The Ghost by Monica McCarty

51v0ADl9YxLAll the features that have made the Highland Guard series truly compelling are in the twelfth and final installment. THE GHOST repeatedly takes actual people plus historical occurrences to make every single moment come across as absolutely riveting. Monica McCarty cleverly interweaves fictional scenarios with genuine events to create circumstances which are constantly conceivable. I often looked up a battle or a certain individual, and I was amazed at how accurately the story followed historical facts. Any instances where the author only imagined an incident never seemed made-up, as I always felt as though these moments might have also taken place as depicted. Monica McCarty ends her Highland Guard series with a remarkably original romantic story.

When Joan Comyn was only twelve-years-old, the horrific actions of the English king toward her mother changed the path her life would take. She vowed to make certain Robert the Bruce became the Scottish king and to get the English out of her homeland. Now that she is a grown woman, her femininity is a valuable asset she uses against her enemy. Pretending to be infatuated with different Englishman has allowed Joan to attain crucial information which is passed along to her Scottish comrades. Her identity has been kept secret, and this mysterious spy is known as the Ghost.

It was the goal to see England and Scotland at peace with each other that caused Alex Seton to start fighting with the country where he was born instead of the one in which he was raised. But he knows the Highland Guard warriors with whom he was once a part will always see him as being disloyal, not trying to make a difference. When Alex and Joan happen to meet while he and other Englishmen work out strategies for upcoming battles with the Scots, she needs to learn of their plans yet must not let the observant knight discover her intentions. Passing along secrets is always her top priority, so giving in to growing desire for Alex must never occur.

Monica McCarty puts meticulous effort into making every character exceedingly realistic. I though Alex and Joan were particularly true-to-life, as I never questioned any of their reactions or what they said. When they are happy, the moment is filled with palpable joy. But if fear or anger is the main emotion in a scene, then the sentiment is expressed with much intensity. Joan is caught in a situation where the truth could condemn her, and my worry over what would happen keep mounting with each new lie. She is extremely brave more than once, and I could not keep from fretting over how the circumstances would turn out. There are so many words I could use when referring to Alex, but the two that stand out are honorable and respectful. He is definitely a noble knight. Their relationship has one challenge after another, and I often could not see a possible way for them to work out their differences.

There are so many intriguing incidents in THE GHOST. Sometimes there is a twist I did not see coming, while other scenes are packed with so much emotion that I almost could not breathe until everything played out. With this being the final book in the series, the author brilliantly took her Highland Guard warriors through many ups and downs as feelings were explored and choices had to be made. I can only hope whatever Monica McCarty comes up with next will be just as entertaining. THE GHOST is an outstanding novel of inventiveness and profound emotion.

Received copy from publisher

Series:  Highland Guard – Book 12

Publisher:  Pocket

Releases:  May 31, 2016

Purchase:  http://tinyurl.com/zlpm8p6

Genre:  Historical

Author website:  http://monicamccarty.com/index.php

Rating:  5 Stars

Demand by Lisa Renee Jones

51mkak5XtsLThroughout the first book in the Careless Whispers series, there was one question after another, and often no answers were easily found. While Ella still has countless issues in her life where no facts are known, several clues about her past are gradually being recalled as the second story progresses. Though Lisa Renee Jones does give a very helpful summary of what took place in the previous installment, readers should start at the beginning of the series in order to know every riveting detail about Ella and Kayden, a couple who must face the uncertainty of what will be disclosed if she recovers from her amnesia. Danger intensifies with each new revelation in DEMAND.

There have been so many problems in the life of Ella ever since she woke up in an Italian hospital. The few facts she has remembered frequently add to her confusion, and she is often wary of Kayden Wilkens though they have grown close. The two met in the hospital where he proclaimed to be her rescuer after she was hurt. But sometimes his comments seem to contradict what Ella believes to be the true. If Kayden is holding back and not telling all he knows, she cannot help but fear his possible motive for keeping secrets.

As more and more of her memories resurface, Ella worries about what actually happened in her past, and if any of these events will affect her current life. Kayden always seems to give her answers which show he really cares about her. Yet there is constant uneasiness in the back of her mind that something important is being left unsaid. Ella just hopes remaining by Kayden’s side does not cause her more trouble than she can handle.

The Careless Whispers series has been absolutely outstanding from the start, and the captivation only increases in the second book. There are so many truths missing from Ella’s memories, and I became even more intrigued with her as she begins to recollect crucial facts that led to her involvement with Kayden. I was often shocked by what was learned, and her response to a number of these surprises occasionally revealed forgotten traits. When she was gutsy, I cheered her on, while I felt her understandable misery upon remembering a distressing incident. Lisa Renee Jones adeptly lets the reader experience the emotions of her characters in scene after scene.

While Ella certainly wants to unearth the details of her past, she is also very apprehensive about what may be exposed about her. Kayden may say he is on her side, but sometimes the truth will change how a person thinks of another individual. With so many doubts swirling in her thoughts, I really felt for what she was going through and how everything would turn out. Lisa Renee Jones packs emotion into each engaging scene, where conversations are believable and any conflicts are often heart-pounding. The relationship of Kayden and Ella is complicated from the moment they met, and I never knew if the extremely steamy passion between them would be enough to triumph over any obstacles that arise. Trying to decide whether someone is being honest with Ella or only covering their tracks kept me totally engrossed in the whole book, and the way in which the story ended has me wanting the next book now. DEMAND is an emotional journey of personal discovery.

Copy received from publisher

Series:  Careless Whispers – Book 2

Publisher:  Gallery

Releases:  May 31, 2016

Purchase:  http://tinyurl.com/jjwa85w

Genre:  Suspense

Author website:  http://lisareneejones.com/homepage

Rating:  5 Stars

The Wedding Promise by Karen Rose Smith

51qNzkU1OKLIn each of the Search For Love stories, numerous difficulties keep developing in the lives of ordinary people. The eighth book of the series begins right where the previous story ended, and it has obstacles that are particularly poignant plus very realistic at all times. Its main two characters must make life-altering decisions in the midst of unanticipated romantic feelings, and these individuals were so easy for me to adore. Karen Rose Smith frequently delves into true-to-life experiences which cause emotional turmoil before there can be lasting joy, and this statement has never been truer than in THE WEDDING PROMISE. I never knew what the couple would go through before their story ended, but I was always certain that every situation would be believably depicted with profoundly moving circumstances.

