Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year

Reviews for 2015 can be found here.

The Cowboy's Christmas Baby - Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Sept 2013)

Series: Cowboys and Brides (Book 2)

'Tis the season for...

A pistol-totin' woman who's no angel
A tough rancher who doesn't believe in miracles
Love that warms the coldest nights

After a year in Kuwait, Lucas Allen can't wait to get back to his ranch for Christmas and meet his gorgeous Internet pal in person.

When he pulls in, there's Natalie Clark right in his front yard with a pink pistol in her hand and a dead coyote at her feet.

Lucas is unfazed. But that a BABY in her arms?

Fun book full of sassy romance and quirky characters. Lucas has arrived home from his deployment a couple days early, ready to surprise his family. He's also looking forward to meeting the girl he got to know over the internet in person, when she arrives in a few days. But there are a lot more surprises than he expected when he arrives to find the family gone, and Natalie already there. She's standing there with a pistol in her hand, a dead coyote at her feet, and a baby in her arms, just as stunned to see him. 

Lucas was introduced to Natalie, via Skype, by his tentmate, who was also Natalie's best friend. When Drew was killed by an IED, Lucas was the one who told her and became her friend also. He's spent the last few months building up dreams and hopes that come crashing down when he sees her with the baby. He's angry that she didn't tell him before, hurt that there must be someone she cares for more, and jealous of the baby.

Natalie is stunned to see Lucas show up early. She and the family had big plans for his homecoming and now it's all ruined. She knows she should have told him about the baby, but she hadn't been able to figure out how. She wants to explain, but he won't listen. Now he's just making her mad with his reaction. She's ready to walk away from the ranch and Lucas, but the family housekeeper/cook has been hurt and has made Natalie promise to stay and look after them until she's better.

I loved Natalie. She's a strong, sassy woman who has no trouble standing up for herself. She doesn't take Lucas's attitude for long, and soon pushes back. I like the way she owns up to her mistakes, then moves on and expects him to also. She'd spent most of the last months getting to know Lucas online and falling for what she saw. Lucas in person is even better, and her attraction to him is sizzling.

Lucas was fantastic. I felt for him, with the shock he received when he got home. He's still dealing with the loss of his friend and had been looking forward to holding Natalie. It isn't surprising that he loses his cool for awhile. Once he cools off and he and Natalie have a chance to talk, his true nature begins to reassert itself. He is really quite a gentleman and a romantic too.

The development of their relationship was quite well done. They already knew each other pretty well, but there are some things that have to be experienced in person. Though they start out ticked off at each other, it doesn't take too long for them to move forward. I loved seeing them together, from their cooperation with the ranch work to caring for the baby to acting on their attraction. Both of them were cautious about confessing their feelings, worried that the other didn't feel the same way. I really enjoyed Lucas's efforts for Christmas and how he tried to plan each little detail. The ending is really sweet with them finally having the courage to reach for their dreams.

There is also a great theme of family running throughout the book. Both Natalie and Lucas are close to their families. Though she spends a fair amount of time avoiding her own family, Natalie thinks of them quite often. I enjoyed the conversations she had with her mother, and how Natalie tried to keep control of her own life. Lucas's family was a lot of fun. The three older men were really sweet with the way they took to baby Josh. I loved seeing them fuss over who got to hold him or take care of him. It was also fun to see them try their hands at matchmaking. Lucas has dreams of having his own family, but fears it will never happen, thanks to an ex-girlfriend. There's a great twist at the end that is the direct result of her actions, but it helps bring Lucas and Natalie together.

There are quite a few laugh out loud moments in the book. Natalie's refusal to be intimidated by Lucas's ex was very fun to read. There were several funny scenes involving animals and their determination to get in the house and the havoc they created. I also enjoyed Hazel the housekeeper's long distance interference, and her arrival back home once she's healed. The interactions among characters were fun and moving and just plain terrific reading.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Snowed in with Her Ex - Andrea Laurence (HD #2349 - Jan 2015)

Series: Brides and Belles (Book 1)

Trapped in a cabin with the man who makes her want what she shouldn't have…

Wedding photographer Briana Harper never expected to run into her ex at an engagement shoot! And when a blizzard strands them…alone…in a remote mountain cabin, she knows she's in trouble. She's never forgotten Ian Lawson, but none of the reasons they broke up have changed. He's still a workaholic. And now he's an engaged workaholic!

But Ian is also still a man who knows what he wants. And what he wants is Briana. Untangling the lies of his current engagement leaves him free to…indulge. Yet proving he's changed may be this music mogul's toughest negotiation yet…

Excellent reunion story. Briana is a wedding photographer and not exactly happy to find that her latest assignment is engagement photos for her ex and his new fiancee. Seeing him again for the first time in nine years shows her that the attraction is still there. Getting snowed in with him is the last thing she needs. Ian is surprised to see Bree, and also disturbed by her presence. He thought he'd gotten over her long ago, but he's discovering just the opposite. 

The history that Ian and Bree shared exposed issues that neither had yet gotten past. Bree had left Ian because he became like her father, work obsessed to the point where he would forget dates, events, and anything outside of his work. Ian had been happy as a musician until his adviser told him he wasn't good enough to make a career of it. This brought back his feelings of insecurity, caused by the rejection he felt over his father's desertion of their family. He was desperate to do well at the record label job he got, and devoted everything to it, expecting Bree to understand. When she left, it was more rejection in his eyes.

Their forced time together at the cabin enables them to clear the air somewhat, and the end of his engagement, opens up possibilities for the future. First they have to be able to overcome those problems that tore them apart to start with.

I loved their time together at the cabin. Bree did pretty well coping with being snowed in, but Ian was a bit of a basket case at first. I loved their comments to each other about their individual technological lives. The Monopoly game was fun - I loved their "money". I really liked seeing Bree get Ian to play his guitar again. I felt bad for Ian when his engagement ended, not because it ended, but why. I was impressed with his willingness to do the right thing, and sorry for him when it backfired. It did free him up so that they could pursue their attraction and see where it might lead.

Once they return to Nashville, Bree is still wary of Ian's ability to change, but is willing to give him a chance. Things are looking up when they attend one of Ian's friend's parties, in spite of an encounter with his ex-fiancee. But things go downhill fast when a late visit by the ex at work delays Ian from making an appearance at Bree's show. She's hurt and furious and both of them say things that they later regret. I felt bad for Ian because he really had tried and Bree wouldn't even let him explain. I felt like she should have at least done that much, but considering she expected him to fail I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I loved seeing Ian's housekeeper fuss over and at him, and the motivation it gave him to go after Bree. His go big moment was sweet and romantic, and so nerve wracking for him!

Her Colton Lawman - Carla Cassidy (HRS #1823 - Nov 2014)

Series: Coltons: Return to Wyoming (Book 2)

Catch up with the crime-fighting Coltons

Witnessing a murder plunges Nina Owens into nerve-shattering danger. Police chief Flint Colton is sure the perp is taking down witnesses, so the handsome cop orders Nina into protective his home And while she's grateful to him, Nina just can't shake her deep distrust of police. But all that falls away when Flint's scintillating kiss awakens something deep within her.

As Thanksgiving approaches with Dead River quarantined, the search for a missing child puts Nina and the killer on a collision course. She knows Flint is haunted by a past failure to save a witness...and that he'll put himself in the line of fire before he ever lets her down.

Loved this book. The action and suspense were nonstop right from the beginning and the relationship between Flint and Nina was great. As the book starts, Dead River is still under quarantine, the murderer is still on the loose, and the man who stole a priceless heirloom ring is also still missing. Flint has his hands full trying to keep peace in the town while searching for the fugitives. The only mental breaks he gets are when he stops at the diner for a meal and can indulge himself by being near Nina, who he's been attracted to since he came back to Dead River. 

Nina and her diner are among the most popular in town. She's always cheerful, has a kind word for everyone, and looks out for her employees. She's also a very private person about her past. She's attracted to Flint, but because of issues in her past, won't allow herself to fall for a man in law enforcement. But when she witnesses a brutal murder, and her house is burned down as a warning, she has to accept Flint's protection.

