Friday, January 31, 2014

Secrets of a Gentleman Escort - Bronwyn Scott (HH #1168 - Jan 2014)

Series: Rakes Who Make Husbands Jealous (Book 1)

He's the talk of the ton--for all the wrong reasons
Society's most outrageous--and popular --escort Nicholas D'Arcy is renowned for his utmost discretion. So when he suddenly finds himself named and shamed by a jealous husband, he reluctantly accepts a summons to the countryside...a fate worse than death.

Annorah Price-Ellis isn't what Nick is used to--innocent, feisty and decidedly uncomfortable with the spontaneous heat between them Suddenly, London's most audacious lover is out of his depth, and in danger of revealing the real man behind the polished facade....

Good book.  Nick is a very popular escort because he knows what women want and is very good at delivering it.  When he is nearly caught by a jealous husband he has to get out of town for awhile.  He is sent to Annorah, who has asked for someone who can give her five nights of pleasure.  She is looking to live a little before either marrying a man she doesn't love or losing her home and the life she is used to.

I liked Nick and Annorah more than I thought I would at first.  Nick has been working as an escort for several years because it pays very well.  He uses the money to support his mother, brother and two sisters.  Their lives had been changed when Nick's father was killed during a storm and his brother was paralyzed at the same time.  Nick feels that he is responsible so taking care of them is what he must do.   Being an escort gives him the money he needs, but also a reason to stay away from them since he doesn't want them knowing what he does. He has a talent for pleasing women and he has been doing so with great enjoyment.  He's not happy when his latest job gets him banished to the country until the furor dies down.  Meeting Annorah starts out as just another job to him, but there's something about her that starts to change him.  Usually he is able to do what he must but stay detached, not allowing his emotions to get involved.  With her he is developing a closeness, even friendship, that threatens that detachment.  I really liked seeing the London rake start to disappear and the real Nick come to the surface.  I loved the fishing scene where he and Annorah had quite the competition going that had nothing to do with why he was really there.  He also showed some of his true self when he and Annorah were reading to the village children. I also enjoyed seeing all the really romantic things he did for her that were well beyond what he would have done for anyone else. Nick's growing feelings for her led him to agree to pose as her fiance during a visit to her aunt's home in order to protect her from an especially nasty fortune hunter that her aunt is encouraging.  The entire house party scene shows even more what an honorable man Nick is at his core.  I loved the ending and seeing Nick become a part of his family again.

Annorah is quite a wealthy woman, but that may not last.  Her father's will stated that she must be married by her thirty-third birthday or everything would go to charity and she would be left with a small cottage and enough money to live on.  As a result, she has been pestered with fortune hunters.  She was deceived a couple times by men who made her think they really cared, and as a result she has withdrawn from almost all contact with society.  Now her deadline is almost upon her and she wants to live a little before she loses it all.  So she hires Nick to show her the passion she doesn't expect to find for real.  She is very nervous about it, especially when she sees how handsome Nick is.  She soon realizes that she doesn't want the same empty words that she has experienced all her life, she wants a real connection with Nick.  I loved seeing the way that Nick brought her out of her shell and she started having fun again.  I also enjoyed the way that she and Nick found a passion together that neither of them had ever expected. Annorah also discovered that what started out as a paid transaction quickly became one of true caring.  I loved the way that she saw the real Nick and how she tried to help him see that he had no need to feel guilty about his family. One of the things I liked about Annorah was the way that she went after what she wanted.  First when she hired Nick to begin with but also when she asked him to become her fiance to delay the terms of the will and give her more time to find a way out of it.  I especially liked seeing her try to track Nick down in London and then find her way to his family.  She wasn't going to give him up without a fight.

I thought all the characters were very well done and easy to relate to.  Both Nick and Annorah had issues to overcome, but it was very easy to want them to succeed.  The bad guys were also suitably unlikable without being over the top.  The fortune hunter was nasty and I really would have liked to see Nick pop him one.  I detested Annorah's aunt and felt that she deserved whatever she got. 

The whole premise of the series is very interesting and I am looking forward to reading the other stories.

Her Texan to Tame - Sara Orwig (HD #2281 - Feb 2014)

Series: Lone Star Legacy (Book 5)

Hiring a hot blonde to do the cooking? Probably not the smartest decision Texas rancher Ryan Delaney has ever made. But Jessica Upton is more than qualified...and currently the only candidate. Ryan just needs to keep a professional distance.

Except Jessica's vulnerability gets to him, and temptation proves irresistible. Even so, she claims their affair can't last. Jessica has her reasons for staying at the ranch--and reasons she'll soon have to leave. But she's about to discover to what lengths one determined Texan will go to lasso his heart's desire.

Jessica has come to Texas to escape some memories and get her life back together.  She's just gone through a bitter divorce from a man who cheated on her but doesn't want to let her go.  She also had a miscarriage which has left her feeling vulnerable.  She likes to cook so she has applied to be the cook for Ryan.  She lets him know up front that she will only stay a year, then she will go back to Tennessee and open a restaurant.  Ryan isn't sure he wants a young and beautiful woman working for him because of the distraction she will cause.  But she's the best qualified so he hires her.  Neither of them is interested in a relationship, but the heat between them is undeniable.  

I liked Ryan.  He's not sure about hiring Jessica, but once he tastes her cooking he's convinced.  He knows he's attracted to her, but he is determined to keep things professional between them.  However, he finds that he can't resist trying to get to know her better.  I loved seeing him draw her out of her shell and get her involved in life on the ranch and the nearby town.  He understands her plans to go back home and open her restaurant.  He also appreciates her devotion to her family back there, because family means so much to him too.  Ryan has also been the ladies man of the family, enjoying the company of many women but having no plans to settle down any time soon.  Suddenly he's thinking about Jessica all the time and wondering if she'd stay in Texas.  He's still hesitant to call his feelings love, but he begins to admit that he's just not interested in anyone else.  I really liked the way he listened to her and when she needed him to give her space, he did it.  I also loved the way he started trying to find ways that they could be together, looking for compromises so they could both be happy.

I had a harder time with Jessica.  I did like her determination to get away from her ex and her family who were all trying to get her to go home and reunite.  She had confidence in her ability to do the job as cook for Ryan.  She loved being on the ranch, where it was private and quiet, and gave her a chance to heal.  She was also sure that her planned year would be enough time to be there, as she considers herself a city girl.  She's not happy about her attraction to Ryan.  She sees him as a threat to her peace of mind.  She knows that she could fall in love with him, but with their different lifestyles there would be no way for them to be together.  When their growing closeness becomes too much for her she asks him to leave her alone.  My biggest problem with Jessica was her unswerving determination to go back to Tennessee in spite of her love for Ryan.  She kept telling him that a relationship between them was impossible.  It took Ryan going to her with his ideas to open her eyes to the possibility of compromise.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Back in Her Husband's Bed - Andrea Laurence (HD #2284 - Feb 2014)

She can finally have the one thing she wants. All she has to do is play the happy wife...and not fall in love with her husband.

It's been three years since Annie Baracas left her husband, Vegas casino owner Nathan Reed, and he still hasn't signed the divorce papers. So when Nate finally offers to set her free, Annie will agree to any terms. Even if that means temporarily resuming her role as his wife to help him catch a thief. But what starts as a public display quickly turns very private. And Annie can't help wondering what it might be like to stay in Nate's bed...for as long as they both shall live.

Good book.  Annie has returned to Vegas to participate in a poker tournament in Nathan's hotel.  She knows that she'll have to see him again sometime.  When she does, he offers to finally sign the divorce papers if she'll help him catch some cheaters that will be at the tournament.  All she has to do is play the part of loving wife and watch the players she competes against.  She also has to resist falling for him all over again.

