Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Love That Saved Him by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 219
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He needed escape…

Suffering from the recent loss of his wife, Pierce Jackson leaves behind his corporate job in New York City and heads to the Klondike. There he meets Sarah Palmer whose eighty-five year old gold mining grandfather wants to lease the most dangerous part of Pierce's property. The last thing Pierce wants is to fall for Sarah. But as they start working together, a bond begins to form, and Pierce must eventually ask himself if he can overcome guilt and heartache and welcome the love of another woman into his heart.

And found a new beginning instead.

Sarah has a lot more on her mind than starting a relationship with her handsome new neighbor. But as she gets to know Pierce, she begins to wonder, what if? Encouraged by her matchmaking grandfather whose biggest wish is to see her settled, Sarah finds herself swept up in the most unexpected romance. But with shocking family history unfolding and a gold-mining expedition that could go wrong in so many ways, there's a lot for Sarah and Pierce to take care of before they can find their happily ever after.

My Review:

It’s also about the love that saved her. And it got me right in the feels, on multiple levels. On all the levels. I’m still reeling.

The cover for this one just looks so adorable, but the story is much deeper than it appears. This is one of those ones where not judging the book by its cover is good. Because the cover looks fluffy, and this is not a fluffy story.

It’s an excellent story, but not a fluffy one.

Both Pierce and Sarah have suffered from terrible tragedies. At 35, Pierce lost his wife to leukemia. It was swift and sudden and awful and a year later he is still in the midst of his grief and not dealing with it well. But what he is not is also in the midst of the tatters of the life they planned together. Once the dust settled a bit on her passing, he packed himself up and moved to the Klondike, to the land she inherited from her grandfather.

Whatever starting over he was or wasn’t going to do, he planned to do it far from New York City, their apartment, their career-driven lives, and the friends she left behind. And both his and her still-grieving parents. Because so far all they were sharing was pain, and Pierce just couldn’t.

Sarah Palmer has suffered her own tragedy. At 25 she is living with her grandfather, estranged from her parents, still grieving the loss of her unborn child and reeling from the drunken brute that the baby’s father turned into.

She’s still living in the midst of all her pain, because that’s where her grandfather lives, and his support and their work together are the things that have kept her going through everything.

Sarah’s grandfather Thomas is a gold miner. So is Sarah. They still exist in the Klondike (and other places) even though the easy, close to the surface stuff was gone long ago. There are plenty of smaller veins that were inaccessible but now are thanks to modern machinery. It’s those veins that Thomas and Sarah’s company tries to explore.

But the one place that Thomas Palmer has always been dead certain held a rich vein has always been out of his reach. It’s the ridge on the property that Pierce has just moved into – and for the first time in 30 years the lease on that land is available to him.

Just in time for one last hurrah – and a chance for Pierce, Sarah and everyone else in both their families to heal what’s been broken for far longer than they ever imagined.

Escape Rating A: For a relatively short book it’s a surprisingly slow-burning romance at the beginning. But then again, once you get into the story the romance turns out to be not the half of what’s waiting to be explored. And that’s pretty awesome.

One of the things that makes this story work is the instant closeness between Pierce and the Palmers. It could have seemed much too fast, that they were all too quick to trust, but it reminded me of my own experience in Alaska. In places that are remote and have relatively small populations, those “six degrees of separation” are more like three, or maybe two. And it happens surprisingly fast – as it does in this story.

The reason this story hit me so hard is personal. I’m 20 years older than my husband, so we’ve had to have the conversation about what happens if he ends up in the situation that Pierce is in, because that is the more likely scenario – although hopefully not for a long time yet. But still, this felt so REAL to me that it made my own heart hurt in sympathy with the character.

Part of what I loved about the story was the way that both Pierce and Sarah, coming out of their very different but equally difficult wounds, managed to reach towards each other so slowly and so carefully but still find a way through – and just how much of their respective family traumas managed to get healed in their wake. In spite of the blows yet to come.

The characters of this story, especially Thomas Palmer, are right. Life is too short to not take the time to say and do the things that need to be said. And in spite of the ever increasing height of my towering TBR pile – and the number of sniffles engendered by this reading, it’s too short not to take a couple of hours and fall into this book.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Sophie Barnes and IndieSage PR are giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + GiveawayA Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas (Gold Valley, #4) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #4
Pages: 496
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s Christmas in Gold Valley, and this wounded widower is about to get another shot at love…

Grant Dodge didn’t expect to find a woman sleeping in an abandoned cabin on his family ranch. Or to find her so intriguing. Unlike every other woman in town, McKenna Tate doesn’t know Grant’s a widower. There’s no pity in the looks she gives him. McKenna wants him, and Grant has forgotten what it’s like to feel like a man. A no-strings fling for Christmas might be the kind of holiday cheer Grant needs…

With only a suitcase to her name, McKenna came to Gold Valley to confront her birth father. She didn’t plan to work at the Dodge ranch or fall for the gorgeous cowboy who keeps his heart roped off. But there’s no denying the way their broken pieces fit together. Hope brought her to Gold Valley—but will it be the gift that could finally heal Grant, and McKenna’s own wounded heart?

Also includes a bonus Gold Valley novella, Snowed in with the Cowboy!

My Review:

It’s hard to believe that anyone would actually WANT to win a gold medal in the “Life Sucks” Marathon, but when Grant Dodge and McKenna Tate meet they are both serious contenders for that “grand” prize.

Possibly it’s a grand prize in the joke sense that first prize is one week in Hell and second prize is two weeks – although the way they both have been chasing this particular goal, that might actually be the other way around.

We’ve met Grant Dodge in the previous books in the Gold Valley series as his brothers have discovered their own happy ever afters. But Grant is a special case. He already found his happy, and knew perfectly well at the time that there was no “ever after” attached. Grant is semi-famous for having married his high school sweetheart knowing that she had terminal cancer, and caring for her for the eight years she managed to survive.

But he’s also been a widower for eight years, and is more than tired of all the pitying looks he gets from everyone in town and everyone he meets. His tragedy was so touching that it became fodder for one of the morning quasi-news shows, so no one ever lets him forget.

He’s wrapped his misery around him like a well-worn but scratchy blanket and doesn’t let anyone get close – not even his family – even though they are all working on the ranch together.

While Grant should be the first place finisher in that misery marathon, McKenna Tate is still in the running. He finds McKenna camped out in one of the ranch’s few remaining dilapidated (unheated and uninsulated) remote cabins. In December. In Oregon.

He claims he doesn’t want to be bothered, but he still takes her into the ranch house, where his brother and sister-in-law promptly offer McKenna a job and a cabin. She doesn’t want to take the charity, but she NEEDS it. She’s broke and homeless and out of options.

And she needs to be in Gold Valley. Her mother gave up her parental rights back when McKenna was only two, so she was raised in, or survived, foster care. Now she’s 24 and has come to Gold Valley to discover if the man listed on her birth certificate as her father is willing to give her a hand up.

She’s afraid to acknowledge, even to herself, that what she really wants is to belong. To someone. To be part of something. To finally have a place.

But while she tries to figure out how to approach her possible father, who turns out to be “rodeo royalty”, she becomes part of the mixed family of birth and choice that centers around the Get Out of Dodge Ranch.

And just maybe, she and Grant might manage to stop racing towards that first place in the misery marathon and reach for each other instead.

Escape Rating B+: In my review of Good Time Cowboy I called Maisey Yates the cowgirl queen of angsty western romance. The story in A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas certainly adds more sparkle to that crown.

Both Grant and McKenna begin the story in a serious bad way. But the bad way they’ve found themselves in, and the equally bad ways that they feel about it, feel like exactly the way a person would feel under their individual circumstances. It’s not manufactured angst or self-inflicted angst. They’ve had terrible things happen to them and they feel terrible because of those things.

