted with deafening cheers from Bell Harbor’s citizens who’d gathered to pray for the child’s safety and with shouts from the reporters who’d gathered to pray for something newsworthy enough to raise their ratings.

After a week, the furor and notoriety was finally beginning to cool down, but not fast enough to suit Sloan. She found the role of media star and local hero not only comically unsuitable but thoroughly disconcerting. On one side of the spectrum, she had to contend with the citizens of Bell Harbor who now regarded her as a heroine, an icon, a role model for women. On the other side, she had to deal with Captain Ingersoll, Butch’s fifty-five-year-old male-chauvinist grandfather, who regarded Sloan’s unwitting heroics as “deliberate grandstanding” and her presence on his police force as an affront to his dignity, a challenge to his authority, and a burden he was forced to bear until he could find a way to get rid of her.

Sloan’s best friend, Sara Gibbon, arrived on the scene just as Sloan finished winding the last bit of kite string into a makeshift spool, which she presented to Kenny with a smile.

“I heard cheering and clapping,” Sara said, looking at Sloan and then at the little group of children and then at the kite-falcon with the broken yellow-tipped wing. “What happened to your kite, Kenny?” Sara asked. She smiled at him and he lit up. Sara had that effect on males of all ages. With her shiny, short-cropped auburn hair, sparkling green eyes, and exquisite features, Sara could stop men in their tracks with a single, beckoning glance.

“It got stuck in the tree.”

“Yes, but Sloan got it down,” Emma interrupted excitedly, pointing a chubby little forefinger toward the top of the tree.

“She climbed right up to the top,” Kenny inserted, “and she wasn’t scared, ’cause she’s brave.”

Sloan felt—as a mother-to-be someday—that she needed to correct that impression for the children. “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re never afraid. Being brave means that, even though you’re scared, you still do what you should do. For example,” she said, directing a smile to the little group, “you’re being brave when you tell the truth even though you’re afraid you might get into trouble. That’s being really, really brave.”

The arrival on the scene of Clarence the Clown with a fistful of giant balloons caused all of the children to turn in unison, and several of them scampered off at once, leaving only Kenny, Emma, and Butch behind. “Thanks for getting my kite down,” Kenny said with another of his endearing, gap-toothed smiles.

“You’re welcome,” Sloan said, fighting down an impossible impulse to snatch him into her arms and hug him close—stained shirt, sticky face, and all. The youthful trio turned and headed away, arguing loudly over the actual degree of Sloan’s courage.

“Miss McMullin was right. Sloan is a real-life, honest-to-goodness hero,” Emma declared.

“She’s really, truly brave,” Kenny announced.

Butch Ingersoll felt compelled to qualify and limit the compliment. “She’s brave for a girl,” he declared dismissively, reminding an amused Sloan even more forcibly of Chief Ingersoll.

Oddly, it was shy little Emma who sensed the insult. “Girls are just as brave as boys.”

“They are not! She shouldn’t even be a policeman. That’s a man’s job. That’s why they call it policeman.”

Emma took fierce umbrage at this final insult to her heroine. “My mommy,” she announced shrilly, “says Sloan Reynolds should be chief of police!”

“Oh, yeah?” countered Butch Ingersoll. “Well, my grandpa is chief of police, and he says she’s a pain in the ass! My grandpa says she should get married and make babies. That’s what girls are for!”

Emma opened her mouth to protest but couldn’t think how. “I hate you, Butch Ingersoll,” she cried instead, and raced off, clutching her doll—a fledgling feminist with tears in her eyes.

“You shouldn’t have said that,” Kenny warned. “You made her cry.”

“Who cares?” Butch said—a fledgling bigot with an attitude, like his grandfather.

“If you’re real nice to her tomorrow, she’ll prob’ly forget what you said,” Kenny decided—a fledgling politician, like his father.

*****

cover-tendertriumphTender Triumph

9781501145421

$7.99

On Friday, a sensuous stranger enters Katie’s life. By Sunday, her life is irrevocably changed forever.

Katie Connelly submerges her painful past in a promising career, an elegant apartment, and men she can keep at a distance. Yet something vital is missing from her life—until she meets proud, rugged Ramon Galverra. With his charm and his passionate nature, Ramon gives her a love she had never known. Still she is afraid to surrender her heart to this strong, willful, secretive man—a man from a different world, a man with a bold, uncertain future. Will Katie’s relationship with Ramon survive once the thrill of their simmering passion subsides?

S&S:  http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Tender-Triumph/Judith-McNaught/9781501145421

IBOOKSTORE (ebook):  http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781501145421?at=10lrBC&ct=tendertriumph_9781501145421_sscom&uo=8

KINDLE (ebook):  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M0L420Q?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B01M0L420Q&linkCode=xm2&tag=sscom-ebooks1-20

NOOK (ebook): http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-7567305-11819508?SID=simonsayscom&url=http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/?ean=9781501145421

GOOGLE PLAY (ebook):  https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Judith_McNaught_Tender_Triumph?id=ERsmDQAAQBAJ&PAffiliateId=110l3H&PCamRefID=tendertriumph_9781501145421_sscom

Chapter 1 & 2

Standing in brooding silence at the windows of the elegant penthouse apartment, the tall dark man gazed at the panorama of twinkling lights fanning out across the dusky St. Louis skyline. Bitterness and resignation were evident in Ramon Galverra’s abrupt movements as he jerked the knot of his tie loose, then raised his glass of Scotch to his mouth, drinking deeply.

Behind him, a blond man strode quickly into the dimly lit living room. “Well, Ramon?” he asked eagerly. “What did they decide?”

“They decided what bankers always decide,” Ramon said harshly, without turning. “They decided to look out for themselves.”

“Those bastards!” Roger exploded. In angry frustration, he raked his hand through his blond hair, then turned and headed determinedly for the row of crystal decanters on the bar. “They sure as hell stayed with you when the money was pouring in,” he gritted as he splashed bourbon into a glass.

“They have not changed,” Ramon said grimly. “If the money was still pouring in, they would still be with me.”

Roger snapped on a lamp, then scowled at the magnificent Louis XIV furnishings, as if their presence in his spacious living room offended him. “I was so certain, so absolutely certain, that when you explained about the state of your father’s mental health before he died the bankers would stand by you. How can they blame you for his mistakes and incompetence?”

Turning from the windows, Ramon leaned a shoulder against the frame. For a moment he stared at the remaining Scotch in his glass, then he tipped it up to his mouth and drained it. “They blame me for not preventing him from making fatal mistakes, and for not recognizing the fact of his incompetence in time.”

“Not recognizing the—” Roger repeated furiously. “How were you supposed to recognize that a man who always acted like he was God Almighty, one day started believing it? And what could you have done if you’d known? The stock was in his name, not yours. Until the day he died, he held the controlling interest in the corporation. Your hands were tied.”

“Now they are empty,” Ramon replied with a shrug of broad, muscled shoulders on his six-foot-three-inch frame.

“Look,” Roger said in desperation. “I haven’t brought this up before because I knew your pride would be offended, but I’m a long way from being poor, you know that. How much do you need? If I don’t have it all, maybe I can raise the rest.”

For the first time, a glint of humor touched Ramon Galverra’s finely sculpted mouth and arrogant dark eyes. The transformation was startling, softening the features of a face that lately looked as if it had been cast in bronze by an artist intent on portraying cold, ruthless determination and ancient Spanish nobility. “Fifty million would help. Seventy-five million would be better.”

“Fifty million?” Roger said blankly, staring at the man he had known since they were both students at Harvard University. “Fifty million dollars would only help?”

“Right. It would only help.” Slamming his glass down on the marble table beside him, Ramon turned and started toward the guest room he had been occupying since his arrival in St. Louis a week before.

“Ramon,” Roger said urgently, “you have to see Sid Green while you’re here. He could raise that kind of money if he wanted to, and he owes you.”

Ramon’s head jerked around. His aristocratic Spanish face hardened with contempt. “If Sid wanted to help, he would have contacted me. He knows I am here and he knows I am in trouble.”

“Maybe he doesn’t know. Until now, you’ve managed to keep it quiet that the corporation is going under. Maybe he doesn’t know.”

“He knows. He is on the board of directors of the bank that is refusing to extend our loan.”

“But—”

“No! If Sid was willing to help, he would have contacted me. His silence speaks for itself, and I will not beg him. I have called a meeting of my corporation’s auditors and attorneys in Puerto Rico for ten days from now. At that meeting I will instruct them to file bankruptcy.” Turning on his heel, Ramon strode from the room, his long purposeful strides eloquent of restless anger.

When he returned, his thick black hair was slightly damp from a shower, and he was wearing Levi’s. Roger turned and watched in silence as Ramon folded the cuffs of his white shirt up on his forearms. “Ramon,” he said with pleading determination, “stay another week in St. Louis. Maybe Sid will contact you if you give him more time. I tell you, I don’t think he knows you’re here. I don’t even know if he’s in town.”

“He is in town, and I am leaving for Puerto Rico in two days, exactly as I planned.”

Roger heaved a long, defeated sigh. “What the hell are you going to do in Puerto Rico?”

“First, I am going to attend to the corporation’s bankruptcy, and then I am going to do what my grandfather did, and his father before him,” Ramon replied tautly. “I am going to farm.”

“You’re out of your mind!” Roger burst out. “Farm that little patch of ground with that hut on it where you and I took those two girls from . . . ?”

“That little patch of ground,” Ramon interrupted with quiet dignity, “is all I have left. Along with the cottage on it where I was born.”

“What about the house near San Juan, or the villa in Spain, or the island in the Mediterranean? Sell one of your houses or the island; that would keep you in luxury for as long as you live.”

“They are gone. I put them up as collateral to raise money for the corporation that it cannot repay. The banks who loaned the money will be swarming over everything like vultures before the year is out.”

