Ex-dancer Emily Williams turned her back on the sparkle of popular dancing show Strictly Dancing with Celebs to help those in need. Now the only dancing she does is teaching lonely pensioners to waltz, and the closest she gets to disco balls is making baubles with the homeless people in her Christmas crafts class.
She’s certainly not star-struck when Hollywood heart-throb Blake Harris is sent to her at short notice for community service, and has no desire to babysit the arrogant actor with his bad boy antics and selfish ways. Christmas might be a time for miracles, but Blake seems to be a lost cause.
But Emily’s reasons for abandoning her dancing passion means she understands the Hollywood wild child more than she’d like to admit. Could their time together, coupled with a dash of Christmas spirit, lead to a miracle change of heart for them both?Book 3 in Helen’s Spotlight series but they can all be read as standalone stories.
Book 3 in Helen’s Spotlight series but they can all be read as standalone stories.
Blake is your typical troubled, spoiled, rich star. But as he spends time doing community service at a local shelter, getting to know Emily and those that come to her center in need, he begins to look at himself a little more closely. To compare his own life to those with so many struggles and realize that he may have something in common with these people who live so differently than he does.
Emily feels strongly about he work at the community center. She’s struggling to keep up with everything that managing it requires, but being there and providing the help their users need is important to her. With Blake’s unwanted appearance, it quickly becomes obvious that there is more driving her to do what she does. Something that needs to be addressed before she breaks.
While I really enjoyed Emily and Blake’s story, especially the resolution to her side of things, I felt that there was a lost opportunity to really delve into his issues. The damage his parents have caused him, his issues with alcohol, and the failures of his previous relationships provide plenty of material to give Blake major growth. It’s there now, and enjoyable to read, but not in the depth that I think he really deserves. Instead we get a more lighthearted story of how Emily and those at the community center cause him to evaluate himself and realize the importance & satisfaction of truly helping others. It makes for a pleasant holiday read but I think it misses out a bit on what it really could be.
Although I think it could have been more,Buckley definitely puts readers into the holiday mood by delivering a feel good story with a delightful blend of humor & angst. You find yourself realizing, as Emily and Blake do, that there is more to him that meets the eye and that maybe Christmas will work its magic on them all.
Ever since I was little I wanted to be a writer, to turn daydreams into books. I’m fascinated by fame, in love with Happy Ever Afters, and enthralled by slow-burn romances. I squeeze in time to write around looking after my two sons.
Maybe this Christmas can thaw his frozen heart—and heal hers.
Hollywood starlet Tia Beckett knows one moment can change your life. Her career had been on the fast track before a near-fatal accident left her with a debilitating facial scar. Certain her A-lister dreams are over, she agrees to house-sit at her producer’s secluded estate in Silver Springs. It’s the escape from the limelight Tia’s been craving, until she discovers she’s not the only houseguest for the holidays. And her handsome new roomie is impossible to ignore.
Tia Beckett ran a finger along the jagged scar on her cheek as she gazed into the mirror above the contemporary console on the living room wall. She’d taken down almost every mirror in her own house as soon as she came home from the hospital— broken them all and tossed them out. But she couldn’t do the same here. This wasn’t her home, and there seemed to be mirrors everywhere, each one projecting the same tragic image.
She leaned closer. It must’ve been the windshield that nearly destroyed her face.
She dropped her hand. After a month, her cheek was still tender, but she continued to examine her reflection. The woman in the mirror was a complete stranger. If she turned her head to the left, she could find herself again. The shiny black hair that framed an oval face. The smooth and creamy olive-colored skin. The bottle-green eyes with long, thick eyelashes. The full lips, which were her own, not a product of Botox injections. All the beauty that’d helped her land the leading role in Hollywood’s latest blockbuster was still there.
But when she turned her head to the right…
Her stomach soured as she studied the raised, pink flesh that slanted in a zigzag fashion from the edge of her eye almost to her mouth. The doctor had had to piece that side of her face back together like a quilt. He’d said there was a possibility that cosmetic surgery could improve the scars later, but that wasn’t an option right now. After what she’d been through already, she couldn’t even contemplate another surgery. It’d be too late to save her career by then, anyway.
Who was this poor, unfortunate creature? Her agent, her fellow cast members for Expect the Worst, the romantic comedy in which she costarred with box-office hit Christian Allen, and the friends she’d made since moving to LA said she was lucky to have survived the accident. And maybe that was true. But it was difficult to feel lucky when she’d lost all hope of maintaining her career just as it was beginning to skyrocket.
A knock at the front door startled her. Who could that be? She didn’t want to see anyone, not even her friends—and especially not the press. They’d been hounding her since the accident, trying to snap a picture of her damaged face and demanding an answer as to whether she would quit acting. That was part of the reason she’d readily accepted when Maxi Cohen, the producer of her one and only film, offered to let her stay at his massive estate in Silver Springs, ninety minutes northwest of LA. He and his family would be in Israel for the holidays, so he needed someone to house-sit. That was what he’d said. What she’d heard was that she could hide out for a month and be completely alone. And she wouldn’t even have to pay for the privilege. She just had to care for the houseplants, feed and play with Kiki, the parrot, occasionally drive each of the six vehicles parked in the airplane-hangar-sized garage and make sure nothing went wrong.