Grant, in particular, has been living so much on the periphery of life at the ranch that it is more than possibly to read this book without having read the other books in the series first – not that they aren’t terrific reads. But Grant has done his best to not let other people in, to the point where he only plays a very minor role in his brothers’ lives – and is only willing to let them a tiny way into his.

McKenna has certainly had a lifetime of hard knocks that led her to Gold Valley. But she also has one attribute that draws Grant in like a magnet – she doesn’t know anything about his history. She doesn’t pity him or feel sorry for him. And she doesn’t want either of those things from him. She just thinks he’s hot. And she gets him hot and bothered in a way that he’s never allowed himself to feel.

The begin what becomes their relationship by finally giving into their amazing chemistry. They both think that’s all they have. But as much as Grant tries to stick to a rule of “no talking”, they can’t. McKenna can’t stop herself from talking under any circumstances, and Grant has spent so many years locked inside his own head that once he opens up at all he can’t make himself stop.

There is so much heartbreak in this story. Both Grant and McKenna begin the story as very broken people, and it’s tough reading their emotional turmoil. Watching them slowly heal each other is lovely, especially with their acknowledgement that it’s the hurts that they’ve each suffered that has made them the people they need to be for each other.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas to one lucky US/CAN commenter!

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySeason of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #9
Pages: 320
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s giving her children a season of wonder…

Dani Capelli seized a chance to start over in a small town with her daughters. Now, facing her first Christmas in Haven Point, she wonders if leaving New York was a mistake. Dani loves working alongside veterinarian Dr. Morales, but her two children aren’t adjusting to small-town life. And then there’s Dr. Morales’s son, Ruben—Dani’s next-door neighbor. Gorgeous, muscled and dependable, the deputy sheriff is everything she secretly craves and can’t bear to risk loving…and losing.

Ruben never pictured himself falling for a big-city woman like Dani. But beneath her prickly facade, she’s caring and softhearted and she needs all the love and protection he can give. When Dani’s teenage daughter starts acting out, Ruben draws on family traditions to show the girls just how magical a Haven Point Christmas can be. But can he convince Dani that she’s found a home for the holidays—and forever—in his arms?

My Review:

It still feels too early to be reading holiday books, but here we are. And as much as I shivered at the reminders about snow and cold, Season of Wonder is a lovely little story.

It also feels like Haven Point is just down the road from Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point – even though Thunder Point is on the coast of Oregon and Haven Point is in Idaho within a couple of hours of Boise.

Let’s call them sister cities. Or at least sister villages.

Both are small towns where most of the folks are friendly and welcoming of newcomers – and where a family in need of a fresh start has an excellent chance of finding one.

Also, although both series are billed as contemporary romances, and the books in them certainly do include a romance along with its requisite HEA, the real stories often seem to be more in the line of small-town feel good cozy stories. The romance feels like the cherry on the top of the sundae, with that sundae being the newcomers making a place for themselves in a welcoming community in spite of whatever heavy baggage brought them in the first place.

And that’s the story in Season of Wonder, which is a cute holiday story and also feels like a pretty good place to begin your visit to Haven Point if you aren’t already a fan of the series.

Dani Capelli is the new vet in town. She’s got a freshly minted vet degree from Boston, a gigantic pile of student loans and two young daughters. She’s come to Haven Point in the hopes that she can start over, and that her year of interning with retiring vet Frank Morales will enable her to buy his practice when her internship is up.

Both of them want to make this work. Dr. Morales has given her a small house, rent-free, during her internship. He really wants this to work and his wife really wants him to retire. If Dani and her little family like living in Haven Point and the residents of Haven Point end up liking her and thinking she’s a good vet, it could all work for everyone.

But Dani has a past that she wants to bury, along with her late ex-husband. Tommy DeLuca died in a hail of gunfire, robbing a bank and killing two cops, back in Dani’s hometown of Queens. She divorced Tommy years ago, and hadn’t heard from him in all that time.

Which doesn’t mean that when everyone in Haven Point finds out that her ex was a criminal and a cop killer that some people won’t tar her and her daughters with the brush of his crimes. After all, she married him and she had two children with him.

People will speculate that apples don’t fall too far from their parent trees. So when her 13-year-old daughter Silver is caught spray painting her next door neighbor’s boat, she fears that her secret will come out.

After all, her neighbor is a trained investigator – he’s a member of the Haven Point County police. And he’s the son of her boss – who is the one person in town who does know the truth.

When Ruben Morales is more than willing to let Silver clean up all THREE places she tagged in return for not putting her through the system, it gives Dani and Ruben a chance to get to know each other – and to see if the chemistry between them is worth exploring.

Even though Dani is dead certain that a criminal’s ex-wife is no fit partner for a cop. She’s sure he’ll agree, just as soon as he figures out the truth.

Escape Rating B: Season of Wonder is a short and sweet holiday story, just the perfect length to kick off the holiday romance season. (Even if it feels too early to talk about Xmas yet)

But speaking of feels, it feels like the parts of this story that get the most pages are the parts about Dani and her daughters adapting to living in Haven Point – with a bit too big of a heaping helping of Dani’s generally negative self-talk.

The girls, Silver and Mia, are 13 and 6 respectively. They are also day-and-night opposites. Some of that opposition is the age difference. Silver is entering her teenage years, she has all the moody defiance that marks that period of life AND she’s been taken away from her friends and familiar surroundings and stuck in what feels like the middle of nowhere after living in Queens and Boston. That she acts out is not a big surprise – but it is a big disappointment to her stressed-out mother.

Mia is 6 and still believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. She’s sweet, light and funny in equal turns. She still sees the best in everyone, and in spite of her initial shyness, is generally a joyful little girl.

It’s Silver who provides most of the drama in the story, as she’s first caught tagging, and is later accused of theft. And it’s the trail of trouble that follows her, not all of it her fault, that both pushes Dani and Ruben together AND pulls them apart.

I’ll admit that I didn’t completely buy the romance. It may be that the book is too short, and there just wasn’t enough time to really make the reader feel the tension between them. A lot went on in a relatively short number of pages. (The blurbs claim 320 but this was only 2800 kindle locs, which is way less than that.)

Dani’s self-talk is very negative, and that’s what causes much of the dramatic tension between her and Ruben. She’s sure she’s a screw-up and a failure, when she most definitely is not. (And not that we don’t all talk to ourselves like that sometimes.) She’s also dead certain that her ex-husband’s terrible crimes are going to follow her and her daughters for the rest of their lives – and there is at least one douchebag in town who espouses that view. But Ruben is also correct that most people, and anyone she might possibly want to associate with AT ALL, will recognize that anything that the jerk did six years after she left him is in no way her fault.

In conclusion, Haven Point is an absolutely lovely little town, especially during the holiday season, and always willing to take a stranger into their hearts. I enjoyed the story of Dani finding her way and her HEA in her new home, and I look forward to many future visits to Haven Point.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Season of Wonder to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

Review: Rebel Hard by Nalini SinghRebel Hard (Hard Play, #2) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Hard Play #2
Pages: 409
Published by TKA Distribution on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh continues her Hard Play series with a sweet, sexy romance featuring big, fat, OTT weddings, a meddling grandma, and a too-serious hero who needs to be unbuttoned…

Nayna Sharma agreed to an arranged marriage in the hope it would heal the fractures in her beloved family… only to realize too late that a traditional marriage is her personal nightmare. Panicked, she throws caution to the winds, puts on the tiniest dress she can find, and ends up in the arms of a tall, rough-edged hunk of a man who has abs of steel—and who she manages to mortally insult between one kiss and the next.

Abandoned as a child, then adopted into a loving family, Raj Sen believes in tradition, in continuity. Some might call him stiff and old-fashioned, but he knows what he wants—and it’s a life defined by rules… yet he can’t stop thinking about the infuriating and sexy woman who kissed him in the moonlight then disappeared. When his parents spring an introduction on him, the last woman he expects is her. Beautiful. Maddening. A rulebreaker in the making.

