Friday, July 31, 2020

Review - Sunshine on Silver Lake

Title
Sunshine on Silver Lake
Author:  Annie Rains
Series:  Sweetwater Springs #5
Genre:   Romance
Publisher:   Forever
Format:  Print ARC
No. of Pages:  432
Date of Publication:  July 21, 2020
My Rating:  5 Stars

DESCRIPTION:

Welcome back to Sweetwater Springs, North Carolina for a heartwarming second-chance romance between a quirky café owner and a handsome park ranger.

With summer just around the corner, Emma St. James is eagerly planning a 5K run at Sweetwater Springs National Park. But first she needs the help of one charming, rugged, and handsome park ranger. Her brief high school romance with Jack Hershey may have ended in heartbreak, but Emma can't deny that he still gives her butterflies. So when Jack responds to her request with an all-too-tempting plea to pretend to be his girlfriend for the summer, how can she say no?

Jack would do anything for his sister -- even pretend to give up his bachelor life to care for his nephew. Passing his days with his high school sweetheart guarantees one long, hot summer -- but only because every moment together leaves him wanting a real relationship. He can't imagine spending another season without Emma by his side. Can he convince her to give their love a second chance before the summer draws to a close?

Includes the bonus novella A Fairytale Bride!

MY THOUGHTS:

As I am part of Forever Romance advance reader program. I get the honor of reading upcoming books from them. Whenever I see Annie Rains' name in the offering, I immediately request the title. I have become familiar enough with her books that I don't even need a blurb to check the box that says I Want It!

Well, Sunshine on Silver Lake is the fifth book in the Sweetwater Spring series. Other than the novellas, I have devoured this book from the very first one, Christmas on Mistletoe Lane. So I knew I was in for another delightful story.

There are several tropes in romance books. This book employs one of them - second chance romance. Here we have Emma St. James preparing for a 5K run. Through a bit of miscommunication, she has pretty much made it seem like her old flame, Jack Hershey, is her boyfriend. Will Jack go along with it? What about the fact that although high school was years in their past, the two still have a strong connection?

Meanwhile Jack has agreed to help his sister by caring for her teen son over the summer. In so doing readers get to see what actually split Emma and Jack up when they were teenagers. There are some very serious issues in this story that deal with more than one addiction and how addictions can forever alter lives. 

Will Jack and Emma be able to find hope for their future? What about Jack, his nephew and his sister? That story right there is mega important and Annie Rains truly did it justice. Both Jack and Emma were very well-developed characters. Jack really had a lot of depth to him, and a very sweet nature. Emma and her past were heartbreaking. Of course, I just had to see her find joy and love in her life, even with the apparent conflicts. I really loved this story and hope that there is much more to come in this series. If not, I will pretty much read anything else Annie Rains has to offer. 

Many thanks to Forever and to NetGalley for this ARC to review. This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

USA Today Bestselling Author, Annie Rains, is a contemporary romance author who writes small town love stories set in fictional towns on the coast of North Carolina. Raised in one of America’s largest military communities, 

Annie often features heroes who fight for their countries, while also fighting for a place to call home and a good woman to love. When Annie isn’t writing, she’s spending time with her husband, 3 children and dog, or reading a book by one of her favorite authors.



Thursday, July 30, 2020

BLOG TOUR - The Next Widow


Today I am pleased to be a part of the Blog Tour for The Next Widow by C. J. Lyons.

DESCRIPTION:

In the distance Leah heard sirens. She ignored them. Right now, her daughter needed her and Emily was just out of reach, curled up under the bed, her eyes closed, desperately shaking. Leah did the only thing any mother would do. She crawled through the blood to get to her daughter.

Dr Leah Wright returned to her childhood home in rural Pennsylvania with her husband to find peace and quiet, start afresh and raise her six-year-old daughter Emily. But when she gets home one dark winter night, clutching roses in her hand, she finds her daughter huddled under her bed and her husband’s blood all over the floor...

When Detective Luka Jericho is called to investigate, he’s shocked to learn that the killer left a witness behind – the victim’s young daughter. The scene is a painful reminder of his fiancé’s unsolved death, and he is desperate to find out what Emily saw that night. He knows that the killer could still be out there, waiting to strike again.

But growing up, Leah learned the hard way that the only person she could rely on was herself. And it’s not until she and Emily are attacked again that she realizes just how close the killer is. Can she trust Luka to keep her daughter safe?

Fans of Karin Slaughter, Kendra Elliot and Tess Gerritsen will devour this fast-paced and chilling new crime series from New York Times bestselling author CJ Lyons. You won’t be able to put this book down.


BUY LINKS:


MY THOUGHTS:

Title
Author
Series: 
Publisher:  Bookouture
Genre
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:
Date of Publication
My Rating:  

The start of a new series! For some reason, this always tickles me. In this book we have Dr. Leah Wright facing the brutal murder of her husband. She finds her daughter cowering under her bed. Her daughter Emily is unharmed, but certainly is not unaffected by witnessing her father's murder. Leah is an emergency room doctor who always wants to save everyone and fix everything. Detective Luka Jericho is tasked with finding out why her husband was killed, but also why the killer left her six-year-old daughter Emily alive. This book was intense from the very beginning, especially the murder scene.

There were points in the story that turn to something far more emotional for both Leah and Luka when it came to their pasts. This is where the story took a bit of a shift for me as it took me out of the mode of the reason for the murder and how it affected Leah and Emily. But then as I continued to read the book I was able to realize that as this is the first book in a new series, we just had to get to know what drove Leah and also what drove Luka. Thinking of things on that level allowed me to continue to enjoy this very well-written book.

As the story continued to focus on the investigation of the murder, there was a shocking twist that took place towards the end of the book, so much so, that I realized that there was no way to even guess who was responsible for Leah’s husband’s murder. I love it when I am kept guessing and Ms. Lyons did an excellent job keeping me on the edge of my seat. The Next Widow is an effective police procedural that introduces the two characters and I am eager to see what is in store for them as the series continues.

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).

Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at www.CJLyons.net

Author Social Media Links:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cjlyons/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/cjlyonswriter

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review - Deadlock


Title:  Deadlock
Author

Series: 
Genre
Publisher
Format
No. of Pages:  480
Date of Publication
My Rating
DESCRIPTION:
This exhilarating FBI thriller by #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter finds Savich and Sherlock confronting two baffling mysteries.

A young wife is forced to confront a decades-old deadly secret when a medium connects her to her dead grandfather.

A vicious psychopath wants ultimate revenge against Savich, but first, she wants to destroy what he loves most—his family.

A series of three red boxes are delivered personally to Savich at the Hoover Building, each one containing puzzle pieces of a town only FBI agent Pippa Cinelli recognizes. Savich sends in Cinelli to investigate undercover but someone knows who she is.

Savich and Sherlock are up to their eyebrows in danger, but can they figure out the red box puzzle and the young wife’s secret before it’s too late?