She also turned on the lights in the main house at night—Maxi didn’t yet have them set up on a timer, like those in his yard—so that it looked occupied since she was staying in the guesthouse, which was smaller and more comfortable. But that was probably unnecessary. There wasn’t a lot of crime in Silver Springs. Known for its boutique hotels, recreational opportunities and local, organic produce, it was sort of like Santa Barbara, only forty minutes away and closer to the coast, in that there were plenty of movie moguls and the like who had second homes here.
Still, he couldn’t have left Kiki without a caretaker. And safe was always better than sorry. He also owned an extensive art collection that could never be replaced, so she figured he was wise to have someone watch over it, just in case
Whoever was at the door rapped again, more insistently. Maxi had given the housekeeper and other staff a paid holiday. Even the gardeners were off, since the yard didn’t grow much during the cold, rainy season. The entire estate was essentially in mothballs until Maxi returned. And no one Tia knew could say exactly where she was. So why was someone at her door? How had whoever it was gotten onto the property? The front gate required a code.
“Hello? Anyone home?” A man’s strident voice came through the panel. “Maxi said you’d be in the guesthouse.”
Damn. Those words suggested whoever it was had a right to be here, or at least permission. She was going to have to answer the door.
“Coming,” she called. “Just…give me a minute.” She hurried into the bedroom, where her suitcase lay open on the floor. She’d arrived in Silver Springs two days ago but hadn’t bothered to unpack. There hadn’t seemed to be much point. There didn’t seem to be much point in doing anything anymore. She hadn’t bothered to shower or dress this morning, either, and she was wearing the same sweat bottoms, T-shirt and socks she’d had on yesterday.
Yanking off her clothes, she pulled on a robe so that there’d be no expectation of hospitality as she scurried back through the living room. Still reluctant to speak to anyone, she peered through the peephole.
A tall, slender man—six-two, maybe taller—stood on the stoop. His dark hair had outgrown its last haircut and stuck out beneath a red beanie, he had a marked five-o’clock shadow, suggesting he hadn’t shaved for a couple of days, and a cleft chin almost as pronounced as that of Henry Cavill. He was a total stranger to her, but he had to be one of Maxi’s friends or associates, and she should treat him as such.
Bracing herself—human interaction was something she now avoided whenever possible—she took a deep breath. Please, God, don’t let him recognize me or have anything to do with the media.
The blinds were already pulled, so she turned off the lights and cracked the door barely wide enough to be able to peek out with her good side. “What can I do for you?”
His scowl darkened as his gaze swept over what he could see of her. He must’ve realized she was wearing a robe, because he said, “I hate to drag you out of bed at—” he checked his watch “—two in the afternoon. But could you let me into the main house before I freeze my—” catching himself, he cleared his throat and finished with “—before I freeze out here?”
Assuming he was a worker of some sort—she couldn’t imagine why he’d be here, bothering her, otherwise—she couldn’t help retorting, “Sure. As long as you tell me why I should care whether you freeze or not.”
The widening of his eyes gave her the distinct impression that he wasn’t used to having someone snap back at him. So… maybe he wasn’t a worker.
“Because Maxi has offered to let me stay in his home, and he indicated you’d let me in,” he responded with exaggerated patience. “He didn’t text you?”
“No, I haven’t heard from him.” And surely, what this man said couldn’t be right. Maxi had told her that she’d have the run of the place. She’d thought she’d be able to stay here without fear of bumping into anyone. She’d been counting on it.
“He was just getting on a plane,” he explained. “Maybe he had to turn off his phone.”
“Okay. If you want to give me your number, I’ll text you as soon as I hear from him.” He cocked his head.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to come back later.”
“I don’t want to come back,” he said. “I just drove six hours, all the way from the Bay Area, after working through the night. I’m exhausted, and I’d like to get some sleep. Can you help me out here?”
His impatience irritated her. But since the accident, she’d been so filled with rage she was almost relieved he was willing to give her a target. “No, I’m afraid I can’t.”
He stiffened. “Excuse me?”
“I can’t let some stranger into the house, not unless Maxi specifically asks me to.” Even if this guy was telling the truth, forcing him to leave would not only bring her great pleasure, it would give her a chance to feed Maxi’s parrot before hiding the key under the mat. Then there would be no need for further interaction. He wouldn’t see her, and she wouldn’t have to watch the shock, recognition and pity cross his face.
Pity was by far the worst, but none of it was fun.
“If I have the code to the gate, I must’ve gotten it from somewhere, right?” he argued. “Isn’t it logical to assume that Maxi is the one who gave it to me?”
“That’s a possibility, but there are other possibilities.”
“Maybe you hopped the fence or got it from one of the staff?” His chest lifted in an obvious effort to gather what little patience he had left. “I assure you, if I was a thief, I would not present myself at your door.”
“I can appreciate why. But I’m responsible for what goes on here right now, which means I can’t take any chances.”
“You won’t be taking any chances!” he argued in exasperation. “If anything goes missing or gets damaged, I’ll replace it.”
What was there to guarantee that? “The art Maxi owns can’t be replaced,” she said and thought she had him. Maxi had told her so himself. But this stranger said the only thing that could trump her statement. “Except by me, since I’m the one who created most of it in the first place,” he said drily.
“You’re an artist?” she asked but only to buy a second or two while she came to grips with a few other things that had just become apparent. If he was one of the artists Maxi collected, he wasn’t some obscure talent. Yet…he couldn’t be more than thirty. And he certainly didn’t look too important shivering in a stretched-out T-shirt, on which the word Perspective was inverted, and jeans that had holes down the front.
