My Book Reviews
Review
4 Stars
The Rancher's Secret Son - Sara Orwig (HD #2417 - Dec 2015)
The Rancher's Secret Son (Lone Star Legends) - Sara Orwig

Series: Lone Star Legends (Book 5)

Wealthy rancher Nick Milan's future was all planned: he'd marry the woman he adored and have a dazzling political career. Instead, their affair ended in bitter breakup. So he isn't prepared for the surge of desire when he sees Claire Prentiss again. Then he learns her shocking secret.

 

Losing Nick once was hard enough, but now Claire's faced with telling him about his son. The scandal could destroy everything he's worked for. But their child needs his father. Could a happy ending still be theirs?

 

Good second chance story. Nick and Claire had known each other four years earlier and had fallen in love. Nick had his future all planned and knew that Claire would make it even better. He was stunned when his proposal ended in a huge fight and breakup. Devastated, a short time later he married a woman who was an old friend and suitable for his plans, but not one he truly loved. After her death and that of the baby she carried, Nick has moved on alone. He is surprised to see her at a real estate deal, and to discover that his desire for her has never died.

 

Claire was equally heartbroken over the loss of her relationship with Nick, but she was certain there was no way to make a marriage between them work. When she discovered she was pregnant she was willing to try, but then she discovered that he was already engaged to someone else. Determined not to be the "other woman", nor to allow an illegitimate child wreck his political career, Claire decided not to tell Nick about the baby. Four years later she is stunned to see Nick again and find out that he is a widower and still grieving his loss. At this point she knows she has to come clean and tell Nick about his son. She's worried about how he'll take it, and what he'll want to do about it.

 

The reunion is quite a shock to both, as is the attraction that still burns between them. I loved how Nick knew that asking Claire out was probably not a good idea, but he couldn't help himself. Claire fought with herself about telling Nick about Cody, but knew it was the right thing to do. One of the things I liked best was that once she did, what happened next was two people acting like the adults they are. Yes, Nick was angry, but there was no yelling, nor were there any threats about taking him away. I liked that they sat down together and talked about the best way to tell Cody and for Nick to get to know him. 

 

I loved seeing Nick and Cody get to know each other. Nick is pretty nervous, but really wants to be a good dad. Cody was a really awesome kid, though I would have liked to see a little more typical three year old behavior (not one meltdown, or even bad day?). I especially enjoyed seeing Nick show Cody around the ranch. Cody's introduction to Nick's side of the family was great, though I had been worried about Nick's dad. Some of my expectations about his reactions thankfully did not come to pass.

 

The renewing of their relationship happened almost unwillingly. Claire is still based in Houston, now running the family real estate business and caring for her grandparents. Nick is a state representative and lawyer who spends his time in Dallas and Austin and has political ambitions that will keep him even busier. They still don't see a way for a relationship to work, plus both are reluctant to risk their hearts again. Spending as much time together as they do, their hearts don't listen to their heads, and each starts dreaming of what could be. Nick really starts to take a good look at his life and his goals after Claire brings up some things that she has observed about him. Claire has her own fears to face and decisions to make. I loved the ending and seeing how they solved their problem by talking instead of having some big drama to overcome.

 

I liked seeing Wyatt and Madison and their spouses from earlier books. It's always nice to catch up on what previous characters have been up to. I'm still looking forward to Tony's story, which I'm sure will be a good one.

Review
4 Stars
Blackbird Lake - Jill Gregory (Berkley - July 2013)
Blackbird Lake (A Lonesome Way Novel) - Jill Gregory

Series: Lonesome Way (Book 3)

When rodeo champ Jake Tanner returns to Lonesome Way, Carly McKinnon may be the only one not happy about it. The last thing she wants is Jake finding out about her daughter -- or rather, their daughter. Since their one-night fling years ago, Carly has been a great parent on her own. And the footloose Jake isn’t the sort of father she wants for little Emma.

 

But once Jake learns the truth, he wants to be a part of Emma’s life even if he’s not going to be a part of Carly’s. Even though the pair agrees to try to be friends, they soon find that being "just friends" isn't so easy. The red-hot attraction between them sets off sparks they thought they had left behind. Despite their rocky past and uncertain future, can Carly and Jake find their way into each other's arms -- and hearts?

 

Good book about second chances and coming home. Carly is a recent addition to Lonesome Way, moving there after the death of her foster mother to be near her foster mother's cousin. Carly also has a toddler girl, the product of a one night stand, and wants to raise her in the stability of a small town. What she hasn't told anyone is that little Emma is the daughter of hometown rodeo star Jake Tanner. She never told Jake either. Jake comes back to Lonesome Way once in awhile to visit his brothers and their families, before he heads back out onto the rodeo circuit. He firmly believes that settling down is something that isn't in his future at all.

 

When Carly hears that Jake is back in town, she panics. She doesn't want a man in Emma's life who will show up maybe once or twice a year, creating hope of a relationship and then letting her down. She'd rather have no father in Emma's life at all. When Jake discovers that Emma is his, he makes it clear to Carly that he will be involved in Emma's life on a regular basis. She isn't sure that she can trust what he says, based on his reputation and what he had told her himself the night they spent together. 

 

Jake isn't happy that he's missed almost two years of Emma's life, but once he gets over the shock he understands why Carly did what she did. That doesn't mean that he's going to do what she wants and step back, he wants to be a daddy to his little girl. He knows better than to get involved with Carly. She's willing to be friends for Emma's sake, but she won't fall for a man who avoids commitment.

 

Both Carly and Jake have issues from their pasts that make them reluctant to risk a relationship with each other. Besides her issue with her father's abandonment, Carly had fallen in love with a man who turned out to be the worst kind of liar and cheat. This added to her distrust of men. When Jake was nineteen he had made a promise to a young woman to protect her from her abusive father, and when he wasn't able to, he blamed himself. He swore that he would never allow himself to be responsible for another person. So they promise each other that they will be friends only, with their focus on being the kind of parents that Emma needs. Of course, they aren't able to keep that promise.

 

I loved the slow growth of their relationship. Because they were determined to be friends, they kept a lid on their attraction and spent time getting to know each other. I loved the way that Jake was determined to earn Carly's trust. It was fun to see him interact with Emma and make sure that Carly knew she could depend on him. What he didn't expect was the way that he found himself wanting to cut back on his time away from them, and it freaked him out a lot. He tried pulling away and going back to his old ways before he realized that he had undergone some real changes and wasn't afraid any longer. Carly tried very hard to keep the walls up around her heart, afraid of what would happen if she let herself trust Jake and then he were to go back to his old ways. She slowly began to believe in him when he would put she and Emma ahead of his rodeo commitments. When she felt threatened by a break in, his immediate protectiveness went a long way toward making her believe in him. The mystery of who was behind the break in and who was following her babysitter was not what I first suspected, so it made an interesting twist to the story. It also gave Jake one more opportunity to shine in Carly's eyes. I loved how Jake was finally able to show and convince Carly how he felt, and that she was ready to believe.

 

There was also a nice secondary romance between Carly's babysitter and a young man who was trying to come back from some mistakes he had made. Madison and Brady had been friends as kids until she did something that wrecked their friendship. But she was one of the few people in town that believed in him, and was willing to give him the second chance he wanted. I loved seeing how he was determined to watch out for her too. There were some very sweet scenes between the two of them as they renewed their friendship and more.

 

I also enjoyed the support that both Jake and Carly received from his brothers and their wives. His brothers didn't have any trouble dispensing advice, whether he wanted it or not. And I loved how none of them held any anger against Carly for keeping Emma a secret. I especially loved the girls' night with the ice cream, cake and wine. The dog was pretty darn adorable, too. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Review
4 Stars
The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress - Victoria Alexander (Zebra - May 2015)
The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress - Victoria Alexander

Series: Millworth Manor (Book 5)

To Do:

Swim naked in the moonlight

Play in a high stakes card game

Ride an elephant

Be painted sans clothing.