After many years filled with uncertainty, Beth Crandall may finally have a life which brings her some lasting happiness. Her childhood was hardly typical, as she was taken from her family by a stranger when only three. Though let go soon afterward, she was too young to tell anyone her identity and this led to her being adopted. Though Beth did not make many friends, there was one girl with whom she became close when both were teenagers. An altercation with several boys when the two were visiting sadly resulted in Beth receiving a large facial scar. Years later, she has recently discovered the whereabouts of her birth mother and father plus her sister, and she is ready to see about getting rid of the scar as it reminds her of the past.

An appointment with a plastic surgeon goes well, and Dr. Sam Benedict has scheduled her surgery to take place soon. Beth really likes the sympathetic doctor whose main focus is helping children in need, regardless of where they live, and the two form a friendly bond when they work together on a project. As they keep seeing one another, Sam is very supportive of her need to move forward with her new life and is even helpful as Beth tries to reconnect with her friend. She just hopes a reunion will only cause good memories.

Whether it relates to a past event or how the present will affect the future of Beth, I was totally caught up in the life of this truly amazing woman. She has lived through trauma few of us will ever know personally, and though she does not usually interact with others, she is candidly forthright when she does speak with someone. Her comments to Sam are especially direct, as she tries to keep from being hurt by staying informed. I kept hoping Beth would let Sam into her life, as I could tell he wanted to be involved with her. Yet her caution around him is understandable because of all she has endured.

Although Beth and Sam may have lived through different harrowing incidents, these events shaped them into the individuals they became. Knowing that life is not always perfect helps them to connect to one another, and I eagerly kept reading at times to see what choices they would make during decisive episodes. All the key people from the seventh book in the series, HER SISTER, are back, and each of them are still facing plenty of situations packed with drama. Karen Rose Smith always creates compelling romances overflowing with strong emotions, while her characters are genuine and have such winning personalities. THE WEDDING PROMISE captivates with heartwarming realism.

Copy received from author

Series:  Search For Love – Book 8

Publisher:  self

Releases:  June 1, 2016

Purchase:  http://tinyurl.com/jjqxblt

Genre:  Contemporary

Author website:  http://www.karenrosesmith.com/

Rating:  5 Stars

Delta Force Desire by C.J. Miller

51-JdrB-y0LThe latest C.J. Miller release has an abundance of dangerous incidents plus emotional situations. Suspense constantly builds, while longing between the main couple also keeps mounting despite their complicated circumstances. I never knew what type of peril would occur or where it might take place, and these uncertainties heightened the trepidation I felt during much of the book. The storyline is unique, and its take on a conceivable problem into today’s society where computers are so important made for a fascinating read. DELTA FORCE DESIRE has a wide range of emotions along with plenty of risky escapades.

While Kaitlyn “Kit” Walker has not worked as a computer scientist for four years, she always worries the former project to which she is connected will end up causing her trouble one day. With her expert computer skills, she had hoped no one, especially any enemies, would ever find her. Yet she has been found, and she quickly realizes just how much jeopardy she is now in. The endeavor that she had a big part in creating has caused Kit to be in grave danger, but at least an agent from the West Company is there to keep her from being harmed.

When Griffin Brooks was assigned his current mission, he was only supposed to retrieve a woman wanted by terrorists because of her knowledge relating to a secret U.S. government project. But instead of handing Kit off to another agent, she becomes his responsibility. Griffin does not take on tasks where he must watch over anyone, as there is too much guilt over the death of his wife whom he did not protect. But when his staying by Kit’s side is required to gain her assistance, he finds himself torn between duty and desire.

A large number of obstacles are certainly standing in the way of Griffin and Kit ever being in a relationship. From determined terrorists who use deadly force to several issues that catch them off guard because of the unexpectedness, this couple will be put through the wringer over and over again. How they react to the many perilous events in their lives proved both can outsmart others. Griffin’s way may be more physical, while Kit uses the computer to fight her battles, yet their minds are always planning ahead toward a goal. One huge threat in DELTA FORCE DESIRE is a modern day danger, where computers can be a blessing or cause a disaster. C.J. Miller makes the story interesting with disturbing possibilities.

Kit is someone whose interaction with men has often had unpleasant results, as she is much more adept with computers, and several conversations with Griffin are awkward and had me feeling her embarrassment. But he always tries to be careful with her feelings, and this has him coming across as a true hero on numerous occasions. Since he has never gotten over his wife being killed and feeling he is to blame, this fact greatly influences many of his responses to the situations they have to face. As the spend time together, the sexual tension keeps building and is frequently off-the-scale. There were a few times when I could practically feel the heat being generated by all the lusty yearning between these two, and I definitely needed a cool drink after one particular episode. I hope to see more stories featuring the West Company and its capable agents. DELTA FORCE DESIRE has adventures, passion, and much emotion.

Received copy from author

Publisher:  Harlequin Romantic Suspense

Releases:  June 1, 2016

Purchase:  http://tinyurl.com/jdtqghb

Genre:  Suspense

Author website:  http://www.cj-miller.com/

Rating:  4 Stars

Deep Dark by Laura Griffin

51QtHl2ilzLThis is the tenth book in the Tracers series, and the latest story about the elite investigative group, Delphi Center, is one of the best yet. DEEP DARK has enthralling realism during every suspenseful episode. There is constantly much uncertainty as to what will happen next, while the romantic aspects are smoothly blended into the storyline. Laura Griffin is definitely one of the top authors when it comes to creating convincing romantic suspense, as characters are very believable and every riveting situation is plausible.

When Reed Novak begins his investigation into the death of a woman, there are few clues and no solid evidence pointing to a particular suspect. Then the detective with the Austin police department receives a cryptic text message that leaves him even more puzzled about the victim and her perplexing murder. After discovering the identity of the person who sent him the supposed facts, Reed tries to learn if Delaney Knox actually knows something relevant about his case. Though she gives him a little information, he feels certain Laney knows more about the dead woman than she is willing to tell him.