“I am,” he replied. “And you are…the house sitter, I presume?”
She heard his disparaging tone. He wondered who the hell she was to tell him what to do. He thought he mattered more than she did. But that came as no surprise: she’d already pegged him as arrogant. She was more concerned about the fact that Maxi might’ve referred to her as a menial laborer. Is that the way her former producer thought of her now? It was only a few months ago that she’d been the most promising actress in Hollywood. Certainly she’d attained more fame than this snooty artist—when it came to having her name recognized by the general public, anyway.
But what did it matter how high she’d climbed? She’d fallen back to earth so hard she felt as though she’d broken every bone in her body, even though the damage to her face was the only lingering injury she’d sustained in the accident. “I’m house-sitting, yes. But, like you, I’m a friend of Maxi’s,” she said vaguely.
Fortunately, he didn’t seem interested enough to press her for more detailed information. She was glad of that.
“Fine. Look, friend.” He produced his phone. “I have proof. This is the text exchange I had with Maxi just before his plane took off. As you can see, he says he has someone—you—staying in the guesthouse, but the main house is available, and I’m welcome to it. If you’ll notice the time, you’ll see that these texts took place just this morning.”
Her heart sank as she read what he showed her: I have someone in the guesthouse. Just get the key from her.
“How long are you planning on being here?” she asked.
“Does it matter?” he replied.
It did matter. But this was Maxi’s estate, and they were both his guests, so she had an obligation to treat him as well as he was accustomed to being treated. “Just a minute,” she said and muttered a curse after she closed the door. There goes all my privacy.
New York Times bestselling authorBrenda Novakhas written over 60 novels. An eight-time Rita nominee, she’s won The National Reader’s Choice, The Bookseller’s Best and other awards. She runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity that has raised more than $2.5 million for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). She considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.
Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a nice Jewish girl with a shameful secret: she loves Christmas. For a decade she’s hidden her career as a Christmas romance novelist from her family. Her talent has made her a bestseller even as her chronic illness has always kept the kind of love she writes about out of reach.
But when her diversity-conscious publisher insists she write a Hanukkah romance, her well of inspiration suddenly runs dry. Hanukkah’s not magical. It’s not merry. It’s not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel’s determined to find her muse at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, even if it means working with her summer camp archenemy—Jacob Greenberg.
Though Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since they were kids, their grudge still glows brighter than a menorah. But as they spend more time together, Rachel finds herself drawn to Hanukkah—and Jacob—in a way she never expected. Maybe this holiday of lights will be the spark she needed to set her heart ablaze.
Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt stared at the collection of miniature Christmas figurines spread across her desk. She owned 236 of the smiling porcelain Santas from the world-famous Holiday Dreams Collection. When her best friend, Mickey, arrived, she would complete that collection with the addition of the coveted Margaritaville Santa.
Oh, the Margaritaville Santa. How she had dreamed of the day when that tiny porcelain Santa, in a Hawaiian shirt and wear-ing Ray-Ban sunglasses, would sit atop her prized collection.
Rachel had scoured eBay for the tiny limited-edition figurine, set up price alerts and left frantic (somewhat drunken) posts at three in the morning on collector blogs. Now, after six years, five months and seven days of hunting, the Margaritaville Santa would finally be hers.
The anxiety was killing her.
Rachel glanced out the window of her apartment. It was snowing outside. Gentle flakes fell down onto Broadway and made New York City feel magical. She was wondering when Mickey would actually get here when there was a knock at the door.
“Finally!” Rachel said. Excitement bubbled up inside her as she raced to the front door, throwing it open. And then, disappointment. Her mother stood in the threshold.
“I was in the neighborhood,” she said, a perfectly innocent smile spread across her two round cheeks.
Her mother was always in the neighborhood.
It was one of the downsides of living on the Upper West Side while her mother, a top New York fertility specialist, worked out of Columbia Hospital just ten blocks away.
Rachel had to think quickly. She loved her mother, and was even willing to entertain her completely intrusive and unannounced visits, but the door to her home office was still open.
“Mickey’s about to stop by,” Rachel warned.
“I won’t be but a minute,” her mother said, lifting up a plastic bag from Ruby’s Smoked Fish Shop as a peace offering. “I brought you some dinner.”
Dr. Rubenstein pushed her way inside, letting her fingers graze the mezuzah on Rachel’s doorpost before entering. Making her way straight to the refrigerator, she began unloading “dinner.”
There was a large vat of chopped liver, two loaves of pum-pernickel bread, three different types of rugalach. Dr. Ruben-stein believed in feeding the people you love, and the love she had for her daughter was likely to end in heart disease.
“How are you feeling?” her mother inquired.
“Fine,” Rachel said, using the opportunity to close her office door.
Dr. Rubenstein looked up from the refrigerator. Her eyes rolled from Rachel’s hair, matted and clumped, down to her wrinkled pink pajamas.
She frowned. “You look pale.”
“I am pale,” Rachel reminded her.
“Rachel,” her mother said pointedly, “you need to take your myalgic encephalomyelitis seriously.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. Outside, the gentle snow was gathering into a full-blown storm.