Take a lover. . .

 

Lucy Merryweather has inherited a fortune--and her great-aunt's list of unfulfilled wishes. What better way to honor her memory than by accomplishing as many of them as possible? And with Lucy's family an ocean away in New York, nothing stands in her way--if one ignores the private investigator hired to spy on her.

 

Yet Cameron Effington is infuriatingly difficult to ignore. . .

 

As a reporter, Cameron is always looking for a good story. An American heiress running rampant between Millworth Manor and Mayfair is the perfect subject. Not to mention captivating. And extremely kissable. And if Lucy believes he's a detective? Well, the truth should never get in the way of a good story--or hinder delicious, impetuous passion. . .

 

Fun book. Lucy made her first appearance in The Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding, as the non-fiancee of the hero Jackson. I really liked her there and looked forward to reading her story. When the book begins, her family has gone back to New York, leaving her in the care of Jackson's mother. What her mother doesn't know is that all the people who are supposedly in charge of Lucy have gone off on their own business, leaving Lucy very happily on her own. Jackson makes a last ditch effort to protect her reputation by insisting she hire a companion before he too goes off on his own adventures.

 

Lucy has spent her life living up to everyone else's expectations. Now that she has her own money and is away from everyone else, she has plans of her own. She is going through her great-aunt's list of regrets and plans to do them herself, and she doesn't plan to let anyone or anything stop her. I loved her conversation with her newly hired companion and the agreement they came to. I loved Lucy's determination and her confidence that she would succeed. I did think she was a little naive about some of the risks. In spite of that, she was also really intelligent, and I loved some of her methods of accomplishing her goals.

 

Cameron is the youngest son of the Effington family and has been searching for his own place in the world. He finally found it in working as a reporter for one of the lesser London newspapers. His father isn't too happy with his work and challenges him to take the next step. The scene at the family dinner table is pretty amusing, especially considering the straightlaced marquess is the same man in Let It Be Love, and his own story is anything but proper. Cameron takes his father's challenge, but is at a loss as to how to meet it, until he hears about the American woman and her plans. He figures he will follow he around and use her for inspiration for a series of fictional stories. However, things don't go quite as he planned.

 

I loved their first meeting, as Lucy spots the strange man who has been following her and calls him out - after he comes to her rescue. She jumps to conclusions about who he is and he doesn't correct her, figuring it doesn't really matter. I loved seeing her talk him into helping her with her quest, and how he agrees for his own purposes. Over the next few weeks they grow closer. Cameron becomes more and more intrigued, fascinated and attracted to the young woman who is so different than anyone else he has ever known. Lucy is equally fascinated and attracted, though she is also somewhat wary. In spite of what she feels, she's certain that he is hiding something from her, and she doesn't want to give her heart where there is a lack of trust.

 

As their adventures went on Cameron became more aware of the fact that the secrets he was keeping were liable to cause trouble once they were revealed. He knew he had to tell her, but he kept putting it off, afraid of her reaction. And the longer he waited, the harder it got, because the deeper he fell. Lucy was falling for him too, but her worries over what he was hiding kept growing. When she found out one part of his deception she was at first angry, then hurt. She kept waiting for him to confess, even as she gave him several golden opportunities. When the final confrontation came, both of them made mistakes that had me wanting to shake them both. Then pride kept them apart when they should have worked harder to listen to each other. I loved Cameron's reappearance and his methods for winning Lucy back. They were unorthodox, but because it was Lucy, they worked. I loved his big moment at the end.

 

As usual in a Victoria Alexander book, there were quite a few laugh out loud moments. I loved Lucy's various adventures, from riding the elephant to her invasion of the gentleman's club. There were also some great scenes with Cameron and his brothers, and their opinions of what he was doing, not to mention his conversation with Lucy's four brothers at the end. I hope to see books for Cameron's brothers and Lucy's in the future.

Review
4 Stars
The Secrets of Bell River - Kathleen O'Brien (HS #1920 - May 2014)
The Secrets of Bell River - Kathleen O'Brien

Series: Sisters of Bell River Ranch (Book 4)

Always an outsider…

 

Armed with only her suitcases and secrets, Tess Spencer arrives at Bell River Ranch. She'll work temporarily at their spa and never tell the Wright sisters her true connection to them. Meeting gorgeous carpenter Jude Calhoun challenges those plans, however. Strong and capable, Jude makes Tess want to share the burden of what she knows….

 

That confession may come sooner than she wants when her past intrudes at the ranch. But if she reveals the reasons she's here, she will definitely be the outsider -- unwelcomed and alone. And leaving Bell River could cost her the one man she wants….

 

Good book with a solid romance and a touch of mystery. Tess was raised by a single mother in California. She knew nothing of her father until her mother revealed the truth just before she died. Now Tess has come to Bell River Ranch to work as a massage therapist and see what she can find out about the family she never knew she had. She has no plans to tell them who she is, just stay long enough to get to know them, then move on. Then a couple things happen to change her plans. First,  thanks to a series of unexpected events her part time job turns into an offer to be the spa director. Second, she meets Jude, gorgeous and nice, who tempts her to stay on.

 

I liked Tess a lot. She hasn't had an easy life. Her mother had been very strict and controlling of her, trying to keep Tess from making the same mistakes she had made. Instead, Tess married young to a man who she thought was better than he was. She divorced him when his true nature came out, but the effects of the marriage linger. With her mother gone, Tess is searching for her own place in the world, somewhere she feels she can belong. She gets that feeling at Bell River, but is sure that her sisters would not be happy knowing of her existence. I really liked seeing how Tess made a place for herself at the spa. I could see that she really wants to be part of the life there, but she's afraid of rejection.

 

I loved Jude. He's a native of the town who had gone away for awhile but is now back. He's the kind of guy who steps in to help wherever he is needed. Right now he is taking care of his youngest sister and her baby. Molly is suffering from postpartum depression, plus has left her abusive husband. Jude also has broken things off with his girlfriend, a woman he grew up with, but since her move to Hollywood has become someone he doesn't like very much. He comes to realize that he had only been with her all those years because he was protecting her. He's determined to squash his "white knight" tendencies and stay away from women who need  his help.

 

There's a connection between Tess and Jude right away. I loved their first meeting, where she has to use him as her "interview" massage. He senses a vulnerability in her that draws him to her over and over. He also realizes that though she sometimes seems a little lost, she isn't needy, preferring to stand on her own feet. Tess is equally drawn to Jude, but with her secret she is hesitant to get involved. I really enjoyed seeing them get to know each other and become friends before anything else. I loved Jude's belief in her when trouble arrived in the form of her ex-husband. Their feelings had been steadily growing and giving in to them was both sweet and hot. There were some issues with their exes that had to be dealt with, but the strength of their feelings makes it all possible.

 

There was a bit of a mystery running through the book also. The sisters have been fighting to make the ranch a success in spite of the scandal created by their father. They have been receiving nasty, anonymous notes that have escalated into some vandalism. Tess also has to deal with the arrival of her ex, who is making unwelcome demands of her, forcing her to reveal her secret to her sisters. A strange twist puts her ex on a collision course with the note leaver, creating a whole new scandal for them to deal with. The culprit was a bit of a surprise, but wrapped things up quite well.

 

I loved seeing so much of the sisters and their families from the previous books. Their interactions with Tess, both before and after the revealing of her secrets, were quite believable. I especially loved their support after her ex arrived. Dallas's son Alec is still one of the most fun characters of the series.

