Tamed by Christmas by Sidney Valentine – Review, Excerpt & Giveaway

Tamed by Christmas by Sidney Valentine – Review, Excerpt & Giveaway

 

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Author: Sidney Valentine

Title: Tamed by Christmas

Genre: Aussie Cowboy Romance

Release Date: November 21, 2017

Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing

 

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Description:
An Aussie cowboy, his feisty ex, and an unprecedented storm. Jett Wayne’s Christmas becomes complicated.

When Paris loses her job days before Christmas, her world crumbles. She returns to her parents’ home in outback Australia where she plans on eating enough food to fall into a coma and sleep straight until New Year’s. But when she unwittingly bumps into her ex on her way home, old feelings awaken.

Picking up Paris from the airport isn’t on Jett Wayne’s to-do list. Neither is dealing with their history or her cranky mood. Shit happens, like his one mistake that drove them apart. When he sees her again, he remembers the vulnerable girl from his hometown who rode horses bareback, who never backed down from an argument, and who stole his love.

When they find themselves stranded during an unprecedented storm, they’re faced with explosive emotions, secrets, and uncontrollable desires. Will Jett gamble on a second chance before Paris leaves him for good this time?

 

 

Review:

Tamed by Christmas by Sidney Valentine is a Christmas story.  Paris lost her job at Christmas and decides to go home and sulk.  She wasn’t expecting Jett to pick her up at the airport and he was the last person she expected to see.  He broke her heart years ago, he was the reason she left her hometown and ran to the city.  She wasn’t ready to face life right now, much less deal with him.

Jett couldn’t ignore what he felt for Paris when her saw her for the first time in years.  But he was different now, more mature, with real life responsibilities.  He didn’t want to play games anymore.  When the crazy weather leaves them stranded, they are forced to face their past and deal with their rekindled present attraction.  Can they face their past mistakes and hold on to the love they feel for each other?

Tamed by Christmas is a sweet, uplifting Christmas story!  Paris and Jett have amazing chemistry, and this is a lovable second chance love story.  Paris has a hot temper, which is hilarious.  She flies off the handle quickly and the way Jett handles it is so funny.  She’s all puffed up with anger and Jett deflates her rather quickly with his calm attitude and responses.  This is a lovely, romantic Christmas story that doesn’t disappoint!

Reviewed by Tricia

Copy provided by Publisher

 

excerpt

 

“She spun, with bag in hand, and hoofed it down the room, dodging people left and right. She had to get away from him and fast.
“Paris!” Jett called out. “Wait up.”
Oh geez, because clearly the curse hadn’t finished with her, now it threw Jett in her face? What next? He’d invite her to his wedding and announce his wife-to-be was pregnant with twins. God, she shouldn’t care, but that might kill her. She had no boyfriend to gloat about, no job, and was returning to her parents’ place to hide from the world. Yep, her armoury was empty to battle against Jett. But it was more than just gloating or acting as if she was better than him. He was her first boyfriend, her first lover, her first true love. And she accepted long ago that he would always have a piece of her heart, but she sure as hell didn’t want him flaunting his awesome life in front of her. Bad enough everyone in Yalgoo would ask her a million questions, but Jett was a problem on a whole different plane of existence. She planned to stay in her parents’ house the whole visit to avoid bumping into him in town.
Footfalls closed in, and she glanced behind her to find him marching after her with determination, his brows pinched. With a huff, she stopped and whirled to face him. “What do you want?”
“Where are you off to in such a rush? Last time I saw you run this fast was when Ned’s bull escaped the yard and chased you down the street.” Those crystal eyes, crowned with thick brows, could have melted her on the spot, but she wouldn’t let him affect her. He’d done enough of that to last a lifetime.
“If I remember right, it was you who released the animal.”
He laughed, the sound a feather across her skin. How dare he make her feel good in his company? After what he did, he didn’t deserve a second of her time. “Well, it was great to reminisce with you,” she said. “I’ve got to go.”
“And where are you going exactly?”
Paris stormed off and responded without turning around. “Looking for my lift.”
“You’ve just found him.”
Wait! What? She stopped dead in her tracks and turned around, meeting his devilish grin. Oh, great. Thank you, universe, for topping my wonderful Christmas homecoming.


 

 

About The Author

sidney Valentine

 Sidney Valentine is an Aussie girl who loves everything about traveling. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and spends her time exploring the wild outdoors. But she always carries with her a writing pad in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. While she works in marketing during the day, she never stops writing her romance stories set in Australia as a way to rejuvenate from the bustle of the real world. She is often found at local coffee shops with her laptop, writing about people falling in love.

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WIN an e-copy of Wicked Choice by Sawyer Bennett-Giveaway Promotion

WIN an e-copy of WICKED CHOICE (Wicked Horse: Vegas) by Sawyer Bennett-Giveaway Promotion

Wicked Choice giveaway

Heat up your December! WICKED CHOICE by Sawyer Bennett is releasing January 2, but we have your chance to win an e-ARC of this sinfully sexy, friends-to-lovers romance before it releases!

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LIKE and COMMENT on this post

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Giveaway runs from December 11-14, 2017

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#preorder Wicked Choice (Wicked Horse Vegas, Book #4):

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ABOUT THE BOOK: Release Date January 2, 2017

Rachel Hart and Bodie Wright are nothing more than teammates. As mercenaries for hire with the elite Jameson Group, they have each other’s backs in the most dangerous of circumstances. But after a mission gone deadly wrong, Rachel does something she’s never done before. She crosses the professional line and takes comfort in Bodie’s arms.

One night of passion turns their lives upside down with a pregnancy neither of them expected, and one that Rachel was too terrified to ever want. Bodie, however, is a family man through and through, and he’s determined to raise their child alone if necessary.

The only common thread Rachel and Bodie have is their membership at The Wicked Horse, a sex club that lets them both fulfill their dirtiest fantasies with each other. As they become more intimately entwined, the strong, steady man with a heart of gold makes Rachel question everything she ever thought she knew about herself. Their wicked nights together make them so much more than teammates and Rachel is about to discover the choices she thought were the most difficult are actually the easiest ones to make.

** All books in the Wicked Horse Vegas series can be read as standalones. **

 

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Berkley Bookmas: Jayne Ann Krentz – Book Recommendations & Giveaway!

Berkley Bookmas: Jayne Ann Krentz – Book Recommendations & Giveaway!

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The Reading Cafe is so excited to participate in Berkley Bookmas and today we are hosting Jayne Ann Krentz with her book recommendations for Historical Mystery Lady Sleuths! Berkley Bookmas is chock full of exclusive content from some wonderful authors like exclusive excerpts, deleted scenes, author recipes and more! Check out the calendar of events below:

 

Berkley Bookmas Calendar

 

The New Lady Sleuths of Historical Mystery
By
Jayne Ann Krentz

The female detective has been around for quite a while – think Agatha Christie – but it seems to me that we are watching the rise of a new genre: the lady sleuths of historical mystery and suspense.

These unusual and intrepid heroines are women of their eras – the stories are often set in the Regency or Victorian period – but they defy the conventions of their times which is, of course, what makes them so interesting.

