How to Seduce a Vampire (Without Really Trying) by Kerrelyn Sparks

ORDER A COPY: How to Seduce a Vampire (Without Really Trying) (Love at Stake)

Publisher: Avon
Publishing Date: April 29, 2014
Paperback: 384 pages

Rating: 3 stars

Vampire Zoltan Czakvar is on the hunt for the truth about his father’s death. He’s been searching for a very long time—since 1241, in fact. And he is not about to give up, even when he’s attacked by a woman with striking blue eyes and a hell of a right hook!

Neona is also on the hunt. She’s looking for a mate, and she thinks muscled Zoltan will work just fine. After all, men are good for only one thing. Soon, though, she realizes there’s more to this handsome vampire than just sexual prowess. But she’s keeping a secret from Zoltan, something so big that it will rock the vampire world.

Can their new found love survive . . . even if their passion means the destruction of her world?

Zoltan Czakvar has been a vampire and Coven Master for over 800 years, and his day to day has become so routine…meetings, castle tours. The only excitement in his life right now is Howard’s wife, Elsa and her crew are renovating some of the more rundown areas of his castle in Transylvania.

Even though he has always known about vampires (it is Transylvania, after all), Zoltan never aspired to become one. It was only after his mother died, and his father was killed, that Zoltan sought out his sire. He needed to find who had killed his father, but after years of searching, he hadn’t found any answers and he needed to stay strong, young and healthy until he had some answers. That was in 1241. Zoltan is pretty sure whoever the assassin was is long dead, but he still stares at the arrow on his wall and dreams he would someday find an answer.

When Russell shows up at Zoltan’s castle carrying an arrow that has the same markings on it, Zoltan follows Russell back to Asia. But Tibet was the last place, he expected to find his father’s killer. Zoltan spent his time searching most of eastern Europe, but never expected someone to come halfway around the world to kill a man in Transylvania.

What he finds in the small village in the hidden valley in the Himalaya creates more questions than answers, including why do some of these warriors have the ability to talk to animals just like Zoltan and his mother could. This small group of warrior women are protecting some secret. Something important enough to kill anyone getting close enough to their valley to protect. When Zoltan tries to approach Neoma outside of the village walls to get some answers, she attacks him, but not with plans to kill him…at least not right away. Neoma wants Zoltan to father a child for her, and then she promises to release him after he gets the job done. As a vampire, Zoltan can’t father children, but he is not sure that this is a good time to mention that little bit of information. Not if he wants to live another day.

And Zoltan needs to survive if he wants to solve the mystery of what these women are protecting and what they had to do with his father’s death. As Zoltan starts to lose his heart to Neoma, he is begins to fear that she might have had been responsible for his father’s death…800 years ago.

I can’t explain to you how much it pains me to say bad things about one of my favorite authors, but I didn’t like this story at all. I read several glowing reviews of the story so maybe it is just me.  Once I thought about the series, I find that the stories I don’t like as much involved other mythical creatures rather than just the vampire/human, vampire/shifter and shifter/human romances. Among my non-favorites are Connor’s story with the fallen death angel; Howard’s story and although I like Elsa’s job on the renovation show, I wasn’t into her and the Aunt’s and their mystical powers, and now Zoltan and his warrior girlfriend.

Things I found distracting about the story included the fact that although Neoma was taught English at some point in her life, it has been decades since she spoke English with anyone, and yet she had no problem jumping right into a conversation with Zoltan.  Plus, she was born and lived in this hidden valley for a long, long time, but she had no problem following slang and not being freaked out by Zoltan’s sat phone, etc. They still cook over an open fire in a single clay pot but she didn’t question him making a phone call? I know that I am reading a vampire book, but characters and the story plot need to be conceivable within the world she created.

Without ruining the plot for anyone, I was bothered by a big “what comes first: the chicken or the egg” problem with the story plot and the ending leaves some big questions for the future of the series.

So after weeks holding onto my ARC copy until this popped to the top of my TBR list, I was so disappointed in this story. So after I have a good cry for saying mean things about Kerrelyn Sparks’ hard work, and I am going to sneak in a re-read of Roman’s or Gregori’s story (my favorites) to remind myself why I like this series so much.

Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Scene:

He eyed the woman. She was sitting quietly beside him, biting her lip. Nervous. That was a good sign. He didn’t want to think that she did this sort of thing often. “Did I hear you correctly? You want my seed?”

Her cheeks flushed slightly, but she looked him in the eye. “Yes.”

“Was this your plan all along? Knock me out, tie me up, and rape me?”

She winced. “It’s not rape.”

“What else would you call it when you forcibly plan to take my seed?”

“I figured you would be willing.”

“To be raped?”

She grimaced. “It’s not rape as long as you agree.”

“What if I don’t agree?”

She looked dumbfounded for a moment. “I thought men always were agreeable.”

His hands fisted tightly around the rope as an unexpected surge of anger skittered through him. How many agreeable men had she found over the years? Probably plenty. What red-blooded male wouldn’t agree to letting a beautiful woman ravish him in the woods? Dammit.

He took a deep breath. Stay in control. “Before I can consider your offer, I have to know exactly what you expect of me.”

Her gaze drifted to his groin. “I thought it was obvious.”

“On the contrary, there are numerous issues that must be addressed.” Thankfully, her gaze returned to his face. He didn’t want her to notice the growing bulge in his pants.

She frowned. “Issues?”

“Yes. For instance, how long will I be required to performed? Will I receive compensation for any injuries incurred during the act?”

Her eyes widened. “Injuries?”

“It happens. I’ve been known to get terribly wild. Fortunately, you appear to be in excellent health, so you should survive the ordeal. Do you mind signing a waiver?” He enjoyed the growing expression of horror on her face. “Which position do you want to use? Or do you prefer multiple positions? How many times to you wish to climax?”

Her mouth dropped open. Then she shook herself and glared at him. “Ten.”

He blinked. Was she calling his bluff? “Ten what? Positions or climaxes?”

She hesitated a second, then lifted her chin. “Both.”

He stifled a laugh. She wasn’t letting him get the better of her.

Jerk, the leopard grumbled. Stop playing cat and mouse with her.

Zoltan glanced up and spotted the cat lounging on the branch of a nearby oak tree. You were supposed to leave.

It thumped its tail on the branch. I’ll leave when I feel like it.

Does she jump men like this every night? Zoltan asked.

What do you think? The leopard narrowed its eyes. Look who’s jealous now.

I’m not— Was he? Zoltan pushed that thought aside and turned back to the woman. “Are you sure you can handle ten climaxes?”

She shrugged. “Are you sure you can deliver?”

He smiled, enjoying the way she stood up to him. “I’ll do my best. But it might take an hour or so, depending on–”

“Oh, no!” We must be quicker than that. No more than five minutes at the most. In fact, we had better start right away before Freddie and the others find us.”

Another jab of anger shot through him. “Freddy? Who the hell is he?”

“Freddie’s not–”

“Not tied to a tree, is he? Was he last night’s five-minute conquest?”

Her mouth dropped open.

How jealous can you get? The leopard eyed him with disdain.

I’m not! Shit. He was. Jealous of the unknown lovers of a woman he’d barely met. He must be going insane.

