Thursday, 12 December 2019

REVIEW - NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS BY KIM KNIGHT

From enemies to lovers two lonely hearts become one with a heart warming twist...

Not Just For Christmas is book #2 of the Romance in The City series of stand-alone, novella length, romantic, steamy stories set in fast paced cities all around the world.

Readers are taken on a romantic journey set in London, during the festive season following two characters originally opposed to each other fall in love. There's enough warmth and sensuality to keep readers warm at any time of year.

Title: Not Just For Christmas
Series: Romance In The City
Author: Kim Knight
Genre: Multi Cultural Interest, Romance
Publisher: Books Go Social
Release Date: 27th February 2017

BLURB from Goodreads
As Christmas draws near thirty five year old social worker Ava Green, finds herself desperate to not be alone at her favourite time of year. Following the break up of her engagement earlier in the year, Ava has spent ten months on a mission to get over her ex.
With the support of her two closest girlfriends Tasha and Marie, Ava makes a bold move that surprises her girlfriends in order to find a companion for the festive season. Ava’s path crosses with tall dark and handsome Detective Jerome Samuels, an older man and a divorcee in search of love, the sad thing is Ava can't stand him.
Once their paths cross after a few bumps along the way there’s no turning back, these two characters are caught up in a whirlwind of sensual and heart warming romance, once they settle their differences.

A love affair that Detective Jerome Samuels hopes is not just for Christmas, he’s on a mission to claim his lady Ava.


PURCHASE LINKS

REVIEW

I felt it was about time to read something with a Christmas theme and saw this bright festive cover, read the blurb and knew I wanted to read it. I have seen three different covers for this novella book but have to admit I love this one with the red bauble the most!

The main female character is Ava Green who is a social worker. Ava has recently split up with her fiancé when she found him cheating on her! As Christmas is fast approaching, Ava becomes sad and down hearted about the thought of spending Christmas alone. On an evening out with her two female best friends they come up with a plan to find Ava someone to spend Christmas with. Marie & Tasha help her create an advert and draw up a contract for a “no-strings” Christmas fling.
Whilst Ava is waiting for replies to her advert, she finds herself looking for potential Christmas fling material around her at work. There isn’t really anyone she would want to spend the time with. She notices the rather handsome Detective who she sometimes works with her on her child protection, social work cases. The detective has all the characteristics that Ava likes, he is tall, dark and he can be quite sharp and surly, so no he isn’t suitable boyfriend or boyfriend just for Christmas material at all.
Ava does get answers to her adverts but they don’t work out and she is just about to resign herself to having Christmas alone when she gets another potential Christmas “friend”. This time she takes it slower, not suggesting meeting up, she wants to know more about this guy she may decide to spend Christmas with. At the same time as all this something strange seems to have come over Detective Samuels at work, he has suddenly become Mr Happy Sunshine, not his usual moody, cynical self at all. He actually has a bit of a chat with her now. Ava doesn’t understand the sudden change in his attitude. Ava soon puts the Detective to the back of her mind as her new email “just for Christmas” boyfriend sends her beautiful flowers to her work place, then chocolates. Ava is impressed he really seems to know how to spoil a woman.
So, who does Ava end up with at Christmas? Alone? With a just for Christmas boyfriend? or a maybe more permanent boyfriend?

I really liked the character of Ava, she secretly still wants all the romance of a relationship, but feels like there isn’t enough time to build that type of relationship before Christmas, so she has decided she will compromise and make a simple contract for a “no strings boyfriend for Christmas” she is willing to do all the work of making the Christmas Dinner so long as she doesn’t have to eat it alone.

I also loved the characters of Detective Samuels, who initially comes across as being a serious, all work man, not interested in romance, and happy to be in his own company and alone. Then as we learn more about him, his situation is explained, and you see past the tough exterior façade that he presents when at work.

I really enjoyed this Christmas themed novella. It was a different kind of romance. When Ava gives up on getting a normal boyfriend in time for the festive season, she comes up with the quirky idea of have a “no strings, boyfriend for Christmas”. Her two best friends not only support her idea, they help her draw up a legally binding contract containing what she does and doesn’t want along with how far she wishes the romance to go.

This was a sweet, romantic with a festive feel too. I guess the moral within this novella could be never give up on what you really want. Or perhaps be prepared to approach things from a different angle if one way of finding love isn’t working.

To sum up, I really did enjoy reading this feel good, festive romance. Would be interested in checking out more by this author.


