Sunday, November 30, 2014

Undercover Warrior - Aimee Thurlo (HI #1505 - July 2014)

Series: Copper Canyon (Book 5)

Erin Barrett was the sole survivor of an armed assault on her company. Her saving grace? Undercover agent Kyle Goodluck, who'd grown from troubled youth to total warrior. Though he agreed to protect Erin, he still had unanswered questions. Starting with how much she could be trusted. But only Erin knew what these terrorists wanted -- and were willing to kill for. Kyle just had to gauge how forthcoming she was going to be about it. Standing their ground as New Mexico heated up with cross fire, Kyle wouldn't settle for anything less than absolute victory. And with Erin as his spirit guide, he wouldn't have to settle for anything anymore….

Very good story, with action that grabbed me from the beginning. Kyle had been assigned to discover what sort of trouble Erin's boss had gotten himself into. He arrived in time to save Erin but not her boss. He took her under his protection, not sure if she was innocent or part of the plot. They have to find a way to work together to stop the terrorists. 

I liked Kyle a lot. He overcame a rough childhood, thanks to the foster father who took him in and the five others who became his brothers. His current investigation has brought him to his hometown, just in time to save Erin's life. He is investigating her boss to determine if he has ties to terrorists, and when he rescues her he is cautious about trusting her. It doesn't take long for his instincts to tell him that she is innocent. He is also attracted to her in a way that he's never experienced before, and discovers that his restlessness finds peace when he is with her. Kyle has used his job as a way to keep anyone from getting close, protecting himself from the pain of loss. 

Erin is an intelligent and independent woman. I really liked the way that she kept her head during the attack even though she was afraid. She also didn't back down from asserting her innocence. She also insisted on being included as they continued the investigation. She is also attracted to Kyle but has no idea how they could have a future together. His job keeps him on the move and her dream is to own some land and become a chile farmer, putting down roots. Her heart doesn't care about the differences and she soon realizes that Kyle brings a sense of balance to her life.

The mystery that brings Kyle and Erin together was very well done. There was plenty of action as they do their best to stay out of the bad guys' hands, while they try to find out what they are looking for. It was great to see how each of them brought their own strengths to the investigation. The ending was pretty intense as Kyle and Erin had to do things just right to make sure the terrorists were stopped. I loved seeing Kyle's brothers from the previous books and how they were such a big part of helping him solve this case. The last chapter was great as the family gathered and Kyle reached for the life he wanted.

Another thing I have enjoyed about this series is the information about the Navajo and their beliefs that are included throughout the books. It is great to learn about them in such a fun way.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A New Year Marriage Proposal - Kate Hardy (HR #4450 - Nov 2014)

Will Christmas work its magic?

When reclusive Quinn O'Neill's new neighbor Carissa Wylde asks for his help with a Christmas charity project, he can't resist her vivacious energy. And soon he's caught up in the work…and the beautiful, fun-loving woman behind it!

Like Quinn, Carissa carries hurt and pain beneath her smiles and holiday cheer. On an ice rink, surrounded by twinkling lights, he'll start to kiss it all better. There's plenty of festive magic…but now he's got the toughest challenge of all: proving this romance is not just for Christmas but for a lifetime….

Lovely, heartwarming Christmas story. Quinn has just moved into his new home when Carissa stops by to welcome him to the neighborhood. He's distracted because he's working on a new computer program, and isn't very friendly. Carissa is bright and cheerful, even in those circumstances. When she gets a chance she looks him up and discovers he's a computer guy, so she goes to ask him to help with a charity project. In talking to him she discovers that he doesn't like Christmas at all, whereas Christmas is her favorite time of year. She's determined to change his mind about the holiday.

I loved Carissa's enthusiasm for the season. She is determined to make Quinn see the magic of the season and sets out to convince him. She takes him to everything from light festivals to ice skating trying to show him how wonderful it is. As she gets to know him she discovers that Quinn doesn't talk about his past at all and wonders if that has to do with his dislike of Christmas. Carissa herself has known pain of her own, but deals with it by trying to do good for others.

I liked Quinn a lot. He has terrible memories of his childhood, which have really affected his adult life. He was abandoned by his mother and raised by his aunt and uncle, but always felt as though he was a burden to them. While he was in college he fell in love with a young woman who it turned out didn't care for him and broke his heart, adding to his feelings of being worthless. By the time he meets Carissa he has gotten in the habit of keeping everyone at an emotional distance. But there is something about Carissa that he doesn't seem to be able to say no to, and he finds himself doing things he'd had no intention of doing. I loved seeing him start to loosen up and have fun, even if he was still having trouble believing in her magic of Christmas. I also liked the way that he was able to get her to talk about her painful past and gave her the support and understanding that she didn't expect. I also loved what he did with that knowledge.

It was great to see how Carissa's determination started to break through Quinn's defenses. Thanks to her he got to see what loving families were like. I also loved seeing the attraction that built between them. Both of them had painful pasts, but Carissa is more open to seeing what might come of it. When their attraction gets the best of them, it scares Quinn and he tries to pull back. Carissa finally succeeds in getting him to talk to her about his past, but then lets him know that he needs to deal with his demons if he wants a chance at happiness with her. I loved what he did with what she told him, and the difference it made to his entire outlook. His final push to show her how he feels was really sweet and romantic.

Billion Dollar Cowboy - Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks Casablanca - June 2013)

Series: Cowboys and Brides (Book 1)

A Billionaire Can Buy Anything...

Colton Nelson was twenty-eight years old when he won the Texas Lottery and went from ranch hand to ranch owner overnight. Now he's desperate to keep the gold diggers away. It shouldn't be too hard to find a pretty girl and hire her to pretend to be his one-and-only.

Or Can He?

Laura Baker's got mixed feelings about this--she's on the ranch to work, not to be arm candy. On the other hand, being stuck for a while in the boondocks with a gorgeous cowboy isn't half-bad.

What neither Colton nor Laura expects are the intensely hard lessons they have to learn about the real cost of love...

This was a really fun book. Colton is a cowboy who is now a billionaire and being constantly pursued by women who are more interested in his money than him. Laura is on the ranch to work off a debt to her cousin, who is Colton's best friend and financial adviser. Colton's family and friends come up with an idea that will give Colton a break and Laura the chance to pay off her debt faster. They want Colton and Laura to pretend to be involved. Colton's desperate and Laura just wants her debt gone, so they go along with it, not expecting their fake relationship to start to feel very real.

I loved both Colton and Laura. Colton was just an ordinary cowboy until he won the lottery. Now he has a ton of money and no peace from being pursued. When someone drugs him, his family decides to step in and help. First they set up Colton and Laura to make it look like there's something going on, then they let them in on the plan. Colton and Laura aren't too thrilled with the idea at first, but they're willing to give it a shot. It isn't too long before the fake relationship starts to feel real, but both of them have some things holding them back.

Colton was raised by his grandmother after his parents died in a crash. His parents were passionate people and fought a lot. The last thing he remembers of them is their fighting, and then they were gone. He associates fighting with separation, and two people together will fight, therefore commitment will bring separation. And that's just too much pain. He also has trouble talking about his feelings. But Laura understands him and being around her doesn't make him feel the same way he does around others. 

Laura and her sister were raised by their aunt after their mother died. Laura never knew her father. She sees that any relationship is headed for disaster because sooner or later someone is going to leave. Why start something that will only end in heartbreak. She feels like she was important enough for her mother to fight for her health and not die, so why would anyone else care for her like that. She feels like Colton really cares for her, but she has a hard time trusting that it's enough.

