Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Navy Rescue - Geri Krotow (HS #1925 - May 2014)

Series: Whidbey Island (Book 3)

She saved a baby, but can she save her marriage?

Navy commander and pilot Gwen Brett is shot down in a disastrous mission -- and survives six months in terrifying circumstances. She manages to escape with an orphaned baby she rescued and is determined to bring home.

Devastated when she was presumed dead, her ex-husband, Drew, is overjoyed by her survival. He offers Gwen and the baby a place to stay, to recover. Gwen accepts, convinced their love is gone. But almost losing her for good makes Drew realize he wants her back -- and Gwen feels the same…. However, this rescue might be the hardest one yet!

Very good book that kept me hooked from the very beginning. It starts with Gwen flying the mission that goes bad, and fades to black as we're left to wonder what happens. It picks up six months later as her ex-husband Drew learns that Gwen is alive. Not only is she alive, but he's apparently the only one who can help her reaclimate after her return. He's being asked to have Gwen stay with him, in the house that used to be theirs, something that will be incredibly hard for him. He's accepted that their marriage is over and can see where they went wrong. They've remained friends, but that's all they can ever be.

Gwen is stunned to discover that the doctors will only release her if she has someone to go to, and Drew is it. Though they've been divorced for five years, they worked hard to remain friends. Living together again was going to bring back memories, good and bad, of their marriage, and the guilt she feels for her part in its end. 

I loved the realism of this story, as Gwen and Drew found their way back to each other through several obstacles. The biggest of these is their inability to let their past mistakes stay in the past and look at the people they are now. During the six months that Gwen was missing, both had faced the facts of those mistakes. Gwen had allowed her career focus to take precedence over their relationship, and Drew had allowed his focus on his studies to do the same thing. Gwen has admitted to herself that her priorities were messed up, and now that she has the baby she rescued to think about, she knows she wants to do things differently. Drew knows that trying to make Gwen leave the navy and fit in to his idea of the ideal life had been all wrong. As well as they know these things, both believe that a second chance is impossible.

Contributing to the stress is the fact that there was a death at Drew's physical therapy business and he is suspected of murder at worst or criminal negligence at best. He figures that even if he avoids jail, his business is done for, leaving him nothing to offer Gwen, even if they were to find their way back to each other. There is also a neighbor woman who has set her sights on Drew and is doing everything she can to make Gwen believe there is something going on between her and Drew.

I also liked the portrayal of the struggles that Gwen was going through as she got used to being back home. She has to get used to being around people again, and  not having to be constantly on guard. Having gone through it himself, Drew is able to help her. I loved the part where he interfered just enough to get her back with the people she worked with, because she had been avoiding them. Her focus on trying to adopt the baby she rescued is also a big part of what she is going through.

One thing they have going for them is the attraction that has never gone away. They fight it, trying to convince themselves that it's just because they're living together, or that they never really gave themselves the necessary closure to their marriage. But in reality, as they get to know the people they are now, the attraction is just one part of the feelings that are growing between them. I loved seeing the hope that was starting to grow in both of them as they accepted their new closeness. The exposure of who was really behind the death at Drew's clinic was quite intense, especially when Gwen and the baby got caught up in it. I loved seeing them sit down and finally talk to each other about where they wanted their relationship to go, and how they were going to make it happen. The epilogue was a great look at how they were making it happen.

A nice bonus for me, as the wife and sister of Naval Academy grads, were the little bits of Gwen and Drew's (and Ro's) memories of their time as mids. It brought back some of the stories I hear my husband and brother tell.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Nanny Plan - Sarah M. Anderson (HD #2366 - Apr 2015)

Series: Billionaires and Babies (Book 56)

This billionaire bachelor has a baby challenge…

Being a father to his orphaned infant niece is out of this tech billionaire's comfort zone. Lucky for Nate Longmire, Trish Hunter is a natural at motherhood, and she's agreed to be his temporary nanny. But long glances, slow kisses and not-so-innocent touches are strictly off-limits…

Trish's goal is to help Nate in exchange for a big donation to her charity for Lakota kids. Falling for her bachelor boss -- and his adorable baby girl -- is not part of the plan. But when the month is up, will she be able to walk away?

Very good story with a bit of a Cinderella theme. Trish is a young woman,just finishing up her Master's degree. She runs a small charity that she started to help the children on the Lakota reservation where she grew up. Her current goal is to raise some more money by asking billionaire Nate Longmire, in public, for a donation. She's successful in getting his attention and is invited to come to his office in a couple weeks to make a presentation to him.

When that day comes, she's sent to his home instead because of a mistaken identity. There she discovers a totally stressed out Nate, who has just been made guardian of his infant niece. Nate is totally clueless on what to do and hasn't been able to hire a nanny yet. When Trish steps in and brings order out of chaos, he offers her a large donation for her charity if she will be nanny for the month.

I loved Nate and was slightly less fond of Trish. I understood her issues, I just thought she went a little overboard with them. Trish is the oldest of nine children. She grew up on the reservation with a mother who was always looking for love. She would get immersed in a new relationship, have a couple babies, then the man would have enough and leave. Trish was the one who took care of the family. The living conditions were terrible and there never seemed to be enough to eat. She swore she would get off the reservation and get an education and do whatever she could to help other children. She was also determined that she would not get involved with a man so deeply that she would lose sight of who she is and what her goals are. When she meets Nate, she is attracted to him, but refuses to allow herself to succumb to it. She impulsively gives in to his pleas for help, but lays down ground rules to try to protect herself. 

Nate was simply adorable. One of the sweetest things is the way he actually blushes when he's embarrassed. He is the stereotypical geek, somewhat awkward socially and has been burned in the past by a woman he thought he loved. He guards his privacy zealously. When he meets Trish he is impressed by her straightforward attempt to gain his support for her charity. He's also quite attracted to her, but before he can do anything about it, he gets word about his brother's death and his own need to care for his niece. I loved the first sight of him as he's trying to get Janie to stop crying and his utter relief when Trish shows up to save the day. The businessman in him will do whatever it takes to get her to help him, and he won't take no for an answer. I loved his awkwardness with the baby, but how he wanted to do things right. 

I loved the growth of the relationship. They started by becoming friends, drawn together by the need to care for Janie. I really liked Nate's determination to keep to the requirements of their deal and how his word and promises are so important to him. I loved seeing them getting to know each other. Trish has been afraid that she would fall in love with Nate and forget about her dreams, so she just kept trying to push him away. Even when she finally admitted her feelings she wouldn't look for ways for them to be together or trust that he wouldn't ask her to be less than she is. Nate was much more open to the possibilities. I loved seeing him overcome his own fears and takes a chance on telling her how he feels. I loved his big moment and how he showed her just how much he cares. The only thing that might have made it better would have been an epilogue. I'd like to see how things are going for them a year or two down the road.

In Your Dreams - Kristin Higgins (HQN - Oct 2014)

Series: Blue Heron (Book 4)


Her ex-fiancé is getting married in Malibu and, obviously, she can't go to the wedding alone. In Manningsport, New York, tall, blond and gorgeous Jack Holland is practically a cottage industry when it comes to rescuing desperate women. He knows the drill, Em figures, so he won't get the wrong idea.

What Jack needs is an excuse to leave town. Ever since rescuing four teenagers from a car wreck, he's been hailed as a hero and the attention is making him itchy, especially since his too-pretty ex-wife is back, angling for a reunion. He's always liked Emmaline. She needs a weekend date? No problem.

So when they wind up in bed together, Em chalks it up to red wine and chocolate cake, just one impulsive night not to be repeated. But Jack's pushing for more, and if she lets down her guard, either she'll get her heart crushed again, or discover that Jack's worth more than just dreaming about.