Annie knew she was tempting fate by entering that tournament, but playing poker is what she does.  She's been trying to get Nathan to sign the papers ever since she left him, but he hasn't cooperated.  Now she discovers that he'll do anything to get back at her for leaving him.  She doesn't want to be his spy, but she really doesn't have a choice if she wants him to sign those papers.  One thing she worries about is the fact that the attraction between them is still white hot.  She doesn't want to fall for him again, it hurt too much to leave him the last time.  At that time she was at the beginning of her career and felt that he didn't respect her enough to accept her the way she was.  When the feelings of being trapped got to be too much, she ran.  It doesn't take long for her to realize that what she feels is more than just attraction, that her love for him had never gone away.  Now she has to decide if she can overcome her fears enough to stay with him.

Nathan has been waiting for three years to get his revenge on Annie for leaving him.  He has used the divorce papers to keep her tied to him until he can do so.  Having the poker tournament at his casino gives him the perfect opportunity.  He can blackmail her into playing his wife again at the same time he uses her to catch the people cheating at the poker tournaments.  He fully intends to keep her at an emotional distance even as he tries to get her back in his bed.  I loved the way his plans come back to bite him in the butt, as he discovers that his body and heart have no desire to cooperate with that plan.  I loved seeing him keep an eye on her to make sure she was safe.  He also realized that the problems with their marriage weren't all her fault, as he takes the time to actually get to know her outside the bedroom.  I really enjoyed seeing him fall for her all over again and start thinking about a future together.  

The whole poker tournament theme was very interesting.  I enjoyed seeing the way that Annie played the game and how she planned her strategies.  The subject of cheating was well portrayed along with the ways that casinos work to prevent it.  While one of the cheaters was obvious from the beginning, there were a couple of interesting twists to the story.  I loved the final showdown.

Gabe was an awesome secondary character.  The animosity between him and Annie showed just how loyal a friend he was to Nathan.  His cynicism regarding women in pretty blatant, so obviously he is due to meet his own match.  I hope he gets his own story soon.

Mail-Order Mistletoe Brides - Jillian Hart, Janet Tronstad (LIH #211 - Dec 2013)

Christmas Hearts by Jillian Hart (Angel Falls, Book 4)
Thirteen-year-old Amelia longs for a new ma. Little George needs a father's guidance. For their children's sake, Cole Matheson and Mercy Jacobs agree on a businesslike marriage. But though Cole tries to keep his distance, Mercy offers the very thing he's stopped believing in--the chance to forge a real family.

Sweet story.  Cole needs a new mother for his daughter, who desperately needs a woman's influence in her life, while Mercy's son George longs for a father to do guy things with.  Cole and Mercy agree to marry for their children's sake without any expectation of feelings between them.  Cole feels that his heart died along with his wife and son and that he's got nothing left to give.  Mercy would like a real marriage but is willing to give that up to have a father for George.  I really liked how quickly Cole and George bonded.  I also enjoyed seeing the way that Mercy was able to get Cole to lighten up a little on Amelia.  Mercy's care and compassion went a long way toward enabling Cole to open his heart up to love again.

Mistletoe Kiss in Dry Creek by Janet Tronstad (Dry Creek Historical, Book 5)
"Passable cook wanted as wife. Marriage in name only." Noah Miller doesn't expect any replies to his plainspoken ad, though it's the only kind of offer the guarded rancher's prepared to make. Until widowed Maeve Flanagan and her sweet daughter arrive, turning his home and his heart upside down....

Noah's ranch hands had put the ad in the paper, wanting someone who could cook for them, but Noah went along with it.  He'll marry for propriety's sake, but he doesn't plan to risk his heart again.  He had married once before but wasn't good enough for his wife to stay around.  He expects an older widow when Maeve answers the ad, not the Irish beauty and her daughter.  It isn't long before Maeve has become an important part of his life, if he can just gather the courage to tell her so.  Maeve had come west to start a new life after her husband was killed.  It hadn't been a good marriage and she is wary but hopeful of finding true love with the man who sent for her.  She is also pregnant with her late husband's child and worried that Noah won't want to marry her because of it.  I loved the ranch hands and how determined they were to keep Maeve there.  I found their care for Maeve's daughter really sweet and loved the lengths they went to to make her comfortable.  There was a surprise visitor who could have made things bad for Maeve and Noah, but who turned out to be just the help they needed.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Cowboy for Christmas - Lori Wilde (Avon - Nov 2012)

Series: Jubilee, Texas (Book 3)

It's Christmastime in Jubilee, Texas, but Lissette Moncrief is having a hard time celebrating . . .

Especially after she accidentally smashes her car into Rafferty Jones's pick-up truck. Yes, he's a whole lot of handsome -- from the tips of his boots to the top of his Stetson. But he's no Christmas present. Lissy's not about to let herself get whisked away by his charming ways and words . . . only to watch him drive away in the end.

But what Lissy doesn't know is Rafferty's in town just to meet her -- and to give her a share in a windfall that doesn't rightly belong to him. At first, he just wants to do his good deed and get out. But one look at this green-eyed beauty has him deciding to turn this into a Christmas to remember . . . making promises he's determined to keep -- whether she believes in them or not.

Very good book.  Lissy has had a rough few months.  Her husband was killed in Afghanistan, and she discovered that he named his half brother as his beneficiary, leaving her with nothing.  And now she has found out that her two year old son is going deaf and there is no way to stop it.  Enter Rafferty Jones, Jake's half brother, who has come to Jubilee to give the money to her.  He wants to give her the money and be on his way home, but something about her has him deciding to stick around for a little while.  

I really liked both Lissy and Rafferty.  Lissy has accepted Jake's death and the blow of not having his benefits.  What she's having trouble with a the start of the book is the news that her son is going deaf and there's no cure for it.  She's in the middle of a meltdown when she runs into Rafferty's truck.  His kindness and understanding help her calm down and they go their separate ways, not knowing their connection.  When he shows up at her door to tell her why he's there she is stunned.  But she's finally getting to the point where she likes her independence and she turns the money down flat and sends him away.  He comes back and offers to train the horse Jake left her so she can sell it for a higher price, so she agrees to let him stay.  Lissy started out in the book as a woman finally starting to find out who she really is.  She has been a peacemaker all her life, never wanting to be the one to rock the boat, even as a child.  Her husband had been a man who tended to steamroll over anything that didn't suit his wants, so being on her own is different.  Rafferty's offers of assistance worry her because she doesn't want to begin to depend on him and lose herself again.  What she found was that he would simply make suggestions and leave the decisions up to her.  He offered her support and stood behind her when she'd make a decision.  I really loved seeing her develop the backbone she had never had before.  I loved the scene at Thanksgiving dinner when she stood up to her whole family, shocking them all.  Another thing that Lissy had to contend with was her mother in law's attitude toward Rafferty, who was the illegitimate son of her husband.  Again, her growing confidence in herself allowed her to do what was right for her and her son rather than cave to Claudia's demands.  But the best part of all was Lissy's gradual realization that Rafferty was the man she needed in her life if she could just overcome her fears.  She feels guilty having these feelings for him so soon after Jake's death, but their marriage had been in trouble for a long time.  She also isn't sure if the feelings are real or just another form of gratitude for the help he has given her.  Besides, he has a life in California that he will be going back to soon.  She just needs the courage to reach out for what she wants.

