When a Wounded Warrior meets a small town princess, he’ll learn that happily-ever-after is definitely in his cards.
Jake Grimm came home after fifteen years to an official letter on his door. His family’s ancestral home is going to be a fairytale themed tourist attraction which isn’t going to work when the rest of his Special Forces team shows up to move in. Storming up to City Hall for some answers, a car backfires and he hits the ground, bringing down the hot, curvy woman standing next to him.
She looks up at him with stars in her eyes, like he isn’t battle damaged.
Her heart shaped mouth whispers dreams that she could take all his pain and sleepless nights away.
All of which is why Jake knows he must stay far away from Rosie Briarwood, the mayor’s daughter. He might be the last descendant of the founders of Grimm’s Valley, but he’s no prince. And he’s no longer a hero.
Once upon a time has never been so hot in this steamy small town where heroes fall hard for modern day damsels who know how to handle their swords.
Download today on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo!
Rosie has been waiting for her prince, and kissing a few frogs along the way, knowing that fate would bring him to her. It sounds a little woo-woo but she actually sells it pretty well. The whole idea of being open to possibilities and recognizing the choices offered up to her somehow works here. Although it doesn’t help her in her initial meeting with Jake as she immediately recognizes him as her true love … and overshares this with him. I mean, any guy is going to head for the hills at that point. Especially one as guy shy about relationships as Jake (although of course Rosie doesn’t know, or really care, about that).
Jake’s parent’s relationship has soured him on romance. Seeing his mom step out on his dad repeatedly and the way it broke the man has him swearing off love. Until he meets Rosie. While she seems a little unstable he can’t deny that there is a certain … feeling when he’s with her. One of peace and comfort, of rightness. But he doesn’t believe in love, right?
There’s a bit of insta-love, and some it-can-only-happen-in-books, going on (so be ready for some suspension of disbelief) but I really enjoyed the first of the Grimm’s Valley stories. Because Rosie believes that Jake is her fated love we spend most of the book waiting for him to catch up 🙂 It’s fun but it doesn’t really lead to a lot of development in their relationship. We do get a good bit of world building and a chance for readers to get to know characters that will play a part in future stories. Which I’m totally on board with and look forward to finding out who ends up with who & how! An entertaining and fast paced read, Grimm Prince is a fun introduction to a world of reimagined fairy tales.
NS Johnson is the steamy small town contemporary pen name of Ines Johnson. The world NS creates will feature characters from fairytale, myths and lore in the small town of Grimm’s Valley. Like Ines, NS is also a lover of fairytales, folklore, and mythology who spends her days reimagining the stories of old in a modern world. She writes books where damsels cause the distress, princesses wield swords, and moms save the world.
My father’s business partner will do anything for the empire they built together…Even marry me.
Declan Hardy, All-American heartthrob and retired NFL billionaire, is my complete opposite. He’s commanding where I’m cooperative. Spontaneous while I am deliberate. Loud when I stay quiet. The only thing we have in common is that both our names are on my father’s will.
He’ll inherit the fitness and hospitality empire and I’ll keep the one thing I hold dear. As long as I marry him—with conditions.
One year of a fake marriage. One year of living together. One year of pretending I belong in his luxury lifestyle.
But stipulations are never that simple. Especially when I can’t tell if his kisses are fake or if I’m pretending when I kiss him back.
And as more conditions arise, it’s clear there’s a fine line between commitment and betrayal… and neither of us knows where that line falls.
Download today or read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited
“What’s with this gold owl necklace?” He asked quietly.
“It meant something to me once.” I bit my lip as I looked at his, how close he was now, how I could feel his breath mingling with mine. “Felt like a symbol of being saved.”
“Hmm. Do you want to be saved now?”
He didn’t give me a moment to consider more. He pushed me up against the front of the Bugatti and devoured my mouth. I tasted his hate for all we were going through, his anger, his intrigue. I met it with mine. Bite for bite. Touch for touch. My hands were in his dark hair—pulling, clawing, consuming.
His fingers dug into my thighs as he lifted me onto the hood of his car and lapped at my neck while he moved between my legs. I wrapped them around him immediately, my body latching on like a starved animal who’d found a feast.
And I couldn’t stop even knowing that this arranged marriage was a recipe for disaster.
He ripped his lips from mine only to drag them over my neck, to taste my sensitive skin there, to suck it like he owned it. “No. You don’t want to be saved from this. From me. You want it, Everly. All of it.”
I shook my head but held him close, ground my hips into his length. “I’m here because I have to be, not because I want to be.”