Forced into each other's company, Flint and Nina really get to know each other over the next several weeks. I loved watching Nina's distrust start to dissolve as she learned more about Flint. Because of her experience seeing the dysfunctional relationship between her parents, she has resolved that she will never marry and have a family of her own, but her attraction to Flint is hard to resist. Staying with him gives her a taste of what could be, but she's still afraid to trust completely. I really liked seeing her doubts put to rest by a comment from a little boy. I also liked seeing her relationships with her friends. She is such a warm and loving person that I was really rooting for her and Flint to make a go of it. I loved her excitement over her Thanksgiving plans. The aftermath showed just how much other people loved her.

Having Nina live with him was a dream come true for Flint. His attraction to her has been a big part of him for a year, and this is his chance to get to know her. He also knows that he has to be extra vigilant, and not allow himself to be distracted. Before he came home to Dead River he had lost a witness he had been assigned to protect, and that failure haunts him. As he overcomes her initial coolness, Flint begins to dream of what it would be like to have Nina in his life permanently. I loved seeing how determined he was to take care of her, not just protect her. He was very attuned to her moods, and it was sweet to see him try to cheer her up on those rare occasions she was down. He was so ready to settle down with her, but overcoming her fears was going to be a real challenge.

The suspense of the story had me riveted throughout. Nina's witnessing of the murder and loss of her house to arson, started things out with a rush. Seeing Flint and his men working so hard to find him, and running into so many obstacles, had me wondering if they would ever catch a break. The hijacking of the school bus and confrontation with the murderer was intense, but had an unexpected twist to it. The issue of the virus is ongoing, and the stress is getting to everyone. The realism of people's actions and reactions was awesome, and made me feel as though this could really happen. I'm looking forward to the next book and seeing how it all turns out.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Secret Colton Baby - Karen Whiddon (HRS #1820 - Oct 2014)

Series: Coltons: Return to Wyoming (Book 1)

A new additon to Wyoming's most scandalous family

Is Theo Colton the father of a baby dropped at his doorstep by a dying socialite? Even more shocked than the sexy bronc-riding champ is his beautiful cook, Ellie Parker. Just as she becomes the baby's nanny, she discovers a terrifying stalker has followed her to Dead River.

What's worse -- as a mysterious virus quarantines the town, danger goes viral, too. But to Theo and Ellie, the biggest dangers are their sizzling attraction and profound new feelings. Can Ellie tame the cowboy who wants nothing more than a wild ride with women? Or must she deny her heart to save his life?

Overall, a good book, though I had a couple of minor issues with it. Theo Colton came home to Wyoming after a career ending injury during a rodeo. He's trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life, when a woman from his past shows up. She has an infant daughter that she claims is his, then collapses and dies of an unknown virus.

Ellie fled her home in Boulder, Colorado, trying to escape from a stalker. She was in Dead River when her car died, but was lucky enough to get hired as Theo's ranch cook. She was there when baby Amelia arrived and stepped in to act as the baby's nanny. Later that night she was terrified to discover that her stalker has followed her.

Theo had always been a footloose guy. His rodeo career allowed him to avoid the idea of settling down, and there were always plenty of women to enjoy. He always made sure they knew he doesn't commit to anyone. When his rodeo injuries made it impossible to not only continue as a bronc rider but to ride at all, Theo is left wondering what to do. He's never considered anything else. Being confronted with fatherhood has him reeling for a second time. It takes him a little while to accept the truth, but he is slowly won over to being a daddy. I really loved seeing his transformation. Having Ellie's help is what makes it all possible. He had been attracted to her as soon as he met her, but knew he had to keep his distance. But his protectiveness comes out as the danger to her increases, and being near her makes him question his old lifestyle. He's beginning to picture a future with Ellie and Amelia, if he can just keep her safe long enough.

Ellie has also been attracted to Theo, but knows that there's no future with him. When her stalker appears in Dead River, she worries about the safety of the baby and Theo, and is ready to leave again. Theo promises to protect them, and she agrees to stay. She quickly falls for baby Amelia, and is determined to make sure that Theo gives her the life she deserves. As she spends more time with him and the baby, she sees a different side to him come out. She also sees his frustration with his injuries and how they've changed his life, and tries to make him see that he still has a lot to give.

The romance between Ellie and Theo has a lot of chemistry moving it along. Fortunately, they are also given the time to get to know each other, so they have more than just the physical binding them together. I loved the thoughtfulness that came out in Theo as he began to accept his feelings for Ellie. I really loved his Halloween surprise for her. 

The suspense aspect of the book also kept things going for me. The stalker story line was pretty good, as his actions against Ellie escalated. The identity of the stalker was not a huge surprise, even though we had never met him. I was pretty sure of where he must have come from. That story line is resolved by the end of the book. There are two others that are ongoing. There is an escaped murderer that has not yet been recaptured, so will most likely make a reappearance in the next book. The biggest issue is the virus that has caused the town to be quarantined. It arrived with the mother of Theo's baby, and has made many people sick, with some fatalities. Theo's brother Flint is the sheriff who has to deal with the panic in the town along with the headaches of enforcing the quarantine. Their sister Gemma is a nurse at the clinic where the sick are being treated and the search for a cure is getting desperate. I am looking forward to their stories.

My issues with the book were pretty minor, but irritating. They would have been easily fixed by an editor's attention to detail. Two that stick in my mind were when Theo was talking about a horse's confirmation rather that conformation, and Ellie was thinking about the need to sack money away for the future rather than sock it away. There were a couple timing questions that briefly confused me, too. None of them were bad enough to ruin the story, but they did pull me out of it temporarily. The title was somewhat misleading, as there was really nothing secret about the baby. I would also like to know the relationship of these Coltons to the other Wyoming Coltons, especially as they live in the same area, but it was never mentioned.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Just a Cowboy and His Baby - Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Dec 2012)

Series: Spikes & Spurs (Book 6)

She's Got Her Eyes on the Prize...
Gemma O'Donnell wasn't the first woman to win the ProRodeo buckle for bronc riding, but she was darn well going to be the second. What she didn't count on was her main competition sweeping her off her feet.

He'll Do Whatever It Takes To Win...
Trace Coleman isn't really after a title -- he needs the cash prize to buy his dream ranch. But one sexy, determined cowgirl keeps getting in his way. In his effort to take her out of the running, he risks losing both the title -- and his heart.

They're Both in For a Little Surprise...
Everybody's world is turned upside down when a pint-sized bundle of joy gets dropped right into Trace's lap...and suddenly all the stakes are higher.

Fun book to read. Gemma has put her hairdresser career on hold to follow a dream. She wants to be the second woman to win the title for bronc riding and take home the prize money. She'll then buy herself some land, start her own ranch, and find that cowboy and baby that's been predicted for her. She's doing very well, with only one other competitor really in her way.

Trace also has a dream. He wants to win enough money to buy his uncle's ranch. But in this series of rodeos he's in a fight for first place with Gemma. He figures that a little flirtation might distract her enough to give him the edge. He doesn't count on the effect she has on him.

I loved Trace and Gemma. She is feisty and determined and isn't going to let anything get in her way. Her first encounter with Trace shakes her up a bit. There are sparks when he touches her and she has to work hard not to let them distract her. Trace had been attempting to do just that, but it backfired when he found that he couldn't get her off his mind. That came in handy when he found himself rescuing her during a post rodeo dance. Trace seems pretty self-centered up to that point, with his confidence and his adoring groupies, but when Gemma passes out in his arms, he is the perfect gentleman. I loved the care he took of her.

This was the start of the relationship between Gemma and Trace. Though they remain fierce rivals in the rodeo ring, outside of it they become terrific friends. They have a lot in common and I loved seeing them learn about each other. The more time they spent with each other, the greater the attraction was, until they couldn't help but act on it. Each of them started to dream of the future, but neither wanted to rock the boat until the competition was over.

I loved the part where, between two of the rodeos, they went to help Trace's uncle on his ranch. They were each assigned ten at risk kids from the city. Gemma had the girls and Trace had the boys. I loved seeing how great they were with those kids. There was lots of fun banter, competitions between the kids, and some life lessons learned by all of them. Gemma and Trace also learned a bit about themselves as they were helping the kids.