Rafferty was a really great guy.  He had had a rough childhood with a bipolar mother who he took care of even when he was a child.  He also did his best to care for his younger brother and sister.  When he was sixteen he discovered he had an older brother when Jake showed up after finding out about him.  Jake stayed with them for the summer, helping Rafferty with his family, and continued to try to be there as he got older.  Meanwhile, Rafferty got involved with training horses and ended up with his own successful ranch in California where some of his horses were used in movies.  He was out of the country when Jake died and didn't know about it for three months.  When he found out about the money, the first thing he did was head to Texas to give it to Lissy.  Rafferty has a "fatal flaw" in that he can't resist trying to help people who are in trouble, and he really doesn't want to get involved with Lissy and her problems.  But he just can't resist the need to help her, especially when she refuses the money.  He comes up with a way to help by training Jake's horse.  He also discovers that he is really attracted to her, which horrifies him.  He can't believe it would be acceptable to be lusting after his brother's wife.  The more time he spends with her and her son the more he wants to stay.  I really liked the way that, because of his experience with his deaf ranch foreman, he is able to help Lissy learn more about helping her son.  I loved the fact that he didn't tell her what to do, but got her the information she needed to make up her own mind.  It was great to see how good he was with little Kyle and what a difference he made in their lives.  They also made a difference in his life, as being around them showed him what life with a family could be like.  He looked at the town of Jubilee and couldn't believe how much he felt like he belonged there and with Lissy.  All he had to do was convince her.  I loved the ending and how they finally got together.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Marine's Last Defense - Angi Morgan (HI #1471 - Jan 2014)

"To the rest of the world, Sabrina Watkins doesn't exist. But to this cop, she is very much alive

After escaping a killer, playing dead was the only way Sabrina Watkins could get out of Amarillo alive. Now she's living in Dallas, where no one knows her true identity. Until homicide cop Jake Craig shows up.

A half-frozen pup he finds at a crime scene brings Jake to Sabrina's doorstep. Suddenly, the former Marine is playing hero to a desperate woman on the run. Sworn to clear her name, Jake's already falling for the stunning brunette with the amethyst eyes. Can he keep her safe and turn a rescue mission into a last chance at love?

Good story with plenty of action.  Sabrina returns to her place of business early one day only to hear her partner plotting to kill her and blame her for missing funds.  As she escapes she grabs a briefcase that contains a couple million dollars.  She runs to Dallas, where she lives off the grid, working as a pet and house sitter, until she gets caught in the middle of a murder.  The murder victim's dog brings Jake to her as they discover that she was the intended victim.  As he learns more of her story, Jake ends up on the run with her, as they try to clear her name and stop a killer.

I liked Sabrina.  I completely understood her fears and why she ran rather than contact the police.  She's spent six months trying to figure out what her partner had been up to and who the other man is.  When she gets nabbed by Jake as a person of interest in the murder she knows she has to stay out of police hands until she finds out what is happening.  Her activities get Jake in hot water with his boss when she gets away from him.  Over the next two days, together they have to evade the men following her, cope with a blizzard, retrieve the missing money and rescue her family.  Sabrina wants to trust him, but she's leery of trusting anyone right now.  She finds his willingness to help her reassuring, and her attraction to him gets stronger.  I found her tendency to ignore his orders frustrating because it always seemed to make things worse.  I did like the ending.

Jake was recently promoted to detective ahead of some others because of his military experience.  It has made his work more difficult because of their attitudes and actions toward him.  When he stumbles onto the murder victim and her dog it leads him to Sabrina.  He senses that she's hiding something, and when it becomes clear that she had been the intended victim he swears to help her.  As they run ahead of the killer's men and toward recovery of the missing money, he finds himself needing to use his the training he had as a Marine.  He came back from war with some memories he'd like to forget, and this problem of Sabrina's isn't helping him do that.  Being around Sabrina is bringing a different kind of peace to his life, if he can just keep her alive.  

The mystery itself wasn't too complicated, but it sure kept the action moving.  I liked seeing the strength  of will that Sabrina had that enabled her to escape and stay safe for as long as she did.  I also enjoyed the way that she was smart enough to hide the bulk of the money and how that fact was the impetus for the story.  The frequent danger kept me turning the pages until I could see how everything turned out.

I loved the character of the Labrador puppy, Dallas.  Besides being what brought Jake and Sabrina together, she was also used to show the effects dogs can have on stress.  I also liked the way she highlighted how it can be difficult for handicapped dogs to get adopted.

The only thing that kept this from being a five star book had nothing to do with the story itself.  As frequently happens, the folks at Harlequin have a difficult time accepting that when you are writing about a member of the United States Marine Corps, Marine is always capitalized.  As is Marine Corps, and when used alone to speak of the Marine Corps, as in "when he was in the Corps".  It's something that pulls me out of the story when I see it, and as Jake had been a Marine, it happened a lot.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Deadly Engagement - Elle James (HRS #1785 - Jan 2014)

Series: Devil's Shroud (Book 2)

But secret operative Creed Thomas isn't prepared for Emma Jenkins. Creed needs the diving expert to locate a sunken boat off Oregon's rocky coast and lure out an elusive terrorist. But he doesn't need the fiery attraction that tempts the by-the-book agent to break every rule. Emma is everything the man in him wants and the agent in him can't have.

As an impenetrable fog blankets the seaside town, one thing is clear: Creed is all that stands between a terrorist and the unspeakable act of violence he's sure to commit. When the moment comes, will Creed be forced to choose between saving his country...and the woman he loves?

Very good book with enough action to keep me hooked and enough heat between the hero and heroine to have me rooting for them.  Creed has come to town to locate a sunken yacht with ties to a terrorist.  He needs a diving expert to help him find it and Emma is the best in the area.  He doesn't expect the attraction her feels for her and finds himself thinking of a future that's impossible given what he does.  And when Emma gets caught in the middle, can he save her and stop the terrorist?

Emma is a nurse at the local hospital and well liked by everyone.  She feels very guilty right now because her ex-fiance stole the money that was meant for a children's wing at the local hospital.  She has been using her diving skills to look for the wreck of an eighteenth century ship that went down off the coast and was rumored to be carrying Spanish gold.  If she can find that gold it will replace the missing funds.  When Creed comes looking for a diving guide she accepts because the area he's looking in is also where she needs to be.  There's something about him, though, that isn't ringing true.  He claims to be an insurance adjuster looking into possible fraud, but he isn't like any adjuster she's ever met.  She's proved right when they are attacked and Creed comes clean on what's really going on.  I really liked the way that she doesn't panic when they are attacked but is able to keep her head enough to get them to safety.  She also admits to herself that not only is she attracted to him, but she's also falling in love with him.  Knowing what he does she also knows that when his mission is done he will leave, taking her heart with him.  

Creed has been a loner for most of his adult life.  He had grown up in a rough neighborhood and gotten into a lot of trouble before joining the navy and becoming a SEAL.  After the navy he joined the covert group he is currently in, with his teammates becoming like his family.  He doesn't want to involve a civilian in his mission but he needs Emma's help.  From the very beginning he is attracted to her, but doesn't feel that he has anything to offer her.  I loved seeing the way that she started breaking down his walls and thoughts of what could be crept into his mind.  He still resisted the idea that he could have it all until it came to the point where he realized what it would be like if he lost her.  I loved the way it was his tough as nails teammates who pointed out where he was going wrong.  

The suspense in the book was fantastic.  From the search for the missing cargo on the boat to the final showdown I couldn't put the book down.  The whole "dirty bomb" scenario was definitely scary.  With Creed and Emma on their own at the beginning it was nerve wracking to see them struggle to escape those who wanted them dead. The arrival of his teammates increased the tension as they got closer to stopping the terrorist.  There was a very interesting twist at the end when it came to the attempted deal between the two bad guys.  I also enjoyed catching up with Gabe and Kayla from Deadly Reckoning.

Lethal Lawman - Carla Cassidy (HRS #1783 - Jan 2014)

Series: Men of Wolf Creek (Book 2)

Marlene Marcoli made the mistake of falling in love and almost lost her life. Hoping to put her abusive marriage behind her, Marlene moves to Wolf Creek, Pennsylvania. But danger follows her once again when her apartment is vandalized. To make matters worse, the sexy detective working the case is distracting her beyond reason.