MY THOUGHTS:

This book was so good that I had to read it twice! I truly love this FBI series by Catherine Coulter and had been eagerly awaiting the 24th title as this is one of my favorite series. This thrilling book is one that seamlessly weaves together two storylines. I honestly don't know which one was more intriguing to me, and like I said, this book already got a reread from me.

As a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast, I was drawn to the cover, as well as how puzzles were part of one of the cases Savich was working on. Having read all the previous books in this series, as well as Coulter's

As always Savich and Sherlock are as tight as can be, although the romantic in me wouldn't have minded a few more scenes with just the two of them. However, missing that part certainly did not take away my enjoyment of this book. The first time I read the book it was in one sitting and the second time I downloaded the audiobook, and also listened to it in one sitting. The crafty talent of Coulter shone through from the very start to the arresting conclusion. Now, to wait another year for the 25th book in the series. 

Many thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for this ARC to review in exchange for my honest opinion.

Please enjoy this extended excerpt:
Chapter One

Washington, D.C.

Central Detention Center

October 3

Marsia Gay would be living like a queen, not like an animal locked in a cell, if it weren't for FBI agent Dillon Savich. He was the one who'd screwed her perfect plan sideways, the man responsible for her being locked in this soulless circle of hell. Of course, the bitch would pay for her betrayal, too, no doubt about that, but he was the one who'd rained this misery down on her, the one she wanted most.

Savich was a dead man walking--but not yet, not just yet. She wanted to savor his downfall. He would die only after she killed the two people closest to him, the two people whose deaths would hurt him most.

She knew she had to snag his interest with something unique, begin with only an oblique threat, nothing too over-the-top, but something enigmatic and bizarre enough that Savich wouldn't be able to resist. And suck him in. She wouldn't underestimate him, not this time. He'd proven he was smart, but she was just as smart--no, she was smarter, and she was going to prove it. She'd make sure Savich knew it was Marsia Gay who'd set everything in motion, who'd had her final revenge. Halloween was coming up. It was the perfect time.

She heard her mother's vodka-slurred voice whisper, Even as a child, when you wanted something, you grabbed for it, didn't think. Didn't work out for you this time, did it?

"I won't fail this time!" She didn't realize she'd screamed the words until the guard, a big lummox named Maxie, appeared at the bars and stared at her. Marsia wished she could tear her face off. "A nightmare, sorry."

Maxie didn't point out it wasn't dark yet, too early to sleep. She only shrugged and walked away. Marsia went over to the narrow window that looked out over the desolate exercise yard with its scarred, ancient wooden tables and benches, the pathetic torn basketball hoop where she usually won playing Horse-- cigarettes, a small bar of soap from a Holiday Inn, an offer of a prison tattoo made from soot and shampoo or melted Styrofoam, no thank you. She saw Angela lounging against a wall, probably giving orders to her minions. What a sweet name for a meanas-a-snake muscled gang leader awaiting trial for the murder of her boyfriend and his lover. It hadn't been difficult to seduce Angela into her orbit. She'd been even easier to manipulate than Veronica. Angela had taken to Marsia right away, told her she'd see to it no one would harm her, if Marsia was nice to her. Marsia had shuddered when Angela lightly touched her arm, but well, Marsia had been nice. Angela always stayed in sight and took care of whatever Marsia wanted. She kept the other bullies away from the pretty artist girl who spoke so beautifully and was always so polite, so of course they hated her instinctively. Angela never tired of hearing about Marsia's sculptures, how she worked with this metal and that. Marsia missed her sculpting, of course, but now she looked forward to returning to her studio once she was found not guilty at her trial, and of course her studio would still be waiting for her. After all, she owned the building.

The wind had stiffened, whipping up the dirt into dust devils. She saw a dozen women wandering around the yard, doing nothing in particular, and one lone prisoner, head down, pacing back and forth, apart from the others. It was Veronica. She'd rarely seen her here. The guards made sure they were kept apart, but soon that wouldn't matter. Marsia knew Veronica well enough to know she felt guilt, awful guilt, about striking the deal as the prosecution's star witness against Marsia in exchange for the safety they'd promised her. Sorry, Veronica, that isn't going to happen; it's going to get you killed. With no witness to testify against Marsia, the evidence would be more circumstantial than not. No, not enough to convict her. Veronica, I'm going to choreograph a special dance for you to mark your exit from the planet. Thank you.



Chapter Two

Washington, D.C.

Home of Zoltan

Wednesday Evening

October 28

The last place Rebekah ever expected to find herself was in the home of a medium. Zoltan the Medium was how the woman had introduced herself when she'd called Rebekah. But how do you say no when a medium tells you your grandfather who died only a month ago wants to speak to you? Wants you to forget he's dead and calling from the afterlife? Rebekah almost hung up, almost said, if he's in his afterlife, doesn't that mean his life here on earth is over? As in he's dead? But Zoltan had said her grandfather wanted to speak to his Pumpkin, maybe to warn her about something. Zoltan wasn't sure. Rebekah hadn't wanted to believe any of it, but Pumpkin had been his favorite nickname for her, and how could this self-proclaimed medium possibly know that?

She'd felt gooseflesh rise on her arms. She'd had no choice, not really. She knew she had to find out what this was all about, and so here she was, walking behind Zoltan, a woman not that much older than her own twenty-eight years, into her living room. Rebekah had expected to see a table with a long red tablecloth covering it, primed to levitate on command, but there was no table everyone would sit around, only a small coffee table. She saw a long, narrow, high-ceilinged room lit only by one standing lamp in the far corner and draperies rippling in the breeze given off by a low-humming portable fan beside the large front window. Curiously, not far from the fan, a fire burned in the fireplace, low and sullen. However strange the mix, the room was pleasantly warm.

Zoltan wasn't wearing a flowing caftan and matching turban or big shiny hoop earrings in her ears. She was wearing a dark blue silk blouse, black pants, and low-heeled black shoes. Her hair was dark, pulled back in a sleek chignon. Her eyes were a pale blue. She'd looked and seemed perfectly normal when she'd greeted Rebekah. She asked her to be seated on the sofa and offered her a cup of tea. The tea was excellent: hot, plain, no sugar, the way she liked it. Zoltan smiled at her, sipped her own tea. "I know you don't believe one can speak to the Departed, Mrs. Manvers. Actually, I far prefer a skeptic to blind acceptance. I'm pleased you decided to come. I will tell you what happened. As I said when I called you, your maternal grandfather came to me very unexpectedly while I was trying to contact another Departed for his son. Your grandfather was anxious to speak to you. He called you Pumpkin, which you recognized. Do you wish to proceed?"

Rebekah nodded, drank more tea, and kept any snarky comments to herself.

Zoltan nodded. "Good. Let us begin. I want you to relax, Mrs. Manvers--may I call you Rebekah?"

Rebekah nodded. "And you may call me Zoltan. I know this is difficult for you, but I need you to try to keep an open mind and suspend judgment. Empty your mind, simply let everything go. Begin by relaxing your neck, your shoulders, that's right. Breathe slowly and deeply. Good."