Dr. Rubenstein was probably one of the few people who called Rachel’s disease by its medical term, the name research scientists and experts preferred, describing the complex mul-tisystem disease that affected her neurological, immune, autonomic and metabolic systems. Most everyone else in the world knew it by the simple and distasteful moniker chronic fatigue syndrome.
Which was, quite possibly, the most trivializing name for a disease in the entire world. The equivalent of calling Alzheimer’s “Senior Moment Syndrome.”
It did not begin to remotely describe the crushing fatigue, migraines, brain fog or weirdo pains that Rachel lived with daily. It certainly did not describe the 25 percent of patients who found themselves bed-bound or homebound—existing on feeding tubes, unable to leave dark rooms for years—or the 75 percent of patients who could no longer work full-time.
For now, however, Rachel was one of the lucky ones. She had managed to graduate college with a degree in creative writing and, over the last decade, build a career working from home.
“Ema,” Rachel said, growing frustrated. “My body, my choice.”
“Change the topic.”
Dr. Rubenstein pressed her lips together and swallowed the words on her tongue. It was not an easy feat for the woman. “And how’s work?”
“Good.” Rachel shrugged, returning to the couch. “Noth-ing that interesting to report.”
“And the freelance work you’re doing—” her mother craned her neck to peep around her apartment “—it’s keeping you busy?”
Dr. Rubenstein raised one eyebrow in her daughter’s di-rection.
Rachel knew what her mother was really asking. How can you afford a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side simply by doing freelance editorial work? But Dr. Rubenstein had learned an important halachic lesson from her husband, Rabbi Aaron Goldblatt, early on in their marriage; you don’t ask questions you don’t really want the answers to.
For all Rachel knew, her mother believed her to be a web-cam girl. Or a high-class prostitute. Or the mistress of some dashingly handsome Arabian prince. All of which, Rachel was certain, would be preferable to what she actually did for a living.
“Ema,” Rachel said, steering the conversation away from her career. “What is it you’re really here for?”
“Why do you always think I have an ulterior motive, Rachel?”
“Because I know you.”
“All right!” Dr. Rubenstein threw her hands up into the air. “You caught me. I do have an ulterior motive.”
“Now, it’s nothing bad, I promise,” her mother said, taking a seat on her couch. “I simply wanted to see if you were available for Shabbat dinner this Friday?”
There it was. The real reason for her mother’s visit. Shab-bat at Rabbi Goldblatt’s house was not just a weekly religious occurrence, it was a chance for Dr. Rubenstein to kidnap her daughter for twenty-five hours straight and force her to meet single Jewish men.
Over the years, there had been all sorts of horrible setups. There was the luxury auto dealer who used his sleeve as a napkin during dinner. The rabbinical student who spent an entire Saturday afternoon debating aloud with only her father over what to do when an unkosher meatball falls into a pot of kosher meatballs.
And then, there was her favorite blind date setup of them all. Dovi, the Israeli mountain climber, who had traveled the world in his perfectly healthy and functioning body, before telling Rachel that he didn’t think chronic fatigue syndrome was a real disease.
Rachel had no intention of spending another Friday night, and Saturday afternoon, entertaining her mother’s idea of a dreamboat. Especially not when that dreamboat had the word Titanic embroidered across the bottom of their knitted kippah.
“No,” Rachel said.
“Rachel!” her mother pleaded. “Just hear me out.”
“I’m too busy, Ema.”
“But you haven’t been home in ages!”
“You live in Long Island,” Rachel shot back. “I see you and Daddy all the time.”
Her mother could not argue with this factoid.
“Jacob Greenberg will be coming,” her mother finally said. Rachel nearly choked on her tongue. “What?”
“You remember Jacob Greenberg?”
The question sounded so innocent on the surface. Jacob Greenberg. How could Rachel forget the name? The duo had spent one summer together at Camp Ahava in the Berkshires before the seventh grade.
“Jacob Greenberg?” Rachel spit back. “The psychopath who spent an entire summer pulling my hair and pushing me into the lake?”
“I recall you two getting along quite well at one point.”
“He set me up in front of everyone, Mom. He turned my first kiss into a giant Camp Ahava prank!”
“He was twelve!” Dr. Rubenstein was on her feet now. “Twelve, Rachel. You can’t hold a grown man accountable for something he did as a child. For heaven’s sake… The boy hadn’t even had his bar mitzvah.”
Rachel could feel the red rising in her cheeks. A wellspring of complicated emotions rose up inside her. Hate and love. Confusion and excitement. Just hearing his name again after all these years brought Rachel smack-dab back to her ado-lescence. And sitting there beside all those terrible memories of him humiliating her were the good ones. Rachel couldn’t help herself. She drifted back to that summer.
The way it felt to hold his hand in secret. The realiza-tion that there was more to their relationship than just dumb pranks and dead bugs left in siddurs. Jacob had gotten Rachel to open up. She had trusted him. Showed him a side of herself reserved for a select few. Aside from Mickey, she had never been so honest with anybody in her entire life.
Dr. Rubenstein dismissed her daughter’s concerns with a small wave of the hand. “It was eighteen years ago. Don’t you think you’re being a tad ridiculous?”
“Me?” Rachel scoffed. “You’re the one who’s hosting my summer camp archenemy for Shabbat.”
“He’s in town from Paris for some big event he’s throwing. What would you have me do—not invite him?”