I loved seeing Colton and Laura getting to know each other. Colton is sweet and kind and hasn't let the money go to his head. He still works hard on the ranch. At first he wonders if Laura is scamming him the way that others have tried to do, but soon learns that she is just as real as he is. It was fun to see his playfulness when he showed her the pool and the gym. He was surprised to see how well she fit into life on the ranch and that added to the feelings that were growing for her. There's also some really hot chemistry going on between them that he has no trouble accepting, it's just that pesky "L" word that is creating problems.

Laura started off just wanting to pay her debt and leave. She's not really comfortable among people she doesn't know and Colton's money freaks her out a bit. She's not happy about her cousin's machinations to get her to help Colton, but she'll do it to have a chance to see her sister. She discovers that he's much more down to earth than she expected, and begins to like him for who he is. I liked the fact that his money means absolutely nothing to her, that it is more of a negative than a positive for her. She's really nervous about a couple of the events she has to attend with him, but has a better time than she expected. She still doesn't feel like she fits in his world. Her feelings grow for him, but she isn't ready to make their relationship real without knowing that he feels the same. I loved the fact that they could actually talk things out when they had an issue.

I loved the secondary characters and the richness they added to the story. Grandma Maudie was a trip of an old lady. She has a heart of gold, raised Colton and is now raising her niece Roxie. She doesn't put up with any crap from either one of them. Roxie was another one that I loved. She's a teenager who also had a less than stellar mother. Laura sees a lot of herself and Janet in Roxie, and relates to her very well. I loved seeing the changes in Roxie that came from being around Laura. I also loved the way that Laura was there for Roxie, especially with the girl's problems with a classmate. Laura's sister Janet was a character that had to grow on me. Her attitude at the beginning made me realize why Andy Joe had set the conditions he had. I really wanted to smack her for the things she said about Laura's relationship with Colton. I was happy to see the changes she started to go through, and for Laura's sake hope she sticks with it. It was fun to see various other residents of the town and their effects on the relationship between Colton and Laura. I'm looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hot Summer Nights - Jaci Burton, Carly Phillips, Erin McCarthy, Jessica Clare (Berkley - July 2013)

Passions ignite in these all-new stories from four bestselling masters of contemporary romance? 

Series: Hope (Book .5)
In Jaci Burton's "HOPE SMOLDERS," struggling divorcée Jane has put her personal life on hold to raise her kids -- until she runs into Will, her ex's former best friend, who convinces her it's time to start having fun again.

This story is the introduction to Jaci Burton's new series. I've already read the first book in the series, Hope Flames, and really enjoyed it, so I liked going back and reading about Jane and Will. Jane is the single mother of two who has been struggling since her husband walked out two years ago. All her energy goes to taking care of her kids, her house, and her two jobs. There isn't a lot of time for fun.

Will is surprised by the attraction that he feels for Jane when he sees her again. He feels guilty about not checking up on her and the kids after her husband left them and decides that now is a great time to introduce some fun into Jane's life. So he talks her into a date with him, which goes really great - until an emergency with her daughter breaks it up.

Jane had a great time on the date and the "afters" were wonderful. Will was even supportive and caring with her daughter at the ER. She worries about risking her heart and those of her kids by getting involved with Will. Over the next several weeks things go great as Will makes a place for himself. Jane is very independent and reluctant to allow herself to depend on anyone, especially a man, which ends up creating some conflict. Will was a real sweetheart of a guy. He wanted to help Jane have fun again, but he was also interested in the kids. I loved seeing him make sure there was plenty of time with them as well as alone time with Jane. When they run into a rough patch, I really liked that Will reacted realistically with anger and hurt, but was able to see her point of view after he had a chance to calm down. Jane's issues were also realistic, though she had to have them pointed out by both Will and Chelsea before she was able to let them go.

I liked the ending and seeing them work out their issues. I especially liked Will's understanding of Jane's fears and that he shows he has the love and patience to persevere. 

Series: Serendipity (Book 4.5) Serendipity's Finest (Book 1.7)

Carly Phillips takes you back to the town of Serendipity, where overworked Alexa has an instant connection with a sinfully sexy football star on the dance floor.  A one-night stand evolves into multiple nights when Luke decides to teach the good doctor about his own brand of fun.  But when it's time for him to leave town, will these "PERFECT STRANGERS" be able to say goodbye for good?

Loved this story. Alexa is an overworked doctor who takes a night off to help a friend by taking her out. She meets Luke, a pro football player who is in town for a few days visiting a friend and the chemistry between them is hot. After a couple nights together, Luke sees a need in Alexa that he's more than happy to fill.

Alexa always wanted to be a doctor and her personal preference was toward pediatrics. But her father, the current chief of staff of the hospital, has been grooming her to take over his position when he retires. She works long hours in many different parts of the hospital, hasn't had a date in months, and barely has a social life with her best friend. There's something about Luke that got her attention that very first night and made her forget about work for awhile. When she gets called to the hospital for an emergency, she finds Luke waiting for her when she's done, offering to take care of her.

Luke was drawn to Alexa from the moment he met her. First he saw her beauty and felt their physical attraction. He saw the loyal friend when Cara needed her for backup. Then when Cara got hurt, he saw her change into the intensely capable doctor. He is fascinated by all the layers he sees in her. After taking her out for breakfast and then spending the next 24 hours with her, he really wants to get to know her better.

Alexa gets a little spooked by the intensity of what she's feeling for Luke and tries to pull away, but he doesn't let her get away with it. I loved their conversation when she owns up to what she did. Luke wants a chance to show her how to have some real fun, and has no trouble standing up to her father to make sure she gets it. I really enjoyed the mental image of her father standing there with his mouth hanging open because of it.

The time with Luke, and the example he has set of having a balanced life, makes Alexa more aware of how unhappy she has become with her life as it is. When Luke invites her to come to Texas with him and meet his family, she has some hard truths to face. Meanwhile, back in Texas, Luke is still hopeful that things aren't over between them. I loved Alexa's solution and really hope to see them appear in a later book to see how they are doing.

Series: Bluebonnet (Book 2.5)

In Jessica Clare's "THE LEGEND OF JANE," an intrepid Bloggess catches the eye of local law enforcement when she gets caught trespassing.  Luckily, Luanne wouldn't mind getting handcuffed by Officer Hotness?

Luanne has come to Bluebonnet to live with her sister while she is out of work. To pay the bills left over from a sleazy boyfriend, she has a video blog of her doing crazy things. The income from the ads is her only income right now. The story starts with Hank finding her filming herself attempting to do "cowtipping" in a local field. She wants to film him arresting her, and he isn't going to cooperate. Both of them are attracted to each other, but they seem to be total opposites in personality.

Hank comes from a long line of cops and likes what he does. Bluebonnet has been pretty quiet up to now and he really doesn't want Luanne's kind of craziness messing that up. But there's something about her fearlessness and fun that really appeals to him. They start dating and having a good time together, but her blog antics are always at the back of his mind. Hank is very conscious of his place in the community and fears what could happen if her actions start to reflect badly on him.

Luanne started the video blog as a way to pay off the bills that accrued when her ex-boyfriend ran up credit cards in her name. She got caught by Hank while filming one of her pieces, and was immediately attracted to him. They start dating, but she knows he has some issues with the things she does for her blog. She keeps doing them in spite of it.