Detective Frank Delaney hasn't been interested in dating since his wife died--until Marlene comes to town. Irresistibly drawn to the blonde, he's got to find a way to make her trust him. And when Marlene's life is threatened, Frank must race to protect her--if they both hope to have a second chance at love.

Marlene has been back in Wolf Creek for a year after the end of her marriage.  She is working with one of her sisters in the store they run together.  When she isn't working she stays to herself.  When her apartment is vandalized the first one on the scene is Frank Delaney, one of the detectives who is also working the case of her missing aunt.  She finds him very sexy, but has no desire to get involved with another man.  Her confidence in her ability to have a good relationship is nonexistent, so when he indicates an interest in getting to know her better, she shuts him down pretty quickly.  But as she starts receiving threatening letters, then someone shoots at her, she accepts Frank's help in keeping her safe.  Marlene's standoffishness at first makes her seem pretty unemotional until she starts to open up to Frank about her past.  She confides things to him that she hadn't even shared with her sisters.  She also finds herself looking forward to seeing him which is not something she ever expected to happen.  I really liked the strength she showed as everything was happening to her.  She never really fell apart completely, though she did have a couple mini-meltdowns that she quickly recovered from.  I also liked the way that after she got shot at she started thinking about the way she had been living her life and decided it was time to make some changes.  That included her relationship with Frank, where she had to decide how much or how little she wanted from him.  I loved seeing her start looking at fulfilling the dream she'd had before her marriage now that she's decided to leave the past in the past.

Frank has been living a life filled with guilt and self-recrimination.  Three years earlier his wife had committed suicide and he blames himself for not seeing how big her problems were.  He will occasionally date, but hasn't gotten involved with another woman since then.  Being the detective in charge of finding out who is threatening Marlene puts him in her company a lot.  It isn't long before he discovers that she's not the ice princess people call her, she is just protecting herself.  He is intrigued by her and wants to spend some time getting to know her, but she won't go on a date with him.  I enjoyed his way of getting around that by taking food to her work to share with her rather than going out.  It is during one of those non-dates that they are shot at and he takes her home with him to protect her.  His feelings for her are growing stronger, but he knows that she has issues from her marriage and he is leery of getting involved with another woman who might be more emotional than he can handle.  I was a bit irritated with him that he couldn't see the huge difference between Marlene and his late wife.  I could see that he had really fallen for her but he was having a lot of trouble letting go of the past.  When he finally did, he did it very well.

The ongoing mystery of Aunt Liz's disappearance hasn't really made any progress.  There were a couple of check-ins to see what was happening with her, but the detectives are at a complete loss.  They haven't been able to find any clues to go on.  The epilogue was a lead in for the next book and it isn't looking good for the Marcoli family.  

The mystery that was central to this book, of who was targeting Marlene was very well done.  There were various clues, some of which worked and some that were dead ends.  I was definitely invested in finding out "whodunnit" and was completely surprised by who it was.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cold Case, Hot Accomplice - Carla Cassidy (HRS #1779 - Dec 2013)

Series: Men of Wolf Creek (Book 1)

Roxy Marcoli cares about three things -- her restaurant, her sisters and her aunt Liz. When Liz disappears, she's forced to turn to shameless playboy cop Steve Kincaid. Every time the sexy detective turns on the charm, he gets Roxy's hackles up.

Despite his reputation, Steve is no ladies' man. His casual flirting hides the pain of an unbearable loss. As they search for clues, he discovers what lies beneath Roxy's prickly exterior and sharp tongue. As his desire grows, so does his fear. Because it's not just Aunt Liz the killer wants -- but Roxy, too.

I could not put this down until I had read straight through it.  Roxy is the oldest of three sisters and feels responsible for making sure their lives run smoothly.  She remembers what life with their mother was like before they went to live with Aunt Liz and she vows that she will never go through that again.  Liz has been the anchor in her life since she was seven and the thought of something happening to her isn't something she can accept.  Steve and his two fellow detectives have been coming to her restaurant regularly and when Liz can't be found she goes to them for help.  Roxy tends to be pretty blunt and prickly and always in control of her life.  Steve is always flirting with her and every other female around.  She doesn't trust that he will actually put any effort into finding Liz, so she plans to be with him every step of the way.  It doesn't take too long before she discovers that Steve is far more than she thought.  As they look for clues in their search for Liz, she gets to know the man beneath the flirt and finds that they have more in common than she thought.  When she is the victim of several attacks, it's Steve she turns to for protection.  I have to say that I had a hard time warming up to Roxy at first.  She is so darn judgmental about Steve without actually knowing him.  I was glad to see her realize her mistake.  Thanks to her issues from her mother, she is determined that she will never have a man as a permanent part of her life.  Even that starts to change as being around Steve makes her realize that not all men are like those who were around her mother, and that she isn't anything like her mom.  Getting close to Steve is a scary proposition for her and I was happy to see her take that leap of faith.

Steve uses lighthearted flirting to hide the heartbreaking pain he lives with every day.  Two years earlier his ex-girlfriend had taken their son and disappeared.  He hasn't given up hope of finding Tommy, but knows he also has to go on with his life.  When Roxy's aunt disappears, he knows exactly what Roxy is going through so he does his best to help her cope as well as working to find Aunt Liz.  He finds that he enjoys being  with Roxy even as she frustrates him with her constant interference in the investigation.  He has previously only gotten involved with women in a lighthearted manner because he doesn't think there would be room for love in his heart because of all the pain there.  But he discovers that Roxy has managed to make a place for herself.  When she becomes the victim of several attacks, he brings her to stay with him in order to protect her.  This accelerates the effect she is having on him, but he has no idea if she can ever return his feelings.  I loved the way that he was able to use his own experience to help her.  I also enjoyed seeing Steve take care of her in a way that no one else ever has. 

There are two mysteries going on in this book.  The first, and main, story of the series is the disappearance of Aunt Liz.  The search for clues has turned up nothing that has given them any idea of what has happened to her.  Toward the end of the book we get to see her briefly as she tries to figure out what is happening to her.  I have an idea of who is behind it, but I'll have to wait to see if I'm right because I'm sure we won't find out until book three.  The other mystery is that of who is behind the attacks on Roxy and if they are connected to Liz's disappearance.  I had a pretty good idea of who the guilty party was on that one.  The end had a nice little plot twist that brought some extra happiness to Steve and Roxy.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Return of Connor Mansfield - Beth Cornelison (HRS #1784 - Jan 2014)

Series: Mansfield Brothers (Book 1)

One of the Mansfield brothers was dead to everyone else...except her

Having mourned the "death" of her fiance, Darby Kent isn't prepared for the moment they come face-to-face. For years, the man she loved and lost has lived in hiding. Until now. Connor is the only person who can save their ailing daughter, a living testament to the passion they once shared. But time is running out. And while Darby prays for their daughter's survival, she must confront old desires...and powerful new enemies who've patiently awaited Connor's return.

Plenty of action right from the beginning.  It starts with an introduction to the backstory and the violent death of Darby's fiance Connor.  Four years later, an insurance company is checking up on Darby's medical claims for her daughter who has leukemia.  By pure luck, the employee assigned to check is "Sam" who just happens to be Connor in his new WitSec identity.  Stunned to discover he has a daughter, and just how sick she is, he insists on getting tested as a donor.  From there it's not long before everyone knows he's alive - including the ones who want him dead.  