These are not your traditional “puzzle” mysteries nor can they be labeled “cozies.”  They are novels of intrigue and suspense featuring fully realized female characters with unique skill-sets who solve crimes, have dangerous adventures and, yes, sometimes get entangled in romantic relationships.

I’m having a fabulous time discovering new authors in this genre.  If this sounds like something you might enjoy – or if you’ve got someone on your holiday gift list who loves historical suspense and mystery – below is a selection of titles that have come to my attention.  I think they are excellent examples of the new lady sleuths of historical mystery and suspense.

 

A Curioius Beginning

 

A CURIOUS BEGINNING, by DEANNA RAYBOURN:  The first title in the Veronica Speedwell novels.  Set in Victorian England, the novels feature a delightfully outrageous heroine with an intriguing past who is a professional butterfly hunter and a fearless sleuth.

 

 

 

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A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN by SHERRY THOMAS:  This series features a real twist on the Sherlock Holmes legend – meet the fascinating and very unique Charlotte Holmes.

 

 

 

Beauty Like the Night

 

 

BEAUTY LIKE THE NIGHT by JOANNA BOURNE:  A novel in Bourne’s terrific Spymaster series set against the backdrop of Napoleonic France and Regency England.  Lush, elegant, well-researched and romantic.

 

 

 

DeathBelowStairs

 

DEATH BELOW STAIRS by Jennifer Ashley
Kat Holloway is a cook who takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat can deal with the family’s eccentricities as long as the various members of the clan stay away from her kitchen.  But murder below stairs changes everything.

 

 


City of Lies

 

CITY OF LIES by VICTORIA THOMPSON
The first in the A Counterfeit Lady series featuring Elizabeth Miles, a woman on the run.  Here’s the setup:  Elizabeth has some unusual skills and she uses them to relieve so-called respectable men of their ill-gotten gains. But she has recently outwitted a brutal man who has sent his thugs after her.

 

 

 

The Anatomist's Wife

 

THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE by ANNA LEE HUBER
Scotland, 1830.  Following the death of her husband, Lady Darby has taken refuge at her sister’s estate, finding solace in her passion for painting. But when her hosts throw a house party for the cream of London society, Kiera is unable to hide from the ire of those who believe her to be as unnatural as her husband, an anatomist who used her artistic talents to suit his own macabre purposes.
That’s my starter list.  I’d love some more suggestions from you.  Got a title or author working in this new genre you’d like to recommend?

Wishing you the best of the holidays and a sparkling New Year!

Sincerely,

Jayne

 

About The Author
Jayne Ann Krentz

Jayne Ann Krentz is the author of more than fifty New York Times bestsellers, including the upcoming romantic thriller Promise Not to Tell. Jayne has written contemporary romantic suspense novels under that name, as well as historical and futuristic romance novels under the pseudonyms Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle, respectively. Learn more at jayneannkrentz.com and connect with her on facebook.com/JayneAnnKrentz.

 

 

 

Giveaway

Berkley Bookmas is graciously offering a giveaway of one $100 Visa gift card, and a book/galley/bound manuscript by each of the authors participating.

Click this link to enter giveaway: http://bit.ly/2zlFxAq

For tomorrow’s fun, head to one of the following blogs:

 

 

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Wolf Hunger by Paige Tyler – Review, Excerpt & Giveaway

Wolf Hunger by Paige Tyler – Review, Excerpt & Giveaway

 

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Wolf Hunger
SWAT series – Book #7
by Paige Tyler
Release Date: December 5, 2017

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Description:
SHE’S ALL THE WOLF HE’LL EVER NEED…

When SWAT Officer Max Lowry meets Lana Mason, he falls fast and hard. He’s positive she’s The One. And Max’s favorite part? Lana’s a wolf shifter too, so they can skip the awkward reveal and head straight to the happily ever after. There’s just one problem: Lana doesn’t know that she’s a werewolf.

To make matters worse, hunters with intent to kill have tracked Lana to Dallas. Max has to figure out how to keep Lana safe, show her who and what she really is—and just how much she means to him.

 

Review:

Wolf Hunger by Paige Tyler is the 7th book in her wonderful SWAT (Special Wolf Alpha Team) series. As always with Tyler, she continues to give us exciting, fun, pulse pounding action, hot alpha werewolves and a great sexy couple. 

Max Lowry, one of the younger members of the SWAT  team and our hero, is in a bar with his friends when he scents another wolf.  He sees a beautiful woman, and knows she could be the ‘one’ (his mate).  
Lana Mason, our heroine, is the daughter of Deputy Chief Hal Mason, who does not want her anywhere near the men of the SWAT team. Lana and Max hit it off immediately, as their chemistry is off the wall hot, but Max senses that Lana has no idea that she is a werewolf, since she has never shifted. 

When Lana is informed that  her friend has been murdered, she notices others following her.  Lana manages to escape, and feels strange vibes happening to her body, including her ability to run abnormally fast;  however she brushes it off.  When Max is worried about Lana, he tries to explain to her what she is, and she becomes scared and leaves.  But when she is forced into another dangerous situation, Lana will learn the truth.

In Wolf Hunger, the storyline changes, with the Hunters (those trying to kill werewolves) coming full force into the picture and a war is on the horizon.  The Hunters have developed a chemical weapon that poisons and kills werewolves, putting all of our hero’s lives in danger.

What follows is an intense and exciting story, where Gabe (SWAT team leader) pulls everyone (including Lana) together for safety, and helping to find a cure for the poison.  As everything escalates, Lana will find herself right in the center of the battle, with the Hunters determined to kill her, as well as the other werewolves.  She will play a major part in helping her new friends survive. 

There is also a side story, where Max is in the middle of helping a family with a abusive husband/father.  Max as a teenager lived in that same type of environment, have lost a sister.  It was nice added element watching Max try to help.

The Wolf hunters will now play a major part in future story lines, and the pack is also now getting bigger, with betas and omegas joining them.  As we raced to the exciting suspenseful climax, we held our breaths as to who will survive.  Another great addition to this series, especially with this game changer.

 I love this series. It is always fun, exciting, sexy, with a fantastic group of characters that make up the SWAT team, and their eventual mates.  Paige Tyler does it so well, giving us the excitement in every story, as well as a sexy romance.  If you have not read this series, you should start it now with the first book.

Reviewed by Barb

Copy provided by Publisher

 

excerpt

 

“Speaking of award ceremonies,” she said to Max, “I didn’t see you on the stage getting a commendation, so I’m guessing you must be here to support someone who did?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Some of the members of my team got recognized today. How about you? Your boyfriend getting a commendation?”

Max thought he was being pretty damn smooth, but the smile tugging at Lana’s lips told him she saw right through his deception.

“Nope, no boyfriend,” she said. “Actually, it was my dad. Brandy took forever getting dressed. Then we got stuck in traffic. We barely made it here in time to see him get the award. I had to watch from the back of the auditorium.”

That explained why Max hadn’t picked up Lana’s luscious scent earlier. And while he was relieved she didn’t have a boyfriend, it made him wonder which of his fellow cops getting a commendation this afternoon could possibly have a daughter this smokin’ hot.