Review
5 Stars
Mr. November - Lori Foster (HT #856 - Nov 2001)
Mr. November - Lori Foster

Series: Men to the Rescue (Book 5)

SHE NEEDED HIM FOR A GOOD CAUSE

Amanda Barker had to have firefighter Josh Marshall. With his sexy body, killer smile, and incredible reputation as a lady's man, he'd sell a million of her fund-raising calendars. But Josh wasn't cooperating, and he wasn't playing fair....

 

HE NEEDED HER FOR...OTHER GOOD THINGS

If there was one thing Josh knew, it was that where there's smoke there's fire. And Ms. Amanda Barker was smokin'. Over and over, he'd refused her requests to pose for a calendar, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. And neither would he when he laid out the rules: he'd agree to meet her needs, if she agreed to meet his....

 

Very good book. He is one of Zack's friends in Treat Her Right, and well known as a ladies man. In that book he complained about a woman who is relentlessly pursuing him to get him to pose for her charity calendar. That pursuit continues in this book, as Josh does his best to dodge her request. But when she tracks him down and follows him into the fire station locker room, he has something other than the calendar on his mind. So he makes a bargain with her - he'll pose for her calendar if she'll go out with him.

 

I liked Josh. It was pretty funny to see a guy who is so into his playboy lifestyle be so reluctant to flaunt his attributes. But it turns out that there's more to Josh than we've seen before. He's not real happy to be looked at as a sex object rather than be appreciated for the job he does. But it's a good cause, and if he can use it to get closer to Amanda, that's what he'll do. It's not going to be as easy as he thought, because under her prissy exterior is a woman who is determined to deny herself what he is offering.

 

Amanda has issues from her past that have her spending her free time paying for what she sees as an unforgivable mistake. She sees herself as unable and undeserving of what Josh is looking for. Her earlier experiences with men have only served to strengthen those feelings.

 

I loved the development of their relationship. Josh quickly catches on that there is more to Amanda's resistance than he had thought. It was sweet to see the way that he backed off and tried to get her to tell him what was wrong. Amanda was convinced that when he knew her secret he would be gone, and was stunned when she was wrong. His reaction to what she had gone through was a huge burst of protectiveness. I loved his plan on how to solve her problem, and his patience as they worked through it. Amanda was surprised at what a difference it made once the pressure was off, and they had a chance to get to know each other. It was fun to see her reactions at the calendar launch and she had to witness the women's reactions to Josh. There's a small bump in the road of their relationship when Josh appears to be distracted at work because of her, and a fire call feeds some of Amanda's fears. The ending was hot and romantic as Amanda breaks free of her past and Josh finally finds what he's been searching for.

 

I loved having Mick and Del, and Zack and Wynn have appearances in this book. After all the teasing that Josh laid on them, it was really fun to see him on the receiving end. It was also wonderful to see their concern for him. Seeing all three couples happy together in the epilogue was a great wrap up.

Review
4 Stars
Treat Her Right - Lori Foster (HT #852 - Oct 2001)
Treat Her Right - Lori Foster

Series: Men to the Rescue (Book 4)

MAYBE OPPOSITES ATTRACT...

Paramedic Zack Grange was in the market for a wife, but not just any wife. He wanted the perfect role model for his little girl. When Wynn Lane moved in next door, he could state exactly what he didn't want in a wife. No brash, unorthodox amazons need apply! But that was just the father in him talking; the man said "bring it on!"

 

AND MAYBE THEY DON'T.

Wynn was no shrinking violet and she wasn't about to change for Zack Grange. Not that he'd asked her. Still, she would have liked to think he saw her as more than a sexy playmate...maybe even loved her half as much as his daughter did....

 

Fun book. Zack is a single dad to a four year old girl. He wants to marry again and give his daughter a mother. But with his schedule as a paramedic and his definite ideas on what he wants, he hasn't had much success in his search. Wynn is thrilled to have her own place to live after sharing with a couple roommates. She'd love to find a man who will love her for who she is, but isn't very hopeful right now. 

 

I loved their first meeting. Zack is awakened after a long night on duty by the racket of someone moving in next door. He looks out the window to see a tall, beautiful woman and a big man moving boxes and arguing all the way. He's struck by her height and the physicality of the relationship between them. Before he can back away from the window, his daughter Dani calls out to the new people and Wynn and her companion come over for coffee and introductions. Zack is attracted to Wynn, but somewhat put off by her attitude. However, he can't deny his daughter's fascination with her new friend. Wynn is just as attracted to Zack, which surprises her. She's used to being around fit, good-looking men and they've never affected her like that. She's so unsettled that she behaves even more outrageously than usual. She senses Zack's attraction, but can also see that he's not happy about it.

 

I liked Zack. He's a terrific father to little Dani. I loved seeing the macho man brushing her hair and taking her shopping. She is the center of his world. He wants to find a wife that is more of a girly-girl to offset the influence of being raised by a man and his bachelor friends. His reaction to Wynn throws a kink in those plans. It was fun to see him fight his feelings, as he demonstrates a bit of possessiveness and protectiveness, while at the same time trying to stay away from her. I got a little frustrated with his obsession about her size, as though that would keep her from being a good mom. 

 

I loved Wynn. She's a woman who is mostly comfortable in her own skin, confident in her own abilities. She is attracted to Zack from the beginning and makes no secret of it, checking him out the same way that men look at women. Her heart gets involved as she sees how wonderful he is with Dani and she dreams of what it would be like to have them both in her life. 

 

I loved seeing the relationship progress as Zack starts to realize that though she may not be what he was looking for, she is what his heart wants. I really loved the scene with the ladder, where those feelings start to become obvious to others if not to himself. Wynn was a goner almost from the beginning, but she worried that he would never see her as more than a playmate. She had a few insecurities of her own that fed into that fear and it was fun to see Zack overcome them. I loved their scene when he found her sleeping in the hammock. I loved seeing him realize the truth about his feelings, though he almost ruined it all with some of the things she overheard him say. The ending was really good.

 

I also enjoyed the relationship Zack had with Mick and Josh. It was really fun to see them teasing each other about various things. I felt a little bit bad for Josh when he lost out on getting Wynn for himself, just as he had with Mick's wife. I'm looking forward to his story.

Review
4 Stars
Twins for the Rebel Cowboy - Sasha Summers (HAR #1580 - Jan 2016)
Twins for the Rebel Cowboy (The Boones of Texas) - Sasha Summers

Series: Boones of Texas (Book 2)

ACCIDENTAL FAMILY?

 

For one crazy night, Annabeth Upton lets loose to forget her worries: Grandma Flo's medical bills, little Cody's stutter, the challenges of being a school principal and a single mom. Then Ryder Boone steps in to protect her from a rowdy bar patron…and in a hot half hour they create the biggest worry of all. Two of them, actually!

 

Ryder was always the rebel of the Boone family, but he does the right thing and proposes. Annabeth says yes -- but thinks the marriage is temporary, meant to save her from scandal. The last thing she wants is to force Ryder into a loveless marriage forever, so she gives him an opt-out clause. The only problem is that as they grow even closer, she doesn't want him to leave!

 

Good book. Annabeth had been having a really bad day when she stopped in a bar to get out of the storm. She's being hit on by a pretty aggressive customer when Ryder arrives and steps in. Something sparks between them, and a moment of madness in the front seat of his truck has long lasting consequences.

 

Widowed Annabeth lost her husband to the war six years earlier, shortly before her son was born, and she has been raising him mostly on her own. She also cares for the grandmother who raised her after her own parents died in a car crash. Between taking care of Cody and Flo and her job as principal, she's really busy. She and Ryder have been friends all their lives. He was also her husband's best friend, and has been part of her life since Greg's death. She never expected the burst of attraction that resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. A scandal like that could cost her her job.

 

Ryder has always cared for Annabeth, but his buddy Greg got to her first. Since Greg's death he has tried to look out for them, the way Greg would have wanted, but Annabeth's independence makes it difficult to do much. When he finds out about her pregnancy he's determined to do the right thing and proposes. Being married will make it much easier to care for her. He doesn't expect her to accept his proposal as a temporary measure.