The Winter Bride by Anne Gracie

ORDER A COPY: The Winter Bride (A Chance Sisters Romance)

Publisher: Berkley Romance
Publishing Date: April 1, 2014
Paperback: 336 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Damaris Chance’s unhappy past has turned her off the idea of marriage forever. But her guardian, Lady Beatrice Davenham, convinces her to make her coming out anyway—and have a season of carefree, uncomplicated fun.

When Damaris finds herself trapped in a compromising situation with the handsome rake Freddy Monkton-Coombes, she has no choice but to agree to wed him—as long as it’s in name only. Her new husband seems to accept her terms, but Freddy has a plan of his own: to seduce his reluctant winter bride.

Will Damaris’s secrets destroy her chance at true happiness? Or can Freddy help her cast off the shackles of the past, and yield to delicious temptation?

In Autumn Bride, we met Abigail and her sister, Jane, who have joined with their new sisters of the heart, Damaris and Daisy. It was Daisy who originally contacted Abigail to help Jane and Damaris escape the brothel where the girls had been sold to after being drugged and kidnapped. It is Abigail who first met Lady Beatrice, who was being abused by her servants. Together these five woman are working on rebuilding their lives. Lady Beatrice has recovered enough to reenter society and she is introducing the girls as her nieces.

With Abigail now married to her own nephew, Lady Beatrice wants the rest of the girls to have their official coming out. Jane is excited to finally be introduced to a possible husband, but Damaris is hiding more secrets than she has revealed to her sisters. Secrets that she feels makes her unacceptable as a wife. She is refusing to attend the season since she has no intention of finding a husband. Damaris only wants to buy a little cottage where she can live in safety and peace.

When Max took Abigail on their honeymoon, he left his friend, Freddy Moniker-Coombes to take care of his Aunt and the girls. Freddy is a young man with a title and he is tired of being chased by every mother with an unmarried daughter and does everything that he can do to avoid “muffins.” He is not thrilled with the task of taking care of unmarried girls, especially when he catches Damaris walking alone in an unsafe neighborhood–to a job no less. How is he supposed to take care of muffins who walk around at ungodly hours of the morning to go to work of all places? It isn’t bad enough he has to get up out of a warm bed to make sure Damaris arrives safely, but the viper of a boss keeps accusing him of trying to ruin Damaris. As if, he would have anything to do with an unmarried muffin if Max hadn’t asked for his help.

But Damaris might be just what Freddy needs when he receives a letter from his mother. She is planning a house party with every available muffin in the neighborhood and he is expected to announce his engagement at the end of the weekend. Freddy realizes that if shows up already engaged, he will be able to escape his mother’s further matchmaking. Damaris is an odd girl who has declared that she has no interest in getting married. Freddy’s plan is for Damaris to pretend to be his fiance, he can walk away no worse for wear and Damaris can then call off the engagement.

Convincing Damaris isn’t an easy task, but the gift of a cottage in Damaris’s name will make both of their dreams come true. If only their time together hadn’t changed those dreams to thoughts of a real marriage to someone who is quite perfect for them.

The star of this series is still Lady Beatrice, although she is not in as much of the story as in The Autumn Bride. She quickly sees through the farce that Damaris and Freddy are trying to perpetrate on his family, but she also sees something in the two of them that she knows compliments each other. She has noticed that the marriage-fearing Freddy always stares at Damaris and has been walking her to work each morning. So the “frail” Lady Beatrice is back on her game, plotting the fates of her girls, including publicly denying knowing anything about the girls having large dowries, which causes an increased attendance of young, eligible men in their reading circle.  Lady Beatrice should be a politician since she is so awesome at getting the public to buy her lies.

Damaris has had a difficult life and once she confesses her secrets, we truly see her inner strength and we are not the only ones.  Freddy truly is the best man for her since he can see past her “flaws” for the brave and beautiful woman she is inside.   I don’t see the reason behind the big production of how carriage sick Damaris becomes except to be the underlying reason why they eventually get trapped in a open buggy during a rain storm and are forced to be alone out of the rain.   Shocking!

We are introduced to Max’s Irish partner, Flynn, who has come to London to meet a well-bred lady so that he can buy his way into the Parlors of London as rich potential husband. He is a lively and fun character. Freddy makes his toss out all of his bright colored coats and crazy pants for the usual subdued outfits of an English gentleman but it is Lady Beatrice and Daisy who convince him to wear the interesting waistcoats and keep his earring to keep him standing out from the crowd. I look forward to reading Flynn’s story.

This series stands out from the usual Regency Romances for its interesting cast of unusual and memorable characters.

Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Scene:

“You say this is the famous Captain Flynn Max has spoken of?” Lady Beatrice eyed him critically through her lorgnette. A sharp old bird, Flynn thought, the kind who didn’t miss much, even without that eyepiece.

“Just Mr. Flynn, if you please, m’lady. I’m no longer captain of a ship. And I don’t know about famous…”

“Pish-tush! Max hold us quite a bit about his friend.” She swiveled in her chair and said to Freddy, “Are you sure?”

“Sure of what?” he asked.

“That he’s Max’s Captain Flynn.”

Flynn choked back a laugh. Bloody aristocracy, didn’t care what they said about the peasants, never mind that he was right here in front of her. “I’m Max’s partner, right enough,” he assured her.

She sighed.

“Why would you doubt it, Lady Beatrice?” the pretty blonde asked, giving Flynn a flirtatious smile. Jane, Flynn reminded himself. Angelically fair, and lookin’ like a fairy-tale princess. Next to her was Damaris, pale with dark hair pulled up in an elegant knot. She hadn’t said a word since they were introduced, but those dark eyes missed little, he’d wager. And then there was the little one, Daisy, sitting on a stool, sewing, taking in every thing. Also sharp as a tack, he reckoned. All in all, Flynn thought with satisfaction, quite a collection of interesting females.

The old lady sighed. “Max led me to expect somebody more…colorful. Flamboyant.” It was clear she was disappointed.

“Hah!” Flynn turned an accusing eye on Freddy. “When I arrived on this shore, Lady Beatrice, I assure you I was a great deal more colorful. But since then I’ve been shaved, shorn, stripped of me finery and dressed with all the liveliness of a wet week in Lent, all in the name of lookin’ more like a gentleman.”

“Max said you wore earrings.”

“Just one, m’lady, but I was convinced to remove it.”

Flynn produced the gold earring from his pocket.

“Oh.” Lady Beatrice sat up. “Would you put it in, please?”

Flynn inserted the ring in his ear.

“Ohhh, yes.” Lady Beatrice smiled. Flynn glanced at the young ladies. Two were smiling. One wasn’t

“I was informed,” he said with a withering glance at Hyphen-Hyphen, “that no English gentleman would wear such an item.”

Lady Beatrice nodded. “Quite correct, but you’re not an English gentleman, are you?” She smiled in a way that took the sting out. “And there’s no point disguising the fact, since the moment you open your mouth everyone will know you’re Irish.” She turned to the three young ladies. “What do you think, gels? Should Mr. Flynn give up his earring, or do we like the hint of pirate air it gives him?” There was no doubt what the old lady preferred.

Jane nodded. “I think it’s very dashing.”

Damaris inclined her head thoughtfully, then nodded. “If you’d asked me before, I would have thought that an earring would have detracted from a man’s masculinity, but now, seeing Mr. Flynn wearing one, it doesn’t detract at all, does it? It only adds to it.”

