Release Day Review: Killer Classics (Book #5: A Book Barn Mystery) by Kym Roberts

39168407Charli takes great pride in running one of the few independent, family-owned bookstores in
small-town Texas. She vets everything carefully, with an eye to the eclectic tastes of the locals. That includes the Book Barn’s weekly book club selection. This time out it’s a mystery whose characters bear a striking resemblance to local citizens, including Charli’s friend Sugar . . . who’s the prime suspect when her real-life nemesis is found dead in a hotel’s water tank.
 
With help from her pet armadillo Princess, Charli campaigns to clear Sugar’s sweet name—literally—when the up-for-election mayor becomes a killer’s next target. Murder and politics make scandalous bedfellows as Charli discovers that fiction may be fatal, but reality could be just as deadly . . .

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Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

“They all knew I was responsible; who else could cause that much uproar in town?”

Truer words have never been spoken by Charli Rae Warren and in this installment of the Book Bark Mystery series, Charli Rae is up to her butt in trouble only she can cause. 

  1. There’s a new book and it bears a striking resemblance to Hazel Rock
  2. Said new book describes a grisly murder of one of the locals
  3. Said grisly murder occurs
  4. There’s a skunk incident
  5. There’s a book burning
  6. There are multiple arrests
  7. Charli Rae Warren is involved in all parts of the above list

One would think, based on her track record that Charli Rae is a professional trouble seeker.  While that is not the case, trouble always seems to find Charli Rae and once again, the trouble involves murder.  What’s more, the suspected killers are two of the kindest people in all of Hazel Rock, and with few exceptions, no one can believe they really committed the crime.  With only the right thing left to do, Charli Rae dives into the fray determined to clear her friends’ names.

Meanwhile . . . .

When not solving crimes and generally causing trouble, Charli Rae is determined to see her relationship with the super sexy sheriff move forward.  Mateo is the only man Charli Rae has eyes for, but the stubborn man doesn’t quite understand her feelings.  Adding to the confusion is the near-constant presence of Charli Rae’s ex, Mayor Cade Calloway.   While Cade may be interested in Charli Rae, he has bigger fish to fry, larger life concerns, and he isn’t the type to make a move on another man’s woman.  Trouble is, Cade needs Charli Rae’s help and he isn’t quite ready to reveal the why of it to the general public.  As you might expect, this sort of subterfuge causes issue for Charlie Rae and Mateo.  Because, she needs one more problem in her life 😊

Meanwhile . . . .

Simply because a grisly murder and man problems aren’t enough to deal with, Charli Rae also has a frisky armadillo on her hands.  Princess has always been a good girl, behaving herself, keeping herself clean, and providing loads of love and laughs for Charli Rae and her customers.  It seems, Princess has found herself a new boyfriend and most certainly isn’t an armadillo.  Though Charli Rae tries to convince Princess of the error of her ways, her feisty girl isn’t having any of it!  As far as Princess is concerned, everyone can either get good with her new man or get gone.  Ironically, because of her boyfriend’s identity most really do want to get gone 😊

The Bottom Line:  Killer Classics is chock a block full of all the things I have to come love in this series!  Charli Rae is once again up to her butt in trouble, Mateo is frequently found dismayed by Charli Rae and her antics, Princess is up to her brand of mischief making, there’s a murder to be solved, and the citizens of Hazel Rock whom I have come to know, and love make plenty of appearances.  I sincerely feel as if this series is getting stronger with each new book, as each character evolves, and the community becomes stronger after every trial and tribulation.  This series is such a great mix of mystery, light romance, humor, and friendship and it has kept me entertained from the very beginning.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes:Stranded for Christmas (Book #4: Holiday Acres Series) by Noelle Adams

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A snowstorm. Her much older business partner. One very hot night.  Laura Holiday doesn’t believe in romance. Her life revolves around her work and her six-year-old son. The last thing she wants is a fling with her friend and business partner, Russ Matheson, who is emotionally unavailable and thirteen years older than her. But one night in a snowstorm changes their relationship forever.

Excerpt from Stranded for Christmas (Book #4: Holiday Acres Series):

“The snow is getting bad,” Russ said, turning back to look out the window.

“Is it?” Laura looked pretty and flustered and breathless. Her shoulder-length brown hair was slipping out of her ponytail, and she must have gotten hot because she’d taken off her sweater. She was wearing a fitted white shirt that gave him a clear view of her slim body, including the luscious curve of her breasts.

Russ dragged his eyes back up to her face, but that didn’t really help because she looked flushed and tousled, like she might have just gotten out of bed.

His bed.

He gulped, remembering how she’d looked that morning in her pajamas.

He really needed to stop thinking such things.

Laura would be mad as hell if she found out.

“Russ?”

He blinked, trying to refocus on their conversation. “What?”

“I asked if it was really bad out there.”

“Oh yeah. Take a look. It looks like the parking lot is mostly empty, so the customers have obviously cleared out. The roads must be pretty bad. You probably should have picked Tommy up early.”

“Shit.” Laura came over to stand beside him so she could look out the window too. “Well, I better go get him now before it gets any worse.”

“You want me to drive you?”

She turned her gaze up at him, her brown eyes big and deep. “I’m capable of driving in the snow, you know.”

“I know you are. It was just an offer.”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll take the SUV.” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Olivia and Penny have to go out in this too. And I’ve got to stop by Candy Cane Cottage to assess the damage to the bathroom.”

“Surely that can wait.”

“We’ve got someone else renting it this weekend. I need to assess it so Ed has time to fix it tomorrow morning.”

Russ shook his head. “That driveway to Candy Cane Cottage is steep. You’re never going to get up it in this snow. And if you get up, you won’t be able to get down.”

“I’ll be fine. I told you I’m taking the SUV.”

“You’re putting a lot of faith in the powers of an SUV.”

“Oh shut up.” Her words weren’t sharp. Her expression was almost fond. “I can’t believe this snow. Why couldn’t it wait a few more hours?”

“The weather isn’t prone to following your timeline.” His voice was dry because she was still standing very close. He could smell the fresh scent of her hair. He wanted to tangle his fingers in it. He wanted to trace the freckles on her face and neck with his tongue.

“I don’t know why it shouldn’t follow my timeline. My timeline is a good one.” Her voice lilted slightly, and she leaned against the wall as she gazed up at him.

Russ took a step closer to her so he could smell her again. “I’ll let the weather know it needs to improve its performance to fall in line with your schedule.”

She took a shaky little breath, and her eyes dropped, causing her thick lashes to spread out against her freckled skin in a way that enchanted him. He edged a little closer, bracing one hand on the wall beside her.

He had her trapped against the wall now, and he’d completely forgotten the track of their conversation. His breathing had quickened, and his body had tightened, and his mind was buzzing with attraction. Need.

Something a lot deeper.

She wasn’t pushing him away. She wasn’t trying to cut the tension. She looked breathless. Excited.

Like maybe she wanted him to kiss her.

He wanted to kiss her more than he’d ever wanted to kiss anyone in his forty-five years. He’d assumed that was something she’d never want, but maybe…

Maybe…

He leaned forward a little more. He could hear her quick intake of breath. Her eyes darted up to his face and then down again.

“Russ,” she said, raising a hand to put on his chest the way she had that morning in the kitchen.

“Yes?” His voice was way too husky, but there was nothing he could do about that. She was so close. Almost within reach at last.

Her fingers fisted in the fabric of his shirt. “Russ.”

“Yes.” This time it wasn’t a question. It was the pure articulation of his heart.

She licked her lips, and the small gesture made his groin harden. “Russ, please don’t.”

He’d been leaning forward even more, but at that he grew very still. “Don’t what?”

“You know what.” She took another breath—different this time—and looked up to meet his eyes again. “Please don’t.”

“Laura, I’m not going to do anything you don’t want, but I think maybe you do want—”

“I don’t—” She broke in, dropping her hand from his shirt. “Please don’t.”

Russ sighed and took a purposeful step back, feeling like he’d been hit by a truck.

Laura gave him another quick look and then grabbed her purse and started for the door.

“Be careful,” Russ said as she left. “The roads are bad out there.”

“I’m always careful.”

Copyright © 2018 Noelle Adams

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About the author and where to find her:

Noelle Adams PhotoNoelle handwrote her first romance novel in a spiral-bound notebook when she was twelve, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. She has lived in eight different states and currently resides in Virginia, where she reads any book she can get her hands on and offers tribute to a very spoiled cocker spaniel.

She loves travel, art, history, and ice cream. After spending far too many years of her life in graduate school, she has decided to reorient her priorities and focus on writing contemporary romances.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Theirs Ever After (The Thalanian Dynasty) by Katee Robert

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Kateerobert_ebook (1)Sometimes happily ever after isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Theo Fitzcharles thought he’d put the worst behind him when he became King of Thalania and named his two lovers, Meg Sanders and Galen Mikos, as his Consorts. Unfortunately, the realities of running a country have worn on all of them, individually and as a triad. Theo has every intention of making things right, but first he has to deal with an old enemy who’s closer than anyone could have dreamed.

Meg Sanders never wanted to be a princess. Now that she’s one of two Consorts to the King of Thalania, she knows why—it’s work. Every time she turns around, she’s misstepping and struggling not to screw up the careful political maneuvering required for her new position. But her struggles with the new position are the least of her worries she’s attacked in the palace.

Theo, Galen, and Meg must race to identify her attacker and neutralize them before they can make another attempt to hurt her. There’s plenty of people who want Meg out of the palace—and at least one isn’t picky about whether she’s breathing or not when she goes.

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Excerpt from Theirs Ever After (The Thalanian Dynasty):

Meg knew what she should do. She should tell Theo that the best way to take care of her and Galen was to talk to them. But with the candlelight playing across Theo’s skin and his skillful hands working at the knots in her shoulders, she couldn’t work up the energy to fight with him. “I’m not happy with you.”

“I know.” He dug into a particularly tight knot, working it with his thumb. “What do you need from me tonight, princess?”