The baby of the title shows up late in the book, though its story is not a surprise. There are hints throughout the book about what is going to happen. I loved Trace's reaction and the way he immediately stepped up. It was also fun to see him cope with not having a clue how to take care of a baby. He was so sweet and so determined. Gemma's presence and willingness to help him, made him care for her even more.

Gemma's feelings for Trace had been getting stronger the longer they were together. I loved seeing her dreams of the future adjust to the changes in her emotions. I also liked the way that her determination to win didn't change, but she also saw other possibilities. I loved the ending with the final competition and the events that unfolded after it. Trace had a much bigger romantic streak than I expected.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book was how important family was to both Gemma and Trace. It was fun to see how each of them coped with the attitudes of various family members, especially their mothers. I also had fun with how Gemma's girlfriends reacted to her relationship with Trace and the teasing she endured. It was great to see all the support that Gemma and Trace had for both their careers and their relationship.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Devil of Clan Sinclair - Karen Ranney (Avon - Aug 2013)

Series: Clan Sinclair (Book 1)

To Dance with the Devil...

For Virginia Traylor, Countess of Barrett, marriage was merely the vehicle to buy her father a title. Widowhood, however, brings a host of problems. For her husband deliberately spent the money intended for Virginia and her in-laws, leaving them penniless -- unless she produces an heir. Desperate and confused, Virginia embarks on a fateful journey that brings her to the doorstep of the only man she's ever loved...

Hes known as the Devil, but Macrath Sinclair doesn't care. He moved to a tiny Scottish village in hopes of continuing his work as an inventor and starting a family of his own. He bought the house; he chose the woman. Unfortunately, Virginia didn't choose him. Macrath knows he should turn her away now, but she needs him, and he wants her more than ever. Whatever game Virginia's playing, Macrath intends to win...

I had mixed feelings about this book. Overall, I liked it. The first half was rather slow and a bit hard to stay interested in. The beginning would also have a chapter or two of the present time, then a chapter of flashback for the backstory, another chapter or two in the present, then flashback, etc. This went on for quite a while. I prefer my backstory mostly all at once - the constant back and forth was sometimes hard to follow. Things definitely picked up in the second half and I enjoyed it much more at that point.

Virginia was an American heiress, brought to London by her father to marry a man with a title. He didn't care what she wanted, she would basically go to the highest bidder. In the meantime, Virginia had met a Scottish man, a self-made millionaire, who understood her. They would meet at balls or other places where she could escape, and talk about politics, science, literature or anything that caught their fancy. They fell in love, but her father wouldn't even consider Macrath as a suitor. She was forced to marry the earl and forbidden to see or speak to Macrath.

Less than a year later, her husband was dead, and she discovered that all the money she had brought to the marriage had been used to purchase land that was then left to the cousin who inherited the title. Virginia and her mother- and sisters-in-law, were left with nothing unless Virginia had produced a son. Her mother-in-law, whom I DID NOT like at all, convinced her that she needed to quickly find a man who could get her pregnant with a child she could pass off as her husband's. Virginia did not like that idea at all, but could see no other option to keep them from becoming destitute. So she ran off to Scotland to try to seduce Macrath.

Macrath was stunned to see Virginia show up at Drumvagen. He had been unable to forget her after her marriage and had buried himself in his work. He was happy to have her there and hoped to make her want to stay. He was very willing to show her "how it's supposed to be between a man and a woman". After just a few days he's devastated to find out she has no intention of staying in Scotland, but returning to London. They part ways, and he heads off to Australia on business and she returns to London to take care of her family.

Unsurprisingly, she does end up pregnant and has a son, who the world assumes is her husband's. The baby is just a few months old when smallpox sweeps through London and Virginia becomes quite ill. Macrath returns to London about that time, and discovering the truth about the child, takes the baby back to Scotland while Virginia is ill, without telling her. She chases after him before she is fully recovered. When she arrives, he is still furious at her deception and refuses to allow her in the house or to see the baby. Over the next couple weeks she is stuck in a cottage on the estate and still unable to see the baby. By this point, Virginia has finally started to find a backbone and refuses to be kept away. I really enjoyed her determination and seeing what she does.

Over the next few weeks, Macrath begins to soften toward Virginia a little as he sees what a good mother she really is. Virginia also sees Macrath's happiness in being a father. But she still refuses to consider staying in Scotland, determined to keep up the deception and protect her family. It is getting harder for each of them, as their feelings for each other have only gotten stronger. The conflict could have been greatly reduced if she had just told him what the problem was.

Things were also complicated by her late husband's personal assistant, who was obsessed with Virginia. He was determined to have her for himself, and willing to do anything to get her. Over the course of the book he went from creepy to obsessed to dangerous. His appearance in Scotland added a layer of intensity that finally brought Macrath and Virginia together.

Virginia irritated me through most of the book because of her unwillingness to tell Macrath what was going on. She did have redeeming qualities. I liked her determination to take care of her son herself, no turn him over to nannies and we nurses. She was also kind to her in-laws, even though the mother-in-law was a piece of work. I didn't like that woman at all. Virginia was also pretty down-to-earth. She really didn't care about the benefits of the title. But until she became a mother, I found her to be rather a doormat.

Macrath I liked a lot. He made something of himself through his own hard work. He was true to himself, not trying to change to fit in with the aristocracy. I liked the way he treated Virginia like an intelligent human being when they had their discussions in the first part of the book. I completely understood his anger when he found out about the baby. I even understood his actions when Virginia came to Scotland, even though I felt he could have handled things a little better. I liked seeing him soften toward her, and realize that he still wanted her in his life. I thought his pursuit of her was pretty sweet.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Texas Mom - Roz Denny Fox (HAR #1531 - Jan 2015)


Texas veterinarian Delaney Blair will do anything to find a bone marrow donor for her four-year-old son, Nickolas. The only likely match is his Argentinean father, Dario. But Dario and Delaney didn't part on good terms. In fact, he doesn't even know he has a son!

Delaney travels to Argentina to find him, and Dario, shocked, returns to Texas. It's not long before Nick and Dario become close. Not only that, Dario can't hide the feelings he has for Delaney -- feelings that have been there since they met. Dario's family doesn't want him to be with her. But now they have to see if the love between them is strong enough to keep them together.

Good book with some definite heart tugging going on. Delaney is the single mother of a little boy who is very ill. He needs a bone marrow transplant and they have been unable to find a match. Desperate, she heads for Argentina, to talk to her son's father and get his help. Unfortunately, she never told him she was pregnant and she isn't sure what his reaction will be. Dario is shocked by her arrival, and initially quite hostile. He and his family hold her father responsible for their business troubles and he doesn't even want to listen to her.

I felt for Delaney. She probably should't have kept her pregnancy secret, but her reasoning was understandable. She and Dario were separated by actions her father took that she was unaware of, and were made worse by her father's death shortly afterward. Dario also had family troubles that contributed to the problem. I liked the fact that she gathered her courage and went to face him with the news. After his reaction, she didn't expect his help and was surprised when he and his sister arrived in San Antonio. Delaney worried that he would make custody demands and was not very welcoming. She began to see how determined Dario was to be a father, and was moved by how good he was with Nickolas. She also realized that her feelings for Dario had never died, but she was afraid to believe that he would feel the same and stay in Texas.

Dario was stunned to see Delaney. All he can think of are the threats that her father made against him and his family and what came to pass. He had loved her and thought that she was a participant in what had happened. At first he doesn't believe what she tells him, but feels compelled to investigate. When he first meets Nickolas he can't deny that he's the father and is determined to be a part of his life. I really loved seeing him bond with Nickolas. Dario also had to stand strong against his family's attitude against Delaney. It doesn't take too long before he admits that he still has feelings for her. 

Both of them had to deal with their feelings for each other and worries about the future at the same time they were dealing with Nickolas's health crisis. Though they had a rough start, I liked the way that they tried to put his needs first. Working together for Nick gave them a chance to get to know each other again. Because of the circumstances, there wasn't much of a chance for romancing between them, but the connection was there from the beginning and they were able to build on it. The ending was quite intense with an interesting twist to the bone marrow donation. I really liked Dario's solution to their future, and the epilogue was a satisfying followup.