Working at the Delphi Center gives Laney the chance to use her hacking skills, and she specializes in catching those who prey on others now that socializing is so popular on the Internet. One of the reasons she is so interested in this new murder is because she could have easily been killed during a violent incident in the past, and several factors about the current case are just like what occurred to her. While she does offer her assistance in finding the individual responsible, working closely with Reed causes unexpected feelings to surface.

The hero and heroine in DEEP DARK are a couple with whom I instantly connected, and I was truly concerned about their happiness on numerous occasions. Laura Griffin skillfully drew me into the lives of Reed and Laney, two people who seemed so real regardless of the situation in which they found themselves. Whether they are searching for decisive proof about the murder, or are exploring their growing desire for one another, the moment is always packed with reactions that are totally genuine and let me know exactly how they felt about the circumstances. Reed is a dedicated cop who follows the rules while protecting those in need. Yet from the time he meets Laney, his steadfast professional beliefs are not quite as easy to follow. I thoroughly enjoyed the doggedly persistent way that Laney would not give up her pursuit to find the killer. Though she is not really comfortable working with the authorities, stopping a heartless murderer using her expertise is more important. The relationship of Reed and Laney is certainly complex, and I enjoyed seeing how things would work out between them when things became even more difficult.

Anything related to a homicide is expertly portrayed with specifics that let me know much research had been done to make scenes as accurate as possible. I frequently felt as though I was right there in the room watching evidence be collected, and then I was able to experience the analysis of whatever was found. There are a number of surprises which I did not see coming, and their disclosures left me stunned. Laura Griffin always makes details come across as factual, causing me to feel like the story could have taken place. Several of the Delphi Center employees are featured from time to time, and it was great getting to revisit with some of these favorite characters. I hope the Tracers series continues for many more installments. DEEP DARK is imaginatively chilling.

Received copy from publisher

Series:  Tracers – Book 10

Publisher:  Pocket

Releases:  May 24, 2016

Purchase:  http://tinyurl.com/go8un4k

Genre:  Suspense

Author website:  http://www.lauragriffin.com/

Rating:  5 Stars

Ring of Fire by Susan Fox

51Od77s+PbLIn the seventh book of the Caribou Crossing series, the two main characters must confront hardships that impact their lives on a daily basis. Though vastly different, these unexpected problems have left them vulnerable yet neither lets it show. All throughout RING OF FIRE, lots of soul-searching must be done before numerous crucial decisions are made. The journey taken by Eric and Lark is filled with convincing incidents, unanticipated desire, and exceedingly realistic emotional reactions. Susan Fox makes RING OF FIRE compellingly believable.

After Major Eric Weaver was severely injured in Afghanistan and loss part of a leg, he is eventually sent to Caribou Crossing for therapy. Though it will take some time, he plans to once again be a Canadian soldier and continue with the only career that he has ever known. An unfortunate event has him meeting the town’s fire chief, Lark Cantrell, and he is greatly indebted to her assistance when he needed it most. A little later, their paths cross again when he and her son are both taking therapeutic riding lessons. Jayden was born with cerebral palsy, and he has benefited from the fun activity. Eric is not certain how much he will benefit from being on a horse, but if it might perhaps get him healed quicker, then he is willing to try after having several setbacks.

Though the only reason Eric has come to Caribou Crossing is to recover his physical plus mental health, he slowly starts to actually like living in the peaceful town where folks are always friendly. Being around Lark and her energetic son is what he finds most enjoyable, especially when he and the spirited firefighter have some time alone. But she has sworn off men after her disastrous relationship with her ex-husband, while Eric thinks there is no place in a soldier’s life for a woman. But how they feel when around each other almost makes them want to reconsider their beliefs.

Realism can be found on every page of RING OF FIRE. From true-to-life misfortunes to the happiest of times, I always felt as though the lives of someone I could easily know were being depicted. Descriptions of any character in the story are very genuine, and whether it pertains to their nature or a response, it is truly credible. Lark has much self-confidence about herself, and I had a great time watching her never back down from anything Eric says. How these two challenge each other is what made them such a fascinating romantic couple, although they certainly did not want to admit to it. She never wanted to get married again, while he plans to stay single. He also thinks his PTSD makes him unfit to be in a relationship. But their actions show what they cannot verbally communicate, as they repeatedly offer emotional support to each other. Susan Fox handles the matter of Eric’s mental struggles with much finesse, and any issues related to cerebral palsy are knowledgeably portrayed. Jayden is such a charming boy, and his behavior often caused me to smile. Lark and Eric definitely have no difficulty when it comes to expressing their sexual desire, and regardless of how these encounters start, they always turn very sultry because of lusty craving.

From time to time, a character from a past Caribou Crossing story is featured. It was great to revisit these likable people, and any of their published books can be read out of order without feeling lost at all. I am really looking forward to the upcoming holiday release in the series. A contemporary romance by Susan Fox is always heartfelt and never disappoints.

Copy received from author

Series:  Caribou Crossing – Book 7

Publisher:  Zebra

Releases:  May 31, 2016

Purchase:  http://tinyurl.com/japc89a

Genre:  Contemporary

Author website:  http://www.susanlyons.ca/

Rating:  5 Stars

Marie Force Spotlight

On 50 Books and 50 Years: Things I Know for Sure

By: Marie Force

This week marks a major milestone in my publishing career. Desire After Dark is my 50th book, and it releases 17 days before my 50th birthday. To those who would ask, I didn’t plan that. Like many things in this life, it just sort of worked out that way. I wish I could say I’d written a book a year, but in fact most of them have been written in the last five frantic years that have gone by like a flash.

I thought this 50-50 combination platter was a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned writing 50 books and living for a half century. (God, it sounds DREADFUL when I put it that way!) So in no particular order, here’s what I know for sure halfway through my life. Note to my kids: I intend to stick around for the entire second 50, so batten down the hatches.

