Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Say No To Joe? - Lori Foster (Zebra - Aug 2003)

Series: Winstons/Visitation NC (Book 4)


Joe Winston has a routine with women: he exists; they swoon; roll credits. With his smoldering looks, macho style, and irrepressible charm, Joe can have any woman--except the one he really wants. Secretly, Luna Clark may lust after Joe, but she's made it clear that she's too smart to fall for him. He can just keep holding his breath, thank you very much. But now, Luna's inherited two kids who need more than she alone can give in a small town that seems hell-bent on driving them away. She needs someone to help out...someone who can't be intimidated...someone just like Joe. Becoming an instant family wasn't exactly what Joe had in mind, but hey, it's a start, and you can't blame a guy for trying every angle.

After all, where there's a Joe, there's a way...straight into a woman's heart.

This was a very fun book. Joe is the typical alpha male, appealing to women, protective when necessary, and anti-commitment. But his tough guy image is a little tarnished at the beginning of the book as he is recovering from being pretty badly beaten. When Luna shows up at his place to ask for his help she finds him being molested by a couple of women, and has no problem running them off.

Luna has been made guardian of two children in a small town that is making a lot of trouble for the kids. She knows that Joe is the perfect person to help her protect the kids until she can get things settled. She's attracted to Joe, but knows better than to get involved with him. He's not into commitment and she doesn't want her heart broken. Joe is glad to help Luna out. He lets her know straight out that he's also going to use the time to try to get her into bed with him. 

Luna has never spent any real time around kids, but she is determined to give Willow and Austin all the love and stability that they need. I loved seeing how nervous she was, but her instincts were good and she seemed to know pretty well what they needed. Her own family life had not been all that great, and it gives her great insight into how the kids feel. She is also determined to resist the womanizing Joe, but soon sees a different side to him. I loved seeing her stand up to him when she thought it was important, but pay attention when she knew he was looking out for them. I loved seeing her attitude toward him soften as he got more involved with the kids.

Joe has never had to work for a woman's attention before he met Luna. He wants her bad, but she isn't cooperating at all. He's more than happy to help her out with the kids because it gives him the chance to try to talk her into his bed. He doesn't expect to find himself settling in to domesticity and liking it. I loved seeing how good he was with the kids. He has just the right touch with Austin to keep him out of trouble. He was also incredibly sweet with the teenage Willow - I loved his reaction to the errand she asked him to run. As much as he had been resisting the idea of ever settling down, it was so much fun to see him take to family life.

There were some really fun things that happened throughout the book. It was always great to see Joe dealing with any kind of domestic issue. I loved watching him with the ever curious and very talkative Austin. He was surprised by how much he enjoyed what he did and that the thought of making things permanent with Luna didn't send him running scared. I also loved seeing Luna as she resisted Joe's advances, even though she wanted him. She had a couple great scenes where she was dealing with the women who were constantly after him.

The two kids in the book were wonderful. They had had it really rough since their mother died and were very wary of Luna, who was the most recent in a long line of guardians. Their actions seemed perfectly logical for their ages and what had been happening to them. My heart broke for them as they were so cautious about accepting that Luna was there to stay.

There were a couple of mysteries that went throughout the book. There was the question of who was causing the "accidents" that were happening to the kids, and why it was happening. The who was pretty obvious, but the why was something of a surprise. There was also the identity of who was following Joe and why, and was it just one person or were there more. Joe's protectiveness toward his new family sometimes came in conflict with what he wanted to do to get to the bottom of it. Both mysteries got solved at once with a good amount of action and some pretty funny encounters.

Always on My Mind - Jill Shalvis (Grand Central - Sept 2013)

Series: Lucky Harbor (Book 8)


After dropping out of pastry school and messing up her big break on a reality cooking show, Leah Sullivan needs to accomplish something in her life. But when she returns home to Lucky Harbor, she finds herself distracted by her best friend, Jack Harper. In an effort to cheer up Jack's ailing mother, Dee, Leah tells a little fib - that she and Jack are more than just friends. Soon pretending to be hot-and-heavy with this hunky firefighter feels too real to handle . . .

No-strings attachments suit Jack just fine - perfect for keeping the risk of heartbreak away. But as Jack and Leah break every one of their "just friends" rules, he longs to turn their pretend relationship into something permanent. Do best friends know too much about each other to risk falling in love? Or will Jack and Leah discover something new about each other in a little town called Lucky Harbor?

Good friends to lovers story. Jack and Leah have been friends for a long time. They grew up as neighbors, always there for each other.  Jack was Leah's refuge when her father's abuse got to be too much. Meanwhile, Leah was there for Jack when his father died doing his job as a firefighter.

Now Leah is back in Lucky Harbor to help out her grandmother at her bakery while she tries to decide what to do next.  She had left culinary school in the last semester in order to participate in a baking competition show. She can't talk about how the show turned out, but you definitely get the feeling it didn't end well for her. With the whole town watching the show, Leah is determined to leave again before the final episode airs, but things aren't as easy as she thought they'd be. Her friendship with Jack is going strong again, but there's something else going on also. Then she tells Jack's mom. who is fighting cancer, that she and Jack are together in an attempt to give Dee more motivation to get better.  And then their pretending gets a little out of hand.

Jack spent his early years idolizing his father and determined to follow in his footsteps. He is now head of his station in the fire department, and living his life the way he wants. He has plenty of time for the ladies, as long as they know he doesn't do commitments. When Leah comes back to town, their friendship picks up right where it left off, until she makes that claim to his mother. He understands why she did it, but it is making his life hell. As much as he tries to keep a lid on their attraction, it's just too strong to deny.

Both Leah and Jack are intensely attracted to the other. Their close friendship over the years has enabled them to see each other just as they are, faults and all. Their love for each other is obvious to everyone else, but Leah and Jack refuse to admit it. Both of them have issues that keep them from believing in a happy future. Leah's father's abuse destroyed her self-esteem. He expected perfection from her and belittled her constantly for not achieving it, telling her if it isn't perfect don't bother doing it. As a result, she has trouble finishing anything she starts. She can't believe that Jack would want more than friendship with someone as screwed up as she is. Jack has spent his adult life avoiding any sort of emotional commitment. He saw what it did to his mom when his father died and is determined that he won't put anyone through that kind of pain. He has also been trying to live up to his father's hero status by following exactly in his footsteps, even though his own interests lie along a slightly different path. When Jack and Leah start their charade they try to keep it all under control, but it's a losing battle.

I loved seeing the two of them dancing around their feelings. Neither wanted to admit to themselves or others that they really weren't pretending to care. Jack is still trying to protect his heart, but he ends up breaking every rule he sets up, getting in deeper with Leah every time. I loved seeing the cool and calm Jack lose it whenever he is with her. Leah has fallen for Jack, but figures she blew her chance already and won't get a second shot at it. It takes her almost too long to realize that love doesn't expect perfection, and that Jack is everything she wants.

Besides the drama of the developing relationship between Leah and Jack, there is plenty going on with the rest of the town. Old lady Lucille is still posting everything that is going on in town on facebook, with Jack and Leah one of her favorite subjects. Jack's mom is battling her cancer, but also coming to realize that she is partly responsible for Jack's issues. In her attempts to fix it she also learns more about herself. One of the best characters is Jack's Great Dane Kevin and his antics. He adds some great comic relief with his eating habits and other things he does. There is also an issue with a series of suspicious fires that draws Jack's attention over and over. I loved the way that he tried to figure out who it was. There were a couple of very interesting twists before that mystery was solved.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Cowboy SEAL - Laura Marie Altom (HAR #1517 - Oct 2014)

Series: Operation Family (Book 7)

The Road To Redemption

Navy SEAL Cooper Hansen hasn't been home in more than a decade. He has never forgiven himself for the accident that killed his mother, and as far as he knows, neither has his family. But when his brother's widow, Millie, needs his help to save the Hansen ranch, Cooper can't stay away any longer.