“While you’re at it, don’t forget to invite Dana Shoshan-ski. She made me cry every day in third grade. In fact, let me get you a list of all the people who made fun of me for being Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt growing up. I want to make sure you don’t miss anybody.”
Her mother did not blink. “I’m sorry it was hard for you…being our daughter.”
Just like that, her mother had twisted all those feelings back around on her.
Rachel bit back her words, looking up to the ceiling. She loved her parents more than anything in the world. They had been there for her at every stage of her life, doting and won-derful. Still, the Rubenstein-Goldblatt name came with pres-sures. They were pressures that, even as an adult, still managed to follow her.
A knock at the door drew their attention away.
“Let me get that for you,” Dr. Rubenstein said sweetly, ris-ing from the couch.
“Ho, ho, ho-oooooooh… .” Mickey said, standing at the door, his smile fading into panic. He was holding a medium-sized red gift bag in the air. He glanced at Rachel, who sig-naled the immediate danger by running one finger across her throat. Quickly Mickey hid the bag behind his back.
“Dr. Rubenstein!” he said, his eyes wide. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Not to worry, Mickey,” Dr. Rubenstein said, adjusting her scarf. “I was just getting ready to leave.” She turned back to her daughter one last time. “Just think about coming to din-ner, okay? Daddy and I won’t be around forever, and there may come a time in your life when you miss spending Shab-bat at your parents’ house.”
Mickey waited for the door to shut firmly behind him and the elevator at the end of the hall to ding before turning to his best friend. “Whoa,” he said. “That woman is a pro when it comes to Jewish guilt.”
“Tell me about it,” Rachel said, collapsing on the couch.“So what did our fine rebbetzin want this evening?” Mickey asked, taking his boots and jacket off at the front door.
“You’ll never believe it if I tell you.”
To everyone that knew them, it seemed that Mickey and Rachel had been bashert, soul mates, since time immemorial, having met at Camp Ahava when they were eight years old.
Since Rachel couldn’t be sure what drew the pair together, she assumed it had something to do with how other people at their camp had treated them. Mikael, the adopted son of a powerhouse lesbian couple from Manhattan, was Black. And Rachel, as everyone who met her cared to remind her, was the daughter of Rabbi Aaron Goldblatt. The Rabbi Aaron Goldblatt.
Whether they liked it or not, when Mickey and Rachel walked into a room, people noticed them. People watched them. This shared experience formed the basis of their com-radery and, later, extended far beyond Jewish summer camp.
“She wanted to set me up with Jacob Greenberg,” Rachel said.
Mickey finished pulling off his boots. “Jacob Greenberg? From Camp Ahava?”
“The one and only.”
“Wow,” Mickey said, coming over to sit beside Rachel. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in forever. Didn’t he give you mono?”
Rachel squeezed her eyes shut. She did not want to think about that first kiss with Jacob Greenberg. “Can we seriously not talk about this right now? I’ve waited seven long years for this moment, Mickey…and just like some of the other most important moments of my life, Jacob Greenberg is ruining it.”
“You’re right,” Mickey said, laying the red bag on the coffee table between them. “And I have just the thing to take your mind off He Who Shall Not Be Named.”
This was it. The moment she had waited for. With eager fingers, Rachel reached into the bag, pulled out the tiny fig-urine and gently removed the plastic bubble wrapping that protected it.
Author Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch, and served as creative director at Tapestry International, garnering numerous awards for her work in television, including a daytime Emmy. Like her protagonist, Jean is also a chronically-ill and disabled Jewish woman. She is an outspoken advocate for ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), has attended visibility actions in Washington DC, meeting with members of Senate and Congress to raise funds for ME/CFS. She inspires 9,000 followers on WW Connect to live their best life, come out of the chronic illness closet, and embrace the hashtag #chronicallyfabulous. Also, while she was raised in what would be considered a secular home, she grew up kosher and attended Hebrew School. She spent five years in Rabbinical School.
The last thing Reggie Sommerville wants is to come back home for Christmas. It’s only been a year and a half since her boyfriend, Jake, proposed and then broke up with her, all in one weekend, and the prospect of facing the entire town is humiliating. But when her parents reveal that they’re renewing their vows in the lavish wedding they always wanted and her mother asks her to be a bridesmaid, Reggie knows she can’t say no. No matter how much she wants to. She expected the town would be gossiping about her relationship with Jake, but she never expected to run into Toby, her first love that broke her heart all those years ago, living in town and raising his son. She always thought things between them were long over…but this Christmas is full of surprises.
Dena Sommerville has only ever wanted one thing: to have a child. But motherhood has been alluding her because she never met the right man…until she took the bull by the horns and decided to have a baby as a single mom. She knew it would be difficult and the morning sickness alone is knocking her down for the count, but she’s determined to do this on her own. So when a handsome musician checks into the inn where she works, Dena is surprised when a friendship develops. He has his own issues to work through—that much is clear. But she can’t deny there’s something between them
This Christmas, guilted into being bridesmaids at their parents’ vow renewal ceremony, Reggie and Dena Sommerville just might find the most unexpected gift of all—love.
Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women’s lives—family, friendship, romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations,” and readers seem to agree—40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.
Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She’s passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as mom.
Nicholas’s newest is seriously cute, definitely funny, and quite steamy. I haven’t read any of the Iowa stories so Drew is new to me but I could appreciate his need to go somewhere new and let loose a little. He’s a good guy but he’s also got a naughty side and unfortunately no one at home is able to reconcile the two. A week in Louisiana sounds like the perfect opportunity to get a bit wild … except the first person he runs into isn’t the wild bayou fling he was hoping for. And their attraction is gonna be hard to resist.