I had a hard time connecting with these two. I got really frustrated with Luanne because it seemed like she was ignoring the very real problems her videos were creating. Hank's concerns didn't appear to bother her at all, which is not the attitude you should have about someone you supposedly care for. Meanwhile, Hank seemed to be pretty uptight about her work. He seemed to like the way she was so different, but wasn't willing to see that what she did wasn't hurting anyone. He was too concerned about the way it looked. 

Though it all worked out in the end, I hope that they both learned a little bit about themselves and their relationship.

Single girl Chelsea is tired of feeling like the fifth wheel on her weekend jaunt to Lake Placid, until she gets stuck out in the cold and finds a muscular knight in shining armor to warm her up -- in Erin McCarthy's "ICE PRINCESS".

This story makes me think of the Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the others". The anthology is Hot Summer Nights and the three other stories take place during the summer. This one is in the middle of winter. Huh?

That being said, it was a cute story. Chelsea is on a ski weekend with some friends. She was supposed to be with her boyfriend too, but they had broken up. She feels a little out of place as the others are still paired up. When she gets locked out of her room on the balcony Brody comes to her rescue. There's a definite attraction between them, but they miss connecting after the rescue.

Brody is a former skiing champion who is now one of the ski instructors at the resort. He's happy to see Chelsea again, as she ends up being his student the next day. The ski lesson was pretty funny, as Chelsea is a total klutz on skis, but she has a great attitude and sense of humor. They make arrangements to meet later, and things get pretty hot from there. They are well matched and feel like there is more to what they could have than just hot sex. 

I really liked the way that they made the commitment to spend more time together after that weekend and really get to know each other. Loved the ending and how it all worked out for them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bridegroom Bodyguard - Lisa Childs (HI #1511 - Aug 2014)

Series: Shotgun Weddings (Book 3)

Someone is trying to kill bodyguard Parker Payne. But what's more shocking is the woman who shows up claiming he's the father of her child. The baby boy is Parker's spitting image, but how could he have forgotten a passionate encounter with this woman with caramel eyes?

Sharon Wells has raised Parker's son since his birth. Now with a homicidal maniac coming after her and her son, it's Parker's unexpected proposal that may be the real danger. Sharon knows Parker just wants to protect them. But with passion flaring and a murderer intent on completing his personal mission, any distraction could mean the difference between life and death.

The final book about the three Payne brothers and it was just as good as the other two. Parker was in the hospital recovering from an explosion when he is visited by Sharon and a baby who looks just like him. She claims that Ethan is his son, but he doesn't remember her. Just as they finish discussing the baby's parentage, Sharon's car explodes in the hospital parking lot, showing her that she is in danger also. When Sharon is named as Ethan's guardian in his mother's will, Parker's mother suggests that Sharon and Parker marry to ensure that Ethan is protected.

Sharon expects that this is simply a temporary marriage, until the danger is over. Even though she has been the one caring for Ethan since he was born, she has no ties to him except those of love. Sharon sees herself as a very forgettable person. She was orphaned as a young child, after witnessing her mother's murder. She was then raised by her grandfather, who was a cold man who looked at her as a mistake that her mother made. She knows Parker's reputation as a playboy and doesn't think she would appeal to him at all. She falls fast and hard for him, but has no hope for a happy ending for herself.

Parker is known as the playboy of the Payne family and claimed that he will never marry. Though everyone thinks he just wants to enjoy the ladies, it goes much deeper than that. He lost his father as a child and never wants to be in the position where a wife and children would mourn if something were to happen to him. I loved seeing how quickly he accepted being a father and how that crack in his walls opened up a larger one for Sharon. Can he allow himself to love her too?

The mystery in this one is who wants both Parker and Sharon dead and why. They start by trying to get answers from Judge Brenda, only to discover that she and her bodyguard are dead. They are shot at, run off the road, and harassed by one of the investigating officers. It seems that no matter what they do, whoever wants them dead is always ahead of them. I figured out pretty quickly why they were being targeted, but the who was well concealed until the end. There was quite an interesting twist with a new character and which side of the law he was really on. I really wasn't too worried, but I could see why the Paynes were concerned. 

Once again, family is a big theme in the book. The Paynes support each other through everything that gets thrown at them. I loved Mrs. Payne and the way her big heart just sucks everyone into her circle of love. Stacy's brothers from Explosive Engagement also had an important part to play in this story. I'd love to see more of them, especially Milek and his ex-girlfriend Amber. I would also like to see more of the Payne sister Nikki, who finally seemed to be seeing more action in the business, as well as getting to know Agent Nicholas Rus.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Explosive Engagement - Lisa Childs (HI #1506 - July 2014)

Series: Shotgun Weddings (Book 2)


Nothing has fazed Logan Payne in his entire career as a bodyguard. That is, until he's tasked with protecting his biggest enemy. Stacy Kozminski isn't too thrilled about having to work with Logan either, but when attempts are made on her life, she knows he is her only hope if she wants to survive.

Soon, a target is placed on both their backs, and they have no choice but to stage an engagement to protect one another. Logan won't let Stacy out of his sight. But is it because he doesn't want to fail his assignment…or because he's come to care for the gutsy and gorgeous woman -- the only woman who's ever gone toe-to-toe with him?

This book picks up where Book One (Groom Under Fire) left off. Cooper and Tanya have just gotten married when shots are fired at Logan. This is when they realize that some of the attacks from earlier have actually been aimed at Logan. He is sure he knows who is behind them, and tears off to confront Stacy, daughter of the man who went to prison for killing his father. He finds her getting ready for her father's funeral and accuses her of shooting at him or having her brothers do so, because he worked hard to make sure her father never got out on parole. He has to rethink his position a bit when someone shoots at them both at the cemetery. Logan's mother suggests that they become engaged as a way to make her family give up what may be their attempts at revenge.

It's very hard to get anyone to believe their sudden engagement. Logan and Stacy have spent the last fifteen years as enemies, refusing to believe any good of the other one. But all that passionate hate suddenly turns to another kind of passion as they are forced into each other's company. Logan can't understand why he's so attracted to a woman he can't bring himself to trust. As they get closer to discovering who is behind the attacks, he starts to realize that he's actually beginning to care for her. I loved seeing the way that she constantly stands up to him, refusing to accept his dictates. Stacy also has trouble believing that she can be so attracted to someone who is too pigheaded to listen to another point of view. She's much quicker to realize that her emotions are getting involved, though it isn't any more welcome to her than it is to him. She does know that she is safer with him than with anyone else, though she begins to worry that protecting her will cost him his life. Each time they are attacked, their feelings get stronger, until the last attack that shows them just how much they really care.

As in the first book, the attacks are nearly nonstop. Logan first suspects that Stacy and her family are behind them, but when she becomes a target also he has to consider other possibilities. He has spent so long convinced that her father killed his, that it takes him awhile to begin to accept her assertion that he couldn't have done it. With each attack it seems like there is another possible suspect. Would Stacy's brothers risk her life in order to get revenge on Logan? What about her uncle, who is also a jewel thief, but has never been caught? Would Logan's brother Parker try to take his own revenge on Stacy's family? What about Logan's employee Candace, who is obviously in love with Logan and not at all happy about his engagement to Stacy? And finally, what evidence did Logan's father's partner suppress and why? I was pretty sure I knew who actually killed Logan's father, but the journey to the answer had quite a few twists and turns. And as with the first book, the end of this one leads into the next.