I loved the character of Dario's sister Maria Sofia. She may have been only nineteen, but she knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it. I loved the way she helped Delaney at the beginning, and then came to Texas with Dario. It was so much fun to see her stand up against his and his father's old fashioned attitudes. I really liked her determination and what she did with it. I'd love to see a book with her when she gets a little older. I can see her running some guy ragged.

The Keeper - Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell - Jan 2012)

Series: Stoney Ridge Seasons (Book 1)

Julia Lapp has planned on marrying Paul Fisher since she was a girl. Now twenty-one, she looks forward to their wedding with giddy anticipation. When Paul tells her he wants to postpone the wedding--again--she knows who is to blame. Perpetual bachelor and spreader of cold feet, Roman Troyer, the Bee Man.

Roamin' Roman travels through the Amish communities of Ohio and Pennsylvania with his hives full of bees, renting them out to farmers in need of pollinators. He relishes his nomadic life, which keeps him from thinking about all he has lost. He especially enjoys bringing his bees to Stoney Ridge each year. But with Julia on a mission to punish him for inspiring Paul's cold feet, the Lapp farm is looking decidedly less pleasant.

Can Julia secure the future she's always dreamed of? Or does God have something else in mind?

Good book about a season of changes for the inhabitants of Windmill Farm. The main focus of the story is Julia Lapp. She is twenty-one years old and engaged to marry Paul Fisher. She is the oldest of the four Lapp children - herself, Sadie, Menno and Mary Kate (MK). Their mother died years ago and Julia has been in charge of raising her siblings. It was going pretty well until a few months ago when their father, Amos, started having heart problems. Now Julia also has to worry about keeping the farm going. 

Last year Paul had asked Julia to postpone their wedding, saying he wasn't quite ready. She has been looking forward to their November wedding this year, having been dreaming of marrying Paul for years.  When he comes to her and asks her to postpone again, she is hurt and furious, especially when she hears he had just been talking to Roman Troyer, the Bee Man. She blames Roman and his footloose lifestyle for Paul's defection. She decides that Roman has done it deliberately because he is sweet on her himself, and tells him that it won't work.

Roman has been taking his bees around Amish communities for several years. Traveling enables him to avoid thinking about his past and all he has lost. He's always enjoyed his stay on the Lapp farm, but things are very different this year. He can't believe the changes in Amos, and the effects it has had on the farm. And Julia is no longer the quiet girl in the background, running the house. Suddenly she's become something of a spitfire, with strong opinions about his actions and motivations. Unlike most other girls, who spend a lot of time pursuing him, she makes her disinterest known, which in turn makes her more intriguing to him. Because he does feel bad about the wedding, he decides to stick around Windmill Farm and try to help out. His past is also catching up with him, and he has some important decisions to make.

Throughout the story we get to know each of the characters in the book, though most of the time is spent of Julia and Roman.

Julia is the oldest, in charge of everything while their father is ill. She frequently feels overwhelmed. She is also very conscious of appearances, and tends to allow others' opinions to dictate her actions. She begins to gain more confidence in herself as the summer progresses, and is able to rely on her own judgment.

Sadie is the second oldest. She is quiet and rather shy, but enjoys looking out for her family. She is a bit on the plump side and finds comfort in food. She is very sensitive to people's pain and finds happiness in making them feel better.

Menno is the only boy. He is a little slow, but very sweet. Everyone likes him. He also has a special touch with animals.

MK is the youngest. She is headstrong, has a vivid imagination, and is constantly getting in trouble. She is in a perpetual feud with a neighbor boy of the same age. She tends to not think things through before she says or does something, and it usually turns out badly for her.

Amos is the father. He is suffering from heart failure and has been getting steadily worse. He has pretty much given up on the idea that he will get better, even though he's been told that a heart transplant would help him. He doesn't like the idea that someone else would have to die in order for him to live.

Roman is the Bee Man. His entire family was killed in an accident several years earlier and he travels to avoid the pain. Windmill Farm and its people find a way past the walls he has built around his heart. He makes it his mission to help around the farm, easing their burdens. He is also determined to make Amos see that having the transplant is a good thing.

Fern is the housekeeper who comes from Ohio to help the Lapp family. MK calls her Stern Fern because she has her rules and opinions and keeps the Lapp family in line. She takes it as a challenge to improve the health of both Sadie and Amos. There is also a connection between her and Roman that does not come out until near the end, but that she has no trouble using to encourage him to face his past.

As the summer progresses, Julia softens toward Roman, and begins to see that maybe things have worked out the way they are supposed to. She has a decision to make when Paul starts to make noises about changing his mind yet again. Roman's time on Windmill Farm has started easing some of his pain, and he's starting to consider some changes of his own. There is some mystery about his family's land back in Ohio that winds its way through the book and has a surprising impact on the story's end. The book ends with tragedy, hope and love, and the belief that things happen for a  reason.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Loving Rose: The Redemption of Malcolm Sinclair - Stephanie Laurens (Avon - Aug 2014)

Series: Casebook of Barnaby Adair (Book 3)

Miraculously spared from death, Malcolm Sinclair erases the notorious man he once was. Reinventing himself as Thomas Glendower, he strives to make amends for his past, yet he never imagines penance might come via a secretive lady he discovers living in his secluded manor.

Rose has a plausible explanation for why she and her children are residing in Thomas's house, but she quickly realizes he's far too intelligent to fool. Revealing the truth is impossibly dangerous, yet day by day he wins her trust, and then her heart.

But then her enemy closes in, and Rose turns to Thomas as the only man who can protect her and the children. And when she asks for his help, Thomas finally understands his true purpose, and with unwavering commitment, he seeks his redemption the only way he can -- through living the reality of loving Rose.

In this book Malcolm Sinclair, the villain from The Taste of Innocence, is saved from death and takes the opportunity to become a new and better man. In that book our last sight of him is as he is falling to his death from a bridge over a waterfall. At the beginning of this one, his mangled, nearly dead self is discovered on a Somerset beach by a group of monks. They take him in and he begins the long, slow process of healing. 

At the end of the other book, Malcolm had realized what he had done and taken steps to right the wrongs he had committed. Now that he is not dead, he has to make a decision on what to do with is life. He decides to leave Malcolm where he was, and become Thomas Glendower, an alias he had set up many years before. As Thomas, he begins to learn how to be a better man, thinking of others rather than himself. He takes his talent for making money and uses it to help the monastery become self-sufficient. His injuries were so severe that it takes him five years to recover. At that point, it is suggested to him that he was saved because God/Fate has something in mind for him to do, and that staying in the monastery isn't going to help him discover what that is. So he sets out for the home he bought as Thomas, to finish his recovery and wait for Fate to find him.

Arriving in Cornwall he discovers that the elderly couple he left in charge of his home has retired, and been replaced by a young widow with two children. He senses right away that she has secrets, but having plenty of his own he doesn't pester her for answers. He settles in to his home and continues his financial work, but feels the lack of something more meaningful. Being accustomed to doing many physical things with the monks, he starts doing work around the manor too. He also begins to get to know Rose and the two children. He develops a strong attraction to Rose, but because of his past feels that he is completely unworthy of her and tries to resist doing anything about the attraction.

Rose has been in hiding with the children for the past four years. Thomas's home has been the perfect place because of its isolation and they have felt safe there. Thomas's arrival worries her at the beginning, but his acceptance of her and her story reassures her. Thomas himself intrigues her. She sees a deep sadness in him, but he doesn't talk about his past, other than to tell her he hasn't been a good man. But everything she sees in him contradicts that. She is surprised by his down to earth behavior and moved by his kindness to the children. She is also attracted to him, but because of her secrets doesn't see a future for them. However, the attraction wins out, and they begin a relationship with the intention of taking just one day at a time.

When Rose's past catches up to her, she knows she needs to tell Thomas the truth before taking the children and fleeing again. What she doesn't expect is for him to take command of the problem and work to fix it. Thomas convinces her that it's time to face up to it and that with his help it will be fine. Rose gets a good look at Thomas the champion and the attraction she feels begins to turn to love. I loved the protectiveness that Thomas has toward Rose and the kids. He will do anything to keep them safe and ensure their future safety, even give himself up to pay for his crimes.