They sat in silence for a minute or so before Zoltan spoke again, her voice low and soothing. "Rebekah, when your grandfather crashed my party, so to speak, all he told me was that he had to speak to you. I don't know why he was so anxious; he didn't say. On his third visit, three nights ago, he finally identified himself and you by your married name so I could contact you. He always came when other clients were here. Why? I don't know. Maybe it was easier for him to reach me with the pathway already open. His message was always, 'Rebekah, I want Rebekah, I want my Pumpkin. I must tell her--' A warning? That's what I thought, but I really don't know. I asked you to bring something personal of his with you."

Rebekah opened her handbag and pulled out a letter and a photograph of her and her grandfather standing on the steps of the Capitol building, people flowing around them. He was smiling, eager to get on with his life, and beside him Rebekah, just turned eleven, was clutching his hand and looking as happy as he was. He had no way of knowing what would happen to him, but of course, no one did. The photograph had been taken a year before the series of strokes struck him down and effectively ended his life, leaving him in a coma some sixteen years. He'd finally died last month and been buried in Arlington National Cemetery with all due pomp, with Rebekah's husband standing next to her, his arm around her. Rebekah felt tears swim in her eyes as she handed Zoltan the photograph and the letter.

Zoltan took the letter, didn't read it, but seemed to weigh it in her hand. She took the photograph, glanced at it, then placed it face up over the letter, in front of Rebekah.

Rebekah, please place your left hand over the letter and the photograph and give me your right hand."

Rebekah did as she was asked. She no longer felt she'd fallen down the rabbit hole. She was beginning to feel calmer, more settled, perhaps even receptive. She let her hand relax in Zoltan's. "Why my right hand? Why not my left?"

Zoltan said, "I've learned the right hand carries more latent energy than the left. Odd but true, at least in my experience. Good. I want you to think about what your grandfather said to you that day the photograph was taken, think about what you were feeling in that moment. Now picture the man in the photograph. Tell me about him."

Before the strokes and the coma, he was in Congress, always on the go, always busy with his political maneuvering against the incumbent majority. I remember that day he was happy. A bill I think he'd authored had passed." She paused a moment. "As for the letter, it's the last one he wrote me. It was chatty, nothing serious. Grandfather rarely emailed me; he preferred to write his letters to me in longhand."

Now, lightly touch the fingers of your left hand to the photograph. Let them rest on your grandfather's face. Excellent. Close your eyes, picture his face in your mind, and simply speak to him as if he were sitting beside you on the sofa. It's all right if you think this is nothing more than a silly exercise, but indulge me, please."

Rebekah didn't resist. She was feeling too relaxed. Zoltan poured her another cup of tea from the carafe on the coffee table. Rebekah drank, savored the rich smooth taste, and did as Zoltan said. Oddly, she saw her grandmother's face, cold and aloof, not her grandfather's. Gemma had been a séance junkie all her life, something that made Rebekah's mom roll her eyes. Grandmother was talking to dead people? No, her mother had said, talking to the dead was crazy, meant for the gullible. Rebekah wondered if her grandmother had tried to contact her husband since his death. Why would she? To gloat that he was dead and she wasn't?

Zoltan said again, "Rebekah? Please speak to your grandfather. Picture him here with you. Speak what's in your heart. Be welcoming."

Rebekah said, her voice clear, "Grandfather, I remember you when you were well and happy before you fell into a coma. I loved you so much and I knew you loved me. Everyone called me your little confidante, and it was true. You trusted me with all the stories you called your secret adventures, even when I was a kid. Do you know I kept my promise to you never to tell anyone the stories, not even my mother, certainly not my grandmother? They were always only between us. You made me feel very special." Her voice caught. "I miss you, Grandfather. I think of you every day and pray you're at peace." She knew, objectively, when he'd fallen into the coma, his life was over, though his body held on. She knew she should have been relieved when his body finally let go, but the reality of his actual death still broke her. She swiped away a tear, swallowed. "Zoltan said you want to speak to me. If you can hear me, I hope you can come -- through." Her voice fell off. She felt a bit silly, but oddly, it didn't overly concern her.

The draperies continued to flutter in the breeze, the fire stayed sullen. The lamplight, however, seemed to dim, then brighten, and dim again. Zoltan's face was now in shadow. She said in the same gentle voice, each word slow and smooth, "Keep talking to him, Rebekah. I can feel a presence hovering close, and it's familiar."

Rebekah didn't feel anything different. Well, except for the dimmed lamplight. Zoltan's right hand held Rebekah's, and her left hand lay palm up on her lap. Rebekah knew she should feel like an idiot, but she didn't. She felt relaxed, curious to see what would happen. "Perhaps it isn't really Grandfather you're feeling, Zoltan--"

Zoltan suddenly raised her left hand, and Rebekah stopped talking. "Is that you, Congressman Clarkson? Are you here?"

The draperies grew still, though the fan continued to churn the air. The fire suddenly sparked, shooting up an orange flame, then the burning wood crumbled, making a soft thudding sound. The lamplight grew brighter, then flickered and went completely dark.

Only the dying fire lit the room.

All tricks, she's pressing some magic buttons with her foot--

She felt Zoltan's hand tighten ever so slightly around hers again. "Someone is here, Rebekah," Zoltan said calmly in her soft, even voice. "I can't be certain until the Departed talks to me, but the feeling of his presence is, as I said, familiar. Do you know of a nickname your grandfather was called? Or did you yourself have a special name for him as he did for you?"

She remembered her grandfather's face, clear as day, saw him throw back his head and laugh at something she'd said. She whispered, "Methodist, that was his nickname. He told me his cohorts in Congress called him Methodist, too. The name got out, and even his own staff began calling him that--'Methodist believes this, Methodist said that.'" She swallowed tears again, hating they were so close to the surface. "I remember hearing Grandmother tell me he was a buffoon, he'd made up the name himself. When I asked him, he admitted it, said he didn't want anyone else making up a name for him, particularly the opposition, and Methodist practically made him a poster boy for God, full of probity and sheer boring honesty. A lot of people called him that before his first stroke."

Call him by his nickname."

Very well, play along, why not? At best, it's entertainment, but you're here, so why not go along with it? But is it only entertainment? Grandmother would believe it, maybe, but not me. She felt foolish, but she cleared her throat. "Grandfather--Methodist?--it's Rebekah, your granddaughter. If you are here, tell me what's so important."

A puff of dense black smoke plumed up from the fireplace embers, making an odd sucking sound. The lamp brightened, then darkened again.

Rebekah's throat was dry, and she drank some more tea. She knew the lamp, the fire, the billowing draperies were simple stage props, but she didn't really care, it wasn't important. She had to know what her grandfather wanted to ask her or what this woman wanted her to believe he did. Rebekah was surprised how calm she felt, her body and mind relaxed. Still, how could any of this be true?

Zoltan said, "I'm not sure if it's your grandfather I feel. Is your grandmother alive, Rebekah?"

Yes, she is. Her name is Gemma Clarkson. She's in her late seventies. She continues to run all of Grandfather's businesses in Clairemont, Virginia, west of Richmond, where she and my grandfather lived all their lives. Clairemont was in his district."