Groom Under Fire - Lisa Childs (HI #1500 - June 2014)

Series: Shotgun Weddings (Book 1)


When her real groom is kidnapped, Tanya Chesterfield convinces bodyguard and all-time crush Cooper Payne to marry her in order to fulfill the terms of her inheritance and secure a possible ransom. But when there are no demands for money, only attempts made on Tanya's life, Cooper's protective instincts go into overdrive. Nearly losing her makes Cooper realize he never stopped loving her, and their pretense as husband and wife resurrects the passion between them. Cooper has vowed to honor and cherish her, and he is determined to find the truth -- even if it means in the end he must let Tanya go.

Good reunion story with danger pushing Tanya and Cooper together. Cooper has finished his time in the Marines and has joined the family security business. His first assignment is to protect Tanya, who has been receiving threats regarding her upcoming marriage.

Tanya is marrying Stephen, another friend of theirs. What nobody knows is that this is a simple business arrangement between two friends, so that Tanya get her inheritance. When Stephen is kidnapped the day before the wedding, Cooper's mother suggests that he step in so that Tanya makes her deadline. Tanya has been in love with Cooper for years, but he's never indicated an interest in anything but friendship, so she made her arrangement with Stephen. With the attacks on her, she's determined to grab what she can with Cooper. 

Cooper has also loved Tanya for a long time, but has always felt that she's too good for him. This feeling was reinforced by her grandfather many years earlier when he told Cooper to stay away from her. He hates the idea of Tanya marrying Stephen, but he believes she loves him so he keeps quiet about his own feelings. He gets a bit confused when they experience some serious passion between them, as he still believes Tanya is in love with Stephen.

There were times when I really wanted to smack them both. If Tanya had simply told Cooper WHY she was marrying Stephen, a lot of the confusion over feelings might have been avoided. Cooper needed to realize that Tanya doesn't care about any monetary differences between them and never had. He was going to just walk away at the end if he hadn't been forced to actually talk to her.

The mystery and suspense were pretty good. Someone wanted Tanya dead and it was pretty obvious that it had to do with her inheritance. It became clear that it was someone who knew her pretty well, because several of the attempts had to do with health issues that wouldn't be known to just anyone. There were several possibilities, and although I did figure out who it was the other suspects were realistic. The action was pretty intense, with Tanya nearly dying twice, multiple shots being fired at all of them, and a host of other things that kept them jumping. I did like the way it ended, with a good lead in to the next book.

I also enjoyed the relationships among Cooper's family members. Mom may not be part of the security company (she's a wedding planner), but she still excels at keeping her boys in line. Logan is the oldest and feels responsible for everyone, and tends to be on the serious side. Parker is next and is the playboy of the family. He comes across as pretty lighthearted except when the chips are down. Cooper is next and always felt a bit on the outside. Nikki is the youngest and only girl. She is part of the security company but feels as though none of her brothers see her as a capable adult. They are always there for each other when they're needed, but there are still some times when they get in each others' faces. I loved some of the teasing between them.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tall, Dark and Disreputable - Deb Marlow (HH #1086 - Apr 2012)


Portia Tofton has always yearned for brooding Mateo Cardea. His dark good looks filled her girlish dreams -- dreams that were cruelly shattered when Mateo rejected her hand in marriage.

Now Portia's home has been gambled away, and Mateo is the only man she can turn to. This time, however, she has in her possession something he wants -- and she finds herself striking a deal with the devil himself!

Danger is all around -- but Portia has no choice but to trust this man who once betrayed her....

Fun journey from friends to lovers. Mateo is in England to confront his childhood playmate Portia. Upon the death of his father he discovered that control of the family shipping business had been left to her instead of to him. He had spent years pouring everything he had into making the company strong, frequently butting heads with his conservative father. Now he has to find a way to get his business back before all his plans are ruined.

Portia doesn't want the business. However, her late husband gambled away her home and she is desperate to get it back. She plans to offer Mateo a deal - she'll sign the business over as soon as he finds the person who won her home and gets it back. She's not content to just give him the mission, she is going to be with him every step of the way, protecting her interests.

The relationship between Mateo and Portia is very interesting. Their fathers had been good friends so they spent a lot of time together as children and teens. As the only girl, Portia had been ignored and put down by her father and brothers. In order to escape she married a man who turned out to be even worse. He died a scandalous death, leaving her to deal with the aftermath. When they were younger, Portia had tagged after the boys, and Mateo was the only one who treated her with any kindness. She developed quite the crush on him and was thrilled when their fathers proposed that they marry. Mateo wasn't pleased at all and flat out refused, not knowing how Portia felt, and seeing her only as the kid he remembered. This broke her heart.

When they met again, Mateo was surprised by the changes in Portia. At first he believed she had been part of the plot to cut him out but soon realized his mistake. When he became aware of her problem he didn't hesitate to jump in and do his best to fix it. He really wants to get it fixed quickly so he can get back to sea where he feels comfortable. He also wants to get away from Portia, who has become a vastly appealing woman to him. But he is a man of the sea and she is tied to the land, and he sees no way for them to be together.

Their journey to track down the person who won Portia's home was very interesting. The more time they spend together, the closer they get. Mateo sees the beautiful and strong woman that Portia has become, and has to fight the attraction he is feeling for her. He knows that his lifestyle and hers are incompatible. Meanwhile, Portia's girlhood crush has become much stronger. She knows that there is no future for them, but she's ready to indulge herself anyway. I loved seeing her push past her reservations and go after what she wanted. Both Mateo and Portia learned a lot about themselves and their own dreams during their travels.

I loved reading about the journey itself. It was obvious to me that they were being led for a reason. I figured out early what the purpose was (it is a romance after all). The people they met along the way were each unique in their own way, and I felt that each was intended to be an example or lesson to Mateo and Portia. It didn't take long to figure out the identity of the Countess once they reached that part of the journey. I loved Mateo's plan to catch the mysterious gambler, and was quite surprised by the twist of his identity. I really enjoyed the revelations of all that had led up to that point. All that was left was for Portia and Mateo to figure out how to live their dreams and still be together. I liked what they came up with.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wearing the Rancher's Ring - Stella Bagwell (HSE #2354 - Sept 2014)

Series: Men of the West (Book 30)

If it weren't for the ring…

…rancher Clancy Calhoun and Olivia Parsons might be able to pull off their cool acquaintances routine. They might be able to convince the world that they just knew each other in passing, enough to say hello and be on their way. Or at least they might be able to convince themselves.

But all those years ago, they had been the whole world to each other -- and he'd given her a diamond ring to prove it. Now, ten years later, Olivia is back at the Silver Horn, and she and Clancy are sure they can be in each other's company without falling apart -- or worse yet, falling into each other's arms.

Because if the ring goes back on her finger, this time it's never coming off!

This was a roller-coaster ride of a second chance story. Clancy and Olivia had been in love and engaged ten years earlier. When her mother became ill, Olivia broke off their engagement and went home to Idaho, telling Clancy to forget about her. Now she's in Carson City, working for the BLM, and runs into Clancy shortly after her arrival. Both of them are stunned to see the other and though both feel the pull of old feelings, each gives the impression of being unaffected. Under the surface, emotions are rioting.