Fantastic book, emotional and fun. Emmaline is a deputy in the Manningsport police department, where she moved after being dumped by her fiancé. Now that fiancé is getting married and Em has been invited. Going alone is definitely not an option, so she asks Jack to be her "plus one". Jack is a nice guy who loves women and helping them out, so he's happy to assist. It will also give him the chance to get away for awhile.

Jack is fantastic, but he's got some things going on in his life that are wearing him down. A long time ago his mother died in a car crash and Jack has always felt bad that he wasn't there to help his sister who had been trapped in the car. So he has prided himself on being prepared for any emergency. A couple months earlier he witnessed a carload of teenagers drive off the road into the lake. He pulled all four out, but the fourth one is in a coma and Jack feels guilty for not being fast enough to save him too. The rest of the town is treating him as a hero and he hates it. Added to that, his beautiful but cheating ex-wife is back in town and it's obvious she wants him back. Em gives him the perfect excuse to get away.

I loved Em. She's overcome a lot to get where she is. She had a terrible stutter when she was younger, making her a target for bullies. Both her parents are psychologists who talk a great game, but were never really there for her. The only friend she had in school was an overweight boy who was bullied also. When he was sent away to a boarding school, she talked her parents into letting her go live with her grandmother in New York. While she was there, her parents adopted another child, one who seemed perfect in every way. After school was done, Em moved back to California where she reconnected with her friend and they fell in love. Only, not long after they got engaged, he got on a fitness kick with a rabid trainer and suddenly Em was no longer what he wanted. Now she's back in New York and happy with her career and the friends she's made. Yes, she'd like to find that special someone, but she's going to be more careful this time. She certainly doesn't expect anything from gorgeous Jack except for a fun time at the wedding.

I loved the romance between them. It started out as friendship, as is common in a small town like Manningsport. Jack likes Em a lot. They play on local sports teams together, she's got a sense of humor that he likes, and she hasn't been treating him weird like others have been. Em's had a bit of a crush on Jack, but just about every woman in town does. But she knows that she's nothing like the type of woman he should have (just look at his ex) so she has to be careful not to let herself get caught up in a fantasy. I loved seeing them at the wedding together. Jack is determined to make things easier on Em, especially after he sees the way she's treated by Kevin and his fiancée. The pool scene was terrific. He finds her really easy to be with. Em has really appreciated Jack's support throughout the wedding weekend. It just adds to the attraction she feels for him and is trying to fight. She also sees that the rescue of those boys is still haunting him, and is supportive without being weird about it. When a late encounter pushes them into bed together, Em figures it's a one time thing and tries to brush it off, but Jack wants more. 

Once they get back home, Jack keeps pursuing Em, but she's not making it easy on him. She's afraid to risk her heart again, feeling that losing Jack would crush her even more than her previous heartbreak. She also has the problem that every time they attempt to spend time together, something interferes, most often it's his ex-wife. There's a great scene that really shows the difficulties. He's finally talked her into going out, and her friends help her get ready. Em is a pretty down to earth type of gal, and they've talked her into fancy underwear. Her mental conversation with herself about that thong and what it's doing to her is hilarious. Then the ex shows up at the restaurant and is suddenly in hysterics over her cat, throwing herself at Jack and generally making a scene. And Jack is too nice a guy to tell her to leave him alone. He knows he's being manipulated, but he caves anyway. Em, of course, sees what's going on but isn't going to create a fuss, so she just walks away.

There were so many times I wanted to shake Jack and tell him that he has to stand up to Hadley if he hopes to have anything with Em, but he has to see it himself. Em needed a bit of a kick herself, as she just can't seem to see what a terrific person she is. Jack tries to show her, but her insecurities run pretty deep. Things come to a head when Jack blames Em for something that wouldn't have been a big deal any other time. He says some things he shouldn't and has to deal with the fallout. Especially when Em lays some truth in front of him, including her feelings and why she feels they would never work. I wanted stand up and cheer for her. I loved the ending and seeing how everything finally came together for them.

The secondary characters were fantastic. Of course, I loved seeing the couples from the previous books and how they're doing. It was fun to see the sisters and their relationships with Jack. I liked how he gave credit to them for how well he gets along with women. Em's ex-fiancé Kevin was a real trip. He started out nice, but once he met Naomi he turned into a total ass, and Naomi was worse. I felt like he redeemed himself a little bit at the end, but I'm pretty sure he can still be obnoxious. I loved Em's sister Angela. In spite of their beginning, they have a really good relationship. There was a really neat twist involving Angela that I thought was pretty funny considering what their parents thought about Em. Em's parents really bugged me with their psycho-babble but complete inability or unwillingness to act like parents. There's a little insight into her mother at the end that is actually pretty sweet, and funny too. 

The storyline with the fourth boy from the car was heartbreaking. It also showed that the boy wasn't the only victim of the crash. I felt so bad for Jack because of what he was going through. I liked seeing how it was shown that it isn't just military who can suffer from PTSD, and how hard it was as he tried to deal with it on his own. There was also a bit with the boy's girlfriend that also involved Em and her sensitivity to other people's feelings.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Royal Fortune - Judy Duarte (HSE #2378 - Jan 2015)

Series: Fortunes of Texas: Cowboy Country (Book 1)

His kingdom for a cowgirl

They go together like…chutney and barbecue. High tea and hot sauce. You couldn't come up with a more unlikely twosome than Jensen Fortune Chesterfield and Amber Rogers. So when the paparazzi catch the Fortune heir in a lip-lock with the free-spirited rodeo rider, Horseback Hollow goes wild. What is really going on here?

Princes only fall for commoners in fairy tales, but who could blame Amber for crushing on Jensen? The sweet cowgirl can see the bighearted man beneath that buttoned-up Brit. Could it be that the simple life of the Hollow is exactly what Jensen needs? If only she can find a way to get him to see how she truly feels…and rope this aristocrat for keeps!

Very good story. Jensen is visiting Horseback Hollow with his family, to be there for Christmas and for the birth of his sister's baby (Fortune's Prince) and several family weddings. He's a bit protective of his family and a misunderstanding makes the first meeting between Jensen and Amber a little rough. Once that's cleared up, there are definitely some sparks between them. But Jensen is British nobility, with commitments back home, and Amber is a Texas cowgirl with her own commitments. Nothing says they can't have some fun together while he's there.

I loved Amber. She's a former rodeo barrel racer who came home to help her grandmother when her grandfather died. She's put her own dreams on hold while she does so. While going back on the road isn't possible, there a new amusement park opening nearby that has an opening in their Wild West show that's just right for her. She's also a young woman who feels for her neighbor, Amelia, who because of who she is has paparazzi trying to get the scoop on her baby. Amber spots some of these photographers when she delivers a horse to the ranch, and in order to distract them when Jensen starts to say something about his sister, she kisses the stuffing out of him. It serves the purpose, but now they're after Jensen and Amber, looking for a story there. Amber is definitely attracted to Jensen, but she knows that nothing can come of it. She's certainly not the type that someone like Jensen needs for a wife. 

It took me a little while to warm up to Jensen. His initial treatment of Amber was quite rude, but even after that was cleared up, there seemed to be an aloofness in the way he treated her. But there was one thing about Jensen that made Amber almost irresistible to him, and that was his fascination with anything Western. He loves old American Western movies, has watched rodeos online, and loves horses. He starts out just trying to be friends, but he's also really attracted to her. He wouldn't mind getting something going with her, but two things work against it. First, there are just too many differences between them for a relationship, and second, Amber is a settling down kind of girl and Jensen is about as anti-commitment as he could be. 