I really loved Thomas and his efforts to pay for the sins of his past. He is well aware of his faults and his efforts to overcome them don't always go smoothly. He has to really work at thinking about how his actions will affect other people. When he arrives at the manor house, I really enjoyed seeing the way he fit in so easily with Rose and the children. I loved his times with the children and how wonderful he was with them. The part with Homer and the books, and with Pippin and the apple tree, showed that he had a good heart when he allowed himself to listen to it. I also loved Rose's ability to look past Thomas's scars to the man he was now. Even after he told her about his past, she still saw the good man he became. 

There are glimpses throughout the book of the person who is looking for Rose and the children. Thomas brings them to London, and enlists the help of Barnaby Adair and others to discover the truth. As more information is uncovered, there are some inconsistencies in the background of the suspect that throw the investigation into some confusion. As they learn more about him I suspected that there was more to the story than they thought. The final confrontation was intense, with an interesting twist on the culprit. The outcome for Thomas was not what he expected, and I loved seeing what he did with it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Texas Holiday Miracle - Linda Warren (HAR #1526 - Dec 2014)


Moving to Horseshoe, Texas, to become guardian of her half sister has been rewarding for Lacey Carroll. But raising a six-year-old -- especially one who has stopped believing in Santa Claus -- has its challenges. Lacey's goal is to bring holiday wonder back into the child's life, which isn't going to be easy with a grinch like Gabe Garrison next door. The man is mean, rude…and hurting.

After losing his son, Gabe shut out the world. But his privacy is invaded by the quirky, dynamic blonde and her kid sister, who are single-handedly filling his solitary life with love. When Lacey enlists him in a holiday campaign for Emma's sake, he can't resist. Will Lacey's unique brand of healing magic make this a season of second chances -- for all of them?

Very emotional book. Lacey gave up her carefree single life in Austin to care for her six year old half sister Emma. Their father died six months ago and both of them are still feeling the effects of their grief. Every day Lacey wonders if she's doing the right things for Emma. When Emma comes home from school in tears, Lacey finds out that an older boy has told her that there is no Santa Claus. Emma is devastated and now wants nothing to do with Christmas. Lacey is desperate to find a way to fix the holiday for her sister.

Next door, Gabe is hiding from the world. Two years earlier his son died in an accident with his ATV. Gabe holds himself responsible, since he gave it to his son. All he can do is think about his son and how much he misses him, and care for the boy's dog Pepper. But Pepper is sick with cancer and in a lot of pain. Gabe is having trouble accepting what he needs to do because that would sever the last link with Zack. To make things even harder, the little girl next door keeps coming to his yard, no matter how hard he tries to keep her away.

In the latest confrontation, Lacey has had enough of Gabe's surly attitude toward her sister. She says some things to him, including that his son would be ashamed of his father's behavior. She feels badly about it later, and goes over to apologize, only to discover that what she said actually made an impression on him. From there begins a story of two people who are suffering from their losses, but find that together they can make a start on healing.

I loved seeing the way that Lacey was aware of Gabe's pain, but also that he needed help. She was determined to help him learn to live again. Because she too was suffering it made her more aware of his feelings. It was kind of fun watching her bully him into doing things like eating and taking a shower. But she was also able to be the support he needed when taking care of Pepper. Gabe was confused by Lacey. First he had trouble just remembering her name, but he also didn't understand why she was bothering with him. When she called him on his behavior and used his son, it made him angry, but then it made him think. He found that he had a great deal of trouble telling her no when she would find another way to drag him back to the living. 

There was also an attraction that built between them, but neither thought that doing anything about it was a good idea. Lacey sees herself as having to concentrate on her sister too much to have a relationship with any man. Gabe has been so lost in his grief that he doesn't know who he really is anymore, and can't see asking Lacey to be with a man who is so broken. But their feelings can't be stopped, and each of them must decide what to do with them. I went through several tissues as they worked through their issues.

Emma was pretty darn adorable. What I liked best about her was that she seemed real. Like all kids that age she can go from happy to sad to mad in the blink of an eye. She's trying to cope with the loss of her father and having her sister suddenly becoming her parent rather than her buddy. That's hard enough, but when her friend's big brother tells her there's no Santa, she's heartbroken. The only thing that seems to help is petting the dog next door. Even though she's been told to stay away, she "forgets" often.  I really felt for Lacey as she tried to bring happiness back to Emma, while attempting to maintain the discipline that was needed. I loved the way that Emma would succumb to Lacey's teasing and giggle and tell Lacey "You're weird." For such a little girl, she also had a sweet way of being with Gabe and helping him deal with his pain. I love the Christmas scene with the Santa sighting and the effect it had on her.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cold Case in Cherokee Crossing - Rita Herron (HI #1535 - Dec 2014)

Series: Cold Case (Book 4)

A decades-old cold case is testing everything one Texas Ranger thought he knew about obtaining justice…

A lot of men on death row profess their innocence. Those men are mostly just scared of dying. Jaxon Ward understands that, but as a Texas Ranger he needs to uphold the law. Yet the story Avery Tierney tells him… He's convinced her brother is awaiting execution while the real killer remains at large.

Searching for the murderer opens old wounds for Avery, and now she has to face a past so traumatic she blocked it out. A past not so dissimilar to Jax's. Before long, the only comfort they find is in each other's arms. Avery's lost everything once before. And now, if she loses Jaxon, she fears she'll never recover.

Good story of a man on death row for murder and the efforts made by his sister to find the truth. A week before he's scheduled to die, Avery visited her brother in prison and discovered that he had confessed to killing their foster father because he thought she had done it. Jaxon has been assigned to the case to make sure nothing comes up that will stop it. When he hears her story and talks to her brother he suspects that she may be right.

Avery had suffered terrible abuse by her foster father. Her brother had tried to protect her, but was regularly beaten and tied up. The night of the murder she had come out of a blackout to see her brother holding a knife and stabbing the man. Her statement had helped send Hank to prison, but now she wants to help set him free. As she and Jaxon begin asking questions, Avery begins receiving threats, warning her to give up her quest. 

Jaxon had also spent time in foster care and knew that bad things happen all too often. He is amazed by Avery's strength and determination. Though he had been told by his boss to make sure the execution went on as scheduled, his own honor as a Ranger wouldn't allow him to ignore the possibility that the wrong person had been convicted. The more people he questions, the more obvious it becomes that the authorities had taken the easy way out. Jaxon becomes more determined to uncover the truth.

There were many layers to the mystery here, and multiple people with motive to kill Wade. I loved following each step and trying to figure out where it was leading. Some of the stories that were uncovered were heartbreaking. As the day of execution got closer, the intensity of the search increased. There was a surprise appearance by someone who claimed knowledge of the murder. When the final confrontation came, I was surprised by who had actually done it, and even more surprised by who had covered it up. 

The romance between Jaxon and Avery was pretty quick. There was an immediate attraction between them, but they did try to resist at first. Jaxon felt it was inappropriate to get involved with Avery while he was investigating, but he found it very hard to resist. I loved his protectiveness toward her from the very beginning. He was horrified by the things that had happened to her and so sweet with her when she was having nightmares and flashbacks. Avery had her own issues obviously, because of the abuse she had suffered. Besides her problems having any kind of relationships, she had serious trust issues with men. From the very start she trusted Jaxon, which enabled her to allow herself to feel more. There was a brief break in that trust, but reason overcame it, and they were able to look forward together. I especially loved seeing what Jaxon did for Avery's brother and father.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cold Case at Camden Crossing - Rita Herron (HI #1463 - Dec 2013)

Series: Cold Case (Book 1)

People in town believe Tawny-Lynn Boulder is the only reason the Camden Cross case went unsolved. She survived the bus accident that left several dead and two missing, but the severe trauma left her with amnesia. So when she returns to her family's ranch after seven years, Sheriff Chaz Camden presses her to help locate the girls who were never found -- including his own sister. But someone in town is threatening to kill Tawny-Lynn to keep the case closed. Now she must trust that the sexy sheriff she once loved will protect her and show this murderer that in Camden, accidents don't happen…justice does.