She let her eyes close, let him keep working his magic on her body. Six months into their relationship, and Meg knew that Theo would give her anything she asked for. If she wanted him and Galen to dress up like Vikings and roleplay one of her favorite scenes in a romance novel she was reading, he’d do it without question. He had done it without question last month. Theo might be fucking up on communication and overworked to the point where she barely saw him, but she never doubted for a second that he loved her and wanted her happy.

She slipped beneath the surface of the water. Free of his touch, clarity didn’t suddenly strike her like lightning. If there was an answer, she didn’t have it. Meg slowly stood and let herself drink in the way Theo watched her. As if she was some kind of Aphrodite rising out of the ocean instead of standing here in their tub. “I just want you tonight, Theo. None of the bullshit. Just you.”

He nodded and grabbed one of the ridiculously large towels they kept stocked in here. “Let me take care of you tonight,” he repeated.

Easy enough to read in between the lines of what he wanted. A reprieve in a long line of reprieves. Theo was trying to hold off the inevitable conversation all three of them had to have until he could iron out the mess Thalania had become in his absence. Or maybe the backbiting politics and squabbling seven Families had always been like this. Either way, Theo wanted time to get it handled.

She just wished he’d lean on her and Galen a little bit in the meantime.

Meg stepped out of the tub and let him wrap her in the towel. “Like I’m going to say no.”

Theo dried her gently, thoroughly, making quick work of it. He had a face built for candlelight, all sharp angles and a beauty that was damn near painful to witness. The passing time should have inoculated her to the sight of him, but then he would turn just so or look at her with those big blue eyes, and she’d forget to breathe.

“You could.”

She blinked. “What?”

“You could say no.”

Meg laughed. She couldn’t help it. “Theo, have you looked in the mirror lately?”

He glanced over, and she followed his gaze to the large mirror situated on the other side of the bath. They painted quite the picture, him large and towering over her, his shock of near-black hair several shades darker than hers, his big hands holding the towel against her skin. For once, he wasn’t wearing his usual clothing of suits that cost enough to give Meg hives. In the workout shorts, he looked… Not normal. Theo would never be anything as mundane as normal.

He looked touchable.

So that was exactly what she did. Meg ran her hands up his stomach to his chest and stepped to him. “I know I could say no. I’ve said no to you more times than I can count since we’ve met.” She cupped his strong jaw with her palm. “Theo, are you okay?”

“No.” He pulled her slowly, inexorably closer, until her breasts pressed against his bare chest. “Just… Let me take care of you tonight, princess.”

The rare vulnerability he let her see in that moment seduced her as thoroughly as his body ever had. She nodded. “Yes.”

Theo swept her off her feet and carried her out of the bathroom. Normally, she’d give him shit for such a caveman move, but Meg didn’t want to poke at him tonight. She was tired and heartsore, and both her men were obviously feeling the same. They couldn’t fix the mess waiting for them outside those doors, but they could strengthen their foundations tonight.

She just hoped it would be enough.

Galen waited for them on the bed, clothed in only his skin. Her heart skipped a beat. As much as Theo’s beauty seduced her, Galen’s raw sex appeal knocked her right in the stomach. His dusky skin was crisscrossed with lighter scars, a testament to the abuse his father had leveled at him as a child. His dark hair had grown longer, losing the military-like cut. She liked it. There was a lot to like about Galen.

He watched Theo carry her toward him with a predatory look that sent a bolt of desire through her. Only good things came from Galen getting that expression on his face.

Theo set her on the bed just out of reach and pressed a hand to her shoulder. “Don’t move.” He was only gone a moment, disappearing back into the bathroom and reappearing with a hairbrush. He took up a position against the headboard and urged her to sit between his legs with her back to him.

Theo began carefully combing her wet hair.

Meg closed her eyes and let the gentle tug of the brush soothe her. The fluffy towel and Theo’s proximity kept her cozy, but Galen’s attention pricked along her skin, a promise of things to come. On and on it went. Theo was never one to do things halfway, but he seemed to enjoy the slow slide of the brush through her drying hair as much as she did.

Finally, he set the brush aside and eased her back against his chest. Her hair was almost dry at this point, but Theo moved its soft weight off her neck and pressed a kiss to her throat. He pulled the towel away from her body and tossed it off the bed, leaving them skin to skin. It felt good to be wrapped up in him like this. Even better than his combing her hair.

The mattress dipped and Meg opened her eyes to find Galen had moved to a point just past their feet for a better view. He arched a dark eyebrow at her, but something soft and intimate marred the arrogance of the expression. He needed this reaffirming as much as she did.

For once, no one colored the air around them with filthy words and dirty talk. Theo stroked his hands over her body, the rough slide of his palms across her skin sending her nerves sparking in response. She writhed a little, but he wouldn’t be guided. He paid equal attention to her arms, her shoulders, her stomach and her hips, avoiding her breasts and pussy.

The damn tease.

Finally, a small eternity later, he cupped her breasts, giving them the same slow exploration delivered to the rest of her body. Meg couldn’t stop herself from arching up to press herself more firmly into his hands.

“Impatient,” he murmured against her skin.

“Can you blame her?” Galen’s rough tone made Meg shiver. He reached down and palmed his own cock. “She’s shaking with need.”

Meg grabbed Theo’s hand. She spread her legs wide, hooking them on either side of Theo’s, making sure to give Galen a good show. “Take care of me, baby.” She pressed his hand to her pussy. “You promised.”

“I did, didn’t I?” Theo cupped her there roughly, possessively, the touch lighting a spark beneath Meg’s skin. He pushed a single finger into her, still teasing, not offering nearly enough of what she craved. His voice curled around her, just as intimate as their current position. “I’m feeling generous tonight, princess, so I’ll let you choose how we give it to you.

Copyright © 2018 Katee Robert

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About the author and where to find her:

KateeRobertNew York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Katee Robert learned to tell her stories at her grandpa’s knee. Her 2015 title, The Marriage Contract, was a RITA finalist, and RT Book Reviews named it ‘a compulsively readable book with just the right amount of suspense and tension.”  When not writing sexy contemporary and romantic suspense, she spends her time playing imaginary games with her children, driving her husband batty with what-if questions, and planning for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

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Review: Trouble Brewing by Suzanne Baltsar

38507852Piper Williams is used to being the only woman in a room full of men, but she isn’t used to being instantly drawn to someone she’s in business with.

After working long hours brewing in her garage, Piper is determined to prove herself—and to ignore the chemistry she has with Blake Reed, owner of Minnesota’s newest gastropub who is going to stock four of her brews. She wants her craft beer to stand on its own merits and knows that the tight-knit male-dominated brewer community will assume the worst if she starts anything with one of her vendors. No way she’ll risk everything she’s invested in her budding business on a guy who might not stick—no matter how charmingly handsome and funny he is, right?

And Blake has a conflict of his own—his haughty family wants him to ditch the gastropub and support his father’s political campaign. Well, that, and the fact that he knows Piper’s snark and sass is the perfect blend of crisp and refreshing for him. So Blake and Piper make a pact: she’ll go out with him if, and only if, two additional pubs start carrying her beer. Sticking to the pact proves harder than either of them expected—especially since the attraction is off the charts between quirky, independent Piper and smart, charming Blake.

Then Piper gets a once-in-a-lifetime offer that could launch her company to the next level—and take her away from Blake. Are she and Blake just drunk in love, or do they have something real that’s worth risking her dreams for?

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Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

One of my very favorite settings in all of bookdom is the pub/brewery/bar setting.  I have always found the setting to one that is ripe for mischief, merriment, and so much romance.  I got all of that and more in Suzanne Baltsar’s Trouble Brewing.

Piper Williams is living and working in a man’s world and she is reminded of that fact on a regular basis.  As a brewer, a female brewer, Piper’s road isn’t easy, but she is good at her job and determined to have her beer in every bar and pub in the area.  As luck would have it, Piper meets Blake Reed, the owner of the Public, Minnesota’s newest gastropub and he wants to stock his bar with Piper’s beer.  While Piper is thrilled her beer is finally going public, she’s afraid the other brewers in the close-knit community will see her success as a result of her looks and not her skills.  As if to confirm her suspicions, Piper’s old boss pulls aside after seeing her with Blake to warn her of the impression she’s leaving on the brewing community.

Blake Reed is the black sheep in his family.  He left his father’s law firm, he has no designs on running for political office, and he certainly isn’t a bigot.  What he is, is the proud owner of the Public, a shrewd businessman, and a big fan of Piper Williams and her craft beer.  In short order, Blake falls under the spell that is Piper Williams and all he wants, beyond their shared success is to be with Piper. Unfortunately, there are hurdles and obstacles to overcome in order to make that happen. 

Like Blake, Piper is smitten, but she lives in fear of being outed as Blake’s girlfriend.  Even a hint of scandal, in Piper’s mind, is enough to ruin her career, but Blake seems to be worth the risk.  To be fair, many of their dates occur at the Public, and as the name implies, they’re surrounded by a crowd and often able to hide their romance.  It isn’t until Blake takes Piper home to meet his parents that everything goes to hell in a hand basket, some nasty truths come to light, and Piper is forced to make the biggest decision of her life.

The Bottom Line:  Quite frankly, I don’t completely understand the below four stars rating this book has on Goodreads.  I found Trouble Brewing to be a fun read with just the right level of drama, just the right level of romance/heat, and just the right level shenanigans.  Blake and Piper are both easily likeable characters, the setting is one of my favorites, and the plot is sufficiently interesting and engaging.  I quite enjoyed this read and found myself hoping there will be at least two more books to come.  Piper and Blake have friends with their own stories to tell, and I, for one, would be most excited to read those stories.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Leather and Lies: by Celeste Straub

 photo 2LeatherandLiesEbookCoverUse_zpsodzcpohl.jpgFor twenty-four-year-old Skye Winters, criminal profiling is the perfect career: helping solve cases without all the emotional baggage. When her cousin, Kortney, becomes the latest in a string of young women to vanish, Skye’s professional and personal lives collide. Cue the nuclear mushroom cloud.

Amid the fallout, Skye meets Wes Carson, the mysterious and smart-mouthed new biker in her father’s motorcycle club. She tries to ignore their chemistry, even after accepting Wes’ aid in the search for Kort. Then one spontaneous afternoon takes them over the edge, forcing Skye to consider she might be in love. Too bad it’s with a liar.