“Dammit!” Roger said helplessly. “If your father weren’t already dead, I’d kill him with my own two hands.”

“The stockholders would have already beaten you to it.” Ramon smiled without humor.

“How can you just stand there and talk as if you don’t even care?”

“I have accepted defeat,” Ramon said calmly. “I have done everything that can be done. I will not mind working my land beside the people who have worked it for my family for centuries.”

Turning to hide his sympathy from the man Roger knew would reject it and despise him for it, he said, “Ramon, is there anything I can do?”

“Yes.”

“Name it,” Roger said, looking hopefully over his shoulder. “Just tell me and I’ll do it.”

“Will you loan me your car? I would like to go for a drive alone.”

Grimacing at such a paltry request, Roger dug in his pocket, then tossed his keys to his friend. “There’s a problem in the fuel line and the filter keeps clogging, but the local Mercedes dealer can’t take it in for another week. With your luck the thing will probably quit in the middle of the street tonight.”

Ramon shrugged, his face wiped clean of emotion. “If the car stops, I will walk. The exercise will help me get into condition for farming.”

“You don’t have to farm that place and you know it! In the international business community you’re famous.”

A muscle clenched in Ramon’s jaw as he made an obvious effort to control his bitter anger. “In the international business community, I have been party to a sin no one will forgive or forget—failure. I am about to become its most notorious failure. Would you have me beg my friends for a position on that recommendation? Shall I go to your factory tomorrow and apply for a job on your assembly line?”

“No, of course not! But you could think of something. I’ve seen you build a financial empire in a few short years. If you could build it, you could find a way to save a piece of it for yourself. I don’t think you give a damn anymore! I—”

“I cannot work miracles,” Ramon cut in flatly. “And that is what it would take. The Lear is in a hangar at the airport waiting for a minor part for one of the engines. When the jet mechanics have finished with it, and my pilot returns Sunday night from his weekend off, I will be flying to Puerto Rico.” Roger opened his mouth to protest, but Ramon silenced him with an impatient look. “There is dignity in farming. More dignity, I think, than in dealing with bankers. While my father was alive, I knew no peace. Since he died, I have known no peace. Let me find it in my own way.”

The huge bar at the Canyon Inn near suburban Westport was packed with the usual Friday night crowd. Katie Connelly glanced surreptitiously at her watch, then let her gaze slide over the laughing, drinking, talking groups, searching for a particular face among them. Her view of the main entrance was obscured by the profusion of lush plants suspended from macrame hangers and the tiffany lamps hanging beneath the stained-glass ceiling.

Keeping the bright smile fixed on her face, she returned her attention to the knot of men and women standing around her. “So I told him never to call me again,” Karen Wilson was saying to them.

A man stepped on Katie’s foot while stretching around her to get his drink from the bar. In the process of reaching into his pocket to extract some money, he jabbed her in the side with his elbow. He offered no apology, nor did Katie really expect one. It was every man, and every woman, for themselves in here. Equal rights.

Turning away from the bar with his drink in his hand, he noticed Katie. “Hello,” he said, pausing to flick an interested glance over her slender, curving figure draped in a clingy blue dress. “Nice,” he concluded aloud as he considered everything about her, from the shining reddish blond hair tumbling around her shoulders, to the sapphire blue eyes regarding him beneath long curling lashes and delicately arched brows. Her cheeks were elegantly curved, her nose small, and as he continued to survey her, her creamy complexion took on a becoming tint of pale rose. “Very nice,” he amended, unaware that the reason for her heightening color was irritation, not pleasure.

Although Katie resented him for looking at her as if he had paid for the privilege, she could not really blame him. After all, she was here, wasn’t she? Here in what was, despite what the owners and patrons preferred to think, nothing more than a huge singles’ bar attached to a tiny dining room to give it dignity.

“Where’s your drink?” he asked, lazily reexamining her beautiful face.

“I don’t have one,” Katie replied, stating the perfectly obvious.

“Why not?”

“I’ve already had two.”

“Well, why don’t you get yourself another one and meet me over in that corner? We can get acquainted. I’m an attorney,” he added, as if that one piece of information should make her eager to snatch a drink and leap after him.

Katie bit her lip and deliberately looked disappointed. “Oh.”

“Oh, what?”

“I don’t like attorneys,” she said straight-faced.

He was more stunned than annoyed. “Too bad.” Shrugging, he turned and wended his way into the crowd. Katie watched him pause near two very attractive young women who returned his considering glance with one of their own, looking him over with blatant interest. She felt a surge of shamed disgust for him, for all of them in this crowded place, but especially for herself for being here. She was inwardly embarrassed by her own rudeness, but places like this automatically made her feel defensive, and her natural warmth and spontaneity atrophied the moment she crossed the threshold.

The attorney had, of course, forgotten Katie in an instant. Why should he bother spending two dollars to buy her a drink, then put forth the effort to be friendly and charm her? Why should he exert himself when it wasn’t necessary? If Katie, or any other woman in the room, wanted to get to know him, he was perfectly willing to let her try to interest him. And if she succeeded sufficiently, he would even invite her to come to his place—in her own car, of course—so that she could indulge her equal, and much publicized, need for sexual gratification. After which he would have a friendly drink with her—if he wasn’t too tired—walk her to his door, and allow her to drive herself back to wherever she lived.

So efficient, so straightforward. No strings attached. No commitments made or expected. Today’s woman, of course, had equal rights of refusal; she didn’t have to go to bed with him. She didn’t even have to worry that her refusal might hurt his feelings. Because he had no feelings for her. He might be slightly annoyed that he had wasted an hour or two of his time, but then he would simply make another selection from the numerous willing women available to him.

Katie raised her blue eyes, again scanning the crowd for Rob, wishing she had arranged to meet him somewhere else. The popular music was too loud, adding its clamor to the din of raised voices and forced laughter. She gazed at the faces around her, all different, yet all similar in their restless, eager, bored expressions. They were all looking for something. They hadn’t found it yet.

“It’s Katie, isn’t it?” An unfamiliar male voice spoke behind her. Startled, Katie turned and found herself looking into a confidently smiling male face above an Ivy League button-down shirt, well-tailored blazer and coordinated tie. “I met you with Karen at the supermarket, two weeks ago.”

He had a boyish grin and hard eyes. Katie was wary and her smile lacked its normal sparkle. “Hello, Ken. It’s nice to see you again.”

“Listen, Katie,” he said, as if he had suddenly devised a brilliant and original scheme. “Why don’t we leave here and go somewhere quieter.”

His place or hers. Whichever was closest. Katie knew the routine and it sickened her. “What did you have in mind?”

He didn’t answer the question, he didn’t need to. Instead he asked another. “Where do you live?”

“A few blocks from here—the Village Green Apartments.”

“Any roommates?”

“Two lesbians,” she lied gravely.

He believed her, and he wasn’t shocked. “No kidding? It doesn’t bother you?”

Katie gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence. “I adore them.” For just a fraction of a second he looked revolted, and Katie’s smile widened with genuine laughter.

Recovering almost immediately, he shrugged. “Too bad. See you around.”

Katie watched his attention shift across the room until he saw someone who interested him and he left, slowly shoving his way through the crowd. She had had enough. More than enough. She touched Karen’s arm, distracting her from her animated conversation with two attractive men about skiing in Colorado. “Karen, I’m going to stop in the ladies’ room, and then I’m leaving.”

“Rob didn’t show up?” Karen said distractedly. “Well, look around—there’s plenty more where he came from. Take your pick.”

“I’m going,” Katie said with quiet firmness. Karen merely shrugged and returned to her conversation.

The ladies’ room was down a short hall behind the bar, and Katie worked her way through the shifting bodies, breathing a sigh of relief as she squeezed around the last human obstacle in her path and stepped into the relative quiet of the hallway. She wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or disappointed that Rob hadn’t come. Eight months ago, she had been wildly, passionately dazzled by him, by his clever mind and teasing tenderness. He had everything: blond good looks, confidence, charm and a secure future as the heir to one of St. Louis’s largest stockbrokerage firms. He was beautiful and wise and wonderful. And married.

Katie’s face saddened as she recalled the last time she had seen Rob. . . . After a marvelous dinner and dancing they had returned to her apartment and were having a drink. For hours she had been thinking of what was going to happen when Rob took her in his arms. That night, for the first time, she was not going to stop him when he tried to make love to her. During the last months he had told her a hundred times, and shown her in a hundred ways, that he loved her. There was no need for her to hesitate any longer. In fact, she had been about to take the initiative when Rob had leaned his head back against the sofa and sighed. “Katie, tomorrow’s paper is going to have a story about me in the society section. Not just about me—but also about my wife and son. I’m married.”

Pale and heartbroken, Katie had told him never to call her again or try to see her. He did—repeatedly. And just as tenaciously, Katie refused his calls at her office and hung up the phone at home whenever she heard his voice.

That was five months ago, and only rarely since then had Katie allowed herself the bittersweet luxury of thinking of him, even for a moment. Until three days ago, she had believed she was entirely over him, but when she answered her phone on Wednesday, the sound of Rob’s deep voice had made her whole body tremble: “Katie, don’t hang up on me. Everything’s changing. I’ve got to see you, to talk to you.”

He had argued vehemently against Katie’s choice of this for a meeting place, but Katie held firm. The Canyon Inn was noisy and public enough to discourage him from trying to use tender persuasion, if that was his intention, and Karen came here every Friday, which meant Katie would have feminine moral support if she needed it.

The ladies’ room was crowded and Katie had to wait in line. She emerged several minutes later, absently digging in her shoulder purse for her car keys as she walked down the hall, then stopped at the crowd blocking her reentry into the bar. Beside her at one of the pay telephones on the wall, a man spoke with a trace of a Spanish accent: “Pardon—could you tell me the address of this place?”