Max opened his mouth to ask her who her father was when another DPD officer walked by with a plate filled with a collection of various hors d’oeuvres. While Max wasn’t impressed with the selection of food, Lana looked at the appetizers longingly, even though she still had the ones her friend had given her. Maybe she wasn’t big on squash blossoms. He didn’t blame her.

“Would you like me to get you something else to eat?” he asked.

She glanced down at her plate, then shook her head. “Thanks, but unfortunately, the spinach puffs were the only thing remotely edible, which is probably why they’re all gone. I can’t believe they’re trying to pass this stuff off as food.”

He grinned. “I was just thinking the same thing a little while ago. I’m planning to head out as soon as this thing is over so I can get some real food.”

She leaned in close and gave him a conspiratorial wink. “Maybe we can slip out now while no one is looking. I can drop my car keys off with Brandy and we can disappear into the night. I’d just about kill for a slice of pizza.”

Any other time, Max would have been stoked to hear that. In his opinion, there wasn’t anything sexier than a woman who loved pizza. But right then, all he could think about was how his body was reacting to Lana’s nearness. Not only was his pulse racing, but his claws and fangs were dangerously close to coming out. He only hoped his eyes weren’t turning gold.

On the upside, at least he now knew for sure she was a werewolf. He could smell it in her pheromones. That was probably why they hit it off so well. Well, there was another reason, but he wasn’t about to go there—even if a little wolf voice in the back of his head whispered maybe he should.

Lana was telling him about an awesome pizza place that wasn’t too far away, wondering if he’d be interested in checking it out, but instead of answering her, he went in a completely different direction.

“It’s so cool finding another of our kind here,” he said. “I totally didn’t expect it.”

She didn’t seem to mind that he’d changed the subject, but she looked a bit confused. “Another of our kind? Are you a pescatarian, too?”

Max chuckled. That body and those looks combined with a wicked sense of humor? It was like she was made for him. A werewolf who didn’t eat meat? Now, that was epically funny.

Unless it was true, in which case it was a little strange.

Before he could say anything, Lana leaned over to look at something behind him, her lips curving into a smile. Max turned to see who she was looking at and was a little surprised to find Deputy Chief Hal Mason. The deputy chief was in charge of the police department’s specialized Tactical Division, which included the mounted police, canine unit, helicopter support, EOD, and SWAT. As a high-ranking officer in the department, Mason had to attend every award ceremony, but this time he’d been recognized for his commitment to developing his entire division, especially SWAT.

“Hey, Dad.” Lana stepped around Max to give Mason a hug. “I was looking for you and Mom earlier, but you were deep in conversation with some people and I didn’t want to interrupt.”

Max picked his jaw up from the floor and shoved it back into place. Lana was the deputy chief’s daughter?


 

 

 

About The Author

Paige_Tyler_

 

Paige Tyler is the USA Today bestselling author of sexy, romantic fiction. She and her very own military hero (also known as her husband) live on the beautiful Florida coast with their adorable fur baby (also known as their dog). Paige graduated with a degree in education, but decided to pursue her passion and write books about hunky alpha males and the kickbutt heroines who fall in love with them.

 

Find Paige Online:

Website: http://www.paigetylertheauthorextras.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PaigeTylerAuthor/
Twitter: @PaigeTyler
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2300692.Paige_Tyler

 

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Comment for your chance to  win a paper copy of WOLF HUNGER to ONE (1) lucky commenter at The Reading Cafe.

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Leave The Night On by Laura Trentham – Review, Excerpt, Tour & Giveaway

Leave The Night On by Laura Trentham – Review, Tour & Giveaway

 

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Leave The Night OnAmazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Books-a-Million / IndieBound

Description:
Love, betrayal, and sweet revenge–life in Cottonbloom is about to get a whole lot hotter . . .

Sutton Mize is known for lavishing attention on the customers who flock to her boutique on the wealthy side of her Mississippi town. So when she finds a lace thong in her fiance’s classic cherry-red Camaro, she knows just who she sold it to: her own best friend. In an instant, Sutton’s whole world goes up in flames. . .

Wyatt Abbott has harbored a crush on Sutton since he was a young kid from the other side of the tracks. He witnessed Sutton’s shocking discovery in the Camaro at his family-owned garage–and it made him angry. What kind of man could take lovely, gorgeous Sutton for granted? But then Sutton comes up with an idea: Why not give her betrothed a taste of his own medicine and pretend that she’s got a lover of her own? Wyatt is more than happy to play the hot-and-heavy boyfriend. But what begins as a fictional affair soon develops into something more real, and more passionate, than either Sutton or Wyatt could have imagined. Could it be that true love has been waiting under the hood all along?

 

Review:

Leave the Night On by Laura Trentham is the 4th book in her wonderful Cottonbloom series.  Leave the Night On reads very well as a standalone, with brief appearances from the earlier leading characters.   I wasn’t sure what to expect, as we knew little about the Abbots.  Wyatt Abbott owns ¼ of the family  garage and restoration business, and he loves restoring old cars.  Sutton Mize brings in her fiancée’s classic Camaro to have a full restoration done as a wedding present.  The Abbott Brothers are excited to start their new restoration project, which will open them up for more business, with wealthier clientele.

Wyatt welcomes Sutton, remembering her from high school, when he had a secret crush on her.  But they have not seen each other in years, as she is from the wealthier Mississippi side of Cottonbloom, and Wyatt and his brothers are the from the blue collar Louisiana side.  When Wyatt takes the car, he makes sure that everything is empty and to Sutton’s shock, he finds expensive dinner receipts and a lace thong under the seat.  Sutton recognizes the thong, as it came from her boutique, where she sold it to her best friend.  Wyatt sees Sutton’s shock and realizes that her fiancée has been cheating on her.

What follows is a wonderful fun story line, where Sutton will ask Wyatt to help her get revenge on her ex- fiancée by being her new boyfriend.  He of course accepts, as he feels bad how she was treated, and wants to help and protect her.  He knows there could be no future for them, since they are from different backgrounds.  Slowly, as they both begin to spend a lot of time together, going to her gala’s and family dinners.  Wyatt was the perfect person for Sutton to get over her ex, as he opened her up to another life of having fun and enjoying things; and also making her that much more stronger and independent.   I loved Wyatt and Sutton together.  They made a great couple, with great chemistry.

While they try to fool Sutton’s Ex and her best friend, there are other things happening that blends into the story.  We meet all the Abbotts, including the aunts and the other 3 brothers.  The only brother I did not like was Ford, who only cared about himself and had no interest in working on the cars.  Ford gave Wyatt such a hard time, which made him even more unlikeable.  I am sure at some point in this series; we will get his story and eventually his redemption.  All the other characters we got to meet were great and I look forward to finding more about them.

Laura Trentham once again gives us a wonderful story, great characters, fabulous couple, heartwarming small town atmosphere, and a sweet wonderful romance. You should be reading this series, and I can’t wait to return to Cottonbloom.