Excellent book, I got so involved that I could not put it down. Tawny isn't happy about coming back to Camden Crossing, but someone has to deal with the ranch after her father's death. She left town as soon as she graduated from high school, unable to deal with the way people treated her after the accident. She was the only survivor, but thanks to a concussion and the trauma, she has no memory of the day the accident happened. All she knows is that her sister and one other girl are missing and everyone blames her for not remembering what she may have seen.

The first person she saw when she arrived was Chaz Camden, who is now the sheriff. Besides being the brother of her sister's best friend and the other missing girl, he was also the boy she'd had a crush on. She immediately notices the changes in him, and how sexy he has become. She's attracted to him, but can't forget the way that his family treated her after the accident. All she wants to do is get the property ready to sell and leave town. There's an unpleasant surprise waiting for her inside the house - a threatening message, written in blood. Then, on her way back to town from getting cleaning supplies, someone runs her off the road.

Chaz is stunned by the changes in Tawny. She's no longer the skinny kid that he remembers tagging along behind their sisters. When several members of the town want him to force her to leave town, he stands up for her, reminding them that she was a victim also. Chaz's own father is one of the most vocal, blaming Tawny for not helping find his daughter. On his way home from work that evening he finds Tawny's jeep in the ditch. He's disturbed to hear what happened and even more disturbed when he found the threats at her house. He's determined to find out who is behind them.

From here things just get more intense as both Tawny and Chaz turn their minds to investigating just what happened. At first, every question they get answered just brings up more questions. Then the attacks on Tawny become physical and more dangerous. Somebody clearly doesn't want her digging and they don't want her to have a chance to remember. Then one question starts a chain of events that brings answers no one expected and one I definitely didn't see coming. That wasn't even the end of it, as there was one more twist that I halfway suspected, but didn't want to believe.

The relationship that developed between Tawny and Chaz was one that did not go smoothly. Though he stood up for her, there were times that Chaz wondered if Tawny knew more than she was saying, but then he would feel guilty for thinking it. For the most part his protectiveness and the attraction he felt for her were his overriding feelings, to the point where he started to wonder if she would be willing to stay. He did have one bad point where he backslid and made accusations that he shouldn't have, but realized it once he cooled off. Tawny also found herself falling for Chaz, but couldn't see herself ever living in a town where so many hated her. At the end, Chaz realized the depth of his feelings when he nearly lost her. I loved seeing the way things worked out for them.

The Lawman's Noelle - Stella Bagwell (HSE #2375 - Dec 2014)

Series: Men of the West (Book 31)

The things you find under the mistletoe!

While running her own ranch, Noelle Barnes had encountered all sorts of surprises. But an unconscious cowboy? That was a first! Yet Evan Calhoun was no ordinary rancher. He was a lawman on the hunt for some rustlers. And with her tragic past, there was no way Noelle was going to trust herself to the long arms of the law…

From the moment he looked into her velvety brown eyes, Evan knew Noelle had secrets. Torn between admiring her independence and wanting to take care of her, Evan hadn't realized just what a hard task lassoing this cowgirl would be! Would a holiday proposal bring him all he really wanted for Christmas?

Good book. Noelle is the owner of a small ranch, which she runs completely on her own. While checking her fences one day she came across Evan Calhoun, injured and unconscious. After reviving him, she's not too happy to discover that he's a detective with the local sheriff's department, but she can't just leave him. So she gets him the help he needs, delivers him to his home, and doesn't expect to see him again. 

I liked Noelle. She is fiercely independent and determined to live her life on her own terms. Her parents have money, but were very self-absorbed people, and hadn't spent much time with Noelle and her brother Andy. As she got older she went along with her parents' wishes, including marrying a man they favored. After she discovered he had only married her for her money and as a stepping stone in her father's company, she divorced him. Around the same time her younger brother was killed, shot by mistake by a policeman. Heartbroken, she moved to the land left to her by her aunt and uncle. Her meeting with Evan disturbed her on a couple levels. First, she was attracted to him, feelings that she hadn't had since her divorce five years earlier. Second, he was a lawman, the type of person she had resented and avoided since her brother's death. He also comes from money, another type she has avoided because of her family experiences. Though she doesn't expect to see him again, she can't help but be happy when he comes to see her. Though her head tells her to stay away from him, her heart isn't listening. Over the next few weeks, Evan comes to see her more and more often, helping out on her ranch, and including her in things with his family. She starts to see a different side of him, and by extension all lawmen, and her feelings for him start to deepen. But she still sees a gulf between them, one that she doesn't see narrowing.

Evan is one of the Calhoun brothers, one that is somewhat out of step with his family. He has never been overly interested in the ranch, his dream has always been law enforcement. One of the cases he is working on involves cattle rustlers, and that's what he was working on when he was rescued by Noelle. He had been thrown by his horse, and if not for her he could have been in very bad shape. He had been drawn to her from the very beginning, even though she's nothing like the women he usually dates. He has been keeping his relationships very light ever since the end of his engagement. He had been burned by her, when it turned out she was more interested in his family wealth that in himself. Now he's extra cautious. I liked the way that Noelle's independence impressed him, even though it also worried him that she was so isolated. I liked seeing him pull her into his life and show her a bit of fun. Evan was nervous about the strength of the feelings he was beginning to have for her. He is thinking more about a permanent relationship with her, but can't see how that can happen with her refusing to leave her land, and him unwilling to be far from his own family.

Both Noelle and Evan are pretty stubborn about their own needs. I have to admit that I was more sympathetic to Noelle than I was to Evan, because of her background. Both of them had some serious thinking to do about what they really wanted for the rest of their lives. I loved seeing how they finally realized that nothing was more important than being together. The epilogue was a nice wrap up for the book. I'm looking forward to reading stories for Finn and Brodie.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lone Star Survivor - Colleen Thompson (HRS #1829 - Dec 2014)

Series: Lone Star (Book 2)

A soldier's memories are more dangerous than anything he's encountered in the line of duty

"Killed in action" a year ago, US Army captain Ian Rayford shocks everyone when he stumbles half-dead onto his family's Texas ranch. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Ian can barely remember his relatives. His former fiancée, a psychologist specializing in PTSD, arrives to help Ian recover. But not everyone wants her to unearth the dangerous secrets he's carrying.

Now engaged to another man, Dr. Andrea Warrington fights her feelings for Ian even as she helps him remember how much they once loved each other. Yet the closer Ian gets to his past, the more someone else has to ensure the treacherous truth stays buried.

This was an excellent book, packed with both physical and mental action. It started with Ian, who had been reported dead, walking his way toward his family's ranch. He is half-dead and barely has any memories of his family or anything else. He is also suffering from extreme PTSD, including flashbacks that send him right back to being tortured.  Within a few weeks he's disgusted with the "shrinks" who have tried to help him and refuses to see another one.

At this point his family contacts a local center that deals with returning vets and their issues. They send out a psychologist to work with him, but it isn't just any psychologist. Andrea was once engaged to Ian, before she broke things off with him. She found out he had been lying to her about his unexplained absences, something that pushed one of her own issues. Her father had lied to her and her mother, leaving them behind when it was discovered that he had two other wives and families. She has moved on, and is now engaged to another man. She is not happy about her assignment, but her boss (and fiance) orders her to do it, claiming that her history with Ian may make it easier for him to open up with her.

Andrea tries to keep a professional distance with Ian, but he refuses to give up on their relationship. She wants to help him, but she's determined not to let her emotions get involved. Being around her does start to break some of his memories loose, but when they become the target of several attacks, he starts to worry that whatever he's forgotten  has brought trouble to her.

I liked Ian and ached for him with the pain he was experiencing. The descriptions of his episodes were so vivid that I felt as though I was right there. He was also afraid that he might have given up sensitive information while being tortured, and that kind of guilt has added to the stress he is under. As more of his memory returns, he feels that he is getting closer to the truth of why someone wants him dead, if he can just stay alive long enough to remember it all. During all of it, he continues to try to show Andrea that they belong together.