On the verge of pushing her way into the tightly packed mass of humanity, Katie turned to look at the tall, lithe male who was regarding her with faint impatience while holding the telephone to his ear. “Were you speaking to me?” Katie asked. His face was deeply tanned, his hair vitally thick and as black as his onyx eyes. In a place filled with men who always reminded Katie of IBM salesmen, this man, who was wearing faded Levi’s and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up on his forearms, definitely did not belong. He was too . . . earthy.

“I asked,” the Spanish-accented voice repeated, “if you could tell me the address of this place. I have had car trouble and am trying to order a towing vehicle.”

Katie automatically named the two intersections at the corner of which the Canyon Inn was located, while mentally recoiling from the narrowed black eyes and patrician nose in a foreign, arrogant face. Tall, dark foreign-looking men reeking of coarse masculinity might appeal to some women, but not to Katherine Connelly.

“Thank you,” he replied, removing his hand from the mouthpiece of the telephone and repeating the names of the streets Katie had given him.

Turning away, Katie confronted a dark green Izod sweater stretched across the masculine chest that was blocking her way back into the bar area. Eyeball to alligator, she said, “Excuse me, may I get by?” The sweater obligingly moved out of the doorway.

“Where are you going?” its wearer inquired in a friendly voice. “It’s still early.”

Katie raised her deep blue eyes up to his face and saw his smile broaden with frank admiration. “I know, but I have to leave. I turn into a pumpkin at midnight.”

“Your chariot turns into a pumpkin,” he corrected, grinning. “And your dress turns into rags.”

“Planned obsolescence and poor workmanship, even in Cinderella’s time,” Katie sighed in mock disgust.

“Clever girl,” he applauded. “Sagittarius, right?”

“Wrong,” Katie said, extracting her keys from the bottom of her purse.

“Then what is your sign?”

“Slow Down and Proceed with Caution,” she flipped back. “What’s yours?”

He thought for a moment. “Merge,” he replied with a meaningful glance that faithfully followed every curve of her graceful figure. Reaching out, he lightly ran his knuckles over the silky sleeve of Katie’s dress. “I happen to like intelligent women; I don’t feel threatened by them.”

Firmly repressing the impulse to suggest that he try making a pass at Dr. Joyce Brothers, Katie said politely, “I really do have to leave. I’m meeting someone.”

“Lucky guy,” he said.

Katie emerged into the dark, sultry summer night feeling lost and depressed. She paused beneath the canopied entrance, watching with a suddenly pounding heart as a familiar white Corvette ran the red light at the corner and turned into the parking lot, screeching to a stop beside her. “I’m sorry I’m late. Get in, Katie. We’ll go somewhere and talk.”

Katie looked at Rob through the open car window and felt a surge of longing so intense that she ached with it. He was still unbearably handsome, but his smile, normally so confident and assured, was now tinged with an endearing uncertainty that wrung her heart and weakened her resolve. “It’s late. And I don’t have anything to say to you if you’re still married.”

“Katie, we can’t talk here like this. don’t give me a hard time about being late. I’ve had a lousy flight and it was delayed getting into St. Louis. Now, be a good girl and get in the car. I don’t have time to waste arguing with you.”

“Why don’t you have time?” Katie persisted, “Is your wife expecting you?”

Rob swore under his breath, then accelerated sharply, swinging the sports car into a shadowy parking space beside the building. He got out of the car and leaned against the door, waiting for Katie to come to him. With the breeze teasing her hair and tugging at the folds of her blue dress, Katie reluctantly approached him in the darkened parking lot.

“It’s been a long time, Katie,” he said when she stopped in front of him. “Aren’t you going to kiss me hello?”

“Are you still married?”

His answer was to snatch her into his arms and kiss her with a combination of fierce hunger and pleading need. He knew her well enough, however, to realize that Katie was only passively accepting his kiss, and by avoiding her question he had told her that he was still married. “Don’t be like this,” he rasped thickly, his breath warm against her ear. “I’ve thought of nothing but you for months. Let’s get out of here and go to your place.”

Katie drew an unsteady breath. “No.”

“Katie, I love you, I’m crazy about you. don’t keep holding out on me.”

For the first time, Katie noticed the smell of liquor on his breath and was unwillingly touched that he had apparently felt the need to bolster his courage before seeing her. But she managed to keep her voice firm. “I’m not going to have a sleazy affair with a married man.”

“Before you knew I was married, you didn’t find anything ‘sleazy’ about being with me.”

Now he was going to try cajolery, and Katie couldn’t bear it. “Please, please don’t do this to me, Rob. I couldn’t live with myself if I wrecked another woman’s marriage.”

“The marriage was ‘wrecked’ long before I met you, honey. I tried to tell you that.”

“Then get a divorce,” Katie said desperately.

Even in the darkness, Katie could see the bitter irony that twisted his smile. “Southfields do not divorce. They learn to live separate lives. Ask my father and my grandfather,” he said with angry pain. Despite the doors opening and closing as people drifted in and out of the restaurant, Rob’s voice remained at normal pitch, and his hands slid down her back caressing her, then cupping her hips, forcing her against his hardened thighs. “That’s for you, Katie. Only for you. You won’t be wrecking my marriage; it was over long ago.”

Katie couldn’t stand any more. The sordidness of the situation made her feel dirty, and she tried to pull away from him. “Let go of me,” she hissed. “Either you’re a liar, or you’re a coward, or both, and—”

Rob’s hands tightened around her arms as she struggled. “I hate you for acting like this!” Katie choked. “Let me go!”

“Do as she says,” a faintly accented voice spoke from the darkness.

Rob’s head snapped up. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded of the white-shirted figure that materialized from the shadows beside the building. Retaining his grip on one of Katie’s arms, Rob glowered menacingly at the intruder and snapped at Katie, “Do you know him?”

Katie’s voice was hoarse with mortification and anger. “No, but let go of me. I want to leave.”

“You’re staying,” Rob gritted. Jerking his head toward the other man, he said, “And you’re going. Now move, unless you want me to help you on your way.”

The accented voice became extremely courteous, almost frighteningly so. “You may try if you wish. But let her go.”

Pushed past all endurance by Katie’s continued implacable stubbornness, and now this unwanted intrusion, Rob vented all his frustrated wrath on the intruder. He dropped Katie’s arm and, in one smooth continuous motion, swung his huge fist directly at his opponent’s jaw. A second’s silence was followed by the terrible crack of bone connecting with bone, and then a resounding thud. Katie opened her tear-brightened eyes to find Rob unconscious at her feet.

“Open the car door,” the foreign voice ordered with an insistence that brooked no argument.

Automatically, Katie opened the door of the Corvette. The man unceremoniously shoved and folded Rob inside, leaving his head lolling over the steering wheel as if he were passed out in a drunken stupor. “Which is your car?”

Katie stared at him blankly. “We can’t leave him like this. He might need a doctor.”

“Which is your car?” he repeated impatiently. “I have no wish to be here in the event someone saw what happened and called the police.”

“Oh, but—” Katie protested, looking over her shoulder at Rob’s Corvette as she hurried toward her car. She drew up stubbornly at the driver’s door. “You leave. I can’t.”

“I did not kill him, I only stunned him. He will wake up in a few minutes with a sore face and loose teeth, that is all. I will drive,” he said, forcibly propelling Katie around the front of her car and into the passenger seat. “You are in no condition.”

Flinging himself behind the steering wheel, he banged his knee on the steering column and uttered what Katie thought must have been a curse in Spanish. “Give me your keys,” he said, releasing the seat back into its farthest position to accommodate his very long legs. Katie handed them over. Several cars were coming in and leaving, and they had to wait before finally backing out of the space. They swooped down the rows of parked cars, past a battered old produce truck with a flat tire, which was parked at the rear of the restaurant.

“Is that yours?” Katie asked lamely, feeling that some conversation was required of her.

He glanced at the disabled produce truck, then slid her an ironic sideways look. “How did you guess?”

Katie flushed with mortification. She knew, and he knew, that simply because he was Hispanic she had assumed he drove the produce truck. To save his pride she said, “When you were on the telephone you mentioned that you needed a tow truck—that’s how I knew.”

They swung out of the parking lot into the stream of traffic while Katie gave him the simple directions to her apartment, which was only a few blocks away. “I want to thank you, er—?”

“Ramon,” he provided.

Nervously, Katie reached for her purse and searched for her wallet. She lived so close by, that by the time she had extracted a five-dollar bill they were already pulling into the parking lot of her apartment complex. “I live right there—the first door on the right, under the gaslight.”

He maneuvered the car into the parking space closest to her door, turned off the ignition, got out, and came around to her side. Katie hastily opened her own door and scrambled out of the car. Uncertainly, she glanced up into his dark, proud, enigmatic face, guessing him to be somewhere around thirty-five. Something about him, his foreignness—or his darkness—made her uneasy.

She held out her hand, offering him the five-dollar bill. “Thank you very much, Ramon. Please take this.” He looked briefly at the money and then at her face. “Please,” she persisted politely, thrusting the five-dollar bill toward him. “I’m sure you can use it.”

“Of course,” he said dryly after a pause, taking the money from her and jamming it into the back pocket of his Levi’s. “I will walk you to your door,” he added.

Katie turned and started up the steps, a little shocked when his hand lightly but firmly cupped her elbow. It was such a quaint, gallant gesture—particularly when she knew she had inadvertently offended his pride.

He inserted her key into the lock and swung the door open. Katie stepped inside, turned to thank him again, and he said, “I would like to use your phone to find out if the towing vehicle was sent as they promised.”

He had physically come to her rescue and had even risked being arrested for her—Katie knew that common courtesy required that she allow him to use her phone. Carefully concealing her reluctance to let him in, she stepped aside so that he could enter her luxurious apartment. “The phone’s there on the coffee table,” she explained.