Hyphen-Hyphen scowled and crossed his high-booted legs.

“Daisy, what so you think?” Jane asked.

Daisy glanced at Flynn and wrinkled her nose. “I don’t like it. It makes ‘im look like a common sailor from down the docks, or some bloke wiv an organ and a monkey.”

“Nonsense,” Lady Beatrice said briskly. “Mr. Flynn carries it off with an air. And no common sailor or organ-grinder could afford clothes like that, even if they are a little on the dull side.”

“Dull?” Monkton-Coombes said indignantly. “He couldn’t possibly enter society dressed the way he was. Max asked me to ensure Flynn had access to the finest sartorial advice, and dash it, that’s what I did. Introduced him to my own tailor.”

“And he looks almost as elegant as you, dear boy; you’ve done a fine job,” the old lady assured him, examining Flynn again through her lorgnette. “Only…I think Mr. Flynn needs something a little more…distinctive.”

“Distinctive?” Both men spoke at once.

She nodded. “Something to ensure the ton knows you don’t give the snap of your fingers for their good opinion.”

“But I thought—” Flynn began.

“I would advise you to keep wearing your earring, Mr. Flynn. It will bring you a little notice, a hint of notoriety.” She gave him a sharp look. “Will you mind that?”

“No indeed, ma’am. I’m here to find meself a fine lady to wed, but I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I’ve done. And while I’m happy to have me manners polished up a bit, and to wear the kind of clothes Hyph-er, Mr. Monkton-Coombes advises, I’ll not be pretending I’m other than who I am.”

“A fine lady, is it?” The old lady’s elegantly plucked brows rose.

“Yes, ma’am,” Flynn said coolly. “The finest young lady in London. I’ve always aimed high in everything I’ve done, and I see no reason to change.”

“You know that being Irish–and, I presume, Catholic–will count against you? And I understand from Max you have no family remaining alive, and what you had was wholly undistinguished.”

She called a spade a spade, this old bird, and Flynn liked her the better for it. “Correct, m’lady. Still and all, I reckon I’m a bit of a catch. I’m a self-made man with a fleet of ships at my command. I’m clean, healthy and have all me own teeth. I’m loyal to me friends and I’ll be loyal to a wife. I reckon that makes me equal to some of your fine English gents.”

“I suspect it does, Mr. Flynn, and better than many. And being a friend of my nephew, I suppose you expect me to introduce you to the finest young ladies in London, do you?”

He flashed her a grin. “I don’t expect anything, m’lady, but that would be grand.” He bowed over her hand and kissed it.

She laughed and waved him away. “You left something off your list of attributes, Mr. Flynn.”

“And what would that be, m’lady?”

“Cheek. And a measure of raffish charm.” Lady Beatrice grinned and clapped her hands. “I’m so pleased Max sent you to me. Mr. Flynn. I adore matchmaking.”


Rusty Nailed Pre-Order Contest


I just got word of this fabulous pre-order contest for Alice Clayton’s next book in the Cocktail Series, Rusty Nailed. Pre-order a copy of Rusty Nailed from any vendor and e-mail the receipt to  to be entered to win a KitchenAid mixer like Caroline’s in your choice of colors.

International and domestic entries accepted. Giveaway ends on the release date June 24th. So pre-order today and get those entries in.

The Wicked We Have Done by Sarah Harian

The Wicked We Have Done (Chaos Theory, #1)

We’re talking with author Sarah Harian. Check out our interview and say Hello.

ORDER A COPY: The Wicked We Have Done: A Chaos Theory Novel

Publisher: Intermix
Publishing Date: March 18, 2014
ebook: 272 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Evalyn Ibarra never expected to be an accused killer and experimental prison test subject. A year ago, she was a normal college student. Now she’s been sentenced to a month in the compass room—an advanced prison obstacle course designed by the government to execute justice.

If she survives, the world will know she’s innocent.

Locked up with nine notorious and potentially psychotic criminals, Evalyn must fight the prison and dismantle her past to stay alive. But the system prized for accuracy appears to be killing at random.

She doesn’t plan on making friends.

She doesn’t plan on falling in love, either.

In Sarah Harian’s debut novel, The Wicked We Have Done, we are introduced to a dystopian society where justice is meted out in The Compass Room.

Fifteen years ago, government scientists manufactured an accurate test for morality—an obstacle course, where the simulations within proved whether a candidate was good or evil. It was named a Compass Room.

For ten years, the CR was tested over and over. Criminals were place inside for a month to see if the CR correctly identified the true threats to humanity.

Other than the fact that they’re built in the middle of experimental wilderness, the public knows very little about Compass Rooms. They know that, through technology, brain waves of the candidates are measured during a simulation. Reactions are evaluated, and like a needle on a compass, the test determines the true morality—the true internal clockwork—of the criminal. If necessary, an execution takes place.

An average of two-point-five inmates survive each CR. Not the best odds.

This is the story of ten individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 who have all been convicted of murder, and their 30 day stay in the Compass Room for judgment.

The main character is Evalyn Ibarra who has been convicted of murder and terrorism and has chosen to face her judgment in the Compass Room.   As their time in the Compass Room goes by, we are given peeks into the last few weeks in Evelyn’s life leading up to the fateful day at college which lead to the death of 56 members of the faculty of her college, and as the story progresses, we find it hard to equate the ring leader of a terrorist organization with the woman we are coming to know in the Compass Room but Evalyn believes in her own guilt.

When this story begins, we are  introduced to the other nine individuals who will be judged along with Evelyn.   The purpose of the Compass Room is to determine not only guilt for the crime these individuals have been convicted of but more to the point, what danger that person is to society at large.  This leaves us facing our own moral dilemma.  There are several individuals who leave us with no doubt as to their danger to the world at large, but there are others who have been convicted of murder whose danger to society at large is simply questionable.  Tanner is convicted of pushing a bully off a cliff.  Casey buried alive his abusive father.  Valerie killed the men who raped her sister.  Jacinda killed a family during a drunken car crash/suicide attempt.   Do these kids deserve a death penalty?  If given the opportunity, would they kill again?

While everyone waits for the Compass Room to decide their fates, these kids will come to rely upon each other for survival in the wilderness to find shelter and food and comfort.  They have no idea that the bonds they are forging with each other will create a new danger as they begin to be drawn into each other’s trials.  In protecting their new friends, are they risking their own survival?

Just as we are ready to make our own determination as to who should survive and who should be judged, chaos rules the Compass Room when a computer glitch removes the fail safes and suddenly tests and results are no longer the determining factor of who will live and who will die.

I found this book to be both entertaining and thought provoking. I have read some declarations claiming it is a combination of the Hunger Games and The Running Man but I disagree. I see similarities, but both of those stories are contests where you could win your freedom. In this, you will be judged for your crimes and for your ability to kill again, and running the fastest or being the smartest is not going to save you.

Since this is not a competition between the individuals, they are able to work together to help each other survive in the wilderness where food, shelter and safety are scarce.   As they bond, we get to learn more about them and the crimes they have been convicted of.

Although several of the individuals have been convicted of some very serious murders and you have no doubt that they are dangerous, most of the kids we are introduced to will leave you questioning whether they should die for their actions. Even our main character Evalyn, she believes she needs to face the judgment of the Compass Room, but the girl we meet doesn’t appear to be a cold-blooded killer so we need to wait for her whole backstory to unfold before we can make a clear judgment as to who she really is.