Rory had her sense of security ripped away as a child and is desperately trying to find community & belonging in adulthood. In Autre, the Landrys are the epitome of a big, loving family and she is hoping to use Christmas to prove to them that she’s responsible and … worthy? Unfortunately she quickly realizes she’s over her head and, with her dad in the picture, it can only get worse. Meeting Drew is definitely a high point in a quickly spiraling day.
There is definitely insta-love, but it doesn’t make the romance any less enjoyable. Their’s is a connection that helps them understand & appreciate each other. It’s a connection that sizzles but also supports, allowing them to show all of themselves and to be accepted (even embraced) for it. It’s caring, comfort, encouragement, and chemistry all in one.
I think Head Over Hooves is my favorites by this author (not that I’ve read ALL that many) and quite possibly one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read in a while. Nicholas is known for combining fun & zaniness with all the feels in her books and it’s no different here. She makes sure that readers understand where Rory is coming from and why she’s trying so hard to prove herself. She also makes sure that everyone, including Rory and Drew, see that he can be a stand-up guy while still embracing the bad boy underneath. It’s sexy and sweet and pretty much impossible to resist! And it wouldn’t be a BotBGW book without a good dose of the boisterous Landrys, escape artist goats, a trip to jail, and big bowl of Ellie’s gumbo 🙂
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Erin Nicholas has been writing romances almost as long as she’s been reading them. To date, she’s written over thirty sexy, contemporary novels that have been described as “toe-curling,” “enchanting,” “steamy,” and “fun.” She adores reluctant heroes, imperfect heroines, and happily ever afters.
Erin lives in the Midwest, where she enjoys spending time with her husband (who only wants to read the sex scenes in her books), her kids (who will never read the sex scenes in her books), and her family and friends (who claim to be “shocked” by the sex scenes in her books).
I always hoped I’d see her again after she rocked my world last Christmas. I never thought she’d have my baby in her arms.
I also didn’t see myself dressed as a deranged bear the first time I held my daughter, or even that I’d have a daughter. Navy SEAL life isn’t great for fatherhood, but seeing Jessie with Joy hits me like a happy holiday thunderbolt.
Jessie’s not sure she trusts me, and who can blame her? Maybe if we’d swapped more than ten words before falling into bed that snowy night, we wouldn’t be strangers. But I can’t regret our fling, just like I can’t ditch a military career I’ve spent my whole life wanting.
But maybe there’s something I want more. Jessie. A bond with our baby and heaps of happy, mixed-up holiday memories we’re making as we bond over giftwrap gaffes, sexy dreidel games, and kisses hot enough to melt mistletoe.
I just need to prove we belong together, preferably before one of us hops a flight and gets gone for good.
Joe was raised by his two moms, living all over the world doing environmental work. It was definitely an unusual childhood but it helped give him a more open view of things. He’s kind, caring, and confident, supportive of others and understanding of their needs. This helps him when he comes face to face with Jessie again.
Jessie’s upbringing also has had an impact on her life. She’s independent and strong (maybe a bit too much sometimes), dedicating her life to making the world a better place. Sidelined by an unexpected pregnancy, she occasionally flounders just a bit but she’s handled the change in her plans well. And her grit helps out when introducing Joe to his daughter. It’s not easy but he quickly proves himself to be a stand-up guy, showing the right amount of patience & concern for her feelings and she finds his enthusiasm for fatherhood hard to resist (I did too!).
I really enjoyed Joe and Jessie’s story. It’s short and sweet but I was pleased with how everything worked out for them. Knowing how their relationship started, there was the expected amount of awkwardness but Fenske mixes it with a good amount of humor and fun. She also throws in enough emotions to make the insta-love connection believable and a good amount of heat to show why they hooked up in the first place. Rounding it out are all the feels of Joe falling for his daughter and Jessie learning to let him, all of which lead to a feel-good ending perfect for a holiday read.
(This is the first in this series that I’ve read and while there were a lot of characters from the rest of the series it can be read as a standalone.)
The probation officer caring for his dead brother’s baby. The wounded gentle giant with the biggest softest heart.
Rami: Sweet Fen Hawthorne is my favourite thing about working in the prison. His broad shoulders and sunny grin. His twinkly flirtation. And he likes me as much as I like him. More seems inevitable until life happens.
One day I’m there, then I’m not, and second chances don’t really happen when your car breaks down halfway up a snowy mountain, do they?
Besides, I don’t remember flirting with a bearded lumbersexual, only dreaming about one.
Fen: Do dreams come true?
Christmas Mountain is my home. But it’s the one place on earth I never imagined seeing Rami Stone again, and now I’m snowed in with him. Trapped, with only a roaring fire for company, and it’s a fantasy come true. The air is thick with more than snow and the eighteen months we’ve been apart fades away.
As the snow clears, though, so does the haze. Rami says he comes with baggage.
But so do I, and I’m here for the heavy lifting.
I’m here for forever.
A Christmas MM romance from Garrett Leigh. Expect: Long lost friends-to-lovers, heart-warming found family, and the swooniest second chance at love with a healthy dose of sweet hurt/comfort. Gorging on mince pies and cinnamon-spiced doughnuts is optional, but deeply encouraged.