Reviewed by Barb

Copy provided by Publisher

 

excerpt

Sutton stared at the lace concoction. From La Perla’s fall collection. Fine Italian lace. Ridiculously expensive for something so small. A special order with the addition of a small embroidered heart to sit at the owner’s hipbone. Oh yes, she was acquainted with the underwear but not intimately acquainted. She’d ordered them through Abigail’s Boutique, but not for herself. She was too practical.
Wyatt Abbott shook them even closer to her face, obviously expecting her to take them. The thought of touching the lace made her shrink against the driver’s door, and she fumbled for the handle, finally finding it and yanking. The door opened and her momentum sent her to the shop floor on her butt. Her skirt bunched around her thighs, probably high enough for Wyatt Abbott to see her simple cotton pink panties from Victoria’s Secret. The fact they weren’t white was the wildest she got. She’d even waited for them to go on sale. With a bruised ego and bottom, she scrambled up. Wyatt hadn’t moved. His mouth was parted, still in a slight smile, the panties dangling from his fingers. Instead of the roil of emotions gaining steam inside of her, she concentrated on his hands. They were rough-looking and callused. The nails were short but lined with grease. And they were big. They built things. Fixed things. Put things back together. A darkness came over his face, clouding his earlier good-humor and giving him an edge of danger she hadn’t sensed through his teasing. Instead of getting out of the car from the door, he stood up on the passenger seat, stepped to the driver’s seat, and hopped next to her, the black lace of her betrayal dangling in his hand. “What’s the problem?” he asked. A jackhammering noise from the other bay filled the space so she didn’t have to. The crazy thing was that she had sensed something wrong. Something had been wrong pretty much since she and Andrew had gotten engaged.
She’d tried to put it down to nerves or how busy they both were with work. But the truth was she’d been dragging her feet with the wedding preparations. Between the two of them pulling away, the distance had grown until only an echo of what had drawn them together remained. The hum of a motor and the flash of sunlight on metal drew her attention to the open bay door. Her best friend, Bree Randall, stepped out of her BMW coupe dressed in heels, grey slacks, and a sleeveless silk shell, the pink contrasting beautifully with her dark brown hair and ivory complexion. She was a lawyer for Cottonbloom, Mississippi’s city government and had been Sutton’s best friend since first grade. No way could Sutton smile and pretend everything was fine. She grabbed the front of Wyatt’s coveralls and looked up at him. The boy she remembered had been too cool and a borderline jerk, teasing her incessantly, almost to the point of tears. The man was still too cool, yet something new lurked behind his ease. She hoped it was akin to kindness. Bree drew closer. Stuck between a devil she knew and one she didn’t, Sutton took a chance. Her voice was hoarse and begging and she didn’t care. “Get me out of here. Please.”

Without taking his eyes off her, he called out, “Yo, Jackson. Could you put the lady from the Beemer in the waiting room? Tell her Miss Mize isn’t feeling well and stepped out back for some fresh air.”

If his brother answered, she didn’t hear him. Wyatt put a strong, stabilizing arm around her shoulders and guided her around various pieces of equipment and mechanical parts to a door tucked away at the back of the shop floor. She stepped outside, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. The freshness of the air counteracted the bile rising in her throat.

Her knees wobbled as the stark reality of the situation and the fallout took shape in her mind. She glanced at the man by her side. What was Wyatt Abbott thinking right now? Probably that she was borderline psychotic.

A huge red barn sat behind the shop, and they passed from sun back into shadows. A body-sized punching bag twirled from a high beam as they passed by. That explained why the arm at her back was so solid. Her heels tapped on the wide-planked floor. The smell of weathered wood was overlaid by something sweeter. Honeysuckle, maybe.
No hay was stored in the Abbott’s barn. Two tarp-covered cars, the bottom curves of their tires the only part visible, formed a path to the back where a scratched up leather couch and mini-fridge sat.

“Sorry it’s so dusty in here. We like to keep the doors open if the weather’s nice because of the views and cross breeze.” He took a blue towel from his back pocket and wiped off a section of the couch, leaving yellow streaks of pollen. Getting a little dirty was way down on her list of worries and she plopped down, wrapping her arms around her stomach and leaning over so her forehead nearly touched her knees.

“You want a Coke or tea or something?”

She raised her head enough to see his big hand holding out a bottle. He shifted back and forth in his black work boots, the hem of his coveralls ombrèd black to grey with grease.
“It’s a little early for whiskey, but I’ve got that too if you’d rather.” He sounded so worried and unsure, she straightened, took the Coke and pressed the cool plastic against her cheeks and neck.

“You must think I’ve gone batty.” She rarely drank alcohol and never whiskey, but for a moment she considered it as a viable option, even though it was still technically breakfast. It was five o’clock somewhere, right?

“I think something really bad happened,” he said. “I’m not sure what, but I suspect it has something to do with the restaurant receipts and the underwear.”

“Oh God. The receipts.” Her mind hadn’t even circled back around to those, but everything notched into place like a puzzle whose missing piece turned up stuck on the bottom of a shoe covered with chewed up old gum and bug guts.
His late nights working. Breaking dates at the last minute. His distraction. How long had it been since they’d shared the same bed? Two months? Three? She’d put it down to the natural progression of a committed relationship and the busyness of their lives, assuming things would be better once they were living under the same roof.
“I’m a moron.” Tears crawled up her throat and choked off her feeble attempt of a laugh.

She closed her eyes wishing she could teleport herself back under the covers. The cushion sagged next to her, and she tipped towards him, her shoulder bumping his biceps. A moment passed before his arm came around her shoulders, and they sank back into the couch together.
She turned her face into the space between his neck and shoulder and took a deep breath, desperately trying to get a handle on her out-of-control emotions. Pain was to be expected, but the flashes of fierce fury took her by surprise.
Easygoing and nice and cheerful were bandied about when people passed compliments her way. At least, she’d always taken them as compliments. Now she wasn’t so sure. Maybe all those things were code words for weak and gullible.

Another breath. She concentrated on Wyatt’s warmth and scent. So different from the expensive cologne Andrew wore. Wyatt smelled like pine trees and the garage. His dark, almost black hair, tickled her nose. A tear slipped out and she wiped it away with the heel of her hand.
“You want me to go get your friend?” His chest vibrated against her, deep and rich.

Friend? She didn’t want to examine the other half of the betrayal. Worse than Andrew cheating on her was who he’d been getting down and dirty with. Her best friend. No. A friend wouldn’t sleep with her fiancé behind her back while helping her plan the wedding with an enthusiasm that oftentimes exceed her own.

Sutton ransacked her brain for moments she could point to and say Aha! but none came to mind. Bree had been supportive and helpful over the last few months. Lies. How many lies had Sutton accepted as gospel truth? A few more tears escaped along with a ragged breath.
Wyatt made a humming sound that was distinctly uncomfortable, and he pulled away. “Let me—”

She grabbed his coveralls. “No. Don’t you get it? That was her thong.”

He shifted to face her. “Is identifying underwear in a single glance your superpower?”

Despite her life crashing down, a shard of humor sliced through the shock, and her lips twitched. “Expensive underwear. The heart on the panties matches her tattoo. A special order.”

“You fiancé and your best friend?”

Put like that, she felt even dumber. “My life has turned into a cliché.”