Did your grandfather and grandmother have a strong bond? Would speaking about her to him perhaps make him come through the Verge? That's what I call the threshold the spirits have to cross back over into our reality."

No," Rebekah said, nothing more. It was none of Zoltan's business. Even Rebekah couldn't remember a time when her grandparents had shown any affection for each other, and her memories went back a very long way. She'd never seen her grandmother at the Mayfield Sanitarium during those sixteen long years her grandfather had lain there helpless, his only sign of life his still-beating heart. She'd asked her grandmother once, back in the beginning when she'd been young, why she didn't visit Grandfather. Her grandmother had merely said, "Perhaps I will." But Rebekah didn't think she had.

I think my grandmother was glad when he died. She did go to his funeral, but she had to, didn't she? I doubt she'd want to be here in my place if she thought her husband would show up. Even though she'd believe it."

Your grandmother is a believer, then?"

Yes, but she's always careful because she thinks most mediums are frauds. That's what I heard her tell my mother."

She wanted to ask Zoltan if she was a fraud, but when she looked into Zoltan's eyes, darker now in the dim light, and felt her intensity, she let the thought go.

Your grandmother is perfectly correct. There are many frauds." Zoltan began to hum softly, then she said, her voice barely above a whisper, "Congressman Clarkson? Methodist? Are you having trouble coming through this time? If you are, reach out to me, and I will speak for you to Rebekah. Come, I am open to you. I am your conduit. You've already connected with me, you know you can trust me. Your granddaughter is here. You must try again."

The lamp bulb burst into brightness that reached the far corners of the living room. Thick black smoke erupted upward from the fireplace embers, and the draperies began to move again. Rebekah held perfectly still. She heard her own voice whisper, "Grandfather, is that you?"

Zoltan said in the same soft chant, "Come in through me, Congressman. Let me speak for you. Give me your words so I can tell Rebekah what concerns you so greatly. Come through me."

Nothing happened. Rebekah took another drink of her tea, realized she was perfectly content to wait. The air was warm, and she felt calm, open, expectant, which she should realize was silly, but it didn't seem to matter.

Suddenly, Zoltan whooshed out a breath and stiffened. Her eyes closed, and her hand tightened around Rebekah's, then eased. Rebekah felt a fluttering of movement, a brush against her cheek, and jumped. What was that? The hair lifted off the back of her neck as if there were electricity in the air. She whispered, "Grandfather?"

The room grew dim again, the embers quieted. Zoltan's lips began to move, and out came a flat low voice, not quite like Zoltan's own voice, but deeper, sounding somehow distant, and older--like her grandfather's voice. "My dearest Rebekah. To speak to you again, even through this woman, it brings me great joy. You visited me when I still breathed earthly air. I knew it was you, always, and I understood you when you spoke to me. You came nearly every day, and I loved you for it. You held my hand, talked to me, and I savored each of your words, your loving presence. Everyone believed I was gone, even the doctors believed I was locked helpless into my brain, nothing left of my reason, nothing left of me, no awareness, no consciousness, and some of that was true. But even though I was unable to speak to you, unable to respond to you, I heard, yes, I heard everything, heard everyone. Do you know, I remember when Gemma came, only once, at the beginning, and she whispered in my ear she wished I'd just hang it up once and for all, and stop wasting everyone's time. She punched my arm; I felt it. But your visits were the highlights of my day, and you came to me throughout the long years I lay there like the dead, which, thankfully, I finally am. It was only a month ago, wasn't it?"

Zoltan paused, her eyes flew open, and she stared at Rebekah. Time froze. Then Zoltan spoke again, her voice still deep, another's voice, still blurred, still distant. "Look at you, so beautiful, like your mother. I remember how proud you were when you told me you had earned your master's degree in art history at George Washington, that you knew you had the 'eye,' you called it, and you had decided to make yourself an expert on fraudulent art. You couldn't wait to start consulting with museums and collectors. You'd already begun your search to find a partner, someone who could work with you to identify stolen originals. And you told me you found the perfect person."

Yes, yes, my new partner, Kit Jarrett, now my best friend, a perfect fit, my lucky day. But wait, finding out about Kit Jarrett was easy enough. It wasn't a secret.

Your excitement made me want to smile, on the inside, of course, and you couldn't see it. And now you are married, to another congressman. Manvers interned for me a very long time ago. I always found him a real go-getter. I think he was born knowing how to play the game. He's playing it well. Other than being a politician, Rich Manvers is a fine man, but isn't he a bit old for you, Pumpkin?"

Perhaps, but what's important is he understands me, and he loves me." Rebekah licked her lips, drank more tea to get spit in her mouth, and managed to say, "Pumpkin--that was the nickname you gave me when I was six years old. Not many people know that." Zoltan's brilliant dark eyes opened and fastened onto something beyond Rebekah. Rebekah turned but didn't see anything. Zoltan's lips moved, but no sound came out. There was no expression on Zoltan's face, only smooth blankness. Then her grandfather's voice again. "Yes, I remember the Halloween you carved a pumpkin to look like me. You nearly burned the house down."

Rebekah heard herself say, "Yes. I still have a picture of the pumpkin, and you're standing behind me, your hands on my shoulders. I have so many photos of us together over the years. Of course, I came to see you as often as I could in the sanitarium. I loved you. Grandfather, I will love you until I die. I know this sounds strange, but are you well now?"

The distant deep voice seemed to laugh. "Yes, Pumpkin, of course I'm well. I'm always well now. There is no more pain since I died--well, there was hardly any even before I died. I remember you were such a brave girl, never left my side during those long, final earthbound hours. You held my hand until I was able to depart my tedious life."

She remembered, too clearly, the shock, the pain, and the relief, too, when he drew his last breath. Dr. Lassiter, a kind, attentive man, had stood beside her, touching her grandfather's other hand. "John is at peace now," he'd said when it was over, and she'd finally known what that old chestnut really meant.

Rebekah said, "Yes, I remember. What is it you want to tell me, Grandfather?"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Catherine Coulter

For Coulter's first novel, 

Following 

Coulter grew up on a horse ranch in Texas, and graduated from the University of Texas, receiving her graduate degree from Boston College. She became a speechwriter on Wall Street, then, to her joy, she was able to quit her day job and become a full-time writer.


AUDIOBOOK Review - What You Wish For

Title
:   What You Wish For
Author:  Katherine Center
Publisher:  MacMillan Audio
Genre:   Women's Fiction
Format:  Audiobook
Print No. of Pages:   320
Date of Publication:   July 14, 2020
My Rating:   3 Stars
DESCRIPTION:

From Katherine Center, the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel full of heart and hope.

Samantha Casey loves everything about her job as an elementary school librarian on the sunny, historic island of Galveston, Texas—the goofy kids, the stately Victorian building, the butterfly garden. But when the school suddenly loses its beloved principal, it turns out his replacement will be none other than Duncan Carpenter—a former, unrequited crush of Sam’s from many years before.