“Once I have called, I will wait here for a short while to be certain that your friend”—he emphasized the word with contempt—“does not awaken and decide to come here. By then the mechanic should have finished his repairs and I will walk back—it is not far.”

Katie, who had not even considered the possibility that Rob might come here, froze in the act of taking off her slim-heeled sandals. Surely Rob would never come near her again, not after being verbally rejected by her and physically discouraged by Ramon. “I’m sure he won’t,” she said, and she meant it. But even so, she found herself trembling with delayed reaction. “I—I think I’ll make some coffee,” she said, already starting for the kitchen. And then because she had no choice, she added courteously. “Would you like some?”

Ramon accepted her offer with such ambivalence that most of Katie’s doubts about his trustworthiness were allayed. Since meeting him, he had neither said nor done anything that was in any way forward.

Once she was in the kitchen, Katie realized that in the anxiety about seeing Rob tonight she had forgotten to buy coffee, and she was out of it. Which was just as well, because she suddenly felt the need for something stronger. Opening the cabinet above the refrigerator, she took out the bottle of Rob’s brandy. “I’m afraid all I have to offer you is brandy or water,” she called to Ramon. “The Coke is flat.”

“Brandy will be fine,” he answered.

Katie splashed brandy into two snifters and returned to the living room just as Ramon was hanging up the telephone. “Did the repair truck get there?” she asked.

“It is there now, and the mechanic is making a temporary repair so that I can drive it.” Ramon took the glass from her outstretched hand, and looked around her apartment with a quizzical expression on his face. “Where are your friends?” he asked.

“What friends?” Katie questioned blankly, sitting down in a pretty beige corduroy chair.

“The lesbians.”

Katie choked back her horrified laughter. “Were you close enough to hear me say that?”

Gazing down at her, Ramon nodded, but there was no amusement in the quirk of his finely molded lips. “I was behind you, obtaining change for the telephone from the bartender.”

“Oh.” The misery of tonight’s events threatened to drag her down, but Katie pushed it fiercely to the back of her mind. She would think about it tomorrow when she would be better able to cope. She shrugged lightly. “I only made the lesbians up. I wasn’t in the mood for—”

“Why do you not like attorneys?” he interrupted.

Katie stifled another urge to laugh. “It’s a very long story, which I’d rather not discuss. But I suppose the reason I told him that was because I thought it was vain of him to tell me he was one.”

“You are not vain?”

Katie turned surprised eyes up to him. There was a childlike defenselessness to the way she had curled up in her chair with her bare feet tucked beneath her; an innocent vulnerability in the purity of her features and clarity of her wide blue eyes. “I—I don’t know.”

“You would not have been rude to me, had I approached you there and said that I drive a produce truck?”

Katie smiled the first genuine smile of the night, soft lips curving with a winsome humor that made her eyes glow. “I would probably have been too stunned to speak. In the first place, no one who goes to the Canyon Inn drives a truck, and in the second place, if they did they’d never admit it.”

“Why? It is nothing to be ashamed of.”

“No, I realize that. But they would say they were in the transportation business, or the trucking business—something like that, so that it would sound as if they owned a railroad, or at least an entire fleet of trucks.”

Ramon stared down at her as if the words she spoke were a hindrance, not a help, to his understanding her. His gaze drifted to the red gold hair tumbling over her shoulders, then abruptly he jerked his eyes away. Raising his glass, he tossed down half the brandy in it.

“Brandy is supposed to be sipped,” Katie said, then realized that what she had meant as a suggestion sounded more like a reprimand. “I mean,” she amended clumsily, “You can gulp it down, but people who are accustomed to drinking brandy usually prefer to sip it slowly.”

Ramon lowered his glass and looked at her with an absolutely unfathomable expression on his face. “Thank you,” he replied with impeccable courtesy. “I will try to remember that if I am ever fortunate enough to have it again.”

Squirming with the certainty that she had now thoroughly offended him, Katie watched him stroll over to the living-room window and part the nubby beige curtain.

Her window afforded an uninspiring view of the parking lot and, beyond that, the busy four-lane suburban street in front of her apartment complex. Leaning a shoulder against the window frame, he apparently heeded her advice, for he sipped his brandy slowly while watching the parking lot.

Idly, Katie noticed the way his white shirt stretched taut across his broad, muscled shoulders and tapered back whenever he lifted his arm, then she looked away. She had only meant to be helpful, instead she had sounded condescending and superior. She wished he would leave. She was mentally and physically exhausted, and there was absolutely no reason for him to be guarding her like this. Rob would not come here tonight.

“How old are you?” he asked abruptly.

Katie’s gaze flew to his. “Twenty-three.”

“Then you are old enough to have a better sense of priorities.”

Katie was more perplexed than annoyed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you think it is important that brandy be drunk in the ‘proper’ way, yet you do not worry if it is ‘proper’ to invite any man you meet into your apartment. You risk soiling your reputation and—”

“Invite any man I meet!” Katie sputtered indignantly, no longer feeling the slightest obligation to be courteous. “In the first place, I only invited you in here because you asked to use the phone, and I felt I had to be polite after you had helped me. In the second place, I don’t know about Mexico, or whatever country you come from, but—”

“I was born in Puerto Rico,” he provided.

Katie ignored that. “Well, here in the United States, we do not have such antiquated, absurd ideas about women’s reputations. Men have never worried about their reputations, and we no longer worry about ours. We do as we please!”

Katie absolutely could not believe it. Now, when she wanted to insult him, he was on the verge of laughter!

His black eyes were warm with amusement, and a smile was hovering at the corner of his mouth. “Do you do as you please?”

“Of course I do!” Katie said with great feeling.

“What is it that you do?”

“Pardon?”

“What is it that you do that pleases you?”

“Whatever I want.”

His voice deepened. “What do you want . . . Now?”

His suggestive tone made Katie suddenly and uncomfortably aware of the raw sensuality emanating from his long muscular frame outlined in the revealing Levi’s and closely fitted white shirt. A shudder ran through her as his gaze moved over her face, lingering on her soft full lips, before dropping to leisurely study the thrusting curves of her breasts beneath the clinging fabric of her dress. She felt like screaming, laughing, or weeping—or a combination of all three. After everything else that had happened to her tonight, Katie Connelly had managed to latch onto a Puerto Rican Casanova who thought he was now going to make himself the answer to all her sexual needs!

Forcing herself to sound brisk, she finally answered his question. “What do I want now? I want to be happy with my life and myself. I want to be—to be—free,” she finished lamely, too distracted by his dark, sensual gaze to think clearly.

“Of what do you wish to be free?”

Katie stood up abruptly. “Of men!”

As she came to her feet, Ramon started toward her with a slow deliberate gait. “You want to be free of so much freedom, but not of men.”

Katie continued backing toward the door as he advanced on her. She had been crazy to invite him in here, and he was deliberately misunderstanding her reason for doing so, because it suited his purpose. She gasped as her back bumped into the door.

Ramon stopped six inches away from her. “If you wished to be free of men as you say, you would not have gone to that place tonight; you would not have met that man in the parking lot. You do not know what you want.”

“I know that it’s late,” Katie said in a shaky voice. “And I know I want you to leave now.”

His eyes narrowed on her face, but his voice gentled as he asked, “Are you afraid of me?”

“No,” Katie lied.

He nodded with satisfaction. “Good, then you will not object to going to the zoo with me tomorrow, will you?”

Katie could tell that he knew she was acutely uneasy with him and that she had no desire to go anywhere with him. She considered saying that she had other plans for tomorrow, but she was positive he would only press her to name another time. Every instinct she possessed warned her that he could become extremely persistent if he chose. In her tired, overwrought state, it seemed more expedient to simply make the date and then not be here when he came. That rejection even he would understand and accept as final. “Okay,” she feigned. “What time?”

“I will come for you at ten o’clock in the morning.”

When the door closed behind him, Katie felt like a spring that was being wound tighter and tighter by some fiend who wanted to see how far she could be twisted before she snapped. She crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling. She had enough problems without having to cope with some amorous Latin who invites her to the zoo!

Rolling over onto her stomach, Katie thought of the sordid scene with Rob and squeezed her eyes closed, trying to escape her tired misery. Tomorrow she would spend the day at her parents’ house. In fact, she would spend the entire Memorial Day weekend there. After all, her parents always complained that they didn’t see enough of her.

*****

cover-doublestandardsDouble Standards

9781501145704

$7.99

In the exclusive, glittering world of business superstars, Nick Sinclair is a legend. The ruggedly handsome president of Global Industries handles his business the way he handles his women—with charm, daring, and ruthless self-control. A man used to the very best, Nick hires Lauren Danner and assumes the proud beauty will soon be another easy conquest. But Lauren’s flashing wit and rare spirit dazzles him and slowly, against his will, he’s intrigued, challenged, and in love. Yet he doesn’t know that Lauren is living a lie and, trapped in a web of deceit, she fights her growing love for Nick. Her secret could destroy his fragile trust and the promise of life with the most compelling man she has ever met.

S&S: http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Double-Standards/Judith-McNaught/9781501145704

IBOOKSTORE (ebook):  http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781501145704?at=10lrBC&ct=doublestandards_9781501145704_sscom&uo=8

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GOOGLE PLAY (ebook):  https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Judith_McNaught_Double_Standards?id=CTQjDQAAQBAJ&PAffiliateId=110l3H&PCamRefID=doublestandards_9781501145704_sscom

Chapter 1

 

PHILIP WHITWORTH GLANCED UP, HIS attention drawn by the sound of swift footsteps sinking into the luxurious Oriental carpet that stretched across his presidential office. Lounging back in his maroon leather swivel chair he studied the vice-president who was striding toward him. “Well?” he said impatiently. “Have they announced who the low bidder is?”