“You don’t want to be?” He lifted one dark eyebrow, and then his hand was skirting under my dress and into my panties. “Tell me then, is it the rain making you wet or me?”
(Before I get into my review, read that excerpt again and if you think that’s the hero for you then this is definitely your next read.)
Overall, the heat is off the charts but the heart seemed to be a little lacking for me. I enjoyed Everly, she’s strong and independent … except when it came to Declan. Every interaction with him had her folding to his will, which is fine in a dom/sub type relationship, I guess, but I would have really liked for there to be a bit more balance. It did lead some seriously off-the-charts hot sex scenes but it didn’t do much for me to feel their “love” for each other.
Declan was a little bit on the other side of Alpha, maybe even a touch toxic at times. He’s controlling, dominant, overly jealous, but can also be sweet and thoughtful so I can kinda get it – he will definitely appeal to some. And he had some moments for me as well, but there were also times when I felt like his dealings with Everly were unhealthy. I just kept thinking that a therapist would have a field day with this one (which I guess maybe isn’t what you should be thinking when you are reading a romance).
The lack of communication between these two, and the push-pull of their interactions, got a bit old and some of the things Declan did … I really don’t know how he expected it would all work out in the end. But I can see the allure and the author definitely has me intrigued about the next book. I’m more than willing to take my chances and find out how Alpha that Hardy brother can be!
Between Commitment and Betrayal will be the perfect read for the right audience – the writing is enjoyable and the characters have their appeal. It’s not going to be for everyone, but I think this author knows who she’s writing for and delivers to them exactly what they will love.
Shain Rose is a USA Today and #1 Amazon bestselling author. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English Literature. Those degrees now help her write steamy romance with an edge. From contemporary to dark romance, you will always find a dominant hero and an emotional rollercoaster ride before you get to her happily ever afters.
She lives where the weather is always changing with a family she hopes will never change. When she isn’t writing, she’s spending time with her husband, two kids, and wild golden retriever. Yes, it takes a lot of books, coffee, and candy to keep her sane.
How could he have betrayed his own brother? His identical twin brother. The only true family he’d ever had.
Detective Rachel Lorensen has played so many roles in her undercover work with the Boston Police Department that she’s not entirely sure who she is anymore. Taking down the bad guys satisfies her and she loves the thrill of solving difficult cases, but something is missing in her life. Something she thought she had once. Something she wouldn’t mind having again.
Former news anchor Harris Wilder just completed sixteen months in jail for making some bad decisions. Though his brother has offered him a place to crash, he is eager to get his life back on track, but ties to his former journalistic glory have all been cut. He’s facing a complete reinvention of himself and doesn’t know where to start. He’d thought life on the outside would be easier than prison life. Now he isn’t so sure.
When one steamy kiss mistakenly gets Harris involved in Rachel’s latest undercover case, the safety of seventeen missing women is on the line.
Christine DePetrillo can often be found hugging trees, conversing with dragonflies, and walking barefoot through sun-warmed soil. She finds joy in listening to the wind, bathing in moonlight, and breathing in the fragrances of things that bloom. If she had her way, the sky would be the only roof over her head.
Her love of nature seeps into every story she tells. As does her obsession with bearded mountain men who build, often smell like sawdust, and know how to cherish the women they love. Today she writes tales meant to make you laugh, maybe make you sweat, and definitely make you believe in the power of love.
She lives in Vermont with her husband and many woodland creatures who defend her fiercely from all evils.
I might have made it as an NFL quarterback, but I was still me—still living in my hometown north of Nashville and tackling being a single dad. The media assumed I wore a halo beneath my helmet, but they didn’t know my tragic past. I was no angel.
Because the only woman I ever truly loved was the girl who stole my heart when it was committed to another, and I never recovered from the mess we created.
Seven years is a long time to wait for a second chance. I tried to move on and live without her. Now, Eden’s returned home to haunt me all over again, making me feel all the things I can’t deny when she’s near.
She might have her running shoes strapped on tight, but I’m desperate for her to stay this time. In order to do that, I need to find a way for us to put the past where it truly belongs, buried six feet deep with the person whose death still stands between us.
I didn’t become one of the best in the league by playing it safe. Eden’s always been mine, and it’s time she finally learns it, too.
Download today on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo!
Stacey Lynn likes her coffee with a dash of sugar, her heroes with a side of bossy, and her wine a deep shade of red.
The author of over thirty romance novels, many of which have been best-selling titles on Amazon, AppleBooks, and Barnes & Noble, she loves being able to turn her vivid imagination into a career that brings entertainment and joy to her readers. Focused on sports romance and emotional, small-town romance, she also loves stretching herself in different genres.