Millie has always loved Cooper in some way -- as a childhood friend, a high-school crush and then as a brother-in-law. Now that he's back in Brewer's Falls, she's discovering new, unexpected feelings for him. But if Cooper keeps holding on to the pain of the past, will he ever give their future together a fighting chance?

This was an emotion packed story. It's been twelve years since Cooper was home, ever since the night that his mother died. It was a tragic accident, one that his father blamed him for but no more than Cooper blamed himself.  Returning from his latest mission, Cooper has gotten word that his father has had a stroke and the ranch is in trouble, so he takes leave and goes home to help.

Millie has been trying to hold things together on the ranch for a long time, ever since her husband's death. Her father-in-law's stroke has added another layer of stress to it all. When Cooper arrives she has mixed feelings. She's relieved that there will be someone to share the burden, but her old crush on him has returned with a vengeance.

The relationship that develops between Cooper and Millie is very complicated. Cooper is attracted to her, but the idea of having the hots for his brother's widow makes him feel guilty. He also feels unworthy of having anything good happen to him. Millie also feels guilty, not just for the way she feels about Cooper but also that she's still angry at Jim for the stupid stunt that got him killed. Their feelings are getting stronger, but both are trying to resist and neither is sharing what they're truly feeling.

Cooper also has to deal with his return home and trying to mend his relationship with his father. The fireworks between the two of them are incredible. Clint is dealing with the effects of his stroke which makes him irritable to start with. He has hung on to his anger about the accident all these years and accepting Cooper's help is a bitter pill to swallow. Cooper has been incredibly homesick, but obeyed his father's orders to never return. The battles they have when Cooper first returns are epic, but a late night confrontation finally gives them a chance at reconciliation. I enjoyed seeing how their relationship changed.

I also loved seeing Cooper get to know his niece and nephew. He is so clueless when it comes to kids, but he really wants to get to know them. His nephew is adorable and takes to Cooper right away, but his twelve year old niece is a hard nut to crack. Her behavior is pretty typical for the age, but there were times I really wanted to smack her. Poor Cooper had some pretty rough experiences with her, and one of them really gets him in hot water.

Overall I really enjoyed seeing how putting the past to rest was such a vital part of changing their lives for the better.

Starry Night - Debbie Macomber (Ballantine - Oct 2013)

Carrie Slayton, a big-city society-page columnist, longs to write more serious news stories. So her editor hands her a challenge: She can cover any topic she wants, but only if she first scores the paper an interview with Finn Dalton, the notoriously reclusive author.

Living in the remote Alaskan wilderness, Finn has written a megabestselling memoir about surviving in the wild. But he stubbornly declines to speak to anyone in the press, and no one even knows exactly where he lives.

Digging deep into Finn’s past, Carrie develops a theory on his whereabouts. It is the holidays, but her career is at stake, so she forsakes her family celebrations and flies out to snowy Alaska. When she finally finds Finn, she discovers a man both more charismatic and more stubborn than she even expected. And soon she is torn between pursuing the story of a lifetime and following her heart.

Sweet story of two people who seem like complete opposites at first, and discover that they're far more alike than they would have guessed. Carrie is a reporter who is tired of writing fluff stories for her city newspaper. When she confronts her boss he offers her the chance to move up if she can first get an interview with the reclusive Finn Dalton. She is determined, and after a great deal of effort heads to Alaska to find him. I loved her ability to think outside the box in her search methods, and her most successful lead came from that. Her determination paid off and she was able to convince Sawyer O'Halloran (Brides for Brothers) to help her against his better judgment. Her arrival on Finn's doorstep was not at all what she expected and had its funny moments. 

To say that Finn wasn't happy to see her would be putting it mildly. Finn had been raised by his father after his mother left them. His father had become bitter and passed that attitude on to Finn, an attitude reinforced by his own unhappy experience with a woman. Carrie being a reporter just makes it worse. Finn hadn't expected his book to be so popular (I loved his reasons for writing it) and prizes his privacy, so he avoids all media exposure. But Carrie arrives just before a storm hits that strands her with him for a couple days. He starts out really grouchy, but slowly he and Carrie begin to get to know each other. In spite of their obvious differences, they discover that they have many things in common, and things start to change between them. By the time she leaves they've formed a connection that is strengthened by one brief but passionate kiss.

When Carrie returns to Chicago she has to decide whether or not to write the story about the man she's come to care for. She doesn't expect to hear from him again and is stunned when he calls her. This begins a long distance relationship between the two as they continue getting to know each other. Carrie is stunned when he shows up for a visit, and their feelings get stronger. It quickly reaches a point where decisions have to be made, and Finn's insecurities cause him to push Carrie away. After her initial breakdown, Carrie realizes she knows Finn better than he thinks she does. I loved the way that she showed him how much she loved him. The ending was lovely, though I would have liked an epilogue to see how they were doing a little further down the road.

I really liked the little bit of Alaska that was included in the story, and would have enjoyed even more. I liked Debbie Macomber's Midnight Sons series partly because of the setting, and had been hoping for similar here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mercy - B.J. Daniels (HQN - Sept 2014)

Series: Beartooth Montana (Book 5)

The hunt for a killer leads to a battle between justice and desire

For U.S. marshal Rourke Kincaid, there's the law…and then there's his law. When the two don't agree, he always trusts his instincts. A killing spree has gripped the Northwest, showing a strange connection that only he sees, and now the old rules of justice no longer apply. Forced to turn rogue, he goes deep undercover to track his mysterious female suspect to a quiet, unassuming café in the wild, isolated mountains of Beartooth, Montana.

But encountering Callie Westfield complicates his mission in ways he never expected. As suspicious as she seems, her fragile beauty and sexy charm get to Rourke. Then the gory crimes begin anew. With his heart suddenly at war with his instincts, he has only two options. Either turn Callie over to the law, or put everything -- including his badge and his life -- on the line to protect her.

Excellent book that kept me riveted from beginning to end.  It starts out with Rourke fascinated by a cold case he has been working on. With a closer look he sees a connection to two other cases, but no one else believes there's anything to it. So Rourke takes a couple weeks vacation and pursues his suspicions on his own.

Rourke has never had any trouble trusting his instincts, and those are telling him there's more to Callie Westfield than he first suspected. His initial thought had been that she was somehow involved in the murders, but once he met her he had his doubts.  There's something about her that tells him she isn't capable of those gruesome murders, but he also senses that she has secrets that put her in danger. I loved seeing the battle that Rourke fought with himself. His brain was telling him that Callie had motive and opportunity, but his heart says that she is a victim also.  He feels guilty for lying to her about who he is, but he also needs to be sure that she isn't the serial killer herself.

Callie hasn't stayed in one place for very long, but Beartooth has given her a sense of security she hasn't felt in years. For the first time in two years she hasn't suffered from the headaches that were the precursors to visions of murder, and she hopes that they are gone for good. Then a good looking cowboy comes to town and the trouble starts up again. Somehow she knows that he is connected in some way. She's suspicious of him because she can't read him the way she does others, but she's also attracted to him. When she starts seeing more murders Callie has to decide if she can trust him with her secrets.

This book was filled with twists and turns. Rourke notices Callie in three crime scene pictures and goes to his former partner for help in finding out who she is. He discovers that Laura has a connection to one of the cases. She is initially reluctant to help Rourke, but once she does she has a lot to say. As a criminal profiler she has a theory and works hard to convince Rourke that she's right. I have to say that I didn't like Laura from the very beginning. She is in love with Rourke, thought he's never had those feelings for her. I thought she was far too focused on Callie being the killer and didn't leave any room for the idea of it being someone else. The more information that came to light about Callie, the stranger things get.  I did figure out who it was, but there were enough twists that I wasn't sure of the exact details. It ended up being even creepier than I expected.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Promise - Robyn Carr (Mira - June 2014)

Series: Thunder Point (Book 5)

Scott Grant has a bustling family practice in the small Oregon community of Thunder Point. The town and its people have embraced the widowed doctor and father of two, his children are thriving, and Scott knows it's time to move on from his loss. But as the town's only doctor, the dating pool is limited. That is, until a stunning physician's assistant applies for a job at his clinic.