 

I liked Annabeth, but I did get a bit frustrated with her at times. She's a strong woman who has been through a lot and has learned to depend on herself. She's a terrific mom who worries about her son but also takes the time to have fun with him. I loved her relationship with her grandmother, and her patience when Flo's memory starts to slip. When she found out she was pregnant, she was determined that she would not trap Ryder in a marriage he didn't want. She'd heard him say that he wouldn't marry, and knew he had a job offer in Dallas, so she made it clear to him that she only expected a temporary marriage. 

 

I loved Ryder. He has had a reputation as a rebel, thanks to his early years. He had never really fit in with the ranching side of his family and as a result had tended to rebel by getting into trouble. His mother died in a car accident on her way to get him after one of those episodes and he has carried a lot of guilt about it ever since. But in the last few years that lifestyle has lost its appeal and he has started to settle down. I loved his protectiveness toward Annabeth and his determination to take care of her. He was surprised by her plan for a temporary marriage as his intention was for a real and permanent one. 

 

I loved seeing their relationship develop. Ryder doesn't push his intentions on her, but he's determined to show her what they could have together. It was really sweet to see the way he notices the little things that make her happy. I loved how he's always there to support her, even when she thinks she doesn't need it. I felt for him because he never seemed to be able to find the words to tell her how he feels. Annabeth started out determined to keep from depending on Ryder, sure that he would be ready to leave by the end of the school year. It didn't take long for her feelings to start to change from friendship to something more, but she was afraid to believe that he could feel the same way. In her fear she kept pushing him away. I loved seeing them both finally find the courage to confess their feelings. Ryder's surprise for Annabeth at the end was really sweet.

 

I enjoyed some of the secondary characters and the way they added to the story. Annabeth's grandmother, Flo, was quite a hoot. I felt bad for the health issues that she was having, but when she was "all there" she was great. I loved her part with Ryder when he went to see her. Cody was a great kid who was a lot more observant than Annabeth knew. I loved the support that both Annabeth and Ryder got from his family, and how he finally started to feel part of them again. I think my favorite was the kitten Tom. The scene with him after his encounter with the skunk was hysterical.

Review
5 Stars
A Cowboy for Christmas - Rachel Lee (HSE #2439 - Nov 2015)
A Cowboy for Christmas (Conard County: The Next Generation) - Rachel Lee

Series: Conard County: The Next Generation (Book 26)
           Conard County (Book 44)

A RANCHER WRAPPED IN RED

 

Emotionally and creatively drained, country music star Rory McLane returns home to Conard County, Wyoming, to recoup. He's sworn off women to allow himself time to heal and to protect his daughter. But his home's new caretaker is more appealing than he'd ever imagined. Kind and thoughtful, natural beauty Abby Jason makes Rory want to hum a love song once again…

 

Abby can't help but swoon at Rory's rugged good looks, but the sexy singer is off-limits. Her bitter divorce left her reluctant to trust another man -- even one as devoted to his family as Rory. As he and his daughter fill her heart with love and holiday cheer, she wonders if the cowboy might just be the one Christmas miracle to change her mind.

 

Very good book. Rory is burned out on his career and his personal life. He's had enough of touring and being away from his daughter, even though his ex-wife has custody. He's also finding it hard to write the music that used to come so easily to him. So he has packed up and returned to his roots in Conard County, hoping that the peace will help him heal. 

 

Abby was hired as the housekeeper in Rory's new house. She's still recovering from her divorce from a man who cheated on her with her boss, then running off with her, leaving Abby both jobless and homeless. The job of housekeeper came along at just the right time, as her work as a waitress wasn't paying the bills. With what she's getting paid, she can save enough to go back to college. She just isn't sure what to expect from her new employer. Will he be one of those stars that travels with an entourage and expects every whim to be catered to?

 

Imagine her surprise when he arrives by himself in an ordinary pickup truck, with little luggage and an old beat up guitar. He lets her know that he doesn't expect much, that he can't even guarantee he'd show up for regular mealtimes when he's lost in his work. The next few days are pretty quiet, until he gets a call from his ex-wife, giving custody of their daughter to him, because "she's too much trouble". Rory's happiness at getting his daughter back is plain to see, but Abby is worried about being expected to care for her. She knows nothing about kids. She makes a bit of a blunder trying to convey that to Rory, but smooths things over when he returns with Regina.

 

I loved the relationship that developed between Rory and Abby. Both were attracted to the other, but having been burned in the past, each was trying to resist. Rory is still smarting from his treatment by his ex-wife, plus dealing with all the people who suck up to him in order to get something from him. It has left him finding it hard to trust anyone. Abby also has trust issues, thanks to her ex, plus he did a number on her self esteem. She's attracted to him, but is quite certain that he would never look at her the same way. What I loved about Rory is that he liked Abby for the person she was. He appreciated the fact that she treats him like an ordinary person. With the addition of Regina to the household, they are suddenly spending much more time together. I liked how Rory got Abby involved in his music, and how Abby was able to give him the kind of response he needed. When the two were trapped alone in the house during a weekend storm, the attraction between them got more intense. I really loved the way that they talked to each other about their pasts and the effects on their willingness to get involved with someone else. I loved how they looked at their attraction clearly before doing anything about it. The intensity of what they experienced had them both running scared the next morning, and Rory especially said some truly terrible things. I was impressed, however, with the way that he faced up to what he did and tried to make it right. I thought it said a lot about both of them that they were able to look at what happened and learn from it.

 

Things get really scary when Regina is taken violently ill. Rory's fear of losing her is obvious and it takes Abby to keep him from giving in to those fears. I loved seeing her support of him, and how it makes clear to her just how strong her feelings for both of them are. The ending is really sweet as Regina makes her wishes known and Rory has to find a way to convince Abby that he loves her for herself.

 

I really liked Regina. From what was said about her at the beginning I was expecting a brat, but she wasn't. However, she was very smart for a ten year old, and had a very realistic view of her relationship with her mother. I loved her joy at being with her father, and the obviously loving relationship that they had. Her Christmas present for her dad was fantastic and his pride in her was a beautiful thing to see. She was a little tentative with Abby at the beginning, but they made friends fast. I loved seeing the fun that they had together even when Rory wasn't around. She wasn't perfect, as shown by her nagging Rory about a horse, but she wasn't mean about it either. She also knew when to stand up for herself, and proved it with an interesting twist regarding her mom and a renewed custody battle.

Review
4 Stars
Coming Home for Christmas - Marie Ferrarella (HSE #2437 - Nov 2015)
Coming Home for Christmas (Matchmaking Mamas) - Marie Ferrarella

Series: Matchmaking Mamas (Book 15)

TRUE LOVE IN HIS STOCKING?

 

They say you can't go home again, but Keith O'Connell wasn't worried about staying. He was just back in town to sell his late mother's house and try to avoid old emotions. Of course, hiring estate sale specialist Kenzie Bradshaw meant the possibility of creating new memories before he left. Especially once the Matchmaking Mamas hatched a plan.

 

Kenzie Bradshaw was used to the turmoil involved in estate sales, though she'd never had a client like Keith. He wanted everything gone. She knew, however, there were some things -- some memories -- he shouldn't lose. Convincing him to spend one last Christmas in his family's home could melt his hardened heart. But would it bring back the man she used to know and love?

 

Good book. Keith goes back to his childhood home when he gets word that his mother has died. He hadn't seen or talked to his mom in ten years, and all he wants to do is sell the house and go back to the life he has made for himself. Before he can do that, he has to clear out the house of all the stuff that's there. Not knowing where to start, he takes the advice of his real estate agent and hired Kenzie to take care of it.