  1. I’m acutely and painfully aware that too many of my high school classmates didn’t live to be 50, so I’m thankful for every day I’ve spent on the right side of the ground. I’m not planning on indulging in a middle-age funk or crisis or anything like that because being 50 certainly beats the alternative.
  2. I’ve accepted that my arms are never going to look like Michelle Obama’s guns. I’m learning to live with that and letting them out to see the world more often than I used to, taking comfort in the fact that they are still smaller than my thighs. I’ve also learned that eating salt and vinegar potato chips makes me happy, so I will continue to eat them in my second 50 years. This is nonnegotiable as is my relentless war against all forms of chin hair.
  3. My mom had a magnet on her fridge declaring that FIFTY IS PRIME TIME. I believe that. This time next year, my youngest will graduate from high school and next fall he will head off to college, leaving his parents with now two empty bedrooms and hearts full of memories. In my fifties, I’ll be able to do just about anything I want any time I want. If that’s not PRIME TIME, I don’t know what is.
  4. That said, being a mother has been the greatest thrill ride of my life. There is, simply, nothing better in my world than my two wonderful kids, who are both better people than I could ever hope to be. No matter what they do or don’t do or achieve, all I care about is that they are healthy and happy and productive. The rest is up to them, and I can’t wait to see what they get done while I sit in my tub and eat bon bons, knowing I was never a perfect mother, but I always tried to be a fun mom and I did my very best for them always.
  5. Family is everything. Parents, siblings, cousins, close family, extended family—if you got lucky in the family department like I did, then you know what I mean. They know you better than anyone and don’t let you get away with anything, which is actually a good thing—until they tell people you look like Nick Nolte’s mug shot in the morning with photographic evidence to prove their point. I’m grateful for the brother who has traveled all but one year of this journey with me as well as our posse of cousins who made us feel like we had a huge family when it was only the two of us.
  6. I honestly believe the outcome of your entire life can be determined by who you are born to. I was born to two of the best, and they are as much responsible for the life I have today as I am.
  7. Friends who stick with you through bad times—and good—are worth holding on to. Everyone is there for the bad times. The ones who show up during the especially good times, who share in your joy selflessly and without reservation, are the people you want on your journey with you. I have been enormously blessed in the friend department.
  8. I also got lucky in the husband department. We don’t always see eye to eye (what fun would that be?), but I always know I can count on him and so do our kids. He gives me Valentine’s Day cards that say things like “I’m still not sick of you,” which is the perfect sort of card for the nonromantic romance author. And his family is rather awesome, too.
  9. I’m grateful every day for the series of fortunate events that led to my career as an author. If you had told me at 40 that THIS would be 50, I probably would’ve laughed myself senseless at your delusions of grandeur on my behalf. However… Here I am with 50 titles to my name, 5 million books sold, 22 times on the New York Times list, my closest friends and family members working with me, a new house that Mac McCarthy bought for my family and a life that five years after it happened still feels like a dream in progress. For that I thank the readers who’ve taken my books to heart and me along with them. You have made all of this happen, and I never lose sight of that fact. I’ve also learned that never allowing myself to be entirely satisfied with where I am at the moment can lead to new challenges that broaden and expand my sense of the possible.
  10. I have learned that I can do just about everything right, be the best possible friend/family member/colleague/author (fill in your own blank) I know how to be, and it won’t be enough for some people. What I know at 50 is that I’ll never make everyone happy. I’ve learned to be okay with that and to know FOR SURE that if I can make myself and those who matter most to me a little happy every day, then I’m doing something right. And that is more than enough for me.

 

Here’s to the next 50 books and the next 50 years. As Sam Holland would say, bring it on.