He’s all wrong for her. She’s all wrong for him. And love is about to make rebels of them both.

My Review:

The Hard Play series is a prequel to the author’s Rock Kiss series, linked by my and the rest of the Book Pushers favorite alpha male, Gabriel Bishop, better known as T-Rex. But you certainly don’t have to read Rock Kiss or even Gabriel’s book, Rock Hard to get right into Rebel Hard.

As I said, this series is a prequel, so those events haven’t happened yet. However, the series is absolutely marvelous!

Rebel Hard is the second book in the Hard Play series, after last year’s Cherish Hard. Again, absolutely awesome. But you really don’t need to read Cherish Hard to get into Rebel Hard, because these two stories are happening in parallel.

Isa, the heroine of Cherish Hard and Nayna, the heroine of Rebel Hard, are besties. Really, really solid besties and have been forever. Both stories begin at the same time and place, the party where Isa meets Sailor, and where Nayna meets Raj. And it both cases it’s at least lust at first sight, if not something more.

In Cherish Hard, we saw what transpired between Isa and Sailor after this fateful party. Now it’s Nayna’s turn. And while her story, both before and after the party is completely different, both do end in the same place.

Rebel Hard isn’t really a story about rebellion, at least not in a big way. But it is about the kind of small rebellions that happen in everyday lives. And that’s true even though the chapter headings of Rebel Hard reflect the way that Nayna’s life seems to be taking a turn straight into a Bollywood melodrama.

This is, in the end, the story of Nayna’s rebellion. She begins the story as her parents’ “perfect” and perfectly reliable daughter. Nayna has suppressed her own desires, and had them suppressed for her, in the wake of her older sister’s very big rebellion – where she married someone completely unsuitable, ran away from home, and eventually got divorced.

In their fairly traditional Indian family, Maddie went pretty far off the rails – and it seems that Nayna is the one that was punished for it, with her movements and teenage life claustrophobically restricted by their frightened parents. Now Maddie is back, and she and Nayna are both adults, but Nayna is still letting her parents control her life while Maddie seems to get away with everything.

Nayna feels resentful and taken for granted – and she feels the walls of her world closing in. She had agreed to let her parents arrange a marriage for her, but now that the process is underway Nayna feels like her cage door is closing. That the candidates she meets turn out to be self-absorbed douchebags probably isn’t helping.

So she and Isa break out one night, and go to what to them seems like a fairly wild party – not that it actually is. But they are among strangers, and for one night they can be whoever and whatever they want to be. They are free from the different but equally restrictive expectations they live with.

And Nayna, intending to take a little bitty walk on the wild side, meets Raj, and discovers a part of her that wants to be wild – but only with him.

Of course he turns out to be the next candidate her parents introduce her to. Because that’s the way these stories always work. Just as she’s finally figured out that as much as she loves her parents, and as much as they love her, she has to experience life on her own terms before she gets married. And that she wants to marry someone who sees the real her, whoever that turns out to be – even though her parents don’t.

The story here is the tug of war, both within and between Nayna and Raj, and with all of the conflicting sets of expectations set up by not merely the two of them, but between both of their close, loving and hyper-involved families.

Everyone wants what’s best for everyone else. But in the end only Nayna and Raj can make that decision – no matter how much pressure is put on them, from each and every side.

Escape Rating A-: It took me a long time to get into this one – longer than usual for one of Nalini Singh’s books. In retrospect, I don’t think it was the fault of the book. I just wasn’t in the mood for a romance for several days.

Once I got into it, it turned out to be a breathlessly fast read, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Part of what made this story so interesting was that it is steeped in the Indian expat culture as it is lived in New Zealand – the setting from which the author herself springs. The families are very close-knit, as is the entire community. The interconnectedness of family and community is something that used to be a lot more common. People used to rely on not just their marital family but also their birth family and their extended family all their lives, and that’s something that doesn’t happen in the wider Western society as much anymore.

Nayna is a great character through which to portray both how lovely that can be and equally how smothering it can be. At the same time, the recognition that she has caught herself in her own trap is familiar no matter what culture one comes from. She has become the “good” daughter because her sister was the “bad” daughter, so she feels that she will only be loved if she is perfect. And she is afraid of what will happen if she isn’t.

Her relationship with Raj is fraught, not because there is anything wrong with him, but because she doesn’t want it to seem like she has given into expectations, and she is afraid that she will give into his. Not that she doesn’t fall for him, and very much vice versa, but he has always claimed that he wants a traditional wife, and Nayna doesn’t want to be that. Not that she doesn’t want to be a wife, she just doesn’t want to be that kind of wife. They have to work hard, both with and against all the various family pressures, to figure out a way to be together that satisfies what they both want and need – not just during the first flush of love, but for always.

Their sometimes desperate realism about what will and won’t work for each of them is what makes this story sing. And dance. Definitely dance.

Review: Undetected by Anna Hackett

Review: Undetected by Anna HackettUndetected (Treasure Hunter Security #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #8
Pages: 222
Published by Anna Hackett on September 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Darcy Ward has sold her soul to the devil. Okay, not quite the devil, but she did agree to work with Agent Arrogant and Annoying—aka Special Agent Alastair Burke of the FBI’s Art Crime Team to lay a trap for infamous black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road.

Darcy loves shoes, computers, caffeine, and working at her family business, Treasure Hunter Security. The only thing missing is her dream of a once-in-a-lifetime love, like her parents share, and a man who’ll put her first. She’s not so crazy about Silk Road trying to kill her family and friends, nor is she fond of an order-giving FBI agent and his distracting cologne. Using a trio of cursed diamonds as bait, she’s working hard to set a trap for Silk Road in the Dashwood Museum, but as the black-market thieves escalate their attempts to stop Darcy, she finds herself swept into Alastair’s strong, protective arms.

Alastair Burke is driven by vengeance. He’s dedicated his life to taking down Silk Road and its mysterious leader, the Collector, and now he finally has his chance. He can’t allow anything to distract him—especially not a sassy, smart woman who tests every bit of his control. But as the opening gala of the cursed diamonds exhibit approaches, the thieves target him and Darcy with a series of deadly attacks…and Alastair realizes he’ll do anything to keep her safe.

With the FBI and the former SEALs of Treasure Hunter Security at their backs, Darcy and Alastair are caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and their fierce attraction. But with lives on the line, Alastair will find himself caught between his desire for revenge and keeping the woman he’s falling for alive.

My Review:

Darcy Ward thinks of Alastair Burke as Agent AA – otherwise called Agent Arrogant and Annoying – with all the words capitalized. But as devoted readers of the Treasure Hunter Security series are well aware, those AA letters could also refer to the power in Darcy’s battery-operated-boyfriend, because whether she wants to admit it or not – and she definitely doesn’t – Burke gets her all hot and bothered. And not nearly enough of either the hot or the bothered has to do with the way he goes out of his way to piss her off at every turn.

Growing up with two ex-Navy SEAL brothers (brother Declan’s story is in Undiscovered and brother Callum’s in Uncharted) Darcy would either come to really, really detest Alpha males, or want one of her very own. She only thinks she detests the idea, as she discovers that Burke pushes all of her buttons, both the angry and the erotic.

What she really wants is a relationship just like the ones that her brothers have found, and the one that her parents have. The romance between archaeologist Oliver Ward and treasure hunter Persephone Blake is in The Emerald Tear, part of the Unidentified duology. They have the kind of romance that makes readers swoon, even if those same readers can also see that they are so absorbed in each other (still!) that their now-adult children would both envy them and feel a bit left out of their attention to each other.