The relationship that developed between Jensen and Amber was very interesting. They started out trying to be just friends, but the attraction was too strong. Even as they got to know each other better, there were still things that they didn't share. Jensen is pretty paranoid about the paparazzi and staying out of the limelight, so whenever they are together he tries to keep them out of the limelight. As a former rodeo star, Amber is fairly well known herself and doesn't mind when people come up and ask for autographs and pictures. There's a pretty funny scene when they're out to dinner and he thinks that people are staring at him when it's really Amber - a bit of an eye-opener for him. So he's trying to keep their relationship a secret from everyone. Meanwhile, Amber is about to sign a contract that will put her in the limelight, and make her the face of the new Cowboy Country. She hasn't told Jensen about any of it. When they take things to another level, both are determined to keep their emotions out of it, but it's a losing battle. When her plans come out, Jensen is hurt by her secrecy and says some things that aren't very nice, leaving Amber feeling like he's just been using her. She says a few things herself, before walking away from him. I liked Amber's chat with Amelia, but it's her grandmother that really gives Amber something to think about. But the best part was Jensen's "go big" moment which was a real heart melter. Both Jensen and Amber had to do some growing and changing to get their happy ending.

There was also a really sweet secondary romance involving Amber's grandmother and a real character of an older gentleman. I loved seeing the teasing that he did and the antics he got up to in order to give Gram a fun time. It was interesting seeing the effect this romance had on Amber, especially as it got further along. There are also hints that Jensen's mother may also have a romance brewing, though he seemed pretty blind to it. I'm looking forward to see if that progresses also.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Bachelor's Baby Dilemma - Sheri Whitefeather (HSE #2392 - Mar 2014)

Series: Family Renewal (Book 3)

Reunited…And Reluctant

Commitment was always a dirty word for Tanner Quinn. He'd seen too much loss growing up. But now his troubled sister was expecting a baby, and he had to make a home for her child -- leading him to his high school girlfriend's doorstep, of all places! Candy McCall was still as sweet as her name, and her house was perfect for his purposes -- even if she did remind him of a time he'd spent much of his adult life wanting to forget…

Barely making ends meet, Candy saw Tanner's offer to buy her house as a godsend. But when he asked her to be the nanny to his niece, the arrangement quickly became too close for comfort. Would just one kiss remind them both of what they once were to each other…and might just be again?

Good second chance story between two people who have had a lot to deal with in their lives. Tanner and Candy had been friends and then boyfriend/girlfriend when they were younger. Candy was the girl he had had the longest relationship with until he broke things off with her at a bad time in his life. Candy had been heartbroken, but moved on with her life, eventually having a short-lived marriage with someone else. Now Tanner is back in her life, in desperate need of her help.

Candy needs to sell her house, no longer able to afford to keep it. Tanner needs a house and hers looks like it will be just right. He has been a commitment avoiding bachelor for a long time, but his sister needs him to take care of her baby while she spends two years in prison. Tanner is terrified of the idea, remembering what happened to his life when his youngest sister died of SIDS when he was seventeen. Not only had he lost his sister, but his parents' marriage fell apart, causing him to lose faith in the idea of love. 

Candy is still a believer in love, in spite of her short-lived marriage. That had come about because she got pregnant by the man she thought she loved and they married because of the baby. When she had a miscarriage, he ended the marriage because he didn't actually love her. She is still grieving the loss of her baby, but has confidence that someday she'll find a man who will love her and give her the life she wants.

When Candy and Tanner meet again, there is definite attraction between them. Tanner would like nothing more than to pursue that attraction, but Candy isn't interested in sex without love and Tanner doesn't allow emotions into his relationships. They settle into a tentative friendship as Tanner asks for Candy's help in getting things set up for his niece. When the nanny Tanner hired is unable to do the job, Tanner begs Candy to take on the job instead. It isn't long before Candy is questioning her determination not to get involved with Tanner. Can she overcome her tendency to get her emotions involved and just enjoy what he is offering?

As the two of them got closer, Candy found that her emotions were involved whether she wanted them to be or not. She couldn't help thinking of them as a family, in spite of her promises to Tanner to the contrary. Tanner also found himself thinking that way, but every time he did he would panic and convince himself that he was imagining things. It wasn't until he nearly lost her that he realized everything they had had was leading to love, he just hadn't recognized it. Then, all he had to do was convince her that what they had was real and would last.

I liked seeing how determined Tanner was to give Ivy the best he could, in spite of his fears. His worries were understandable given his past. I loved the way that Candy pushed and encouraged him until he was more comfortable. I liked that he was also determined that his sister would never forget that Ivy was her daughter, even though she was constantly trying to force he and Candy together. I felt bad for Megan and her unhappiness, and so glad that Candy and Tanner want to help her through it. I hope that she will eventually get her own story.

A SEAL's Secret - Tawny Weber (HB #831 - Feb 2015)

Series: Sexy SEALs (Book 7)

Subject: Lt. Commander Mitch "Irish" Donovan
His Mission: Babysit a fitness queen with a hands-on approach!

Navy SEAL Mitch Donovan always plays to win. The push-up contest at the Halloween party should have been a piece of cake. Except that the cake in question is a hot woman dressed as a delicious dessert. Now the only exercise on Mitch's mind is restraint…

Livi Kane may be The Body Babe, but she has zero confidence. This hunky SEAL, however, makes her forget everything -- except for a workout involving his hot, naked bod and a whole lot of sexy, sweaty delight. But Mitch has his secrets -- and Livi certainly has hers. All it will take is one unexpected encounter to turn this steamy attraction into an even bigger secret that will start showing any day now…

Good book. I really liked both Livi and Mitch and enjoyed seeing how their relationship progressed. Livi is a fitness guru known as the Body Babe. She has a successful career that she rebuilt from the ashes of her old one after her ex-husband ruined it all. She projects great confidence when she's working, but outside of work she is very shy and tries to avoid notice. Though she isn't interested in marrying again, she'd really like to spend some quality time with a sexy guy. Mitch certainly fits the bill.

Mitch is a Navy SEAL who is dedicated to his career. He's worked very hard and has moved up in the ranks quickly by avoiding distractions. That ability to focus goes out the window when he meets Livi. From the moment they start their push-up contest he is fascinated by her. I loved the contest itself and the mind games that Livi used. When it ends in a tie, Mitch gets to claim and kiss and owes Livi a date.

I really enjoyed the way the relationship built. As an active duty SEAL, Mitch's life is not his own and relationships can be hard to maintain. After that steamy kiss they exchanged, Mitch was off and away and unable to pay up on the date right away. However, he does manage to get in a few phone calls that really build the heat between them. By the time he gets back to California  it's almost Christmas and the anticipation is off the charts. Livi is well aware of what his career demands and accepts the restrictions it causes. Though neither one had anything permanent in mind when  it started, feelings start to grow and change. But both have obstacles to overcome. Mitch's career has progressed as it has because he's focused on it to the exclusion of all else. There were a couple great scenes showing just how big a distraction Livi is. Suddenly he's got a conflict for his attention and he's getting pressure from outside to dump Livi and return to his old ways. But where does he really want his career to go, and is it possible to have both? Meanwhile, Livi's manager/mother has made all kinds of plans for a new direction for Livi's business without listening to Livi's requirements. And Livi has one big one that is really going to change things. Has Livi finally gained the confidence to stand up to her mom and go after what she wants?

Both Livi and Mitch undergo some real changes during the course of the book. Although Livi still has to deal with her fears of being center stage, when she's with Mitch she feels like a different person. I liked the way that she was working to overcome her shyness, and that it's Mitch's confidence in her that helps her do it. I got a bit irritated with Mitch toward the end of the book when it looked like he was going to cave in to his grandfather's demands. For all the confidence that he appears to have, he spent a lot of time worrying about what other people thought of him and his actions. I loved the conversation he had with his father and the difference it made to his whole way of thinking. There were some blunt truths in that conversation, but also a couple funny bits. 