Born in Texas and raised in the Midwest, she now makes her home in North Carolina and loves all things Southern. Together with her ultimate tall, dark, and handsome hero, she has four children. Her life is a chaotic mess that fights with her Type-A, list-making, neurotically organized preferences and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, desperate-to-retire gunslinger Adam Brady has exactly two rules. And one of them is never, ever get married. So he’ll be danged when his dreams of permanently avoiding the bounty hunter on his tail in Desolation, the only town where notorious men like him can find respite, comes with one helluva string attached. The town has a new rule: gunslingers welcome—if they get a job…or marry.
Without realizing it, Adam stumbles into a big town wedding and accidentally marries Nora Schumacher, a sassy-mouthed mountain of a woman with legs as long as his wanted poster. So what’s a gunslinger to do but get himself unhitched and find a job. Any job. Except Adam keeps getting fired, one odd circumstance after another. And he’s running out of options.
Desolation was supposed to be his safe haven. Except, he’s not only running from his past but from the irresistible woman he married. And worse, he’s finding that he rather likes the enticing, if damnably independent, wife of his. But some men just aren’t the marrying kind. Only, if he leaves, his own life won’t be worth living. If he stays, he puts the lives of his newfound family and the woman he loves on the line. So much for Desolation being the answer to all his problems.
I’ve read a few reviews talking about how unrealistic this book is but … I mean, it’s a romantic comedy. It’s not supposed to be realistic. It’s fun, humorous, and sweet. There’s a lot of bickering and mishaps as Adam tries to find a job so he doesn’t have to stay married to Nora in order to stay in Desolation. It also means that the two of them start to get to know each to get to know each other better and find out that maybe, just maybe, marriage to each other isn’t a bad thing … if Adam’s past doesn’t come calling. Which of course it does. Hijinks, fun, and heart all mix together to create a fun read in McLean’s second book in the Gunslinger series.
(Part of a series but can be read as a standalone.)
She pretends to be a princess at children’s parties. But can she melt a real prince’s frosty heart? Get swept away by a Christmas story from Hallmark and bestselling author Teri Wilson— the queen of royal romance!
“I’m Prince Nikolas of San Glacera. Oh, you’ve never heard of us? Well, you’re not the only one. Our country relies on winter tourism, but we’re attracting fewer and fewer visitors. I admit it’s a problem. I just don’t think the solution is an American who likes to play dress-up.
You see, while I was away on a trip, my younger sister convinced the palace to hold a contest. The winner gets to star in our annual Ice Village festivities and accompany our royal family to holiday events.
And who did they choose? Gracie Clark, who runs a children’s party business and performs as—I kid you not—‘Princess Snowflake.’
Of course, I do respect the fact that she volunteers at children’s hospitals. I suppose to some, she might have a certain charm… But the whole cheap spectacle is beneath our dignity.
I’m not going to shirk my duty to my kingdom. I’ll go to every event with her. At least, once Christmas is over, she’ll be gone…”
A grumpy prince only doing his duty. A fake princess who is sunshine and happiness personified. A mix-up of royal proportion. All combined in a sappy package of holiday cheer.
You have to go into it knowing what you are getting – a fluffy, feel-good holiday romance – but I really enjoyed the heck out of this one. Is it predictable? Definitely. But that doesn’t stop it from being fun.
When the new theater director wants to shake up the routine, Candy Cane Key’s mayor has some issues to take up with her. Readers who love Jessa Kane and Jamie Schlosser will enjoy Tidal Ides by Layne Daniels, a steamy, small town, enemies-to-lovers, beach romance.
Candy Cane Key
Man of the Month Club
by Layne Daniels
My job as mayor of the most Christmasy town South of the North Pole comes with enough perks to overlook the headaches of municipal leadership. Most of the time. The new owner of Candy Cane Key’s Community Playhouse is putting that theory to the test.
Austie Norman, with her holly berry red lips and evergreen eyes, fits in perfectly. If I ignore the way she’s messing with tradition and making changes. And if I ignore the way she blazes past tradition and brings fresh energy to town. Definitely if I ignore the way she makes my heart trip over itself every time we argue about her plans to produce an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Ides of March. We can’t do Shakespeare when we’re meant to be doing Seuss. This is Candy Cane Key and people have certain expectations when they come here.
I can ignore all of that to fall in love. I just need to find a way to make Austie ignore all the ways I drive her crazy so she falls in love with me, too.