Wednesday, 11 December 2019

BLOG TOUR - THE KILL CLUB BY WENDY HEARD



Title: The Kill Club
Author: Wendy Heard
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Publisher: Harlequin, Mira
Release Date: 17th December 2019

BLURB from Goodreads
A haunting thriller about a woman who attempts to save her brother's life by making a dangerous pact with a network of vigilantes who've been hunting down the predators of Los Angeles.

Jazz can’t let her younger brother die.

Their foster mother Carol has always been fanatical, but with Jazz grown up and out of the house, Carol takes a dangerous turn that threatens thirteen-year-old Joaquin’s life. Over and over, child services fails to intervene, and Joaquin is running out of time.

Then Jazz gets a blocked call from someone offering a solution. There are others like her, people the law has failed. They’ve formed an underground network of “helpers,” each agreeing to murder the abuser of another. They're taking back their power and leaving a trail of bodies throughout Los Angeles—dubbed the Blackbird Killings. If Jazz joins them, they’ll take care of Carol for good.

All she has to do is kill a stranger.

Jazz soon learns there's more to fear than getting caught carrying out her assignment. The leader of the club has a zero tolerance policy for mistakes.

And the punishment for disobeying orders is death.



PURCHASE LINKS
Amazon US
Amazon UK



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wendy Heard, author of Hunting Annabelle, was born in San Francisco and has lived most of her life in Los Angeles. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores.

AUTHOR LINKS
Twitter: @wendydheard
Instagram: @wendydheard
Facebook: @wendydheard