Peyton Lacoumette considers herself entirely out of the dating scene. She's already been burned by a man with kids, and she's come to Thunder Point determined not to repeat past mistakes. When Scott offers her a job, at a much lower salary than she's used to, Peyton is surprisingly eager to accept…at least for now. She's willing to stay for a three-month trial period while she explores other options.

Scott and Peyton know the arrangement is temporary -- it isn't enough time to build a real relationship, never mind anything with lasting commitment. But love can blossom faster than you think when the timing is right, and this short visit just might hold the promise of forever.

I loved this story - I have been waiting for Scott to get his his own happy ever after. I love Robyn Carr's Virgin River, and have found that Thunder Point is just as great a place to visit. The people are friendly and welcoming and watch out for each other. That is just what Scott had been looking for when he moved to Thunder Point.

Scott's wife had died four years earlier when his daughter was born. For awhile he was just barely making it from day to day. Then he realized that he needed to make some changes. There were a couple things driving his decision. First, his mother and mother-in-law were driving him crazy.  They were so competitive for the children's attention that he had no peace. Second, he wanted to be able to spend more time with his kids, which meant that a busy city practice wasn't a good fit.  When he discovered that Thunder Point needed a doctor for its clinic, it was a perfect fit. The only thing it didn't really have was much scope for dating.

Peyton was looking for a temporary job while she decides what to do with her future. She is a physician's assistant who had just ended a three year relationship with a man who was a doctor and her boss. She was in love with him, but as much as she had tried to connect with his children, it just didn't happen. Then she found out he was also cheating on her. She sees Scott's ad for a PA and decides to check it out. It's like nothing she's ever done before, but she's willing to give it a try.

I loved how quickly Peyton became an important part of the town. She discovers that she has missed the small town atmosphere like the one she grew up in, now that she's been away from it for awhile. The values are much more like what she was used to, and the further away she was from her former relationship, the more she realized how wrong it had been for her. She's still not planning to get involved with Scott, not matter how appealing she finds him. But he and his family are so different that she quickly finds herself getting attached. 

I liked the way that she and Scott became friends first. Scott was attracted to her from the first, but a rather funny misunderstanding made him think she was out of reach. Once that was straightened out, I enjoyed seeing them get to know each other and learn just how much they had in common.  That's not to say they didn't each have their issues. Peyton was still very wary of risking her heart with a man who had children. She also has a very caring heart that makes it hard to refuse to help someone in need, and this causes some trouble when one of her ex's kids comes to her with a crisis.  Scott has some problems believing that Peyton would be willing to pass up a much better job in order to stay in Thunder Point. He also has a little bit of an inferiority complex when he tries to compare himself to her ex.

I loved seeing the two of them keep getting closer, but got a bit frustrated when neither seemed to actually be talking to the other. A little bit better communication would have gone a long way toward reducing their problems.  Scott makes some pretty big assumptions that get him into trouble. 

I loved the secondary characters. Peyton's family was especially great. It was easy to see that her values came from her big family and the way that they believed in hard work and accountability. It was also fun to see Scott and his kids get swept up in the whole group when everyone came together for the harvest. I also enjoyed seeing more of other residents of Thunder Point. No big info dumps, just the day to day exposure to others, such as Cooper and Sarah, who have their baby, and Gina and Mac and the job change he is going through. That also brings the return of a character who will likely have his own book soon. Gina's mom Carrie has a crisis that has help coming from an unexpected direction. I'm looking forward to seeing what might come from that wrinkle.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Three Weeks With Lady X - Eloisa James (Avon - Mar 2014)

Series: Desperate Duchesses (Book 7)

Having made a fortune, Thorn Dautry, the powerful bastard son of a duke, decides that he needs a wife. But to marry a lady, Thorn must acquire a gleaming, civilized façade, the specialty of Lady Xenobia India.

Exquisite, headstrong, and independent, India vows to make Thorn marriageable in just three weeks.

But neither Thorn nor India anticipate the forbidden passion that explodes between them.

Thorn will stop at nothing to make India his. Failure is not an option.

But there is only one thing that will make India his . . . the one thing Thorn can't afford to lose . . . his fierce and lawless heart.

Very good book. The differences and similarities in Thorn and India make for an explosive relationship. Thorn is the bastard son of a duke and has made quite a name for himself. His early years were spent on the streets of London, surviving by scouring the Thames for saleable items. He was twelve when his father found him and brought him to live at his home. Since then Thorn has made a fortune with his inventions and manufacturing. He is quite rough around the edges and it rarely bothers him, until he decides it's time to marry. He wants a wife who is sweet, kind, and nurturing, who will concentrate on raising his children. His own mother abandoned him when he was born because she was more interested in her career as a singer. He has settled on Laeticia Rainsford, a beautiful young woman who appears to meet all his demands. But she has an obnoxious mother who isn't impressed with him at all, so he plans to do what he can to make a good impression. He has purchased an estate that is in dire need of renovating, even more so than he is himself.

Enter Lady Xenobia India. She is twenty-six years old and has spent the last ten years with her godmother, working as an interior decorator and organizer extraordinaire to the nobility. India's father was a marquess who, with India's mother, was very eccentric. They were so involved with each other that they frequently forgot about India. They were also terrible managers of their estate, and India often found herself hungry and cold. She developed a talent for being able to make something out of nothing, and also keeping homelife as stable as possible. Her parents died in a carriage accident when she was sixteen, leaving her in the care of her godmother. India was convinced that they had left her behind on purpose and were going to travel to the Caribbean without her. Through her work she has earned enough money to provide her own dowry and enable her to pick her own husband. She wants one who will care about her, but also allow her to use her strengths in their future together.

Their initial meeting is quite contentious. He finds India pushy and opinionated, and she thinks he is crude and rude. He challenges her to complete the renovation of his estate in three weeks, and she informs him that he needs just as much work as the house. Underlying it all is a spark of attraction that neither wants to admit. I really enjoyed the banter between them, as two very strong minded people pursue what they want. The letters between them as the renovations progress were fun to read and their in person encounters were great. They also show a growing connection between them. India starts to see a bit of the vulnerable man underneath the arrogance. This makes her want to help him get what he wants, which is the beautiful Lala as his wife. She sees the woman's sweetness as just what Thorn needs to fill in what is missing in his life. Thorn sees India's actions as a way to control her life, protecting her heart from the devastation like what she experienced losing her parents. Working together they build a friendship that shows just how much they have in common. 

That friendship also has undertones of attraction. Thorn discovers that India's independence and forthright speech really gets his motor running. He has a very hard time remembering his goal when he's around India. I got a bit ticked at him with the way he would give in to his desire while insisting that it can mean nothing because he's going to marry Lala. His tunnel vision kept him from seeing that she was all wrong for him. India's attraction to Thorn is not what she wants. First, she knows he's going to marry someone else. Second, she can't see him being the type who would let her run things. The more time she spends with him,  the more her heart starts getting involved and she has soon fallen for him, even though she knows it is hopeless.

By the time Thorn's prospective bride and her mother arrive, he is torn. His body is focused on India, but his brain keeps telling him to stick with Lala, that she is what he needs. It doesn't matter that his friends and family keep telling him that she isn't. I felt really bad for her at the beginning of the book. She has a truly obnoxious mother that can't say anything nice about her and is horribly snobbish and self righteous.  Lala's self esteem is non-existent because of it. There are parts of the story we see from her point of view and discover that she is afraid of Thorn and the idea of taking care of his huge house. She is such a timid, quiet thing that I wondered what would happen when the proposed match fell through. I loved the twist that became part of her story and what a huge difference it made in her life. Seeing her mother get what was coming to her was very satisfying.