The MAN OF THE MONTH CLUB is a steamy small-town collection featuring a new hottie (or two!) every month. In 2023, escape to Candy Cane Key, Florida, and celebrate ALL the holidays with your favorite group of romance authors and their delicious men. Can’t wait to see you there!
Layne is a USA Today Bestselling Author, a long time reader of steamy romance, and began writing her own stories in December of 2020. Her favorite books to read are about Daddy Doms, strong alpha men who fall in love with fierce women, and sex positive living. When she’s not writing, she’s wrangling her family of jocks into some semblance of chill, running a business, getting ALL the tattoos, and living her love-at-first-sight fairytale with Mr. Mine.
New York Times bestselling author Shelley Shepard Gray returns with the second novel in her “tantalizing” (Publishers Weekly) Rumors in Ross County series. In Ross County, love can stay the course, but first you have to know who to trust.
There’s a lot going on in Joy Howard’s life. She’s got an ex-husband who starts acting like he doesn’t want to be an ex anymore, a sixteen-year-old daughter in need of a guiding hand and a lot of rides to dance practice, more orders for paintings than she has time to paint, and a roster of tutoring clients who sometimes need far more than she can give.
What she doesn’t have is time for a new relationship.
Samuel “Bo” Beauman is a lot of things. He’s a counselor for transitioning ex-cons, a good friend to many, a construction worker, a brother and son, and even a part-time model for a high-end sportswear catalog. He’s also a man searching for redemption.
One thing he isn’t is a man in need of a girlfriend.
But none of that seems to matter when Bo hears Joy’s kind voice in a crowded coffee shop. He instantly knows she’s someone he wants to know better. The two of them hit it off—much to the dismay of practically everyone they know—but Bo doesn’t care what other people think. He feels at peace whenever he’s with Joy, and he won’t let her go without a fight.
When Joy starts getting mysterious texts and phone calls from unknown numbers, she tries to ignore it. But instead of going away, the messages escalate and Joy realizes she can’t handle it alone. But she is juggling a jealous ex-husband, a handful of students with little to lose, and a brand-new boyfriend who spent several years behind bars. Who can she trust?
Bo is a stand-up guy who made mistakes in his past and is now spending his life helping others who find themselves in a similar situation – working with other ex-cons to transition from prison to regular life. It’s not easy but his no-nonsense attitude and occasional tough love helps.
Bo was one of my favorites from book 1 – his steady presence and Southern boy charm makes him a heart-stealer. Having him do something as fanciful as falling for someone at first sight is a hoot, but Joy proves to be a good choice as she is just as giving and big-hearted as he is. She volunteers her time teaching adults to read and is ready to look to the heart of people, not just what you see on the surface.
My biggest complaint with this book is that I would have loved for Joy and Bo to spend more time together. I found them delightful as a couple and would have enjoyed seeing their relationship develop and deepen. But that’s the romance reader in me – maybe this one would fall more towards women’s fiction as the author does a good job of letting us into the characters’ lives and thoughts.
The Rumors in Ross County series so far has given us two slow burn, clean stories about ex-cons and the women who stole their hearts. There’s a little suspense and tension at the end to keep us on our toes but at its heart Sycamore Circle is all about Bo & Joy falling in love.
A grumpy baker, a quirky ad man, and a recipe for forever…
So this cute guy sits next to me on the plane and proceeds to talk my ear off for hours. Not good. I don’t like talking and I don’t like strangers. But Theo’s sweet, smart, and sexy—the perfect distraction from business woes and personal worries.
Okay, things got overly friendly, but we’re adults and we know the score. I’m too old, he’s too nice, and we live on different continents.
Then, out of the blue, he shows up at my bakery with that pretty smile and a list of wacky marketing ideas—like how to make fairy cakes a thing.
I don’t like fairy cakes.
But I do like Theo, so…maybe?
The new me takes risks. The new me is brave and confident. The new me flirts with hunky, imposing bears on planes while traveling to a foreign country.
It’s going well, thank you.
However, my plans to do some sightseeing, drink tea, and eat my weight in biscuits every day get derailed when I realize there might be a way to help Scott and prove a few things to myself.
Don’t worry. I won’t fall for the grumpy baker. No way. He’s complicated and broody and—
Uh oh…it might be too late. Help!
Fairy Cakes in Winter is a bisexual, age-gap, grumpy/sunshine MM romance featuring a sexy baker, a sunny tourist, and a few dozen fairy cakes.