 

Kenzie is the youngest in her family and the only one not married. She loves her business and is in no hurry to get married, despite the best efforts of her mother and sisters. While in high school, she had had a big crush on Keith, big brother to one of her friends. Being hired to help him with his mother's house is both good and bad. It's bad because she discovers that her crush never went away, and seeing him again just brings it all back. It's good because she can see that the weight of some of his memories is crushing him and she feels that she can help him through it all.

 

I enjoyed the relationship that built between Keith and Kenzie. Keith had tried to bury all the pain that resulted from his sister's death and his subsequent estrangement from his mother. All he wants is to get rid of the house and leave again, but Kenzie isn't letting him pass all the responsibility on to her. I loved seeing how she was determined to help him through it all. She could see that there was pain under the bitterness that he expressed. Even though she had only been hired to deal with the estate sale, she can't help but offer her help on the personal side. I loved her offer to help with the funeral arrangements, and that she pushed him into participating in all the steps. I liked the way that she seemed to know when to insist and when to back off a little.

 

Keith didn't know how to deal with Kenzie's interference in his plans. He didn't want to think about anything except getting rid of the house and everything in it, and tried to resist Kenzie's meddling. It was fun to see him get sucked into doing what she wanted and then liking it. Though he wanted to believe that he could handle everything, he found himself very grateful for Kenzie's help and support through the funeral. As the walls that he had built up to protect himself from his memories of his sister and his mother started to crumble, he discovered that other emotions were also making themselves known. First it was simple attraction, but then he realized that he was beginning to need Kenzie in ways he hadn't needed anyone in years. The strength of his emotions scared him into running back to San Francisco, where he thought he could go back to the way things had been before. 

 

Kenzie had quickly realized that her heart was in danger as she helped Keith through his memories. I liked the fact that she embraced her feelings rather than trying to deny them. She knew that there was a good chance that nothing would come of them, but she had to try. I loved seeing her let him go at the end, believing that it had to be his choice to stay. She did sort of get the last word as she stuck something in his suitcase that he wasn't expecting. I loved the ending and seeing the changes in Keith. 

 

I also liked the secondary characters. Kenzie's family was terrific. I loved the early scene with Kenzie and her sister, as Kenzie saw right through the attempt at matchmaking and stood up for herself. But in spite of the matchmaking attempts, Kenzie's relationship with her family is really good. I loved seeing the support she got from them whenever she needed help. It was really sweet to see how they made Keith feel like a part of their family, something he hadn't realized he missed until they did it. The matchmaking mamas of course made their own appearances, from the setup of Keith and Kenzie at the beginning to their presence at the wedding in the end. I loved their satisfaction at their unbroken streak of successful matches.

Review
4 Stars
A Christmas Wedding for the Cowboy - Mary Leo (HAR #1576 - Dec 2015)
A Christmas Wedding for the Cowboy (Harlequin American Romance) - Mary Leo

Series: Briggs Idaho (Book 5)

HAVE WEDDING, NEED BRIDE!

 

Wedding planner Zoe Smart is getting a reputation for being a jinx. The worst part is, the rumors may be true. Zoe's last two brides bailed on their grooms, so she really needs cowboy Carson Grant's wedding to go off without a hitch, aside from the one in her heart every time they meet.

 

Though Carson knows he has to tell Zoe the wedding's canceled, he doesn't want to give the town's wagging tongues more fodder. Besides, Carson is having way more fun planning a nonexistent wedding with Zoe than he ever did planning his real one. But time is running out to tell the truth. Will Carson's ruse charm Zoe's romantic spirit, or will their love be jinxed from the start?

 

Good book. Carson is a big time rodeo bronc rider who got badly injured on his most recent ride. After a couple months he's starting to heal, but then his fiancee ends their engagement. He's still dealing with that shock when he meets with wedding planner Zoe. Currently, Carson's is the only wedding that Zoe and her partner are working on. She is battling a run of bad luck that has rumors of her being jinxed running rampant. If she can't pull off this wedding, her business is done for.

 

I liked Carson. Though he knew that he had to tell Zoe that the wedding wasn't going to happen, he couldn't stand to hurt her that way. He decided to go on planning the wedding as though it was still going to happen. What he didn't expect was to start falling for her. I liked the way he became so protective of her, trying to think of ways he could help. The idea he came up with, to have her plan a birthday party for his father to happen later that same day, could have turned out so badly. I loved the confidence that he showed in her ability. The events of the party were hilariously portrayed, giving Carson another idea for what to do about the wedding.

 

I liked Zoe also. She's fighting an uphill battle with her business. First she had to deal with the lack of support from her parents, who wanted her working for their law firm. Then she had to deal with a couple of weddings with no-show participants, a couple more that simply canceled ahead of time, and one previous wedding that is ending in divorce. Suddenly people believe that having Zoe do their wedding means disaster is sure to follow. She really wants and needs Carson's wedding to go smoothly. Something feels a little strange when Carson starts showing up for all the parts the bride usually does, but she accepts his explanation. What has her really worried are the things she's starting to feel for the groom.

 

I really enjoyed the growing relationship between Zoe and Carson. Spending all that time together showed that they had much in common. Carson is still dealing with the effects of his rodeo injuries, which include some guilt over the injuries of the rodeo clown who helped him and wondering if he'll ever be ready to ride again. I liked the way that Zoe seemed to sense his turmoil, and helped him through his first real public appearance after his injuries. The attraction builds between them, but Zoe still believes that he's engaged and refuses to think that he could be a cheater. When the truth comes out, Zoe is furious about the deception, and still reluctant to believe that he is really in love with her. There's a great scene in the bridal gown shop when the ex-fiancee shows up and things get really wild.

 

The ending was fantastic. I loved the way that the wedding was handled, with an unexpected twist regarding the participants. Even better was seeing Carson and Zoe's big moment, perfectly done for them.

Review
4 Stars
A Christmas Wedding for the Cowboy - Mary Leo (HAR #1576 - Dec 2015)
A Christmas Wedding for the Cowboy (Harlequin American Romance) - Mary Leo

Series: Briggs Idaho (Book 5)

HAVE WEDDING, NEED BRIDE!

 

Wedding planner Zoe Smart is getting a reputation for being a jinx. The worst part is, the rumors may be true. Zoe's last two brides bailed on their grooms, so she really needs cowboy Carson Grant's wedding to go off without a hitch, aside from the one in her heart every time they meet.

 

Though Carson knows he has to tell Zoe the wedding's canceled, he doesn't want to give the town's wagging tongues more fodder. Besides, Carson is having way more fun planning a nonexistent wedding with Zoe than he ever did planning his real one. But time is running out to tell the truth. Will Carson's ruse charm Zoe's romantic spirit, or will their love be jinxed from the start?

 

Good book. Carson is a big time rodeo bronc rider who got badly injured on his most recent ride. After a couple months he's starting to heal, but then his fiancee ends their engagement. He's still dealing with that shock when he meets with wedding planner Zoe. Currently, Carson's is the only wedding that Zoe and her partner are working on. She is battling a run of bad luck that has rumors of her being jinxed running rampant. If she can't pull off this wedding, her business is done for.

 

I liked Carson. Though he knew that he had to tell Zoe that the wedding wasn't going to happen, he couldn't stand to hurt her that way. He decided to go on planning the wedding as though it was still going to happen. What he didn't expect was to start falling for her. I liked the way he became so protective of her, trying to think of ways he could help. The idea he came up with, to have her plan a birthday party for his father to happen later that same day, could have turned out so badly. I loved the confidence that he showed in her ability. The events of the party were hilariously portrayed, giving Carson another idea for what to do about the wedding.