Unraveling Wes’ lies leaves Skye ensnared in an FBI investigation, making her question her profiling skills and her heart. With Wes in danger, her affection overrules her caution with disastrous results. Will Skye survive to solve the case, save Kort, and still salvage a relationship with Wes?

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Excerpt from Leather and Lies:

I dart through the clubhouse, breaths quickening with each step. Back in the house, I take the stairs two at a time. Racing into my bedroom, I dig out a pair of well-worn jeans, slip into them, and transfer my cell phone into a pocket. I pull on socks, then root around in the bottom of my closet for my hiking boots and lace them up. They are the closest thing I own to motorcycle boots. With one foot out the door, I pause, considering one additional accessory.

You think he’s hiding something. Better to be safe than sorry. Especially given Kort and the other missing women.

Reaching between my bed and nightstand, my fingers sweep across the four access keys of my gun vault as if I’m playing a piano piece. As the last button in the combination depresses, the side of the safe pops open. Grabbing my compact Walther PPS handgun, I drop the single stack mag, checking it for bullets before jamming it back in and racking the slide. I locate my inside-the-waist holster in my sock drawer and slide it just behind my right hip, securing it with a belt. The gun slips in and once my loose tank top gets pulled down, the weapon barely prints.

Digging my wallet out of my purse, I slide my driver’s license and concealed carry permit into my back pocket. Leaving my bedroom, I clomp back to the clubhouse, grabbing my mother’s leather jacket and helmet off two pegs on the wall next to the French doors.

About the author and where to find her:

 photo cropped bio pic_zpsz1waf856.jpgCeleste Straub is a hopeless romantic who enjoys plotting the slightly sadistic journeys her characters go on before they finally reach their happily-ever-after. She enjoys a quiet country life in northeastern Pennsylvania, residing on a piece of the old family farm with her husband, son, and two cats. Writing as a hobby since childhood, Celeste spends her days as the grant writer and operations director for a local non-pro3t agency focusing on public health issues. When she’s not penning steamy romance scenes in her spare time, her interests include traveling, visiting amusement parks, collecting baseballs, hiking, and reading.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: This Happened to Jessica (Book #2: Secrets of Redemption Series) by Michele Pariza Wacek

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this-happened-to-jessica-R2Becca would like nothing better than to put the past behind her and focus on making Redemption her home. But what do you do when the past refuses to stay buried?

Becca still can’t remember the night sixteen-year-old Jessica disappeared from a party, never to be seen again. Which is bad enough (especially since she was supposedly the last person to see Jessica alive), but it’s not the worst …

Strange events are making Becca think there’s a link between what happened to Jessica fifteen years ago and the darkness happening now.

With help from her friends and her teenage crush, Daniel, Becca races against time to uncover the truth about Jessica before another sixteen-year-old girl is doomed to the same fate as Jessica.

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Excerpt from This Happened to Jessica (Book #2: Secrets of Redemption Series):

Celia was looking around the table with a bewildered expression on her face. “I don’t understand. Why does it matter if Jessica is related to Brittany?”

“Because Brittany looks like Jessica,” Mia said.

Everyone fell silent. A woman next to us burst into hysterical, high-pitched laughter. Another table over, a group of college-aged guys started chanting as one of their friends, wearing a Wisconsin Badger cap, guzzled a pitcher of beer. Glasses clanked as they were plunked onto tables.

“Not this again,” Celia breathed out, picking up her Cosmo and draining it.

“What do you mean, ‘not this again?’” Mia asked, her voice quiet, but with a dangerous edge.

Barry put a hand on Celia’s arm. “Nothing. She means nothing.” He glared at his wife. Celia kept her mouth shut, but her sour expression spoke volumes.

“Barry, let her talk,” Mia said. “What do you mean, ‘not this again?'”

“You know what I mean,” Celia said. “It’s been fifteen years. It’s time to let it go.”

“Let it go?” Mia said, her voice sounding even more quiet and dangerous. “Let it go? Our friend disappeared! And we don’t know what happened to her!”

“First off, I’m sure Jessica left on her own. Her stuff was gone …”

“But, it wasn’t the right …” Mia tried to interrupt, but Celia kept going. “And even if something did happen, she’s gone. Gone!” Celia leaned forward. “I know this is difficult for you to hear, but you’re not going to heal unless you, all of you …” here she looked around the table, “… accept it. She’s gone. She’s been gone for fifteen years. She’s not coming back. And no amount of rehashing or talking about it is going to change that.”

“She was our friend,” Mia said. “Don’t you get that? How heartless can you be?”

“I know she was your friend and I know this is painful to hear. No, Barry, stop it. Let me talk. This isn’t healthy. It’s not healthy to live in the past and that’s precisely what everyone here is doing. Someone has to speak the truth and I guess that has to be me. I didn’t know Jessica, but I very much doubt she would want all of you still obsessing over what happened to her fifteen years later. Besides, this has all gotten worse since she,” she nodded toward me, “came back. We don’t need to keep living in the past. Jessica is gone.”

“I agree,” Rich said, his deep voice cutting across the table. His voice was quiet, but there was something about it that caused everyone to pay attention. Maybe it was because he so seldom talked that when he finally did, it was really noticed. “If we’re not going to be honest about what happened that night, then it makes no sense to keep talking about it.”

“What aren’t we being honest about?” Mia asked.

Rich stared at me, his dark eyes glittering. “If we’re honest, we know exactly who to blame for that night.”

Did he mean me? I stared at Rich, dumbfounded. “What do you mean?”

His gaze didn’t flinch. “You know exactly what I mean.”

You were the last person to see Jessica alive. Daniel had told me that. And Daphne. But, he couldn’t possibly mean I had anything to do with Jessica’s disappearance. Could he?

Copyright © 2018 Michele Pariza Wacek

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About the author and where to find her:

authorMPWMichele Pariza Wacek (also known as Michele PW) taught herself to read at three years old because she so badly wanted to write fiction. As an adult, she became a professional copywriter (copywriters write promotional materials for businesses, nothing to do with protecting intellectual property or putting a copyright on something) and eventually founded a copywriting and marketing company. She grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and currently lives with her husband and dogs in the mountains of Arizona. You can reach her at MicheleParizaWacek.com. She’s published two novels, “The Stolen Twin” and “Mirror Image,” both psychological thrillers/mystery/suspense books.

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Release Day Review: The Rancher (Book #6: Morgan Ranch Series) by Kate Pearce

39220192Now that she’s completed her engineering degree, Rachel Ford Morgan is trying to find her footing around her birth father and her four brothers. She gets a chance to prove herself when she discovers worrisome fault lines around an abandoned silver mine. But they’re nothing compared to the cowboy who seems determined to shake up her world . . .
 Cauy Lymond doesn’t take kindly to the woman nosing around his property—especially since she’s a Morgan. He came home just to keep his father’s failing ranch out of their super-wealthy hands. But he soon realizes that Rachel’s skill—and admirable courage—may be the only things that can shore up the old mine that threatens both their futures. Still, it will take pouring all of their blood, sweat, and secrets into saving the land—and ultimately, themselves—to bring their true feelings for each other to the surface . . .

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

Rachel Morgan is a Morgan and with that comes a hefty family with a huge history and a bright future.  Trouble is, Rachel didn’t grow up with the hefty family and the huge history.  Rachel spent her first two decades with a cold and rather distant mother who made it perfectly clear she wasn’t much interested in being a mother.  Coming home to the Morgan Ranch is a bit like being a duck out of water, but with her stepdad remarrying and selling the home she grew up in, Rachel doesn’t have a lot of choices remaining.

Though Rachel enjoys life at Morgan Ranch, she doesn’t always feel like she quite belongs.  With an extended break and time to really get to know her family, Rachel is hoping she’ll finally feel like a real Morgan.  If her brothers, father, and grandmother have any say in the matter, Rachel is going so much a Morgan she’ll never want to leave. Nothing makes a Morgan feel more at home than having chores to do around the ranch so Rachel dives right in with an examination of the old mine.  Just as she’s beginning her examination, Rachel has a run in with the most disagreeable Cauy Lymond.

Cauy Lymond grew up with two certainties, his father didn’t like him, and the Morgan’s were not to be trusted or tolerated.  Upon his father’s death, Cauy was shocked to learn his father left him the family ranch.  After 15+ years away, Cauy returns to the ranch to find two certainties, the ranch is a mess and his father may have been wrong about the Morgans.  Within a day of his arrival, Cauy meets damn-near the entire Morgan clan and all come bearing gifts and/or proposals.  The proposals are going to need some consideration, being pleasant to the Morgans is going to take some thinking on, and lusting after Rachel is going to have to come to a quick halt. 

As it happens, Rachel and Cauy have more in common than either realize, but that makes for some uncomfortable situations, some incredible miscommunications, and some steamy hot moments.  Both are trying to find their place in the world, within their own heads, and with one another.  The feeling out process isn’t easy, and the prospect of the future is a terrifying proposition for both.  Each has so much baggage and so many issues to work through and they can’t seem to get past all the noise until fate intervenes and puts them into a position that brings everything into sharp, clear focus.  Some HEAs are harder to get to than others and when there’s a Morgan involved, there’s also going to be a high level of stubbornness. 

The Bottom Line:  It’s finally happened, the last of the Morgan siblings has a mate and what a ride is this story!  Rachel may be young, but she has a ton of emotional baggage.  Cauy is a bit older with more life experience, but some of that experience has physically and emotionally scarred him.  What I loved most about this book is Cauy and his bumbles and stumbles.  He may be older and have more experience, but his personal demons are big and bad and that made his story so much more interesting and satisfying for me.  Finally, there is a great deal of history and backstory dealt with in this book and loads of appearances by all the Morgan family and their significant others.  I always worry about the freshness of a series when it continues on, but Pearce has done a wonderful job of blending the old with the new and keeping the Morgan Ranch series fresh and exciting.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Game All Night (Book #3: Gamer Boy Series) by Lauren Helms

GAN_Badge

GANamzA game between friends… 

RUBY: Just friends.  That’s all we are, All we ever were.  But when I finally let myself go, Let myself really feel, The only thing I want is him.  Despite how opinionated, frustrating, and charming he is, We’re only friends.  He’s my player number two.  But lately, we’re powering up, Trying for more, And playing this game just might destroy us for good.