The building relationship between Thorn and India finally reaches the point where they give in to their desires. Thorn tries to justify it to himself saying that he's not engaged yet, but the guilt is still there, which tends to make him rather cranky. India realizes that the reason she gave in was that she loves him and that she always will, even though she has no hope that they can be together. There comes a point where several storylines collide and conflicts arise. India tries to help and makes things more complicated. Thorn's friend Vander does the same, showing that he is coming to care for India and wants to help and protect her. Thorn's reaction opens his eyes to what is important, but he has succeeded in driving India away and has to figure out how to fix it. His go big moment is a bit farfetched, but it certainly works for the story. 

I loved the addition of the little girl, Rose. As the daughter of one of his best friends, Thorn ends up as her guardian. The complete difference in Thorn when he was dealing with her was wonderful. He was sweet and kind and it showed what a big and loving heart he really had. Rose was quite a unique little girl. Obviously highly intelligent, he upbringing so far had been very unusual and it showed in the things she said and did. I loved seeing her in the epilogue and have great hopes that she'll have her own story one day.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Until We Touch - Susan Mallery (HQN - June 2014)

Series: Fool's Gold (Book 17)

After a family tragedy, former football hero Jack McGarry keeps the world at arm's length -- a challenge now that his PR firm has moved to neighborly Fool's Gold, California.

Larissa Owens knows where she stands -- Jack sees her as just another one of the guys. No matter what her heart wishes, Jack's her boss, not her boyfriend. But then Larissa's big secret is revealed…by her mother!

When Jack discovers the truth about Larissa's feelings, her touch suddenly becomes tantalizing, and he's not sure he wants to resist. But if he gives in to desire, heartache is sure to follow. Friendship or true love -- will Jack go for the ultimate play?

This is one of my favorites of the Fool's Gold series. The emotion, especially in the last few chapters, had me reaching for the tissues multiple times. I have been looking forward to reading Jack and Larissa's story the more I saw of them in the previous books. They are best friends and coworkers. Jack is one of the owners of the PR firm, Larissa is his assistant and also the company masseuse. Larissa is heavily into charity work, helping sick kids and seemingly addicted to rescuing animals of all types. Jack helps her out by writing the checks that help her do it and occasionally doing other hands on events. Everything is going swimmingly until Larissa's mother comes to town. She's determined to get Larissa married off and producing kids and she doesn't see that happening as long as she's working for Jack. She asks Jack to fire her because that's the only way Larrissa would leave Jack who she's in love with. This starts a chain of events that is both funny and heartbreaking.

Larisa is horrified by what her mother has done. She insists that she is not in love with Jack, that they are just friends. But the seed has been planted, and she starts looking at him differently. It doesn't take long for her to realize mom is right. But she knows that Jack is a bad bet for a relationship, so if she's going to get the life she wants she's going to have to fall out of love with him. She figures the best way to do that is to have an affair with him and get him out of her system. Needless to say it doesn't go as planned and she ends up falling deeper for him.

Jack is flabbergasted and freaked out. He's never thought of Larissa that way before and doesn't want to now, but suddenly he can't help it. He doesn't want her to be in love with him. He doesn't do emotional commitments, preferring to date a woman for a little while, then move on. He has kept everyone at an emotional distance for years to protect his heart. He lost his twin brother to heart disease when he was seventeen, and his parents when, unable to cope with their grief, went off to help in Africa leaving him alone and hurting. He figures if he doesn't let himself care, he'll be safe. His friendship with Larissa has always been safe. She understands him and doesn't ask for more than he can give. Now he's looking at her as a woman too. He tries really hard to resist the attraction, but that doesn't last. Suddenly there are cracks appearing in his walls.

It's obvious from the beginning that Larissa and Jack are meant for each other. But each of them have their baggage to deal with. Larissa's causes give Jack a chance to be involved without getting too close. Larissa has spent her life feeling guilty because her parents had to get married. Her causes are her way of coping with the guilty feelings. Because she understands Jack so well his need to remain distant from the causes is just something she accepts. But as they get closer she gets him more deeply involved. The biggest thing is the homeless teen she takes under her wing that Jack and the other guys help because of her. I loved the way that Jack dealt with Percy and the way he starts to care. Then the mayor gets Jack onboard with helping the local college start a football team, and he finds people looking to him for more involvement. Suddenly it all gets to be too much for him and he completely freaks out. At this point he withdraws from everything and pushing people away as hard as he can. He really got into some self destruction. I wanted to hit him when he lit into Larissa and Taryn and was so horribly cruel to them. He earned everything he got from Kenny, Sam and Taryn. His misery was well deserved. It took him awhile to see the light, but once he did I was happy to see him suck it up and do the grovelling he needed to do.

As much as Larissa was hurt, I loved the way she deals with everything. It was great to see the support she got from her friends. I loved seeing her take a good look at her life and make the changes she saw as necessary to move on with her life. I was a little frustrated that she kept making excuses for Jack's attitude, but her love for him just wouldn't let her bash him. I'm looking forward to seeing them in later books.

It's always great to see new characters come to Fool's Gold. I thought Percy was a great addition. It showed the good that the camp does, which is what brought him back to town. I also loved the way he was shown as having been trying to live a better life because of the way he was raised. It was great to see Jack and his friends take a real and practical interest in helping him. His maturity really stood out when it came to dealing with Jack and his meltdown and I look forward to seeing more of him in later books.

As always, Mayor Marsha has her eye on the perfect person to advance whatever project she has in mind. As soon as the football thing came up, I had a feeling about what she wanted. The only question was how she was going to get Jack to cooperate. I loved the meetings Jack attended and his confrontations with the athletic director. Hope to see more of this project in future books.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Before We Kiss - Susan Mallery (HQN - June 2014)

Series: Fool's Gold (Book 16)

Former pro-football kicker Sam Ridge has notoriously bad luck with women -- from cheaters to fame chasers. Still, the gorgeous brunette at the bar in Fool's Gold looks harmless -- until she takes him home and he discovers a room devoted to securing a man, for life.

Dellina Hopkins never guessed that storing gowns from a friend's bridal boutique would chase away her first and only fling. After her parents died, she skipped her "wild youth" to raise her sisters. She doesn't want forever from Sam, but one night -- all night -- would've been nice.

His clean getaway gets messy when his firm hires Dellina to plan an event. As long hours lead to late nights, the two succumb to temptation again. Has Sam's luck finally changed? Or this time, will Dellina be the one to run?

Poor Sam just cannot catch a break when it comes to women. As a pro football player he had his pick, and managed to get losers every time. Even the woman he married was just interested in his fame and what he could do for her. When they divorced, she wrote a terrible tell-all book about their marriage. For a man who values his privacy it was a horrible betrayal. He's given up on finding his dream woman and having his own family, convinced that any relationship will go down in flames. When he meets Dellina at a bar on Valentine's Day they really click and he's looking forward to some hot one on one time with her. And he gets it, until he gets up in the night and discovers a room full of wedding gowns and a detailed plan on getting a man to propose. Panicked, he runs and has avoided Dellina ever since.

Dellina has always been the responsible one in her family. She put her life on hold to raise her younger sisters. She doesn't want a permanent relationship and family, as she considers herself as having "been there and done that." Taking Sam home that night was a step toward going after what she does want. She would have liked more time with him, but the memory of what they did have wasn't going to fade any time soon. She has a pretty good attitude about what happened and I really enjoyed the way she tormented him about it later.

Sam has to face Dellina when he needs her professional help planning a weekend long event for his company. Once they clear the air about what happened that night they are able to work well together. It doesn't take long at all for them to figure out that the attraction between them is as strong as ever. But they are determined to keep their relationship professional and not give in to the heat between them. It's a losing battle, but I loved watching them try. One of the things I liked best was watching them get to know each other and become friends. 