During the story we see more of Andrea's fiance. He stands in the way of Ian getting Andrea back. He also seems to be unusually interested in hearing about Ian's progress. Is it professional interest, or does he have a more personal reason? Why is he determined that Andrea be the one to work with Ian, even though he knows of their prior relationship? And why does the sheriff seem to have it in for Ian and his brother Zach? His attitude doesn't seem right for a man who is supposed to uphold the law. Ian's family is happy to have him home, and desperately worried about him and his suffering. I loved their support of him, but does Zach's wife Jessie, and her investigative journalism have anything to do with the attacks? The final confrontation is intense, and has several interesting twists and turns before it is all over.

Carrying the Lost Heir's Child - Jules Bennett (HD # 2352 - Jan 2015)

Series: Barrington Trilogy (Book 3)

"I'm pregnant."
Two words that will rock one man's world forever.

On location for a film about a horse-racing dynasty, Lily Beaumont is drawn into a sizzling affair with sexy stablehand Nash James. Now she has to trust him with the truth about their baby.

Even though the undercover millionaire is on a mission against his hated rival, he won't walk away from Lily or their unborn child. It will mean coming clean about his true identity--and the decades-old secret that brought him to Virginia horse country. But will the truth cost him the woman and family he now craves?

I thought this was the most emotional one of the three books in the series. When Nash first appeared in Single Man Meets Single Mom, I suspected he was going to play a big part in the series. I wasn't even surprised at his relationship with the family, as secret babies aren't unusual. But there was so much more than that to who Nash was and what he was looking for.

Nash and Lily have been indulging themselves in a steamy affair. The movie she's filming is due to end soon, and that is when they planned to end their affair. Nash expected that Lily would be long gone before he was ready to reveal his identity to Damon Barrington. Lily's news brings a whole new level of complications to his plans. 

Nash and Damon had been business rivals for a couple years before Nash found out about his relationship with him. His plan had originally been to learn what Damon's plans for the future are, figure out how to acquire some of Damon's horses for his own breeding program, then leave. Once he learned of their connection, he also wanted to see what Damon was like on a personal level. Though he loved his mother, he had always felt the lack of family in his life, and he found himself envying the relationship between Damon and his daughters.

Nash had not expected Lily to become such an important part of his life. With the news of her pregnancy, he knew he wanted to stay involved with her. He wasn't going to walk away from their child or from Lily. I loved when he told her "I think you're everything I didn't know I was looking for, and more than I deserve." I loved seeing how determined he was to take care of her. His deception was eating him up, but he was having a hard time getting up the courage to confess, fearing what her reaction would be. His fears were well founded, and the pain he went through as he tried to win her back was intense. This part had me going through several tissues. I liked that he owned up to his mistakes and didn't try to weasel out of the consequences. 

Lily had started the affair with Nash knowing that it would end. She hadn't planned to fall in love with him, and a baby definitely wasn't in her plan either. Her biggest fears right now are that the media would somehow find out. At the beginning of her career she had fallen for a man who had lied to her and embroiled her in a media firestorm. She dreads the idea of it happening again and is afraid of what would happen to her relationship with Nash. She's happy that he's not upset about the baby, but she can't figure out how they can make a continued relationship work. She's surprised by his take charge attitude regarding her well being and fights it a bit. She's an independent woman who is used to being in control of her life, but soon finds leaning on Nash a little isn't so bad.

With the pregnancy comes a desire to know more about Nash. She realizes that neither of them has done much talking when they're together. It doesn't take her long to realize that he's hiding something from her and that starts to work on her fears. When he confesses his parentage, she's upset that he hadn't told her before, but they move on pretty quickly. It's not long before she gets the feeling that there is something more, and that confession devastates her. She had had bad experiences with her stepfather, another rich man, and to find out that Nash shared some of those same characteristics broke her heart. She wasn't sure she could ever trust him again, even though she couldn't stop loving him. I liked the way that she cared enough to give him a chance to show her how he had changed. The epilogue was great, with an unexpected twist at the wedding.

A Soldier's Secret - RaeAnne Thayne (SSE #1918 - Aug 2008)

Series: Women of Brambleberry House (Book 3)


To find out who was claiming ownership of the only place he'd ever called home, Harry Maxwell knew he'd have to practice a little deception. So the wounded lieutenant changed his name a little. Altered a few facts. All for a good cause--get in, get the truth, get out.

Until he met the Brambleberry House heir presumptive. Anna Galvez was captivating in ways he hadn't even known existed. Still, after spending time with her, he wanted the house more than ever.

But only if she was in it....

Very emotional book. Max has come to Brambleberry House for two reasons. First, to make sure that the women who inherited it did so honestly. He was worried that they had taken advantage of his sweet great-aunt. Second, he is recovering from injuries received when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq, and the peace of the Oregon Coast is just what he needs. He arrived at the house under an assumed name so that he could get at the truth with no one the wiser.

Anna needs the income from Max's rental of the top floor apartment. The house is old and seems to be in constant need for repair or maintenance and there is never enough money to do it all. Her first impression of Max is that he's aloof and kind of cold, but she's still attracted to him. She's sworn off men for awhile because she doesn't trust her judgment any longer. She has a failed engagement in her past, then the last man she got involved with was caught embezzling money from her business. She feels it's safer just to stay away from them. But there's something about Max that makes her want to trust him and lean on him.

It took me a couple chapters to warm up to Max. He seemed to be far too cynical to be Abigail's nephew. It soon became apparent that his problem was due mostly to his experiences with his selfish mother and the guilt that he felt for not spending more time with his aunt. He was mostly convinced of Anna's innocence within a couple days, though he would occasionally still have moments of doubt. He was also dealing with the disappointment that his aunt hadn't left the house to him. His times with her were the only bright spots in a miserable childhood and now he feels that perhaps he failed to measure up in some way. As he gets to know Anna he starts to feel guilty about his deception, but can't figure out how to tell her the truth without hurting her.

I loved the relationship that grew between Anna and Max. Anna senses Max's need to be loved. I loved seeing her give him the kind of care and support that he used to get from Abigail. Meanwhile, Max sees the vulnerable woman under the tough exterior that she shows to the rest of the world. He wants to protect her from all the things that are bringing her down. When the truth about who he is comes out, Anna is heartbroken, and convinced that he hadn't cared for her at all. 

I really enjoyed the part that the dog Conan played. Throughout the book he seems almost human as it looks like he is trying to help move their relationship along. There is also the feeling that Abigail isn't far away and that she has a hand in the things that are happening between Anna and Max. I loved the ending with the letter that Max has gotten from his aunt and the effect it has on him. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Christmas Ranch - RaeAnne Thayne (HSE #2371 - Dec 2014)

Series: Cowboys of Cold Creek (Book 13)


Hope Nichols has never felt as if she belonged anywhere, except her hometown of Pine Gulch. So, when she hears that her family's property, Christmas Ranch, is set to be shut down forever, a determined Hope heads home. She refuses to let the Grinch steal her holiday -- this will be the most memorable ranch Christmas ever! And, thanks to hunky former navy SEAL Rafe Santiago and his adorable nephew, she might just pull off that miracle.

Rafe is undeniably drawn to Hope and her passion for rebuilding her family home. But he knows more about Hope's tragic past than even she herself could imagine. And though she doesn't know it, she owes him her life. And all he wants in return is for her to spend it with him…

Wonderful Christmas story, full of love, hope, family and fun. After years of teaching English in foreign countries, Hope has decided it's time to come home. She and her sisters grew up on the ranch, raised by their aunt and uncle after their medical missionary parents were killed. With the deaths of her uncle and brother-in-law, Hope feels she needs to be there to support her family. On her way to the ranch she has an encounter involving a small boy, a snowball and a broken car window, and the boy's good-looking uncle. As she arrives at the ranch she discovers that the yearly holiday attraction, The Christmas Ranch, is not going to open this year. She refuses to accept it, and plans to do whatever necessary to make it happen.