Connor really wanted to get in and out without anyone, especially Darby, knowing he was alive, but he hadn't counted on  the test also pointing out his relationship to Savannah.  Now that the cat's out of the bag, he really wants a chance to stay around for a little while and get to know her before he has to disappear again.  And he has to disappear or the whole family will be in danger.  He also wants the time with Darby, to try to make her understand why he let her believe he was dead.  He has never stopped loving her but he couldn't ask her to give everything up to follow him.  Connor is one stubborn man and there was nothing the marshals could do to keep him from being there for his family.  I loved seeing him get that stubborn attitude going and watch as everything fell before him.  The only thing he couldn't do was get Darby to accept the reasons he left in the first place.  I loved seeing them grow closer as the days went on, even knowing that they were going to be torn apart again.

Darby was devastated when Connor died.  The only thing that kept her going was the daughter they made together.  She is terrified that they won't find a compatible donor and she'll be left with nothing.  Discovering that Connor is alive both thrills her and infuriates her.  She is so angry with him that he left without telling her, without even asking her to go along, that she can barely stand to look at him.  She has some abandonment issues because her father walked out on the family without giving any reason and she sees Connor's actions as the same thing.  She's grateful that he can be a donor, but she doesn't want to get involved with him again and have both she and Savannah hurt when he leaves again.  She can't justify keeping him away from Savannah and watching him with her starts to melt some of the anger away.  More time with him only shows her that she never stopped loving him.  The only question is, will there be any way for them to be together as a family?  I loved the way that Darby used a quote that one of the marshals told her about love "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to see and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." (Rumi) to get them to try to find a way.

The suspense part of the story was very well done.  I was captured by the story from the beginning and was rooting for a way for Connor, Darby and Savannah to be together.  I found the dissension between two of the bad guys very interesting, especially with the effect it had on the end of the story.  With every page I wondered what was going to happen next.  I had a great time watching the agents' frustration dealing with both Connor and Darby, though they certainly got to inflict their own later in the book.  There were so many moving parts to trying to keep them safe that it only added to the suspense of seeing if it all worked.  I had a question at the beginning of the book about why the third brother was going to have his own story, but that was answered later.  

The Final Falcon Says I Do - Lucy Gordon (HR #4410 - Jan 2014)

Series: Falcon Dynasty (Book 5)

Mr. Right under her nose...
When Freya Falcon is jilted on her wedding day, the notoriously stubborn and brooding Jackson Falcon discovers a protective side brought out by this newly vulnerable woman.

Freya is surprised by Jackson's behaviour. They've spent so long denying any romantic interest in each other that she hasn't seen how kind, thoughtful and downright gorgeous the man really is

But her heart is raw, and despite his charms, she can't quite trust him.... It's up to the final Falcon brother to prove to Freya that he has indeed been Mr. Right all along.

I really enjoyed this final book in the Falcon Dynasty series.  Freya has spent a long time resisting her stepfather's attempts to marry her off to one of his sons.  She and Jackson have been friends for a long time and when he comes to her rescue after she's jilted on her wedding day, she's more than willing to lean on him for awhile.  When she finds out he's hidden some of the truth of that day, she's devastated by the deception.  It kills the trust she used to have in him and she vows to protect her heart from now on.  

I really liked Freya most of the time, though there were a couple times I wanted to shake her.  I really like the way that she's had the strength of will to stand up to Amos over his matchmaking.  Finding out what he had done to cause her humiliation infuriated her.  When Jackson helps her, she is grateful for it but worried because she's feeling a hint of attraction to him.  While she is fine with friendship she finds him too much like his father for her comfort.  She has seen him bulldoze and manipulate just like Amos does and she wants no part of it.  When she discovers his deception about his part in her jilting made things even worse.  She tries to get her friendship with him back on track, but she has that pesky attraction to deal with, plus her loss of trust.  Spending more time with him both strengthens her feelings for him and confuses her because of some of the negatives she perceives.  I got somewhat frustrated with the way that she saw so much negative, but couldn't see the positive aspects of him.  As Jackson starts to expose his feelings to her, she resists with all her might.  Her heart might be leaning toward him but her head can't believe that he really cares that way.  I loved the way that she finally saw the truth and was able to let go of her fears.

Jackson had been attracted to Freya when he first met her, but because of his father's meddling buried those feelings deep.  But there were always sparks between them that they buried under teasing arguments.  When he inadvertently gave her fiance the motivation to bail out, he felt terribly guilty.  He couldn't bring himself to tell her everything as he tried to protect her from the hurt.  He also discovered that those buried feelings were starting to come back to the surface.  He would try to show her how he felt, but she would shut him down because of her unwillingness to risk her heart again.  I really loved his protectiveness even though it seemed to keep getting him into trouble with her.  I loved the end and seeing him try to be all noble about the way her ex wants her back.

There was also a secondary story with Amos and his wife. It looked like he was going to continue being the jerk that he's always been until he overheard Freya and Janine talking about what had happened.  It was really neat to see him finally understand how his manipulations hurt people.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

Daring to Trust the Boss - Susan Meier (HR #4411 - Feb 2014)

When accountant Olivia Prentiss joins Tucker Engle's company, she's unceremoniously demoted--to stand in as his PA However, Tucker's not in for an easy ride. Olivia's worked hard to get where she is now, and refuses to bow to her gorgeous boss's commands--however fearsome his reputation.

But soon Olivia begins to see there is far more to her boss than meets the eye. And on a business trip to Italy, she sees straight through Tucker's hard and proud exterior to a man with a far more vulnerable edge....

Good book with some wonderful characters.  Olivia has come to New York to accept an accounting job at Tucker's company.  Unfortunately, Tucker's PA was in an accident and he needs a temporary replacement, and Olivia is it.  She's not happy about it, as that's not what she's worked for, but she has no choice.  She knows his reputation, but she won't allow herself to be browbeaten and stands up for herself when she needs to.  As she becomes more involved in the work she begins to see a different side to him.  On a business trip to Italy she gets to know him better and comes to like what she sees.

I really liked Olivia.  She had grown up in a small town, and gotten involved with one of the sons of a wealthy family while in college.  When he attacked her  she had the courage to stand up for herself and try to hold him accountable.  She stood her ground when he fought back and came out on top.  But she needed to get away and start a new life.  She now has trust issues with men, especially wealthy ones.  She may have to work for Tucker, but that doesn't mean she's going to let him walk all over her.  I loved her common sense way of looking at things and her ability to read people.  Those abilities get her involved even more with Tucker's plans and a trip to Italy ensues.  As she spends more time with Tucker outside of the office, she begins to see more of the man behind the ruthless businessman and grows to care for him very much.  I loved seeing her influence on him and the way he does things.  I ached for them both during Olivia's family emergency, when each of them had to decide if they could trust enough to open their hearts.

Tucker had grown up in foster care, moving through many different families.  He had never experienced the kind of love and life of being a part of a real family.  He was determined from a young age that he would be successful and has never lost sight of his goals.  Olivia is something he doesn't quite know how to deal with.  She is very good at her job, but he doesn't understand why he can't get her off his mind.  I loved his confusion when her family came to visit and he saw what their relationship was like.  When he went to her apartment after she didn't show up for work because she was sick, he tried to take care of her.  He felt useless because he had no idea what to do for her, but he tried.  He found himself opening up to her while they were in Italy, which scared him.  He doesn't want to get close to her because in his experience, everyone ends up leaving him.  He really likes her but he fears one or both of them are going to get hurt.  When she had a family emergency he was there for her, but then his insecurities got to him and he left.  I loved the advice he got from Constanzo and what he decided to do about it.  I loved the epilogue and how it showed the changes in both of them.

Undercover Captor - Cynthia Eden (HI #1474 - Feb 2014)

Series: Shadow Agents: Guts and Glory (Book 1)

Get rescued by a hero in disguise

The man standing watch over Dr. Tina Jamison was an imposing, scarred figure. Even more frightening was what would happen when her kidnappers discovered they'd taken the wrong woman. Only she didn't realize this same guard was an undercover agent, or that Drew Lancaster left no fellow Elite Operations agent behind.