When Duncan shows up as her new boss, though, he’s nothing like the sweet teacher she once swooned over. He’s become stiff, and humorless, and obsessed with school safety. Now, with Duncan determined to destroy everything Sam loves about her school in the name of security—and turn it into nothing short of a prison—Sam has to stand up for everyone she cares about before the school that’s become her home is gone for good.

MY THOUGHTS:

Samantha Casey is not the only person who is devastated by the sudden death of the beloved principal of the elementary school where she is a librarian. Samantha was very close to the principal and remains close to his wife Babette. As a matter of fact, Babette is well respected at the school as well, and pretty much everyone thought the job would be passed on to her. Samantha is more than shocked when she hears the announcement that a teacher she knows quite well - Duncan Carpenter - is taking the job.

Well, this is problematic for Samantha. The two have a bit of a past. Samantha once had a huge crush on the fun-loving guy. Who she sees now is a different man altogether. He is far too serious, intent on change as to the way the school is run, and is especially intent on safety precautions. To the dismay of the rest of the staff, other changes are in order. These changes will be sure to upset the staff as well as the students.

Samantha is still crushing on Duncan, even though he is not the man she remembers. She really wants to know why he is such a different man and is determined to get to the bottom of things. For some reason this book read kind of young to me. Actually, I had to check the genre because with Samantha's behavior this felt like it was written for a younger audience. I get that with Samantha's job as a librarian for younger children, she has a gentle soul, but again, seemed rather young throughout the story. In some ways, however, I was able to relate to her and the story did end up on a very sweet note.

However, the narration really helped to make this book more enjoyable as it was narrated by Therese Plummer, someone whom I have had the pleasure of listening to in Kelley Armstrong's Casey Duncan series and Brenda Novak's Evelyn Talbot series. Since I tend to binge listen to series I have grown quite comfortable with Therese Plummer's excellent narration. For me, this always ratchets up the enjoyment value of the books I listen to.

Many thanks to St. Martin's Press, McMillan Audio and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.

Please enjoy the following excerpt:
Later, after Babette had gone up to bed, and most folks had gone home, as I rinsed cans and bottles for recycling at the kitchen sink, Alice leaned against the counter and said, “What’s going on, Sam?”

Her shirt today said, “GRAPHING IS WHERE I DRAW THE LINE.”

Even though Alice was a year younger than me—27—she was also six inches taller than me, and so she had a big-sisterly vibe. She was engaged to her college sweetheart, Marco, who was in the navy and went on long deployments. They rented a little 1920s bungalow a few blocks down. When he was gone, I saw a lot of her—and when he was here, I saw almost nothing of her.

Fair enough.

He had shipped out a week before Max died, and though I wouldn’t want to say I was glad Alice was alone these days, let’s just say I was grateful to have a friend.

She knew me pretty well. Well enough to know something more was up than I’d confessed to the group.

“So,” she said, like she’d been waiting all night for all the other bozos to leave. “What did you leave out?”

I met her eyes, and I said, “Duncan Carpenter is The Guy.”

“What guy?”

I pursed my lips and leaned in to intensify my look. Then I said, slowly: “The Guy.”

Alice frowned a second, then said, in recognition, “The Guy?”

I gave an unmistakable nod, like, Bingo.

“The The Guy? The one who drove you out of California?”

“I beg your pardon. I drove myself.”

“But he’s the one from your old school? That you were obsessed with?”

“Not obsessed.”

Alice squinted at me. “Pretty obsessed.”

“It was not an obsession. It was a healthy, red-blooded, American crush.”

Now Alice was trying to remember. It had been a while—a lifetime, really—since we’d talked about it. “Didn’t you snoop in his diary?”

“I wasn’t snooping, I was feeding his cats while he was out of town.”

“But you read his diary.”

“Well, he left it lying open on the kitchen table. You could argue that on some unconscious level, he wanted me to read it.”

Alice gave me a second to decide if I could stand by that statement.

“Plus,” I went on. “It wasn’t a diary. It was just a notebook.”

“A notebook full of private thoughts.”

“We all have private thoughts, Alice,” I said, as if that was somehow a good point.

“You shouldn’t have taken that cat-sitting job in the first place,” she said.

“What was I supposed to do? Let his cat starve? It was de-clawed and missing a tail.”

“It wasn’t even his cat. It was the fiancée’s cat.”

“I didn’t know that at the time.”

Alice gave me a look then that was part affection, part scolding, and part Give me a break.

Anyway, there was no point in continuing the denials. She knew the whole story. I had read his notebook that day all those years ago while he was on vacation in wine country about to get engaged—or that was the rumor, anyway. And I hadn’t just read the one page that was facing up on the table, either. I had grabbed a pair of kitchen tongs from the drawer—as if not touching the pages with my fingers somehow made it less awful—and used them to turn every single page, searching for clues to his soul like some kind of lovestruck Sherlock Holmes, and careful—like a crazy person—not to leave any fingerprints.

What can I say? It was a low point.

A very low point.

And, actually, it became a turning point.

Before that moment back then, I’d been infatuated with Duncan Carpenter for two solid years. Big time infatuated. Hard-core infatuated. Infatuated the way teenage girls get infatuated with pop stars. If he’d had song lyrics, I’d have memorized them; if he’d had merch, I‘d have bought it; and if he’d had a fan club, I’d have been the president.

Of course, he wasn’t a pop star.

But he was, you know . . . a celebrity of sorts. In the world of private, secondary school education. In our tiny little sliver of humanity, he was a big deal. He was the pop icon of our teaching colleagues, for sure.

And for good reason.

He had a big, friendly smile filled with big, friendly teeth. He was handsome without trying. He had a magnetic quality that was almost physical. If he was in a room with other humans in it for any amount of time, there’d be a group of them gathered around him by the end. He emitted some kind of sunshine that we all wanted to soak up.

Me included.

Me especially.

But I was terrible around him. I was the worst possible version of myself. All the longing and desire and electricity and joy I felt whenever he was anywhere near me seemed to scramble my system. I’d freeze, and get quiet and still and self-conscious, and stare at him, unblinking, like a weirdo.

It was uncomfortable, to say the least.

When I’d first met him, he was single—and he stayed that way for one long, beautiful, possibility-infused year as I tried to work up the nerve to sit at his table at lunch. A year that slipped by fast, and then suddenly, before I’d made any progress—Boom! —a perky new girl from the admissions office just brazenly asked him out.

Their assigned parking spots were next to each other, apparently.

It was front-page teacher news, and the grade-school faculty were by and large offended. Wasn’t it a little uppity to just swoop in and start dating whoever she wanted?

Apparently not.

Soon, they were exclusive, and then they were serious, and then, barely a year to the day after she’d first asked him out, they were moving in together. Rumor had it she’d been the one to ask him. A move I would’ve admired for feminist reasons if it had been any other couple at all.

The consensus among the female teachers was that she was too conventional, too small-minded, and too ordinary to be a good match for him—mostly because he was the opposite of all those things.

Frankly, I agreed—but I also knew my opinion was based largely on one short interaction, when, awkwardly trying to make chit-chat at a school function, I’d said to her, “Admissions! That must be tough! How do you make all those agonizing decisions?”