LINK: She deserves better, Better than the game-less douche who gets to have her.   She’s strong, feisty, and so damn smart.  Too smart–if you ask me.  And now, I’m amped up for more, Ready to play this game, With no “game over” in sight. 

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Excerpt from Game All Night (Book #3: Gamer Boy Series):

“You ready to meet my people?” I ask.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” he shrugs.

Yay, he seems really into this. Wonderful.

I grab his hand and lead him to the back room. When we enter, I notice that the table I just vacated is deep in conversation. As we walk to the table, I can’t shake the feeling of being watched. But no one at the table even notices us yet. As we approach, I hear them talking about the publishing house courting Dex about a book deal.

“Hey guys.” I get their attention. Morgan and Gia have big smiles on their faces. Dex and Simon on the other hand are assessing the newcomer.

“This is Mason,” I go around the table and introduce him. Before I’m done with introductions, Bernie pops in between the guys and introduces herself too.

“So, you’re the sports guy,” Dex says, assessing.

Mason laughs it off, “I am. You’re one of the video gamers, I take it?”

“Sure am.” Dex still doesn’t ease his slightly scrutinizing demeanor. They make small talk for a bit. The girls trying to lead the conversation away from the tension the guys are throwing out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered. I suspect this is exactly how my own brother would act right now. But while they are just meeting him, Mason and I aren’t new. I’ve been dating him for a while. It’s not like I don’t know him.

Simon excuses himself to get some refills for the table and as soon as they return, Link appears at the table. He doesn’t sit though, he stands. I could swear he’s puffing out his chest.

“I’m Link. You are?” he shoves his hand out for a shake.

Mason slowly takes a drink before making eye contact with him, making Link wait as he lowers his cup to the table, and grasp his hand.

“Mason. Ruby’s boyfriend.”

Link brings his other hand around and slaps Mason’s back, “Ah. Well it’s great to finally meet ya, Mace. I’ve heard almost nothing about you!” They drop each other’s hand at the same time I hear someone beside me snort.

“It’s Mason,” he corrects.

Link just blows him off, pulls over a stool and starts talking his ear off. I mean, I guess this could have gone worse. Amber, who I didn’t notice before, sits next to Link looking bored out of her mind. Dex and Morgan excused themselves to go chat with their parents. And it seems like the rest of the table are enjoying talking to Mason.

“So, do you plan on working for ESPN or SportsCenter some day? Like, is your gig with WTSL just a stepping stone or are happy where you are?” Bernie asks. She’s adept at keeping the conversation going. She’s also got mad interviewing skills.

Mason snaps out a laugh, he looks a bit annoyed with the line of questioning. Which baffles me since he usually loves talking about himself.

“Well, I have what you call a career. A real job. So yes, I have long-term goals,” he replies.

“Excuse me?” Link and Simon say in unison.

“Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you just play video games all day?” he asks.

“Among other things, yes. But I get paid probably three times more doing what I do than you could even imagine. It’s a real fucking job,” Link bites out and damn, he sounds pissed. I’ve never heard him so angry before.

He laughs. Mason actually has the audacity to laugh right in their faces.

I gulp. I’m afraid to look at anyone but Mason right now. It’s clear that our nice, “getting to know the new boyfriend time” is over.

“Right,” he drags out the word. “Well, I guess we will just have to agree to disagree then.”

Link growls and I risk a glance his way. But, I’m not prepared for what I see. He’s not staring down Mason with fire coming out of his ears, ready to attack. No. My throat catches at the sight before me.

I’m absolutely embarrassed. You know when you’re a kid and you do something bad, and instead of your parents saying they are upset with you, they tell you they are disappointed? It makes it so much worse. That’s how I feel right now.

He’s looking at me with disappointment in his eyes. He holds my attention and I start to say something, to try and fix where this conversation just went. But I stop. He gives a quick jerk of his head. He clears his throat and pushes off of the stool.

“Well, I think that’s our cue to leave. See ya around, Mace.” Link looks to his left to where Amber is collecting her phone and purse. Somehow she still manages to look bored. He motions a quick goodbye to the entire table, avoiding my gaze entirely. Then he walks away.

You could cut the tension with a knife when Simon stands and turns on his heel. He stalks towards the table where Morgan and Dex are sitting. Gia shoots me a pleading look as she follows him. Bernie sits stock-still, worry sketched on her face.

I start to speak, but Mason beats me to it.

“Well, that went well. They all seem alright, but I’m not sure I like the cocky asshole.”

Copyright © 2018 Lauren Helms

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About the author and where to find her:

lhAuthor Lauren Helms has been an avid reader from a young age. After starting a book review site, that launched her fully into the book world, she decided to take the plunge and write her first novel. Since she was working for a video game strategy guide publisher at the time, she decided to mix what she knew best, video games and romance. Jumping all in, she joined NaNoWrimo and a month later had a 50K word first draft. Lauren lives in Indianapolis, IN with her video game playing husband, two little girl book nerds, and a little boy who will hopefully be a gamer boy too some day!

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SWEEPSTAKES

Barclay

Excerpt: Soul Remains by Sam Hooker

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Humorous Fantasy
Date Published: April 23, 2019
It’s Dark in the Old Country.
Where do goblins come from? Why do they only turn up in the Old Country, and why do they like swearing so much? In the second book of Terribly Serious Darkness, Sloot Peril—a “hero” who’s staunchly averse to heroics—goes looking for answers. Much to his chagrin, he finds them.
Everything changed after the Fall of Salzstadt, but try telling that to the people of the city, whose capacity for denial is unmatched. They have yet to acknowledge that Vlad the Invader cut a bloody swath through their city, that the dead are walking the streets, or that the Domnitor—long may he reign—has fled to wherever despots go on very long vacations while goblin infestations take care of themselves.
The worst of villains holds all of the power, unspeakable dark forces are on the rise, and everyone wants to kidnap the Domnitor—long may he reign—for their own nefarious ends. If all of that weren’t bad enough, Sloot’s got the fate of his own soul to worry about.
Can his girlfriend help him save the Old Country from annihilation? Is Myrtle really his girlfriend? If all goes well for Sloot—which it never does—he might just sort it all out before the Dark swallows them all up.
About the author and where to find him:

 photo author-photo-sam-hooker_zpsg6opc75h.jpgSam Hooker writes darkly humorous fantasy. He is an entirely serious person, regardless of what you may have heard. Originally from Texas, he now resides in southern California with his wife, son, and dog.

 

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Excerpt: Fraud at Snowfields by Daniel Klock

 photo Fraud at Snowfields_zps6tv5iiin.jpgOnly a short time after a strange nightmare about Bluerorcs (what the heck are they?) Will again feels like he is caught in a dream—but this time the best dream he has ever had. For Mr Chevalier visits him at his parents’ house to invite him to join the White Christmas Organisation—the secret organisation that handles the production and delivery of the Christmas presents and that is headed by Father Christmas himself. Will had always been a firm believer in the magic of Christmas and now he is on his way to be part of it all as he begins his job training at Snowfields. And—while traveling with the amazing cloud-based delivery system—he has no idea what other wonders he is going to see or what he is getting himself into…

For just as he is having the time of his life with his new friends at his new school with amazing subjects as well as hard hands-on training, he is caught up in the biggest conspiracy Snowfields has seen in decades.

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Praise for Fraud at Snowfields:

“The excitement and magic seem to just jump off the pages as you are reading. This is one book that will become a tradition at my home at Christmas!” (Reviewer on Amazon)
 
 
“Daniel Klock has created a holiday classic, sure to be passed down from one generation to another.” (Reviewer on Amazon)

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree: This tells a reader that this book is well worth their time and money!

Finalist “The Wishing Shelf Book Awards”

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Excerpt from Fraud at Snowfields:

They hurried on towards the lawn at the back of the school, their red Christmas robes flowing behind them. On the platform just outside, they stumbled to a sudden halt. And stared. The lawn was full of sleighs. All of them were brightly and festively decorated with red ribbons, ties, golden and silver bells, and fir garlands. Four proud reindeer were hitched in front of each sleigh. They were also outfitted most festively with shiny, brown tack with silver bells and red ribbons. Even their antlers were polished and almost gleaming with an inner light.
Students and teachers scurried across the lawn, loading sleighs and getting ready to leave. Will and Annabel watched, spellbound, as a sleigh took off just a few feet away from them.
‘Can you see Contractus anywhere?’ Annabel asked after the sleigh had gone.
‘Hmm.’ Will scanned the area. ‘No, there’s too much bustle out there.’
‘What now?’
‘Well, Miss Dustfall said to wait by the sleigh. Contractus will find us there.’
‘Yes, he will indeed,’ said a deep voice right behind them, making them jump.
‘Hello, Annabel. Hi Will,’ said Contractus as they turned around. ‘Sorry I’m late, but I had to pick up our flight plan on the way here, and there were quite a few others there who wanted the same. However, I’m here now, and’—he rubbed his hands together—‘I’m happy that I have the pleasure of working with you two today.’ He grinned. ‘I have to admit that even I, even after all these years I’ve been here, get excited on Christmas Eve. After all, this is what we work for all year long! So let’s get started. We’ve been allocated one of the toughest areas. There’ll be loads of work waiting for us already. Follow me!’
And he led them onto the lawn, finding his way around the parked sleighs and through the chaos of students and teachers hurrying everywhere. Will and Annabel hurried after him, trying not to bump into other people. Contractus led them to one of the beautifully-decorated sleighs. He helped them up onto the rear seat and then jumped up onto the driver’s seat. He shook the reins, and the reindeer took a few quick steps forwards. Will and Annabel gripped the railings beside their seat tightly. Then the sleigh smoothly lifted off the ground. It quickly gained height, and Contractus flew a wide circle, passing over the school and then over the village of Snowfields. The sleigh glided through the air easily, so Will loosened his grip on the railing. But then he had expected that Contractus would be a good pilot.
He looked over the side of the sleigh and saw the school and the village getting tinier and tinier as they spiralled upwards. Suddenly Will felt a jolt, and an urgent-maintenance sleigh from Cloudy’s overtook them at high speed. It went by so closely their sleigh was hit by the slipstream.
‘Oi,’ Contractus shouted after it. ‘Watch it!’
But it was already far ahead of them, heading as fast as it could to wherever the problem was.
Rising higher and higher, he guided the sleigh in a helix so they were soon as high as the mountains surrounding the village. Above the mountains was a huge circle of clouds. Contractus flew the sleigh along the face of the clouds until they reached a wide tunnel that led through them. It did not take long to fly through, and they passed two other sleighs that were flying back towards Snowfields. The other drivers waved at them cheerfully. Soon they had cleared the tunnel, and Will could see the snow-covered countryside far below.
‘Where are we going?’ he asked.
‘In front of you is a small screen, the grey rectangle. If you tap on it, you’ll see a map,’ replied Contractus.
Will looked in front of him, at the back of Contractus’s seat. There was a grey, smooth, and rectangular surface there. When he tapped a finger on it, it lit up, and he saw a map just like on a tablet computer. The map showed a part of the country. He could see lakes, rivers, hills, villages, and towns. Part of it was enclosed by a red line.
‘Can you see it?’ asked Contractus, looking back over his shoulder.
‘Yes, I can see it. The area inside the red border is ours?’
‘That’s right.’
‘It looks rather small,’ said Will dubiously.
Contractus laughed. ‘Remember what I’ve told you before! That sector is the worst, for there are so many areas in there where Cloudy’s coverage is just terrible. We’ll have enough to do for sure. Well, hold on, it will take us a while to reach the sector!’
They flew high above the snow-covered countryside. Will enjoyed the flight greatly, taking in all the sights. He enjoyed the cool air on his face and, he realised with a start, also the company of Annabel sitting so close beside him. He sneaked a stealthy look at her from time to time, and—to his relief—she also seemed to enjoy being close to him, though he turned slightly red at this thought. He decided he’d better concentrate on the countryside again.
Finally Will felt that they were losing altitude. Suddenly there was a chime, and the screen in front of him lit up. In the corner of the map, a small, red square had appeared and was flashing.
‘Oh, great,’ said Contractus, who had heard the chime as well. ‘The first call, and we’re not even there yet. Will, if you’d please have a look at the message?’
‘Sure. Er, how do I look at it?’
‘Just press on the red square, and the message will pop up.’
‘Okay.’
Will pressed a finger onto the red square in the corner of the screen. Promptly a window opened on top of the map.
‘It says here: “Job 01, Area F8, Code blue-3. Please confirm.” That’s all,’ Will told Contractus. Annabel had been reading the message as well and nodded.
‘Okay,’ replied Contractus. ‘I assume you recall what a “blue-3” is?’
‘Sure,’ said Annabel. ‘A failed delivery, but quite near the target, in a perimeter of five to ten yards around it.’
Will nodded as he recalled the lectures that had so bored him in the autumn, but now he could see how important they had been.
‘Good!’ replied Contractus. ‘That’s correct. A blue-3 should mean little trouble for us, as it’s so close to the target. So let’s go there. If you’d please confirm the job, Will? Just press the confirmation button.’
Will pressed the button marked ‘confirmation’. The window closed, and a red, flashing dot appeared on the map. On the side of the screen, a small window opened in which Will could still see the job description.
‘You should now see a flashing dot on the screen. That’s our goal,’ said Contractus.
‘Yes, we can see it,’ replied Will.
‘Okay, then let’s go,’ said Contractus, and steered the sleigh into a tight turn to the left. ‘I guess it’ll take us ten minutes to get there,’ he told Will and Annabel after a glance at his own screen.
They flew on over the snow-covered landscape. Will could see them nearing their goal as the blue dot on the screen, representing their sleigh, was getting close to the red flashing dot. Contractus angled the sleigh gently downwards. He turned slightly round to Will and Annabel.
‘Okay, you two. I’ll activate full screens and security measures for now, as it’s still broad daylight and there’s no sense in letting Father Christmas appear at this time of the day. His domain is the night. So the two of you will also need full coverage.’
‘Sure,’ replied Annabel, and pulled out her wand. She turned to Will. ‘Do you want me to cover you?’
Will grinned. ‘Please. You’re much better at this than I am.’
Annabel grinned too. ‘Oooh, you finally recognise that, do you?’
She pointed her wand at Will and performed the complicated pattern of the cover spell. She looked at Will critically, then nodded to herself in satisfaction. She pointed the wand at herself and repeated the spell. Then she frowned.
‘You know, it always seems harder to spell yourself than to spell others. Somehow it’s easier to make the movements with the wand when you’re pointing it at somebody else. It’s rather different, like the wrong way round, or like doing it in front of a mirror, when you have to point it at yourself.’
Will saw Contractus nod absently to himself as Annabel said this, as he was concentrating on lowering the sleigh and reducing the speed. Then Will saw Contractus take out his own wand, point it at the sleigh and the reindeer, and perform the necessary spells to hide them all from visibility or other forms of detection. Even any sounds they might have made would be covered from ordinary people—ordinary like Will had been not even a year earlier, he reflected wistfully. But only for a moment. Then he looked back at the screen and saw that they had nearly reached their destination, for the red and blue dots were almost overlapping. Contractus flew lower and lower until they were just above the houses. Finally he circled above a certain house, and Will saw on the display that they had reached their goal.
‘Can you see—’ began Contractus, but just then Annabel called: ‘There! Over there, next to the tree.’ And she pointed to a jumbled heap lying in the snow beside a large beech tree.
Contractus looked where Annabel was pointing, then he nodded and grinned.
‘Right you are. That mess looks like the misplaced items.’
He turned the sleigh round and headed straight towards the untidy mound. As they got closer, Will could see it was indeed a pile of presents wrapped in bright and colourful wrapping paper. Contractus stopped the sleigh right beside them.
‘Now, I know you’ve trained for this thoroughly, but this is your first time in the field, so I’ll do this the first time and you can watch once more how the situation is handled.’ He grinned. ‘Don’t worry, the next job will be yours. Just stay on the sleigh for now.’
He jumped off and went to the pile of presents. He looked at them critically. Will could see that some snow had already settled onto them. Contractus took out his wand and pointed it at the packages. When he performed the spell, the snow vanished, revealing undisturbed parcels that looked as if they had just left the stores at Snowfields. Contractus looked pleased. Then he began to walk around them while holding his wand close to the ground, pointing straight downwards, drawing a fine line of Bluerin in the snow and completing the circle when he reached the starting point. He looked over to Annabel and Will, to make sure they were watching him. Then he turned back to the presents, raised his wand and pointed it straight at them. He swung his wand in the complicated pattern of the final transfer spell—the spell which Will remembered all too well from the summer, as it had taken him ages to learn it. The pile started to glow, then it shimmered and seemed to shrink, and then it was gone. Contractus swung his wand a last time at the impression left in the snow. And where just a moment earlier a huge pile of presents had been lying, there now was just an unbroken and untouched layer of snow that looked exactly like the snow around it—just as if there had never been anything lying there at all.
Annabel nudged Will, grinned mischievously, and started to clap her hands. Will suppressed a laugh and joined her. Contractus looked at them in surprise, but only for a second; then he recovered and ripped off a gracious, majestic bow, twirling his wand through the air like a cowboy would do with his colt. Annabel and Will laughed. Contractus grinned, walked back to the sleigh, and climbed onto his seat again.
‘Okay then, that was one of the easy ones! You’ll do the next one. Are there any new assignments yet, Will?’
Will looked quickly at the display, feeling slightly guilty that he had not checked already, but then he thought that Contractus had told them to watch him closely—and not the screen. But there was no new red square waiting.
‘No, Mr Contractus, there isn’t one yet.’
‘Okay. We still have to confirm the completion of the first job. You can still see it in the window at the side of the screen, right?’
‘Yes.’
‘Just tap on that window.’
‘I’ve done that.’
‘Now the window is larger again, and in the centre of the screen.’
‘Yes.’
‘Good. To confirm that the job is done, just tap on the button “job done”.’
Will pressed the button. The window with the job description turned from red to blue, and a ‘done’ mark appeared in front of the description, together with the current time.
‘Now you can close that window. Press on the small red circle in the top right corner.’
Will did just that. The blue window vanished.
‘Okay,’ Contractus said, and shook the reins. The reindeer started into a trot, and soon the sleigh lifted from the ground. Contractus guided them upwards again.
‘We’ll go back a way, more into the centre of our area, so we can respond more quickly to the next call,’ he said back over his shoulder to Will and Annabel.
They had only been in the air for a minute or two when Will heard the chime again. He immediately looked back at the screen. Once again a small, flashing red square had appeared in the corner of the map. Will pressed his finger onto it, and the description window opened up.