“It’s a cliché because of how often it happens. Nothing for you to be ashamed of. It’s them that should feel like chickenshit.”

“You don’t understand how people like to talk.”

“I understand, alright. I just don’t care what people say.” The defiant edge in his voice spoke of his own pain and sorrows, but right now she only had room for her own. He was quiet for a moment. “You want me to get rid of her?”

Sutton sank back and took a swig of Coke, the burn bringing a different, more welcome, sort of tear to her eyes. “I need to talk to her. Confront her.”

“Yeah, but not hurt and crying. You need to prepare. Get mad then get even.”

His advice made her sit up straighter. She’d been raised to smooth feathers, not ruffle them. Her mother had taught her how a smile and pleasant word could diffuse most situations. The lessons had contributed to her business success but hadn’t done her personal life any favors. Another whip of red-hot fury flayed her heart.
“She’s my ride back over the river.” Her voice sounded even and strong, her anger a mast to cling to amid the wreckage.

“I can be your ride.”

“But you have work to do.”

The look he cast her was full of disbelief. “You’re not going through with the restoration, are you?”

The Camaro, the red harbinger of her ruin, had already slipped her mind. She didn’t even like the stupid car. Her daddy and Tarwater senior had hatched this surprise over a round of golf with Ford Abbott after she’d confessed she couldn’t think of anything to give Andrew as an engagement present. Only when her daddy had anted up half the money had she agreed. Their “go big or go home” mentality had seemed a ridiculous waste to her.
Dear Lord, her family. What would her daddy say? As a long-standing judge, he was sort of a colleague of Andrew’s. She closed her eyes and rocked forward and back on the edge of the couch.

“What if I’m overreacting?” If only this was a bad dream. Yet, did she really want that? An undercurrent that felt vaguely like relief trickled through the anger and humiliation and doubts.

“About which part, your fiancé cheating or who he was cheating with?” Wyatt stuck a hand into his pocket, came out with the thong and tossed it on her lap.

She leapt up and brushed it off as if she were Miss Muffet and it was a venomous, hairy, black spider. She kicked at it with the toe of her shoe. The red heart mocked her from the black lace. Yet the little girl who’d shared her pimento cheese sandwich with Bree every day during kindergarten wanted to be wrong.

She sank back down to the edge of the couch, feeling like she was shoring up the situation with Scotch tape. “There could be a reasonable explanation. Like she and Andrew went to lunch and for some reason she had them in her purse and they fell out. Maybe I’ve jumped to the wrong conclusion.”

“Maybe.” He shrugged. She appreciated the fact he wasn’t calling her on her BS excuses even though his face was the definition of skeptical.

“You sure you don’t mind giving me a ride?” she asked.

“I’ll get rid of your friend and take you home. That should buy you some time to figure things out. Confront her on your terms.”

Her initial impressions of Wyatt Abbott were from the viewpoint of a preteen girl. Back then, she’d been self-conscious of her skinny arms and legs and flyaway hair, and whenever she’d come to the garage with her daddy, Wyatt had made it his mission to tease her mercilessly.
What was he now? On the surface, she’d label him a good old boy. Fun, flirty, simple. Except, his gray eyes were anything but. Not flat like shale, but ready to spark a fire like a flint. Raw emotions provided a sharp awareness. Her memories of him urged her to be cautious with her trust, yet his jaw was set and his shoulders were rolled forward as if ready and willing to go into battle.

“Why?” she finally whispered.

“Why what?”

“Why are you being so nice to me? You hated me as a kid.”

“Hated you?” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and tipped his head enough to shutter his intensity of his eyes. “I never hated you, in fact . . .” He shook his head.

“In fact what?”

“Not important. Simply put, unlike your fiancé and your friend, I’m not an asshole. If you don’t need me—”

“No, I do need you.” She stood but misjudged how close he was. They weren’t touching, but she could feel his heat and appreciate his strength. “I just . . .”

Wyatt Abbott was handsome, but even more potent than his looks was an intangible confidence and ease with himself. The man probably talked a different woman out of her panties every weekend. Would he cash in on her humiliation for a good story to tell brothers and drinking buddies? Did it even matter? Whether it was him or someone else, rumors would rush through the town like their river after a storm

Insecurities pinged between her head and heart, the message clear. Protect yourself. But surely, she could at least trust him to get her home. “I would really appreciate a lift home.”

He chaffed her arms like a coach might comfort a little kid after a loss. “It’ll be okay. You wait here while I handle your friend, okay?”

She nodded, and he strode back toward the garage. Highlighted in a shaft of sunlight, he hesitated at the metal door they’d ducked through and glanced behind him. A zing of warning—or premonition?—skittered down her spine.
Her life had been spun into chaos, yet in that moment, she felt connected to Wyatt in a way that terrified her. Then he disappeared, and she waited to discover out if her trust had once again been misplaced.


 

About the Author pink

 

Laura Trentahm II

SaveAn award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although, she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.

She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. The first two books of her Falcon Football series were named Top Picks by RT Book Reviews magazine. Then He Kissed Me, a Cottonbloom novel, was named as one of Amazon’s best romances of 2016. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she’s shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.

Social Links:
Facebook / Author Blog / Twitter@LauraTrentham / Author Website / Goodreads

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Laura’s publisher is graciously offering a paper copy of LEAVE THE NIGHT ON to ONE (1) lucky commenter at The Reading Cafe:

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9. Giveaway runs from August 5 to August 8, 2017

 

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A New Leash on Love by Debbie Burns – Promotion Excerpt & Giveaway

A New Leash on Love by Debbie Burns – Promotion Excerpt & Giveaway

 

A New Leash on Love STARRED review(1)

 

 

Title:A New Leash on Love
Series:Rescue Me #1
Author: Debbie Burns
Pub Date:July 4, 2017

A New Leash on Love

First in a fresh contemporary romance series from award-winning debut author Debbie Burns.

Every heart has a forever home.

Megan Anderson loves the animals at her no-kill shelter. She’ll do anything for them—even go toe-to-toe with a handsome man who’s in way over his head. She’ll help him sort out his troubles, but getting too close to an adorable puppy’s human counterpart? Been there, done that, got burned.

When Craig Williams arrived at the local shelter for help, he didn’t expect a fiery young woman to blaze into his life. But the more time they spend together, the more he realizes it’s not just animals Megan is adept at saving—she could be the one to rescue his heart.

Soon, Craig and Megan find that the magic of unconditional love can do anything…even lead to their forever home.

Amazon
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Chapters
Indiebound

NOTE: The review for A New Leash on Love will post on July 4th.

 

excerpt

 

[Craig] stood in Megan’s kitchen, watching her twist a mass of wavy hair up into a knot, leaving lone strands clinging to her neck, and he felt it again. His world was full of women who would be less complicated. Women who wouldn’t tie up his core and make him ache until his lungs seemed to scrape against his ribs.
What was he doing? He’d sworn to himself he’d stay away, but he’d driven here as if on autopilot rather than waiting for another time to give her the silly little present. Being with her was a mistake, even under the pretense of friendship, when he knew she wanted him as much as he wanted her. He’d make a bigger mess of a disaster.