Running handcuffed together through Texas, Drew vowed to protect Tina against all dangers. For a man who'd fought so may battles, he couldn't afford to lose this one. She'd need to follow his orders to stay alive. But it didn't take a doctor to see that this wounded warrior she'd once feared needed some saving himself....

Fantastic book, a real page turner from the start.  Tina is a doctor who works for the Elite Operations Division.  She is used to patching up agents when they are done with a mission.  She doesn't expect to end up in the middle of a mission herself, but that's what happens when she is kidnapped.  Only, it's a case of mistaken identity, and if they discover the truth she'll be dead.  Drew has been undercover with this group for several months and is shocked to see Tina.  He knows he has to get her away, even if it means blowing his cover.  

Tina is a doctor.  She became a doctor after seeing her parents killed during a bank robbery and not being able to save them.  When she's kidnapped by men who think she's her boss's daughter she is terrified.  That terror is slightly relieved when she immediately recognizes Drew as one of her captors, as she knows that he will save her.  Drew is the one man that has fascinated her since she met him.  She is fully aware of what he is capable of doing and of his reputation for having ice in his veins, but that doesn't stop her heart from jumping whenever she sees him.  She has complete trust in him and that he will get them out of trouble.  That trust grows quickly into love as she gets to know more about him.  I loved seeing the way that what he has done in the past doesn't affect the way she feels about him.  Being on the run with him also changes the way she feels about herself.  She has always considered herself weak, because she can have asthma attacks when under stress.  She considers it a huge drawback to her desire to get closer to Drew, because a man like him doesn't need a woman like her.  I loved seeing her strength of will develop over the course of the book.  I especially enjoyed seeing her stand up to them all and insist on being the bait for a trap to catch the bad guy.  And I loved seeing her get to Drew at the end.

Drew had had a rough childhood, doing things he wasn't particularly proud of just to help support his mother and sisters.  After joining the army, then the EOD, there were many who thought of him as a killing machine.  He is always very coolheaded as he goes about his missions.  He had worked hard at his undercover mission to get to the leader of a terrorist group.  Finding Tina as the kidnapping victim is going to blow that cover all to pieces, because he can't leave her in danger.  He also discovers that his control also disappears around her.  His immediate jumping in to protect her from what the terrorists had planned to do to her got them handcuffed together waiting for unpleasant attention.  Drew wasn't sure he was going to be able to get them out of it, but he was going to try.  He had trouble believing that Tina had so much trust in him.  He believed that he wasn't deserving of all that trust, or anything else that she might be feeling for him.  That trust in him started working its way past his walls until he was feeling things for her that he'd never felt for another woman, and it really scared him.  He had kept his distance from his own family for fear of what he does coming back to hurt them, he could only imagine how much worse it would be if he allowed himself to love Tina.  I loved his conversation with Gunner (Sharpshooter) where he asked "Weren't you afraid? That what we do ... Weren't you afraid it would spill over on them?" "I was more afraid," Gunner admitted, "of trying to live my life without her." That went a long way toward making him realize he didn't want to live without her.  I loved their ending scene.

The suspense part of the book was outstanding.  The EOD people knew who it was that had taken Tina.  They had set up a sting to catch the guy, but he took the wrong woman.  The action was constant as Drew and his coworkers try to get away, with the bad guys right on their heels.  It becomes obvious that there is a traitor somewhere in the EOD, so they also have to make their plans and try to protect them at the same time.  I loved Drew's focus as he tries to protect Tina while fighting his growing feelings.  The final showdown was really intense with all the things that were going on.  I loved the part that Cooper played, as the author sets things up for the next book.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Sheriff's Second Chance - Michelle Celmer (HSE #2308 - Jan 2014)

Series: Paradise Colorado (Book 2)

It's bad enough when Caitlyn Cavanaugh crawls back to Paradise with her tail between her legs after her life in the big city goes bust. But to run right into her ex, Deputy Sheriff Nathan Jeffries--and still be attracted to the man--is too much. True, she'd left him to pursue her dream after high school, but he'd wasted no time--well, maybe a month--before marrying her best friend and having a child.

Now that Caitie's back, it's Nate's job to rescue this damsel in distress from a series of minor mishaps. Sure, the single dad's strategy is keep up a cold, professional facade with the irritating beauty...but tell that to his heart

Good book.  Caitie has come back home because of the loss of her job.  The financial firm she worked for has gotten in trouble with the law, and finding a new job has become difficult.  So she's helping out at her parents' diner.  It's a small town so she knows she'll run into her ex, but didn't expect it so soon.  She can't believe she's still attracted to him after all this time.  Caitie still feels guilty about the way she left town without a word, then sending him an inadequate apology letter a month later.  She had thought about contacting him, but then heard that he'd married her best friend and they had a child.  Feeling her own sense of betrayal, she hasn't seen him since.  She's only planning to stay in town until she finds a new job, but that seems to be taking awhile.  Seeing Nate again has brought the old feelings back to the surface, not just her feelings for him but the feelings of betrayal by him and her best friend Mel.  She finally sat down with her friend and they talked.  I liked that they made up, but I thought both Mel and Nate could have grovelled a little more than they did.  Having made up, Caitie finds Mel doing her best to shove her and Nate together, trying to get them back together.  Caitie has to decide if she cares enough to stay in Colorado or if she's going to go back to New York.  I liked seeing some of the changes that Caitie went through.  The longer she was home, the more she realized that she had missed it.  She also realized that she hadn't really had much of a life back in New York because she was working all the time.  She began to see that having some balance in her life made her a lot happier and that Nate was an important part of it.  I loved seeing the solution to her job issues and how it was her friends that pointed it out to her.  

Nate was still living in Paradise, now working as a Deputy Sheriff.  He had been deeply in love with Caitie and when she left town without telling him why, he was devastated.  Unfortunately, hanging out with Caitie's best friend, getting drunk with her and getting her pregnant was not the best way to deal with it.  That kept him from going after her when he finally discovered where she was.  Seven years later he has to deal with her being back in town.  I loved seeing him be the one to rescue her a couple times and the effect it had on him.  He soon realized that he had never really gotten over her.  Their reconciliation seemed to happen pretty easily.  I enjoyed the way that Nate was there for her and helped her do things at her parents' house.  I loved the hose and paint scene.  Nate didn't want her to leave town again, but he was determined that he wasn't going to ask her to stay, that it had to be her decision.  Things were going along pretty well until he had an attack of insecurity.  I really wanted to shake him when he was being such an idiot.  

There were also side stories involving Caitie's parents and sister.  Besides her job loss and Nate, Caitie was also dealing with her mother's Alzheimer's diagnosis.  There are several occasions when it is Nate who is there for Caitie when she needs him.  It was difficult to watch as her mom has more frequent episodes and the effect it has on Caitie.  I loved the way various friends stepped in to help as they learned what was wrong.  Caitie also reunites with her sister, with whom she's had a rocky relationship.  I'd like to see Kelly get her own story, once she's had a chance to grow up a little.

Rancher Wants a Wife - Kate Bridges (HH #1167 - Jan 2014)

Series: Mail-Order Weddings (Book 1)

A marriage to save them both...
Among the responses Cassandra Hamilton receives to her advertizement as a mail-order bride, one stands out--Jack McColton's. The last time she saw him, she was a carefree girl, but tragedy has made her a cautious woman.

Jack is mesmerized by his new bride--Cassandra might bear the scars of recent events, but she's even more beautiful than he remembers. They both have pasts that are hard to forget, but under the cloak of night, can their passion banish the shadows forever?