‘What does it say, Will?’ asked Contractus from his front seat.
‘It says “Job 02, Area A3, Code green-1. Please confirm”,’ Will replied.
‘Ah, it would have been too easy if it were nearby, now wouldn’t it,’ Contractus mumbled, more to himself than to Will and Annabel. ‘Go ahead then and confirm it, Will.’
‘Done, sir.’
Contractus shook the reins once more, and the reindeer made a wide curve towards the north-west. Will followed their course on the screen, where the blue dot represented their current position and the red one showed their goal.
‘What kind of job is this?’ asked Contractus. ‘I’m sure you can tell me, Annabel.’
While Will was trying to remember, Annabel answered seemingly without having to think about it at all. ‘A green-1 is a minor misplacement in the correct room, for example the presents might be in the corner opposite the tree.’
‘Right you are, well done!’
They passed over the snow-covered houses, dazzling in the bright sunlight. Will traced their path on the screen, trying to get a feel for the distances. He thought the area to which they had been assigned was in fact rather large, especially as Contractus had said this was one of the areas with the most work. But then he did not really mind, for this was what he had worked for all year long. He grinned.
‘What are you grinning about?’ asked Annabel, looking sideways at him.
‘Oh, I’m just enjoying this—the fact that we’re finally helping with the delivery of the presents. Aren’t you?’ he asked back.
‘Sure. But remember,’ she added, ‘we’ll have to deal with this one on our own.’
‘Well,’ replied Will, ‘that’s what we have been training for, isn’t it? And’—he grinned mischievously—‘I’m sure you’ll manage it perfectly!’
‘Oh now, none of that! We’ll do this together!’ Annabel replied firmly.
‘Sure.’ Will grinned. ‘You’ll do, and I’ll make sure you’re doing it right.’
Annabel poked him in the ribs—hard.
‘Ooof! That was a joke,’ Will said.
‘It better have been!’ snapped Annabel, but she grinned all the same.
Contractus finally guided the sleigh towards the ground. He took out his wand and spelled the sleigh, the reindeer and himself again, making them invisible. Annabel followed his lead and pointed her wand at Will and then at herself, hiding them both. Contractus took the sleigh farther down and constantly corrected its course as directed by the map on the screen in front of him. Finally he reached the front of the house that was their goal. The sleigh touched down on the snow-covered lawn with hardly a bump, and came to a halt.
Contractus turned around to Annabel and Will. ‘Now it’s your turn! It should really be no problem for you. As you said before, you’ve been preparing for this moment during the last months. I’ll accompany you for now. But I’ll stay in the background—you’ll do the job! Of course, if you should run into problems you can’t cope with or other difficulties, I’ll help you. Don’t worry, you’ll just do fine.’ He smiled at them encouragingly. ‘Let’s go for it!’
‘Yes!’ Annabel exclaimed, and punched the air. Will looked at her in surprise.
‘Well, let’s go,’ she said to him pertly. ‘What are you waiting for?’ She grinned at him brightly.
‘But…you…’ Will did not know what to say.
Annabel grinned at him even more brightly. ‘Yes? Was there something?’ she asked him sweetly.
Will sighed. ‘Nothing.’ Girls, he thought, and refrained from shaking his head as this would certainly do him no good. He slid down from the bench and stood beside the sleigh. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Of course. I was only waiting for you,’ Annabel replied loftily and stepped down from the sleigh gracefully. They walked towards the house with Contractus following closely. Annabel stopped after a few yards.
‘Door? Window? Chimney? How do we get in? What do you think?’ she asked Will, not pertly or teasingly anymore, but all business.
‘Hmm,’ Will said. ‘I think we should just use the door. It’s the easiest way, and we are covered anyway. And as it’s broad daylight, we’re not supposed to be seen or to act like Father Christmas at the moment, so there’s no need to use the chimney.’
‘Yes,’ said Annabel, ‘I’m thinking the same.’
Behind them Contractus nodded.
‘Okay then,’ said Will. ‘You want to do the spells? You’re better at them than I am.’
Annabel smiled, this time just pleased. ‘Of course. Are you ready? Let’s go on in then.’
She walked towards the front door of the house, stopped in front of it and raised her wand. Will stood at her side and waited. Just at that moment, a cat came round the far corner of the house and froze as it saw them.
Saw? Will thought. But they were covered by the spell! He looked closely at the cat and had the feeling that it looked right back at him. Alarmed, Will looked back at Contractus and said, ‘I don’t think the spells are working. It looks as if the cat can see us!’
Contractus replied, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact, cats can see straight through our hiding spells. Nobody knows why, that’s just how it is. But it really is nothing to worry about. Normally they just leave us alone. And if not, well, we have spells to deal with them. You’ll learn them in time.’
‘Is it just cats, or can other animals see us as well?’ asked Will.
‘No,’ replied Contractus. ‘Somehow it’s only cats. And snow leopards—but it’s not too likely you’ll run into one in this area,’ he added dryly.
Meanwhile the cat had taken a good look at them, decided they were not interesting at all, and gone on its way. They turned their attention back to the door. Annabel gestured with her wand and spelled the door with the secrecy spell they had learned for this. It effectively hid them from sight when entering the house by projecting the image of a closed door while they opened it and went through. The only thing that could happen was if anybody was standing close to the door, they might feel a draft from the air that passed through. But that should not have been a serious problem.
Annabel finished the spell, and to their eyes the door began to glow faintly blue around the frame. Contractus looked at it for a moment, then nodded with satisfaction and smiled at Annabel.
‘Well done! Let’s go inside.’
So Will stepped forwards and opened the door gingerly. There was nobody to be seen. The others followed him, and then they were standing in a dimly lit hallway with traditional Christmas decorations.
‘And where do we go now?’ asked Annabel. ‘Should we just try every door and hope one is the living-room?’
Contractus chuckled and reached into his pocket. ‘No, no. That would be rather tedious, and would also rather increase the risk of discovery or mistakes. We’ve got these mobile screens on which our position and the goal are marked. They’re just like the screens on the sleigh. See?’
He held up the device he had taken out of his pocket, and showed it to them. And indeed it was a mobile version of the screen they had used on the sleigh. It showed a floor plan of the building they were standing in—not with many details, but Will could make out the walls, the doors, and a staircase, though no furniture or windows. Again there were the blue and red dots for their orientation on the screen.
From the visible contours Will drew the conclusion that the blue dot, which represented their position, indeed showed them standing in the hallway, for the outline on the screen had the same oblong proportions. The flashing red dot seemed to be in the room on their left. And right enough, as Will looked up he could see a door to his left. He pointed at it and looked at Mr Contractus.
‘So we have to go in there,’ Will whispered.
Beside him Annabel nodded, for she had also been studying the image on the screen.
‘Yes, but you don’t have to whisper. With the spells we can’t be heard,’ replied Contractus. ‘If you perform the spell, then we can go in there.’
Annabel did not need to be told twice. She quickly drew her wand, pointed it at the door, and again performed the spell that would cover the opening of the door. When the frame began to glow faintly blue, Mr Contractus nodded approvingly, opened the door cautiously, and went into the room that lay behind it. Luckily there was nobody in there. It would not have mattered anyway, for they were covered by the hiding spell, but Will was still relieved that they did not encounter anyone, because he was nervous enough as it was, being on his first field deployment. And doing the job unseen while other people were moving around in their own home was something he was not looking forward to.
The living room was neat and orderly. Nothing was lying around, and it was nicely prepared with Christmas decorations. And, of course, there was a large Christmas tree standing in one corner, colourfully but not gaudily decorated. Will liked it. But he was there to do a job and not to enjoy himself. He looked around the room and saw the pile of presents that were scattered in one corner. Contractus and Annabel were already standing in front of them, surveying the mess. Will joined them and saw roughly a dozen presents all jumbled together.
Mr Contractus cleared his throat. ‘Well, you’ve got two options now. You can either just carry the presents over to the tree, or you could use the spells you’ve learned for this.’
‘I think we should just carry the presents over there. That will be much easier and quicker than using the spells,’ replied Will. He saw that Annabel was nodding her agreement beside him.
‘Good. That’s what I’d do. Just remember that when you pick the presents up, they will disappear behind your covering spell. But there’s nobody here who’d see them disappear and then reappear again, so you can do it this way. There’s no need to waste time and energy with the spells. You’ll need them soon enough anyway.’
And he just bent down, picked up two presents, carried them over to the Christmas tree, and placed them underneath. Will and Annabel quickly followed his example, and after a few passes to and fro, all the presents were lying underneath the tree. Mr Contractus rearranged the presents with a few quick and precise movements that told of years of practise. Then he nodded, satisfied.
‘Okay, well done. We’ve finished here. Let’s get back to the sleigh.’ And he led them out of the living room, carefully checking that the spell was still covering the door before he opened it. They passed through the hallway and reached the sleigh without incident. They climbed up and settled into their seats.
Mr Contractus turned back to Will and Annabel. ‘Well done, you two. I’m quite pleased. It was just as I would have done it. Now all that’s left to do is close the job in the distribution system.’ He turned back round and looked at his screen. ‘Oh, I see we’ve got two new jobs waiting already.’
This time Annabel leaned forwards and operated the screen. She closed the current job and opened the next one.
‘“Job 03, Area B3, Code yellow-2”,’ she read aloud.
‘Good. That’s not far from here. Off we go.’
And they took off again.
Contractus turned partly round to them again and said, ‘As you know a yellow-2 is a bit more challenging, so I’ll handle it, especially since we already have another job waiting and have to hurry. But you can help, of course.’
‘Okay,’ replied Will and Annabel in unison, and Will certainly did not mind. He was happy just to watch and learn how to handle the different jobs. Because, he realised, even if they had trained and practised at school, being out there and doing the job for real was quite a bit different.
Soon they had reached their destination and Will could see the problem. Just as the code implied, the presents were all scattered around at the far back of the garden of the house. One was even up a tree; another one was stuck in the branches of a bush. Contractus hurriedly performed the cover spell on the sleigh and on himself, then jumped down from the sleigh as soon as it had slid to a stop. He hurried over to the scattered parcels, closely followed by Will and Annabel, covered once more by Annabel’s spell.
When they reached the presents, Contractus took out his wand, swept it around in a wide circle to include all the packages, and performed the rather complicated spell that would relocate them to the inside of the house, directly underneath the Christmas tree. Will was impressed by the ease and grace with which Contractus performed the spell. Annabel—and Sabrina of course—could probably have matched it, but Will could still well remember his first tries with the spells in the training area at school. He certainly had not managed to relocate the presents, but had ended up with them scattered even more about the place than when he had started.