I liked Hope a lot. She is determined to see the Ranch open, in spite of her sisters' negative attitudes about it. I loved her optimism and her refusal to quit. Her encounter with the little rock thrower also showed a lot about who she was. I liked seeing her get him involved in the Ranch as a way to pay for what he did. She isn't quite sure about the boy's uncle at first. Rafe is a bit more intense than the men she is usually around. When he offers to help with the renovations, she isn't sure if she should accept, but she's getting desperate about everything that needs to be done. As they work together she finds that she really likes him, and that liking starts to grow into more. There's also a strong attraction between them that Hope tries to fight. Rafe doesn't plan to stay in Pine Gulch and she doesn't want to risk her heart. When she discovers the secret he's been keeping from her, she doesn't know how to deal with her feelings.

Rafe had come to Pine Gulch to take care of his nephew, leaving his career as a SEAL behind. His sister is his only family, and as she faces jail time Rafe is the only one who can take care of Joey. He's feeling out of his depth as a surrogate parent when Joey breaks the window on Hope's truck. His first reaction is attraction, but when he hears her name it's another feeling altogether. He knew when he came to Pine Gulch that he might encounter the Nichols family, but he was quite ready yet. He has a connection with them because of his time in the SEALs that has left him with feelings of guilt that he has carried for years. When he finds out that Hope is trying to reopen the Christmas Ranch, he feels compelled to offer his help. It isn't long before those guilty feelings are joined by an entirely different kind of feelings. Rafe is falling for her, but those other feelings have him certain that there is no way for them to have a future. I loved seeing young Joey be the one to show Rafe that anything is possible.

The secondary characters all added extra depth to the story. Faith, the new widow, coping with her grief and having the stresses of running their ranch. Her feelings of being overwhelmed are obvious and understandable. Her kids, their happiness at having Hope back and the fun that slowly returns to their lives is moving. I enjoyed seeing them act like normal kids and loved the way that they made Joey part of their world too. Hope's other sister, CeCe, was really sweet. I loved her job as a children's librarian and the story she wrote about the reindeer. Her reaction to what Hope does with the story shows that she has some issues of her own to overcome. Rafe's nephew Joey was a real sweetie, though he sure didn't make the best first impression. He has a lot that he's dealing with and I loved seeing the way that working with Hope helped him and Rafe grow closer together. There was also a passing reference to another series, Hope's Crossing, that was fun to see.

I felt like the Ranch itself was a character in the book. The memories that Hope had of the way it helped ease her grief showed how important it was to her. Each description of something that she or Rafe was working on made it feel like an important part of the family. I loved seeing how it all came together.

Wild West Christmas - Jenna Kernan, Kathryn Albright, Lynna Banning (HH #1203 - Oct 2014)


Two years ago, Dillen Roach fell for wealthy debutante Alice Truett. Now she's at his door with his orphaned nephews in tow! Could Alice be the perfect Christmas gift for this solitary rancher? 

Dillen had known Alice back in Omaha and fell in love with her before he knew she came from a wealthy family. Feeling that he wasn't good enough for her, he left her behind to try to make his fortune out west. Two years later he still hasn't achieved his dream, but finds out that Alice will be coming to Colorado to bring him his orphaned nephews. Because of a mix-up with telegrams he is unable to delay her.

Alice has never forgotten Dillen. When his sister, who was also her friend, dies Alice makes it her mission to take the orphaned boys to Dillen. She hopes that seeing him again will rekindle their romance. She doesn't expect him to be so unhappy to see her and determined to find other options for the boys. She convinces him to let her stay and help for awhile and tries to show him that she is able to handle the life.

Dillen has a couple issues working against him. The first is that his pride won't let him pursue his feelings for Alice. Her money has him convinced that he will never be good enough for her. Second is his fear that he isn't capable of properly raising the boys. He is only an employee, with no home of his own. He appreciates Alice's willingness to help, but doesn't think she'd want to stay for long.

I loved Alice's determination to show Dillen what she can do. She has her own fears about what she can do but works to overcome them. I love the way that she showed him that he is able to care for the boys. She also tried to show him that money doesn't matter to her, and she loved that he had cared for her before he knew about the money.

Dillen very nearly let his pride tear them apart again, but saw the truth in time. I loved the way that he went after Alice. It was quite dramatic and fun to read. I also liked seeing him admit his vulnerability to Alice as well as his love.

DANCE WITH A COWBOY by Kathryn Albright 

Kathleen Sheridan is determined to leave the tragedy of her past behind her -- including brooding cowboy Garrett. But with Christmas magic in the air, can she resist the warmth of his touch? 

Very good story. Kathleen had left Clear Springs five years earlier, after the death of her husband. She hadn't felt truly part of his family and thought things would be easier back in San Diego with her own family. It didn't turn out that way, as her family didn't like the Sheridans. They never forgave her for marrying one, and made their disapproval of her and her daughter clear. So she moved back to Clear Springs, determined to live her life on her own terms.

She hadn't been back long when she ran into Garrett, her late husband's brother. She had had a  huge crush on Garrett when she was a girl, but he never gave any indication that he felt the same way. She later fell for Josh when he pursued her so avidly. Unfortunately the marriage hadn't been a happy one. Now that she's back, Garrett has made it clear that the Sheridans want to be part of her and Lily's lives and she's not sure she wants that.

Garrett is a very quiet man, one who has never been good with words. He first noticed Kathleen when she was about fourteen, but knew she was too young for his attentions. By the time he felt she was old enough his brother had already staked his claim. All he could do was watch and fume as he saw the way that Josh treated her. The night before Josh's death, they had had words and Garrett has felt guilty ever since. With Kathleen's return he is determined to watch out for her. He doesn't expect to find that his love for her is as strong as ever.

I loved the way that Garrett showed his love for Kathleen. He helped out with repairs at her aunt's home, he tried to make things easier for Kathleen. He tried to show her that the Sheridans considered her part of their family. I especially loved the way he stood up to her brother-in-law. He really wanted to speak of his feelings, but his guilt wouldn't let him. I was really rooting for him to overcome those feelings.

Kathleen started out trying to keep Garrett at a distance, but his attentions soon started to warm her up to him. She remembered the way she used to feel about him and found those feelings growing stronger. She was afraid that he was only being nice because of his guilty feelings once he confessed what had happened. She had a lot to think about before she could trust both his feelings and her own.


Gale McBurney is an utter mystery to rich "city girl" Lilah Cornwell. But to make Smoke River her home by Christmas, she'll have to let this rugged cattleman take the reins…. 

Lilah is a city girl from Philadelphia with aspirations to become a writer. Her aunt left her a house in Oregon and a great deal of money, so she moves there to start her career. When she arrives, she discovers that the house has been empty for years and is not in the best of conditions. She won't let that stop her and immediately begins her renovations, including planting flowers along the front of the yard.

Gale is the foreman of a local cattle ranch. While driving cattle to the train depot in town, several of them tore through Lilah's yard, destroying her fence and garden. Gale feels badly and stops by the house to tell the owner he will make the repairs. He is bowled over by Lilah's beauty and her fiery nature. He returns the next day to make the repairs and a friendship of sorts begins between them.

Gale is fascinated by Lilah and can't stay away from her. He finds himself going to visit her after his work is done, just to spend time with her. He doesn't understand what is happening to him, and at times the strength of his emotions overwhelms him. I loved seeing some of the things he did for her. I especially loved his treatment of the fence and garden and the impression it made on Lilah. Gale also shows himself to be a very sensitive man which made him even more appealing. He has an interesting hobby that ends up having a huge impact on their chances of a future together.

I loved Lilah's independence and sense of adventure. She is very shy and feels awkward around people, but she hasn't let it stop her from pursuing her dreams. She's furious with Gale at first over the damages done to her yard, but she's also intrigued by him. His frequent visits have her thinking about him constantly. I loved seeing how his influence had her trying new things and making new friends. I liked the mental conversations she had with her aunt when she was undecided on what she would do. There was an interesting twist to her aunt's past that had a big effect on Lilah's life. 

It ached to see how much the two of them came to love each other but couldn't see a way to make a life together. Gale couldn't see a way that a ranch foreman could aspire to marry a wealthy woman. I loved seeing the ranch owner's wife, Alice, do everything she could to throw them together. I loved the way she finally made it happen.

The only thing that was a bit frustrating about the book was the frequent changes of point of view, with each change being a new chapter. It made the story feel a bit choppy.