There are some secondary characters that have great influence over Mitch and Livi. First are their two best friends, Gabriel (aka "Romeo") and Tessa. Those two strike sparks from the start and Mitch and Livi are the ones who get caught in the crossfire. I'm really looking forward to reading more about them. Mitch's family has a lot of influence over him and it's something he has to deal with. His mother's efforts to marry him off were pretty amusing, but it was his grandfather who was really the one who leaned on him the most. I completely agreed with Mitch's father's description of the man. And finally there was Livi's mother. She really bugged me with her steamroller tactics and attitude toward Livi. However, she really did step up and the end and was there when Livi needed her. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Killshadow Road - Paula Graves (HI #1558 - Apr 2015)

Series: The Gates (Book 5)

Nick Darcy thought he'd left his past behind…until McKenna Rigsby showed up wounded on his doorstep

Nick Darcy has always needed rules. So when he's temporarily suspended from a job he's dedicated his life to, the unstructured days ahead make him desperate for a distraction. That's when a blast from the past resurfaces on his front steps, bleeding and spinning a wild tale of assassins on her trail.

Their history is complicated. But Nick is still McKenna Rigsby's best chance when it comes to surviving. Her cover blown by a mole in the FBI, she needs a partner who can stay levelheaded in a firefight. She has no doubt they're headed for a showdown. And that this time, there won't be any rules left to break…

Good story. Nick is at loose ends because he's been temporarily suspended from his job at The Gates, suspected of leaking information about another agent (see Deception Lake). As he's wondering what he's going to do with his time, a wounded FBI agent shows up on his doorstep. And not just any agent, but one he has a history with. 

McKenna Rigsby has been undercover in the Tennessee mountains, trying to get information on a local militia group suspected of domestic terrorism. But her cover was blown by someone in the FBI and now she's running for her life. She hasn't seen Nick in eight years, but he's the one person she knows she can trust.

Nick goes into protector mode, determined to keep McKenna safe. She doesn't know who she can trust in the FBI, so she is on her own. But with Nick's help she feels that they can find out who is responsible. Because he's on the outs with the people he works for, he doesn't have quite as many resources as he would usually have. But he hasn't been locked out entirely, and uses the contacts he has to help figure out who is behind the attacks on her. 

There's a lot of off the record stuff going on in this story. Though Quinn suspended Nick, it's obvious that he still trusts him. He strongly suspects that McKenna is with Nick, and gives his unspoken support to Nick's plan to help her. However, being Quinn, he still attempts to keep an eye on what is going on, which doesn't always go over well with his agents. Because Nick and McKenna are wary of who they can trust, they find themselves frequently on the move. Each move brings them a little closer to finding the person responsible, until they finally decide on a plan to draw the person out. Again, because neither of them can do anything officially, they must depend on friends to make it happen. I loved seeing characters from previous books show up to help. Of course, the plan doesn't go quite as expected, and things get pretty intense for awhile. The resolution didn't go quite as I expected, and there are a few threads left hanging. I  hope to see them tied up in the next book.

I enjoyed the romance between Nick and McKenna. Because they had known each other before, it didn't feel as if it happened too quickly. I liked the few flashbacks that were included, as they gave a good sense of how they got to know each other. There had obviously been an attraction and a connection back then, but because of their jobs they weren't able to do anything about it. The attraction they had then is still there, and is getting harder to resist. I also loved how their longstanding friendship showed in things like their Brit vs.hillbilly teasing. It wasn't until the end, when they were afraid of losing each other, that they could finally admit their feelings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Deception Lake - Paula Graves (HI #1553 - Mar 2015)

Series: The Gates (Book 4)

"I'm not who you think I am."

While his rodeo days have come and gone, cowboy Jack Drummond is in for the ride of a lifetime…with life itself hanging in the balance. An unexpected encounter with his old flame, Mara Jennings, triggers a series of events that Jack never could have predicted. There's just one problem: Mara isn't the same woman Jack remembers. She looks like Mara. And sounds like Mara. But reignited passions aren't enough to hide the fact that she's harboring a big secret -- and hiding out from an even bigger enemy. Now, learning the truth might be the only way to stay alive. Or it could tear them apart -- permanently.

Excellent suspense and enough romance to keep it interesting. Jack is in Tennessee on vacation with his family when he runs into an old flame, Mara. He feels that he has some amends to make with her, but she just keeps pushing him away. When he saves her from danger twice, he realizes there's something bad going on, and he refuses to let her face it alone. But there's something different about her, too, and he won't give up until he finds out what it is.

I really liked Jack a lot. He's a retired bull rider, who quit after he was badly injured. He hasn't quite made up his mind what he's going to do next, so he's thinking about it while he's on vacation with his family. He doesn't expect to run into an old flame, especially one that he feels he owes a huge apology to. The last time he had seen Mara, he was a huge jerk to her. At the time he was deep into alcoholism and had also scammed some money from her. Shortly after that he cleaned up his act and is living a better life. He wants to apologize to her and return her money, but she's acting like she doesn't remember it. As he arrives at her house to try again, he interrupts someone who is trying to kidnap her. When he rescues her again later from someone who is shooting at her, he's determined to stick with her and protect her, even if she doesn't want him to. But it doesn't take long for him to realize that there have been a lot of changes in her during the last four years - or have there? I really liked seeing the way that he stuck with her, even when she kept trying to push him away. The more he learned about what was going on, the more he understood her lack of trust, but it only made his need to help her that much stronger. 

MJ has been working for The Gates and Alexander Quinn, trying to track down a hacker who may know something about plans for a cyberterror attack. She also has some trouble in her past that may have some relation to the attacks on her. A couple years earlier her twin sister was killed in an attack that was meant for her and she has been on the run ever since, trying to stay below the radar. Working for Quinn has kept her in one place a lot longer that usual, and made her vulnerable to discovery. MJ has decided over the years that she can't trust anyone, and that includes the cowboy that just won't go away. But his persistence is wearing her down, and she starts to think that maybe she can trust him, at least a little bit. I have to admit that her paranoia irritated me at times, but she really did have reason to be.

There is a definite and intense attraction between Jack and MJ. However, it takes a bit of a backseat to the rest of the story as they are generally too busy or too exhausted to take advantage of it. There are a couple times when MJ seems to be using the attraction to distract Jack from pursuing a certain line of questioning, and it's pretty fun to see her confusion when it doesn't work. It isn't until they start to develop some trust between them that the attraction can start to grow into something more. I really liked the conversations that they had and how they added to the heat that was building between them. I liked seeing Jack step in at the end to give MJ a place that is safe for both body and heart.

The suspense of the story was really good. Quinn and company are still working to unravel the issues that began in previous books in the series. In this case, Quinn has MJ using her computer skills in secret because of the suspicion that he has a mole in his agency, but danger has come to her anyway. It was also fun to see Quinn with Riley and Hannah, who he knows outside of their relationship to Jack. They also know him well and the way that they thwart his plans a couple times were really funny. The final showdown on the mountain was pretty intense and I really liked how the trust that had grown between Jack and MJ made it all work. 

Oh, Baby! - Patricia Kay (HSE #2400 - Apr 2015)

Series: Crandall Lake Chronicles (Book 1)

In the Family Way…Times Two?

Sophie Marlowe has always been the responsible one. She gave up her teenage love, Dillon Burke, to raise Joy -- her little sister -- on her own. But just as Sophie is about to sigh in relief at a job well done, she learns Dillon's back in town -- with the teenage nephew he's raising on his own. If Aidan is half the young man Dillon was -- well, Sophie is determined to keep the two young people apart.

Oops! Too late! Joy and Aidan are in love. And Joy is pregnant!