EXCERPT
THE CEILING ABOVE the crowd sparkles with strings of golden lights. They twinkle just bright enough to illuminate the faces. I adjust a microscopic issue with my toms and run my fingers through my bangs, straightening them over my eyes. The guys are tuning up, creating a clatter of discordant notes in the monitors. When they’re done, they approach my kit for our usual last-minute debate about the set list. Dao humps his bass in his ready-to-play dance, black hair swishing around his shoulders. “Dude, stop,” Matt groans and readjusts the cable that connects his Telecaster to his pedal board.
               “Your mom loves my dancing,” Dao says.
“You dance like Napoleon Dynamite,” Matt retorts.
“Your mom dances like Napoleon Dynamite.”
Andre raises his hands. “Y’all both dance like Napoleon Dynamite, and so do both your moms, so let’s just—”
I wave a stick at them. “Guys. Focus. The sound guy is watching. We’re three minutes behind.” I have no patience for this shit tonight. This all feels extra and stupid. I should be doing something to help Joaquin. His dwindling supply of insulin sits at the front of my brain like a ticking clock.
The guys get into their spots, the distance between them set by muscle memory. Andre leans forward into the mic and drawls, “Arright DTLA, lez get a little dirty in here.” His New Orleans accent trickles off his tongue like honey.
The room inhales, anticipates, a sphere of silence.
“Two three four,” I yell. I clack my sticks together and we let loose, four on the floor and loud as hell. I’m hitting hard tonight. It feels great. I need to hit things. My heart beats in tempo. My arms fly through the air, the impact of the drums sharp in my joints, in my muscles, the kick drum a pulse keeping the audience alive. This is what I love about drumming, this forcing of myself into the crowd, making their hearts pound in time to my beat.
Dao fucks up the bridge of “Down With Me” and Andre gives him some vicious side-eye. The crowd is pressed tight up against the stage. A pair of hipsters in cowboy hats grabs a corresponding pair of girls and starts dancing with them. I cast Dao an eye-rolling look referring to the cowboy hats and he wiggles his eyebrows at me. I stomp my kick drum harder, pretending it’s Carol’s face.
The crowd surges back. Arms fly. A guy in the front staggers, falls. A pair of hands grips the stage, and a girl tries to pull herself up onto it.
Matt and Dao stop playing. The music screeches to a halt.
“What’s going on?” I yell.
“Something in the pit,” Dao calls back.
Andre drops his mic and hops down into the crowd. Dao and Matt cast their instruments aside and close the distance to the edge of the stage. I get up and join them. Together, we look down into the pit.
A clearing has formed around a brown-haired guy lying on the floor. Andre and the bouncer squat by him as he squirms and thrashes, his arms and legs a tangle of movement. Andre’s got his phone pressed to his ear and is talking into it urgently. The bouncer is trying to hold the flailing man still, but the man’s body is rigid, shuddering out of the bouncer’s grip. He flops onto his back, and I get a good look at his face.
Oh, shit, I know this guy. He’s a regular at our shows. He whines and pants, muffled words gargling from his throat. Some of the bystanders have their phones out and are recording this. Assholes.
The man shrieks like a bird of prey. The crowd sucks its whispers back into itself, and the air hangs heavy and hushed under the ceiling twinkle lights.
Andre is still talking into his phone. The bouncer lifts helpless hands over the seizing man, obviously not sure what to do.
I should see if Andre wants help. I hop down off the stage and push through the crowd. “Excuse me. Can you let me through? Can you stop recording this and let me through?”
I’m suddenly face-to-face with a man who is trying to get out of the crowd as hard as I’m trying to get into it. His face is red and sweaty, his eyes wild. “Move,” he orders me.
Dick. “You fucking move.”
“Bitch, move.” He slams me with his shoulder, knocking me into a pair of girls who cry out in protest. I spin, full of rage, and reverse direction to follow him.
“Hey, fucker,” I scream. He casts a glance over his shoulder. “Yeah, you! Get the fuck back here!”
He escalates his mission to get out of the crowd, elbowing people out of his way twice as fast. I’m smaller and faster, and I slip through the opening he leaves in his wake. Just before he makes it to the side exit, I grab his flannel shirt and give him a hard yank backward. “Get the fuck back here!” I’m loose, all the rage and pain from earlier channeling into my hatred for this entitled, pompous asshole.
I know I should rein it in, but he spins to face me and says, “What is your problem, bitch?” And that’s it. I haul back and punch him full in the jaw.
He stumbles, trips over someone’s foot and lands on his ass on the cement floor. His phone goes clattering out of his hand, skidding to a stop by someone’s foot. “The hell!”
“Oh, shit,” cries a nearby guy in a delighted voice.
“Fucking bitch,” the guy says, and this is the last time he’s calling me a bitch. I go down on top of him, a knee in his chest. I swing wild, hit him in the jaw, the forehead, the neck. He throws an elbow; it catches me in the boob and I flop back off him with a grunt of pain. He sits up, a hand on his face, and opens his mouth to say something, but I launch myself off the ground again, half-conscious of a chorus of whoops and howls around us. I throw a solid punch. His nose cracks. Satisfaction. I almost smile. Blood streams down his face.
“That’s what you get,” I pant. He crab-shuffles back, pushes off the ground and sprints for the exit. I let him go.
My chest is heaving, and I have the guy’s blood on my hand, which is already starting to ache and swell. I wipe my knuckles on my jeans.
His phone lights up and starts buzzing on the floor. I pick it up and turn it over in my hand. It’s an old flip phone, the kind I haven’t seen in years. The bright green display says Blocked.
Back in the pit, the man having a seizure shrieks again, and then his screams gurgle to a stop. I put the phone in my pocket and push through the onlookers. I watch as his back convulses like he’s going to throw up, and then he goes limp. A thin river of blood snakes out of his open mouth and trails along the cement floor.
The room echoes with silence where the screams had been. A trio of girls stands motionless, eyes huge, hands pressed to mouths.
The flip phone in my pocket buzzes. I pull it out, snap it open and press it to my ear. “Hello?”
A pause.
“Hello?” I repeat.
A click. The line goes dead.
A set of paramedics slams the stage door open, stretcher between them. “Coming through!” They kneel down and start prodding at the man curled up on the concrete. His head flops back. His eyes are stretched wide and unseeing, focused on some point far beyond the twinkling ceiling lights.
Next to him on the concrete lies something… What is it? It’s rectangular and has red and—
It’s a playing card.


Excerpted from The Kill Club by Wendy Heard, Copyright © 2019 by Wendy Heard. Published by MIRA Books. 




Monday, 9 December 2019

BOOK BLITZ - THE LAST ATLANTIAN BY MIKKI NOBLE


Title: The Last Atlantian
Author: Mikki Noble
Genre: Mythology, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Release Date: 13th December 2019

BLURB supplied by Xpresso Book Tours
Spencer did not plan to work on her birthday. She didn’t plan a lot of things, but they happened anyway. Like, when she touched a guy and he turned into a gold statue, or when some stranger appeared to tell her she was in danger. She didn’t plan to see her life forever changed by one simple act, and it still happened anyway.

What Spencer doesn’t know is why. Why is all this happening to her? Why does she have the power to turn people into gold all of a sudden. Who is she really?
And why is this cute guy calling her the last Atlantian?


PURCHASE LINKS

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EXCERPT
Spencer opened her eyes and looked around the busy coffee shop. Almost every table was full, and Cia had a very frantic look on her face. There was a line-up to the front door and almost all the tables were full of chatty people.