The vice-president leaned his clenched fists on the polished surface of Philip’s mahogany desk. “Sinclair was the low bidder,” he spat out. “National Motors is giving him the contract to provide all the radios for the cars they manufacture, because Nick Sinclair beat our price by a lousy thirty thousand dollars.” He drew in a furious breath and expelled it in a hiss. “That bastard won a fifty-million-dollar contract away from us by cutting our price a fraction of one percent!”

Only the slight hardening of Philip Whitworth’s aristocratic jawline betrayed the anger rolling inside him as he said, “That’s the fourth time in a year that he’s won a major contract away from us. Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?”

“Coincidence!” the vice-president repeated. “It’s no damn coincidence and you know it, Philip! Someone in my division is on Nick Sinclair’s payroll. Some bastard must be spying on us, discovering the amount that goes into our sealed bid, then feeding the information to Sinclair so that he can undercut us by a few dollars. Only six men who work for me knew the amount we were going to bid on this job; one of those six men is our spy.”

Philip leaned farther into his chair until his silvered hair touched the high leather back. “You’ve had security investigations made on all six of those men, and all we learned was that three of them are cheating on their wives.”

“Then the investigations weren’t thorough enough!” Straightening, the vice-president raked his hand through his hair, then let his arm drop. “Look Philip, I realize Sinclair is your stepson, but you’re going to have to do something to stop him. He’s out to destroy you.”

Philip Whitworth’s eyes turned icy. “I have never acknowledged him as my ‘stepson,’ nor does my wife acknowledge him as her son. Now, precisely what do you propose I do to stop him?”

“Put a spy of your own in his company, find out who his contact here is. I don’t care what you do, but for God’s sake, do something!”

Philip’s reply was cut off by the harsh buzzing of the intercom on his desk, and he jabbed his finger at the button. “Yes, what is it, Helen?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, sir,” his secretary said, “but there’s a Miss Lauren Danner here. She says she has an appointment with you to discuss employment.”

“She does,” he sighed irritably. “I agreed to interview her for a position with us. Tell her I’ll see her in a few minutes.” He flicked the button off and returned his attention to the vice-president, who, though preoccupied, was regarding him with curiosity.

“Since when are you conducting personnel interviews, Philip?”

“It’s a courtesy interview,” Philip explained with an impatient sigh. “Her father is a shirttail relative of mine, a fifth or sixth cousin, as I recall. Danner is one of those relatives my mother unearthed years ago when she was researching her book on our family tree. Every time she located a new batch of possible relatives, she invited them up here to our house for a ‘nice little weekend visit’ so that she could delve into their ancestry, discover if they were actually related and decide if they were worthy of mention in her book.

“Danner was a professor at a Chicago university. He couldn’t come, so he sent his wife—a concert pianist—and his daughter in his place. Mrs. Danner was killed in an automobile accident a few years later, and I never heard from him after that, until last week when he called and asked me to interview his daughter, Lauren, for a job. He said there’s nothing suitable for her in Fenster, Missouri, where he’s living now.”

“Rather presumptuous of him to call you, wasn’t it?”

Philip’s expression filled with bored resignation. “I’ll give the girl a few minutes of my time and then send her packing. We don’t have a position for anyone with a college degree in music. Even if we did, I wouldn’t hire Lauren Danner. I’ve never met a more irritating, outrageous, ill-mannered, homely child in my life. She was about nine years old, chubby, with freckles and a mop of reddish hair that looked as if it was never properly combed. She wore hideous horn-rimmed eyeglasses, and so help me God, that child looked down her nose at us. . . .”

*  *  *

Philip Whitworth’s secretary glanced at the young woman, wearing a crisp navy blue suit and white ascot-style blouse, who was seated across from her. The woman’s honey-blond hair was caught up in an elegant chignon, with soft tendrils at her ears framing a face of flawless, vivid beauty. Her cheekbones were slightly high, her nose small, her chin delicately rounded, but her eyes were her most arresting feature. Beneath the arch of her brows, long curly lashes fringed eyes that were a startling, luminous turquoise blue.

“Mr. Whitworth will see you in a few minutes,” the secretary said politely, careful not to stare.

Lauren Danner looked up from the magazine she was pretending to read and smiled. “Thank you,” she said, then she gazed blindly down again, trying to control her nervous dread of confronting Philip Whitworth face to face.

Fourteen years had not dulled the painful memory of her two days at his magnificent Grosse Pointe mansion, where the entire Whitworth family, and even the servants, had treated Lauren and her mother with insulting scorn. . . .

The phone on the secretary’s desk buzzed, sending a jolt through Lauren’s nervous system. How, she wondered desperately, had she landed in this impossible predicament? If she’d known in advance that her father was going to call Philip Whitworth, she could have dissuaded him. But by the time she knew anything about it, the call had been made and this interview already arranged. When she’d tried to object, her father had calmly replied that Philip Whitworth owed them a favor, and that unless Lauren could give him some logical arguments against going to Detroit, he expected her to keep the appointment he’d arranged.

Lauren laid the unread magazine in her lap and sighed. Of course, she could have told him how the Whitworths had acted fourteen years ago. But right now money was her father’s primary concern, and the lack of it was putting lines of strain into his pallid face. Recently the Missouri taxpayers, caught in the vise grip of an economic recession, had voted down a desperately needed school-tax increase. As a result, thousands of teachers were immediately laid off, including Lauren’s father. Three months later he had come home from another fruitless trip in search of a job, this time to Kansas City. He had put his briefcase down on the table and had smiled sadly at Lauren and her stepmother. “I don’t think an ex-teacher could get a job as a janitor these days,” he had said, looking exhausted and strangely pale. Absently he’d massaged his chest near his left arm as he had added grimly, “Which may be for the best, because I don’t feel strong enough to push a broom.” Without further warning, he had collapsed, the victim of a massive heart attack.

Even though her father was now recovering, that moment had changed the course of her life. . . . No, Lauren corrected herself, she had been on the verge of changing the course herself. After years of relentless study and grueling practice at the piano, after obtaining her master’s degree in music, she had already decided that she lacked the driving ambition, the total dedication needed to succeed as a concert pianist. She had inherited her mother’s musical talent, but not her tireless devotion to her art.

Lauren wanted more from life than her music. In a way, it had cheated her of as much as it had given her. What with going to school, studying, practicing and working to pay for her lessons and tuition, there’d never been time to relax and enjoy herself. By the time she’d turned twenty-three she’d traveled to cities all over the United States to play in competitions, but all she’d seen of the cities themselves were hotel rooms, practice rooms and auditoriums. She’d met countless men, but there was never time for more than a brief acquaintance. She’d won scholarships and prizes and awards, but there was never enough money to pay all her expenses without the added burden of a part-time job.

Still, after investing so much of her life in music, it had seemed wrong, wasteful, to throw it away for some other career. Her father’s illness and the staggering bills that were accruing had forced her to make the decision she’d been postponing. In April he had lost his job, and with it his medical insurance; in July he had lost his health as well. In past years he had given her a great deal of financial help with school and lessons; now it was her turn to help him.

At the thought of this responsibility, Lauren felt as if the weight of the world was resting on her shoulders. She needed a job, she needed money, and she needed them now. She glanced around at the plush reception area she was seated in, and felt strange and disoriented as she tried to imagine herself working for a huge manufacturing corporation like this one. Not that it mattered—if the pay was high enough, she would take whatever job was offered to her. Good jobs with advancement opportunities were practically nonexistent in Fenster, Missouri, and those that were available paid pitifully low in comparison to similar jobs in huge metropolitan areas like Detroit.

The secretary hung up the phone and stood up. “Mr. Whitworth will see you now, Miss Danner.”

Lauren followed her to a richly carved mahogany door. As the secretary opened it, Lauren uttered a brief, impassioned prayer that Philip Whitworth wouldn’t remember her from that long-ago visit, then she stepped into his office. Years of performing in front of an audience had taught her how to conceal her turbulent nervousness, and now it enabled her to approach Philip Whitworth with an outward appearance of quiet poise as he got to his feet, an expression of astonishment on his aristocratic features.

“You probably don’t remember me, Mr. Whitworth,” she said, graciously extending her hand across his desk, “but I’m Lauren Danner.”

Philip Whitworth’s handclasp was firm, his voice tinged with dry amusement. “As a matter of fact, I remember you very well, Lauren; you were rather an . . . unforgettable . . . child.”

Lauren smiled, surprised by his candid humor. “That’s very kind of you. You might have said outrageous instead of unforgettable.”

With that, a tentative truce was declared, and Philip Whitworth nodded toward a gold velvet chair in front of his desk. “Please sit down.”

“I’ve brought you a résumé,” Lauren said, removing an envelope from her shoulder purse as she sat down.

He opened the envelope she handed him and extracted the typewritten sheets, but his brown eyes remained riveted on her face, minutely studying each feature. “The resemblance to your mother is striking,” he said after a long moment. “She was Italian, wasn’t she?”

“My grandparents were born in Italy,” Lauren clarified. “My mother was born here.”

Philip nodded. “Your hair is much lighter, but otherwise you look almost exactly like her.” His gaze shifted to the résumé she had given him as he added dispassionately, “She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman.”

Lauren leaned back in her chair, a little dazed by the unexpected direction the interview had taken. It was rather disconcerting to discover that, despite his outwardly cold, aloof attitude fourteen years before, Philip Whitworth had apparently thought Gina Danner was beautiful. And now he was telling Lauren that he thought she was, too.