It really makes you question yourself because someone is dead because of their actions, but does that necessarily require a death penalty for each of these children. For example, the youngest member is Tanner who was convicted of pushing his bully off a cliff and you could see a scrawny, nerdy kid pushing the big kid off the cliff as an accident. But for example, there would be a huge difference of whether the bully followed Tanner to the fishing hole to torment him or did Tanner follow the bully there with the intent to shove him off the cliff?  This little bit of information turns it from an accident to premeditated intent.   So they are subjected to their demons over and over again to determine their intent, their feelings on the matter, and would they do anything differently if given the chance.   As we relive  their crimes and learn more,  we have to decide who we might judge and who we might let go free.

In the beginning of the story, on the train ride in, we are given the background of each of the individuals being sent to the Compass Room. I would suggest making a list so you can keep straight all the individuals and their crime. I had my list on the counter and came home to a note from my husband that said “You need to get new friends.” :)

Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Scene:

In this scene, it is Casey who is being tested by his demon — the abusive father who he killed:

He looks like Casey. Older. Less meat on his bones. So sallow he balances on the edge of translucent. Like he’s climbed from the grave Casey dug him.

“What do you want?” Casey mutters. Quietly. The tearing of tissue paper in the middle of a storm.

“To bring you to hell with me.”

Casey shoves me.

Pain rips through my scalp as branches grasp my hair. I land on my ass in the mess of dead underbrush, twigs clawing at me. I try to bounce back up, try to grab on to anything, but the earth won’t release me.

Gnarled branches stretch and curl over my lap, creating a restraint that pins me down.

Casey gapes at me, horrified by what’s happening. He isn’t paying attention to the demon of a man who raises the shovel.

I shriek Casey’s name. The shovel lands across his shoulders.

He falls to his knees, and his father swings, metal head connecting with Casey’s back.

Casey crumples to the ground.

“You little fucker. Never appreciated me.”

Casey rolls over as the shovel drops a third time, slamming into his torso. He relaxes, head rolling toward me.

He’s giving up.

He can’t give up.

“Fight!” I scream.

Vines squeeze my waist, holding me down. The knife. The one I used to cut up the blanket. It’s in my sweatshirt pocket.

I squirm until I can reach it, digging into my clothes and wiggling it free. I saw through the vine as fast as I can until tufts of foam distract me.

The drum of metal on bone fills the air. Tears streak through the dirt on Casey’s cheeks.

Beneath the foam hides a skeleton of wires. Delicate—fibrous. The moment I slice through the twisted thread of them, the vine loosens, and I’m free.

“Never respected the roof over your head. Everything I provided. Just wanted more until nothing was enough, ain’t that right?”

I untangle myself, foliage scraping my cheeks as I crawl out of the brush. Casey’s father takes a step to his left, his back to me, boots dangerously close to Casey’s neck. “Spent too much of my time trying to protect that neck of yours. Shoulda brought you out back and shot you like a bad dog when I had the chance.”

He raises the shovel, this time, aiming for Casey’s head. Aiming to crush.

“Better late than never.”

I don’t think. Or maybe I think to decide that I don’t care. I charge, sinking the knife into Casey’s father’s back.

He drops his shovel, but he doesn’t turn into smoke, or wail and sink back into the ground. I don’t slice through him as if he were a projection. An illusion. I drive that knife right through real muscle—through meat—wedging the blade between two ribs.

Warm blood seeps out from around the handle.

He arches his back and drops to his knees. The bastard tries to pick up the shovel, like he isn’t registering that he’s been incapacitated. I snatch the shovel up before he can do so. Casey’s father is dead, and this—this situation—is impossible.

I allow that logic to drive me.

Splinters from the handle embed into my flesh as I swing with all my might. The shovel ricochets off Casey’s father’s skull and he falls forward, face sinking into the mud. The knife juts from his back.

As soon as I’m still, Casey rolls over, lifting himself up onto shaking arms, and crawls to his father.

The handle of the knife rises and falls with every breath. Up and down. Up and down. I set my own in sync with Casey’s dad’s. In and out. Up and down.

Casey balances himself on his knees and grasps the handle of the knife with both hands, yanking it out. He lets it fall, this time in a different place. His right kidney.

Again, his lower spine.

His neck.

His shoulder blade.

Casey hacks and hacks, blood splattering across his face and clothes as he rips the knife away. He doesn’t stop, not when his dad has to be dead—again—his back nothing more than ripped denim and mangled pockets of swelling blood.

I kneel, grasping on to Casey’s spattered arm. I say his name over and over, prying his fingers away until the knife drops onto the red-coated earth.

We are statues around the corpse.

What have I done?

I’ve cycled, that’s what. I’ve killed to protect. But that doesn’t make it right. I’ve proven that I’m willing to murder again.

They’re going to kill me now. Any moment. I can feel my own heart thrum violently. It knows that this is its last chance to make noise.

I will simply stop existing.

My breath rattles through the air. Nothing happens.

Casey takes his hand back, crawls into the brush I was tangled in, and throws up. His back arches like an animal as he spits bile from his mouth.

“You made it worse. He was going to kill me. It was going to be over. Now I have to sit here and wait to die.”

“You don’t know that.”

He chuckles darkly and sits. “After what I just did, you really think they are going to let me live? I proved them right. I’d kill him again if I had the chance.” His head falls back. “Are you listening? You can finish me off now!”

I flinch as his voice echoes through the woods.

“I helped. At least you don’t have to wait to die all alone.”

His expression breaks in defeat. “Why—why would you do that?”

I open my mouth, but I can’t find a way to explain that watching his father beat him was worse than watching what happened to Erity. “You’re alive. He isn’t. If they decide to kill you, then fine, but it won’t be because I sat back and did nothing.”

“That’s a stupid answer.”

I rest my palm on his chest. He hisses at the pressure.

“You lost your mind,” I say.

His eyes drift to the mangled corpse. “He does that to me.”

Friday Giveaway – The Collector by Nora Roberts

Hey!  Happy Friday once again.  We are giving away a hard cover copy of The Collector by Nora Roberts, an exciting new romantic thriller.

Leave a comment to enter. Giveaway ends Thursday, April 24th.  Open to U.S. Residents, 18 years and older.

The Collector

When professional house-sitter Lila Emerson witnesses a murder/suicide from her current apartment-sitting job, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn. Suddenly, the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one. . . .

Artist Ashton Archer knows his brother isn’t capable of violence—against himself or others. He recruits Lila, the only eyewitness, to help him uncover what happened. Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her. But their investigation draws them into a rarified circle where priceless antiques are bought, sold, gambled away, and stolen, where what you possess is who you are, and where what you desire becomes a deadly obsession.


The Collector by Nora Roberts

ORDER A COPY: The Collector

Publisher: Putnam Adult
Publishing Date: April 15, 2014
Paperback: 483 pages

Rating: 5 stars

When professional house-sitter Lila Emerson witnesses a murder/suicide from her current apartment-sitting job, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn. Suddenly, the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one.

Artist Ashton Archer knows his brother isn’t capable of violence—against himself or others. He recruits Lila, the only eyewitness, to help him uncover what happened. Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her. But their investigation draws them into a rarified circle where priceless antiques are bought, sold, gambled away, and stolen, where what you possess is who you are, and where what you desire becomes a deadly obsession.