What is Sophie to do? She has to talk to Dillon. But she'd better be careful. Because she can't resist him any more than Joy was able to resist Aidan. And pregnancy apparently runs in the Marlowe family…

Good book, that is both a story of young love and second chances. Sophie and Dillon had been an item back when they were in high school. Dillon was the hotshot senior quarterback and Sophie was a sophomore cheerleader. When graduation came, Dillon left town for college and then a pro career in football and never looked back, leaving Sophie heartbroken. Several years later her parents died, leaving her to raise her little sister, Joy. Sophie is now the guidance counselor at the high school and Joy is following in her footsteps as a cheerleader. Then Dillon comes back to town as the new football coach, accompanied by his nephew. Sophie sees a lot of Dillon in Aidan and is determined to keep history from repeating itself. What she doesn't know is that they've already met and have been very close since the summer. By the time she finds out,  it's too late.

When Sophie finds out that Joy is pregnant, she knows she has to talk to Dillon. That's going to be a bit of a challenge, because the old attraction is still there and a huge distraction from her goal of helping Joy. How can she blame Joy for falling for Aidan when Dillon is just as irresistible to her?

There were things I really liked about Sophie and Dillon. Both of them were determined to do their best raising their teenagers and had significant challenges in doing so. Dillon especially had it rough, as Aidan was dealing with the loss of his parents and having to move away from his friends by being a real pain in the butt. Joy had not been much trouble for Sophie until she got involved with Aidan, then she was in way over her head. I liked the way that Sophie wanted to do what was best for Joy, but gave Joy the options of what her choices were. Dillon also made sure that Aidan was aware of his responsibilities. I also liked that Sophie and Dillon were able to work together to help both kids through the crisis. 

The rekindling of the relationship between Sophie and Dillon was rather volatile. They had avoided each other as much as possible until Joy's pregnancy happened. There had been a couple encounters that had shown that there was still something between them, but they tried to ignore it. The evening that Sophie told Dillon about Joy's pregnancy tempers got a little out of hand and all that heat exploded into passion. Dillon wants to see where it will go, but Sophie is reluctant to open herself up to the risk of heartbreak at his hands again. She can't seem to see that he is different than the boy she remembers, so she keeps trying to push him away. Dillon is still attracted to Sophie and thinks that if she'd just give him a chance they could have something special, even though he's not quite ready to call it love. When Sophie discovers that she's pregnant too, she's torn. She knows she has to tell Dillon, but she doesn't want him to propose out of obligation, she's finally realized that she wants his love. Both Sophie and Dillon do some running away from their feelings before they finally face them and each other. I loved the ending and the epilogue was a nice wrap up.

I also enjoyed the parallel story of Joy and Aidan. Each of them had issues resulting from their parents' deaths that had them making some poor decisions. I liked that both of them faced up to what they had done and tried to make better choices. It helped them both that they had support from their families, but they still had decisions to make. The emotions seemed quite realistic, as did the options they had. It was great to see that a little time apart showed them what they really wanted and I liked seeing them work out a way to make dreams happen in spite of the challenges.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

For His Brother's Wife - Kathie DeNosky (HD #2365 - Apr 2015)

Series: Texas Cattleman's Club: After the Storm (Book 7)

The tornado that tore apart Royal, Texas, ripped Paige Richardson's world to shreds. She lost her husband, and she expected her husband's twin, construction tycoon Colby Richardson, to offer a shoulder to lean on. But instead, he's distant. Why? What happened to the closeness they once shared?

For years, Cole has kept his distance, but now he's staying on Paige's ranch while he helps the town rebuild. It's only a matter of time before the feelings -- and secrets -- he's hidden all come to the surface.

Very good book and excellent conclusion to the series. When the tornado hit Royal, Paige's husband Craig was one of the casualties. His twin brother came to Royal to help with the funeral, and stayed to help the town recover. Paige had hoped to be able to lean on Cole a little, but he hasn't been very available. She had thought they were friends, but now she wonders what is wrong.

Back in high school, Cole had been interested in Paige, but her parents wouldn't allow her to date until after she graduated. Cole was two years older and promised to wait until after graduation and ask her out then, but he never did. Instead, she was pursued by his twin brother, and when she ended up pregnant, they were pressured to marry by their parents. Cole had kept his distance ever since, rarely returning to Royal.

When it's time to do repairs on Paige's ranch, Cole ends up staying in the ranch house with Paige. This is very difficult for him because he's never lost the feelings he had for her, but he won't disrespect her by making advances. He believes her marriage had been a good one, and he won't disillusion her by telling her of what had caused the rift between him and his brother. 

Paige had had a crush on Cole back in school and had been quite willing to wait for Cole to ask her out after graduation. But when he never followed through on his promise, she gave in to his brother's determined pursuit. Because of their parents' conservative views, she never really had a choice about marrying Craig, even though she didn't love him and was sure he didn't love her either. It wasn't much of a marriage, especially once she lost the baby that forced their marriage. Craig traveled a lot and she never got pregnant again. With his death, she has no real interest in marrying again.

Thrown together in the ranch house, both Paige and Cole discover that the old attraction is stronger than ever. Cole feels guilty about it, feeling that it is disrespectful to Paige, but resisting is nearly impossible. The attraction that Paige feels for Cole is far and above anything she ever felt for her husband. When a storm outside the house sets off a storm inside the house, they are powerless to resist. Regrets hit the next day, but it's too late to go back.

Both Cole and Paige spend a lot of time blaming themselves for what happened, and not wanting to admit that it was completely mutual. Cole's need to get his head on straight sends him out horseback riding, but he neglects to pay attention to what he's doing and winds up getting hurt. When Paige rushes to the hospital to check on him, Cole is full of painkillers and acting pretty silly. The fun continues at home as he recovers from surgery. The things he says under the influence have Paige thinking that maybe there's more than just attraction between them after all.

While he's laid up Cole comes across some information that shows just how much of a jerk his brother had been. It frees him from the guilt he had been experiencing about his feelings for Paige, and made him determined to show her how much he really cares. He is also equally determined that she never find out just how rotten Craig had been. But best intentions aside, Paige discovers a small portion of it, which makes her think she's been used all over again. It takes a very intent Cole to show her the truth and open up a brighter future for them together.

The epilogue takes place a year after the tornado, and we get updates on all the couples from the series. I loved seeing Royal's comeback and look forward to future visits.

More Than a Convenient Bride - Michelle Celmer (HD #2360 - Mar 2015)

Series: Texas Cattleman's Club: After the Storm (Book 6)

After all they've been through following the tornado that hit their Texas town, there's no way Dr. Lucas Wakefield will let his best friend, Julie Kingston, leave because of a green card mix-up. The only solution is to propose marriage. But what starts as a platonic arrangement quickly blooms into red-hot desire -- until Luc's ex-fiancée returns to reclaim her man and Julie questions whether happily-ever-after is in the cards. Good thing Luc has no intention of giving up his passionate new bride without a fight!

Good friends to lovers story. Luc and Julie have known each other and worked together for years, and have developed an excellent friendship. Six months after the tornado that hit Royal, Julie has been told that her work visa will not be renewed and she will have to leave the US. Luc doesn't like that idea at all. She has become too important to him and his work. So Luc offers her a marriage of convenience. They will remain friends and coworkers, just with a little bit of show to convince their friends that it's real.

Neither expects the words "you may kiss the bride" to set off uncontrollable fireworks. Suddenly they have trouble keeping their hands off each other. But is this a case of friends with benefits, or is there something more going on? 