While he read her résumé, Lauren let her gaze drift over the stately splendor of the immense office from which Philip Whitworth ruled his corporate empire. Then she studied him. For a man in his fifties, he was extremely attractive. Though his hair was silvering, his tanned face was relatively unlined, and there was no sign of excess weight on his tall, well-built body. Seated behind his huge, baronial desk in an impeccably tailored dark suit, he seemed surrounded by an aura of wealth and power, which Lauren reluctantly found impressive.

Seen now through the eyes of an adult, he didn’t seem the cold, conceited snob’ she remembered. In fact, he seemed every inch a distinguished, elegant socialite. His attitude toward her was certainly courteous, and he had a sense of humor too. All things considered, Lauren couldn’t help feeling that her prejudice against him all these years might have been unfair.

Philip Whitworth turned to the second page of her résumé, and Lauren caught herself up short. Exactly why was she having this sudden change of heart about him, she wondered uncomfortably. True, he was being cordial and kind to her now—but why wouldn’t he be? She was no longer a homely little nine-year-old; she was a young woman with a face and figure that made men turn and stare.

Had she really misjudged the Whitworths all those years ago? Or was she now letting herself be influenced by Philip Whitworth’s obvious wealth and smooth sophistication?

“Although your university grades are outstanding, I hope you realize that your degree in music is of no value to the business world,” he said.

Lauren instantly pulled her attention to the subject at hand. “I know that. I majored in music because I love it, but I realize there’s no future in it for me.” With quiet dignity she briefly explained her reasons for abandoning her career as a pianist, including her father’s health and her family’s financial circumstances.

Philip listened attentively, then glanced again at the résumé in his hand. “I noticed that you also took several business courses in college.”

When he paused expectantly, Lauren began to believe he might actually be considering her for a job. “Actually, I’m only a few courses short of qualifying for a business degree.”

“And while attending college, you worked after school and during the summers as a secretary,” he continued thoughtfully. “Your father didn’t mention that on the telephone. Are your shorthand and typing skills as excellent as your résumé claims?”

“Yes,” Lauren said, but at the mention of her secretarial background her enthusiasm began to fade.

He relaxed in his chair and, after a moment’s thought, seemed to come to a decision. “I can offer you a secretarial position, Lauren, one with challenge and responsibility. I can’t offer you anything more than that unless you actually get your business degree.”

“But I don’t want to be a secretary,” Lauren sighed.

A wry smile twisted his lips when he saw how discouraged she looked. “You said that your primary concern right now is money—and right now there happens to be a tremendous shortage of qualified, top-notch executive secretaries. Because of this they’re in demand and very highly paid. My own secretary, for example, makes almost as much money as my middle-management executives.”

“But even so . . .” Lauren started to protest.

Mr. Whitworth held up a hand to silence her. “Let me finish. You’ve been working for the president of a small manufacturing company. In a small company, everyone knows what everyone else is doing and why they’re doing it. Unfortunately, in large corporations such as this one, only high-level executives and their secretaries are aware of the overall picture. May I give you an example of what I’m trying to say?”

Lauren nodded, and he continued. “Let’s say you’re an accountant in our radio division, and you’re asked to prepare an analysis of the cost of each radio we produce. You spend weeks preparing the report without knowing why you’re doing it. It could be because we’re thinking of closing down our radio division; it could be because we’re thinking of expanding our radio division; or it could be because we’re planning an advertising campaign to help sell more radios. You don’t know what we’re planning to do and neither does your supervisor or his supervisor. The only people who are aware of that sort of confidential information are division managers, vice-presidents, and,” he concluded with smiling emphasis, “their secretaries! If you start out as a secretary with us, you’ll get a good overview of the corporation, and you’ll be able to make an informed choice about your possible future career goals.”

“Is there anything else I could do in a corporation such as yours that would pay as well as being a secretary?” Lauren asked.

“No,” he said with quiet firmness. “Not until you get your business degree.”

Inwardly Lauren sighed, but she knew she had no choice. She had to make as much money as she possibly could.

“Don’t look so glum,” he said, “the work won’t be boring. Why, my own secretary knows more about our future plans than most of my executives do. Executive secretaries are privy to all sorts of highly confidential information. They’re—”

He broke off, staring at Lauren in stunned silence, and when he spoke again there was a triumphant, calculating quality in his voice. “Executive secretaries are privy to highly confidential information,” he repeated, an unexplainable smile dawning across his aristocratic features. “A secretary!” he whispered. “They would never suspect a secretary! They wouldn’t even run a security check on one. Lauren,” he said softly, his brown eyes gleaming like topaz, “I am about to make you a very unusual offer. Please don’t argue about it until you hear me out completely. Now, what do you know about corporate or industrial spying?”

Lauren had the queasy feeling that she was hanging over the edge of a dangerous precipice. “Enough to know that people have been sent to prison for it, and that I want absolutely nothing to do with it, Mr. Whitworth.”

“Of course you don’t,” Philip said smoothly. “And please call me Philip; after all, we are related, and I’ve been calling you Lauren.”

Uneasily, Lauren nodded.

“I’m not asking you to spy on another corporation, I’m asking you to spy on mine. Let me explain. In recent years, a company called Sinco has become our biggest competitor. Every time we bid on a contract, Sinco seems to know how much we’re going to bid, and they bid just a fraction of a percent less. Somehow, they’re finding out what we’re putting into our sealed bids, then they cut the price of their bid so that it’s slightly lower than ours and steal the contract from us.

“It just happened again today. There are only six men here who could have told Sinco the amount of our bid, and one of them must be a spy. I don’t want to dismiss five loyal business executives just to rid myself of one greedy, treacherous man. But if Sinco continues to steal business from us this way, I’m going to have to begin laying people off,” he continued. “I employ twelve thousand people, Lauren. Twelve thousand people depend on Whitworth Enterprises for their livelihoods. Twelve thousand families depend on this corporation so that they can have roofs over their heads and food on their tables. There’s a chance you could help them keep their jobs and their homes. All I’m asking you to do is to apply for a secretarial position at Sinco today. God knows they’ll need to increase their staff to handle the work they just stole from us. With your skills and experience, they’d probably consider you for a secretarial position with some high-level executive.”

Against her better judgment, Lauren asked, “If I get the job, then what?”

“Then I’ll give you the names of the six men who might possibly be the spy, and all you have to do is listen for mention of their names by anyone at Sinco.”

He leaned forward in his chair and folded his hands on his desk. “It’s a long shot, Lauren, but frankly, I’m desperate enough to try anything. Now, here’s my part of the bargain: I was planning to offer you a secretarial position with us at a very attractive salary. . . .”

The figure he named amazed Lauren, and it showed. It was considerably more than her father had been making as a teacher. Why, if she lived frugally she could support her family and herself.

“I can see that you’re pleased,” Philip chuckled. “Wages in big cities like Detroit are very high compared to smaller places. Now, if you apply at Sinco this afternoon and they offer you a secretarial position, I want you to take it. If the salary there is lower than the one I just offered you, my company will write you a monthly check to make up the difference. If you are able to learn the name of our spy, or anything else of real value to me, I will pay you a bonus of $10,000. Six months from now, if you haven’t been able to learn anything important, then you can resign from your job at Sinco and come to work as a secretary for us. As soon as you complete the courses for your business degree, I’ll give you any other position here you want, providing of course that you can handle it.” His brown eyes moved over her face, searching her troubled features. “Something is bothering you,” he observed quietly. “What is it?”

“It all bothers me,” Lauren admitted. “I don’t like intrigue, Mr. Whitworth.”

“Please call me Philip. At least do that much for me.” With a tired sigh, he leaned back in his chair. “Lauren, I know I have absolutely no right to ask you to apply at Sinco. It may surprise you to learn that I’m aware of how unpleasant your visit with us fourteen years ago was. My son, Carter, was at a difficult age. My mother was obsessed with researching our family tree, and my wife and I . . . well, I’m sorry we weren’t more cordial.”

Under normal circumstances, Lauren would have turned him down. But her life was in a state of complete upheaval, and her financial responsibilities were staggering. She felt dazed, uncertain and incredibly burdened. “All right,” she said slowly. “I’ll do it.”

“Good,” Philip said promptly. Picking up his telephone he called Sinco’s number, asked for the personnel manager, then handed Lauren the phone to make an appointment. Lauren’s secret hope that Sinco might refuse to see her was instantly dashed. According to the man she spoke to, Sinco had just been awarded a large contract and was in immediate need of experienced secretaries. Since he was planning to work late that night, he instructed Lauren to come at once.

Afterward Philip stood up and put out his hand, clasping hers. “Thank you,” he said simply. After a moment’s thought, he added, “When you fill out their application form, give your home address in Missouri, but give them this phone number so that they can reach you at our house.” He wrote a number on a note pad and tore off the sheet. “The servants answer it with a simple hello,” he explained.

“No,” Lauren said quickly. “I wouldn’t want to impose. I . . . I’d much rather stay in a motel.”

“I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” he replied, making Lauren feel rude and ungracious, “but I would like to make up for that other visit.”

Lauren succumbed to defeat. “Are you absolutely certain that Mrs. Whitworth won’t object?”

“Carol will be delighted.”

When the door closed behind Lauren, Philip Whitworth picked up his telephone and dialed a number that rang in his son’s private office, just across the hall. “Carter,” he said. “I think we’re about to drive a spike into Nick Sinclair’s armor. Do you remember Lauren Danner . . . ?”

*****

Giveaway:

And don’t forget!!!

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Spotlight – Good Vampires Go to Heaven

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We’ve seen these vangels before and I’m super happy to bring the latest book in the series to you!

*****

goodvampiresgotoheaven-mm-cGood Vampires Go to Heaven

Deadly Angels #8

by Sandra Hill

Releasing November 29, 2016

Avon

Blurb:

New York Times bestselling author SANDRA HILL continues her sexy deadly angels series with a good demon who might finally get his vangel wings…

WHEN HE WAS BAD . . .