The flight attendant directed traffic with a smile, pointing the college-aged twentysomethings hefting giant backpacks to the far side of the plane before picking up her microphone. She gave the usual rambling speech, asking passengers not to crowd the aisles or stuff winter jackets into the overhead bins…Yadda, yadda.
I listened with half an ear for important info, like when this tin can was expected to get in the air and what time we’d land in London. Not that it mattered. I’d been on the late flight from Seattle so often, I knew I was in for a nine-and-a-half-hour ride and that I’d arrive at Heathrow sometime in the late afternoon. I also knew I’d be too disoriented to care about anything other than grabbing something to eat on my way home.
I had to admit, I was one of those weirdos who kind of liked the hum of airplane noise, and there was something vaguely comforting in the routine I’d established over the past seven years. I shrugged off my coat and made sure my headphones were within reach—along with my iPad, reading glasses, and the Ziploc bag of homemade trail mix my sister had sneaked into my carry-on bag. Then I buckled up, settled in, and hoped like hell that the seat next to mine would magically remain open.
Of course, that rarely happened. And I highly doubted my wish would come true this time around ’cause A, cross-Atlantic flights were rarely empty, and B, I didn’t have that kind of luck. The best I could hope for was a quiet neighbor. I peered over at the empty window seat and sent up a quick prayer for it to stay that way before slipping my readers on to check messages on my phone.
My ten-year-old nephew informed me he’d already beat my high score on Madden, my parents asked if there was any way I might finagle a trip home in the spring, and my sister claimed she’d added more M&M’s to her trail mix this year. She also asked if I was okay.
I sent an exclamation sign to Emmett, a heart symbol to my folks, and a thumbs-up to Heather. None of those messages required a wordy response. I’d learned that it was best to stick to basic communication with my family. Emmett was happy with the occasional poop or wind emoji, and my parents liked hearts. Real words got tricky. My parents knew that coming home for Christmas had been a stretch for me. I couldn’t swing another trip too soon, and it was best to avoid circular arguments.
And questions that might spark conversations about an old ex and his new wife. Yep, a thumbs-up was much easier.
I added another for posterity and was about to switch my cell to airplane mode when a new message from Becca lit up my screen.
Call me when you land! I’ll pick you up. Btw, I made a gorgeous lemon meringue pie I’m dying for you to try. Safe travels! xo
This is my first book by Hayes and I was pleasantly surprised – it was scorching, sweet, and funny.
Scott is deliciously grumpy and stoic. He’s had his heart broken badly enough that he’s not in a hurry to try love again. Too bad fate has him sitting next to bubbly, sweet Theo, who’s fear of flying has him talking Scott’s ear off. Before he realizes it, the flight is almost over and he didn’t mind it a bit. And definitely not when things get a little hot in an airport bathroom; after all, what can it hurt since they’ll never see each other again … until Theo walks into his bakery a couple of days later.
Not usually one to take chances, Theo finds himself acting quite out of character but there’s just something about Scott that draws him. And Theo knows he can help out the bakery. It’s a great opportunity to help him evaluate the direction his life is taking him … and get to spend even more time with the sexy baker. He just needs to remember that falling for him is a horrible idea.
With Fairy Cakes in Winter, Hayes gives readers appealing characters who find themselves in a realistic situation with minimal angst. It’s a slow, but definitely steamy, build to an enjoyable HEA.
Oh, I did this as an audiobook and I rarely listen to them – I had a horrible experience AGES ago that was so bad it still makes me hesitant today 🙂 – but Dean has a pleasant voice and does a fantastic job bringing Hayes’s characters & their interactions to life. Made me brave enough to get another one to try out!
Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, 2018-2019, 2020-2021 Rainbow Awards. She loves wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.
Susan Mallery’s newest hardcover is an emotional, witty, and heartfelt story of Finley who is raising her niece because her long-addicted sister, Sloane, abandoned her. When Sloane reappears, eager to build a relationship with her daughter, Finley will struggle with forgiveness, the ties that bind a family together, and the fragility of trust.
The Sister Effect : A Novel
by Susan Mallery
On Sale Date: March 7, 2023
$28.99 USD, $35.99 CAD
Finley McGowan is determined that the niece she’s raising will always feel loved and wanted. Unlike she felt after her mom left to pursue a dream of stardom and her grandfather abandoned her and her sister Sloane when they needed him most. Finley reacted to her chaotic childhood by walking the straight and narrow—nose down, work hard, follow the rules.
Sloane went the other way.