While it isn’t necessary to have read the entire series to enjoy Undetected, it probably is. Yes, I contradicted myself. This author makes me do that – and tie myself up in knots waiting for her next book.

Undetected is the culmination of the entire Treasure Hunter Security series. Darcy and Burke’s relationship has been simmering since they first met, and by this eighth book in the series, it’s finally boiling over. At the same time, the scenario for the entire adventure from beginning to end was unknowingly kicked off by Oliver and Persephone in The Emerald Tear. So in addition to the smoking hot romance between Darcy and Burke, the adventure part of this action-adventure romance is payback for everything that has happened in the intervening decades as well as all the previous books in the series.

That’s a lot of plot threads to tie off. The book works a whole lot better if the reader has knowledge of those plot threads getting tied on in the first place. And this series is terrific. If you like action adventure mixed with romance and haven’t read THS, and/or if you have fond memories of the movie Romancing the Stone, this series is a real treat from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A-: But speaking of ends, Undetected is definitely it. In some ways, it reminds me a bit of Imperator, the highly anticipated final book in Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series, in that the relationship in the book has been anticipated from early in the series, and the way that it brings the series as a whole to a successful conclusion.

As much as I loved the way that Undetected brings the entire series to an epic conclusion, it’s the romance between Darcy and Burke that really makes this story work.

By this point in the series, we know Darcy pretty well. She is the co-owner of THS with her brothers, and is also their resident computer hacker/genius extraordinaire. She has an important part to play in all of their “encounters” with the Silk Road gang. But laying this particular trap for the criminals has Darcy front and center. Not that they won’t need a whole lot of serious muscle to take down these bastards, but if the setup isn’t absolutely air-tight, said bastards will get away yet again.

It’s Darcy’s job to make sure the set-up is properly set-up from every conceivable angle. It’s Special Agent Alastair Burke’s job to make sure that Darcy is protected so that she can do that job.

But being constantly in Darcy’s orbit breaks Burke out of his self-imposed laser focus on taking down Silk Road. The more time they spend together, and admittedly the more times that Silk Road targets her, the more he is forced to realize just what she means to him. The humanization of the nearly robotic agent we first met is what makes this romance sing. Or gives it its zing. Or both.

For fans of the THS series, Undetected is a treat from beginning to end. And if you haven’t yet begun the series, start with Undiscovered and enjoy the ride!

Review: Under Control by Shannon Stacey + Giveaway

Review: Under Control by Shannon Stacey + GiveawayUnder Control (Boston Fire, #5) by Shannon Stacey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Boston Fire #5
Pages: 384
Published by Carina Press on August 28, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When faced with the opportunity to change shifts while staying in the same house, veteran firefighter Derek Gilman jumps at the chance. His new schedule means not working Saturdays, which means more time to spend with his two kids. His divorce may have been amicable, but being a firefighter and a single dad is a lot to juggle. And when fate brings a gorgeous, wealthy woman into his life, he’s pretty sure he can’t handle more than he already is.

Olivia McGovern loves plans. She planned to start her own business and planned its growth. It’s earning her seven figures now, but her personal life simply doesn’t exist. Getting trapped in a broken elevator figures in exactly nowhere, and freaking out in front of a sexy firefighter definitely isn’t on the agenda. Especially not one with two kids and an ex.

What would have been a random incident with an attractive stranger becomes something more when a charity event brings them back together. They’re from different sides of the tracks, literally—with friends, family and careers to consider. But as Derek and Olivia are discovering, chemistry doesn’t allow for plans, and love doesn’t bother with logistics.

My Review:

This was fun. And sometimes that’s just what a girl needs.

Not that Olivia doesn’t need a bit more – even if she doesn’t know it. And it’s both a surprise and not that she doesn’t – because Olivia is all about knowing what she’s doing, what she’s going to do, what she has to do and what she ought to do to keep her life on the track that she’s set it on.

In other words, Olivia is all about the thinking and planning, and not so much on the living. She’s too much in control of her life to actually enjoy it or even just live it.

Derek is not so much about control. Not at all. But it’s reasonable from where he sits. Or stands. Or runs towards the fire.

Derek is a firefighter, just like all of the heroes (and his friends, neighbors and buddies) in his ladder company and the Boston Fire series. He’s good at his job – very good – but his job is to deal with whatever happens when he’s on shift. As a firefighter he never knows what that will be from one day or even one hour to the next.

And while he believes he’s not very good at planning the other parts of his life, he actually is. Because he’s juggling divorced parenthood with his ex and handling volunteer efforts with a local charity that helps parents and siblings of critically ill children. He also has friends and family and a life that he lives to the fullest.

When Olivia and Derek get stuck in an elevator together, neither of them has any clue that the other is the missing puzzle piece in their life. Even their sizzling chemistry can’t completely disguise the fact that their lives just don’t seem to fit.

They live and work at least an hour apart – in good traffic, which Boston never has. They’re also from, not exactly different sides of the tracks, but different socioeconomic strata. Olivia is clearly somewhere at the upper end of upper middle class. She’s earned every penny of it with hard work on her own business, but she lives a completely different lifestyle from working class firefighter Derek and his friends.

She’s also the scarred survivor of her parents’ acrimonious divorce. Even years later she’s still stuck in the middle playing peacemaker between two people who just can’t seem to let go of the grudges that ended their marriage.

Derek is the very participatory father of his two children. He and his ex are not merely cordial, but actually good friends. His ex and her new husband are still part of the neighborhood and part of Derek’s life.

But Derek’s life is chaotic, both because of his work and because of the other people that he is determined to keep a part of it. Olivia’s life is ordered above all, because that’s her business and because that’s how she took care of herself during her parents marital wars.

Can they meet somewhere in the middle?

Escape Rating B: In a lot of ways, this is a quiet kind of a romance. While the initial meeting between Derek and Olivia qualifies as a “meet cute” and their second meeting feels like a bit of divine providence, most of what happens between them seems both quiet and cautious.

As it should be. They are both grown-ups. Not merely 20 somethings but mid-30-somethings – or perhaps a bit more. They have lives, careers, families and friends. Neither of them has been waiting for their life to happen.

What that means is that they both have a lot invested in their lives before they meet. And while they certainly fall in lust at first sight if not love at first sight, that doesn’t necessarily change the rest of their lives.

So what we see is Olivia and Derek negotiating the steps that could turn their intense chemistry into a whole lot more. But it is a negotiation, and that’s where they realistically almost fail.

We always want to see the hero and heroine, or at least one of them, give up everything for each other. And that’s even possible for people just starting out. But Olivia and Derek aren’t just starting out in life, and in order for any relationship between them to work they have to be able to fit into each other’s worlds.

Derek, on the one hand, has a lot of people. He rightfully wants to be there for his kids. His fire company is more of an extended family than a work crew. Olivia needs to be able to both fit in with those groups and find a way to handle the stress of his job – along with the danger that comes with it.

Olivia is a self-made woman. She seems to have started out in the middle class, but her own drive and determination have made her into a high-powered and highly paid business efficiency consultant. She’s the author of a best-selling book and is working on a second book. She has a plan for her life and that plan has brought her both success and wealth – and she shouldn’t be ashamed of either.

While Olivia needs to make adjustments in her plan and her life in order to fit anyone else in at all, Derek needs to adjust his attitude. He keeps thinking that Olivia is out of his league, without ever asking what she thinks in that regard. If he keeps listening to that voice, he’ll decide it’s right, and lose the second best thing that ever happened to him. (His kids are the first best thing, after all).

It is surprisingly interesting, as well as heartwarming, to watch them take two steps forward and one step back, figuring out how to blend their two very different lives together.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

To celebrate the release of UNDER CONTROL by Shannon Stacey, we’re giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner!

LINK:   http://bit.ly/2LyyGp5

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Carina Press.  Giveaway ends 9/11/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted.