Two-thousand-year-old vampire demon Zeb is supposed to spend eternity turning mortal sinners into bad guy Lucipires like himself. That way, they can grow their numbers and fight the vampire angels known as Vangels. But Zeb is a bad boy in a good way—secretly working as a double agent for none other than St. Michael the Archangel in hopes of one day earning his wings. Problem is, Zeb’s betrayal is discovered.

Hello, demon dungeon.

HE WAS VERY BAD . . .

Until Regina, a foxy, flame-haired Vangel witch on a rescue mission, busts out Zeb, along with three oddball Lucipire witches. Hello, temptation!

BUT TOGETHER THEY WERE VERY GOOD . . . !

Their escape unleashes a war to defeat all Vangels forevermore. In an epic madcap battle between good and evil, a Demon just might earn his wings . . . and spend eternity with the Vangel of his wildest dreams.

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29436285-good-vampires-go-to-heaven

Goodreads Series Link https://www.goodreads.com/series/72908-deadly-angels

Buy Links:      Amazon | B & N | Google | iTunes | Kobo

*****

Excerpt:

A blue mist seemed to swirl above, then settle around them like a cloudy cocoon. The rain aroma intensified, and for the first time she smelled her own cinnamon fragrance that Zeb had alluded to. Cinnamon rain, for sure. They ought to make a scented candle with that name.

Zeb’s drinking from her was slow and rhythmic and only tiny sips at a time. But, oh, the bliss! It was both primal and sexual. No wonder vangels who mated sometimes fanged each other while making love.

Regina arched her head back to give Zeb better access, an ageless gesture of female submission. How odd! That she would surrender anything to a man!

Only her breasts pressed against his battered body, the rest of her half on, half off the bed, her legs dangling over the side. Still, she adjusted herself so as not to hurt him, and in the process she twined the fingers of one of her hands with his, and she placed her other hand against his head, to hold him in place.

His hand still cupped her nape, but his other hand was making sweeping caresses over her back, from shoulder to rump and back again. Over and over. Even though she wore one of his old T-shirts and jogging shorts, she felt naked under his touch.

Regina was more aroused than she’d ever been in all her life. Not that she’d been inclined to lust very often. Once every century or so.

She wanted to climb atop his body and rub herself against him. Skin to skin. Breast to chest. Pubic bone to pubic bone. Thigh against thigh.

She couldn’t. Even if she could, she wouldn’t.

She wanted to kiss his lips and draw his tongue into her mouth. She would suck on him with childlike hunger. No, not childlike. Nothing childlike about the hunger she was feeling.

In any case, it was a moot point. It was hard to kiss a fanging man when only one set of fangs was involved. Two sets? Impossible! Wasn’t it? They might even get locked together. Imagine Vikar’s consternation if she arrived back at the castle fang-locked with a demon vampire, wanting him to unlock them. They would be the laughingstock of all vangeldom. Angeldom, too, she supposed.

She could imagine the jokes.

“How do two vampires kiss?”

“Carefully.”

Better she concentrate on something else.

She had to stop Zeb’s drinking from her, for now, or she would be drained. Slowly, carefully, she pushed herself up and away, until his fangs withdrew from her with a small pop. He licked the skin, reflexively, to seal the wound.

“That’s all for now,” she said and rose off the bed. Her shaky knees almost gave out. How was she going to do this again and again until Zeb was healed? She would be a basket case. The most satisfied woman in the universe! Or the most stirred up and antsy for release! Yikes!

Zeb’s eyes opened for a moment, and he said, “Thank you.” Almost immediately, he fell back asleep, or unconscious. His body still threw off heat like an inferno; so the danger was not over. Still, she sensed that he was a little better.

She covered his body with a thin sheet, dabbed at the blood on his lips with a tissue (the fangs having retracted already), and finally replied to his comment, “No. Thank you!”

 

*****

sandra-hill-photo_bwAuthor Info:

Sandra Hill is a graduate of Penn State and worked for more than 10 years as a features writer and education editor for publications in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Writing about serious issues taught her the merits of seeking the lighter side of even the darkest stories. She is the wife of a stockbroker and the mother of four sons.

 Author Links:    Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

*****

Giveaway:

2 Print copies of GOOD VAMPIRES GO TO HEAVEN (U.S. Only)

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/521ac4c81179/

*****

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Spotlight – Sight Unseen

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The first of two very awesome (but very different) books today … surely one of these will strike your fancy!

*****

sight-unseenSight Unseen

by Erin Leigh Crisp

Publisher: Independent

Pages: 198

Genre: Christian Romance

Blurb:

Emilia Phillips is looking for a career and a way out of her day job. She is not looking for a man to rescue her heart.

Asher Mason wants his life back. He lost his sight and the hero-life he loved in a millisecond. He no longer trusts his instincts, especially about women. But the sweet-smelling waitress in his favorite café tempts him to trust. As Emilia helps Asher relearn everyday activities, the two find themselves falling faster than either expected.

Can a woman love a blind soldier? Will she want a man who doesn’t recognize himself anymore? As Asher’s shortcomings become more apparent to him, the wedge forced between he and Emilia widens. Can Asher trust the same God that took his sight to direct his future?

Buy Link – Amazon

*****

Excerpt:

“How long has it been?” Emilia could have bitten off her own tongue.

His eyes glanced over again, but they didn’t see her. He gave one huge breath and shrugged, like it wasn’t important. “Three months.”

Only three months? And he was walking around town and ordering coffee? No seeing-eye dog, no dark glasses? She wanted to compliment him, but she figured he wasn’t the type of man to take it for what it was. Instead, she eased her hand onto his shoulder for a split second and went for humor instead.

“I should have noticed when you didn’t wink back at me earlier.”

His head shot up, and his cheeks tinged the darkest pink.

Emilia covered her giggle and shook her head. “I swear I’m kidding. I wasn’t flirting with you, but I really should have noticed earlier. My brother was born blind. He’s seventeen.”

The man looked curious, but he was still blushing and she decided not to press him. “Anyway, if you need anything, my name is Emilia. I’ll be here all week.”

His lips turned up in the smallest smile. She reminded herself that she wasn’t looking for a man. She took three steps away before he called her name.

Her feet stopped. “Yeah?”

He swallowed hard, his fingers linking on the tabletop. His eyes searched for her face. “I’m Asher Mason. Thank you, again.”

“It was my pleasure.” She turned and walked away, but the damage was already done. Her heart thumped crazily. Her cheeks heated. Her teeth bit down to stop the smile that threatened. And I’m in a load of trouble, she thought.

*****

erin-leigh-crispAuthor Info:

Erin was born and raised on the Florida/Alabama state line in a small farming community which has served as inspiration for her novels. She believes the heart of a happy ending is God and His plan for the lives of His people.

In 2014, Erin published her first novels for sale.  She currently has eight full-length novels and one novella for sale on Amazon. Erin makes her home in Northeast Georgia with her husband, four children and two fish. Erin has a bachelor degree in Christian Counseling and enjoys photography in her spare time.

Web & Social Networks:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

*****

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Spotlight – RJ Scott Christmas

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“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” and I LOVE it! There’s something special about Christmas stories and as you can see, I also love writing them🙂

In no particular order here they are:

The Christmas Throwaway

The Christmas Throwaway, was my first Christmas themed book.
Written as a short story for someone who was poorly in J2
fan fiction, I extended it from two thousand short words to over forty and so Ben and Zach were created.

The book, a story of a young man thrown out of his house at
Christmas for being gay, did really surprisingly well. It was All Romance’s best selling book of 2010 and also spent a lot of time in the top 300 of all romance novels on Amazon.
It’s now available in Audio and has been translated into Spanish, Italian,  French and now German. I love this little book that could so much.

 

The Road To Frosty Hollow

I love the concept of a road trip, particularly when you fall in love on that journey. Add in two men who have known each other a very long time and this is a story written with Meredith Russell that ticks all the boxes for a Christmas Romance.
Jesse’s Christmas

This was my second Christmas themed book and spent some
time with an old publisher before I was lucky enough to get it back.  As soon as I got it back I doubled
it in size!
The story of someone who doesn’t really like Christmas landing in a town that won an award for best Christmas Town made me smile the entire time I was writing it.I couldn’t fail to love Gabriel who showed Jesse what Christmas could be about and how it is possible to love again.

 

Snow & Secrets

One of my favourite storylines in a romance book at Christmas is the idea of a snowy cabin, enforced isolation, and two men falling in love.
Snow, secrets, some danger, one hot tub, Christmas decorations, and family.

New York Christmas

Awwww, my boys in New York.  I loved writing this book.
It started life as a J2 fanfiction twelve days of Christmas
type short story.
When I rewrote it I wanted to keep that idea of the days before Christmas, although of course the book starts just before Thanksgiving and ends in the New Year.
There is also a free short story following on, available at Amber Kell’s blog here

 

 

Snow In Montana 

My newest Christmas book, the fourth story in the Montana series is a look at Justin and Adam, alongside a whole new romance between a B list actor and a Sheriff.
I love Christmas movies, and this novel is set against the March backdrop for filming *Snow In Montana* starring The King Of Christmas (TM) Jordan Darby. Meeting Ryan Carter, the local sheriff, is way too tempting for Jordan. How long can he stay in the closet?

Angel In A Book Shop

The story of an angel and a man set in a book shop. I mean, how
could I not enjoy writing this, it had a bookshop, a man with wings, and an angsty sad hero. Win/Win.
It was based loosely on a short I wrote for Dreamspinner way back in 2010 (a bit, not much really, it was supposed to but it kind of grew like topsy and became something else).
The short story I had written was my first ever accepted work for publishing and it HAD to be extended and become something else.

Texas Christmas

Writing the Texas series was a labour of love, and I had to put in a Christmas story for Jack, Riley, and their extended family.