Chance may have brought Rami and Fen together again but they have to decide if they are brave enough to follow their hearts. Both have been through a lot since the last time they saw each other but one thing hasn’t changed – the connection drawing them together. Time, meddling family, and a touch of fate just might show them a way to HEA.
Fen has come a long way since the events that chased him up the mountain in the first place but he hasn’t quite been ready to put himself out there completely. Running into Rami again has him thinking about what he’s willing to risk. Rami has his own complications to consider. His life has pretty much been on hold since he became responsible for his nephew. And while Fen may be amazing with kids, can he take a gamble with both their hearts?
I really enjoyed Leigh’s newest – emotional, heartwarming, minimal angst, plenty of heat, sweetness, and familial bonds all wrapped together with a big holiday bow. Both main characters are enjoyable & complement quite well and Rami’s family, with their rapscallion children, are just as awesome. I love how well everyone fit together, and the scenes with Rami & Fen with the kids are some of the best moments in the book. It’s a slow burn but full of so much heart it’ll have you wanting more. Definitely looking forward to reading other books from this author.
Garrett Leigh is an award-winning British writer and book designer.
Garrett’s debut novel, Slide, won Best Bisexual Debut at the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards, and her polyamorous novel, Misfits was a finalist in the 2016 LAMBDA awards.
When not writing, Garrett can generally be found procrastinating on Twitter, cooking up a storm, or sitting on her behind doing as little as possible, all the while shouting at her menagerie of children and animals and attempting to tame her unruly and wonderful FOX.
Garrett is also an award winning cover artist, taking the silver medal at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards in 2016. She designs for various publishing houses and independent authors at blackjazzdesign.com, and co-owns the specialist stock site moonstockphotography.com with renowned LGBTQA+ photographer Dan Burgess.
The trouble with lies is they have a tendency to catch a man out.
The last thing Hugh Standish, Earl of Fareham, wants is a wife.
But since the only way to keep his mother’s matchmaking ways at bay is the promise of impending nuptials, Hugh takes the most logical action: he invents a fake fiancée.
It’s the perfect plan – until Hugh learns that his mother is on a ship bound for England to meet his ‘beloved’. He needs a solution fast, and when he collides with a mysterious beauty, he might just have found the answer to his prayers.
Minerva Merriwell is desperate for money to support her sisters, and although she knows that posing as the Earl’s fiancée might seem nonsensical, it’s just too good an offer to refuse.
As the Merriwells descend upon Hugh’s estate, the household is thrown into turmoil as everyone tries to keep their tangled stories straight. And with Hugh and Minerva’s romantic ruse turning into the real thing, is true love just one complication too many?
‘Filled with fabulously British banter, wit, and heart, this delightful book is one of my must-read rom-coms of the year’
Based on the blurb, you know going in there will be hijinks, mixed with a good amount of humor. And while I enjoyed the farce that Hugh manages to drag everyone into, it probably won’t be for everyone. It’s not exactly a believable story line but I found myself just sitting back, relaxing, and letting myself enjoy it.
Hugh has more than his fair share of charm, handsome, and funny. But he’s also tormented by secrets and convinced that he’ll never be good husband material. As with most of the book, a little straightforward communication would solve pretty much all of his problems.
Poor and desperate, Minerva has different problems brought on by her agreement to help Hugh in exchange for enough money to take care of her family. She quickly finds herself over her head and juggling too many things, watching as everything quickly goes sideways.
Full of great supporting characters (a couple of whom I hope will be get their own HEA in the next book), comedy, and lots of drama, Never Fall for Your Fiancée is lighthearted and fun, not to be taken too seriously but enjoyable all the same.
When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. Twenty-two books and two Romantic Novel of the Year Award nominations later, and it still takes her forever to fall asleep.
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…for a woman who could completely upend his Christmas.
After Gage Graham saves her from drowning, Hope Fischer revives, determined to learn the truth about her sister’s death. All she has to do is infiltrate a mysterious closed Virginia town and discover why the attractive—but secretive—Gage feels compelled to help her. Can she trust him? Will he risk being discovered by his former employer, the CIA, for a woman he just met? Neither will matter if a killer succeeds.
She’d been warned. That’s what everyone wanted. For her to leave it all alone. To go back to California and bury her head in the sand.
But then a murderer would go free.
She had failed her sister once. Not again. She swallowed past the ball of anxiety in her throat. You can do this.
The SUV zoomed up alongside her, sending a new wave of fear crashing through her. What was he doing?
No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than the SUV swerved sharply. The front end slammed into her side of the car, propelling it into a wild slide toward the edge.
Hope panicked, hitting the brakes. The wheels locked. Her vehicle lost traction and went into a skid. Everything was happening so fast. Too fast.
Spinning out of control, her car missed a large tree and slid over the edge of the slope. A high-pitched cry escaped her lips. Dirt and rocks spit up. She tried to straighten the steering wheel and pumped the brakes. Her car fishtailed, clipped a tree and went airborne.
The sedan flipped. Rolled end over end down the gradient. Metal crunched and groaned around her.
Hope’s seat belt jerked hard across her body, cutting off her oxygen for a second.
The airbag deployed like a hot fist, knocking her head back against the seat. Dust and chemicals saturated the air.
Her lungs seized as a scream lodged in her throat.