Julie is cautious about getting involved emotionally with Luc. She doesn't want to ruin their friendship, and lose the home she has found in Royal. She has some trouble believing that someone like Luc could love her, thanks to some issues in her past. His ex-fiancee's arrival in town is a blow to her confidence, especially when it appears that he is spending time with her. So she keeps insisting that all they have is friendship and sex. She can't admit what she has with him until she is helped out by a very unlikely source.

Luc has avoided getting involved with another woman since the end of his engagement six years earlier. His fiancee hadn't liked how involved he was in his work and broke things off. Since his dedication to his work hasn't changed, he doesn't see marriage in his future, until Julie needs his help. He started out just wanting to help her, but that kiss at the wedding really blew him away. Suddenly he was looking at her a whole new way. It still took him awhile to realize that he loved her. He was also kind of oblivious to things that were going on around him. The arrival of his ex-fiancee as the mother of one of his patients threw him for a loop when she first arrived. Fortunately he quickly realized that he had no feelings left for her, but because of that he never thought to mention her arrival to Julie. I loved the way that his mother pointed out the error of his ways to him. Once he knew how he felt, trying to convince Julie became his goal.

I was really unsure about the presence of Luc's ex-fiancee, Amelia. There were times when she really seemed manipulative, and determined to get Luc back  for herself, no matter what she had to do. There were other times when she appeared to be a worried mom, just interested in getting the best care possible for her son. And when she was around Julie, she was the sweet woman who knew she had done wrong and learned her lesson. I wasn't sure what effect her presence was going to have until the very end.

There were some pretty funny moments in the books that involved Houdini, the blind kitten that Luc gave to Julie. I loved the way that Luc had picked out the kitty because of what Julie had said about never having had a pet. It was really sweet of him. The kitten's antics were a bit of a mood lightener when things started getting intense.

His Lost and Found Family - Sarah M. Anderson (HD #2354 - Feb 2015)

Series: Texas Cattleman's Club: After the Storm (Book 5)

A secret baby brings ex-lovers together in this tale of lost memories and second chances.

Getting hit with divorce papers isn't the fresh beginning Jake Holt wanted with Skye Taylor. But when he returns to their Texas hometown, he finds Skye has a child…and no memory of the couple's painful breakup.

After a long coma, Skye doesn't remember being swept up in a tornado or nearly losing her baby girl. Seeing Jake again rekindles their all-consuming passion. Then she starts to remember… Is their love strong enough to overcome the past so they can become a real family?

Four years earlier, Jake and Skye had run away together. As the children of two feuding families, they were raised to hate each other, but that didn't work for them. They fell in love and managed to keep their relationship a secret for a long time, but when it came out their families were furious. Rather than deal with the hate, they left to make their own life together. The day that the tornado came through Royal, Skye had come to town and been caught in the path of the twister. She was badly injured and her baby was delivered prematurely. Skye herself was in a coma for three months, while her sister Lark cared for the baby (Because of the Baby...).

No one knew where Jake was and why he hadn't been with Skye. His brother Keaton has been trying to find him to tell him what happened. At the beginning of the book, Jake has just arrived in Royal, looking for Skye. He had arrived home from ten months out of the country only to find divorce papers waiting for him. He is stunned to see the damages in Royal, and worried about whether Skye was okay. Thanks to a confrontation with Keaton, he discovers that Skye is in the hospital, having been in a coma, and that he is the father of a daughter. He never knew that Skye had been pregnant, 

Jake had never intended to step foot in Royal again. He has spent the last four years building his business, working insane hours and trying to make a better life for himself and Skye. Unfortunately, it also put a strain on their marriage, and they'd had a huge fight before he left on his last job. When he arrives at the hospital he discovers that Skye has a two year gap in her memory and doesn't remember that she had filed for divorce. She thinks that everything is just fine, and her doctor wants her memory to come back on its own. Jake looks at it as the opportunity to repair their relationship. If he can show her how he really feels, maybe things will be okay when her memory does come back.

Skye had been disoriented when she came out of the coma. She didn't remember being pregnant or coming back to Royal. She didn't know why Jake wasn't there with her and why no one would tell her where he was. She was relieved when he arrived and was so happy to see him. Because her doctor didn't want her too far away as she finished recovering, they stayed in Royal. Jake found them a house to live in and he spent his time taking care of her. But something didn't feel right.

The rekindling of their relationship was really interesting. Skye didn't know that there had been anything wrong to start with, as those were the memories that were missing. She likes having Jake around so much, as her last memories were from just as the business started taking off. She behaves the way she did when they were first married, which confuses Jake. She's frustrated by the feeling that there is something going on that she doesn't know about, but she's determined to make the most of their time together. As she starts to get her strength back, bits and pieces of her memory return. Can she trust that the Jake she is seeing now will be the one to stay, or will the workaholic make a return once she is well again?

Jake had been upset to find the divorce papers, as he still loved Skye very much. He had known that things were going wrong with their marriage, but didn't know what to do about it. Finding that Skye has no memory of the breakup of their marriage, he is determined to use the time to fix things. One of the stresses in their marriage had been his refusal to go back to Royal because of the way they had been treated by their parents. On his return, he discovers that the arrival of baby Grace has begun to change his parents' attitudes and that they are far more welcoming than they had been before he left. This removes one of the obstacles to he and Skye getting back together. He also begins to accept that she had had valid complaints about the fact that he worked all the time, putting his work ahead of her and their marriage. Once he makes that connection, he realizes that he has to make changes if he is going to save their marriage. When her returning memory collides with a new business opportunity, Jake has some important choices to make.

The family dynamics were great. We had seen the beginning of the attitude changes by Jake's parents in the previous book, as they got involved with baby Grace. I loved seeing Jake's confusion over those changes when he first saw them again. It takes him awhile to adjust to those changes, and also to seeing his brother with Skye's sister. Skye's parents continue to be a royal pain, and she is stunned by the attitude they still have. They, too, have to learn to let go of the past.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Because of the Baby... - Cat Schield (HD #2348 - Jan 2015)

Series: Texas Cattleman's Club: After the Storm (Book 4)

When proximity for the sake of the baby leads to passion…

Born prematurely during a devastating tornado, baby Grace is the littlest miracle in Royal, Texas. Now, with Grace's mother in a coma and her father missing, rancher Keaton Holt and nurse Lark Taylor must come together to care for their niece, putting aside a century-old family feud for the child's sake.

For these two, the road to forgiveness is paved with passion. Even as the family feud continues around them, Lark and Keaton forge a feverish bond. But what the tornado brought together it can tear apart as new revelations surface in the aftermath of the storm…

Good story with an enemies to lovers theme. Keaton and Lark's families have been feuding over a piece of land for more than a hundred years. Because of it, when Keaton's brother Jake fell in love with Lark's sister Skye, they left Royal rather than deal with their families' attitudes. The day of the tornado, pregnant Skye was found unconscious in her car. Her baby, Grace, was born prematurely, and Skye has been in a coma for the last three months. The baby's father is missing, so when it's time for baby Grace to leave the hospital, Lark takes custody of her.

As a nurse, Lark has spent a lot of time with little Grace, and is determined to do the best she can for her. Keaton is also determined to do what he can for his brother's child until Jake can be found. Lark and Keaton decide to put aside the family conflict and work together to take care of the baby. Lark has always been the shy, quiet sister, overshadowed by her sister's more outgoing nature. Over the past four years she has regretted not supporting her sister when she chose love over her family, and wants to be able to tell Skye that. When it's time to bring Grace home, Keaton insists on helping and feels that the best way to do that is to move in with Lark. She isn't too sure at first, but does agree that she needs help.

Keaton's ranch sustained a lot of damage from the tornado, so he is heavily involved in taking care of that. He also helps with some of the damage to the town hall. Knowing that Grace is his brother's child, he is determined to have a part in her care. He has also been trying to track down his brother to let him know what happened. He is more than willing to put the feud aside to help care for Grace.