Meanwhile the presents had disappeared, and there was no trace of them left in the snow. Contractus looked pleased, and led Will and Annabel over to the house. There he waved his wand again in the pattern of a complicated spell that Will did not know, and part of the wall in front of them turned transparent, so they were looking directly at the Christmas tree inside the living room and could see that the presents were arranged neatly underneath it.
‘Wow,’ Annabel said. ‘That’s a fabulous spell. I’d like to learn that one!’
Contractus smiled. ‘Yes, it can be very helpful indeed. But it’s quite complicated, and unfortunately has much potential for misuse, so I’m afraid it will be some time before you’ll learn it.’
‘Oh.’ Annabel looked rather disappointed.
‘Let’s go back. We’re done here, and we already have the next job waiting.’
Will was the first to climb back onto the sleigh. He quickly closed the current job and opened the next one.
‘The next job is in Area F7, and again a blue-3,’ he told the others.
‘Okay, let’s go,’ said Contractus, and shook the reins. They took off and rose into the air again. Soon they had reached their next destination. This job was similar to their first one, and they encountered no problems. After they had finished, there was no new job waiting for them.
‘Good. A break is most welcome,’ said Contractus. He flew them back into the centre of their area. He landed the sleigh on a small, remote hill where they could rest without the risk of being seen. They rested for perhaps fifteen minutes, and Will and Annabel used part of the time for an impromptu snowball fight that left them both panting and slightly wet. Then Contractus called them back to the sleigh.
‘Hurry up. We’ve got an urgent red-5! We’ve got to leave immediately.’
Will and Annabel ran back to the sleigh and quickly climbed up onto their seat. Contractus took off as soon as they were settled.
Will looked at Annabel. ‘Red means someone has discovered the presents that have been delivered to the wrong location. But what does five mean?’
‘The same as with the other codes: the wrong location is another building within five hundred to a thousand yards of the intended destination.’
‘Oh, I know that, but I thought it had a different meaning with a code red.’
‘No, it hasn’t. You thought wrong there,’ Annabel replied snootily.
Will let it pass. They were flying over the countryside at high speed, and Contractus still urged the reindeer to go faster. Then he took the sleigh downwards so rapidly Will could feel his stomach protesting. Soon they had landed on the lawn in front of the house that was marked with the red dot on the screen. Contractus hastily performed the covering spells on himself, the sleigh, and the reindeer, and covered Will and Annabel far faster than they would have been able to.
Contractus jumped down from the sleigh as soon as it touched the ground, with Will and Annabel right at his heels, and jogged over to the house, pulling his wand out while running. He stopped right in front of the main entrance and quickly spelled it. He glanced at his hand-held screen, then quickly opened the door and walked inside with Will and Annabel close behind. Contractus passed through the hall and went up the stairs. At the top he glanced at his screen again, then backed up against a wall as a door opened and a boy about the age of twelve came out. The boy went past Contractus and then Will and Annabel, who had pressed themselves against another door, without taking any notice of them, and skipped down the stairs. When he was gone, Will took a deep breath, realising he had been holding it while the boy had walked past them.
But the spell had worked! There was no indication that the boy had noticed anything unusual at all. Will felt quite relieved now that he had experienced this for the first time. There was quite a difference between being told that the spell worked and actually seeing it work so well.
Contractus directed a short spell at his hand-held screen, glanced at it again, then waved his wand at the door of the room from which the boy had come and performed the secrecy spell on it. Then he opened it, motioned for Annabel and Will to follow him, and went in. When Will entered he could see it was the typical room of a teenager, with lots of posters stuck on the walls, clothes lying around everywhere, magazines scattered around—all in all the usual mess of a growing boy. He had to think briefly about his own bedroom at home; he felt slightly guilty, but quickly decided his had not been too bad—and he certainly had never made such a mess, had he?
But then Annabel quietly said, ‘There.’ And she pointed towards a corner in which several presents had been discarded.
Contractus checked his screen again and said, ‘There should be seven presents there.’ He stepped over to the heap, picked up a parcel, and handed it to Annabel. Then he picked up the next one and also passed it back. ‘One, two, three…seven. Good, they’re all here. The boy must have found them outside and brought them home.’ He turned back to Annabel and Will. ‘Okay, we’re finished here. Let’s take them to the house next door, where they belong.’
‘Er, Mr Contractus?’ asked Will. ‘Wouldn’t it be faster and easier to move them there with a spell?’
‘Hmm,’ replied Contractus. ‘You might be right. It definitely would be faster. Okay then, put the parcels down here on the floor.’ Annabel and Will placed the presents where he had pointed. Contractus pulled out his wand again, waved it at the parcels, and performed the transfer spell. They shimmered blue for a brief moment, then they were gone. Contractus aimed his wand at his screen again, performed a brief spell, and nodded in satisfaction.
‘All good, all done. They are exactly where they belong. Let’s get out of here,’ he told Annabel and Will, and led them from the room. ‘On our way out, we still have to spell the boy and modify his memory so he doesn’t remember the presents. Otherwise it would be very awkward, and he would be wondering what happened here.’
‘Sure,’ Will replied.
They walked down the stairs. Then Contractus checked his screen and pointed at another door, performing the hiding spell once again. He went inside the room. Annabel and Will followed, and Will saw they were in the kitchen of the house. There was the boy they had seen upstairs, standing by the open fridge and rummaging through its contents. Mr Contractus looked at Annabel and Will, then raised his wand, pointed it at the boy, and waved it in the complicated pattern that Will recognised as the mind-modifying spell. The spell had been demonstrated to them, but they had not been taught how to perform it yet.
The boy froze for a second, looked around in disorientation, then shook his head and started rummaging in the fridge again. Contractus nodded, winked at Will and Annabel, and led them out of the kitchen, through the hall, out through the main entrance, and back to the sleigh.
When they were climbing up into the sleigh, Will finally asked the question he had wanted to ask for some time: ‘Mr Contractus? Inside the house you spelled your hand-held screen several times. What did you do to it?’
‘Oh, nothing special. I checked what people were in the house and where they were located. The other time I ascertained that the presents were in the right place. And then I used a spell to find the boy. You know, this hand-held is really a great tool if you know how to use it.’ He grinned at them. ‘And you can look forward to it. You two will receive your personal screens next year at school, and then you’ll start learning all the tricks and spells.’
Will was stunned. ‘Oh, that’s fantastic!’
Even Annabel looked amazed.
Contractus laughed. ‘Yes, it’ll be great, you’ll see. I can’t even imagine anymore how we were able to manage without them. Well, I see we don’t have a new job waiting at the moment, so we’d best go back to a more central position,’ said Contractus, and gathered the reins in his hands.
Then suddenly a loud and piercing whistling noise made Will and Annabel jump.
‘Oh no,’ groaned Contractus, ‘what now?’ He let go of the reins and touched his screen. Thankfully the piercing noise ended. Will and Annabel also looked at their screen. A large, red-bordered rectangle had appeared and flashed quickly. Inside of the rectangle, Will could read in large, red letters: ‘2-black-black—All Units Respond Immediately!’
‘Oh dear!’ said Contractus. ‘That one’s really bad.’
He pressed the confirmation button, swiftly picked up the reins, and jerked them abruptly. He barked a quick ‘hold tight!’ back at Will and Annabel, who did not really know what was happening, and took off at high speed. Only when they were high up in the air, moving fast, did he turn around to Will and Annabel, who were hanging on to their seats, rather bewildered by this sudden take-off.
‘Sorry to frighten you. I don’t suppose you know what a double black is, do you?’ he asked. They both shook their heads, and Will was a bit surprised that even Annabel did not know. ‘A double black is the worst that can happen on this particular day,’ explained Contractus. ‘It’s a complete failure of Cloudy’s Transportation network with a total disruption of the present distribution! I’ve never experienced that before, although there have been simulations and plans for this case. We’ve got to leave here immediately and head for the nearest distribution hub of Cloudy’s.’ He urged the reindeer on even faster.
Annabel clung to the railing of the sleigh. ‘But wouldn’t it be faster if we used the transfer system—you know, like via street lanterns?’
‘Yes, normally it would,’ replied Contractus, ‘but with a double black, that system is also down.’
‘Oh.’
‘Yes, that sums it up pretty well,’ replied Contractus dryly.
‘But what about our work? What about the wrongly delivered presents? Are we going to leave them just lying about?’ asked Will.
‘They are not so important right now. The double black comes first. We’ll have to take care of the presents after this is sorted out,’ answered Contractus.
‘And the code-red jobs?’ pressed Will. ‘I thought they must be dealt with at once, before anyone messes about with the presents.’
‘Yes,’ answered Contractus, ‘they do need to be taken care of immediately. And for this reason not everybody gets called back, so one of the teams located in the adjacent areas is going to cover our area for the code red jobs.’
‘Ah, I see,’ replied Will.
By then they were high above the ground and nearing the clouds. Will looked at the screen in front of him. He saw that Contractus had entered their destination, and that they were getting closer fast. That was fine, for he had looked down a moment earlier, which had not been a terribly good idea, as his stomach was telling him quite pointedly. An enormous cloud loomed right in front of them.
Contractus turned slightly back to Will and Annabel. ‘We’re getting near to Cloudy’s regional hub, but we have to pass through some clouds to get there. I’m afraid it might get a bit wet. Sorry.’
And he flew the sleigh right into the huge white cloud. Will held his breath and closed his eyes, as he did not quite know what to expect. But all he could feel was a slight cold mist on his face, so he opened his eyes carefully and saw—nothing. Only white fog that was wet on his face. It was so thick he could not even see Contractus on the seat before him, or Annabel at his side. He could only make out vague shapes.
‘We’ll soon be there, no need to worry,’ Contractus called back to them, his voice slightly muffled by the fog.
Suddenly the mist parted, and they were flying into a large, open area that looked like a hangar. And in fact that was what it was: a hangar for sleighs, with a roof and walls made out of cloud. As Contractus flew their sleigh in, Will could make out about a dozen sleighs already standing there. Students and teachers hurried from them over to the main entrance on the far side of the hangar.
Contractus landed the sleigh quickly but smoothly in a free space near one of the walls. He grabbed his hand-held screen and turned around to Will and Annabel. ‘Let’s get inside quickly and see what’s going on here!’
He jumped down from the sleigh and hurried over to the entrance where the others had already disappeared. Will and Annabel followed right behind him. While they were running across the hangar, Will could see a few other students and teachers he knew from the school, but none of his immediate friends or classmates. They passed through the entrance and hurried down a corridor. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all made out of cloud. To Will it looked exactly like the facility he had passed through on his way to Snowfields less than a year earlier.
Contractus called to another teacher: ‘Inventus! Do you know what’s happening?’
‘Not any more than you. We just received the double black and left immediately. Now we’re here.’