Dellina quickly comes to understand Sam and his issues with privacy and his personal life. Sam dreads hearing that his parents, who are known for their lectures on sexuality, are coming to town and Dellina thinks that he's exaggerating what they are like. Once they arrives she discovers that they are every bit as outrageous as he claims. Oh the things that came out of his mother's mouth! Her heart is in the right place, and she loves him dearly, but she has no filter. As bad as I felt for Sam and his embarrassment, I have to say it was hysterically funny. I also loved how Dellina had his back, and supported him through the visit. Sam also has to deal with his ex-wife coming to town and wanting to do a sequel to the book she wrote. I loved how that turned out, though Sam did rather screw up with Dellina there.

Dellina loves spending time with Sam. The sparks between them are intense. She is determined to keep things between them light because the thought of opening herself up to love is too scary. She has learned over time that caring comes with a price and she's not willing to pay that price. But Sam works his way into her heart anyway and she finally realizes she wants it all. All she has to do is convince Sam that he can have it too.

As always, I love the town of Fool's Gold and catching up with the characters from previous books. A secondary story here is Dellina's sister Fayrene, whose story was in Halfway There.  Though she and her boyfriend had agreed to wait four years until they marry, she has changed her mind. Throughout the book she is trying various ways to get Ryan to propose, and both Sam and Dellina try to tell her she's going about it the wrong way. We also have Mayor Marsha going all the way to New Zealand to recruit another person for one of her projects. That woman is seriously spooky with the way she knows things about people. I'd love to know her secret. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

When We Met - Susan Mallery (HQN - May 2014)

Series: Fool's Gold (Book 15)

Angel Whittaker earned his scars the hard way, but the scars that can't be seen are the ones that haunt him the most. Since he moved to Fool's Gold, California, he's cobbled together a life for himself as a bodyguard trainer. If he's not exactly happy, at least his heart is safe.

Working with pro-football superstars taught tough-talking PR woman Taryn Crawford one thing -- she can go toe-to-toe with any man. But then dark, dangerous former Special Ops Angel targets her for seduction…and challenges her to resist his tempting kisses.

Even in four-inch heels, Taryn never backs down. Unless, somehow, Angel can convince her that surrender might feel even better than victory.

Another really fun trip to Fool's Gold. This time  we see Angel and Taryn, both of whom are fairly new to town. Angel and his friends have set up at bodyguard school in Fool's Gold and Taryn and her friends own a PR firm. Neither one is looking for anything permanent, but the chemistry between them has them willing to explore a little.

I loved both these characters. I've been waiting for Angel's story for awhile. I really loved getting more of his back story. Angel grew up in a small coal mining town which he left to join the military. He married young, but his wife and son died while he was deployed and he continues to feel guilty because he wasn't there to protect them. That constant pain keeps him from opening his heart to anyone else. But he does have a strong attraction to Taryn and after watching her for awhile makes his plans to seduce her. I loved the way he seemed to know her so well and what he had to do to get her attention.

Taryn is a city girl, born and bred. It wasn't  her choice to move the firm to Fool's Gold and adjusting to small town life hasn't been easy. Having total strangers talking to her and knowing her business kind of freaks her out. Her father had been abusive and she learned the value of blending in early in life. She worked hard to change her life and hasn't shared her childhood with anyone. I loved her strength of character as she overcame that past to become the success she is. I really enjoyed her relationship with her three football player partners. She is great at standing up to them and dealing with their attitudes, but they are also great friends. She has noticed Angel also, and is attracted, but she does have trust issues. His methods of seduction are unique and appeal to her sense of adventure.

The connection that Taryn and Angel feel immediately is surprising to both of them. Neither one opens up about their pasts to other people, but they find it very easy to share with each other. The chemistry between them is hot, but there is also a deep friendship that develops. I loved how that friendship has them coming together in unexpected ways. Taryn is very much a city girl, a fashionista to the bone (loved the descriptions of her clothes). When work requires her to go on a camping trip, it's Angel she goes to for help in learning how to handle the great outdoors. In return, she offers to help him with his greatest challenge yet.

Angel has decided it's time to give back to his new community and Mayor Marsha gets him involved with a local youth group. He went into it expecting to deal with teen boys and was horrified to find out he was going to be a "Grove Leader" to eight seven year old girls. I loved seeing his panic as he read through the handbook to see what he was going to have to do.  His relief when Taryn offered to help was obvious. The two of them made an incredible team. I loved seeing Angel's softer side come out as he dealt with all those little girls. 

I loved seeing the changes that both of them went through. Taryn adjusts to the small town life and makes friends like she's never had before. Instead of holding herself apart, she starts to get involved with the people around her. I loved seeing her try to figure out how to help Bailey, and the way it showed her a new part of herself. Angel was a bit of a tough nut to crack when it came to opening himself up to love. He was still so messed up from the loss of his family that he was afraid to risk his heart again. There were scenes where he was remembering his family that were just heartbreaking and you could see why he was so cautious. The little girls had a huge part in breaking down the walls around his heart and showing him that he could love again.  Taryn's complete understanding of his feelings was important to his ability to take a chance again.

Of course, in a Fool's Gold book there's always that spot where the guy freaks out and runs away from his destiny. When Taryn admits to herself that she loves Angel, and after the scare with the flood tells him so, he can't handle it. Usually we see the ladies all come together in support of the woman, with a night of booze and junk food. But Taryn is different and there is quite a fun twist on the night of support. I loved the parade with Angel and the girls and him finally seeing what was important. He did a nice bit of grovelling and I loved the help he got from the girls.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cavanaugh Strong - Marie Ferrarella (HRS #1811 - Aug 2014)

Series: Cavanaugh Justice (Book 28)

Aurora's finest are back in action!

Why are too many healthy seniors dying in nursing homes? Vice detective Noelle O'Banyon can't let the mystery go. And though she has no business working a homicide case, the love-shy single mom draws partner Duncan Cavanaugh into her rogue investigation. He's a notorious player she thoroughly disdains -- and the feeling's mutual.

Duncan considers Noelle too straight-laced for his taste. But as they uncover the shocking scandal behind the mysterious deaths, the crime-fighting pair become closer -- and passionately in sync. Now, before a killer stops their bliss, can he and Noelle prevent the next murder in Aurora?

Good story. Noelle and Duncan have been partners for six months and have a good working relationship and friendship. Noelle gives him a hard time about his player/bachelor status as he seldom dates a woman for long. Duncan gives Noelle grief about putting more fun in her life. When she comes to work one day puzzling over the odd deaths of two of her grandmother's friends Duncan encourages her to check into it. It isn't long before they suspect an insurance fraud ring that has escalated into murder for that money.

I enjoyed the developing relationship between Noelle and Duncan. Noelle avoids anything that could look like romance. She has had two fiances, both of whom died before they could marry. She feels that she can't risk another relationship, for fear of something happening to that man. She is attracted to Duncan but fights it for a long time. It was fun seeing her shoot down his flirtatious advances but the heat was still there. She didn't really know what to make of his repeated assurances that as her partner he was there for her on or off the job. I really enjoyed the part where he took Noelle and her family to his brother's wedding and how she got to know more of what kind of person he was. 

Duncan was pretty cute. As a Cavanaugh bachelor, you know he has Cupid's target on his back, but he's sure that he can resist any temptation to settle down. This is why he dates so many different women. But there's something about Noelle that has kept him intrigued ever since they started working together. I really liked the way his Cavanaugh values had him showing her that he was her backup in all things. I loved his confusion over his growing feelings and how he finally decided to stop fighting it. I was a bit disappointed in him at the end, as there seemed to be some important things missing from his proposal.

The mystery itself was good and entirely believable. I really enjoyed seeing the way that Noelle pursued her suspicions. Her surprise at being made lead on the case was true to her personality, as was the boost in confidence it gave her. I liked the way she and Duncan worked together and how their individual strengths combined to make them a great team. The suspense was mainly mental as they worked to find the truth before another senior died. There wasn't much in the way of intense action, even at the final confrontation.