Desire After Dark Spotlight

51OQJwFzjEL._SY346_Chapter 2

She had erected walls in front of her walls, barriers intended to keep anyone from getting too close, which was why Slim was completely shocked that she’d asked him to stay with her. Not that he was complaining. Not at all. He was thrilled but shocked, too. Standing before the mirror in the lighthouse’s tiny bathroom, he shaved his face and puzzled through the unexpected turn of events.
During their many phone calls, FaceTime chats and texts over the last few months, she’d let him see her witty side as they bantered back and forth. Other than the night last summer when she’d asked him about his real name and she’d told him about the twin brother she’d lost, they hadn’t delved too far beneath the surface. They talked about the winter weather in Florida versus Rhode Island, about his customers and flights, the places he went with his plane and the activities that kept Erin and her band of friends busy on the island during the cold winter months.
They talked about the TV shows they were watching, and had watched much of the last season of “The Voice” together, rooting for the same contestant to win.
Not once had they talked about where all those conversations might be leading. He’d asked her where she planned to be during the holidays, and when she said she was debating between staying on the island or going home to Pennsylvania, he asked if he could see her after the McCarthys’ party. When he touched down on the island’s runway yesterday, he hadn’t known whether he would be here for one day or twelve days or what. He’d cleared his schedule in Florida through the holidays, hoping the longer visit to Gansett would materialize.
She’d seemed genuinely thrilled to see him last night, as thrilled as he was to see her after counting the days for weeks. And kissing her had been… He blew out a deep breath. That had been incredible, if also unexpected.
This entire situation with her was unexpected. He’d spent his adult life chasing the sun and the work. He flew out of Gansett Island in the summer and Palm Beach in the off-season, taking people where they needed to go while studiously avoiding anything that smacked of commitment in his personal life. That just wasn’t his style—or it hadn’t been before the September night when he rescued Erin on a dark road and found himself on the business end of a hook, getting reeled in slowly but surely by a woman for the first time ever.
It was funny, really, when you considered how much pleasure he’d taken in mocking his friends Mac, Adam, Grant and Evan McCarthy, who’d fallen one by one in the last couple of years, along with Owen Lawry, the Martinez brothers, Luke Harris and even Seamus O’Grady. His Gansett Island friends had gone to the “dark” side of love and marriage, and if a happier bunch of bastards had ever lived, Slim hadn’t yet met them.
And now here he was, inordinately delighted by an invitation from the emotionally remote but incredibly sexy, beautiful lighthouse keeper who wanted him to stay with her for the next twelve days. The lighthouse was charming but tiny, with a bedroom, a small bathroom, a galley kitchen and a cozy living room. It had some of the best views of anywhere on the scenic island. But the one thing it didn’t have was a second bedroom.
As he combed his hair and cleaned up the bathroom, he couldn’t wait to see what bedtime might bring. Would he be spending another night on her comfortable sofa, or would he get to sleep with her? The thought of sleeping with her again, of holding and kissing her, not to mention the many other possibilities, had his skin tingling with anticipation. Though he’d studiously avoided commitment and anything that smacked of a relationship, he’d found himself craving more of this particular woman after spending time with her last fall.
Now that he was finally here, in her home, where she seemed to want him as much as he wanted to be there, he didn’t care what they did—or didn’t do. Knowing he had twelve long, cold winter days to snuggle in with her was the best Christmas gift he’d ever received.
Dressed in jeans and a sweater, Slim came down the stairs to find the table set with blue plates with white anchors in the middle of them. Erin was in the kitchen, wearing an apron, and he had the highly inappropriate thought that he’d like to see her in only the apron sometime. He forced that thought from his head so he wouldn’t have to deal with an embarrassing situation.
“Something smells good.” His stomach let out a loud growl to make his point.
“Don’t get too excited. It’s just pancakes and sausage.”
“Too late. I’m excited.”
“Clearly it doesn’t take much to get you excited.”
“That’s not true at all. It takes a lot. Like a gorgeous woman making me a delicious breakfast while wearing a sexy apron. What’s not exciting about that?” He helped himself to another cup of coffee and topped off her mug, too.
“How do you know it’s going to be delicious?”
“Because you made it.” He kissed her cheek and left her to finish cooking, because what he really wanted to do was kiss her senseless. There’d be time for that later, after she lost the wariness that remained in her expression when she looked at him. Was she wondering if he was sincere in his interest in her? How could she still be wondering about that after all the hours they’d spent talking over the last few months?
He’d never spent that much time talking to any woman without sex as part of the equation. But how could she know that lengthy conversations weren’t part of his regular routine? He’d have to find a way to let her know that nothing about their “friendship,” or whatever you wanted to call it, was regular or routine for him.
The breakfast was, in fact, delicious, and he scored more points by offering to do the dishes while she showered. As he worked, he noticed the family photos on the refrigerator, zeroing in on the smiling dark-haired young man who looked so much like Erin, right down to the dimple in his cheek and the devilish look in his eyes. He had to be Toby, and seeing a picture of him for the first time, Slim ached for her loss.
She came down the spiral stairs a short time later with her hair in a ponytail, wearing a red wool sweater adorned with white snowflakes, and faded jeans, looking far more like a college co-ed than a thirty-eight-year-old woman. He’d been shocked when she’d once referred to herself as an old lady because she was in her late thirties. Before she told him her age, he would’ve guessed thirty at most. He was thirty-nine and amazed to be having genuine feelings for a woman for the first time since high school.
“Ready?” he asked, stashing his phone in his back pocket.
“Whenever you are.”
They took his truck to the Martinez Lawn & Garden retail store, where they spent half an hour picking out the perfect tree.
Jenny Martinez was working the cash register when they went inside to pay. “Hey, guys,” she said, clearly surprised to see him with Erin. “What brings you out on this freezing-cold day?”
Slim produced the price tag the guy working in the yard had given him. “Erin needed a Christmas tree.”
“Erin doesn’t do Christmas trees,” Jenny said with a questioning look for Erin.
Erin shrugged. “I guess I do this year.”
“Very interesting,” Jenny said with a grin for her friend.
Slim handed over three twenties for the tree.
“Hey, wait!” Erin said. “I want to chip in.”
“You can buy the lights. We also need a wreath and some of that red stuff over there.”
“The winterberry?” Jenny asked.
“Yeah, that. It’ll look good in a vase on the table, don’t you think, sweetheart?” He went over to pick out a bundle of sticks they didn’t really need—and gave her a chance to talk about him “behind his back.”
“Holy shit!” Jenny said in an exaggerated whisper. “What gives?”
“Not sure what you mean,” Erin said, though she knew exactly what her friend was getting at.
“You. Him. Buying a tree. Together. He called you sweetheart. Any questions?”