Olivia really wants to believe she's over her feelings for Clancy, but can't deny that they are still there. She agrees to get together with him so she can try to put them to rest. Being with him reignites the dreams she had of a life with him but she's cautious about opening up her heart again, Clancy can't believe he still wants her, but he's going to try spending time with her to see how things go. His heart wants to believe anything is possible, but his head is urging caution.

I loved seeing Clancy and Olivia together, trying to get to know each other as the people they are now. They have strong chemistry together and their physical relationship takes off very quickly. But both of them hold back emotionally, not quite ready to give it their all. Olivia has some trust issues with men. Her father had abandoned the family when she was young, she had had a brief marriage where her husband had portrayed himself very differently than the way he really was, and though she had broken things off with Clancy she had always hoped he had cared enough to come after her, though he never did. Olivia also has some self esteem issues, causing her to believe that she's not good enough for the wealthy rancher and his family. On his side, Clancy is happy to be with Olivia again, but he can't forget that she had left him all those years ago. As much as his feelings for her are getting stronger, he won't allow himself to trust that she'll stay and that keeps him from believing that they have a future together. When they allow themselves to ignore their issues, they are wonderful together. I loved seeing them check out the new land purchase, and their attendance at the family dinner went great.

I admit to some frustration with Olivia and the way she keeps harping on their differences. No one in the family had ever treated her in a way that should have made her feel like that. Because of her background, she had learned to depend on herself, and her pride keeps her from accepting any kind of help. Clancy frustrated me even more. He was coming to care for her even more deeply than before, though he wouldn't admit it to himself. He just wouldn't let go of the fact that she had left him before and it kept him from allowing himself to believe in a future with her.

When Olivia gets pregnant things get even more complicated. Clancy wants her to marry him, but says nothing about how he feels about her, just what he feels is important for the baby. Olivia refuses to think about marrying him just because of the baby, she wants his love too. Neither of them will take the step of confessing their feelings and letting go of their fears. It took some time apart for each of them to realize it was only their fears keeping them apart and that being together was more important. I was very happy to see them finally open up to each other and let go of the past.

Once again it was great to see the closeness of the Calhoun family and the support they give each other. Both Bart and Orin have some eye opening advice for Clancy, and I love how Rafe has become such a great example of married bliss. I'm looking forward to reading about the other brothers.

One Tall, Dusty Cowboy - Stella Bagwell (HSE #2349 - Aug 2014)

Series: Men of the West (Book 29)


After a losing her heart -- and her baby -- to a disastrous romance, Lilly Lockett has her mind on only one thing: her job. She's come to the Silver Horn Ranch in Nevada to look after the Calhoun family patriarch, nothing more. But encountering rakish ranch foreman Rafe Calhoun, it's fireworks at first sight!

Playboy Rafe knows his grandfather's new nurse is all wrong for him. He decided long ago that relationships just aren't in the cards. A few dates, then move on -- that's been his motto. But an attempt at a casual affair with Lilly soon becomes all too serious…for both of them. And soon Rafe has to make a choice: to keep flying solo, or risk everything for a future with the woman he's come to love.

Good story about two people who are afraid to risk their hearts. Lilly is the new physical therapist for Bart Calhoun. Rafe is Bart's grandson and the ranch foreman. The sparks fly when they first meet, and they aren't all from the attraction they both feel. I loved that first meeting and seeing Rafe run up against a woman who doesn't immediately fall at his feet. 

Rafe is a guy who doesn't stay long  with any woman. He'll see one he likes, have a few dates, and then move on before it can become serious. He has had some loss in his life and witnessed what it has done to the people left behind, and he wants no part of that kind of suffering. He figures if he doesn't love,he won't have to worry about being hurt. 

Lilly had been in love and then betrayed by the man she cared for. Not only did he cheat on her, but when she became pregnant he wanted nothing to do with the baby. She was devastated when she lost the baby and swore she'd be a lot more careful about getting involved with another man.

Rafe looks at Lilly as something of a challenge. Normally when he's turned down for a date, he simply moves on, but there's something about Lilly that he just can't get off his mind. When he talks her into going out with him they have a nice time, but Lilly makes it clear that she doesn't want to get involved with him. Lilly is actually a lot more affected by him than she lets on, but she's spent so long protecting herself that she's not sure she's ready for someone like Rafe.

They agree to spend time with each other, as long as they can keep it casual. The more time they have together, the deeper their feelings grow, even though they try to deny it. Rafe is especially hard hit as he has been avoiding even the idea of love for so long. I loved seeing him get more and more invested in them as a couple, even as he tries to convince himself that he could walk away at any time. When they split because Lilly wants more than Rafe thinks he can give, he starts to realize just what he's given up. His pain makes him do and say some stupid things, but some advice from his father finally makes him think about what he really wants.

Lilly starts out their relationship just thinking of Rafe as a way for her to get back into living. She knows he'll never settle down, as he's made no secret of his views. He's the first man in years who has made her even think about getting involved. I loved the way that she didn't fall for his lines and really pushed back at him. "Go find the nearest mirror and tell the guy who's looking back at you that he's not quite the Romeo he thinks he is." just made me laugh and root for her. She really thought that she could have a casual fling with him, but the longer they were together the more she realized that her heart was really at risk. I liked the way that she let him know her feelings even though it caused trouble between them. After some time apart, and an enlightening conversation with her mother, she discovered that she had been letting her own issues affect what they might have together. I loved seeing the two of them come together, finally opening their hearts to the possibilities. The epilogue was sweet.

I also enjoyed the family dynamics. The Calhouns are a large family with very strong personalities. We met most of them in The Baby Truth. Rafe's grandfather, Bart, made an especially strong impression and not a very good one. In this book we see a different side of him and he is much more likable. I also liked Rafe's interactions with his brothers. It's obvious that there's love and respect, but the relationships are realistic in that there are also conflicts that arise and have to be dealt with. I can't wait to read stories involving them.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Texan in Her Bed - Sara Orwig (HD #2323 - Sept 2014)

Series: Lone Star Legends (Book 2)

All Wyatt Milan wants is a quiet life. That's why the billionaire rancher became sheriff of the sleepy town of Verity, Texas. But Wyatt's tranquility is disrupted when charismatic TV host Destiny Jones blows into town, determined to solve a murder mystery tied to a long-standing family feud.

Destiny's questions threaten to stir up the old Milan-Calhoun dispute -- along with the hottest desire Wyatt has ever felt. This woman has turned his town, and his life, upside down. Suddenly Wyatt's got a brand-new feud on his hands -- one a lot closer to his heart!

I liked the premise of the story - hot shot tv personality comes to town, determined to solve the century old murder mystery and falls for one of the descendants of the victims who isn't so thrilled about having the feud stirred up. There was the potential for some good conflict to go along with the passion but it never happened.

Wyatt likes the peace and quiet of his town. He answered the call when the people of Verity asked him to be sheriff, because they trust him to know what is right to do whenever trouble happens. When Verity comes to town, he's not at all happy to have someone stirring up memories of the feud now that things are starting to calm down. He gets his first inkling of trouble when he finds her limo illegally parked, and then hears about the chaos that's already beginning. He gives some orders regarding the limo, has his mind set on making sure Verity knows there's no story to pursue, and then goes totally brain dead as soon as he sees her. All he can see is how beautiful she is and that he's attracted to her. Instead of really trying to convince her to give up, he asks her to dinner instead, and from there it's just a short hop into bed.