It seems Lila Emerson spends a good deal of time watching the world through her binoculars. Lila likes to people watch. As a writer, she likes to make up stories about the lives of the people in the neighboring buildings and as a house sitter, there was always new windows to peek into. At her most recent job, she is enjoying watching the little boy and his new puppy on ten imaging all the adventures they will have. There’s the exotic dancer on twelve who’s hoping for his big break on Broadway. There is also Blondie and Mr. Slick on fourteen. If they are not dressing up for a night on the town, they are bickering, probably just for all the make up sex.

It is one sleepless night that’s going to change everything for Lila. When she sees Blondie take a punch to the face, she races to call 911 but before she can even punch in the three little numbers, Lila see her get pushed out through the window, falling the fourteen floors to her death.

She wants to help the police catch Mr. Slick and have him pay for what he did, but the police already have Oliver Archer in custody. He’s on his way to the morgue with a bullet to the brain. But not everyone is willing to believe Oliver would orchestrate a murder/suicide. His brother, artist Ashton Archer, knows his brother was no saint. Oliver was always looking for the next big thing, but he wasn’t violent and he wasn’t a killer. He was more likely to call big brother Ash to get him out of a bind rather than take his own life.

Ash seeks out the only witness to Sage Kendall’s death. Lila can see the pain that this is bringing Ash and she is more than willing to help Ash find some answers.   Kindness from a stranger was the last thing Ash expected, nor did he expect how desperately he wanted to paint Lila.  All he sees when he looks at her is her free spirit and he wants to capture that on canvass.

As some of the puzzle pieces start to fall together, Ash and Lila are starting to see the set up behind Oliver and Sage’s deaths, as well as the valuable piece of art and history which Oliver stumbled onto. Oliver might have recognized the value of what he found, but he didn’t recognize what kind of man he was trying to extort more money out of. Oliver thought he would be willing to pay a more reasonable finders fee for such a treasure, but this Collector would rather just remove the finder permanently and take his own treasure.

So Ash and Lila are on the trail of Oliver’s hidden treasure but Oliver’s killer is on their trail waiting for them to uncover the valuable piece of history.

The hunt for the treasure is only half the story.  The rest is a great romance between Lila who reaches out with compassion to Ash for his loss and Ash’s need to paint Lila.  Both are very interesting characters, I love the way Ash sees what he wants to paint when he looks at Lila and how he keeps working on her until she caves.  The more their attraction grows, the more Ash focuses on Lila and he keeps seeing different paintings featuring her.

Of course Ash’s rich father accuses Lila of being a gold digger and somehow orchestrating her witnessing of the murder to worm her way into Ash’s life.   It is so far fetched you can only scratch your head how he can jump to that conclusion.

We also get a secondary romance with Lila’s best friend and Ash’s best friend. They had a history so although it is more behind the scenes, it does not feel awkward or rushed and we feel how they are lost lovers from their initial meeting and how easily they reconnect and have a chance to start over.

The hired killer in this story is as intriguing as she is dangerous.  She begins to obsess about Ash and Lila and you know that even if they give up the treasure, she isn’t going to let them walk away.  She wants to kill them just for her own pleasure.  She is a stone, cold killer.  I think it was very fascinating that Nora Roberts chose to make her killer for hire a woman.

As always, Nora Roberts hits it out of the park with The Collector with both the mystery and the romance.

Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Scene:

“And you, an art gallery. You always loved art, talked about studying art history, that sort of thing.”

“And I did. I went back to school, moved to New York, wheedled my way into the gallery. I got married, met Lila, got divorced and moved up to manager.”

“I had nothing to do with any of it,” Lila claimed.

“Oh, please.”

“Not on purpose.”

“We met at yoga class,” Julie began. “Lila and I, not me and Maxim–my ex. We hit if off during up dogs and down dogs, started hitting the juice bar together after. One thing led to another.”

Lila sighed. “I was seeing someone, and it looked like it might get fairly serious. So, being females, we talked about men in our lives. I told her about mine. He was great-looking, successful. He traveled a lot, but was very attentive when we were together. And Julie told me about her husband.”

“Also great-looking and successful. Working longer hours than he once did, and not as attentive as he’d once been. In fact, things were a little rocky, but we were working on smoothing them out.”

“So with a few yoga sessions, a few smoothies, some sharing of details, it turned out the guy I was seeing was married, to Julie. I was sleeping with her husband, and instead of drowning me in my own smoothie, she dealt.”

“We dealt.”

“We did.” Lila tapped her glass to Julie’s. “And our friendship is written in his blood. Not literally,” she added quickly.

“No violence necessary when you take your husband’s slut—”


“When you take his slut home for drinks and introduce her to him as your new best friend. He packed up what he could in the twenty minutes I gave him and moved out. Lila and I ate the best part of a half gallon of ice cream.”

“Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch,” Lila remembered, with a smile that had the little dimple flickering. “Still a favorite. You were so amazing. I just wanted to crawl into the deep dark hole of shame, but not Julie. ‘Let’s get the bastard,’ that was her reaction. So we did.”

“I ditched the bastard, kept the slut.”

“I ditched the bastard,” Lila corrected, “and kept the pathetic and clueless wife. Someone had to.”

“I want to paint you.”

Lila glanced at Ash. Blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I’ll need you at the loft for some preliminary sketches. A couple of hours would do it to start. What size are you?”


“She’s a two,” Julie said, “as so many sluts are.” She angled her head, “What are you looking for?”

“Earthy, sexy gypsy, full skirt, flame red, bold colors in the underskirts.”

“Really?” Fascinated, Julie turned to Lila, gaze sharp and assessing. “Really.”

“Stop it. No. Thanks. I’m…The knee-jerk is flattered, but I’m more baffled. I’m not a model. I don’t know how to model.”

“I know what I want so you don’t have to.” He glanced at the waitress, ordered the pasta special. “Day after tomorrow would work. About ten.”

“I don’t—What he said is fine,” she told the waitress. “Thanks. Listen, I don’t—”

“I can pay you by the hour or a flat fee. We’ll work that out. Do you know how to play up your eyes?”


“Of course she does,” Julie put in. “A full-length portrait? She’s got long and excellent legs.”

“I noticed.”

“Really, stop.”

“Lila doesn’t like being spotlighted. Toughen up, Lila-Lou. You’ve just been tapped to model for a highly respected contemporary artist whose fanciful, sometimes disturbing, sometimes whimsical, always sensual paintings are acclaimed. She’ll be there. I’ll get her there.”

“Might as well give it up,” Luke told her. “You’re going to end up standing where he want you anyway.”

“I’ll paint you anyway,” Ash shrugged. “But the work will resonate more, have more depth if you’re involved. Lila-Lou?”

“Lila Louise, middle name after my father, Lieutenant Colonel Louis Emerson. And you can’t paint me if I say no.”

“Your face, your body?” He jerked a shoulder. “They’re right out there.”

“She’ll be there,” Julie repeated. “Come on, time for a little sortie to the ladies’. Excuse us.” To ward off protests, Julie simply rose, took Lila’s hand and hauled her to her feet.

“He can’t make me model,” Lila hissed as Julie towed her along. “And neither can you.”

“I bet you’re wrong.”

“Plus, I’m not an earthy, sexy gypsy type.”