Erin laughed at Jenny’s recitation. “He’s hanging out with me for the holiday and wanted a tree. And winterberry, apparently.” She glanced at him on the other side of the store where he was having an animated conversation with Paul Martinez.
“Hanging out,” Jenny said, making air quotes. “Is that a metaphor?”
“For what?” While she tried to avoid Jenny’s probing stare, Erin arranged and rearranged things on the counter.
Placing a hand over Erin’s to refocus her attention, Jenny waggled her brows suggestively.
“Not yet it isn’t.”
“But it might be?”
“We’re taking it hour by hour. So far, it’s been fun. That’s all I can tell you.”
“You’re still coming tonight, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Bring him. Alex and Paul adore him. They’d love to have him there, and so would I so I can gauge his intentions toward my sweet sister-friend Erin.”
For many years after Toby died, she and Jenny had struggled to define their relationship to outsiders. Somehow “friend” didn’t seem adequate when they should’ve been sisters-in-law. Over time they’d settled on sister-friend, but it had been a very long time since either of them had used the term. Hearing it now brought special meaning to a day that was already shaping up to be pretty special.
“I’m sure he’d love to come. I’ll ask him.”
“You’re still bringing your famous seven-layer dip, right?”
“Yep.”
“Good, because Alex asked me to make sure. I think he’d eat it with a spoon if I’d let him.”
“I’ll make extra for him.”
“He would love you forever for that.”
Slim rejoined them, carrying a huge bundle of winterberry. “Are you done talking about me?”
“Could he be any more full of himself?” Erin asked Jenny.
“Did she talk about me? Tell me the truth.”
“She didn’t say a word about you,” Jenny said with a straight face.
Nothing at all? I’m gutted, crushed, devastated.”
“You’re also very dramatic.” Amused, Erin handed over a twenty to pay for the winterberry and took the ten in change. “Let’s get going. We’ve got a tree to decorate.”
“I’ll see you tonight,” Jenny said.
“See you then.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do in the meantime,” she whispered to Erin. “Which means anything goes.”
“Shut it!” Erin said, leaving Jenny laughing.
While Slim put the tree in the back of his pickup truck, she got into the cab that smelled of his distinctive cologne. If rakish sex appeal, quick wit and sharp intelligence could be captured in a scent, whatever he wore did the trick for her.
He got into the truck and fired it up, blasting the heat. The frigid day was overcast and stormy, the kind of winter day she loved and the majority of sane people hated.
Erin never used to love winter as much as she did now, but the older she got, the more she enjoyed hibernating in the winter. Although on Gansett Island, an endless array of social events kept everyone busy during the off-season, making hibernation difficult. It was probably just as well, or she’d be a total hermit by now.
“Where to?” she asked as he pulled the truck onto the main road.
“Now we go to find some lights and ornaments for the tree.”
“I saw some stuff at the pharmacy last week. Not sure if it’s still there or sold out by now.”
“We’ll start there. If necessary, we’ll go beachcombing for ornaments.”
Erin liked the way he operated, how he didn’t sweat the small stuff and made the most mundane things, like eating breakfast, fun. In that way, he was her polar opposite. She sweated everything—big stuff and small. She was an obsessive over-thinker, which was why she’d shocked not only him but herself with the spontaneous invitation to stay with her.
For once, she hadn’t taken the time to think the plan through from every possible angle and outcome. She’d just acted, and the look on his face had been priceless and well worth the lack of dithering that would normally precede such a decision.
She hadn’t always been this way. At one time, she’d driven her parents insane with the number of times she’d changed her major before settling on pre-law. Her spontaneity had gotten her in trouble on more than one occasion, never more so than when perpetrating pranks with her equally mischievous twin. That side of her had died with him.
She’d read once about a man who’d detested chocolate until he had surgery and awoke from the anesthesia craving chocolate. Similarly, Erin had emerged on the other side of her tremendous loss a completely different person. Even all these years later, she was still getting to know that new person—and new Erin was someone else altogether when Slim Jackson was around.
Rediscovering the lighthearted girl she used to be had been an interesting side effect of her friendship with him. She’d nearly forgotten that girl had once resided inside her, but finding her again after all this time was like a revelation in and of itself. And that, more than anything, was why she’d asked him to stay. She liked how she felt when he was around—unburdened, hopeful, giddy, aroused, breathless, off-balance.
Those feelings also made her nervous for what would happen after he left again. His invitation to join him in Florida had stunned her. But what had stunned her even more was how much she wanted to take him up on it.
He was slowly but surely dragging her out of the shell she’d crawled into long ago, hiding from the parts of life she found too painful to deal with. Inside that shell, she was safe and protected from things that could hurt her. The thought of a life outside the shell made her shudder in fear of what happened when you loved someone too much and they were ripped from your life suddenly and without warning.
“Are you cold?” Slim asked, turning up the heat.
“Little bit,” she said, rather than confess to the fears that had her shuddering.
Being on the island had helped to crack the shell somewhat. It was impossible to be around the people who lived here and not engage in meaningful relationships and new friendships. They simply wouldn’t allow anyone to wallow by themselves for too long, and now there was a man who wasn’t going to allow her to wallow either. At some point, she’d have to decide how far out of the shell she was willing to venture.
Slim parked the truck at the pharmacy and turned off the engine. “You okay over there? You’re awfully quiet.”
“Just thinking.”
“What I wouldn’t give to know what goes on inside that head of yours.”
Erin laughed at the way he said that. “It’s probably better that you don’t.”
“I don’t know about that. Wait for me.”
At first she didn’t know what he meant, and then he was opening her door and helping her out of the truck. “While I appreciate your manners, I’m perfectly capable of getting out by myself.”
“You get me, you get my manners, too, sweetheart.” He also held the door to the pharmacy for her and ushered her in ahead of him with a hand to her lower back.
As a fully self-sufficient woman, she wanted to argue some more about his need to play the role of protective alpha man. But she enjoyed the courtesy too much to protest. She’d never been with a man who was so consistent about holding doors, and though it would take some getting used to, she decided she could live with his brand of gallantry.
They found a picked-over display of Christmas decorations in the front of the store. There were six boxes of white lights left, and he grabbed all of them.
“Why do we need so many lights?” Erin asked.
“My rule is, until it hurts to look at the tree, you don’t have enough lights. Six boxes ought to do it.”
“That’s ridiculous, but if you insist…”
“I do.” With the lights tucked under one arm, Slim reached for a box of gold ornaments.
Erin stopped him. “I like your beachcombing idea. It’s much more original than generic gold balls.”
“It’ll be cold out there today.”
“I can handle it if you can with your thin Florida blood.”
His rich, wicked-sounding laugh sent a bolt of heat rippling through her body. He was sexy all the time, but when he laughed or smiled, his sexiness reached incendiary levels. “You’re on, babe.”
And she liked when he called her that and sweetheart. She liked it an awful lot.