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Wedding from Hell Part 3 by J. R. Ward

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Wedding from Hell Part 3 by J. R. WardExclusive Excerpt of Consumed (The Wedding From Hell, #3; Firefighters, #0.7) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.7
Pages: 34
Published by Gallery Books on August 28, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


The Wedding from Hell, Part 3: Exclusive Excerpt of Consumed
is the final part of J.R. Ward’s The Wedding From Hell ebook serialization. Don’t miss this exclusive teaser to her upcoming standalone suspense, Consumed (available in October 2018). See why “Consumed takes it to a whole new level” (Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author).

From the creator of the #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series, get ready for a new band of brothers. And a firestorm.

Anne Ashburn is a woman consumed...

By her bitter family legacy, by her scorched career as a firefighter, by her obsession with department bad-boy Danny McGuire, and by a new case that pits her against a fiery killer.

Strong-willed Anne was fearless and loved the thrill of fighting fires, pushing herself to be the best. But when one risky decision at a warehouse blaze changes her life forever, Anne must reinvent not only her job, but her whole self.

Shattered and demoralized, Anne finds her new career as an arson investigator a pale substitute for the adrenaline-fueled life she left behind. She doesn't believe she will ever feel that same all-consuming passion for her job again—until she encounters a string of suspicious fires setting her beloved city ablaze.

Danny McGuire is a premiere fireman, best in the commonwealth, but in the midst of a personal meltdown. Danny is taking risks like never before and seems to have a death wish until he teams up with Anne to find the fire starter. But Danny may be more than a distraction, and as Anne narrows in on her target, the arsonist begins to target her.

I don’t normally do this kind of thing, but I’m making an exception in this case. Why? Because I’ve really enjoyed The Wedding from Hell teaser shorts, The Rehearsal Dinner and The Reception, and I’m now very invested in discovering just what happens between Anne and Danny in Consumed. I already have an ARC and can’t wait to read it.

If you are also on pins and needles waiting for Consumed, the third part of The Wedding from Hell is out now, and it’s an excerpt from Consumed. It’s also free! In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the excerpt, just to whet your appetite for Consumed, coming in October, just in time to heat up some chilly fall nights!

Excerpt from Consumed (The Wedding from Hell, Part 3)

Harbor Street and Eighteenth Avenue
Old Downtown, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Box alarm. One-niner-four-seven. Two engines and a ladder from the 499, responding.
Or, put another way, Anne Ashburn’s Friday night date had showed up on time and was taking her to a show. Granted, “on time” was the precise moment she had sat down for a meal at the stationhouse with her crew, and the “show” was a warehouse fire they were going to have to chorus-line for. But if you judged the health of a relationship on its constancy and whether it brought purpose and meaning to your life?
Then this firefighting gig was the best damn partner a woman could ask for.
As Engine Co. 17 turned the corner onto Harbor with siren and lights going, Anne glanced around the shallow seating area of the apparatus. There were four jump seats behind the cab, two forward- facing, two rear-, the pairs separated by an aisle of gear. Emilio “Amy” Chavez and Patrick “Duff” Duffy were on one side. She and Daniel “Dannyboy” Maguire were on the other. Up in front, Deshaun “Doc” Lewis, the engineer, was behind the wheel, and Captain Christopher “Chip” Baker, the incident commander, was shotgun.
Her nickname was “Sister.” Which was what happened when you were the sibling of the great Fire Chief Thomas Ashburn Jr., and the daughter of the revered—falsely as it turned out— Thomas Ashburn, Sr.
Not everybody called her that, though.
She focused on Danny. He was staring out the open window, the cold November wind blowing his black hair back, his exhausted blue eyes focused on nothing. In their bulky turnouts, their knees brushed every time the engine bumped over sewer access panels, potholes, manholes, intersections.
Okay, okay, she wanted to say to fate. I know he’s there. You don’t have to keep reminding me.
The hardheaded bastard was a lot of things, most of which carried terms you couldn’t use around your grandmother, but he knew she hated the “Sister” thing, so to him, she was Ashburn.
He’d also called her Anne—once. Late at night about three weeks ago.
Yes, they had been naked at the time. Oh, God . . . had they finally done that?
“I’m gonna beat you at pong,” he said without looking at her. “Soon as we get back.”
“No chance.” She hated that he knew she’d been staring at him. “All talk, Dannyboy.”
“Fine.” He turned to face her. “I’ll let you win, how about that?”
His smile was slow, knowing, evil. And her temper answered the phone on the first ring.
“The hell you will.” Anne leaned forward. “I won’t play with you if you cheat.”
“Even if it benefits you?”
“That’s not winning.”
“Huh. Well, you’ll have to explain to me the ins and outs of it when we’re back at the house. While I’m beating you.”
Anne shook her head and glared out the open window.
The first tap on her leg she ascribed to a bump in the road.
The second, third, and fourth were obviously—
She looked back at Danny. “Stop it.”
“What?”
“Are you twelve?” As he started to smile, she knew exactly where his mind had gone. “Not inches. Age.”
“I’m pretty sure I peak more like at sixteen.” He lowered his voice. “What do you think?”
Between the sirens and the open windows, no one else could hear them—and Danny never pulled the double entendre if there was a risk of that. But yes, Anne now knew intimately all of his heavily muscled and tattooed anatomy. Granted, it had been only that once.
Then again, unforgettable only had to happen one time.
“I think you’re out of your mind,” she muttered.
And then they were at the scene. The old 1900s-era warehouse was a shell of its former useful self, sixty-five thousand square feet of broken glass panes, rotting beams, and blown-off roof panels. The outer walls were brick, but based on the age, the floors and any room dividers inside were going to be wood. The blaze was in the northeast corner on the second floor, billowing smoke wafting up into the forty-degree night air before being carried away by a southerly wind.
As Anne’s boots hit the ground, she pulled the top half of her turnouts closed. Her ponytail was up high on the back of her head, and she stripped out the band, reorganized the shoulder length, and cranked things tight at her nape. The brown was still streaked with blond from the summer, but she needed to get it trimmed—so all that lightness was on the chopping block.
Of course, if she were a woman “who took care of herself,” she’d get it highlighted through the winter months. Or so her mother liked to tell her. But who the hell had time for that?
“Sister, you sweep the place with Amy for addicts,” Captain Baker commanded. “Stay away from that corner. Danny and Duff, run those lines!”
As Captain Baker continued to bark orders out, she turned away. She had her assignment. Until she completed it, or there was an insurmountable obstacle or change of order, she was required to execute that directive and no other.
“Be safe in there, Ashburn.”
The words were soft and low, meant for her ears alone. And as she glanced over her shoulder, Danny’s Irish eyes were not smiling.
A ripple of premonition made her rub the back of her neck. “Yeah, you, too, Maguire.”
“Piece’a cake. We’ll be back at pong before ten.” They walked away from each other at the same time, Danny going around to the stacks of hoses in the back, her linking up with Chavez…

Review: Good Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Review: Good Time Cowboy by Maisey YatesGood Time Cowboy (Gold Valley, #3) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #3
Pages: 474
Published by Hqn on August 21, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Gold Valley, Oregon, forbidden desire just might turn into the love of a lifetime…

When Lindy Parker lost her cheating husband, she gained a vineyard. She’ll do anything for Grassroots Winery, including teaming up with the hottest devil she knows, rancher Wyatt Dodge. Wyatt is her ex’s friend and has an ego as big as the bulls he rides. But in spite of that, disciplined Lindy has always wanted him…

Lightning struck Wyatt Dodge the first time he saw Lindy Parker. But there were two problems with that: she was married to his friend, and Wyatt doesn’t do strings. But now Lindy is free, and the two of them can finally explore the heat that’s burned between them for so long. But can Lindy make this good time cowboy decide on forever?