“There, you’re definitely wrong.” She led Lila down the narrow flight of steps to the restrooms. “You have the coloring, and you have the lifestyle.”

“One fling with a married man I didn’t know was married, and I have an earthy lifestyle?”

Hard Time by Cara McKenna

Hard Time


Publisher: Intermix
Publishing Date: April 15, 2014
ebook: 304 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Annie Goodhouse doesn’t need to be warned about bad boys; good sense and an abusive ex have given her plenty of reasons to play it safe. But when she steps into her new role as outreach librarian for Cousins Correctional Facility, no amount of good sense can keep her mind—or eyes—off inmate Eric Collier.

Eric doesn’t claim to be innocent of the crime that landed him in prison. In fact, he’d do it again if that’s what it took to keep his family safe. Loyalty and force are what he knows. But meeting Annie makes him want to know more.

When Eric begins courting Annie through letters, they embark on a reckless, secret romance—a forbidden fantasy that neither imagines could ever be real…until early parole for Eric changes everything, and forces them both to face a past they can’t forget, and a desire they can’t deny.

Cara McKenna takes us back to the Town of Darren, Michigan, but instead of the psychiatric ward of Larkhaven, we are going into the dangerous corridors of Cousins Correctional Facility. A medium security facility where criminals are doing time for drug charges, assault, rape, and various hard core offenses.

Annie Goodhouse is the new hire at the library so it falls to her to take over the library’s education program at the prison. She hopes to make it back out without being verbally or physically assaulted. Cousins is the last place she would ever believe she would find a man who stirs her fantasies for the first time since she left her ex five years ago.

Stephen’s abuse started slowly with a pinch or a taunt but there was no question that when he drank, the violence was getting gradually worse. Until that last time, when he dislocated her jaw and ruptured her eardrum. Although it was truly painful, it was the wake up call that she needed to walk away. But Annie has been hibernating from the world and men since then.

When she walks into Cousins she meets the eye of Eric Collier and there is no question that there is an instant connection between the two of them. While Annie has been in her self-imposed prison, Eric has been behind bars for assault. For the first time in five years, both Eric and Annie have found themselves thinking of someone in a sexual way.

Eric may have approached her to get his help with his writing, but his practiced correspondence becomes more and more erotic and as Annie and Eric discuss their fantasies, they each once again awaken desire in each other.

But when Eric gets an early parole, what happens to their fantasies when the real world creeps in?  Will they have the courage to embrace their growing feelings or will the ability to date in the real world, take away the safety that distance allowed?

Cara McKenna writes such interesting and unusual characters and obviously takes us to interesting places to tell her stories. After Hours took us to a psychiatric ward and now, we are at the local prison. These are not rich, affluent people. No tie me up billionaires in her stories. These are everyday people, some with less than average upbringings and circumstances, just trying to get by.

You can’t help but fall for Eric. There is no question that Eric is dangerous. He is in prison for assaulting a man with a tire iron, and although he declares that the man deserved it, it does show he has the ability to reach that level of violence. Even though he says he would do it again if the circumstances called for it, there is definite growth in Eric from the young man who was originally incarcerated. He understands what he wants to do with his life when he finally get out. And he also understands that a woman like Annie is too good for someone like him, but he wants to be the kind of man she would deserve.

There is such a strong connection between the two main characters here but when Eric is paroled, it takes the safety of the fantasy away from Annie. She is not jumping up and down when she finds out, and poor Eric is heartbroken when she is not ready to start a real life romance with him upon his release.

Although their letter writing was very erotic and in one way bonded them, I was disappointed that there wasn’t even some attempt made for a real ‘get to know you’ in their letters. Obviously, these letters were all part of the fantasy between them, especially since Eric expected to be locked away for a few more years.  They weren’t meant to be indepth philosophical discussions.  The purpose of the correspondence was simply to fuel each other’s fantasy life.  I loved that Annie would dress up and put on make up and perfume to read Eric’s letter.

Once Annie works past her fear of the real world with Eric, it is almost a redo of the story as they get to know the person behind the letter.

This was wonderful storytelling and such interesting and unforgettable characters.

Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Scene:

I could only image how he might be, in real life—how he’d treat me if we were alone together. Happily there was no possibility of us, alone together in real life, and so I imagined everything, every possible flavor, relieved to know my hypotheses would never be proven right or wrong. That he’d never get a chance to disappoint me.

I spent so much time fantasizing about him, it occurred to me on Friday morning that I had no idea how to act toward him if he approached me again. Play dumb, pretend I really did think that letter had been meant for some other woman? Be stern, shut him down before he grew bolder?

I knew what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to tell Shonda or any other CO about it, but I also knew I wouldn’t be doing that. Selfishly, I wanted the letter for myself. And recklessly, I even hoped maybe he’d want to tell me more.

It was insane, of course, but when you’ve not felt sexual hunger for months, for years…The idiotic risks people take in the midst of affairs made sense to me, suddenly. Nothing felt as good as this wanting. Logic was impotent. Flaccid. A pitiful, powerless thing.

I saw Collier as I passed through the dayroom, and it was recognition as I’d never felt it. I’d lived out a thousand imagined intimacies with this man, and when our eyes met it felt as though he must have lived them too.

It was muggy and brutal that day, leaving inmates and staff alike punchy. The convicts bickered and baited, but it was for the best—the discord kept me on my toes, kept my mind off Collier through Literacy and Composition, kept my eyes off him for the most part during Book Discussion.

As always, though, he caught me during the afternoon Resources block. I had to wonder if that was on purpose. If he wanted to be my final memory of the day when I left this place.

Oh, the meaning I read into every crack and crevice of our encounters.

Attendance was down. The Resources room wasn’t air-conditioned, and apparently the allure of ogling my breasts and butt wilted some when the temperature flirted with the triple digits. Men still came and went, and most showed up for their computer slots, but for the first time I had a bit of free time, myself, and I used it to make a list of things I’d need to implement Karen’s unrealized plan of starting a cell-to-cell book cart service. I’d nearly begun to think I could put off choosing my stance toward Collier another week. Or indefinitely. Maybe he pulls that “help me write a letter” shit with every librarian. Maybe he’d never come calling again.

Foolish me.

He came for me at twenty minutes to five. I felt him step through the door, a heat wave and a cold front all wrapped inside one man. He strode to where I was sitting, lazy as you please, and I knew it was him without even looking up. He stood across the tabletop from me. behind an empty chair, his big fingers curled over its back. I raised my chin. Played it cool aside from the pink I felt stinging my cheeks.

“Hi there.”

“You free?” he asked, in that voice that had whispered the most brilliant, disgusting secrets in the privacy of my head this past week.

“Sure.” I nodded to the chair and he sat. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his back pocket, and a knot formed in my middle. Another letter?

“I was hoping you could read something for me?” he said, gaze on my hands. “Something I wrote.”

“Sure.” I realized in that moment, I knew exactly where the nearest officer stood, and not for my own protection. I knew it the way every one of these cons must. The way a criminal keeps his radar tracked on witnesses and cameras when he knows he’s on the brink of wickedness. I took the paper from him, but he stopped me before I could unfold it.

“Not now. But maybe you could take it with you. Take your time. It’s real important. I want to make sure I say everything right.”