And she just blinked at me and said, “It’s just whoever has the most money.”

Then, reading my shocked expression, she shifted to a laugh and said, “I’m kidding.”

But was she, though?

Nobody was sure she deserved him.

Of course . . . it didn’t follow that I did.

I couldn’t even say hi to him in the elevator.

Anyway, it was not five minutes after I’d heard the moving-in-together news—from a librarian who’d heard it from a math teacher who’d heard it from the school nurse—that, as I was making my way outside to gulp some fresh air . . . he asked me to cat-sit.

I just rounded the corner of the hallway, and there he was. Wearing a tie with Dachshunds all over it.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” I said, panicking at the way he’d . . . just materialized."

Then, of all things, he said, “I’ve heard you’re a cat person.”

A cat person? Nope. But, not wanting to kill the conversation, I shrugged and said, “I’m more of a dog person, actually.”

He blinked at me.

“I mean,” I went on, feeling like I’d said the wrong thing. “I’m not opposed to cats . . .”

“Don’t you have a bunch of them?”

“Um. Nope.”

He frowned.

“I don’t have any cats,” I added, just to be clear. “At all.”

“Huh. Somebody told me you had like three cats.”

Wow. The only thing he knew about me . . . and it was wrong. Or maybe he thought I was somebody else entirely.

He looked as disappointed as I felt.

I reminded myself to breathe.

“I don’t dislike cats,” I said, then, to cheer him up. “I don’t wish them harm or anything. I’m just . . . neutral.”

He nodded. “Got it.” Then he started to turn away.

“Wait!” I said. “Why?”

He paused. “I’m looking for a cat sitter. For the weekend. Just one night, actually.”

And then, truly, without even considering how pathetic it would be for me to be cleaning the litterboxes of my true love while he was off on a romantic weekend with his new live-in-girlfriend, I said, “I’ll do it.”

“Really?”

“Sure. No problem at all.”

Next thing I knew, there I was, in his apartment, snooping—and doing unspeakable things with his kitchen tongs.

So what was I looking for, exactly, as I tong-flipped those pages in that notebook? What could I possibly have been hoping to find? Some note-to-self that he didn’t really want to be the woman he’d just invited to live in his home? Some daydream doodle of a face that looked remarkably like mine? Some secret code only I could break that spelled out H-E-L-P M-E?

Ridiculous.

Anyway, there was nothing like that.

There were grocery lists. Reminders. A half-written letter to his mom. A circled note to get his baby niece a 1-year birthday present, with the words “baby biker jacket” scratched out and replaced with: “Something cool.” Doodles (mostly 3-D boxes), and to-do lists, and a whole bunch of tally marks on the cardboard of the back cover. Nothing special, or memorable, or even private. The normal detritus of a perfectly not-unhappy life that had nothing at all to do with me.

And that’s when, flipping the pages back into position, a very important word came into my head: “Enough.”

I heard it almost clearly as if I’d said it out loud. And then I did say it out loud.

“Enough.”

Then I shook my head. I couldn’t keep living like this—stealing glances, brushing past him in the hallways, sitting near—but not too near—his table at lunch, pausing to watch him leading kindergarten dance parties on the playground. Yearning.

Enough.

I had to shut it down. He’d chosen somebody else. It was time to move on.

And even though I did not always, or even often, follow the life advice I gave myself—on that day I did. I put the tongs back in the drawer, walked out, locked the door, drove straight home, and got on the web to start looking for new job.

Anyway, that was how I’d ended up in Texas, of all places—though that was how almost everybody wound up in Texas: love or money.

I’d come to this island by chance, but I’d found a real home here, way down at the bottom of the country in this wind-battered, historic town. I loved the painted Victorian houses with their carpenter gothic porches. I loved the brick cobblestone streets and the tourist T-shirt shops. I loved the muddy, soft sand and the easy waves of the Gulf lapping the shore. I loved how the town was both humble and proud, both battered and resilient, both exhausted and bursting with energy, both historic and endlessly reinventing itself.

Most of all, I loved our school. My job. The life I’d built.

A post-Duncan Carpenter life that—really—The Guy himself had no place in.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

NEW YORK TIMES 
Bestselling Author Katherine Center wrote her first novel in the sixth grade (fan fiction about Duran Duran) and got hooked. From then on, she was doomed to want to be a writer—obsessively working on poems, essays, and stories, as well as memorizing lyrics, keeping countless journals, and reading constantly.

She won a creative writing scholarship in high school, and then went on to major in creative writing at Vassar College, where she won the Vassar College Fiction Prize. At 22, she won a fellowship to the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program and moved home to Texas with plans to become Jane Austen ASAP.

Didn’t happen quite that way. Of course. Instead, she began a decade of struggling, agonizing, and questioning the meaning of life before finally finding a fairy-godmother-like agent and getting a dream-come-true book deal for her debut novel, The Bright Side of Disaster.
 
A total happy ending. And also, just the beginning. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

SPOTLIGHT TOUR - Wild Cowboy Country

Title
:   Wild Cowboy Country
Author:  Erin Marsh
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre:  Romance 
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   384
Date of Publication:   July 28, 2020
My Rating:   4 Stars
DESCRIPTION:

Who has more right to the land?

Park ranger Lacey Montgomery and rancher Clay Stevens are on opposite sides of a thorny issue. Lacey has spent her career reintroducing wolves to Rocky Ridge National Park and now oversees the welfare of the pack. Clay has struggled for years to make a success of the historic ranch he inherited and is tired of losing his calves to predators.

When Clay’s teenage nephew and his friends carelessly endanger a wild wolf and her pups, Clay and Lacey’s lives collide. They shouldn’t be so attracted to each other—she’s a hometown girl beloved in the community, while he’s still regarded as a city-slicker interloper. But Clay’s piercing blue eyes make Lacey’s pulse race, and her sweet face and kissable lips are drawing him under her spell, much as he tries to resist…

Opposites attract, but the terrain between them is awfully rough…

BUY LINKS:
B&N: https://bit.ly/3cak1hn
Apple: https://apple.co/2YYt8xz
Kobo: https://bit.ly/3dWaQRI
Bookshop: https://bit.ly/3c92BBK
BAM: https://bit.ly/2T21a0s



MY THOUGHTS:

What a different story than I imagined reading. I love cowboy romances. A guilty pleasure for sure. But these cowboys in this new series by Erin Marsh have more than romance on their minds. They have a common goal - that of saving the wolves on their land.

One thing I found intriguing about this book is that the various wolves in this story have their own points of view. I loved that! Only in a couple of the books I have read in years past have done this.

But...this is a cowboy romance. We have Clay Stevens who is working hard to reclaim his grandfather’s land. His work on bringing water in with the difficult circumstances that he must deal with is interrupted when conservation officer Lacey Montgomery brings rare Mexican wolves into the picture. These wolf pups are the last thing that Clay needs to deal with. There is a side story to the wolves and the romance that is sure to develop. Lacey is working through a brain injury which was as a result of a concussion, so she is seriously dealing with the after effects of that.