Very good book.  I loved the courage that Cassandra found to pursue a new life.  She might have known Jack in the past, but it's been five years so there's no guarantee that he's still a good man.  She lost her father and sister in the Chicago Great Fire, and was injured herself.  Having lost so much, she is cautious about trusting her heart to someone else.  When she finally reached California and saw Jack again, she discovered that she was still attracted to him.  She wants to build a relationship with him but there are still some things from their past that they need to work through.  She is also worried about how he will accept her scars.  Cassandra was worried about their future when he didn't even kiss her at first, but was more confident once they were married and their physical relationship took off.  She still had some confidence issues thanks in part to Jack's ex-girlfriend who appeared to still want him.  I loved seeing her make herself an important part of Jack's life, not just in bed.  She has to learn to trust him and seeing the work he does and the way he is respected by others goes a long way toward that.  I also enjoyed Cassandra's desire to be more than a wife.  Having been involved with her father's law firm, she has an interest in law and law enforcement and would like to become a lady detective.  She doesn't know how Jack will react to that wish, and when he makes his dislike of the idea clear she hopes to change his mind.  I loved the way she put her abilities to work as they tried to solve the mystery of sick animals and a possible murder.  

Jack left Chicago after telling Cassandra about his feelings and being rejected.  He couldn't stand the idea of seeing her marry the man she was engaged to, so he left and didn't look back.  He's made a good life for himself in California.  When he heard about the Great Fire, he tried to find Cassandra to check on her but had no success until he saw her ad in the paper.  He immediately wrote to her, proposing marriage to him, all the time wondering why she wasn't married to the other man.  He feels guilty that he wasn't there to protect her and vows that she will be safe with him.  He notices her scar when they finally meet again, but it makes no difference to him.  He realizes he still cares for her and vows to keep her safe.  He's not happy about her plans because he sees too many opportunities for her to get hurt and he doesn't want that to happen.  I loved seeing how attracted he was to her, and how he tried to control himself but couldn't.  He's intrigued by the way her mind works but feels her plans are too dangerous.  I enjoyed seeing him get closer to her and try to show her how he feels.  His protectiveness really comes out as he worries about the unexplained events that are going on.  His growing appreciation for her and her deductive abilities starts to work on his opinion of her plans.  He also has a tendency to screw things up just as matters between them start going well.  The final showdown at the end showed him just how much he had come to love her.

I enjoyed the mystery part of the book also.  The way that Cassandra had of thinking outside of the way that Jack and the other men did went a long way toward figuring out who was behind the trouble.  I thought it was pretty cool that she solved it before the guys did.  I wasn't really surprised by who it was, but the process of getting there was very good.  I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Dangerous Man - Connie Brockway (Dell - July 1996)

A Dangerous Bargain
Standing in the English drawing room, Hart Moreland, the Earl of Perth, seemed the quintessential aristocrat: remote, imperious, sophisticated. But Mercy Coltrane had last seen him six years earlier in Texas. There they called him Duke: a lank, sun-scarred gunfighter with eyes as hard as the steel of his Colt .44. Fearless and without remorse, he never failed to complete a job. That was why she had followed him here. That was why she needed him now.

A Dangerous Passion

Hart remembered the beautiful red-haired American. After all, six years earlier, he had shot her. Now he saw those terrible memories in her glittering eyes as she threatened to expose his scandalous past -- unless he helped find her missing brother. Blackmail was a dangerous game to play with a hard man like Hart. But it wasn't until he pulled her into his arms, unleashing the sudden heat of unexpected passion, that Mercy Coltrane knew the threat to her heart of... A DANGEROUS MAN

Good book, a bit different than the usual England based historical.  It begins with the explosive first encounter of Mercy and Hart back in Texas, then jumps six years and over the ocean to England.  Mercy has come to England to find her brother who has disappeared, except for a few letters asking for money.  She's had no success, so she comes to Hart, who has gone back to his real life as the Earl of Perth, hoping to convince him to help.  It's not a pleasant meeting.  Hart has worked very hard to keep his past a secret, not wanting anything to affect his sisters' standing in society and having Mercy around threatens to ruin it all.

Mercy is desperate to find her brother.  She feels responsible for the rift between him and their father and wants to get them back together, but she can't find him.  Her trip to England from Texas is supposedly to find a husband, but she could care less about that.  She has found Lord Perth and is determined to get his help.  She runs into some trouble because he isn't the least bit interested in helping her.  Meanwhile she's having an interesting time of her own as part of the same house party.  Her Texan attitudes just don't mix well with the Victorian way of doing things.  I loved the whole shooting competition and how Mercy teased Hart into participating.  That was the first real sign of the sparks the were flying between them.  Mercy refused to give up her search and ended up blackmailing Hart into helping her.  She was also determined to help in the search.  She had a couple of times when she was a real idiot and could have made things much worse, but got lucky.  Spending as much time as she did with Hart, she soon realized that the cold, hard man that everyone sees is hiding a man who is hiding a lot of pain.  One of the things I liked best about her was how she got him to open up to her and how she tried to relieve some of his pain.  She also fell hard for him, even though she was sure nothing would come of it because of the huge differences between them.

Hart is a man who keeps iron control over himself and his emotions at all times.  Years ago he had become a soldier to help support his family, later going to America to earn more for the same reason.  He has done things that haunt his memories and give him nightmares, and make him avoid being around people too much.  He guards his secrets, fearing what kind of damage they could do to his sisters if they were revealed.  Having Mercy show up threatens what little peace he has.  He denies her request for his help not wanting anything to do with that life again.  But he also can't deny how much she intrigues him and attracts him.  It was fun watching him try to fight it, especially during the shooting scene.  Thanks to her blackmail he has to help her and at first it really angers him, especially when she forces him to take her along.  It isn't long before he wants to help her on his own.  The scene where she finds him battling his nightmares is heartbreaking as we see everything that is haunting him.  I loved how he was able to tell her everything.  The events of the next morning were funny in a way as Hart gets what he wants but is afraid to take.  I really enjoyed the ending.

The mystery of her brother Will's whereabouts was well done.  It gave a look at some of the less pleasant parts of Victorian London.  There was more to his disappearance than was first suspected and it was interesting to see how it played out.  The revelation of the person behind his disappearance was a bit of a surprise.

I also found the other characters to be well done.  Lady Acton was a typical society matriarch with the attitudes and prejudices of her time.  She also seemed to have a tight control over her son, who was supposedly courting Hart's sister Annabelle.  Of Hart's three sisters I liked Beryl the best.  She seemed to have an excellent head on her shoulders as was shown later in the book.  I liked the way she treated Mercy and her reaction to Hart's revelations was excellent.  I found Fanny to be the most forgettable of the sisters with her constant weeping.  Annabelle turned out to be a total bitch and completely deserves the mother-in-law that she gets.  I would have liked to see more of an epilogue and some hint of what happens with Will.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon - RaeAnne Thayne (HQN - Nov 2013)

Series: Hope's Crossing (Book 6)

Holiday gifts don't always come in expected packages…especially in the town of Hope's Crossing.

No one has ever felt sorry for Genevieve Beaumont. After all, she has everything money can buy. That is, until she discovers her fiancé has been two-timing her and she's left with two choices: marry the philanderer to please her controlling father or be disinherited and find a means to support herself.

Genevieve's salvation appears in the most unlikely of prospects: Dylan Caine, a sexy, wounded war vet whose life is as messy as hers. Dylan's struggling to adjust after his time in Afghanistan, and the last thing he needs is a spoiled socialite learning about the real world for the first time. True, she may have unexpected depths and beauty to match. But he knows he could never be the man she needs…and she knows he could never be the man she thinks she wants. So why are they each hoping that a Christmas miracle will prove them both wrong?