Thump, thump, thump “Um…Yeah. Sure. I can do that.” It was lined paper, and I could see the impression of his handwriting. Lots of it. “Whether it needs rewriting or not, this was good practice writing it all out,” I offered.

He nodded. “I used that machine. I wrote it on that, and it fixed my capital and spelling. Then I copied it down on paper. I didn’t have to rely on my head, to know which way all the letters went.”


Collier’s brown eyes swiveled, seeking the guards. Finding them busy with the now departing inmates, he leaned a bit closer. “I’ll make this real easy for you,” he said.

I felt my brow rise and my heart tumble into my shoes. “Easy?”

“I’ve got stuff to say. To you.” He tapped the paper, his voice barely a whisper. “If you want to hear more, next week, you wear red.”

“Wear red?”

“You show up next week wearing red, I’ll know what I’ve got to say is okay by you. You wear any other color, I won’t even bother you again. Not about typing or anything else. I won’t be angry or anything. But if you wanna hear, wear red.”

“Collier!” The guard shot him a look. “Check your posture, loverboy.”

Collier sat up straight, drawing his crossed arms away. “Red,” he said. “but only if you want to hear more.”

I nodded, tucked the folded paper in my note book along with a couple other convicts’ letters I’d promised to drop in the mail room.

He watched my hands then stood. “‘Preciate that,” he said at a normal volume, and pushed his chair back in.

Friday Giveaway – Hope Ignites by Jaci Burton

Hope Ignites (Hope, #2)

Our winner is — Joanne B!

Logan McCormack likes his isolated life on the ranch, until a movie crew starts filming there. When actress Desiree Jenkins blows into his life, she wrecks it harder than the Oklahoma winds with her brutal honesty and soft touch. Des knows this is a temporary stay, but she loves the open freedom of the land, and for the first time in her life, Des feels like she might have found a place she can call home, with a man she might be falling in love with. But Logan’s heart is tougher than the soil beneath them—can she convince him that they belong together?

Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan

Reason to Breathe (Breathing, #1)

ORDER A COPY: Reason To Breathe (The Breathing Series, #1)

Publisher: Skyscrape
Publishing Date: June 4, 2013
Paperback: 377 pages

Rating:  4 stars

“No one tried to get involved with me, and I kept to myself. This was the place where everything was supposed to be safe and easy. How could Evan Mathews unravel my constant universe in just one day?”

In the affluent town of Weslyn, Connecticut, where most people worry about what to be seen in and who to be seen with, Emma Thomas would rather not be seen at all. She’s more concerned with feigning perfection while pulling down her sleeves to conceal the bruises – not wanting anyone to know how far from perfect her life truly is. Without expecting it, she finds love. It challenges her to recognize her own worth – but at the risk of revealing the terrible secret she’s desperate to hide.

Reason to Breathe is an electrifying page turner from start to finish, a unique tale of life-changing love, unspeakable cruelty, and one girl’s fragile grasp of hope.

This is a young adult book. Its very well written. It will make you cry, laugh, smile and it will generate feelings of anger. It’s a book about a teenager named Emma. Her father died as a child and her mother is a drunk. Therefore, she is forced to live with her aunt and uncle who already have two much younger children. Her Aunt abuses her every chance she can. Her uncle is oblivious. She’s a beautiful girl who is best friends with the most popular girl in school. No one knows of her home life and her best friend, Sara, suspects but never pushes too hard and is always there for her.

Emma always hid behind her books and homework in school. She tried her best to go unnoticed. Until Evan Matthews comes along and breaks her out of her shell and makes her want to have a better life. Now, to avoid any spoilers I will end on this…this book will guide you thorough the journey of Emma’s love life, and her home life. Will she ever escape the wrath of her aunt or will she die trying to live?

Favorite Scene:

“Still not doing a very good job fading,” his voice said from behind me.

The paintbrush froze in my hand mid-stroke and started shaking. My heart stopped in my chest. I didn’t know if I could turn around to face him.

I forced my legs to swing around to the other side of the stool.

“Hi.” He smiled. My heart released a brief flutter.

“Hi,” I whispered, forcing myself to breathe.

“When you weren’t in the cafe, I figured you’d either be here or the Journalism room.”

I could only nod, searching for my voice.

“What are you doing here?” I forced the words from my mouth. My question was barely audible since I still wasn’t breathing properly.

“Looking for you,” he answered with his familiar grin. My heart picked up its pace, filling my cheeks with a rush of color. All I could do was stare into his blue eyes, afraid that if I looked away, he’d be gone. Please convince me I wasn’t hallucinating.

“Sorry to hear that the basketball team lost in the semi’s,” he offered casually. He’s talking about basketball? I definitely wasn’t hallucinating.

“Thanks,” I said, forcing my lips to resemble a smile. Come on brain, don’t fail me now – say something!

“Not sure what to say, huh?” He smirked, amused by my inability to form a cohesive sentence.

“I’m glad I can…” I threw my hands in the air, forgetting that I had a paintbrush in my grasp, the green paint flung across his grey t-shirt. He looked down at the streak with wide eyes. I held my breath, pressing my lips together. A stifled laugh escaped from behind my pursed lips. Then I started laughing harder.

“That’s funny, huh?” I bit my lower lip, still smiling. “Let’s see if you think this funny.” He leaned over my table and rubbed blue paint on his hands. Realizing his intention, I jumped off the stool to escape retaliation.

“Evan, don’t,” I pleaded.

I rounded the corner toward the dark room when he caught me around the waist, leaving blue hand prints on my shirt. When he grabbed me, he didn’t let go. Evan turned me to face him. Still smiling, I connected with his blue eyes, unaware he was pulling me closer. Just before I registered what was happening, my heart ignited, fluttering frantically. My head swirled in a rush. He placed his damp hand on my cheek and leaned down toward me.

A paralyzing charge flashed through my body when his firm lips touched mine. I inhaled his clean scent, allowing the tingling to run through my head. When he slowly pulled away, his eyes searched mine cautiously. I blinked through the buzz, trying to steady myself.

“Emma?” Ms. Mier’s voice rang from around the corner.

Evan raised his eyebrows in surprise then slipped by me, toward the dark room. I attempted to sober up before responding.

“Hi, Ms. Mier,” my voice cracked, stepping around the corner to meet her. My face was hot with embarrassment.

“Oh, Hi,” she said with a smile of surprise. With the smile still lingering, she gathered some papers from her desk. “I needed to get a few things. Could you please lock up when you leave today?”

“Sure,” I agreed quickly.

She smiled wider.

“That’s a good color on you,” she acknowledged.

My face grew even hotter, if that was possible. I looked down at the hand prints on my white shirt.

“No, the red I mean.”

My eyes widened. I watched her walk to the door and turn the lock.

Before closing the door behind her, she glanced at me and said, “Tell Mr. Mathews I said welcome back.”

I nearly fell over. I stood there for a moment, uncertain what to do next. I decided not to think about it anymore and to do what I should have done three months ago.

I walked into the dark room. Evan was drying his hands next to the sink. I closed the door behind me and leaned against it, unable to move. He threw the paper towel in the basket and looked up, hesitating for a second.

My chest moved with an exaggerated breath. My heart beat frantically against my shirt. He read exactly what I wanted him to in my widened eyes and stepped toward me. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and he pulled me into him. I stood on my toes, extending myself to find him. He held me closer as his lips parted, and I felt the warmth of his breath. My heart released a surge that caught my breath when I felt his soft tongue. His lips were firm but gentle, pressed against mine in a slow, breathless rhythm. Tiny sparks flew through my head and down my spine – my legs trembled beneath me.