The secondary characters were wonderful, my favorite being Noelle's grandmother Lucy. She was a feisty lady who resisted being thought of as a grandmother as that would make her feel old. She has a really sharp mind and a wicked sense of humor.  She has some really funny moments with Duncan. I also enjoyed seeing her with Duncan's patriarch Seamus at the wedding.  Of course, being a Cavanaugh Justice book, other members of the law enforcement family pop up here and there. It's always fun to see how they are able to support each other in their investigations.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Earl's Pregnant Bride - Christine Rimmer (HSE #2360 - Oct 2014)

Series: Bravo Royales (Book 8)


And now the princess is in a pickle. Because the night that Genevra Bravo-Calabretti and the new Earl of Hartmore, Rafael DeValery, turned to each other, it was for comfort upon the death of his brother -- the man who was about to propose to Genny. It was not supposed to change their lives forever.

But it had. For Rafe, it cemented his awareness that he'd been in love with Genevra since forever. And for Genny, it made her realize that Rafe was not the second-chance brother, but the one who'd held her heart all along…now all she had to do was convince him of that. Hopefully before the new heir(ess?) to the estate arrived…

Very good book with a friends to lovers theme. Rafe and Genny's attempts to comfort each other over his brother Edward's death had turned physical and passionate. Now Genny's pregnant and Rafe insists that they marry. They've been friends a long time and marrying is no hardship for either. There's also this new and intense attraction between them.

I loved the obvious affection they had for each other, even though neither would speak of love. Rafe already knew that he was in love with her, but he was afraid to tell her. He has secrets about the night he and his brother were in that deadly car accident and he knows if he confesses his love he's going to have to tell her all. He is afraid that she would reject his love if she knew, so he keeps quiet and tries to be satisfied with what he has. He certainly can't complain about the passion between them. I really liked the way he showed how much he cared, involving Genny in the work on the estate and showing her how special she is. It takes a scare with Genny disappearing for him to take his courage in hand and risk it all.

Genny didn't start out knowing she was in love with Rafe. Her intention had always been to marry Edward, because Hartmore would be his. She had convinced herself she was in love with him. It wasn't until after his death and her marriage to Rafe that she realized the truth of her feelings. But she too hesitates to declare her feelings, because she doesn't feel like she's good enough for him. Genny looks at her sisters and sees beautiful and accomplished women and feels that she has nothing worthwhile to offer anyone. Even in college all her interests led back to caring for Hartmore. Her insecurities show up several times when dealing with other women at the estate. I really liked seeing the changes she goes through as she overcomes those feelings with Rafe's attentions.

The secondary characters in the book are all wonderfully done, with each having their own purpose in the story. I especially loved Rafe's grandmother and her way handling all the crises. Young Geoffrey was also a favorite with his clear adoration of his Uncle Rafe and Genny and theirs for him. Though he could have come across spoiled because of his occasional tantrums, they were obviously the result of the stresses he was under. His mother Brooke was one character that was hard to take. She came across as pretty much of a selfish bitch, not seeming to care what her son really needed. I was glad to see her redeem herself in the end. The other two women, Fiona and Melinda, were definitely characters that were unlikable. I detested Fiona's attitude toward her children and her marriage, and some of the things she said to Genny were terrible. Melinda came across as so sweet, but Genny was great at seeing through her. I loved seeing Genny warn Rafe to watch out for her, but typical man he didn't believe her until it was too late. The kitchen scene was great and I loved seeing it unfold. Genny's part was wonderful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cowboy Behind the Badge - Delores Fossen (HI #1521 - Oct 2014)

Series: Sweetwater Ranch (Book 2)

The last thing Texas Ranger Tucker McKinnon expects to find in his pantry is two sleeping newborns. But it's the woman who spirited the infants to his ranch who stirs the lawman's blood, along with haunting memories. Once, Tucker and Laine Braddock were inseparable…until murder divided their families. Now, with a killer on Laine's trail, Tucker has never felt more powerless. Or been more determined. Desperate to keep her and her innocent charges safe, Tucker uncovers some shocking truths. Including the feelings they still share -- and the desire they're finding impossible to resist.

Second book in the series was just as good as the first. The last thing Tucker needed at the end of a rough day was the sound of an intruder in his house. He didn't expect to see Laine Braddock and two newborns hiding from a pair of killers. He and Laine had been good friends until her father was murdered and his mother accused of doing it. Their most recent encounter was while they were both working on a baby farm case and Tucker managed to get her removed from it. What he didn't know was that she continued working on her own, which has gotten her in the mess she's in now.

Tucker would really like to just get the kids to social services and Laine out of his house, but when the killers track her to his house he steps up to protect them. It doesn't take long for them both to realize that there's more going on than just her rescue of a couple babies. Every time they think they know who is behind the attacks, another person becomes a suspect. Tucker has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and every attack that happens makes him feel like he's letting Laine down. The longer he spends with them, the more invested he becomes in their safety and the more Laine is beginning to mean to him. The attraction between them is strong and even though they both consider it a bad idea, neither is having much luck in resisting it. Tucker has always been a bit of a player, not interested in commitment or a family of his own, but being around Laine and the babies is making him rethink his plans. 

When Laine found herself in the crosshairs of killers, Tucker is the first one she thought of to protect her and the babies. In spite of their families' history she's always known she could trust him. Once she gets past his initial reluctance, his determination makes her feel better about their chances. What she doesn't expect is the heat that flares between them whenever they get close. With the bad blood between their families, getting involved with Tucker is a really bad idea, but she just can't resist dreaming of the possibilities. I loved Laine's determination to protect the babies, and the strength she showed as she and Tucker fought back against those who were intent on harming them. The love she had for the babies was incredible and I really liked her plans for their future. I also liked seeing the way that she saw the love that Tucker was capable of, even before he realized it himself.

The suspense itself was nonstop. From the very beginning when Laine showed up at Tucker's, we never know what direction the threat will be coming from. There were so many possible suspects that it was sometimes hard to tell who was at the top of the list at any given time. Just when I thought I had it figured out, someone else would move up the chain. The final showdown was really intense with Laine in immediate danger. The action was truly edge-of-the-seat until the end.

The family dynamics are still an important part of the story. Tucker's sister Rayenne is as antagonistic as she was in the first book, but again provides backup when it is needed. With this book we get the addition of Laine, who is the daughter of Jewel's murdered lover. Her mother is not happy to have Laine involved with Tucker, and at least at the beginning, Tucker's family isn't any happier. I did like the way that his family's attitude changed as the book went on. I loved Tucker's dad's comment at the end when it became obvious that Laine and Tucker were going to stay together.

Maverick Sheriff - Delores Fossen (HI #1515 - Sept 2014)

Series: Sweetwater Ranch (Book 1)

Saving a little boy's life reopens painful wounds for Texas sheriff Cooper McKinnon. This could be his son, whose loss has haunted him for two years. But Cooper has a formidable adversary in Jessa Wells. She's the adoptive mother -- and she'll do anything to hold on to Liam.

It's cruel justice that the man who shares Liam's rare blood type has an unsolved murder in his own family. And the danger's far from over. Fighting her desire for Cooper, Jessa has no choice but to join forces with the maverick cowboy. Jessa knows working together is their best shot at keeping the child safe. But it's the possibility of a future alone that breaks Jessa's heart.

Good book and excellent setup for the series. It starts out with Cooper rushing to the hospital to be a blood donor for a little boy with the same rare blood type he has. It doesn't matter that the boy's mother is his adversary in their professional lives. Jessa is the new ADA who is reopening an unsolved murder case in which his estranged mother is the prime suspect. Cooper doesn't care so much about the effect on his mother, but he does care about what it might do to his father and two brothers. 

Getting a good look at Jessa's son Liam has Cooper seeing ghosts. The little boy could be the son he lost in a flood two years ago, whose body was never found. Before they can deal with that possibility they need to find out who keeps trying to kidnap or kill Liam and why they are doing it.  The deeper they dig the more questions they have. They also discover that the sparks of their professional lives have kindled sparks of a different kind in their personal lives.