I loved Lark and Keaton together. He is pretty sweet in his determination to help care for Grace and how hands on he wants to be. Lark has been the only family member caring for her and is reluctant to give up any control, but the first day home shows her that she does need the help. I loved the way that Keaton went to the internet to search for way to deal with a crying baby, and how he and Lark worked together to figure it out. I loved Keaton's patience with Lark's attitude, and how he did what was needed anyway. I enjoyed how they started out with a truce for Grace's sake, then proceeded on to friendship as they got to know each better. There were many ways they were alike. Living so closely together they also discovered an intense attraction to each other. Lark tried to fight it at the beginning, remembering the havoc from Jake and Skye's relationship, and not wanting to go through the same thing. But it was too strong to ignore and it wasn't long before she and Keaton were heavily involved. She was still worried about the reaction if and when her parents find out.

Once they were involved, both Lark and Keaton found themselves mostly ignoring the feud. Their feelings for each other deepen and both realize that what they have is special. Keaton's care for her gives her a confidence in herself that she never had before, and eventually the courage to stand up for what she wants. When Keaton finds something that's going to set the feud on its ear, his first thoughts are about how it will affect his relationship with Lark. What ends up happening is painful for her at first, but her own sense of who she is makes everything turn out right in the end. I loved Keaton's support of Lark, and what he did at the end.

I liked seeing how baby Grace helped heal things with Keaton's family. His parents' visit to the baby went really well, and I liked seeing his mother and how nice she was with Lark. On the other side, Lark's parents were a real piece of work. Their selfishness and unwillingness to do anything with Grace really bothered Lark. They were also really nasty about Lark allowing Keaton to help her. I really liked seeing Lark's visits to Skye and how she talked to her about Grace. The hope is always there that Skye will wake up soon.

Dogwood Hill - Sherryl Woods (Mira - Jan 2015)

Series: Chesapeake Shores (Book 12)

When former pro football quarterback Aidan Mitchell comes to Chesapeake Shores to take a high school coaching job, he's embraced by the town -- especially the O'Briens. But Aidan has a secret that could alter all their lives.

For wounded Liz March, who's trying for a fresh start after a devastating betrayal, taking a chance on Aidan may be more than she can handle. Her heart, however, refuses to listen to her head. But just when forever seems within reach, Aidan's secret threatens to change everything.

Does this tempting stranger who's made her feel alive have the power to convince her to look beyond the past and reach for the future?

Very good book, full of the love and fun that seem to follow the O'Briens everywhere. After a career ending injury, Aidan Mitchell has begun a new career as a high school football coach. He has been offered the job at the Chesapeake Shores high school. On his first day in town he meets Liz March, who encourages him to take the job. He's attracted to her, which is an incentive to stay. He also meets Mick O'Brien, one of the leading citizens in town, who has been advocating for Aidan's hiring. Aidan is interested in the job for two reasons - first, he's really impressed with what he has learned about the program, and second, he has reason to believe that the father he never knew is one of the O'Briens. Aidan is the son of a single mother who never told his father about him. She also never told Aidan who he was, just that he was an important man who is dedicated to the work he does. Aidan has spent a lot of time resenting the fact that he never knew his father, and blaming the man for never getting back in touch with his mom in all the years since. After his mother's death, Aidan found his birth certificate and information about his father. Working in Chesapeake Shores will give him a chance to learn more about the man before deciding whether to reveal who he is.

Liz came to Chesapeake Shores to start her life over, away from the memories of her marriage. Her husband died in a crash right after she learned of several secrets he had been keeping that had been a betrayal of everything she believed about their life together. Wanting to put her past behind her, she hasn't talked about her marriage or her late husband to any of the friends she has made since her move. When she meets Aidan, she is attracted to him, but she had made the decision that she wasn't going to get involved with another man. She's conflicted, because her body and her heart want her to get to know him better, but her head is telling her that he's got secrets and she shouldn't take that risk again. 

Add the O'Briens, well known for their matchmaking tendencies, and things start to get really interesting. Mick and the others are sure that Aidan and Liz are just perfect for each other, and take every opportunity to throw them together. The family also has a mission to make the newcomers feel welcome, and Aidan especially finds himself constantly drawn into their circle. The more time he spends with them, the more he really likes them, except he's still withholding judgment on one of them. He's not quite sure how to handle what he knows and what to do with the information. 

I loved seeing the relationship develop between Aidan and Liz. The attraction is strong but both are wary. Aidan isn't sure what will happen when and if he reveals his secret, so committing is something he's reluctant to do. Liz has huge trust issues and, sensing that Aidan is hiding something, is reluctant to take a risk. Aidan is a bit more open to the possibilities and pursues Liz fairly hard, until he realizes just how skittish she is. I loved seeing him back off a bit and try going the friendship route until he can make her see things his way. He's sensitive to her feelings, and I loved seeing some of the things he tried to do for her. I also liked the way that when he felt like he had pushed too hard, he would send her friends to her to help her out. Liz finds it pretty hard to resist Aidan when he's being so good to and with her. She hadn't thought she could be interested in another man, but Aidan is breaking down her barriers pretty quickly, except for that fear about what he's keeping from her. When the secret does come out, her reaction is very strong. She has to decide if she can get past her fears and open herself up to Aidan and love.

As always, the O'Briens take meddling to a pretty extreme level. They always mean well, but sometimes their interference just makes things more complicated. I loved seeing some of the encounters between them and Aidan and Liz. Most of the O'Briens had been on the receiving end of meddling at one time and didn't like it, but it doesn't seem to stop them from dishing it out. There are some pretty funny moments, such as the guys' basketball games, where they do their own parts to get Aidan and Liz together.

I loved seeing Aidan's process of learning about his family and observing his father. His inner conflict was intense and seeing him try to decide what to do was emotional. The big reveal almost seemed to be spur of the moment and to say his father was shocked would be an understatement. I thought the reactions were quite realistic and very believable. The person whose reaction I was most concerned about turned out to be wholly supportive. Grandma Nell's reaction was sweet and completely like her.

One of my favorite characters in the book was Archie the dog. From the moment he brought Liz and Aidan together it was as if he, too, was working with the O'Briens. I loved seeing how quickly he bonded with Aidan even though Aidan kept insisting he didn't want a dog. Archie was sure that he did, and Liz was just as certain. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

To Love a Cop - Janice Kay Johnson (HS #1980 - Apr 2015)

She's sworn to protect her heart

After what Laura Vennetti and her son have been through, she's avoided all contact with the police. Then her son brings detective Ethan Winter into their lives. Despite how appealing--and gorgeous--he is, it's safe to say Ethan "isn't" her dream man.

Immediately, though, Laura can see how different he is from her late husband. Ethan is thoughtful, considerate and a good influence on her son. Add in the intense attraction between her and Ethan... The temptation to give in is irresistible. To her surprise, Laura feels the wounds of the past healing, making her wonder if she could love "this" cop forever.

Very good book, and very emotional.  Ethan is a police detective who was attending a gun show on his day off when he spotted Jake. He noticed Jake looking at the various guns, and that he had no adult with him and it was a schoolday. After confronting Jake he drove him home and stayed to talk to Jake’s mother Laura. The initial meeting did not go well.

Laura is a widow and her son is eleven years old. Her husband had been a cop and part of a large Italian family. One day when Jake was five he found his father’s gun and had grabbed it to show his cousin. Because it was heavy he dropped it and when he tried to catch it he accidentally pulled the trigger and killed his five year old cousin.  The family rallied around the dead boy’s family and completely cut ties with Laura’s family. Between losing his family and the guilt over what had happened, her husband took his own life. Laura and Jake have been on their own for six years. Because of what happened, Laura has a deep loathing for guns and a distrust of those that carry them. She’s horrified to find out where Jake had been and not too happy to have Ethan in her home. She sends him away as soon as she can.