She was unpacking groceries and making small talk he couldn’t process. Pulling out a colander, she filled it with fruit and washed it in the sink. When she turned off the water, she looked his way for the first time since he’d followed her inside carrying her packed-full reusable shopping bags.

“You okay?” She wiped her wet hands on her hips. “You look, I don’t know, confused.” She grinned suddenly and made air quotes as she continued. “Is it your lack of domesticity? Did I blunder by bringing you into my kitchen?”
Craig shook his head, surprised by the laugh that erupted from his chest. “No, you didn’t blunder.”
“Good, because I’m going to let you put together a plate of cheese and fruit while I take a shower. And don’t think that’s anything special because I always shower after I work in the kennels. I hate smelling like bleach and God knows what else.”
He felt his tension easing away as she spoke. He could do this. He could handle being with her. Tonight at least. A salve for wounds so raw he couldn’t ignore them any longer.
Megan pointed to one of the bags. “There’s fresh bread in that one. And crackers in the cupboard if you prefer.” She walked over to a cabinet beside the fridge and made a ta-da gesture as she opened it to reveal a latticed assortment of wines. “You can choose the wine, if there’s any you can stomach. I’m sure you don’t know any of the brands because they’re all under eight bucks a bottle.”
“Funny,” he said, “but most likely true.”
She shrugged, clearly unoffended. “Make yourself at home. I won’t be long.”
Under the watchful gaze of the cat that had scratched him, Craig pulled the rest of the contents from the bags after she left, then searched through cabinets and drawers to find a cutting board, a plate, and a knife.
By the time he’d chosen the wine, opened it, and laid out a decent-looking arrangement of cheese, fruit, and crackers, Megan was back, filling the small room with the scent of shea and lavender. She was dressed in a long-sleeved Henley and lounge pants, her hair still dry but free again. It was full, wavy, and beautiful, and made him want to lose his hands in it.
“Impressive.” She eyed his plate and cocked an eyebrow. “So there’s more to Craig Williams than marketer and entrepreneur extraordinaire.”
“You forgot abandoner of dogs.” He leaned back against the counter, trying not to focus on the small patch of skin between the rim of her shirt and the elastic-waisted pants that would be very easy to slide off.
“I didn’t forget. I’m officially forgiving you for that. And excuse the pants,” she said, noticing the direction of his gaze. “But your little slate came with the call for friendship, and there’s nothing like a pair of look-I’ve-added-ten-pounds cozy pants to meet that call, if you want my opinion. That and they’re comfortable.”
He passed her a glass of the wine. “As long as they’re comfortable.”
“Ha, are they that bad? On second thought, don’t answer that.”
“I won’t, but for the opposite reason of what you’re thinking. After asking for friendship, I don’t want to come across as if I’m hitting on you.”
A blush lit her cheeks as she sipped the wine. “Okay then. So, since you made the first course, I’ll get busy with the pizza. I’ve been told I make a killer pizza. In fact, it’s one of my best dishes.” She gave an exaggerated toss of her hair. “All it takes is one slice to become a true believer.”
Craig refilled his glass, noting the buzz washing over him. A buzz he realized he desperately wanted. Letting the halfway decent Syrah roll across his tongue, he sank to a chair at her table and watched her move about her kitchen with the confidence of someone who not only had committed everything about it to memory, but enjoyed it.
“I didn’t know you liked to cook.”
“You mean in my shoe filled with dogs?” Megan wrinkled her nose at him, remembering a joke he’d made about his thoughts on her home life during his and Sophie’s tour. “I do actually. I love it.”
“What’s your favorite dish?”
“To bake or cook?”
“Is there a difference?”
“A huge one. My favorite thing to bake is an in-season pie from fruit I’ve actually picked. To cook… That’s a hard one. I like to mix it up.”
“I’m sold on the pie.” He ran his fingertips over the smooth top of her table. “Let me know if I can help with anything.”
“You’re good for a bit. I’m going to teach you how to toss a crust. Everyone should learn to toss a crust.”
Craig chuckled. “Like they do in Italian kitchens? Don’t tell me some of those Europeans you mentioned at the coffee shop were Italian. You don’t look it.”
“I’m like an eighth or something. My dad worked his way through college in a pizzeria. I think I could toss a crust before my training wheels were off.”
He sank back in his chair and shook his head. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was her. Most likely it was her.
The cuts and scrapes and bruises that filled his insides had fallen silent for the first time in a long while. Finishing off his wine, he savored the peace washing over him.




About the Author

Debbie Burns
Debbie Burn resides in St. Louis, Missouri. Shelter is her first contemporary romance and has finaled in multiple contests. Her writing commendations include first place awards for short stories, flash fiction, and longer selections from the Missouri RWA and the Missouri Writers’ Guild.

You can find her on Twitter  and at debbiecausevic.com.

 

Giveaway

Debbie’s publisher is offering a paper copy of A NEW LEASH ON LOVE to ONE (1) lucky commenter at The Reading Cafe

1. If you have not previously registered at The Reading Cafe, please register by using the log-in at the top of the page (side bar) or by using one of the social log-ins.

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7. Giveaway is open to USA/Canada only

8. Giveaway runs from June 29 to July 2, 2017

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The Knocked Up Plan by Lauren Blakely-Release Blitz, Excerpt & Giveaway

THE KNOCKED UP PLAN by Lauren Blakely-Release Blitz, Excerpt & Giveaway

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✮✮✮ THE KNOCKED UP PLAN is here! Grab your copy today! ✮✮✮

Add it to Goodreads here!

There are three little words most guys don’t want to hear on the first date. Not those…I mean these… “knock me up.”

This single gal has had enough of the games, the BS and the endless chase. I know what I want most, and it’s not true love. It’s a bun in the oven, and I’m not afraid to hit up my sex-on-a-stick co-worker to do the job. Ryder is gorgeous, witty and charming — and he’s also a notorious commitment-phobe. That makes him the perfect candidate to make a deposit in the bank of me.

I won’t fall for him, he won’t fall for me, and there’s no way baby will make three.

Right?

****
There are four words every guy wants to hear on the first date — “your place or mine?”

When my hot-as-sin co-worker makes me a no-strings-attached offer that involves her place, my place, any place — as well as any position — I can’t refuse. Besides, I’ve got my own reasons to take her up on her deal even with her one BIG condition.

There’s no way I’ll want more from one woman than any position, any where, any night? Except . . . what if I do?

Be prepared to swoon and fan yourself from the heat! This full-length standalone contains lots of hot baby-making s-e-x, happy tears, playful jokes and a hot, swoon worthy hero you will fall madly in love with. One-click now for pure reading enjoyment! 