“Cia?” Spencer shouted, running over to her friend. “You’re here. And you’re okay.”
“You’re late,” Cia answered as she handed a customer their change.
“Um…” What? Cia knew very well that Spencer wasn’t late and why was she acting like that? Normal? After everything that had happened, why wasn’t she just as freaked out as Spencer was?
Cia walked over to the fridge and pulled out the soy milk. “Don’t just stand there. Get to work. I need your help.”
“But—”
“But nothing. I’ve been slammed for over an hour. I know it’s your birthday but you need to help me.”  
Spencer sighed and decided not to argue with her friend. It would be utterly pointless anyway. Maybe she could use a little normal after her morning, although she had a hard time letting it all go. Who was to say those evil, gold robed people wouldn’t come back again, or that creepy guy?
No, the shop was full of people. And… Spencer realized that the gold statue was gone.
Yes, a normal day of work might actually get her mind of the crazy of the day. 
This location was home to a local writer, who came in for her morning coffee and would write for a couple hours. She was seated at her usual table in the corner, not looking up once at the crowd. She was here every day, so it didn’t get more normal than that. Spencer figured she would just take the rest of the day one moment at a time and pray that nothing else weird happened. “Where do you want me, boss?”
“Take the next order. I’ve got this one,” Cia answered in a clipped tone. 
Even though she didn’t want to, Spencer went around the counter to help with coffee orders. Just because it was her birthday and a bunch of weird things had been happening, didn’t mean that she would leave her best friend alone with a crowd and a line-up. More normal for Spencer to concentrate on.  
Cia glared at her as Spencer grabbed a mug—noticing right away that the burnt spot, the one where that guy had thrown a fire ball, only narrowly missing her head, was gone. “Hurry up. What’s wrong with you today?”
It was Spencer’s turn to glare. “I’m going.”
Maybe she could convince herself that it was all some strange, elaborate dream and make it through the day that way. That’s what Spencer decided to do. Apparently, that was how Cia had decided to cope. So why not?
Over the next few hours, Spencer had finally been able to convince herself that it was a dream. It had to be. Although it wasn’t like her to have crazy dreams like that, she liked that idea better and just tried to forget it. It only took a couple cappuccino’s, a lot of repetitive thought, and a busy coffee shop to convince her.
Jeremy never came in, though; that was strange. He came into the coffee house every single day, rain or shine, but she didn’t worry too much about it. She didn’t want to freak out. Maybe he was just away or got stuck at work. Whatever. She didn’t care to see him anyway. 
“Wow. That was one heck of a day,” Cia said several hours later, while turning off the open sign.
Spencer looked up at her from the dishwasher and said, “Yeah. Maybe they shouldn’t have left us alone on Friday the 13th. Apparently, people need their coffee today of all days.”
Cia laughed. “Yeah, that must be it.”
“At least it went by fast, right?” After all, she’d only been there a few hours when it was time to close the shop. At least, it felt that way.
Spencer pulled the garbage bag that smelled of coffee grounds and stale milk from the trash can and tied it closed, then tossed it in front of the back door before putting her jacket on and heading outside. It was cooler now that the sun was lowering, but not too bad. As she tossed the garbage bag into the bin, Spencer got a terrible chill along her spine and the hairs on her neck stood up. She was overcome with a need to run for the coffee shop. The moment she was inside, Spencer locked the door behind her and rushed to check on Cia.
Cia was standing at the till, counting money. Spencer let out a huge breath and pressed a palm to her heart, as if that would ease the beat. “I’m almost done here,” Cia said. “Why don’t you head home and try to salvage the rest of your birthday? Maybe you can do something fun.” 
That was all Spencer had wanted all day, was to go home, but for some reason, she didn’t feel like leaving Cia alone. “Aren’t you coming over anyway?”
“Yeah, I was planning on it, but it might be a while and I have to pick up my little brother from his friend’s and drop him off at home. I don’t want you stuck here for another hour.”
“I wouldn’t feel right. Maybe there’s something I can help with.”