Now Sloane is back, as beautiful and damaged as ever, and wants a relationship with her daughter. She says she’s changed, but Finley’s heart has been bruised once too often for her to trust easily. With the help of a man who knows all too well how messy families can be, Finley will learn there’s joy in surrendering and peace in letting go.
Mallery, with wisdom, compassion and her trademark humor, explores the nuances of a broken family’s complex emotions as they strive to become whole, in this uplifting story of human frailty and resilience.
Finley McGowan loved her niece Aubrey with all her heart, but there was no avoiding the truth—Aubrey had not been born with tap dance talent. While the other eight-year-olds moved in perfect rhythm, Aubrey was just a half beat behind. Every time. Like a sharp, staccato echo as the song “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic played over the dance studio’s sound system.
Finley felt a few of the moms glance at her, as if gauging her reaction to Aubrey’s performance, but Finley only smiled and nodded along, filled with a fierce pride that Aubrey danced with enthusiasm and joy. If tap was going to be her life, then the rhythm thing would matter more, but Aubrey was still a kid and trying new things. So she wasn’t great at dance, or archery, or swimming—she was a sweet girl who had a big heart and a positive outlook on life. That was enough of a win for Finley. She could survive the jarring half-beat echo until her niece moved on to another activity.
The song ended and the adults gathered for the monthly update performance clapped. Aubrey rushed toward her aunt, arms outstretched for a big hug. Finley caught her and pulled her close.
“Excellent performance,” she said, smoothing the top of her head. “You weren’t nervous.”
“I know. I don’t get scared anymore. I really liked the song and the routine was fun to learn. Thank you for helping me practice.”
When Aubrey had first wanted to study tap, Finley had gone online to find instructions to build a small, homemade tap floor. They’d put it out in the garage, and hooked up a Bluetooth speaker. Every afternoon, before dinner, Finley had played “Counting Stars” and called out the steps so Aubrey could memorize her routine. Next week the dance students would get a new routine and new song, and the process would start all over again. Finley really hoped the new music wouldn’t be annoying—given that she was going to have to listen to it three or four hundred times over the next few weeks.
They walked to the cubbies, where Aubrey pulled a sweatshirt over her leotard, then traded tap shoes for rain boots. April in the Pacific Northwest meant gray, wet skies and cool temperatures. Finley made sure her niece had her backpack from school, then waved goodbye to the instructor before ushering Aubrey to her Subaru.
While her niece settled in the passenger side back seat, Finley put the backpack within arm’s reach. Inevitably, despite the short drive home, Aubrey would remember something she had to share and would go scrambling for it. Finley didn’t want a repeat of the time her niece had unfastened her seat belt and gone shimmying into the cargo area to dig out her perfect spelling test. Going sixty miles an hour down the freeway with an eight-year-old as a potential projectile had aged Finley twenty years.
“We got our history project,” Aubrey announced as Finley started the car. “We’re going to be working in teams to make a diorama of a local Native American tribe. There’s four of us in our group.” She paused dramatically. “Including Zoe!”
“Zoe red hair or Zoe black hair?”
Aubrey laughed. “Zoe black hair. If it had been Zoe red hair, my life would have been ruined forever.”
“Over a diorama? Shouldn’t your life be ruined over running out of ice cream or a rip in your favorite jacket?”
“Dioramas are important.” She paused. “And hard to spell. We’re going to pick our tribe tomorrow, then research them and decide on the diorama. I want to do totem poles. The different animals tell a story and I think that would be nice. Oliver wants a bear attacking a village, but Zoe is vegetarian and doesn’t want to see any blood.” Aubrey wrinkled her nose. “I eat meat and I wouldn’t want to see blood either. Harry agrees with me on the totems, but Zoe isn’t sure.”
“So much going on,” Finley said, not sure she could keep up with the third-grade diorama drama.
“I know. Could we stop at the cake store on the way home? For Grandma? She’s been sad.” Aubrey leaned forward as far as her seat belt would let her. “I don’t understand, though. I thought being on Broadway was a good thing.”
“So Grandma was a good teacher for her student. Why isn’t she happy?”
Finley wondered how to distill the emotional complexity that was her mother in a few easy-to-understand concepts. No way she was getting into the fact that her mother had once wanted to be on Broadway herself, only to end up broke and the mother of two little girls. The best Molly had managed for her theater career was a few minor roles in traveling companies. Eventually motherhood and the need to be practical had whittled away her dream until it was only a distant memory. These days she taught theater at the local community college and gave intensive acting classes in her basement. It was the latter that had been the cause of her current depression.
“Her student wasn’t grateful for all Grandma did for her. When she got the big role, she didn’t call or text and she didn’t say thank you for all of Grandma’s hard work.”