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excerpt

 

“How does it work?” I ask. “The whole donation process.”
She stabs a carrot slice, chews, and swallows. “Well, there’s this thing guys do when they’re horny. It’s called”—she glances furtively from side to side—“jacking off.”
“I’m well aware of how the protein shake is made. What I mean is, are we talking about one of those little rooms you go into?” I ask, since what man doesn’t have an image of a jerk-off chamber? “With magazines or porn or whatnot?”
“Yes, they schedule the donors for forty-minute sessions in them.”
“I’m more efficient than that, but that’s good to know.” I take another bite and chew. I set down the burger. “So, a nurse or orderly would escort me to a special room, and then I’d need to drop my
drawers and whack off. Into a cup, right?”
“A plastic sample cup. With a top,” she says, and I’m kind of amazed that she’s answering every question like a champ. No blushing, no stammering.
“What do they provide for entertainment? Laptops? Computers? Or is it old school with Playboy?”
“They provide pornographic material in printed form as well as video on a TV screen.”
“Awesome. So I just choke the chicken in a room with a ton of other dudes going at it in their own rooms, too. Hand a cup to the nurse. She seals up the goods. Then, what’s next?”
“They do tests on your swimmers.”
“They’ll pass. Then you come in, maybe the same day, maybe a few days later?”
“Same day. We’d have to time everything to my cycle and when I’m ovulating.”
“Fine, so they undress you, prop you up on an exam table, and stick a turkey baster into you?”
“You paint a lovely picture of the process.”
I hold up a hand, waving her off. “Wait. I’m not done. You’re in nothing but a hospital gown. The doc tells you to put your cute little feet in stirrups, and they stick that baster up inside what I am sure
is an absolutely gorgeous and heavenly home,” I say, because if she can complement my tadpoles, I can say something nice about the paradise between her legs. She mouths a thank you. “After the boys
make the upstream trip, they send you home.” I mime patting her on the rear and then sending her out the door.
“I think you’ve got the basic idea.”
“And after that?”
“That’s all,” she says. “That’s all I’d want you to do. I don’t expect or want any involvement. I’d have all the paperwork drawn up in advance saying there are no legal rights, responsibilities, or expectations of parenting, and no financial commitments required.”
I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but that’s the clincher for me—the lack of involvement. If I’m ever going to raise a child, I’m damn well going to do it right. The whole nine yards, two parents, just like my mom and dad raised my brother, my sister, and me.
Nicole isn’t asking me to sign up for daddy duty, though. She doesn’t want me to help with diaper detail or midnight feedings.
She’s a friend asking for the help she needs so she can then do those things on her own.
And helping a friend seems like something I should consider.
Fine, she’s asking for a hell of a lot more than a dude to put together an IKEA TV stand, and those things are beyond Da Vinci Code-level cryptic. I’d like to see Robert Langdon decipher some IKEA assembly instructions. Good luck with that, Harvard symbologist.
I like Nicole. I respect the dickens out of this woman. I want to take her request as seriously as she’s asking it. “Can I have a few days to think about it?”
“Of course. Take all the time you need,” she says, then glances at an imaginary watch on her wrist. “It’s only my biological clock ticking.”


 

About The Author Black and White

A #1 New York Times Bestselling author, Lauren Blakely is known for her contemporary romance style that’s hot, sweet and sexy. She lives in California with her family and has plotted entire novels while walking her dogs. With fourteen New York Times bestsellers, her titles have appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists more than eighty times, and she’s sold more than 2 million books. In June she’ll release THE KNOCKED UP PLAN, a standalone contemporary romance. To receive an email when Lauren releases a new book, sign up for her newsletter! laurenblakely.com/newsletter

Website ** Facebook ** Twitter ** Newsletter ** Goodreads

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Lauren’s Bundle of Joy Special Delivery Giveaway! This bundle is valued at $200 and includes the most delicious cupcakes delivered to your door from Wicked Cupcakes, a $50 gift certificate for luxurious bath products to make your skin baby soft from The Body Shop, and comes wrapped up with a beautiful sterling silver bow bangle bracelet from Pandora ($125 value).

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Second Chance Season by Liora Blake – Review, Excerpt & Giveaway

Second Chance Season by Liora Blake – Review, Excerpt & Giveaway

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Second Chance SeasonAmazon / B&N / Kobo / BAM / Book Depository

Description:
Garrett Strickland is unapologetically country, fiercely loyal, and perfectly happy with his job at the Hotchkiss Co-op. Garrett is all about living in the present and not dwelling in the past—even if he was once on his way to a lofty agricultural sciences degree that would guarantee the brightest of futures, only to end up back home when his old man died, leaving behind a debt-ridden family farm that was impossible to keep afloat. After that, it was easy to see why dreaming big wasn’t worth the heartache. And until he crosses paths with a city girl who’s hell-bent on kick-starting her own future, he’s sure that good enough is just that.

Cara Cavanaugh is ready for more from life, even if that means changing everything; including dumping her boyfriend of ten years, turning down a lucrative job at a major newspaper, and leaving behind the upscale suburbs of Chicago where she grew up. Now, she just has to pray that temporarily relocating to the middle of nowhere in Colorado will be the first step in building a career as a freelance journalist—all she has to do is prove she’s got what it takes to make a name for herself. Unfortunately, her tony country day school is as close to “country” as she’s ever been. But when a goodhearted guy who looks like he just stumbled out of a country music video offers to help, she ends up falling hard…and discovering that the perfect story is a love story. And it’s theirs.

 

Review:

Second Chance Season by Liora Blake is the 2nd book in her Grand Valley series. Cara Cavanaugh , our heroine, is on her way to Grand Valley, Colorado for a few months to research on the farming agriculture for her new freelance job.  Cara comes from a wealthy family, has broken up her engagement to her lifelong boyfriend, and is determined to make a name for herself.  While stopped on the side of the road close to her destination, she talks on the phone with her sister, when she is shocked to see someone knocking on the car window.  Who is this gorgeous cowboy?

Garrett Strickland, our hero, has lived in Hotchkiss all his life, and privately mourns the loss of his dad, and the land they had to sell to make ends meet.  When Garret is on his way home, he spots a car on the road, and goes to see if he can help.  Garrett sees an attractive girl, who looks like  “City” all over her.  Being the gentleman he is, Garret will have Cara follow him to the house she will be staying in during her research.  Of course, the house turns out to be his old house that he grew up in.

What follows is a slow build romance between two people totally different.  Garrett, who had an agricultural science degree, but gave it up when his family was debt ridden, is a full blown redneck cowboy; and Cara, is from wealth and city personified.   Wow, they were so good together; as their chemistry was off the wall hot.  Most of all, I loved everything about both of them.  Though they knew there was no future, they were so much fun together.  The witty banter between them; the lust they each had for each other was scorching, and it was fun to watch them fall hard for each other.  I really enjoyed their romance, and prayed they would find a way to stay together. The secondary characters in the book, including seeing Whitney and Cooper again, Braden and Cara’s sister Aimee were very good.  

As they begin to know they are falling in love, things begin to fall apart, since they knew that the time for Cara’s departure was near, with each having different lives to return to.  You will need to read this book to see what happens.  

I really enjoyed Second Chance Season, which was a perfect romance with a perfect couple.  The only thing I would add is that the last half of the book had a lot of constant sex scenes.  It was sensual, but I do like my stories in the forefront.  I do recommend that you read this, as it was an enjoyable read, and well written by Liora Blake.