My Review:

Maisey Yates is the cowgirl queen of the angsty western romance. What I love about her books is that the difficulties that get in the way of the happy ever afters between her characters always feel real and never contrived. There are no misunderstandammits, just interesting people with too much baggage who get in the way of their own happiness by being human but not by being stupid.

That’s been the story through the Gold Valley series and through the series it spun off from, Copper Ridge. The two small towns are neighbors in Oregon. Their fates are tied, and so are the people who live there. The individual books in each series do stand alone, but it is fun to read them all and get to know the entire gang.

The Gold Valley series has been featuring the Dodge family as they get their once-and-future destination ranch back into shape for a new generation of both Dodges and tourists. In this third book in the series, we finally get around to oldest brother Wyatt Dodge. I say finally because Wyatt is the prime mover and shaker behind this resurrection of the family ranch, so the story so far has circled around him even though he hasn’t been the featured player until now.

There’s angst in this romance on both sides of the equation. Wyatt is keeping a big secret from his sister and brothers. They are all (except local vet Bennett Dodge, see Untamed Cowboy) throwing not just their money but also their time, energy and hearts into getting Get Out of Dodge Ranch back into shape. They all think Wyatt owns the ranch, but he doesn’t. Their dad still owns the ranch, and if the ranch doesn’t succeed immediately after its grand re-opening, dad is going to sell it out from under all of them.

Wyatt is sure that dear old dad is punishing him for his long past sins, not that there weren’t plenty of them. But Wyatt is all in, he can’t resist a challenge and he isn’t willing to let his sister and his brothers down – no matter how willing he might be to tell their father to go to hell and not bother with the handcart.

Wyatt is so far in that he’s willing to partner with the one woman in town who has proven completely resistant to his charms. Lindy Parker is the one woman he has never managed to get out of his head, even if, or perhaps especially because, he’s never managed to get her into his bed.

Lindy, the current owner of Grassroots Winery, wants to make the winery a success to spite her ex-husband and ex-inlaws. She got the winery in her divorce from her cheating ex. As much as she doesn’t want to work with Wyatt – because he drives her crazy for reasons she can’t articulate even to herself, having the winery partner with the ranch makes good business sense even if it makes lousy personal sense.

Lindy’s been divorced for two years, which is just long enough for her to be able to start getting a much clearer picture in her own mind of the truth about not just her marriage but about her part of what went wrong. And about the twists and turns in her life that have brought her to the place she is now.

And that if she wants her own happy ever after, with or without any man in general or surprisingly Wyatt Dodge in particular, she needs to drop her own baggage, get her head out of her own ass and finally get out of her own way.

Even if Wyatt isn’t ready to get out of his.

Escape Rating B+: Unlike many of the previous books in this series (and Copper Ridge) this doesn’t feel like it really follows any of the familiar tropes. Wyatt and Lindy initially are far from friends. At the same time, they are not enemies, or even frenemies. While it becomes clear that they have both always been way more aware of each other than either of them was willing to let on, the relationship they actually have had doesn’t fit into any neat little boxes.

What it does remind me of is the French phrase that is usually translated as “love at first sight”. But love at first sight is not what they have. What happened to them at the very beginning, back when Lindy was still married to her cheating ex and Wyatt was still a champion bull rider on the rodeo circuit, feels more like the literal translation of that French phrase. Their first meeting was a “coup de foudre” or thunderbolt, that left scorched earth in its wake. And it’s the sudden intensity of that first meeting that neither of them has ever gotten past – no matter how much time they’ve both spent paddling that famous river, De Nial.

Their business partnership has forced Wyatt and Lindy into each other’s proximity on an uncomfortably frequent basis – and that original thunderbolt still has plenty of sparks left in it. There’s a big  problem, with sticking your finger in a light socket over and over – electricity hurts.

Both Wyatt and Lindy have become experts at keeping other people away from their true, core selves, and are very good and not letting themselves need other people, because both of their foundational experiences, although very different in their particulars, made them learn back when they were children that they had no one to rely on but themselves. Other people always let them down.

That’s a hard lesson for a child to learn, and it leaves scars that affect adult relationships. Wyatt feels like he has to shoulder the entire burden of their father’s demands alone, that he can’t let his siblings know their futures are riding on the grand opening.

Lindy feels like she can’t ever let her uber-calm, ultra professional ice princess ever falter, because she’s certain that people will judge her for upbringing and her choices. And while she’s right, they will judge, she needs to learn that it doesn’t have to matter. Not being her authentic self is her part of what broke her marriage, and her inability to be her real self keeps her from relationships, including one with her brother.

And both of them have things they need to forgive, both to forgive themselves, and to forgive others. Those are hard lessons to learn, and painful ones. But ultimately freeing.

Also totally real. And that’s what makes Maisey Yates’ angsty romances so terrific to read! Speaking of angst, the next book in the Gold Valley series is going to be chock-full of it. I can’t wait to read Grant Dodge’s story in A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas this fall.

 

Maisey Yates’ GOOD TIME COWBOY – Review & Excerpt Tour Schedule:

August 22nd

Always a happy ever after – Review

I Love HEA Romance Book Blog – Review

Melena’s Reviews – Review & Excerpt

August 23rd

Inside the mind of an avid reader – Review

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review & Excerpt

Sascha Darlington’s Microcosm Explored – Review & Excerpt

We Do What We Want Book Reviews & More – Review & Excerpt

August 24th

Lover of Big Books Cannot Lie – Review & Excerpt

Southern Vixens Book Obsessions – Review

TBR Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

August 25th

Ginreads – Review

Meme Chanell Book Corner – Review & Excerpt

Smut Book Junkie Book Reviews – Review

August 26th

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Kari’s Book Reviews and Revelations – Review & Excerpt

Renee Entress’s Blog – Review & Excerpt

August 27th

All Things Dark & Dirty – Excerpt

Reading Reality – Review

Sweet Red Reads – Review & Excerpt

August 28th

Adventures in Writing – Excerpt

Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – Excerpt

Literary Misfit – Review & Excerpt

OMGReads – Review & Excerpt

August 29th

Aaly and The Books – Review & Excerpt

Booknerdingout – Review

Jen’s Reading Obsession – Excerpt

Read more sleep less – Review & Excerpt

August 30th

books are love – Review & Excerpt

It’s All About the Romance – Excerpt

Naturally Nerdy Books – Excerpt

Tfaulcbookreviews – Excerpt

August 31st

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

Vivi’s Messy Kitchen – Review

What Is That Book About – Excerpt

What’s Beyond Forks? – Review & Excerpt

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Reception (The Wedding From Hell, #2; Firefighters, #0.6) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.6
Pages: 39
Published by Gallery Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


The Wedding from Hell, Part 2: The Rehearsal Dinner
is the exciting second adventure in J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense, Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed's storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 2: The Reception: As the wedding from hell continues, Anne and Danny find themselves walking the delicate balance between professional distance and explosive attraction. Will the desire they feel last through the night and change their lives? Or are they doomed to part after one night of passion?

My Review:

This really is the wedding from hell. It’s so obvious that it should not be happening, that everyone involved has to grit their teeth to get through it – including the bride and the groom.

But this little prequel to the author’s upcoming book Consumed does not, thank goodness (or possibly thank badness, because this wedding is really, really awful) feature the bride and groom.

Instead, it revolves around two members of the groom’s firefighting company, who are both serving as groomsmen at the wedding. They may possibly be two of the most ironic characters to serve as groomsmen, possibly ever.

Anne Ashburn isn’t actually a groomsMAN after all. But the rest of their fire company are groomsmen, so she is too. And happy to be so. She has no desire to descend into the snakepit that is the cookie-cutter bridesmaid clones – and she doesn’t fit in with the clones, either. And also thank goodness for that – because none of that bunch would make remotely sympathetic characters – although possibly bad henchwomen with the bride being the evil villainess.