Wonderful book.  I loved the beauty and the beast theme.  Gen has been the girl that everyone loves to hate.  While engaged to her fiance she was the epitome of a bridezilla.  When she caught him cheating she dumped him and fled the country to recover.  Now she's back, with her father cutting her off financially until she can get her act together.  Dylan is back home in Hope's Crossing after losing a hand and an eye in Afghanistan.  All he wants is to be left alone.  When the two of them end up having to do some community service together, sparks start to fly.

From the moment Gen and Dylan met in the bar there was a connection between them that couldn't be denied.  Gen is there trying to forget that she's stuck in town until she can fix up her grandmother's house and sell it.  Dylan is there, waiting for his brother, because his family won't let him hide out in his cabin by himself.  Both are getting annoyed by the Christmas carols being played on the jukebox, but Gen loses it first and starts a brawl with another patron over it.  Dylan steps in to try to protect her and both end up arrested and sentenced to community service.

The place of their service is A Warrior's Hope, the local center for wounded veterans.  Dylan isn't happy about it because it reminds him of everything he's lost.  Not just the physical losses but the emotional ones also.  In the same blast that injured him he lost five friends and he blames himself.  All of these things make him feel that he is a "washed up army ranger with missing parts" and not someone worth being around.  But he mans up and puts in the time.  As he and Gen work together at their assigned tasks he finds that she is not the spoiled brat that everyone thinks she is.  I loved the way that he sees the goodness in her that others take much longer to see.  He also discovers that being around her is changing him.  Just listening to her talk relieves some of the mental stress he is under and soon he is laughing and smiling more.  I loved seeing him cave in to her demands when they were decorating the trees at the cabins.  He doesn't quite understand what is happening to him and at times it really scares him.  The occasional thought he has of getting closer to her tends to send him running in the opposite direction.  His cynicism crops up now and then when her optimism gets to be too much for him.  I loved the ending when his fears get shown up by her courage and he decides it's time to embrace life again.

Gen's time at A Warrior's Hope shows her that she can change from the spoiled brat she used to be into someone she can be proud of.  She started by standing up to her father and not letting him get her off from her sentence.  She was also determined to do the best she could at renovating her grandmother's house.  I really enjoyed her enthusiasm for the project and the way that it spilled over into her interactions with Dylan.  She really wants to change but it's really hard when the people around you can only see the old you and not the person you're trying to be.  I loved the fact that Dylan was one who could see that the apparently snobby person on the outside was hiding the woman who was shy and not very sure of herself.  The changes in her started to become really apparent when they were working at A Warrior's Hope.  Her enthusiasm and talent for decorating the Christmas trees surprised everyone and started them looking at her differently.  I loved seeing her start to connect with people and let them see who she really is.  The party she went to with Charlotte started out so well, until she ran into one person who was a real nasty piece of work.  It set her progress back a little until Dylan was able to show her that she couldn't let one person's opinion affect her that badly. I really liked the way that she saw Dylan for who he was, not the damaged surface.  She realized that she was falling for him and got frustrated with his hot and cold attitude. I also loved seeing how her optimism and softhearted personality caused her to try to help one of the wounded vets who was staying at the center.  In spite of Dylan's cynical attitude about it she was sure that she was doing the right thing.  Her way of calling the vet, and by extension Dylan, on his stupidity on throwing away love was fantastic and incredibly moving.  I loved the whole wedding planning scene and the way that she was embraced by the people who used to look down on her.  It gave her the final boost of confidence that she needed to then go after Dylan and tell him how she felt.  

The romance between Dylan and Gen was a slow build up as they had to deal with their own issues before they could truly open themselves up to the other one.  Each was much better at seeing the good in the other person.  I loved the attraction that was so evident between them but also that it didn't take over the entire story.  

Once again I loved the people of Hope's Crossing.  They all have their flaws and issues but they live their lives as best they can.  Most are cautious about trusting Gen at first but are willing to be convinced.  Dylan's family love him, but are also very good at getting up in his business.  I loved seeing the way they came together to help Gen plan the wedding and encourage her to stay around.

Devil's Highlander - Veronica Wolff (Berkley - Aug 2010)

Series: Clan MacAlpin (Book 1)

After Scotland's civil wars, the orphaned brothers and sisters of the MacAlpin clan reclaimed the abandoned Dunnottar Castle as their birthright. Hardened in battle and haunted by family secrets, these fiery Highlanders must rely on each other as they right the wrongs of their troubled history.

Before she can give herself to him, he must forgive himself.

Cormac MacAlpin lost his innocence too young -- he's always blamed himself for the kidnapping of his twin brother, Aidan. He turned away from his childhood friend, Marjorie Keith, denying the prospect of happiness with the young woman who loved him.

Now a tormented war hero working as a fisherman, Cormac is speechless when Marjorie comes to him with an appeal for help...a poor city boy she's been caring for has disappeared, reminding her of long-lost Aidan. Their bond of shame once thwarted a budding romance and threatens to again -- but Cormac and Marjorie are adults now, with needs too powerful to keep locked away...

Good story of love and redemption.  Cormac and Marjorie had been good friends as children, along with Cormac's twin brother Aidan.  When they were ten, Aidan was kidnapped as they were playing.  Both Cormac and Marjorie felt responsible and it affected them deeply.  They turned away from each other and moved on alone.  Marjorie devotes herself to good works, spending her time caring for orphaned boys.  Cormac took himself off to fight in Scotland's wars and has returned scarred and bitter.  When Marjorie comes to him for help finding a missing boy he refuses, feeling that it's no use.  But he can't let her attempt it on her own, so off he goes to help.

I was a little torn about Marjorie.  I liked the way that she's so intent on helping the boys of the city, especially to keep them safe.  She's never forgotten what happened to Aidan and blames herself for the game they were playing at the time.  When one of her boys goes missing she's sure that it's the same thing that happened to Aidan, so she heads off to ask Cormac for his help.  She'd always been in love with him and expected to marry him, but feels that he blames her for Aidan's disappearance.  She's willing to deal with that to get Cormac's help.  When he refuses to help her she tells him she'll do it without his help and stalks off, but is secretly relieved when he agrees to help after all.  There's a lot of heat between them now that they're grown, but they attempt to resist it at first.  Marjorie is trying to concentrate on saving Davie.  I got rather frustrated with her at times because she asked for his help but then argued with him every time he tried to do something.  Being around him so much brought her feelings back to the surface and they got stronger throughout the book.  I did like the way that she tried to show Cormac that Aidan's disappearance wasn't his fault.  She also worked hard to show him that what he did during the war doesn't affect the way she feels about him.  But it seemed like every time they made progress in their relationship something would happen to cause them to pull apart.  I often felt like she didn't really have enough faith in him.  She nearly ruined everything at the end, but they managed to pull it off.  

Cormac had always loved Marjorie and planned to marry her when they grew up.  After Aidan was kidnapped he felt so guilty that he couldn't be around her.  After he returned from fighting he felt especially damaged by the things he had seen and done.  They left him seeing only the bad things in life.  He spends his time fishing, a job he can do alone so he doesn't have to inflict himself on other people.  He's surprised by her request for his help, but feels that it's too late to do anything.  He can't stand the idea of her trying it on her own, so he goes along to keep her safe.  But being with her all the time is hard on his heart as his love grows stronger, but his guilt won't let him hope for happiness.  It was kind of fun seeing him try to resist her as she pulls out all her tricks to get him to admit his feelings.  I felt kind of sorry for him as he tried so hard to keep Marjorie safe and she kept walking right into trouble.  I also enjoyed seeing the way that she broke down his walls and finally got him to accept that he wasn't responsible either.  Just as it looked like everything was going to work out there was a surprise twist that threw his plans completely off.  I really worried for a bit that it would go horribly wrong, but it didn't.  I'm looking forward to the next book.