Ethan had known her husband as they were both on the police force. He remembered what had happened and understands Laura’s feelings. He also feels a bit guilty, because as one of Matt’s brother officers he thinks he should have stayed in touch. He’s determined to do so now, even though Laura had been less than welcoming. He was also attracted to Laura, which he found surprising considering her attitude. He is also worried about Jake, whose fascination with guns is bordering on obsession. He wants to find a way to help.

I loved the romance that built between Laura and Ethan. It was a slow building one, as Ethan knew that Laura had some issues with him that she had to overcome. I loved his patience with her fears, and how he worked to ease them. Ethan had been married before and his wife couldn't handle his job. It left him feeling cautious about getting emotionally involved, but with Laura he couldn't help it. I thought he was doing a really good job with it and things were going well. But he still had one event in his past that he hadn't shared with her because he was afraid of her reaction. Laura had been surprised by her attraction to Ethan also. She hadn't been interested in another man since her husband’s death. Ethan being a cop was difficult for her because of her previous experiences. As he steps in to help with her son, she gets to know him better and sees the differences between him and Matt. Her fears begin to ease and the friendship they built turns to love.

When a case that Ethan’s been working on goes bad, both discover that their issues are rooted deeper than they had realized. Both of them say things that really hurt the other and it doesn't look good for them to continue their relationship. My tears were flowing as it takes some very emotional soul searching by both of them to face down their own demons before they can finally be there for each other. I loved how they then faced each other with how they were feeling and why they had acted as they had. More tears as things were resolved.

I loved Laura’s son Jake. What he had been through was tragic and the effect it had had on his life was terrible. He is still dealing with it and his methods are worrying to both Ethan and Laura. He likes it when Ethan befriends him and enjoys doing things with him. I thought his reactions to Ethan’s rules were very realistic, as were some of the things he did. The portrayal of what he’s going through was really good, and I loved seeing him getting closer to Ethan. He went through a lot of changes during the book and seeing the process was a huge part of the emotional appeal of the book.

I also liked seeing the comparison of the two families involved in the story. The Vanetti family, for all its closeness, had not treated Laura and Jake well at all. I really got Laura’s bitterness, especially when the trouble started at Jake’s school. I loved the way Ethan came rushing to support her and how he helped her. I really enjoyed seeing her follow his advice. I understood her reactions to the calls she received from them, and how she ended up having to deal with those feelings. As a contrast, I loved Ethan’s mom and dad. Their love for each other just glows, and is a great example for Ethan. I loved their easy acceptance of Laura and Jake. Their reaction to what happens with Ethan shows what it should be like and gives him much to think about.

The case that ran throughout the book was interesting and showed the kinds of things that Ethan had to deal with. The culmination of the case and the effect it had on Ethan, Laura and Jake made it vital to the story.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cowboy Boots for Christmas (Cowboy Not Included) - Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Oct 2014)

Series: Burnt Boot, Texas (Book 1)

'Tis the season for...

All he wants for Christmas is peace and quiet...
After two tours in Afghanistan, retired Army sniper Finn O'Donnell believes his new ranch outside the sleepy little town of Burnt Boot, Texas, is the perfect place for an undisturbed holiday season. But before he can settle in, an old friend shows up looking for protection and a place where nobody knows her name.

But that's going to take a miracle...
Callie Brewster must relocate to protect her young nephew, Martin, and the only person she trusts is her old Army friend, Finn. Burnt Boot seems like the perfect place to be anonymous, but it turns out a small town with big drama is no place to hide...

This was a really fun book. Finn O'Donnell is cousin to the O'Donnells of the Spikes and Spurs series. He has left the army after serving as a sniper and is looking for a place where he can have some peace and quiet. He found a nice little ranch in Burnt Boot and has moved in with his dog Shotgun. Ever since he got out, he's been pestered by various government agencies who want him to come work for them, but he's not interested. One day he sees another pair of government vehicles coming his way and is ready to send them away too - until his old friend Callie Brewster gets out of one of them.

Callie had been Finn's sniper partner in the army. She hasn't seen him in two years, but when her young nephew witnesses a murder, they need someplace safe to go. Finn is the only one she trusts to have her back and a small town like Burnt Boot should be a good place to hide. She doesn't expect to get caught up in the middle of a feud.

I loved both Finn and Callie. Finn has been having a rough time since he got home. He's had frequent nightmares and being around too many people makes him jumpy. He bought a ranch from an older woman who wanted to retire, and hasn't even had a chance to finish unpacking when Callie and Martin arrive. Callie had been his partner for a long time, and they had been really good friends. What Callie hadn't known was that Finn had also been attracted to her, but getting involved romantically would have been a very bad idea. Now that Callie is out also, and will be living on the ranch with him, he starts thinking that maybe this is the time to pursue that attraction. The only thing that might hold him back is a problem thinking long term. Finn had fallen for a local woman while overseas, only to find out that she had been a spy who was using him. He hasn't yet gotten over his feelings of grief and betrayal. 

Callie had also had a huge crush on Finn, but like him, knew a relationship would be a bad idea. She also has some issues of her own to deal with when it comes to relationships. She had grown up with a mother who never stayed long in one place, constantly moving from man to man looking for love. Callie's sister had been the same way before her death. Callie is afraid that she has inherited the same inability to settle down and is wary of getting involved with anyone because of it.

The romance between Finn and Callie developed slowly. They were already good friends, which was an excellent basis for it, because they already knew each other very well. Finn got the ball rolling because he was at heart a very affectionate person anyway. I loved seeing how all his little touches and hugs and so on really started to get to Callie. The heat built up between them, and burst out into some kisses that were bonemelting for both of them. Callie couldn't resist Finn at all, and her trust of him made it easier for her to give in to her feelings. One of the benefits of their shared pasts is that both of them knew what the other was going through. I loved Finn's caring when Callie would have one of her nightmares. As the time went on, the attraction built until they gave into it, though their issues were still keeping them from commitment. I loved seeing what finally pushed them over the edge and how they were finally able to have it all.

I loved the boy Martin, and seeing how life on the ranch changed him. His enthusiasm for all things cowboy and ranching was fun to see. I also liked that he wasn't a perfect kid, but had his moments of reality too. He was also a good hearted kid, and his attempts to help his friends were sweet and inventive.

One of the really fun things about the story was the feud going on between two of the families in Burnt Boot. One young woman from each family set their sights on Finn. He, of course, wasn't interested because he was into Callie, but those women didn't pay any attention to that. In fact, they tried to run Callie off. There were some great scenes between them and Callie that were laugh out loud funny, from her shooting at them to stop their catfight to biting another one to get her point across. I loved seeing Callie stand up to both of them. The rest of the feud between the families has started to heat up again, and there are some pretty ridiculous things that they do. I expect there will be more as the series goes on.

I loved seeing Finn's ranch come alive after he moved in. He started out with just him and his dog until Callie and Martin arrived. Then their soft hearts rescued a kitten that became part of the family. Just before a snowstorm hit, Finn found a little chihuahua dog and a foul mouthed parrot in his barn, and took those into the house. I also loved how he invited the previous owner of the ranch to come for a visit and she quickly became a part of the family. She was quite a character, blunt and fun loving. She was also determined to see Callie and Finn together permanently.

The people of Burnt Boot are all pretty wild characters. There is a trio of older ladies who both keep things calm and stir things up. The feuding families just seem to keep building on each other's idiocy and it will be interesting to see what else they get up to in later books. I enjoyed the reactions of local law enforcement to Callie and Finn's handling of the two feuding women.