His Pregnant Sleeping Beauty by Lynne Marshall

51RIZYEHE7LThe emotional issues in the sixth book of The Hollywood Hills Clinic continuity are often poignant and definitely realistic. From anguish causing situations in the past to current complex problems, the two main characters face challenges that keep them from having a normal relationship, and I was completely drawn into their lives from the very beginning. Lynne Marshall has created such engaging individuals for her story, where hearts are on the line and feelings are conflicted. HIS PREGNANT SLEEPING BEAUTY is an enchanting romance where wishes just might come true if chances are taken.

His job as a paramedic plus owner of several ambulances lets Joseph Matthews aid those in need, and working for The Hollywood Hills Clinic has turned his business into a thriving career. On the night that he witnesses a woman being attacked, he uses all his training to make certain she recovers from being knocked out. With no one else to help her, Joe feels duty-bound to be the person watching over her until she comes out of a coma. Learning she is pregnant makes the compassionate paramedic even more determined to be there when she awakens. While he has not let any woman get close to him since the unfaithfulness of his wife, there is something about Carey Spencer which causes him to deeply care about her well-being.

When it comes to her immediate future, Carey has few choices. So she is very appreciative for all the assistance Joe unselfishly gives her. Worry over her child may have initially led her to trust the man who has gone out of his way to help many times. Although unspoken, it soon becomes apparent that how Joe and Carey see one another is more than just friends.

If I happened to be in Hollywood and was injured, I really hope the paramedic sent to check on me would have Joe’s nature. He is so concerned about the needs of other people, and anyone under his care is extremely lucky. His protective side is evident from the instant he comes in contact with Carey, and how he takes an interest in her future welfare is commendable, especially when being around her causes lots of bad memories to surface. With the author’s skilled writing, I was able to get insight into his thoughts and know exactly how he felt at any given time. He is certainly not looking to be in a relationship anytime soon, but the honest responses of Carey might possibly sneak past the wall he has built around his heart.