I lowered my head to his chest before my legs gave out. He kept his arms wrapped around me, resting his chin on the top of my head, while I listened to his accelerated heartbeat and deep breaths. I wiped an escaped tear from my eye, trying to remember how to breathe.

“That was worth waiting for,” he whispered and then added with sarcasm, “Missed me, huh?”

I looked up at his perfect smile and replied with a smirk, “I survived.”

“I heard.”

I pulled away and eyed him suspiciously.

“I still have friends here.” He shrugged. Just then, the bell rang, declaring the end of the school day. “What do you want to do? Do you have to go home?”

“I’m actually staying over at Sara’s tonight.”

“You are?” Evan confirmed, raising his eyebrows with a deliberate grin. “Do you think Sara will mind if I kidnap you for a couple of hours?” He casually leaned against the doorway, as I went to the sink to scrub his hand print from my face.

My heart stuttered.

“Um, I think she’ll be fine,” I replied, turning to face him. “What are you thinking?”

“We have to talk. I mean, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be welcomed back, but I have some things I need to say before there are any more misunderstandings.”

I winced. Couldn’t we have left it at the perfect welcome? My stomach twisted, fearful of what he needed to say. I could only imagine; although it couldn’t be worse than what I’d been saying to myself since he left.

“So, you’re back?” I confirmed cautiously.

“Yeah,” he grinned. “We’ll talk about it.”

“Great,” I huffed, zipping my sweatshirt to conceal the blue hand prints and smear of green paint.

Evan laughed. “Don’t be so nervous. I’m here, right?” He grabbed my hand, the warmth from his touch spread up my arm.

Her Best Laid Plans by Cara McKenna

ORDER A COPY: Her Best Laid Plans

Publisher: Cosmo Red Hot Reads/Harlequin
Publishing Date: April 15, 2014
ebook: 85 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Imagine nursing a pint in a cozy, authentic country pub, far from Cork City’s busy pulse. Getting here took you a plane, bus, taxi, and…erm, bicycle. But just as you’re resigning yourself to drinking beside gray-haired farmers, you see him—a man with the looks and charm to soothe any heartbroken girl.

He’s your bartender. Your really, really gorgeous bartender.

For American Jamie Webb—recently dumped and housesitting for two weeks—Connor Kelleher is like a six-course feast after a 23-year starvation diet. But it’s gotta be casual. She’s just begun re-routing her life after an extended, man-related detour. Still, a sexy romp (or twenty!) with Sexy McBartender?

But what about when Jamie’s best-laid plans for no future plans with any man begin to change?

Jamie Webb put her own plans for college on hold two years ago to help support her boyfriend through medical school.  She spent the last few years supporting him through his dreams and was shocked when he suddenly dumped her.   Never again.   Jamie will be returning to college in the Fall to begin her architecture classes, and she refuses to change those plans for anyone else’s schedule ever again.

And the first step in putting her life back on track is the first real vacation she has had in years. She is housesitting for her mother’s friend on County Cork, Ireland. The scenery is beautiful, although a little desolate for a city girl like Jamie. A trip to the local pub is more like a trip to a nursing home with all the old men nursing their Guinness. She is afraid her plans for an exciting vacation fling are down the drain until the new bartender takes over his shift.

If there is only going to be one man under 30 in this neighborhood, Connor Kelleher is definitely a perfect specimen and his sparking eyes and sexy banter is just what Jamie needs to wipe away the mess of the past few years. Connor is happy to show Jamie around the town as well as the pleasure she has been missing in the arms of a passionate man.

As the time for Jamie to return home draws nearer, it is getting harder and harder to imagine parting forever from Connor, but Jamie refuses to once again set her plans aside for a man. Will her time with Connor become a pleasant memory to think back on or will walking away become Jamie’s biggest regret?

I have definitely added Cara McKenna to my list of favorite authors. This was a short story and a quick read but it was definitely enjoyable.   It didn’t feel rushed and it flowed nicely.  Connor and Jamie have a connection from the beginning and what was supposed to be a week-long fling for both leaves them wanting much more.    You definitely felt their connection as well as their pain and sadness that they found someone so perfect who they wouldn’t have a chance to truly know better.

Some of Cara’s stories leave me wanting so much more and with both Jamie and Connor with plans to start college in the Fall on different continents, I wasn’t sure if she would leave us dangling at the end, but I did enjoy where she went with it.

Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Scene:

Jamie wasn’t sure when bars officially closed for the night in Ireland, but Connor locked the door to the Crossroads just after ten, when the final regular bade him a good evening and shuffled out into the night. He flipped the dead bolt and the sign in the window, then turned expectantly to Jamie.

“Ready to redeem yourself?” she asked.

They’d been making flirtatious small talk for the past couple hours, but she still felt a ripple of nerves. Thrilling nerves–an endorsement from her intuition, not a warning.

“I’ll do my best,” Connor said, cracking his knuckles. “Though sadly you’ve already seen my best. I can only pray that whiskey’s left me with a fighting chance.”

“Sorry. I actually play better after a drink.” She fed the coin tray, setting unseen balls tumbling.

Connor flipped off all the lights save for the one above the table, seeming to close them in an intimate, dramatic little set.

He left her arrange the balls, and he broke.

Feeling cruel, Jamie took to disturbing him just before he could take his next shot, peppering him with inane questions. The fourth time she pulled the stunt, he stayed as he was, leveling her with his eyes. He looked deliciously dangerous in the stark overhead light, still poised to take his thwarted turn—brow furrowed, shoulder blades cocked, gorgeous forearms tensed and his fingers curled around the cue.

Trounce me.

He didn’t. He merely smiled some mysterious Connor smile, then finally took his turn. Her ploy worked, though–he didn’t sink a thing.

He sighed his annoyance, standing aside as Jamie got her own shot strategized. He tapped the table with the tip of his cue. “Aim about here,” he said. Tap tap tap. She eyeballed a different angle and he tapped again, in her line of vision. “Right about here, then.” Tap tap tap tap.

She flipped her hair over her shoulder and picked a ball, knocking it neatly into a side pocket. She tossed him a snotty look as she circled to find her next move. Connor rested his cue along his shoulders, gripping it with both hands. “If we’d agreed on any prizes this time, I may as well go ahead and forfeit mine.”

“I thought the stakes were rather obvious,” she said, and potted the blue ball.

Connor seemed to perk up at this. He was imaging another kiss—she could tell from his eyebrows alone, rising a fraction to betray his intentions.

“Do you now?” he asked. “And what might those stakes be?”

“Your dignity.”

He pouted, posture slumping. “I’m doomed then. Can’t we play for something else?”

She knocked a red into a pocket. “Such as…?”

“I rather liked out earlier wager.”

“At this rate, I’ll be leaving here with an entire bottle.” She eyed the yellow ball.

“Mine, not yours.”

She looked up and held his stare. “I liked your wager, too,” she admitted, her smile feeling as shy as her words were bold.

Her stepped closer, skirting the corner of the table. Goodness, those hips. This man could slink.

“If that’s the case,” he said softly, “Then maybe the snooker’s a bit of a formality.”


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