Meanwhile, Clay has other duties, one involving the responsibility for his nephew Zach. Zach is a troubled teen, and one thing I really enjoyed about him in this story was his connection to Lacey (and the lobos). I loved how perceptive Lacey was as toZach’s behavior. So, this first book in this series is well-developed and does an excellent job tying all these stories together.

Readers can gain great perspective when there is an Author’s Note that often accompanies some books. The one here is eye-opening and explains how Erin Marsh wrote Lacey’s character and how she dealt with the effects of her concussion. Other areas of Ms. Marsh’s research while writing this book are noted, helping me appreciate this book all the more.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.

Please enjoy the following excerpt:
Wiping his hands on a towel, Clay turned to her, his smile both hesitant and undeniably charming. “I’d offer an after-dinner walk along the river, but…”

The words hung uncompleted, neither wanting to finish the sentence and admit to the difficulties surrounding their new relationship. Instead, Lacey reached for Clay’s hand, wrapping her fingers around his. “I don’t need moonlit strolls.”

His blue eyes softened into warm pools as he lifted their intertwined hands and kissed the back of her knuckles. He released her fingers, only to gently cup her face instead. “I’d still like to take you on them though.”

A burst of joy ricocheted through Lacey, settling in her heart. She ran her fingers through his hair, and his expression turned so intense that she swore she felt a tug deep in her soul.

“Then why don’t you tell me about it.” She paused a beat before adding, “In your bedroom.”

He kissed her, his lips hot and demanding. She met his hunger with her own. His hands slipped from her face, skimming lightly down her sides until they settled at her waist. He pulled her close, and her body, already liquid from the warm heat spreading through her, molded against his. The kiss deepened. The more they indulged, the more they craved.

Clay lifted his lips from hers. They stood under the overhead kitchen light, each breathing hard. This time, it was Clay who extended his hand. Lacey immediately took it and allowed him to lead her.

“First, we’d walk through the scrub to get to the river,” Clay said, his voice low and soft. It seemed to have a current all its own, both peaceful and raging at the same time. “We’d hold hands just like this, and I’d rub my thumb over your skin.”

A shiver ran through Lacey at the gentle brush of flesh against flesh. “I like this stroll.”

He laughed, the sound a deep, rolling rumble. “So do I.”

They reached the first landing, and he paused by a window. Moonlight bathed them, and his blond hair almost appeared silver. He drew her close, his lips mere inches from hers. She could feel the puff of his breath, but he didn’t dip his head. Instead, he spoke in a husky whisper, this time using the present tense instead of what-ifs. “The water is below us now. It’s like a glowing ribbon cutting through the land.”

“I can hear it,” Lacey said. “A rushing babble breaking the night’s stillness.”

Clay’s mouth pressed against hers. A butterfly kiss. Then another. The next one landed on the corner of her mouth as he slowly worked his way across her cheek and jaw. When he reached her ear, he told her quietly, “We stop for a bit, enchanted by the beauty. But we don’t stay. We head for the grove of cottonwoods. Normally, we’d hear Steller’s jays scolding us, but they’re asleep at this hour.”

Clay stepped back and led her up the steps and down a hallway. They moved swiftly now, their breathing labored as if they’d actually taken a long hike. He paused at the end of the corridor. When he pushed open the door, Lacey said, “We startle a mountain cottontail.”

Clay chuckled. “I can just make out a faint rustle as he hops away.”

They entered his bedroom. He’d pulled the curtain nearly shut, but he’d left a big enough gap to allow bright moonlight to seep into the room. They walked inside, still hand in hand. The old wooden floorboards creaked beneath their feet.

“There’s the splash of an otter fishing in the creek,” Lacey said.

Clay stopped at the foot of the bed. “I lay out one of the old family quilts for us.”

This time, their narration wasn’t completely make-believe. A coverlet with a log-cabin design adorned the massive, mission-style bed. The room itself was bigger than most bedrooms for the time period of the house, but it had been designed after an English manor. It made for a cavernous space. Aside from a rope rug and basic furniture, Clay hadn’t done much decorating. Nothing hung on the walls, except for a single, unembellished mirror and a couple of photos of the ranch, which she assumed he’d taken. The emptiness momentarily sucked away some of Lacey’s joy, but she hid it. Clay hadn’t brought her into his private space for sympathy, and offering any would do more harm than good.

Instead, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him long and deep. He groaned against her mouth, the sound guttural. He picked her up, and she wrapped her legs around his torso. Without breaking their embrace, he carried her over to the bed. They tumbled onto the mattress, their lips locked, their limbs tangled. A desperate, urgent edge now drove their lovemaking. Lacey’s blood thundered through her like a galloping mustang, wild and unfettered. She reached for Clay’s Western shirt, her fingers fumbling at the buttons. His mouth moved from hers, trailing across her chin and then down her throat. When he hit a sensitive spot, she gasped. He paused, applying a gentle suction before his tongue darted out. Intense pleasure shot through her. She arched, yanking on the button still between her fingers. It ripped loose, and she felt his lips curve against her flesh.

“Why, Miss Montgomery, are you tearing off my clothes?”

“I’ll sew it back on,” she promised.

“I have more shirts. Feel free to continue. I want your hands on me. All of me.”

A landslide of need collided in her. Without taking time to think, Lacey bunched the fabric in both hands and pulled sharply. The buttons flew off with satisfying pops. 

Clay lifted his head to stare down at her. The moonlight glinted off the golden strands in his arched brow. “You are surprisingly good at that.”

She smiled and ran her fingers over his defined pecs. “Beginner’s luck and plenty of motivation. I’ve been wanting to touch you for weeks.”

Clay responded with a long, hard kiss. “You’re making it very hard to take it slow.”

“Sorry,” she said with a surprising giggle. Even as a teenager, she’d rarely tittered. If she was going to laugh, it was going to be a full one. But now. In this moment. The lighthearted sound seemed right, a delightful echo of the buoyancy Clay made her feel.

His fingers grazed the bottom of her T-shirt. “May I?”

She nodded. “I’ve been fantasizing about that too.”

He chuckled, the sound a little raw. “Not nearly as much as I have.”

***

Excerpted from Wild Cowboy Country by Erin Marsh. © 2020 by Erin Marsh. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Two-time Golden Heart® Finalist Erin Marsh credits her childhood family road trips in her grandparents’ Grand Marquis with opening her imagination and exposing her to the wonders of the United States. The lessons she learned then still impact her writing today. She lives with her husband and daughter near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Monday, July 27, 2020

BLOG TOUR - The Single Mom's Second Chance


DESCRIPTION:

She could use a shoulder to lean on…

“We’ll get through this. I promise.”