 

I liked Zoe also. She's fighting an uphill battle with her business. First she had to deal with the lack of support from her parents, who wanted her working for their law firm. Then she had to deal with a couple of weddings with no-show participants, a couple more that simply canceled ahead of time, and one previous wedding that is ending in divorce. Suddenly people believe that having Zoe do their wedding means disaster is sure to follow. She really wants and needs Carson's wedding to go smoothly. Something feels a little strange when Carson starts showing up for all the parts the bride usually does, but she accepts his explanation. What has her really worried are the things she's starting to feel for the groom.

 

I really enjoyed the growing relationship between Zoe and Carson. Spending all that time together showed that they had much in common. Carson is still dealing with the effects of his rodeo injuries, which include some guilt over the injuries of the rodeo clown who helped him and wondering if he'll ever be ready to ride again. I liked the way that Zoe seemed to sense his turmoil, and helped him through his first real public appearance after his injuries. The attraction builds between them, but Zoe still believes that he's engaged and refuses to think that he could be a cheater. When the truth comes out, Zoe is furious about the deception, and still reluctant to believe that he is really in love with her. There's a great scene in the bridal gown shop when the ex-fiancee shows up and things get really wild.

 

The ending was fantastic. I loved the way that the wedding was handled, with an unexpected twist regarding the participants. Even better was seeing Carson and Zoe's big moment, perfectly done for them.

Review
4 Stars
All He Wants for Christmas - Lisa Plumley (Zebra - Oct 2014)
All He Wants for Christmas - Lisa Plumley

Series: Kismet Christmas (Book 4)

In Kismet, Michigan, Christmas is special: big fluffy snowflakes, sleigh bells, carolers singing. It’s a picture-perfect holiday -- you just have to choose who’s in the frame…

 

Jason Hamilton is on thin ice with the board of his toy company. The young CEO may be a kid at heart, but his party boy reputation requires damage control. So Jason’s off to Kismet to inspect a model store, stay on Santa’s Nice list, and stick to business -- no goofing around. Which is too bad, because the store manager, Danielle Sharpe, is the definition of what makes Naughty fun…

 

Danielle is thrilled to show off her thriving little toy store -- especially if it’s her ticket out of Kismet. The single mom is tired of manufacturing cheer solo while her ex-husband has all the fun. But if she’d known Jason was this hot, she wouldn’t have offered to host him. With Jason in her house, Danielle is getting warmer than spiked cider. She’s supposed to impress him with her expertise, not daydream about catching him under the mistletoe. Now whatever she does, she can’t get swept up in the magic…

 

Good story about a man who has a little growing up to do and a woman who needs a little more fun in her life. Jason is the CEO of a toy company that he turned into national chain from its beginnings as a single store. But he really doesn't like the business side of things and tends to take long, party filled vacations. His most recent vacation put him in the center of some really bad publicity, leading his board of directors to give him an ultimatum: Clean up your image or you're out. So he's headed off on a tour of the midwest stores, starting with the one in Kismet. He's supposed to generate good publicity and behave himself, starting with the elderly store manager.

 

Danielle took over as store manager six months earlier. She's a divorced mother of three, determined to win a promotion that will take her out of Kismet and away from her cheating ex and his new airheaded wife. She has her own methods of making the store work, most of which involve completely ignoring the corporate guidebook. She knows they will get her in a boatload of trouble if they're discovered, but she's confident in her ability to keep the boss distracted. 

 

I loved the first meeting between Danielle and Jason. He spent awhile just wandering the town and getting a feel for it before showing up at the store. It was so much fun to see him jump in and start working the floor like a regular employee. He has great charm and personality and soon has customers eating out of his hand. Even when a group of protesters arrive, he defuses to situation so completely that Danielle isn't quite sure what she just witnessed. When they finally meet and Jason discovers who she is, he's a little bummed. He's really attracted to her, but he shouldn't do anything about it. I really liked how Danielle tries to make Jason see that just apologizing wouldn't be so bad, but he is determined to stand his ground. Danielle thinks she's been promised a promotion if she can bring Jason into line, so she's done some string pulling on her end to make sure Jason is just where she wants him. 

 

I really enjoyed the buildup of their relationship. The chemistry between them is strong and things build up between them thanks to little touches and unexpected emotional connections. It was fun to see Jason have fun with Danielle's two boys, especially since he's almost as big a kid as they are. Her daughter is a harder sell, and she gives Jason a hard time throughout the book. It was sweet to see the way he really wanted them to like him. 

 

There's trouble on the horizon though, as the head of the board of directors is determined to oust Jason from the company and doesn't care how he does it. We see him using Danielle's desire for a promotion to get her to report on Jason's "progress". Danielle feels guilty about the secrets she's keeping from Jason, especially as they grow closer and she realizes that she's falling for him. Meanwhile, Jason discovers that the video he sent to Chip to show him how he's changed has become a social media PR campaign. He's furious, and worried about what she'll say when she finds out. He doesn't want to tell her because he's afraid that it will end the relationship that he's finding increasingly important to him.

 

I liked Jason a lot. He's a fun loving guy who really has a big heart. He loves his family and is very protective of their privacy. He doesn't publicize how poor they had been and how he got his start in the toy business. I also enjoyed the protectiveness that came out when he saw how her ex was treating her. His pretend relationship with her, to help her shut down her ex's attitude, turned real very fast. It was really sweet to see all the things he did with her and the kids, and the effect it ultimately had on him.

 

I also like Danielle. She had obviously been the adult in her marriage and it has made things awkward with her ex and his wife. I really understood her frustration with having to be the bad guy with her kids when it came to the things her ex did. Having Jason doing things for her, both big and small, was something so different that she couldn't help but fall for him. I loved the way that showing him around Kismet at Christmas made her realize that she really didn't want to move away after all.

 

When Chip came to Kismet and started manipulating both Jason and Danielle, the resulting drama was pretty intense. Both Jason and Danielle felt like they had been betrayed, and neither wanted to listen to the other explain what had happened. I enjoyed seeing each of them get life, love and relationships explained to them. I especially loved the appearance of Mr. Moosby himself in Kismet, the reason he was there, and how much he obviously cared about Jason. The solution that they came up with that worked for everyone was fantastic. The Christmas morning scene was sweet and romantic.

Review
5 Stars
Kiss Me - Susan Mallery (HQN - July 2015)
Kiss Me - Susan Mallery

Series: Fool's Gold CA (Book 17)

After Phoebe Kitzke's kind heart gets her suspended from her job in LA, she swears off doing favors -- until her best friend begs for help on the family ranch in Fool's Gold. Unfortunately, sexy cowboy Zane Nicholson isn't exactly thrilled by the city girl's arrival.

 

Thanks to his brother's latest scheme, Zane has been roped into taking tourists on a cattle drive. What Phoebe knows about ranching wouldn't fill his hat, but her laughter is so captivating that even his animals fall for her. One slip of his legendary control leads to a passionate kiss that convinces him she's exactly the kind of woman a single-minded loner needs to avoid.

 

In his arms, Phoebe discovers she's a country girl at heart. Yet no matter how much the small town feels like home, she can't stay unless Zane loves her, too…but is this cowboy interested in forever?

 

Very good book, mainly about Phoebe and Zane, but also with some terrific secondary characters. It begins with Zane, owner of Nicholson Ranch, and older brother/guardian to seventeen year old Chase, discovering that Chase has advertised a cattle drive vacation for tourists and accepted reservations and payments. The circumstances of how this came about, and Chase's attempts to deal with it are pretty amusing to the reader, but definitely not to Zane. Zane is furious and determined that Chase will face the consequences.

 

Phoebe is an LA real estate agent who, while helping out another agent and friend, ended up blamed for some messed up paperwork. That wouldn't be so bad, but it ended up in a lawsuit. Fortunately it didn't end up in jail time for Phoebe, but she was suspended from her job for a month without pay, and threatened with losing her real estate license. Unhappy that helping someone once again got her in trouble, she swears off doing any more favors for friends. Until her best friend, Maya, asks Phoebe to go along with her as she helps her stepbrothers on their cattle drive. Phoebe is all city girl and pretty sure that it won't go well, but she goes.