Cooper is still grieving for his lost family, but the thought that Liam could be his provides a light in the darkness. The attraction he's feeling for Jessa is an unwelcome development, given their positions on the prosecution of his mother. As much as he tries to resist, the intensity of their situation has their emotions running high and he starts to see her as more than just his adversary. When Jessa is put in a dangerous situation Cooper realizes he wants more than just to protect his son's new mother.

Jessa is wary of getting involved with the forceful sheriff. She survived an abusive marriage that has her cautious about getting too close to another man. Discovering that her son may also be Cooper's missing son has her terrified that she could lose him. That fear is always at the back of her mind as she and Cooper race to discover who is behind the attempts on their lives. She shows an incredible amount of strength and determination as she refuses to be left behind in the investigation. Spending all that time with Cooper shows her that he's a man she can trust her life and her heart to. 

There are several storylines going in this book. The one that it seems will run the course of the series is the accusation of murder against Cooper's mother. She has come back to Sweetwater Springs to face those charges. Cooper, his two brothers and their father are not happy to see her. She abandoned them many years earlier, taking her twin daughters with her. With her return she has brought those daughters and her stepson, who are determined to prove her innocent. The twin daughters of Rosalie have been kidnapped and she suspects ties to the adoption ring. 

The main one is that of Liam's identity and who is behind the attempts on his life. That mystery is solved by the end of the book, with plenty of twists and turns to keep us guessing as to who was really behind it. It all ties in to what appears to be a ring involving illegal adoptions.

There is an underlying theme of the importance of family. Cooper and his brothers and father are all united in their determination to protect their family. Jewel's return threatens their peace. I liked the obvious love and respect among the brothers and their father and how they are ready to back up Cooper when he needs it. The two sisters are very different personalities and definitely have a negative attitude toward the guys. Their stepbrother is still something of an enigma, but I'm sure we'll get to know him more. I did like the way that they stepped up in support during the trouble. I'll be interested in learning more about them.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Man's Promise - Brenda Jackson (Mira - June 2014)

Series: Grangers (Book 2)

A man's word is his bond. His family is his strength. His heart is his own.

Superstar musician Caden Granger has spent years running from love, commitment and family. Yet despite his fame and fortune, he knows the kind of respect and adoration he needs can only come from one person -- the very woman who wants nothing to do with him.

Charity volunteer and owner of a wine boutique, Shiloh Timmons finally got her life on track once her relationship with Caden ended, and she's in no hurry to revisit a romance with the man who believes she left him standing at the altar.

If Caden can't have Shiloh by his side, all the success in the world will mean nothing. Now he has a chance to renew his promises…but is it too late?

Very good book, second chance story with a mystery going along with it. This isn't really a stand alone story as the first book, A Brother's Honor, should be read first to get the full story.  The main focus in this book is Caden, the middle brother, and his relationship with Shiloh. Caden and Shiloh had been friends as kids, until Caden's mother was murdered and his father imprisoned for it. Shiloh's parents forbid her from seeing him again. They renewed their friendship after they were grown and away from home, where it grew into a deep love for each other. Their plans to elope were interfered with, leaving Caden feeling betrayed and Shiloh wondering what happened. Four years later Caden finally learns the truth and is determined to win back Shiloh's love and trust.

Caden came across as a bit of a jerk at the beginning. His attitude toward Shiloh when she came to him with what she discovered about their aborted wedding was really bad. I got that he was hurt by what he saw as her betrayal, but considering the source of the information he should have investigated more. I liked the way that he realized how badly he had screwed up once he did have the truth and knew it was going to be a struggle to win Shiloh back. Shiloh had suffered from her heartbreak for a long time, and after the latest confrontation with Caden had finally decided it was time to move on. Having him show up and admit he was wrong was satisfying for her, but she wasn't so sure she wanted to risk her heart again. I enjoyed Caden's persistence and Shiloh's attempts to resist. A near death experience for Caden showed Shiloh that her love for him hadn't died and being together was more important than hanging on to her hurt. Their relationship continues to grow as they deal with questions of who might be trying to kill him and the ongoing puzzle of who was really responsible for his mother's murder. 

Throughout the story are more clues showing that Shep Granger is indeed innocent of his wife's murders. He may be stuck in prison, but he is still receiving threats against his family if anyone tries to prove him innocent. I love seeing how he has made use of his time in prison and the influence he has had on the lives of others. That influence ends up helping him protect his family, even from behind bars. I also enjoyed seeing his relationship with his lawyer and look forward to more of it in the next book. The clues we get about the murder lead to the idea that there was more to it than a lover's quarrel. The last chapter contains a twist that I really didn't see coming and will be very interested in seeing what comes of it in the next book.

There are also some good parts dealing with the ongoing relationship between Jace and Shana. I loved seeing the way that Jace's happiness is an example for his two brothers, even though they may not always appreciate it. They are still dealing with some of the fallout from the corporate spying in the first book and a suspected murder has them thinking that their troubles aren't over yet.

Shana's dad also has a continuing storyline with his new lady friend. I loved his conviction that her blindness doesn't matter. I really liked his conversation with his daughter about his feelings for her late mother and the difference in his feelings now.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the book is Dalton's search for the woman that he met in a bar one night. Dalton is the brother who is the biggest player of them all. He's never had to work for a woman's attention and it seems to have gone to his head. When he tracks down the mystery lady he's surprised when she wants nothing to do with him. He has an even bigger surprise in store when he finds out who she is. His book should be very interesting.

Taming the Takeover Tycoon - Robyn Grady (HD #2318 - Aug 2014)

Series: Dynasties: The Lassiters (Book 5)

Jack Reed spells trouble. But has trouble met its match?

The business world trembles at the mere mention of Jack Reed, but Becca Stevens has no such fear. Her pleas for him to end his hostile takeover of Lassiter Media should be laughable. Yet there's such sincerity in her eyes, such a light his own life seriously lacks. Becca wants to show him just what his ruthless quest is costing others. And he goes along with her plan, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to woo her into his bed. But is he walking right into her trap -- one that neither of them will want to escape?

Fantastic book, filled with all types of emotion. In previous books of the series, JD Lassiter's death and the terms of his will have split the family apart. Taking advantage of the turmoil, Jack is helping Angie Lassiter attempt a hostile takeover of the family company. He is known for acquiring companies and then tearing them apart for maximum profit. Becca has seen the effects this takeover bid is having on the Lassiter's charity foundation and is determined to do something about it.

Becca is one determined and stubborn woman. From everything she has learned about Jack she believes him to be evil personified. It's obvious to her that he cares absolutely nothing about the harm that his actions cause to others. So she confronts him and challenges him to spend a week with her and let her try to convince him to give up his plans. Her idea is to show him another side of life, one where people need the kind of help her charity provides. 

Jack is known for being cold and ruthless in his business dealings. He learned long ago to bury his emotions when dealing with other people. He has no intention of changing his plans, but he's quite happy to spend time in Becca's company. There is something about her that he just can't stay away from.  He knows what she thinks of him and if there are some things she doesn't know about him, that's just the way it has to be. He doesn't expect that being with her makes him start to feel again and that actually begins to affect some of his business dealings. 

The chemistry between Jack and Becca is hot. Both are strong minded, stubborn people who don't change their minds easily. Jack admits his attraction to Becca quickly, but she really tries to fight it.  She can't understand how she can be attracted to someone whose values appear to be the complete opposite of hers. But as she gets him away from the city and his business dealings, she gets the occasional glimpse of a different Jack, one she finds herself liking. Then the old Jack makes a reappearance and she's left feeling confused and betrayed.

I did get a bit frustrated with Becca at times. She seemed a bit too judgmental of him, almost holding herself up as the perfect example of what a good person is supposed to be like. She did have a good heart, and I enjoyed seeing her show Jack a different view from what he was used to. I loved seeing his reaction to the dog and how it worked its magic on Jack. I found it interesting that Jack did have some good parts that he kept hidden from everyone, even Becca. When everything came to a head at the end, both Becca and Jack had to take hard looks at their own attitudes and expectations before they could have a chance at a life together.