There is of course drama with the Campbell-Hayes, including a terrifying car trip home with the Christmas Tree. Add in the boy’s new family and this ends up being a very interesting Christmas for them all.

The Case Of The Sinful Santa

End Street Detective Agency Book 4, written with AmberKell

How could we not explore the idea of a Klaus family in this series of books featuring vampires, demons, angels, dragons and one kind of human, along with a cast of many other paranormals?

In this book we explored what it must be like born into the Klaus family but not wanting to be a Santa… And and of course, we introduced our very own Angel just to shake things up.

Christmas in the Sun

The Sapphire Cay series comes to an end with book 6.

I have loved writing this series with my very close friend Meredith Russell and we had to give the boys a Christmas book in 2013.

We bought back a wedding planner with OCD decorating tendencies and his sexy Marine, Lucas and Dylan and a stray dog, and gave all of our boys a Christmas Day they wouldn’t forget.

The Journal Of Sanctuary One

(Sanctuary book 6)

Jake and Sean, with their love/hate relationship stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere for Christmas. Of course the Bullen storyline features but mostly this is me ticking ALL of my Christmas boxes.

Two men, a cabin, stranded, anger, hate, love, sex and gratuitous use of a running machine. Sighs. I loved writing this book.

Deefur and the Mistletoe Incident

A free short story Christmas gift

This was part of a huge Christmas Anthology that I pulled together in 2013 featuring some 25 new authors. It is the sequel to Deefur The Dog, featuring a Manny, a widower, a sweet child, and of course a Great Dane called Deefur.

This year it is being published with it’s own cover and wont cost you a penny!

Texas Winter (Texas #2)

The book that was never supposed to be written…  Did you know The Heart Of Texas was supposed to be a stand alone?  ROFL… I couldn’t leave it though and so Texas winter was born.

Snow doesn’t fall a lot in Texas but this story centers around a freak one-day snowfall. Add in a daughter Riley didn’t know he had and the Campbell-Hayes have their first real Christmas.

The Party – A blog story from six authors

Written in 2012… Henry and Jack had thought nothing could ever drive them apart. They were wrong. Three months have passed since Jack had walked out of the home they shared, and Henry had been too stupid to take back the
hurtful things he’d said.

Both assured by their respective parents that the other would not be present at Henry’s mother’s annual Christmas gathering, they attend. Finding they have been duped into seeing each other, Henry realizes that this may be his only chance to try and make things right. But will he be able to
convince Jack to come home?

 

Author Bio:

RJ Scott is the bestselling gay romance author of over ninety MM romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.

RJ also writes MF romance under the name Rozenn Scott.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

www.rjscott.co.uk/
www.facebook.com/author.rjscott?ref=ts&fref=ts
www.goodreads.com/author/show/3432558.R_J_Scott
twitter.com/Rjscott_author
www.librarything.com/author/scottrj

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Spotlight – Stardust

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If you haven’t read this book (or if you’ve just seen the movie) please hurry now and get your copy.  It’s one of my favorites of all time … it’s a tad more fantasy than romance but that love story is still there & strong & wonderful.

*****

stardustStardust

by Neil Gaiman

Release Date: September 27, 2016

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Format: Ebook/Paperback/Hardcover

Blurb:

Now a major motion picture—this charming fairy tale by the #1 New York Timesbestselling author, weaves a magical story set long ago in the tiny English village of Wall, a place where things are not quite what they seem.

Go and catch a falling star . . .

Tristran Thorn promises to bring back a fallen star for his beloved, the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester—and crosses the wall that divides his English country town from another, more dangerous world of lords and witches, all of them in search of the star. Rich with adventure and magic, Stardust is one of master storyteller Neil Gaiman’s most beloved tales.

“Eminently readable—a charming piece of work.” Washington Post Book World

“Beautiful, memorable . . . A book full of marvels.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

*****

authorAuthor Info:

Neil Gaiman is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains; the Sandman series of graphic novels; and the story collections Smoke and MirrorsFragile Things, and Trigger Warning. He is the winner of numerous literary honors, including the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, and the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. Originally from England, he now lives in the United States. He is Professor in the Arts at Bard College.

Visit his website at http://www.neilgaiman.com

Twitter | Facebook

*****

Giveaway:

William Morrow is giving away a (5) sets of American Gods, Anansi Boys, Neverwhere and Stardust!

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • Five winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one set of all 4 books
  • This giveaway ends midnight December 2.
  • Winner will be contacted via email on December 3.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1d4d8afe464/

*****

neilgaimaintourposterfiverramended

Tour Schedule:

Monday, November 7 – American Gods reviewed at The Toibox of Words

Tuesday, November 8 – Stardust featured at Zach’s YA Reviews

Wednesday, November 9 – American Gods reviewed at Bound 4 Escape

Anansi Boys featured at Mello and June

Thursday, November 10 – Neverwhere reviewed at BookStopCorner

Neverwhere featured at Mello and June

Friday, November 11 – Neverwhere reviewed at Dreaming Big

________

 Monday, November 14 – American Gods featured at Waiting on Sunday to Drown

American Gods featured at I Smell Sheep

Stardust reviewed at Reading Reality

Neverwhere reviewed at 100 Pages a Day

Neverwhere reviewed at Svetlana Reads and Views

American Gods featured at Mello and June

Tuesday, November 15 – American Gods reviewed at Hopelessly Devoted Bibiophile

Anansi Boys reviewed at Dreaming Big

Wednesday, November 16 – American Gods reviewed at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Stardust reviewed at Bound 4 Escape

Neverwhere reviewed at Alexia’s Books and Such

Thursday, November 17 – American Gods reviewed at Fascinating Quest

Friday, November 18 – American Gods reviewed at ABookGeek

________

 Monday, November 21 – Stardust reviewed at Laura’s Interests

Stardust featured at I Smell Sheep

Anansi Boys reviewed at Chapter by Chapter

Neverwhere reviewed at Cover2Cover

Neverwhere reviewed at RhiReading

Tuesday, November 22 – American Gods reviewed at Zach’s YA Reviews

Anansi Boys reviewed at Bound 4 Escape

Anansi Boys reviewed at Svetlana Reads and Views

Wednesday, November 23 – Stardust reviewed at Dreaming Big

Neverwhere reviewed at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Thursday, November 24 – Stardust reviewed at Fascinating Quest

Neverwhere reviewed at Laura’s Interests

Friday, November 25 – Stardust reviewed at RhiReading

Neverwhere reviewed at Mina’s Bookshelf

________

Monday, November 28 – American Gods reviewed at Bookish Things and More

Stardust reviewed at Cover2Cover

Anansi Boys reviewed at Deal Sharing Aunt

Tuesday, November 29 – Stardust reviewed at 100 Pages a Day

Stardust reviewed at Freda’s Voice

Stardust reviewed at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Neverwhere reviewed at A Room Without Books is Empty

Neverwhere reviewed at Live Love Books Blog

Neverwhere reviewed at Deal Sharing Aunt

Wednesday, November 30 – American Gods reviewed at Dreaming Big

American Gods reviewed at RhiReading

Stardust reviewed at A Room Without Books is Empty

Anansi Boys reviewed at Fascinating Quest

Neverwhere reviewed at Bound 4 Escape

Anansi Boys reviewed at Live Love Books Blog

Thursday, December 1 – American Gods reviewed at Live Love Books Blog

American Gods reviewed at A Room Without Books is Empty

Anansi Boys reviewed at Cheryl’s Book Nook

Anansi Boys featured at RhiReading

Neverwhere reviewed at Worth Getting In Bed For

American Gods reviewed at Deal Sharing Aunt

Stardust reviewed at Live Love Books

Friday, December 2 – American Gods reviewed at Cover to Cover

American Gods reviewed at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Stardust featured at Romantic Reads and Such

Neverwhere reviewed at Fascinating Quest

Book Review – When Snowflakes Fall

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cover97207-mediumWhen Snowflakes Fall

by Tara Wyatt

Sometimes the heart needs a little Christmas magic.

When Dr. Christie Harmon up and moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming to escape a vicious scandal, she expected a quiet, lonely Christmas on-call as a pediatrician at the local hospital. But when she’s treating a little boy with a bump on the head, she doesn’t expect his dad to be so distractingly handsome…or single.

In the wake of his ex-wife’s abandonment five years ago, Luke Grayson has been focused on raising his son Ethan. The scars from the split run deep, and Luke hasn’t trusted another woman to come into their lives. But there’s something about the sweet—and sexy—Christie that has him wondering if something’s been missing.

Can new love help lonely hearts find a way? After all, Christmas is a time for magic…

Like most novellas, the story takes place over only a few weeks so you do have to have a little more leniency on how quickly the characters fall in love.  But it’s a Christmas read and, like a good Hallmark movie, it’s kinda to be expected and I think that Wyatt’s lovely writing helps make it work even more.

Luke is all sexy handyman with a heart of gold.  He’s a dedicated single dad and doing an awesome job of raising a fantastic kid all on his own. He’s sweet, kind and funny, a little gun-shy for getting involved again but willing to take a chance when he meets a woman that he’s got a strong connection with.  It’s brave to put himself out there and Wyatt could have easily gone with him being too scared but I’m impressed that she chose to not go the obvious route.

Christie on the other hand has been burned recently and is very hesitant to get involved, especially with a family man.  An incident in her past has made her feel unworthy of such a loving and good family unit.  As she spends time with Luke, and his son, she knows that she needs to tell him but it’s not easy for her.

When things do come out I think that Luke handles it very well.  He’s obviously (and realistically) upset but he’s a good man and once he’s had time to think things through his good heart overrules his hurt feelings.  I love how he goes about winning her over again.  It’s so sweet and perfect and just made me smile.