Destiny is beautiful and determined to find out more about the feud and what happened. She is accustomed to getting what she wants and has no trouble using her beauty and charm to do it. While I like a determined heroine, this seemed more like manipulation. She's also got a personal stake in the story because her grandmother is a Calhoun. She listens to Wyatt's arguments, all the while thinking about how hot he is, and that maybe she can seduce him into changing his opinion. By the time dinner and "afters" are through, she knows that won't happen, but the sex has been great.

Destiny continues her efforts, pretty much ignoring everything Wyatt asks about not stirring things up. He has real fears about what could happen during her interviews with various members of the families. Thankfully his brother Tony does as Wyatt asked and kept calm when his nemesis Lindsay Calhoun was being interviewed, preventing some of the trouble that could have happened. What bothered me most about Wyatt was that he seemed to have absolutely no backbone when it came to dealing with Destiny. He would make a request, she'd ignore it and he'd just shake his head and laugh. 

As far as their relationship went, both had issues to deal with. Destiny has never been in love and is determined that she won't fall for Wyatt. After all, she's big city and he's small town. She lives all the way in Chicago, and he prefers Verity. But all that hot sex is great, and she doesn't really want to leave. She thinks maybe she might really be falling in love with him, but he guards his emotions and she doesn't want to love someone who won't love her back. Wyatt had been in love years ago and devastated when his fiancee broke things off. He doesn't want to risk feeling like that again, so he doesn't allow his emotions to get involved with any woman. He has to admit that Destiny has gotten to him far more than anyone else, but he refuses to believe that he's in love with her. After she leaves to return to Chicago, he finally realizes what she means to him.

I had a hard time buying that they had fallen in love with each other at this point. Whenever they were together, they were in bed. There was little talking done and I really didn't get the feeling that they had gotten to know much about each other. The most talking they did was after they had parted and talked on the phone every night. It wasn't until that point that I felt a real connection between them. Even then, Wyatt is still sure that there's no way for them to be together. Destiny is the one who takes the first steps.

I did enjoy the resolution of the mystery. I thought it was very neatly done. I liked seeing the families get together and how the younger generation is settling things.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Single Man Meets Single Mom - Jules Bennett (HD #2325 - Sept 2014)

Series: Barrington Trilogy (Book 2)  Billionaires and Babies (Book 49)

From player to…daddy?

Hollywood agent Ian Schaffer could have his pick of gorgeous women. So he's totally thunderstruck by the intensity of his attraction to horse trainer Cassie Barrington. The single mom, with her luscious curves and unadorned beauty, is so much hotter than the bombshells he's used to. But it's her vulnerability and passion that the jaded player finds utterly irresistible -- and that sets off alarm bells, because Ian's as commitment-shy as they come. A woman with a child is absolutely off-limits! Too bad the voluptuous mom has Ian aching to break all his old rules….

Fantastic book that starts out with a sizzle and just keeps getting better. Ian has come to Stony Ridge Farms to check in on one of the actors he's the agent for, and to try to sign the actress s her who is his costar. He just happens to be in the right place to catch Cassie as she falls from a broken ladder. Both are hit with an instant attraction, but each has a different reaction to it. Ian is immediately interested in pursuing her, with the intention of indulging in a bit of a fling while he's there. Cassie has every intention of resisting, as she's a single mom whose daughter is her whole life. But fate has them trapped together in a locked attic overnight, and the chemistry is just too hard to resist.

Morning brings rescue, but also shines some light onto the issues that both Ian and Cassie have. Ian is confronted with the fact that Cassie has a child, something that he avoids at all costs. He initially thinks that Cassie is like his mother, palming her child off on others so that she can do what she wants. He quickly learns the truth, but the damage is done and he has to decide if he's willing to try to fix things. Cassie has her own baggage to deal with. Her husband walked out on her shortly after the baby was born, after cheating on her and blaming her for it. She also feels less than attractive, as she still has some "baby weight" she hasn't been able to get rid of. To top it all off, Ian is five years younger than she is. She's sure that there's no way he'd actually be interested in her.

I have to say that I loved Ian. He's good looking, successful, has a sense of humor and underneath the Hollywood reputation he's actually a pretty nice guy. One of my favorite things about him was that he liked Cassie just as she was. He preferred her curves to the stick thin Hollywood types and he had no trouble showing her so, over and over. I also loved seeing him with little Emily. Once he got over the shock and admitted to himself that there was more to what he and Cassie had than sex, he really got into the whole baby gig. It was adorable to see him really enjoying the little moments. He was falling and falling hard, when Cassie's ex showed up and started to make trouble. My heart just broke as he tried to do what he thought was right for Cassie and Emily.

One of the best things about Cassie was that she felt so real. She's a single mom dealing with the same things that moms everywhere deal with. She has the body issues from being pregnant. She deals with the exhaustion of being the only parent, even though she has the support of her family. But through it all she is giving Emily all the love and care she has to give. I loved seeing those sweet moments, like taking Emily for her first ride, and the quiet rocking of putting her to sleep, balanced out by the other side such as the screaming teething times. I loved the strength she showed in doing what she had to do. When Ian came into her life, she wasn't quite sure what to do with him. The attraction she felt was unlike anything she had felt for her ex, but she wasn't going to allow herself to fall for another charmer. That night in the attic she allowed herself to be someone she'd never been before, and while she certainly enjoyed it, it also scared her. Ian's actions the next morning hurt her, but she couldn't help but accept his apology later. When he continued to pay attention to her, and made her feel special in a way she never had, her heart started to get involved. But when it became clear that Emily was becoming just as important to him, her heart became his. Her ex's reappearance created a huge problem, but Cassie dealt with it beautifully. The ending was fantastic.

I also enjoyed seeing couples from previous books. Cassie's sister Tessa plays a pretty good part in helping Cassie and Ian along, as well as being a great example to Cassie. Max is there because of the movie and his wife makes a brief appearance, as do Bronson and Anthony and their families. All of them are examples to Ian that it is possible to have a family life and a Hollywood career.

Heir to Scandal - Andrea Laurence (HD #2326 - Sept 2014)

Series: Secrets of Eden (Book 3)

"Yes, you have a son."

The past is about to catch up with Congressman Xander Langston…in more ways than one. While his reelection campaign is in full swing, unidentified remains surface on his family's farm and scandal ensues. Yet when he returns home, it's his reunion with Rose Pierce that's consuming all his waking thoughts.

His high school sweetheart has blossomed into a radiant beauty. The thrill of first love that Xander had once dismissed is proving to be a more enduring proposition. But Rose has a secret, too -- will it put a stop to their second chance and derail his career for good?

Good reunion story and installment in the series mystery of the body found on the family property. In the first book, it was all about trying to figure out which piece of land the body was buried on and preventing its discovery. In the second book the body has been found, and now they are waiting for it to be identified. Xander's main reason for being home is to be there to help deal with the fallout when it is.

While home he looks up his old girlfriend and discovers that their connection is just a strong as ever. Their first date is interrupted by an emergency call from her brother, letting her know that her son has broken his arm. Being the nice guy that he is, Xander drives her to the hospital where he gets the shock of his life - her ten year old son looks just like him. Xander's an honorable man and he makes it clear that he isn't going to walk away, now that he knows the truth. Once he's over the shock, he's actually pretty happy about the whole thing. He's concerned about what will happen when the truth is made public, knowing what the media can be like. He and Rose decide to keep things secret for a little longer, just to be safe. I loved seeing Xander accepting his growing feelings for Rose, and looking for ways to keep her in his life. It was great to see him take her to DC for one of his events and do everything he could to make her feel comfortable. The biggest thing he worries about is what will happen when she finds out the truth about the body.