Molly had not only found her student a place to stay, she’d worked her contacts to get the audition in the first place. Finley might not understand the drive to stand in front of an audience, pretending to be someone else, but if it was your thing, then at least act human when someone gave you a break.
Finley glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Aubrey’s eyes widen.
“You’re always supposed to say thank you.”
“Poor Grandma. We have to buy her cake. The little one with the sprinkles she likes.”
Finley held in a grin. “And maybe a chocolate one for you and me to share?”
“Oh, that would be very nice, but we could just get one for Grandma if you think that’s better.”
Finley was sure that Aubrey almost meant those last words. At least in the moment. Should she follow through and not buy a second small cake, her niece would be crushed. Brave, but crushed.
Nothing Bundt Cakes wasn’t on the way home, but it wasn’t that far out of the way. Finley headed along Bothell-Everett Highway until she reached Central Market, across from the library. She turned left and parked in front of the bakery. She and Aubrey walked inside.
Her niece rushed to the display. “Look, they have the confetti ones Grandma likes. They’re so pretty.”
The clerk smiled. “Can I help you?”
“A couple of the little cakes,” Finley told her. “A confetti and a chocolate, please.”
Aubrey shot her a grateful look, then tapped on the case. “Could we get a vanilla one? I see Mom on Saturday afternoon. I could take her a cake.”
The unpleasant reminder of Aubrey’s upcoming visitation had Finley clenching her jaw. She consciously relaxed as she said, “It’s only Wednesday. I don’t know if the cake will still be fresh.”
“Just keep it in the refrigerator,” the clerk told her. “They’re good for five days after purchase.”
Aubrey jumped in place, her enthusiasm making her clap loudly. “That’s enough time.” She counted off the days. “Thursday, Friday, Saturday. That’s only three days. Mom will love her little cake so much.” She pressed her hands together. “Vanilla is her favorite.”
Finley told herself that of course Aubrey cared about her mother. Most kids loved their parents, regardless of how irresponsible those parents might be. It was a biological thing. Sloane was doing better these days. Maybe this time she would stay sober and out of prison. Something Finley could wish for, but didn’t actual believe.
Finley nodded at the clerk. “We’ll take all three, please.”
Aubrey rushed toward her and wrapped her arms around her waist. “Thank you, Finley. For the cake and coming to my performance and helping me practice.”
“I seem to be stuck loving you, kid. I try not to, but you’re just so adorable. I can’t help myself.”
Aubrey laughed, looking up at her. Finley ignored how much her niece looked like Sloane—they had the same big blue eyes and full mouth, the same long curly hair. Aubrey was a pretty girl but like her mother, she would mature into a stunning woman one day, as had her grandmother Molly before her. Only Finley was ordinary—a simple seagull in a flock of exotic parrots.
Probably for the best, she told herself as she paid for the cakes. In her experience beautiful women were easily distracted by the attention they received. Little mattered more than adulation. Relationships were ignored or lost or damaged, a casualty of the greatness that was the beautiful woman. Finley, on the other hand, could totally focus on what was important—like raising her niece and making sure no one threatened her safety. Not even her own mother.
“What is it?” Jericho Ford stared at the picture on the tablet screen. The swirling tubes of metal twisted together in some kind of shape, but he had no idea what it was.
“The artist describes this creation as the manifestation of his idea of happiness,” Antonio offered helpfully.
“It looks like a warthog.”
“So a fancy warthog.”
“It’s on sale.”
“I don’t care if it’s left on the side of the road with a sign reading ‘free.’ It’s ugly and no.” Jericho looked at his friend. “Why would you show that to me?”
“You said you needed some pieces for your family room.”
“I meant a sofa and maybe a bigger television.”
“You could put this on the coffee table.”
“That’s where I put my beer and popcorn.” Jericho pointed to the tablet. “If you like it so much, you get it.”
Antonio’s brows rose. “Absolutely not. My house is all about midcentury modern these days.”
“The warthog isn’t midcentury enough?”
“No.” Antonio slapped the tablet closed and put it in his backpack before removing two gray subway tiles and setting them on Jericho’s desk. “I want to make a change in the kitchen backsplash for number eleven.”
Antonio pointed to the tile on the right. “This was the original choice. I like the shine and the texture, but I’ve been thinking it’s too blue.” He tapped the tile on the right. “This has more green and goes better with the darker cabinets in the island.”