Lynne Marshall always lets her readers experience the circumstances in the lives of her characters to the fullest, and the occurrences in HIS PREGNANT SLEEPING BEAUTY are some of her most compelling yet. Carey has been through a traumatic incident, and I enjoyed seeing how she tried to move forward in her life and not sit around feeling sorry for herself. I think her positive outlook helped this couple to form a connection from the first, as small things brought her much joy. I could not help but smile at the pleasure she received from a simple meal. Like many romances, Ms. Marshall takes her couple on a journey of highs plus lows, and I am so glad for the chance to go through it with Joe and Carey. HIS PREGNANT SLEEPING BEAUTY is constantly stirring because of intense emotions.

Received copy from author

Series:  Hollywood Hills Clinic – Book 6

Publisher:  Harlequin Medical Romance

Releases:  May 24. 2016

Purchase:  http://tinyurl.com/hsx9vth

Genre:  Contemporary

Author website:  http://lynnemarshall.com/

Rating:  5 Stars

Desire After Dark Spotlight

51OQJwFzjEL._SY346_Chapter 1

On the morning after Slim Jackson came home to Gansett Island, Erin Barton awoke to the scents of his cologne and starch on the dress shirt he’d worn to the McCarthys’ anniversary party. At some point, he’d discarded the suit coat he’d been wearing when he arrived.
She didn’t remember falling asleep with him on the sofa, or how they’d ended up snuggled together under a blanket. His chest made for a comfortable pillow, and his arms around her had kept her from tumbling off the sofa during the night. The last thing she recalled was kissing him—soft, flirty kisses that hadn’t gone much beyond lips stroking lips, with the promise of more to come.
The thought of that promise had her skin tingling with awareness of the man sleeping next to her. After they’d connected last fall, he’d left the island to work in Florida during the off-season. She’d been counting the days until she could see him again, which wasn’t something she did very often. In fact, she couldn’t recall the last time she’d looked forward to seeing any man.
Before he arrived last night, she’d tried to prepare herself for disappointment. Maybe the connection they’d forged months ago in person and maintained through texts and phone calls and FaceTime chats would’ve waned in the many weeks they’d spent apart. But it took only a few minutes in his magnetic presence to know the opposite was true.
Their connection was alive and well, and they had twelve days together to explore where it might lead. Though she’d enjoyed their many entertaining conversations over the last few months, Erin didn’t know where she wanted their “flirtation” to lead. She hadn’t been seriously involved with a man in years and wasn’t sure she had what it took to be in a relationship anymore—or if she even wanted a serious entanglement at this point in her life.
The last man she’d been serious about had been during law school, before she lost her twin brother in the 9/11 attacks on New York City, and her carefully crafted life fell apart in the aftermath of unimaginable loss. By the time she came up for air, the man she’d once planned to marry was long gone, not that she could blame him. The poor guy had tried, Lord knows he’d tried, but there had been no consoling her.
Thinking about those dark days was never a good idea, especially today when she had something far more positive to focus on. She moved carefully to disentangle herself from Slim’s embrace, hoping he would sleep awhile longer. He’d been tired last night from the long day in the air, flying from Florida to Rhode Island for the McCarthys’ party—and to see her.
Erin went upstairs to make herself presentable. She also couldn’t recall the last time she’d spent the night with a man. It had been a while, long before she moved to Gansett Island hoping to jumpstart her stalled life.
If the first few months on Gansett were any indication, the move had been a good one. Thanks to her close friend, the former lighthouse keeper, Jenny Wilks—now Jenny Martinez—Erin had been introduced to an amazing group of new friends. And she’d met Tobias Fitzgerald “Slim” Jackson Junior, the sweet, sexy pilot who’d come to her rescue after she sprained her ankle on a dark island road last September.
Thinking about that night made her feel giddy and breathless, which was silly, really. At thirty-eight, she was far too old for such foolishness. Regardless, he’d charmed his way into her life that night. He’d been dropping in regularly ever since, mostly via phone, text and FaceTime, until last night when he showed up in person, sparking more of that giddiness that seemed to happen any time he was around.
He’d met her parents at Jenny’s wedding in October, and they’d immediately adored him and tuned in to the crackling attraction between them. That had been a great night, capped off by a magical good-night kiss when he brought her home. But then he’d left the island for three months to work in Florida, and Erin had been surprised by how much she’d missed him.
He’d been a terrible flirt from that first night. Thinking about what he’d said to her the second night could still make her shiver all these months later. After she’d agreed to have dinner with him—once she was off the crutches—he’d stated his intentions rather boldly.
“I’m also persistent. If you’re going to make me wait until the crutches are gone, I guess I’ll have to come by to visit every day and make a pest of myself so you don’t forget about me.”
“You’re going to drive me crazy, aren’t you?”
“Baby, that’s the very least of what I want to do with you.”
Thinking about that now made her smile. In addition to his sexy good looks, she loved how easygoing he was, how funny and confident. She loved calling him out when he got too cocky, and he made her laugh—a lot.
The thing she found most attractive about him, however, was his kindness, especially during the days leading up to Jenny’s wedding. He’d understood how difficult it was for Erin to see her beloved brother’s fiancée marry another man, even though she was thrilled for Jenny and Alex. Slim had provided the kind of support she would’ve expected from a longtime friend rather than a new one, and he’d helped to get her through what might’ve been a crisis otherwise. No matter what else happened between them, she’d always be thankful to him for that.
She took her hair out of the messy bun it had been in last night and brushed it until it fell in soft waves past her shoulders. After brushing her teeth and putting on a bra under her T-shirt, Erin crept down the stairs, taking a subtle glance at the handsome man still sleeping on her sofa, before continuing on to the kitchen to make coffee. While she waited for the coffee to percolate, she gazed at the collage of family pictures on the fridge, zeroing in on Toby’s smiling face. He’d be gone fifteen years later this year, but to her it might’ve been fifteen minutes. She missed him desperately, even after all this time.
It had taken a while, a couple of years, actually, for her to realize she would simply never get over losing him. So she’d stopped trying, which had freed up the emotional energy she’d spent railing at the circumstances under which he died. She smiled back at him now, thankful for the photos, the memories, the reminders that he’d once existed and had been closer to her than anyone, other than Jenny, of course.
Though the photos were displayed in a tidy arrangement, Erin straightened them as she did every morning, in a pattern of left to right. Left side first. Always. Keeping up that ritual and many others was the only way to prevent further catastrophe, or so she told herself. Her obsessive routine was interrupted when an arm slid around her from behind and whiskers scraped against her neck.
“Morning.”
A shiver of sensation traveled down her backbone. “Morning.”
“You forgot to kick me out last night.”
“So I did. You were tired after flying all day. I didn’t have the heart to kick you out.”
“That’s awfully nice of you to say since you haven’t even let me buy you dinner yet.”
Erin gave his belly a playful poke with her elbow. “I’m beginning to think this dinner date is never going to happen.”
“Oh, it’s happening. Tonight, in fact.”
“I have plans tonight.” She poured two cups of coffee. “How do you like it?”
“Black is good.”
With his hands on her hips, he turned her to face him. “What are these plans of which you speak?”
She handed him the mug and looked up at him, dazzled by his gorgeous face, the warm brown eyes, the sleep-ruffled hair, the scruff on his jaw and the lips that had kissed her so tenderly the night before. “Alex and Jenny are having everyone over.”
“Then we’ll do dinner tomorrow night, yes?”
“Sure, but I’ll believe it when I see it.” Erin loved to goad him, something she’d never felt comfortable doing with other men. But Slim was nothing if not comfortable to be around.
His eyes lit up with amusement as he took a drink of coffee. “I believe you’re underestimating me.”
“Would I do that?”
“Yes, I believe you would. But that’s okay. I do my best work when the expectations are low.” He wrapped a strand of her hair around his finger. “Your hair has gotten long since the fall.”
“I decided to grow it out. You’ve seen that on FaceTime.”
Shaking his head, he said, “You always have it up.” He ran his fingers through the long strands. “I like it.”
“Thanks,” she said, unnerved by the intense way he looked at her.
“I need to head over to my place and see about getting the water turned on and firing up Big Bertha, the temperamental furnace that takes three hours to warm up.”
“Oh, well… Um, you could stay here if it’s easier than opening up your place.” The words were out of her mouth before she could take the time to consider what she was offering.
A raised brow was his only immediate response. While she held her breath, waiting to hear what he would say, he took another sip of coffee.
“Unless you’d rather—”
He laid his index finger over her lips. “I’d rather be wherever you are, but I don’t want to impose.”
“It’s no imposition. I have hot water and heat and everything you’d need.”
“You left out one very important feature of your lovely offer.”
“What?” she asked, genuinely confused.
He touched his lips to hers. “You’re here, and since you’re offering twelve days of all Erin, all the time, I gratefully accept your kind offer.”
“Do I need to spell out what I’m offering and what I’m not offering?”
Smiling down at her, he said, “No need. We’ll go with the flow and see what transpires.”
Erin laid her hand on his chest, feeling the strong beat of his heart. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything like this.”
Covering her hand with his, he quirked that sexy eyebrow again. “Like what?”
“This. You, me, us. Hours on the phone, looking forward to seeing someone, dating.”
“You make that sound like a dirty word.”
“It has been for me.”
“Well, you haven’t had the supreme pleasure of dating Tobias Fitzgerald Jackson Junior. He’s in a whole other league from all other men you’ve had the misfortune of knowing.”
Erin rolled her eyes. “And he speaks of himself in the third person, because that’s so attractive.”
A rakish grin lit up his face. “You know it, baby.” He put his coffee cup on the counter. “I’m going to grab my bag out of the car and then borrow your shower, if you don’t mind.”
“A daily shower is part of the lighthouse bed-and-breakfast package.”
“Oh yum, what’s for breakfast?”
Erin groaned. “Aw, jeez, I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”
“You don’t have to cook,” he said, chuckling at her comment. “I could take you out somewhere.”
“No need. I have stuff here. I’ll scrounge up something edible.”
“You sure about this, sweetheart? If you’re having second thoughts about your spontaneous offer, I can get out of your hair for now and come back later. Totally up to you.”
Erin loved that he called her sweetheart and appreciated that he’d given her an out, but she didn’t want out. She wanted him to stay. She wanted to spend every minute of the next twelve days with him, not waiting for him to come back. That didn’t mean she wasn’t scared senseless of how attached to him she might be when it came time for him to leave again.
“I’m not having second thoughts about you staying,” she said.
“Then what?” He touched the furrow between her brows that she hadn’t realized was there.
“I’m concerned about what happens when the twelve days are up.”
“That’s easy. You come back to Florida with me and hang out for the rest of the winter.”
Erin wondered if her shock registered on her face. “I’m not going to Florida with you.”
“Why not? What’ve you got to do here that would be more fun than hanging out in the warm sunshine with me?”
Nothing. There was nothing here that would be better than spending the rest of the winter with him in Florida. But she couldn’t do that. “I do have a life here, you know, and a job.”
“That takes five minutes a day, and Jenny could do it for you since the landscaping business is shut down for the winter.”
“They’re not completely shut down. They’re still plowing snow and selling Christmas trees.”
“She would do it for you, Erin. You know she would.”
Yes, Jenny would do it for her, but running the lighthouse wasn’t the only reason she couldn’t go.
But before she could fall down that particular rabbit hole, he came to her rescue once again. “Let’s not worry about that today when we have so many better things to do, such as getting a tree for this place. It’s four days before Christmas. Where’s your tree?”
“I didn’t bother to get one.” Since her brother died, she hadn’t bothered with a lot of things that used to bring her joy. A tree always seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
“We need to rectify that immediately. We can’t very well spend the holidays together and not get a tree. I have needs that must be met.”
The double meaning wasn’t lost on her. “Is that right?”
“Absolutely! It’s Christmas. That means we have to bake and cook and wrap presents. Lots to do and not a lot of time left to do it before the big day.” He was still talking as he headed down the stairs. “Be right back!”
Erin watched him go, oddly elated by his overabundance of Christmas spirit when that would normally annoy her. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d given a crap about the holidays. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. The holidays were one of many things she’d stopped giving a crap about after her brother was cruelly murdered along with three thousand other innocent souls.
Erin couldn’t help but wonder what a lighthearted, happy-go-lucky man like Slim would think of the darkness that dwelled inside her. What would he think when he found out that she hadn’t stepped foot on an airplane in nearly fifteen years and, if she had her way, never would again? There were a lot of things about her that would probably be a huge turnoff to a guy like Slim, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy this interlude with him while it lasted and then pick up her regular life already in progress after he left.