I digress… just a bit.

The other groomsman featured is Danny McGuire. Unfortunately for everybody concerned, he met the bride first and made the mistake of having a one-night stand with the….hellspawn. She turned to her poor groom in order to make Danny jealous and it backfired spectacularly. Which didn’t stop her from propositioning Danny one last time the night before her wedding.

Danny turned her down. Not just because she’s marrying his friend. Not even just because she’s evil, although both of those things are certainly true. But Danny turned her down because the only woman he wants is Anne.

It seems like Anne has finally stopped fighting the epic attraction between them – or at least she’s willing to for just one night. She’s right that any relationship between them will have long-term consequences to her career and her life, and that all those consequences will fall on her.

Life isn’t fair.

But when the fire burns as hot as it does between Anne and Danny…once is never going to be enough.

Escape Rating B+: This is a direct follow up from the first prequel novella, The Wedding from Hell, the Rehearsal Dinner. The character development and situational setup are all in that first prequel, so grab that before heading to The Reception. Both novellas are short, and both are FREE, so there’s no excuse not to indulge in the whole steamy story.

Now that the prequel is finished, we get a glimpse of where the first book in the series will be going. Danny and Anne have incredibly hot chemistry, and their work partnership is so solid that they can practically read each other’s minds on the job.

They need each other, both personally and professionally. But Anne is also correct that they aren’t supposed to have both. There are rules about fraternizing within a fire company. If they want to have a relationship, one of them has to transfer to a different company.

While that sounds simple, it actually isn’t – because nothing is ever that easy. Right now, they both work in the premier company, the one that gets all the hard jobs and does all the biggest, hottest and most dangerous fires. It’s a step down for the career of whichever one transfers out.

Which would be Anne, not because she’s the woman but because she has less seniority. All of the rest of the crap that would follow would all be because she’s a woman. Once it becomes known that she is in a relationship with one firefighter, her professionalism will be questioned at every turn. She’s worked hard to get where she is, and she’s not willing to lose the respect she’s earned for good sex. Or even epically fantastic sex.

Whether they’ll be able to keep away from each other, and keep their hands off each other, when Anne runs headlong into the danger that makes up the suspense part of the first book in the Firefighters series, Consumed, is something that we will all find out in October.

After these hot, steamy teasers, I can hardly wait!

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Reception

Saturday, October 31
T minus 2 hours ’til blastoff
St. Mary’s Cathedral, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Anne Ashburn had never had veil envy, as they called it. As a young girl, she had never pictured herself walking down an aisle in a white dress, ready to be rescued by a knight-in-shining-armor groom who was going to take charge and take care of her for the rest of her life.
Nope. Anne had wanted to fight fires like her father and then her brother. Even though she no longer respected the former, and had a strained relationship with the latter, she’d wanted to pull on turnouts and strap an air tank to her back and breathe canned air as she ran into open flames dragging hundreds of pounds of charged line with her. She’d wanted to rescue grandmothers, and children, and people who had succumbed to smoke inhalation. She’d been ready to cut open crumpled cars and drag broken bodies out of wreckage at the sides of highways. She’d been determined that the extremes of cold winter nights, hot summer days, physical exhaustion, and mental fatigue would never keep her from doing her job.
So, yup, the old fashioned Mrs. degree had never held any fascination for her. There was no way in hell she was going to be like her mother, living a derivative, nineteen-fifties version of life, nothing but a pretty blow-up doll that was expected to cook, clean, and cut the yapping.
On that note, as she pulled into St. Mary’s parking lot and looked up at the great cathedral’s stained glass windows and lofty spires, she decided it made sense that not only was she not the bride, she wasn’t even a bridesmaid.
Like the rest of the crew down at the 499 firehouse, she was a groomsmen in the impending nuptials of Robert “Moose” Miller and Deandra—what the hell was her last name anyway? Cox. That was it.
Anne was thinking groomsmen was a role she might as well get used to. Not that Duff, Emilio, Deshaun, or any of the other men she worked with were settling down anytime soon.
Especially not Dannyboy Maguire.
Right on cue, a Ford truck entered the parking lot, the late afternoon sun flashing across its windshield.
As Anne’s heart kicked in her chest, she was tempted to hustle in the side door of the church—but she had never been one to run from a challenge.
Danny was more than just a challenge, though.
And okay, fine. So maybe she had already run out of his way at least once: Last night, at the rehearsal dinner, she’d positively bolted after he’d made that speech of his.
I never believed in love . . . I thought it was just a word, a title folks gave to daydreams and misconceptions about destiny, a lie folks told to themselves to make them feel solid in this imperfect, unreliable, and mean-ass world.
Now I know it can happen between two people. And it doesn’t have to make sense because it’s not about logic. And it doesn’t have to have good timing because forever is like infinity, without beginning or end. And it doesn’t have to be defined because truth is like faith—it just is.
So, let’s toast to love.
He’d looked at her while he’d spoken. He had been talking . . . to her . . . in that slow, deep voice.
Everybody else had toasted Moose and Deandra. But Anne had known it hadn’t been about them. Danny, ever the ladies man, king of the one-night stand, he who shalt never be tied down . . . seemed to be suggesting not just that he’d had a change of heart.
But that he might have given his own to Anne.
Unless she was misreading everything? Then again, they had kissed the night before that. In her living room. While riding an adrenaline high after they’d saved a life in an alleyway.
And lips-to-lips had been better than good, the rare circumstance when reality had improved on a fantasy. After two years of attraction and sizzle and unacknowledged heat, that which had been pushed under the rug was exposed now. And there was no going back.
Especially as she felt the same way.
So hell yeah she had bolted out of that restaurant. The second she had been able to get up from her chair, she had hit the exit and left Danny without a ride home.
He’d called two hours later. He’d been in a bar, probably
Timeout where the crew always went, the noise in the background loud and raucous.
She had not answered. He had left a short message, but not called again.
Anne just wasn’t sure what to do. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There were plenty of things she wanted to do to him, with him, on him—all of which were naked and erotic and not necessarily only horizontal.
Refocusing, she watched Danny’s truck pass by. From behind the wheel, he looked over at her.
She waited for him to find a space and get out, and as he walked across to her, she tried—tried—not to go sixteen-year-old girl at the sight of him in a tuxedo.
#epicfail
He was very tall, over six feet five, and he was built hard and muscular, his shoulders so wide, his chest so broad, his waist the point of the inverted triangle of his torso. His jet-black hair was still damp, and what sunlight there was in the mostly cloudy sky flashed blue in its depths. He was freshly shaven—his cologne reaching her nose even before he stopped in front of her—and his eyes were that brilliant blue that had always arrested her. Irish eyes.
But they were not smiling.
For a man who was rarely serious, he looked positively grim, and she frowned.
“You okay?” Stupid question. “I mean—”
“Yeah, no. I’m fine.”
Standard answer for firefighters when they were in pain. And she wondered if it had to do with that speech of his, and what she could have sworn he had been telling her.
His eyes shifted off to the side and then his mouth got thinner.
“And here’s the blushing bride.”
A stretch limo entered the parking area and made a fat turn toward the back door of the cathedral. When it stopped, its driver got out and went to the rear door.
Seven all-in-pink, spray-tanned, body-glittered, and blond-streaked women got out one by one, a clown car of bridesmaids who were such carbon copies of each other, it was like they had been ordered out of a catalogue.
And then the white dress emerged.
Deandra, Moose’s intended, had her blond-streaked hair—natch—piled up on her head in an organized, sculpted waterfall of curls. Her veil was a gossamer fall over her tiny waist and her big skirt, and the shimmer of crystals across the bodice and down the front and sides of the gown made her look like a princess.
Provided you didn’t catch her expression.
She was sour as an old woman with gout and shingles. In spite of the fact that she was supposedly marrying her true love, she looked downright nasty as she snapped at the driver, glared at her maid of honor, and yanked her skirting up to march into the back of the church.
“Wow,” Anne muttered. “That’s a happy bride.”
“Whatever. They’re on their own with this dumbass idea.”
“Did you happen to talk to Moose last night?” she blurted.
“As in out of this? Or would that be considered tacky given it was less than twenty-four hours before the priest hit the altar with them.”
Danny rolled his eyes. “He’s bound and determined to ball-and-chain himself. Personally, I’d be running in the opposite direction.”
And then there was silence between them. Tension coiled up quick, and as Anne’s temples started to pound, she decided it was going to be a long night, just not for the reasons she’d assumed at the beginning of the weekend.