Rose is surprised to see Xander, and more so to discover that her feelings for him had never gone away. He had wanted her to go with him when he left for college all those years ago, but her mother was sick and she needed to stay. She decided not to tell him she was pregnant because she always knew that he was meant to do great things and she didn't want to hold him back. She's always felt a bit guilty about it, but has done her best to give Joey the best life she can. She nervous but also relieved when the truth finally comes out. Spending more time with Xander has her love for him growing stronger, but she worries about fitting in his world. She also has the problem of her father being in prison for being an accessory in an armed bank robbery. She's adamant about keeping him away from herself and her son, wanting nothing to do with a criminal. As expected, this does cause problems when she discovers Xander's problem. She has to decide what is more important to her.

One of the things I loved best about Xander was his devotion to his family. Like his brothers, he will do anything he has to in order to protect them. That same protectiveness extends to Rose and Joey, and I loved seeing him get so into being a dad. Joey was a great kid and it was fun to see the similarities he had with Xander. It turns out, he's a lot smarter than either of his parents suspected. I loved the present he gave Xander before he went back to Washington. Xander's return to Cornwall and his big moment with Rose and then Joey were sweet and romantic. There was a nice bit of humor as Xander had to face his mom and confess.

The tension of waiting for the body to be identified was present throughout the book. There's a little more information about what happened revealed, but obviously not everything. The cliffhanger in this one was just terrible.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Matched to Her Rival - Kat Cantrell (HD #2327 - Sept 2014)

Series: Happily Ever After Inc. (Book 3)

She was supposed to match him with someone else…

Elise Arundel won't let anyone compromise her high-profile matchmaking business -- certainly not Dax Wakefield, the doubting tycoon determined to prove she's a sham. She'll find the sexy bachelor a perfect mate. But when her foolproof program matches him with her, what's a woman to do but give in to unbridled passion?

Dax can't believe how the former-duckling-turned-swan is making him question his playboy status…and his vow to bring down her company. Could sultry Elise -- his enemy! -- be the one to change his life from one night only to happily ever after?

This was a really fun series. There's something really satisfying about seeing a fairy godmother come through for some deserving Cinderellas. And it's even more fun when the fairy godmother gets a happy ending of her own, though she certainly didn't have an easy time of it. 

Elise was doing an television interview about her business when it was hijacked by Dax Wakefield. He has had it in for her ever since he accused his friend Leo (Matched to a Billionaire) of falling for one of  Elise's trained golddiggers and lost their friendship because of it. She refuses to accept his maligning of her business and challenges him to become one of her clients. If she finds him a soulmate, he will advertise her business, if she fails he can attempt to ruin her business.

The sparks between Dax and Elise were incredible from the very beginning. Both of them were absolutely confident in their own positions, and their ability to prove it. Dax is a man who doesn't believe that love exists, and that any relationship based on emotion is doomed to crash and burn. Elise knows that there is a soulmate out there for everyone, even Dax. She just has to get him to cooperate in answering the profile questions, which is an experience in itself. I loved seeing just how much alike the two of them were, in spite of their differing views. Both have psychology degrees and are adept at reading each other and pushing their buttons. When Elise finally gets all of the questions answered and entered into her program, she is stunned to find that it selects her as Dax's perfect match. She refuses to believe it and selects someone else to match him up with. That doesn't go so well, largely because Dax can't get Elise off his mind. Because of it, Dax starts pursuing Elise with more intent, and taking advantage of the attraction he knows she feels too. I loved the give and take between them, and seeing Elise try to resist him. I liked the fact that she actually succeeded for longer than Dax expected.

Both of them discover, to their surprise, that they actually like each other and want to spend time together. By doing so, they learn more about each other and themselves, including their biggest fears. It turns out that each have some serious self-esteem and trust issues. Elise has never really gotten over her body issues from when she was heavy, and doesn't trust that anyone can see the person she really is under the figure she works so hard to maintain. Dax worries that he's like his mother, who deserted him when he was young, and is afraid to trust that he has anything substantial to offer a woman. Just as he's beginning to believe that he and Elise could have something together he learns of her lie about who he was matched with, destroying the fragile trust he had started to feel.

I felt so terrible for both of them, as each of them had really fallen for the other, but neither could let go of their fears. It isn't until they face their own demons that they can allow themselves to trust the other one. For a change it's the woman who has the biggest screwup to fix and Elise does so in a spectacular way.

I liked seeing Leo, Danni and Juliet have parts to play. Leo showed a lot of class in not saying "I told you so" to Dax. And I loved the way that Danni and Juliet showed up to give Elise moral support when she was so unhappy. 

The Virgin of Clan Sinclair - Karen Ranney (Avon - June 2014)

Series: Clan Sinclair (Book 3)

Ross Forster, the Earl of Gladsden, has spent his life creating order out of chaos. He expects discipline and calm from those around him. What he does not expect is a beautiful, thoroughly maddening stowaway in his carriage.

But when Ross discovers Ellice's secret book, he finds he can't stop thinking about what other fantasies the disarming virgin can dream up. He has the chance to learn when a compromising position forces them to wed. But can the uptight Earl survive a life with his surprising new wife? And how will the hero of Ellice's fantasies compare to the husband of her reality?

This was a very fun book to read. I really liked both Ellice and Ross. Ellice has spent the last several years pretty much under the thumb of her mother. Nothing that she does is right, and she is constantly being compared to her dead older sister. She finds it easier to just go along with what her mother wants in public, but in private it's a whole different story. Ellice has a pretty vivid imagination and has been writing a novel that is highly erotic. When her mother decides it's time to find Ellice a husband Ellice decides to run off to her friend who is a publisher and get her book published. She tries hiding in a visitor's coach, but is discovered before she can get anywhere.

Ross had stopped for a visit just to see what had been done with the house that his profligate father had started to build. He has spent the five years since his father's death trying to repair the reputation of his family. When he meets Ellice and discovers that she is the author of the scandalous manuscript he found in his coach he is horrified. He is also intrigued. He can't believe that an innocent young woman is capable of such writing, and is sure that she is writing from personal experience. Though he is determined to stay away from her, fate has other ideas.

I loved the interactions between Ellice and Ross. When she's away from her mother, Ellice has a pretty sharp tongue and doesn't seem to be afraid to use it. She frequently comes out ahead in the confrontations she has with Ross. She's also very intelligent and observant. When a storm keeps Ross from leaving immediately, they are thrown together by their efforts to help protect the local people from flooding. They discover that there is an attraction between them that occasionally gets the better of them. One of those occasions is witnessed by her mother and forces them to marry. Ross has very definite ideas on what kind of behavior he will accept, but Ellice isn't going to give up everything that's important to her just because of it. I loved the contract she came up with.

Once they're married Ross discovers that his preconceptions were all wrong and finds himself even more fascinated and captivated by his wife. Things are going well as they spend time getting to know each other. Ross finds that there is much more to Ellice than he had expected and is more and more distracted by her. This comes to a screeching halt when he fears that he is becoming more like his father and he suddenly pulls away from her. This leaves Ellice feeling that she's done something terribly wrong. I liked the way that she only put up with it for so long before standing up for herself and what she wanted. Ross also has to face his own past and decide what is more important to him, his family's reputation or Ellice. I loved his "aha" moment, and his gift to her later on.