 

When Zane and Phoebe meet, there is definitely attraction between them. But Phoebe has had a couple bad relationships and isn't too eager to start another one. Zane is attracted to Phoebe too, but he's never had much luck trying to talk to women. So he's not very talkative, leading Phoebe to believe he doesn't like her at all. As the cattle drive begins, Zane is mostly focused on making sure everything goes smoothly, but Phoebe turns out to be quite a distraction. I loved seeing Phoebe's enthusiasm once she got going on the cattle drive. I especially loved the conversations she had with the head steer, Manny. 

 

I liked Zane a lot. He's pretty uptight at the beginning, weighed down with the responsibility of the ranch and his brother. Zane has some issues in his past that haunt him, and make him determined that Chase will have it better. Unfortunately, he tends to be hard on Chase because of it, putting their relationship under a lot of strain. He loves his brother, but actually communicating with him doesn't go so well.  I understood his anger at what Chase had done and his determination to make Chase deal with the consequences. Hanging out with Phoebe on the cattle drive opens him up to a new way of looking at his troubles with Chase. It also starts to break down the walls he'd built up around his heart, to protect himself from the extreme emotions he saw in his father. It was fun to see him fighting the feelings that were growing for Phoebe, and failing so completely. I also enjoyed the way that he started to look forward to whatever Phoebe had to say next. I loved seeing the changes she helps bring about in his relationship with Chase.

 

I liked Phoebe too. Though she works as a realtor in LA, she prefers to help the little guy find the right house rather than dealing with the stars. She lost her parents when she was young and looks forward to the day when she finally has her own family, but that search isn't going so well. She has quite the crush on Zane soon after she meets him. One of the things I liked best about her is the way that she sees past the uptight surface to the guy underneath who is struggling to do the right thing for his brother. 

 

I loved seeing the romance develop between them, as the city girl discovers a love of the country that she didn't expect, and the rancher discovers that love doesn't have to be an emotional mess. Things weren't  perfect between them. Their first kiss was pretty awkward, with bumping noses and being interrupted by a goat, but it gave them both a taste of what could be. As the week went on they began to bring out the best in each other. A storm brings danger to the cattle drivers, but also a new sense of teamwork, and Zane comes to realize just how much Phoebe has come to mean to him. A crisis regarding her real estate license has a new and improved Phoebe returning to LA to deal with it, with support from an amazing variety of people. Even better is a really sweet and romantic moment with Zane.

 

There is a secondary story dealing with an orphaned brother and sister who are brought on the cattle drive by a pair of temporary foster parents. The children have had it rough and have lost most hope of ever being adopted. The couple are dealing with the discovery that they can never have children, and she is very bitter over the knowledge. She starts out with a pretty bad attitude toward the kids, but things start to change over the week. I thought her feelings were quite realistic and loved the conversations she had with herself as she tried to figure out what her problem was. It was really sweet to see how things worked out for them at the end.

 

I also loved Chase. He's a really smart kid whose intentions are always good, but things don't work out the way he plans. He loves his brother and hates the feeling that he's constantly a disappointment. I really enjoyed seeing some of the maturing that he did over the week of the cattle drive. It was especially satisfying to see him start to understand Zane's point of view. The scene with the two of them after the storm was really pretty sweet.

 

There were also a few appearances by regular Fool's Gold residents. Eddie and Gladys are two of the people who signed up for the cattle drive and their antics are pretty funny. They have their typical fascination and commentary about the good-looking cowboys, but they are also wonderful with the two children. There are a few other brief appearances, such as the Strykers, and even Mayor Marsha shows up. There's a subtle lead in to the next book, and I can't wait to read it.

Review
4 Stars
Casey - Lori Foster (HQN - Dec 2002)
Casey - Lori Foster

Series: Buckhorn Brothers (Book 5)

Sawyer, Morgan, Gabe and Jordan -- they're the sexiest men in Buckhorn, Kentucky.

 

But meet Sawyer's son, Casey...

 

Like father, like son!

 

Emma Clark was back in Buckhorn. As a teen she'd been the girl with the bleached-blond hair, too much makeup and a bad reputation -- and she'd tried everything she could to get Casey Hudson into bed. He'd been the cutest guy in town, and the only one who seemed to care about her.

 

As a hot-blooded teen it had been hard for Casey to resist Emma. But now, eight years later, it was impossible. Emma's adult sensuality was more subtle, more beguiling. He had to have her. But Emma was doing her best to shut him out. Casey had to convince her the attraction wasn't just leftover teenage lust, but his real love for a real woman....

 

Very good book. I first met Casey in his father's book (Sawyer) where he was a seventeen year old boy being raised by his bachelor father and uncles. He was a good guy even then, honorable, kind, and a definite charmer. All the girls wanted him. In this book, we first see him at that age, resisting the girl who is determined to make a conquest of him, even though he'd really like to give in. Then that same girl is brought before him with a claim that he knows can't be true, but he and his family are willing to step up and help her. Determined not to bring her troubles to him, Emma disappears into the night, leaving Casey worried and wondering what became of her.

 

Eight years later, Emma comes back to Buckhorn to care for her sick father. She knows she'll run into him again and hopes she'll be strong enough to resist the feelings she still has for him. She still feels guilty for the way she left, but hadn't felt like she had any other choice. Casey is stunned to see her, and can't believe how much he still wants her. He still feels bad that he hadn't been able to help her, and mad at her for the way she disappeared.

 

I loved the heat that was still there between them. Casey was more than happy to pursue it and see where it might go, even though she doesn't plan to stay in Buckhorn. He doesn't expect to quickly feel more than just lust for her, and isn't quite sure how to deal with it at first. Emma tries to keep him at a distance, both because she doesn't feel that she's any good for him and to protect her heart. But she really can't resist him, and the more time they spend together the deeper she falls for him. I loved the time they spent together, learning more about each other. There were some pretty funny moments, when Casey's possessiveness gets a little out of hand. There are also some really sweet times, such as when he gets all protective of her when they run into some folks who aren't very nice to her. 

 

I also loved seeing them open up to each other about their fears and hopes for the future. I loved Casey's sensitivity when he began to delve into Emma's past, as he could feel that there was more to her resistance of him than met the eye. I really loved his support of her throughout the book, and especially when her secret came out at the end. I also loved the way that she listened to his dream and encouraged him to go after it. The ending was great, as Casey is determined that he won't let her go again, and they find a way to be together.

 

I really loved seeing the brothers, how they are and what they are currently up to. I especially enjoyed the scenes with/about Gabe and his daughters and what the future holds. I also liked the secondary story that dealt with Emma's friend Damon. Seeing him go from uptight businessman to more relaxed Buckhorn convert was really fun.

Review
4 Stars
Cop By Her Side - Janice Kay Johnson (HS #1932 - July 2014)
Cop by Her Side - Janice Kay Johnson

Series: Mysteries of Angel Butte (Book 4)

"Does she put her trust in him...again?"

Lieutenant Jane Vahalik is "done" with Sergeant Clay Renner. He messed up their romance when he dished out too much male swagger. She gets enough of that on the job to put up with it in her personal life--regardless of how hot Clay may be.

 

Then her niece is kidnapped, and suddenly he is the only cop Jane trusts to lead the search. The rush of attraction sizzling between them surprises her. So does his determination to prove she's wrong about him. It could be just the tense situation--or it could be "Clay"--but Jane's feelings for him are growing. Maybe they deserve a second chance....

 

Good story with some fast paced action and a second chance at romance. Jane and Clay had dated briefly a few months before, until Jane overheard him discussing their relationship with "the guys" in a manner she found totally unacceptable. She had really liked him, and his chauvinistic comments hurt her and made her angry. Clay knew he had screwed up as soon as he said it, but he doesn't know how to fix it.