About the author:

Written by a young trauma surgeon during his time outside of the emergency room. And – against all odds – it is not bloody in the least, but full of the magic of Christmas.
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Review: Worth Fighting For by Susannah Turner

40022806Everyone loves Charlotte Ahearn. She’s friendly, funny, smart and kind – and she’s a brilliant baker – so why has she moved to a country town where nobody wants to know her?

Dunbarton doesn’t seem to get that Charlotte is just there doing her job – convincing the town that the local silver mine should be allowed to expand. If only a certain local farmer called Nick MacLeod didn’t have to make that task so much harder – and personal.

But will that same Nick MacLeod eventually remember that the pair met briefly ten years before, and back then there was no resentment or hostility, only a burning possibility of something special … something perfect?

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

Charlie Ahearn is not lucky in love.  Her last boyfriend used her PR skills to advance his own career and left her high and dry after a humiliating cheating scandal went public.  With no boyfriend, no job, and no reason to stay, Charlie packs her bags and moves home to Sydney.  As if the break up weren’t bad enough, Charlie now has her family worried over her lack of direction, lack of a job, and abundant baking. 

As luck would have it, one of Charlie’s old friends has a job offer he’s all but begging her to take.  His company is expanding and with Charlie’s PR skills, she can help the company push their project through despite the objections and resistance of locals.  Charlie isn’t thrilled with the position nor the fact she must temporarily move, but it is a job and it gives her an income and keeps her family from worrying.  Kind of.

Charlie’s new job is a disaster from the very beginning: she’s now living in the middle of nowhere, many of the locals actively dislike her presence, and though she does her best to sell the party line and sway the locals, she’s getting nowhere fast.  In fact, on many occasions, Charlie’s office and vehicle are vandalized and her attempts at friendliness are met with cold shoulders and/or nasty words.  What’s more, the people who will speak kindly to Charlie seem to be genuinely nice people with real connections to their land and community.  The locals are already facing enough difficulties without Charlie’s company flinging around promises and projections that may never come to pass.

Remember I mentioned Charlie’s lack of luck in love?  As if the universe is just out to pick on her, one of the loudly-opposed-to-her-company locals is a man Charlie met only briefly more than a decade past.  At the time, Charlie and the mystery man shared a moment of intense connection, so intense, Charlie hasn’t forgotten him in ten years.  As the weeks pass by, Charlie struggles to do her job, do her job well, ignore the hot man who clearly dislikes her, and not bake so much that the part of town who will talk to her gains weight and quits talking to her.  To say Charlie is struggling would be an understatement.

As it happens, hot guy has a name and it’s Nick MacLeod.  Nick is devoted to his home, his farm, his community, and doesn’t want to see it destroyed by a big company with bad intentions.  Though Nick’s position doesn’t change once he meets Charlie (technically for the second time 😊) he does struggle with his feelings towards her.  Nick can clearly see Charlie is a good person, one he wants to get to know, who is stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Unfortunately, Nick’s passions tend to run high which often leave him with bad impressions and misunderstandings he is too stubborn to sort out.  Even more unfortunately, this situation crops up often where Charlie is concerned causing all sorts of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities.

The Bottom Line:  I enjoyed the ever-loving crap out of this book!  Charlie is so easy to like and to root for, her sister Georgie is pure sunshine and delight, Nick is sexy and brooding, and the overall plot is just interesting.  Though this isn’t a pure past meets present read, there are elements of the trope which has long been one of my favorites.  I also very much like the opposite sides of an issue approach to friendship and romance which is a prevalent theme in this book.  In truth, the read is just one problem/complication/obstacle after another, but that’s what makes it so good.  With every new issue, there is a chance for growth and change in the characters and you know how I love my characters to evolve!  Not every situation and/or reaction to the situation works out perfectly, but that’s life and these characters and their struggles are clearly based on real life.  The only thing I found lacking in this book, is an epilogue.  If ever there was a story that needs a good what happened to them in the future epilogue, Worth Fighting For is it.  I am sincerely hoping the lack of an epilogue means this isn’t the end for Charlie and Nick but may be just the beginning of an ongoing series. There are plenty of other characters populating this book that could stand to have their story told in their own book 😊

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Review: What About Us (Book #4: Panic Series) by Sidney Halston

39687071Alex: I hate doing business in clubs. Especially one like Duality. I’m here to seal a deal, not indulge in whatever hedonistic illusion they’re selling. Until, through all the skin and sex on display, I see her. Helen Blackwood. The girl who once filled my youthful fantasies, whose name is now synonymous with pain. Her father’s lies destroyed my family, leaving me with nothing to lose. And yet I can’t deny my electric response to her touch . . . or my urge to protect her when I see the bruise on her face.

Helen: Growing up, life prepared me for society galas and powerful men, not minimum-wage jobs or drunk exes with anger issues. But I’m a survivor. So here I am, practically naked, serving drinks at a Miami nightclub. I don’t mind the stares. Apparently, Alex Archer does. After twelve years, we aren’t exactly friends, but money is something we both understand. Something he knows I need. I’ll be his personal assistant, even if it means working with the man I hate . . . and the man I still want.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 5/5 stars

I read an early copy of What About Us and quite cleverly saved my notes from that initial reading.  Here’s what I discovered following my second reading: I LOVED this book just as much the second time around as I did the first time through.

What I thought and noted about this book initially holds true even after round two.  Here’s the low down from my original notes:

CHARACTERS:

ALEX: Even with his crazy, often thoughtless comments, Alex is so likeable; in fact, he is my favorite character in this book.  I really felt Alex’s struggle and frustration with this inability to say what he means with Helen.  With that being said, I very much appreciated how Alex felt like he could be himself in all his glorious awkwardness with Helen, even when it meant having to apologize, and apologize often.   

I like how shaken up Alex is by Helen!  Alex’s whole life was clear, defined, and ordered until Helen showed up again.  Helen’s reappearance took Alex’s goals, agendas, and general control of his life and shot it all to hell.  Talk about ass over tea kettle!  Causing Alex to reorder his life and break out of his rut is exactly what he needed!  Though his business goals are always going to be the same, his personal goals changed radically and that’s what he, as a character needed! 

P.S. In my head, Alex wears nerdy, sexy glasses!

HELEN: Helen is one of my favorite character types; a lot of bad s*%t has happened to her, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself.  In fact, after a tremendously bad period, Helen took what life handed her, dealt with it, and has made something of her life.  Though she doesn’t live to the standards she was once used to, she has a life she can mostly be proud of.  Mostly!

PLOT AND CONFLICT:  I absolutely love the relationship between Helen and Alex.  They have so much anger, misunderstanding, and miscommunication to overcome, but there is a base of love there too.  This story absolutely would not have worked if there weren’t a very real history between Helen and Alex.  One of my favorite parts of their relationship is how often they fight and make up.  So much conflict here!

This book reads exactly as it is meant to, slow and steady (in a GOOD way) with moments of crazy, both good and bad.  The entirety of this book revolves around Helen and Alex coming face to face with their past, dealing with some hard truths, and accepting how wrong they have both been.  That takes time and watching two people with such a complicated history get their s*%t squared away shouldn’t happen at the speed of light.  The characters and the plot demand a slow and steady pace and that is exactly what they have. 

The fighting and making up worked so well in this story!  The sex is as explosive as the arguments and that always makes for a good time.  Helen’s acceptance of Alex and his awkwardness works well too; I like that she accepts him even in the moments when she is raging mad at him.  I also very much appreciate Alex’s self-doubt!  He is clearly a successful businessman with tons of confidence, but Helen rattles him, and he has to reassess how he deals with humanity.  This was helped along by Helen helping him get to know his staff which was a scene that really resonated with me.

In so many ways, the best part of this book involves the reactions Helen and Alex have to one another and the situation they find themselves in.  The plot initially asks Helen and Alex to react the way they would while still on their own, and then, to react as they should as a couple.  This is where we see a lot of character growth.  Alex must learn to think before he speaks, to accept that not every situation in life can be fixed with money, and Helen has to learn to accept help when and where it is offered.  Furthermore, we also see Helen and Alex having to get over themselves, really listen to the other person, and let go the awful past they both endured.

DIALOGUE: It’s funny how large a role dialogue plays in this book since Alex has such a terrible time with words.  You can see so much growth in Alex through the dialogue . . . . but, his fights with Helen and getting himself into trouble with his words were probably my favorite bits of dialogue.

I always love good dialogue and this book is filled with it!  I am particularly fond of the fight scenes as Helen and Alex both say a lot of stupid stuff and then must apologize for it later.  Probably my favorite bit of dialogue in the entire book is Helen’s response to the two uppity b%&ches who are talking about her in the bathroom during the gala; she held it together well and put them in their place.  I also liked it when Helen put Alex in his place 😊

PACING: This story is something of a slow burn read . . . . and that’s a good thing!  There are bursts of action and high drama, but much of the read a steady pace which allows the reader to watch two people figure out their lives together.  Outside of those few bursts of crazy, there doesn’t need to be a breakneck speed, rush to get to the end.  I appreciate how the pacing of this book matches the characters!

 THE BOTTOM LINE:  At this point, do you really need the bottom line?? 😊  Clearly, I adored this book, it’s characters, and plot and make no bones about it.  Though I liked Helen quite a bit, Alex is hands down my favorite character.  His awkwardness, his nerdiness, his intellect, all wrapped in super sexy body is just too good to ignore.  At its core, this book is all about a complicated, complex relationship that is peppered with anger, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and mistrust.  There is so much, emotionally speaking, that Alex and Helen must overcome to achieve their HEA and they sure work hard to do so.  I really did enjoy this story!  I didn’t rush through it but read it slowly and really savored this read.  In point of fact, my reading speed quite mimicked the overall pacing of the book.  I wouldn’t mind seeing Helen and Alex appear in later installments of the series.  Now that they are officially together, they feel like they can be a real powerhouse kind of couple, do a lot of good in their community/world.  In a lot of ways, I feel like this book is just the beginning of Alex and Helen’s story which is ironic, given their long history.

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