There were some very intriguing twists and turns to the plot of this story. There were some cryptic conversations between Jack and the Lassiter lawyer, and between Jack and Angie that had me very confused about what was going on. There was also a secondary story dealing with another one of Jack's business deals that ended up far different than anything Jack had expected. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Redeeming the CEO Cowboy - Charlene Sands (HD #2320 - Aug 2014)

Series: Slades of Sunset Ranch (Book 4)

Ten years ago = ancient history…right?

So what if former rodeo champion turned construction mogul Casey Thomas is back…living right next door? Susanna Hart is busy running her Sweet Susie's pastry business and raising her two-year-old cousin. Why pay any attention to the man who took her virginity ten years ago, then left town?

Casey still feels guilty for taking advantage of his little sister's best friend. A helping hand is just what her business -- and his conscience -- need. But guilt isn't his only motivation. Casey's got a sweet tooth for Susie. And the more she resists, the sweeter it gets!

Susie is really busy running her pastry business out of her home and raising her little cousin. She has dreams of opening her own bakery, but right now is barely making ends meet. Having her best friend's big brother move back in next door shouldn't make any difference to her, even if he had been her first love and the one she gave herself to first. But Casey wants to be friends and she can't say no to him. It isn't long before he and his pup have made themselves part of her life and her heart. Susie knows that he's not staying and doesn't want her heart broken again, so she's trying to resist.

Casey has come to town for two reasons. First, he's setting up a new office for his construction business and finishing construction on a friend's restaurant. Second, he's trying to make amends for his actions of ten years ago. He feels guilty about what he did and how he handled it. He wants to help her with her business, but knows her pride won't allow it if she figures out what he's doing. Pretty soon there's more than guilt that has him wanting to help her, He has fallen for her independence, her determination, and her sweetness. 

I liked seeing Casey and Susie talk about what had happened in the past, though Susie's pride wouldn't let her admit to him how much she had loved him at the time. Nor would Casey admit how much he had cared for her. Now that they're living so close, they have to deal with the resurgence of those feelings. Casey is fighting them hard, even as he tries to help her with her business. I loved seeing him a bit jealous when he took her to his job site and Zane was so nice to her. It isn't until the end that we find out what is holding him back from telling her how he feels. Susie's feelings for Casey continue to grow and just as she's thinking they have a future together she overhears him talking about why he had come to Reno. She's hurt and brokenhearted all over again. I enjoyed the ending and the surprise that Casey got when he revealed all to Susie.

The only reason I didn't give this emotional book a five instead of a four was a problem with Susie's father's diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. A part that talked about his bad days and then dealing with his imminent death gives the impression that MS is a fatal disease. It is not, and that brought my enjoyment down a notch.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Voyager - Diana Gabaldon (Dell - Oct 1994)

Series: Outlander (Book 3)

Twentieth-century time traveler Claire Randall faces a possibility both fearsome and exhilarating. Having returned to her own time, pregnant and brutalized by her trip through the standing stones, she makes a new life for herself, training to become a doctor and raising her daughter, Brianna. But the passage of two decades does little to dim the memory of 18th-century Scotland and gallant young clansman Jamie Fraser or the life they once shared; and the constant presence of Brianna, with her father's brilliant red hair and well-loved features, is a painful reminder of the past. Now Brianna is grown, and Claire learns that Jamie may have survived the bloody Battle of Culloden. Dare she risk another trip through the stones, a trip that easily could prove fatal? Will she even be able to find Jamie? And how can she leave behind her beloved daughter, knowing all too well they may never see each other again? The risks are great, the losses unthinkable. Surely the passage of time has changed Jamie too. What might be left of the love they once shared? But courage, and hope, make all things possible. 

Claire takes a leap of faith through the standing stones, bridging a chasm of some twenty years. For a second time, she seeks her destiny with a man she cannot forget. Both of them, uprooted from past and present lives, move as one from the battlefields of Jacobite Scotland to the exotic West Indies, in league with Highland smugglers and Caribbean pirates and face-to-face with political intrigue and the dark mysteries of voodoo magic. Together, in their bold voyage to an unknown destination, they are braving the treacherous tides of the human heart.

Probably my favorite of the series other than Outlander itself. Voyager picks up where Dragonfly in Amber left off, with Brianna and Roger having discovered that Jamie survived Culloden. The first third of the book covers the search for what happened to Jamie by Claire, Roger and Brianna in the modern day, and follows Jamie's life after the battle and Claire's after she returns to the present. 

I really enjoyed the sections that took place in the present. I loved seeing what Claire had made of her life after her return. It hadn't been easy going back to Frank with her heart still with Jamie. There were times that I really liked Frank, as he stayed with Claire and took care of her and Brianna, but others where he was a real ass. There's a great part where he's talking to her about her drive to become a doctor and his envy of her. There are also a couple interesting twists near the end that lead back to her friend and fellow doctor, Joe Abernathy. Once she finds out that Jamie is still alive, Claire is torn between her love for him and wanting to return, and her love for Brianna and not wanting to leave her behind. It takes Brianna's blessing for her to make the decision.

Also taking place in the present is the developing relationship between Roger and Brianna. Though she seemed a bit oblivious during Dragonfly, by the time Voyager starts we can see the connection. There is a sweetness to the way that Roger watches over Brianna, as if he wants to protect her from anything that could trouble her. While the search is important to the historian in Roger, I feel it is even more vital to him because of its importance to Brianna. I feel that the connection between them made it easier for Claire to leave.

The corresponding sections about Jamie were at times heartbreaking. He neither expected nor wanted to survive Culloden, now that Claire was gone, but having done so his life was not easy. In the years after Culloden he was a hunted man, and spent seven years hiding in a cave near his home. He rarely had a chance to see another person. But his love of his family and his people never changed, and it was that which inspired him to get himself captured (so his family could have the reward money).  His time in prison gave a glimpse once again of his natural leadership as he took care of his fellow prisoners. It is at this time that Lord John Grey reappears, this time as the man in charge of the prison. Jamie and Lord John begin a friendship here that will have an effect on Jamie's life for a long time to come. It is John's influence that has Jamie sent to England as an indentured servant, working in the stables. It is an easier life that being in prison, but it also lonelier. An unwilling encounter with the daughter of the house has consequences that finally work in Jamie's favor in one way but is heartbreaking in another. A return to Lallybroch, then a need to leave there sends him to Edinburgh and a whole different kind of life.

I loved the reunion of Jamie and Claire. While she had had time to think about what it would be like, Jamie was taken completely by surprise. I loved his reaction (he fainted) and the tears of joy they both shared. After so long apart, they are somewhat tentative with each other, but their love is still there. It's here that the fun really begins.  Claire's reappearance thrills Fergus, surprises Ian as he arrives looking for his son, and creates a hysterically funny bit of confusion with Young Ian as he mistakes Claire for a resident of the brothel. Trouble starts stalking them as Jamie's lives as printer and smuggler draw the attention of the wrong people causing them to have to leave Edinburgh. A return to Lallybroch exposes a secret that Jamie had kept from Claire, one that he really should have told her before they got there. I understood Claire's hurt and fury, and wondered what had happened to Jamie's long ago vow of honesty between them. In order to recover from this will require a dangerous expedition to retrieve some treasure, a trip that goes terribly wrong.

The trouble that seems to be following them creates a need for a trip to the West Indies in order to recover young Ian from pirates. A trip that involves a plague onboard a British ship that commandeers Claire's services as healer, a sheep loving priest, the reuniting of Jamie and Lord John and the revelation of the other secret he had been keeping from Claire, the continuing search for Ian and the horrifying reappearance of Geillis Duncan.  There was a chilling exhibition of voodoo that really gave me the creeps. The rescue of Ian and a battle with a hurricane rounded out an adventure that even on a second reading kept me turning the pages far past bedtime on many night.