Reviewed by Barb

Copy provided by Publisher

 

excerpt

 

Another pasture, another herd of cows. While it goes without saying that I can’t tell the diff erence, Garrett explains that this group is all fi rst-calf heifers, as in fi rst-time moms. Given that, they’re kept separate from the other cows, graze on the best-quality pasture, and get a little extra attention—and a few bonus calories.

Garrett is ambling through the herd, carrying a tub fi lled with feed pellets. Evidently, these protein-packed bits are the bovine equivalent of a Twinkie to a pothead. Because the moment they figure out what he has, they come running—well, not running, as much as clomping and plodding. But with a slobbering, unwavering gait and a penetrating gleam in their big cow eyes. It’s hilarious and terrifying at the same time.

Garrett, however, isn’t the least bit scared, and is able to avoid losing a hand or a fi nger to the more overzealous gals of the group. I can see his mouth moving, but with all the mooing and the fact I’ve stayed back by the truck while he works, I can’t hear what he’s saying. Chances are it’s the cow translation of fl irting. Because Garrett.

At the edge of the herd, he manages to turn my way and lifts the tub high in the air. “Cara! Bring me that other tub of pellets, will you? The girls are hungry.”

Oh, time to be helpful. Watch this city girl slay. I push off the dropped tailgate of his truck and haul forward the second pail sitting in the bed, but it’s heavier than expected, so I have to brace my hips and use both hands. Once I swing it down, I start Garrett’s way while avoiding the largest mud puddles. Garrett meets me halfway and immediately swoops in to take the pail. I turn around to head back to the truck, but I’m in the middle of the herd now, gazing out into a sea of bobbing cow heads. I try to stay cool and collected, even when I now have a close-up view to the size of their mouths and the bottom row of big, flat teeth working away inside those mouths—while knowing the only tool available for swatting or shooing is my scotch cap.

Speaking of swatting, my body goes rigid when I feel a nudge of something against my lower back. I can’t quite identify what’s at play here, but whatever it is starts to move southward.

Is that . . . ? No. Can’t be.

This gentle pressure, now squarely centered on the back pocket of my jeans, cannot be Garrett. He is not copping a feel. Not here, not now. Not absent of any attempt at seduction. Like, by way of dinner and a movie, some excuse to end up on the couch together when he drives me home, then using that to lean in for a kiss. Only after that would he go for the ass grab, right? He’s a raised-right country guy. Those rural roots alone must trend toward slower courtships.

And slow courtships would not involve descending his touch from my jean pockets to a place lower and more . . . between my legs.

Must. Set. Boundaries.

That’s what I need to do. Quickly. I don’t care if he does bring about lust-itis symptoms I can’t quite keep in check. This is not my speed—the fast-forward, skip-a-few-chapters, here’s-the-moneyshot speed. I take a deep breath and turn, fully prepared to lock eyes with Garrett and spell out my boundaries. Clearly and firmly.

Except Garrett isn’t next to me. I spot him fifteen feet away, carrying on another one-sided conversation with the cows. Most important, his hands are occupied—one gripping the pail handle and the other scooping out pellets.

A snort emerges from behind me, followed by my mind freight-training through the essentials of what’s happening right now.

Garrett is way over there.

I’m in the middle of a herd of cows. And something is touching me in a far-too-familiar way. All this is followed by a not-so-subtle poke in the ass—by a cow that either really likes me or really doesn’t.

Followed by me screaming.

My screaming does two things: elicits a very wet-sounding grunt from my cow paramour and prompts Garrett to whip his head our direction. He freezes, all except for his jaw dropping open. Another poke in the butt and I’m off, with only one objective in mind: to make it back to the truck so I can barricade myself inside. Whether cows lack opposable thumbs or not and locking the doors might be unnecessary, I don’t care. I barely register the mud bogs in my path because my feet are working at a squirrelly Flintstones pace, so what happens next is pretty much inevitable. Because when I plop a foot down in what looks like another shallow puddle, I find it’s actually a gully. A swamp-sized bog. A quagmire of epic proportions. Large enough to obscure the rock lying in wait to turn my ankle and fling me face-first into a pond of mud.

The fall and the cold and the mud take my breath away. Wet dirt seeps between my splayed fingers, splashes onto my face, and begins to soak the front of my clothes. And it doesn’t smell as if it’s composed entirely of dirt. Other stuff is mixed up in here. Other, more odorous stuff.

Garrett appears, sweeping to a stop in front of me before crouching down. Then he poses an obvious question. The inevitable, stupid, rhetorical question nearly anyone would feel compelled to ask in this situation. And he asks it with a look on his face like he’s dying to burst out laughing, but knows that wouldn’t be wise on his part, which makes the whole thing even worse.

“City. Whoa there. Are you OK?”

Point proven. The obvious answer to this obvious question would be to claim that I’m fine.

But I’m not.

My clothes are soaked through with sludge, my already tiny chest feels as if the impact may send me back into a training bra, and my face—where it isn’t covered in mud—is hot from humiliation. I push myself up and onto my knees. After a deep, shuddering breath, I stand up, take two steps to the right, where drier ground lies, then give my form a once-over to assess the situation.

Verdict is in. The situation sucks.

“Cara, answer me. Are you OK?”

I flick my gaze over to him and pin it there, biting my tongue both literally and figuratively, hard enough that tears are welling in my eyes. Garrett’s face falls, all traces of his stifled laughter having temporarily dissipated. He puts his hands to my upper arms, grips them gently.

“Fuck. Don’t cry, OK? Don’t cry, don’t cry. Just nod so I know you aren’t hurt.”

Just nod. This fucking guy. Mr. Rational Instructions Guy. Dreamy or not, he’s within striking distance, and I’m pissed at everything.

I take another deep breath and lay it on him good. “No! Of course I’m not OK! I’m covered in mud and cow shit!” I jab a finger in the air toward him. “And you’re trying not to laugh, I know it. Just laugh; you know you want to.”

Then I stamp my foot. Because I’m mature like that. More mud sloshes and lands on the backs of my hands.

And that’s all it takes. Garrett starts to howl, laughing so hard he doubles over, bracing his hands on his knees—and he doesn’t even have the decency to hold back his cackling, just lets it all out for what feels like a good ten minutes. When he’s finally able to breathe and stand upright again, his still annoyingly pretty hazel eyes are watering with gleeful tears. He wipes them away with the heel of one hand.

Garrett cups my face with his hands. “You’re fucking adorable.”

“You’re not,” I huff .

He tugs his hoodie sleeves down over his hands and starts to wipe the mud off of my face.

“If it makes you feel better, you wouldn’t believe how jealous I was of that heifer. That was a bold move she pulled. Knew what she wanted and went for it. Not the girl-on-girl action I usually go for, but still.”

He grins, a few residual laughs escaping him, and I groan. Garrett scans the front of my body, then takes my hand, leading us to the truck. After rustling around in the back, he extracts a stack of clothing from under the driver seat. Garrett holds up a pair of jeans, swinging a look between me and the pants. He drapes them over his forearm, tosses a T-shirt and a hooded camo sweatshirt onto the pile, and extends it my way.

“Redneck shenanigans often involve mud. This means always being prepared with a change of clothes. Come on, we’ll find a place for you to change.”

 

 

 

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