Review: Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster / Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole

Bayside Heat (Bayside Summers #3) by Melissa Foster
Format read: eARC
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Bayside Summers #3
Length: 342
Publisher: World Literary Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Sweet Heat at Bayside (Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers #3) by Addison Cole
Format read: eARC
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summer #3)
Length: 324
Publisher: World Literary Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Fall in love at Bayside, where sandy beaches, good friends, and true love come together in the sweet small towns of Cape Cod. Bayside Summers is a series of standalone steamy romance novels featuring alpha male heroes and sexy, empowered women. They’re fun, flirty, flawed, deeply emotional, always passionate, and easy to relate to.

Drake Savage has always done the right thing, especially where beautiful and fiercely determined Serena Mallery is concerned-even when it means keeping his feelings for her to himself. Serena has always wanted more than what their small town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts has to offer, and Drake’s roots are so deeply entrenched in the Cape, it’s all he can do to watch her pack up her life and move away.

Serena has always had big dreams. As a teenager she dreamed of becoming an interior designer and marrying smart, musically inclined, sexy-as-sin Drake Savage. Now she’s finally landed a killer job with a top interior design firm, but though she has spent the last four years working side by side with Drake, he’s never made a move. Four years is long enough for her to accept reality, and her new job in Boston is the perfect way to move on.

A weak moment leads to sizzling, sensual kisses, opening a door through which they’ve both been aching to walk. But Serena’s determined not to give up her shot at the career she’s always dreamed of, and Drake has loved her for too many years to stand in her way. With true love at their fingertips and a world of unstoppable passion igniting between them, can the two star-crossed lovers find their way to their happily ever after?

My Review:

This is going to be a bit different – which is kind of ironic because I’m going to be talking about two books that are pretty much the same – but are different in some crucial ways.

Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole and Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster are the same book. Except when they’re not.

Let me explain…

Sweet Heat at Bayside, and the entire Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers series, is the “sweet and clean” version of the story. Bayside Heat, and the entire Bayside Summers series, are the steamier and naughtier versions of the very same stories.

So first the story…

This is a really good take on the classic “friends to lovers” trope. Drake and Serena grew up together (along with all of their friends and siblings!) in the tiny town of Bayside on Cape Cod.

But not only was Drake Serena’s first crush, it seems like she never really got over it. Drake is about three years older than Serena, a gap that looms large in grade school and even high school, but now that they are in their late 20s/early 30s it no longer matters.

What does matter is that Serena has always dreamed of taking her interior design talents from tiny Bayside to the big city, meaning Boston. But when Drake started opening his chain of music shops four years ago, Serena came to help out. She’s not only designed the look and feel of all the stories, but helped Drake run both his whole operation as well as the inn that his family owns in Bayside.

She was clear from the very beginning that her work in Bayside was only temporary. And now its time for her to move on. Partly because the stores, the inn and even the local design firm that she’s been working at have all reached a point where the trail has been blazed and now it’s all just keeping on keeping on. But it’s also because as much as she wishes it were otherwise, her relationship with Drake has never moved out of the dreaded “friend zone”.

But Drake is so protective of her that even when she does date in order to try to get over her crush he doesn’t really let any other man get close. It’s obvious to Serena that in order to move on with her life on every front, she really needs to move away.

No matter how much she’s going to miss her friends, her sister, and especially Drake.

But the idea of Serena moving away finally hits Drake with the clue by four. Or another way of putting it is that now that she’s leaving, now that each dinner and each meeting is nearly the last, he discovers that he’s no longer able to hide his feelings for Serena.

No matter how “noble” he’s trying to be, and he thinks he is, he’s always loved her. He’s just never let himself show it.

At first it was because of their age gap. When he was a senior in high school, she was just a freshman. That gap is huge. When she was a senior in high school, he was in college – and away. Also a gap. The timing wasn’t right. When she came back to Bayside to work with him, they were both adults and both in the same place at the same time.

But her declaration that it was only temporary held him back. He didn’t want to get between her and her dreams. What he didn’t know was something important that Serena’s mother told her, that “what you wish for today may not be what you truly want tomorrow.”

So he never asks if she still wants that big city career more than anything else. And he never tells her how he feels. So when they finally begin breaking down the barriers between the friendship they have and the romance they both want, there’s more than a bit of confusion and anger on Serena’s side. It does feel like he’s messing with her.

But she’s committed to Boston and her new job. Over time both she and Drake become committed to figuring out how to make a long-distance relationship work. And then a miracle occurs, and they find a way to move forward so that they both get not just what they want, but what they need – and each other.

Escape Rating for Sweet Heat at Bayside: B-
Escape Rating for Bayside Heat: B+

Even though the story is the same, I think it does matter which version you read. And the steamier version just reads better. It’s not just about the sex. Actually, it’s not about the sex, per se, at all.

The series is about a group of 20- and 30- something who have mostly known each other forever, some of whom are siblings, who have met and/or recognized the love of their lives and have found their happy ever afters. Most of the ones who have paired off by the third book in the series are still newlyweds. They are all adults and there’s a fair amount of sexy talk and sexual teasing among the entire group. Both about who is and isn’t getting any, and how little anyone’s brother or sister wants to hear any details about their sibling’s sex life. It’s frequently funny and often a bit dirty and it all loses something in the translation when it has to all be toned down.

Also, one of the characters just has a potty mouth. Every time she means to drop an “f-bomb” and it’s changed to “frick” it drops me out of the story.

Part of Drake and Serena’s mutual seduction uses a lot of hot, steamy, dirty talk as foreplay. It’s as intelligent and as much fun as the eventual sex. At the point they are in their relationship, convincing themselves as well as each other that they are all in for whatever their relationship might become, seduction by words is every bit as hot as when they finally touch. It needs to be suggestive and naughty and dirty and the need to keep it sweet lets too much of the steam out of the room.

There is also one sexual encounter early in their relationship that is very sexy but does not include actual sex. It’s a scene where exactly what they did, and exactly what they didn’t, is a part of the emotional confusion between the two of them. Because the clean version can’t detail what happened, the entire scene is reduced to a single sentence – one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you go back and read the steamy version.

As a friends into lovers story, Drake and Serena’s romance is a whole lot of fun to read. While they do have a lot of baggage that makes the arc of their relationship finally make sense, it’s not so heavy that it can’t be lifted with a little help from their friends. The gang as a whole has really great chemistry, so even though this is Drake and Serena’s story and we don’t see how everyone else got together, they are still a fun bunch to be with and we do get a good view of how our hero and heroine for this story fit into the whole.

And even though I haven’t read either version of the previous books in the series, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything – except that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with these folks myself. We’d all like to have a circle of friends this tight.

In summary (I know I can’t say “in short” at this point) it feels like Bayside Heat is the better and more authentic version of the story. But for those who feel like they have already read enough “f-bombs” for their lifetime the sweet version does a credible job of telling this “friends to lovers” tale with plenty of love but a bit less lust.

For this reader, the next time I’m faced with this particular dilemma, I know I’ll choose the “full Monty” version for my reading…pleasure.