The car slammed to a stop with the impact of crashing into a brick wall. Her skull smashed into something hard.
A riot of pain flared…everywhere. In her head, chest, bones—even her teeth hurt.
Her vision blurred. Not that it mattered. She couldn’t see past the airbag, which was the size of a large beach ball in her face.
Hope pushed on the light fabric, and the airbag deflated. Coughing, she wiped at the wetness coming from her nose with the back of her hand. Blood. Her nose was bleeding.
She switched on the interior light and pushed the deflated airbag out of her way.
The headlights were still on.
The car was in the lake. Beneath the water, or at least half of it. The weight of the engine pitched the front end forward, so that the car was almost pointing straight down. She looked back at the rear window. Rain and darkness.
Water was starting to seep inside the vehicle. The foot well was filling up as water rushed in. Faster and faster.
Hope pressed the button to release the seat belt. But nothing happened. It was stuck, jammed tight. She yanked on the belt, trying again, tugging and pushing. Praying.
Oh, God. She was trapped.
Icy water rose past her hips to her waist. Shockingly cold. Her toes were already growing numb, and she was shivering. She had to get out. Now!
Her purse floated up on the passenger’s side. If she reached it, got to the Swiss Army knife inside, she could cut herself free.
She extended her hand in the water. Her bag was inches from her fingertips. She stretched out as much as she could, straining her arm muscles. A pang wrenched through her chest, her eyes tearing at the intense pain, but she didn’t stop. She kept reaching for her purse. Almost had it. The bag was so close—she needed to stretch a hair farther, but the seat belt had her pinned.
The car shifted, still moving. Down and down it sank. The car tipped to the side, and water carried her purse away, out of reach.
Juno Rushdan draws from real-life inspiration as a former U.S. Air Force Intelligence Officer to craft sizzling romantic thrillers. However, you won’t find any classified leaks here. Her stories are pure fiction about kick-ass heroes and strong heroines fighting for their lives as well as their happily-ever-after.
Although Juno is a native New Yorker, wanderlust has taken her across the globe. Fortunately, she is blessed with a husband who shares her passion for travel, movies, and fantastic food. She’s visited more than twenty different countries and has lived in England and Germany. Her favorite destination for relaxation is the Amalfi Coast, Italy for its stunning seascape, cliffside lemon groves, terraced vineyards, amazing pasta, and to-die-for vino.
When she’s not writing, Juno loves spending time with her family. Exercise is not her favorite thing to do, but she squeezes some in since chocolate and red wine aren’t calorie-free.
She currently resides in Virginia with her supportive hubby, two dynamic children, and spoiled rescue dogs. Check her out on Instagram, Facebookor follow her on Twitter or BookBub. She loves to connect with readers!
She’s fighting for her and her baby’s lives But she can’t remember why…
Injured and locked up in a decrepit trailer, Alyssa Hazel wakes to only fragments of memory. She knows she’s pregnant, her life is in danger—and there’s one man she can trust once she escapes. But police officer Blake O’Connor hasn’t forgiven Alyssa for walking away from their marriage. Can he protect her and their unborn child…even when this conspiracy hits too close to home?
When Alyssa Hazel stirred and felt nothing but walls on all four sides of her, shock robbed her voice. Panic caused her pulse to pound and the extra blood thumped against her skull. Her head threatened to split open as she tried to recall where she was and why she was here.
She pushed her hands out, trying to see if the walls would give. The material was pliable but solid enough to hold form. She felt for cracks or anything she could grip. Movement hurt. She attempted to stretch out her legs and couldn’t get very far.
Where was she? What happened? Why was she enclosed in such a tight space? A haze pressed down on her brain and the pressure was the equivalent of a thunderstorm rolling in.
It was pitch black and she couldn’t remember a thing about where she’d been or what she’d been doing before ending up in this…whatever this was. Forcing recall only made her brain hurt more. A stomach cramp drew her legs tighter to her belly.
Wouldn’t there be a door if she was in some kind of compartment? There would have to be a crack around a door or hatch. She reached up and couldn’t find a ceiling. That seemed like the first good sign so far. It meant that she might be in a small closet or storage room.
She felt around, trying to get her bearings because right now she was at a loss as to where she was and what she was doing there. Bringing her hands to cradle her stomach, she knew one thing was certain, she was pregnant. Very pregnant. Her belly was huge.
Again, her mind drew a blank to a question that was so basic she felt like she should have an answer. What on earth was she doing there? She brought her hand up to her head and looked for a reason for the memory loss and headache. She touched a tender spot and felt dried blood.
At least she thought it was. Seeing was impossible despite her eyes adjusting to the dark.
Logic said if she’d gotten inside this structure, there had to be a way out. Bracing her hands against thin walls, she maneuvered up to a sitting position.
Next, she instinctively checked to make sure she had on clothes and then immediately checked for her wedding ring. The band was gone. Thank heavens she had on a cotton shirt and jeans. No shoes but she did have on socks. She remembered wearing her favorite boots. The random memory seemed to float around with no context to ground it. Where had she been going? What had she been doing?
A noise startled her. She froze, unable to make out what it was or exactly where it came from other than out there.
USA TODAY Bestselling Author Barb Han lives in Texas with her adventurous family and beloved dogs. Reviewers have called her books “heartfelt” and “exciting.” When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring Manhattan, on a mountain, or swimming in her backyard.