 

Then her sister is injured in a car accident and her niece disappears. With Lissa in a coma and unable to tell anyone what happened, Clay is in charge of the investigation. As they work together on the case, Clay looks at it as an opportunity to show Jane that he has learned from his mistakes. Jane isn't sure that she should trust him again, but she can't deny that her feelings for him are growing.

 

I liked Clay a lot. He was working from a bit of a disadvantage, as his example of how a man behaves was that of his father. He was definitely old school, the woman belongs at home raising the kids, and certainly not working in a field like law enforcement. With Jane not only being law enforcement but also higher ranked, Clay had a little trouble dealing with it all. I liked the fact that he realized right away that he was wrong, and took a good hard look at himself and his attitudes. Once he figured out where it had come from, he was determined to change. He hoped for a second chance with Jane, but wasn't very optimistic, given the way she has treated him ever since.

 

Jane has some self-esteem issues on the personal side of her life. Unlike her younger sister, Jane is shorter, curvy, and in her opinion, very ordinary looking. She hasn't had very many relationships, as most men looked at her as a friend rather than a romantic interest. Plus, as a police lieutenant, she seems to intimidate many of the men she knows. She had really liked Clay and thought that they had potential, until she heard him make those remarks. 

 

Working together on the case involving her sister and niece, Jane begins to see a different side of Clay. He admits to his mistakes, explains where they had come from, and lets her know up front that he really wants a second chance with her. He stumbles a couple times, but he is obviously trying, and that means a lot to her. Jane has her own male-related issues, thanks to her father's relationship with her and her sister, and trusting men outside of work is something that is hard for her to do. The attraction between them adds another layer to the developing relationship. I loved seeing the fight between Clay's natural protectiveness and his pride and confidence in Jane's abilities. Jane also had to learn to accept that Clay could feel both. I loved seeing how it all came together at the end, and they were able to move forward together.

 

The mystery of the missing girl went throughout the book. It was really interesting to see how methodical Clay was in his pursuit of the clues. He had a bit of an uphill battle with Jane because of his suspicions about her brother-in-law and sister. She had spent so much of her life protecting her sister that she doesn't want to think she could be wrong. I didn't much care for her brother-in-law for most of the book, but he redeemed himself in the end. It was very nerve-wracking as the search went on and Brianna was nowhere to be found. The resolution was really intense and showed both Clay and Jane's strengths.

Review
5 Stars
Never Surrender - Lindsay McKenna (HQN - June 2014)
Never Surrender - Lindsay McKenna

Series: Shadow Warriors (Book 6)

From Shadow Warrior…to hostage

 

Despite her sweet nature, Navy medic Bay Thorn's will is unbreakable. It has earned her not only the respect of her team, but also the love of Navy SEAL Gabe Griffin. And as soon as she wraps up the final six months of Operation Shadow Warriors in Afghanistan, she'll have her happily ever after….

 

Until her deployment goes horribly wrong.

 

Bay's medical expertise is needed by the Taliban, and she is taken hostage. Her captor is ruthless and cruel, and Bay isn't exempt from his evil intents. All that's left now is her resolve and the too-distant memory of Gabe -- her last and only hope for rescue. And to pull Bay from hell, this SEAL will have to break every rule in the book. But will Gabe find the woman he loves…or a woman broken beyond recognition? 

 

Exciting and emotional book. It deals with some very tough issues that face our military members, especially the women. This is a follow on book to Breaking Point, the first part of Bay and Gabe's story. In that book, Bay is assigned as medic to Gabe's SEAL unit. Overcoming the prejudices of her teammates, Bay won their respect, and also the love of Gabe. Bay has one more deployment to face before she can leave the military and marry Gabe. At the beginning of this book, she and Gabe have a week together between her training and her departure for Afghanistan. The time that they spend together only deepens their love and their connection. Bay is confident in her ability to make it through this last deployment and come home to Gabe. Gabe, being the protective soul that he is, and not one given to optimism, worries constantly about her safety. He maintains contact with the SEAL unit that is over there, knowing that they will watch out for a brother SEAL's woman.

 

Bay is assigned to an army special forces unit that is working out of a Afghani village. Because of the presence of an especially violent Taliban force, Bay is not sent out on patrols but is headquartered in the village, providing medical care to the locals as well as her unit. One afternoon, as she is treating local women and children, the Taliban sweeps in a takes several children and Bay. The Taliban leader, an especially nasty sort, kidnaps children and sells them as sex slaves to finance his operations. He hates all Americans, and a military woman is even more offensive to him, but he will use Bay's medical expertise until he has no more use for her. Bay knows that the outlook for her is bleak, but she will do what she must to survive, hopeful of escape or rescue.

 

I was definitely impressed with Bay's initial attempts to fight off the Taliban raiders, hoping that the rest of the team would make it in time to save her. When that didn't happen and she was captured, she had to overcome the effects of her injuries to follow the orders of her captor. The memories of her love with Gabe helps keep her from losing all hope, especially as they move further away from where she was taken. Then her pleas for help for an injured child cause retaliation of the worst kind. Even then, her mind is always looking for a way out, and when one becomes available she takes it.

 

In the meantime, Gabe, after waking from a terrifying nightmare, gets word of Bay's capture. Desperate, he does everything he can to get himself sent to Afghanistan so that he can search for her himself. While this stretches the bounds of reality for me a little, as I don't think it would happen in real life, it makes for a damn good story. Gabe's fear for Bay is never far from his thoughts, though he works to keep it buried. Once he arrives and meets up with Afghani guide Reza, the search is on. 

 

I loved the detailed descriptions of what Bay was going through, mentally and physically, as she made her escape. The realism of her fractured thoughts, including the bursts of memories of the things Gabe told her of how to survive, kept me on the edge of my seat as I hoped that she would make a clean escape. At the same time, Gabe and Reza were trying to track the group that had taken her. The intensity of the moment when Gabe realizes that Bay has escaped, but that the Taliban is gaining on her was fantastic. The firefight and rescue were incredible. Gabe's relief at finding her alive, and fears for her survival had him on a ragged edge. I ached for him as he discovered the true extent of her injuries.

 

From this point the book deals with Bay's recovery and Gabe learning how to support her. I loved the scene in the hospital, as one of the older nurses explains to a younger one the reality of dealing with a SEAL, especially one who is protecting one of his own. I liked the way that Bay's doctor sat Gabe down and explained in great detail what would probably go on as Bay started her recovery, and what Gabe would have to do to help her. Because of amnesia caused by her injuries, Bay doesn't remember anything about their relationship, and Gabe has to provide support as a friend not a lover. As several months pass, Bay's memories slowly start to return and Gabe is there for her. But the stress on him is intense, as he tries to keep his emotions buried. There comes a point where those emotions overwhelm him and cause him to react badly to an event involving Bay. This could be either the beginning of the end for Bay and Gabe, or a learning point for Gabe. I loved the advice that he got from Bay's mother, and how he put it into practice. 

 

In the final part, as Bay goes off on her own to try to put the pieces of her life back together, I loved her determination. She makes a good start, and has begun to realize that she is falling in love with Gabe. But hearing that he is gone, sends her into a spiral that only one thing can break her out of. I loved the way that Gabe followed her to watch out for her, but kept his distance. It also gave him the time to come to terms with his own fears and feelings. The step he took to help Bay away from the wall she hit was sweet and romantic and just what she needed to regain her final memories. I really enjoyed the scene where he steps out of the darkness to protect her from another threat, reuniting them. Together again, Gabe once more reaches deep for the patience he feels he needs as he and Bay rebuild their relationship. I loved seeing Bay be the one to push the envelope of their love to get back what had been missing. I loved the ending with a look at their lives together. The visit from Gabe's friend Mike was just the icing on the cake.