“Go,” Cia demanded. “You’ve worked hard enough. Everything will be great. I’ll see you around six, I think.”
Spencer almost protested but her phone rang. Since it was so quiet in the coffee shop, she could hear it all the way from the locker. It had been in there all day, which was unlike her. She normally carried her phone around, but it had been so busy, she’d forgotten to grab it earlier. She walked through the kitchen area and continued down the back hallway where a set of lockers were bolted to the wall. The phone continued to ring the entire time. Spencer grabbed the lock, spun the combo and opened the door just as the ringing stopped.
She pulled it from her purse, noticed it was her mother, and decided to call her back on the way home. She untied her apron and tossed it inside, grabbed her purse and her sweater before slamming the door.
Her phone started to ring again.
Mom.
This time she answered it on the second ring. If she didn’t, her mom would just keep calling. “Hello?”
“How’s my birthday girl? How was your shift?”
“It was fine, Mom. What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing.”
Spencer rolled her eyes. Her mother never called for ‘nothing.’ “Right. Now, what’s the real reason?”
“I really hate to ask you this, but can you pick up some milk on the way home? I’m sorry. I need it for dinner. Otherwise, I wouldn’t ask. Oh, and some parmesan, and some oregano, while you’re there.”
Spencer groaned. Luckily, her mom didn’t ask for much, so she just said yes and hung up the phone. She made her way back to the front where Cia was still standing at the till counting. She was a quick counter, but she was so noisy with the coins. Spencer didn’t know how she did it, but she slammed those coins down like a sledgehammer on a gong.
When Cia finished with the dollar coins, Spencer stepped in. “My mom called. I have to pick up some groceries on the way home.”
“I see. Go get the milk and I’ll meet you at your place a little bit after.”
“You sure?”
Cia nodded. Already ignoring Spencer, she moved on to the quarters. Spencer left, not saying anything else, except, “Make sure to lock this door behind me.”
It would be dark in about an hour and it would take her almost half that to get milk and walk home. She wished her parents weren’t so busy and they could at least pick her up.
So far, if she was being honest, it was a sucky birthday.
Oh, well. Spencer made a vow then. Next year will be great. Next year, she’d be surrounded by her friends, she wouldn’t have to work, and hopefully she’d have her car by then. How much could a car cost? A year’s coffee money, plus tips should get her something at least.
She hoped.
She’d been working at the coffee shop for almost three months and she’d saved every penny so far, except for what it cost to rent the uniform. Spencer was just happy her best friend’s parents owned the coffee shop and hired her, no questions asked. If Spencer had to go out and get a job, go for interviews and make a resume, she wasn’t sure she’d have gotten hired.
The streets were quiet for a Friday. It could have been peoples’ superstitions keeping them inside. Spencer had never cared about those things. Not that she didn’t believe. She just didn’t concentrate on them very much.
Did she have exceptionally bad luck on Friday the 13th? She didn’t think so.
Although, with the way today was going, maybe she did.
Her birthday didn’t land on Friday very often anyway. She shouldn’t read too much into it. Today was just not her day.
It took her ten minutes to reach the store. Spencer reached for the cool metal handle of the cooler and yanked the door open. She grabbed the jug and the other items on the list and made it all the way to the counter before realizing she had no money on her. She’d forgotten to grab her tip money off the counter. She checked every pocket in her jacket and found nothing. Then she reached into her jeans pocket and found a set of keys that weren’t hers.
She gasped and swore as an icy cool feeling sunk in and reached straight to her core.
Creepy guy’s keys. The ones he’d dropped on the floor. 
It had definitely not been a dream.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As far back as she can remember, Mikki was creating characters and stories in her head. It wasn’t until fate brushed the tip of its wings over her eyes that she began to see that writing was what she was born to do. She loves animals, reading, everything supernatural related, and enjoys spending her free time on social media whenever she can.