Facing the fight of her life after a cancer diagnosis, widow Roz Martin is forced to ask her estranged brother-in-law to help care for her children. Being there for his nieces and nephew is a no-brainer for gym owner Paul Stephens. But being there for the woman who’d betrayed him by marrying his half brother is hard. Especially when he discovers the feelings he once had for Roz never died…

BUY LINKS:

B&N | Amazon | Google 



MY THOUGHTS:

Title:   The Single Mom's Second Chance
Author:  Kathy Douglass
Series:  Sweet Briar Sweethearts, Book 7
Publisher:  Harlequin Special Edition
Genre:   Romance
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   288
Date of Publication:   July 21, 2020
My Rating:   4 Stars

Recently I joined Harlequin's blog tour program so I have had the opportunity to read some very good stories. Although this is the 7th book in a series for someone like me who insists on reading series titles from the very first book, and in order, I discovered a while back that shorter romances like this usually do quite well as standalones. I am glad that I found this to be the case with this book because I really loved this story!

It started off on a sad note. Not only is Roz Martin a widow, but she is facing treatment for a cancer diagnosis. She knows that treatment is going to take a lot out of her, and is facing an uncertain future beyond that. So she contacts the only family member that she knows can help care for her two children during this difficult time. She contacts her estranged brother-in-law Paul Stephens. Paul has stayed as far away from Roz as possible because the two were once in love, but she went and married his half brother years ago. However, these children are family and there is no way he could say no to her.

Paul is a wonderful and perfect uncle. But he is much more than that. He is a man who has never forgotten his feelings. The close proximity with Roz and the kids prove that fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. How can the two get over their past, her diagnosis and treatment, and forge a future together?

All while reading this book I was torn between sadness and hope. Who among us hasn't lost even one member of our family to the dreaded disease? Or several family members? The fact that there were two children in this story made it even harder for me to read. I do love the fact that the author made it work. She gave me that hope that I need as a reader. Yeah, it is fiction, but I get involved in every book I read. I also like how Roz and Paul's relationship was handled, and how they dealt with the apparent conflict of their past and how they could possibly find happiness now. 

I am glad for the opportunity to read and review this book and I applaud the author as to how she made it all work between Roz and Paul, without blemishing over the realness of the situations at hand. Although this book came very late in the series for me, I would love to read some of the previous titles and any future books as they become available. 

Many thanks to Harlequin Special Edition and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.

Please enjoy the following excerpt:
Paul drummed his fingers on his desktop. “Do you want to get to the reason you barged into my office today? I’m sure it wasn’t just to look at me.”

Roz’s face grew hot as she struggled to keep from staring at him. As a teenager, he’d been dedicated to clean living and his body had reflected that. The years had been very good to him. He was six feet two inches of lean muscle. His brown skin glowed with good health, and his face was beyond hand-some, even with his eyes narrowed with irritation. 

She took a breath but the word cancer clogged her throat, leaving her unable to speak. To her horror, her eyes filled with tears and her vision blurred. Blinking back the moisture, she forced herself to talk. “I need your help.”

“With what? Not that it matters. The answer is no. We don’t have that type of relationship. Remember? If you’d thought it through, you could have saved yourself the trouble and me the time and aggravation.”

“Are you still holding what happened when we were kids against me?”

“No. But I’m not willing to pretend that we’re friends either. And since Terrence has died, we are no longer family.” He made air quotes with his hands making it clear he’d never accepted her as part of the family.

“Do you consider my kids your nephew and nieces? Are they still your family? Do you still love them?”

“Of course I love them. What do they have to do with this favor of yours?”

“Everything. If not for them I wouldn’t be interrupting your workday.” The annoyed look on his face indicated that her time was coming to an end. Since there was no easy way to say it and she doubted the word would affect him the way it affected her, she just blurted it out. “I have cervical cancer.”

He blinked and jerked as if she’d given him an electric shock. “What?”

“You heard me.” She couldn’t say it again. Her voice wobbled and one of the tears she’d tried so hard to hold back escaped and then slid down her face. She brushed it away, hoping he hadn’t seen it. She didn’t want Paul to see her cry. He might accuse her of using her tears as a weapon, and she wasn’t pre-pared for that battle.

His mouth moved but no sound emerged. She could relate. She’d been floored when her doctor had delivered the news. Though she’d been sitting down, her knees had shaken like Jell-O in an earth-quake. Even now, it was a struggle to stand. But she couldn’t worry about his state of mind. She needed to get to the point of this meeting. “I’m going to be undergoing chemotherapy and having surgery soon.”

When he simply stared at her, his face devoid of all expression, she continued. “I won’t be able to take care of my kids. I have friends who will help me but that won’t be enough. I’m going to need live-in help. Hiring someone is out of the question. I don’t want my kids to have to adjust to a stranger in the house in addition to dealing with my illness. If there were someone else I could go to for help, I would. But there isn’t. Your mother offered to postpone their cruise again, but I can’t ask them to do that. Your father needs to get away from here in order to move past his grief and start living again. So I need someone—you—to come to Sweet Briar.”

Paul’s head was swimming and he fought against a sudden wave of dizziness. Cancer. Roz had cancer. The word echoed in his brain, then slammed repeatedly against his skull. It didn’t make sense. How could she be so sick?

She looked fine. She’d always been slender, with small breasts, a tiny waist and slim hips, but, upon closer examination, she did appear a little thinner than she’d been at Terrence’s funeral last year. Her white top was a bit loose and she kept adjusting the strap, preventing it from slipping off her shoulder. Although her face was as beautiful as ever, the spark in her eyes had been replaced by fear and her brown skin looked dull. Her lips trembled as she tried to smile. Apparently, her mouth refused to cooperate, and after a moment, she gave up the attempt.

“I know it will be inconvenient for you, but you’re my only hope. I’m determined to get well fast, so you shouldn’t have to stay for long. And Nathaniel is old enough to help with Megan and Suzanne.”

It took a minute for her rapidly spoken words to register. Was she still trying to convince him? Was she that uncertain that she could rely on him? “Of course I’ll come. Whatever you need.”

Her body sagged in relief. “Thank you.”

“Did you think I’d say no?”

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure. I’d hoped you’d say yes but I came prepared to be turned down.”

Considering that he’d initially said no before knowing what she needed, there was nothing he could say in his defense. “When did you get your diagnosis?”

“A week ago.”

A week? And she hadn’t said anything to him? “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Her eyes widened. “Are you kidding me? We haven’t spoken a civil word to each other in years unless there was someone else around. As you just pointed out, we’re neither family nor friends.”

The words sounded so much crueler now. He’d been unnecessarily harsh. Shame battered him, leaving him speechless.

“My oncologist is working on a treatment plan. He’ll have it together by Friday, with dates and schedules. I’ll check with you before I confirm any-thing with him, to make sure you’re available first.”

“You don’t have to do that. I’ll be there whenever you need me to be.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kathy Douglass came by her love of reading naturally - both of her parents were readers. She would finish one book and pick up another. Then she attended law school and traded romances for legal opinions.

After the birth of her two children, her love of reading turned into a love of writing. Kathy now spends her days writing the small town contemporary novels she enjoys reading.

Kathy loves to hear from her readers and can be found on Facebook.

Author links: 
Author website: https://kathydouglassbooks.com/ 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/kathydouglass7 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011885267289 
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4729473.Kathy_Douglass