I enjoyed the parts that the secondary characters played. I detested Ellice's mom and her attitude toward Ellice, though she had her use for the story. I was really rooting for Ellice to let her have it at some point, and loved seeing it when it happened. Ross's mother didn't have a huge part, but I enjoyed her when she appeared. I wasn't sure at the end if she was really as odd as she appeared, or if it was just a useful cover. I suspect the latter. I loved seeing the previous two couples in their current happy marriages. There was some stress between Virginia and her husband at the end, and her way of fixing it was fun to watch.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Half Moon Hill - Toni Blake (Avon - May 2013)

Series: Destiny (Book 6)

You never know what destiny has in store . . .

A rugged loner and ex-biker-gang member, Duke Dawson is looking for some peace and quiet while recovering from an accident. But when Anna Romo comes wandering through his woods and into his cabin, she completely rocks his world. The last thing he expected or wanted was to find himself hungering after a woman whose eyes held hurt even deeper than his own . . .

Running from a troubled past, Anna is building a new life in Destiny. When she first meets Duke, she's terrified -- but something about him calls to her very soul. The hard-bodied rebel is soon helping her turn her new home into a bed and breakfast, and close quarters quickly lead them into her bed. Their passion is palpable, but can she convince a man who has turned his back on life to take the biggest leap of faith of all and fall in love?

Lovely conclusion to the series, and an incredibly emotional read along with it. We first met Anna in Willow Springs, when she returned to Destiny after being kidnapped as a child. While it was great to see her reunited with her family, she wasn't a very likable person. It's a few months later and she has bought a big old house that she's renovating and turning into a bed and breakfast. She's trying to get her life back together. Duke made a brief appearance in Lucky's book Whisper Falls, but then disappeared again. He's back, dealing with his own life's upheavals and hiding out in an old cabin near Anna's house.

I loved getting to know more about Anna. Her life had been turned upside down when she discovered that she had been kidnapped as a kid and raised by someone else. Not having grown up in Destiny, her return has been difficult. She doesn't have the roots and connection that everyone else has and it makes her feel a little lost. The house she is fixing up is a little outside of town and gives her the space she needs to adjust to her new life, while being close enough for her to feel part of it if she wants to. She's very independent and resists asking her brothers for help with the house. When she first finds Duke living in her woods she is frightened by him, but once she knows who he is the fear goes away. She sees in him the same kind of unhappiness she feels,  and also an attraction that can't be denied.

Duke has been hiding out from his memories and his friends. After an accident that injured him and killed a friend, all he wants is some peace and quiet. Instead, he finds Anna invading his thoughts and giving some purpose to his life. He offers to help her with the repairs to the outside of her house, as long as she doesn't tell anyone he's there. He's also really attracted to her, but she's his best friend's sister and he's not so sure getting involved with her would be a good idea.

As they work on the house together, Anna and Duke develop a closeness they've not felt with anyone else. Their attraction to each other really takes off, and they agree to a "light and fun" time together. It isn't long before Anna sees that there's more to Duke than the bad boy biker, and she wants more than he seems willing to give. Duke would love to stay around, but with the things he's done in the past and his current frame of mind, he feels that he can't give her what she needs. I loved his conversation with himself at the end as he finally realized that Anna was all he needed to be whole again.

I enjoyed catching up with some of the other characters. There was plenty going on and not all of it was good, but it was realistic. I also liked the secondary story with the diary of the former owner of the house. There was an interesting twist involving it at the end.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Once a Rake - Eileen Dreyer (Forever - Nov 2013)

Series: Drake's Rakes (Book 4)

All he wants is her help . . .

Colonel Ian Ferguson may be a rake, but he's no traitor. Accused of trying to kill the Duke of Wellington, the disgraced Scotsman is now a fugitive-from the law, the army, and the cunning assassin who hunts him. Wounded and miles from his allies, Ian finds himself at the mercy of an impoverished country wife. The spirited woman is achingly beautiful . . . and hiding some dangerous secrets of her own.

All she needs is his heart . . .

She was a child nobody wanted. Now for Lady Sarah Clarke, holding on to her vanished husband's crumbling estate is her final chance to earn respectability. She knows that hiding the devastatingly handsome Ferguson will jeopardize her home. Common sense demands that she turn him in. But a single, delirious kiss shatters her resolve . . . and awakens a passion that neither of them can escape.

This continues to be a very exciting series. Ian and the rest of the Rakes are still trying to figure out who is behind the attempts on Wellington's life. This time he has been caught in the middle, and in attempting to stop an assassin has been shot and is now on the run, accused of the deed himself. He ends up at Sarah's farm, feverish and in danger of being captured. 

Sarah takes him in, hides him and cares for his injuries, for the sake of his sisters. She was friends with them at school and while she disapproves of his neglect of them, for their sake she will do her best to save him. She doesn't expect the intense attraction to him, an attraction that can't go anywhere. Sarah is illegitimate and shunned by many because of it. I loved her strength of will as she cared for her land and her husband's relatives as best she can. 

As Sarah cares for Ian, their attraction to each other grows. Sarah starts out mistrustful of Ian and anxious to get him healed and gone. She soon realizes that he is innocent of the charges, and begins to see the man that his sisters described. He is kind and protective, loyal and honorable, and she soon finds herself falling for him. Ian is conflicted because he is falling for her too, but he has no way of making her part of his life. There are things that conspire to keep them apart and seem impossible to overcome. I loved the way their relationship developed. Sarah wasn't a pushover by any means, and has no trouble standing up to him about what she intends to do and what she expects from him. She does admit to herself that her attraction to him can make it difficult to stay focused. I loved Ian's protectiveness and how he saw her vulnerabilities. He also discovered that she was everything he always wanted, even though he didn't know it until he met her. All he has to do is figure out a way to make it possible.

This was an intense story from the beginning. Ian's attempt to save Wellington, then his need to save himself, started the story with a rush. Then there is Sarah's need to hide Ian and nurse him back to health. Sarah is also in danger of losing her home. Her husband went off to war and hasn't returned, leaving her to fend off her cousin's attempts to claim her land. He is involved in some less savory activities himself, including participating in the continuing manhunt for Ian. Ian, once he has started to heal, knows he has to get to the other Rakes for their help in saving Wellington and clearing his own name. There are betrayals and dangers that nearly cost them their lives before they are able to resolve the immediate problem. The final confrontation kept me riveted until I was sure everyone would be safe. Then all that had to happen was for Ian to find a way for he and Sarah to be together and I thought that he did a marvelous job with that. 

The secondary characters were all wonderfully done. Sarah's mother-in-law, with her overly dramatic attitudes, was both frustrating and funny, and had some scenes that had me laughing and shaking my head. There was enough information about and exposure to the cousin who was trying to take Sarah's land that I was quite happy to see what happened to him. I loved seeing her half brother have to face some consequences of his own, and loved what that ended up meaning for Sarah. I also loved seeing more of Chuffy and am looking forward to more of him. But my favorite of all the secondary characters had to be Willoughby the pig. He was wonderful.

While part of the mystery that has been present in all of the books has been resolved, it is still not over. The assassin is still at large, and there is someone very highly placed who is still pulling the strings. Ian's sisters are also missing, and someone is going to have to find them. I expect that the next book will be another nail-biter and I can't wait to read it.