Jericho loved his job. He built houses in the Seattle area, good-quality houses with high-end finishes and smart designs. They sourced local when possible, had a great reputation and frequently a waiting list for their new-construction builds. Castwell Park—the five-plus acres he’d bought in Kirkland, Washington—had been subdivided into twenty oversized lots where Ford Construction was in the process of building luxury houses.
Jericho enjoyed the entire building process—from clearing the land to handing over the keys to the new owners. While he’d rather be doing something physical with his days, he was the site manager and owner, and all decisions flowed through him. Including tile changes suggested by his best friend and the project’s interior designer.
“Those tiles are the same color,” Jericho said flatly.
Antonio grimaced. “They’re not. This one—”
“Has more blue. Yes, you said.”
He grabbed the tiles and walked out of the large construction trailer set up across the street from the entrance to Castwell Park. He’d made a deal with the owners of the empty lot to rent the space while construction was underway. When his crew finished the twentieth home, he was going to build one for the lot’s owner. Jericho didn’t, as a rule, build one-offs, but it had been the price of getting a perfect location for the construction trailer, so he’d made an exception.
Once out in the natural light, he rocked the two tiles back and forth, looking for a color difference. Okay, sure, one was a little bluer, but he doubted five people in a hundred would notice. Still, Antonio’s design ideas were a big reason for the company’s success. He had a way of taking a hot trend and making it timeless.
“Email me the change authorization and I’ll okay it,” Jericho said, handing back the tiles.
“I knew you’d agree. These will make all the difference.”
“No more changes on house eleven or twelve,” he said, leading the way back inside the trailer. “The designs are locked in and we’ve placed all our orders.”
“I know. This is the last one.” Antonio smiled. “Besides, I’ve already checked with the distributor and she said it was no problem to substitute one for the other.” He settled in the chair by Jericho’s desk. “Dennis and I were talking about you last night.”
“That never means good things for me.”
Antonio dismissed the comment with a wave. “We’re inviting a woman to our next party.”
Jericho knew exactly what his friend meant but decided to pretend he didn’t. “You usually have women at your parties.”
“A woman for you.”
Antonio leaned toward him. “It’s time. You and Lauren split up nearly seven months ago. I know you’re still pissed at your brother, but that’s separate from getting over your ex-wife. They cheated, they’re hideous people and we hate them, but it’s time for you to move on.”
Antonio had always had a gift for the quick recap, Jericho thought, appreciating his ability to distill the shock of finding out his wife and his younger brother were having an affair and the subsequent divorce into a single sentence.
“I’ve moved on,” Jericho told him.
“You’re not dating. Worse, you’re not picking up women in bars and sleeping with them.”
Jericho grinned. “When have I ever done that?”
“You’re a straight guy. Isn’t it a thing?”
“I hate it when you generalize about me because I’m straight.”
Antonio grinned. “Poor you.” His humor faded. “It’s time to stop pouting and move on with your life.”
“Hey, I don’t pout.”
“Fine, call it whatever you want. Lauren was a total bitch and I honestly don’t have words to describe what a shit Gil is for doing what he did. But you’re divorced, you claim to have moved on, so let’s see a little proof.” His mouth turned down. “I worry about you.”
“Thanks. I’m okay.”
Mostly. He hadn’t seen his brother in six months, which had made the holidays awkward. His family was small—just his mom, him and his brother, with Antonio as an adopted member. Gil’s affair with Lauren had rocked their family dynamics nearly as much as his father’s death eight years ago, shattering their small world. Their mother had taken Jericho’s side—at least at first. Lately she’d been making noises about a reconciliation. As Gil and Lauren were still a thing, he wasn’t ready to pull that particular trigger just yet.
“Dennis is a really good matchmaker,” Antonio murmured.
“Did I say no? I’m kind of sure I said no. I can get my own women.”
“Yes, but you won’t.”
“Now who’s pouting?”
The first five notes of “La Cucaracha” played outside, announcing the arrival of the food truck. Antonio’s face brightened.
“Lunchtime. You’re buying.”
“Somehow I’m always buying.”
“You’re the rich developer. I’m a struggling artist. It’s only fair.”
“You have a successful design business. And if that wasn’t enough, your husband is a partner at a fancy, high-priced law firm. You married money.”
Antonio laughed. “Wasn’t that smart of me?”
Jericho followed him out of the trailer. “You would have married him if he was broke and homeless. You love him.”
“I do and now we need to find someone for you to love. Not another redhead. That last one was a total disaster.”
“I’m not sure the failure of our marriage had anything to do with the color of her hair.”
SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women’s lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations,” and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been 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 Ragdoll cat and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.