AUTHOR LINKS
Website  
 Twitter 

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Saturday, 7 December 2019

BLOG TOUR - CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY THEMED TITLES FROM HARLEQUIN TRADE PUBLISHING

Coming Home For Christmas
by RaeAnne Thayne
Title: Coming Home For Christmas
Series: Haven Point
Author: RaeAnne Thayne
Publisher: Harlequin Books (HQN)
Release Date: 24th September 2019

BLURB from Goodreads
Hearts are lighter and wishes burn a little brighter at Christmas…

Elizabeth Hamilton has been lost. Trapped in a tangle of postpartum depression and grief after the death of her beloved parents, she couldn’t quite see the way back to her husband and their two beautiful kids…until a car accident stole away her memories and changed her life. And when she finally remembered the sound of little Cassie’s laugh, the baby powder smell of Bridger and the feel of her husband’s hand in hers, Elizabeth worried that they’d moved on without her. That she’d missed too much. That perhaps she wasn’t the right mother for her kids or wife for Luke, no matter how much she loved them.

But now, seven years later, Luke finds her in a nearby town and brings Elizabeth back home to the family she loves, just in time for Christmas. And being reunited with Luke and her children is better than anything Elizabeth could have imagined. As they all trim the tree and bake cookies, making new holiday memories, Elizabeth and Luke are drawn ever closer. Can the hurt of the past seven years be healed over the course of one Christmas season and bring the Hamiltons the gift of a new beginning?

Goodreads Link


PURCHASE LINKS


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews.

She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.

AUTHOR LINKS
Twitter: @raeannethayne
Instagram: @jensnowauthor

EXCERPT
 Chapter One
This was it.
Luke Hamilton waited outside the big, rambling Vic­torian house in a little coastal town in Oregon, hands shoved into the pockets of his coat against the wet slap of air and nerves churning through him.
Elizabeth was here. After all the years when he had been certain she was dead—that she had wandered into the moun­tains somewhere that cold day seven years earlier or she had somehow walked into the deep, unforgiving waters of Lake Haven—he was going to see her again.
Though he had been given months to wrap his head around the idea that his wife wasn’t dead, that she was indeed liv­ing under another name in this town by the sea, it still didn’t seem real.
How was he supposed to feel in this moment? He had no idea. He only knew he was filled with a crazy mix of antici­pation, fear and the low fury that had been simmering inside
him for months, since the moment FBI agent Elliot Bailey had produced a piece of paper with a name and an address.
Luke still couldn’t quite believe she was in there, the wife he had not seen in seven years. The wife who had disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving plenty of people to speculate that he had somehow hurt her, even killed her.
For all those days and months and years, he had lived with the ghost of Elizabeth Sinclair and the love they had once shared.
He was never nervous, damn it. So why did his skin itch and his stomach seethe and his hands grip the cold metal of the porch railing as if his suddenly weak knees would give way and make him topple over if he let go?
A moment later, he sensed movement inside the foyer of the house. The woman he had spoken with when he had first pulled up to this address, the woman who had been hanging Christmas lights around the big, charming home and who had looked at him with such suspicion and had not invited him to wait inside, opened the door. One hand was thrust into her coat pocket around a questionable-looking bulge.
She was either concealing a handgun or a Taser or pep­per spray. Since he had never met the woman before, Luke couldn’t begin to guess which. Her features had lost none of that alert wariness that told him she would do whatever nec­essary to protect Elizabeth.
He wanted to tell her he would never hurt his wife, but it was a refrain he had grown tired of repeating. Over the years, he had become inured to people’s opinions on the matter. Let them think what the hell they wanted. He knew the truth.
“Where is she?” he demanded.
There was a long pause, like some tension-filled moment just before the gunfight in Old West movies. He wouldn’t have been surprised if tumbleweeds suddenly blew down the street.
Then, from behind the first woman, another figure stepped out onto the porch, slim and blonde and…shockingly familiar.
He stared, stunned to his bones. It was her. Not Elizabeth. Her. He had seen this woman around his small Idaho town of Haven Point several times over the last few years, fleeting glimpses only out of the corner of his gaze at a baseball game or a school program.
The mystery woman.
He assumed she had been there to watch one of the other children. Maybe an aunt from out of town, someone he didn’t know.
Luke had noticed her…and had hated the tiny little glow of attraction that had sparked to life.
He hadn’t wanted to be aware of any other woman. What was the point? For years, he thought his heart had died when Elizabeth walked away. He figured everything good and right inside him had shriveled up and he had nothing left to give another woman.
Despite his anger at himself for the unwilling attraction to a woman he could never have, he had come to look forward to those random glimpses of the beautiful mystery woman who wore sunglasses and floppy hats, whose hair was a simi­lar color to his wife’s but whose features were very different.
For the first time since he had pulled up to Brambleberry House, he began to wonder if he had been wrong. If Elliot had been wrong, if his investigation had somehow gone hor­ribly off track.
What if this wasn’t Elizabeth? What if it was all some ter­rible mistake?
He didn’t know what to say, suddenly. Did he tell them both he had erred, make some excuse and disappear? He was about to do just that when he saw her eyes, a clear, startling blue with a dark, almost black, ring around the irises.
He knew those eyes. It was her.
There was nervousness in them, yes, but no surprise, al­most as if she had been expecting him.
“Elizabeth.”
She flinched a little at the name. “No one has…called me that in a very long time.”
Her voice was the second confirmation, the same husky alto that had haunted his dreams every single night for seven years.
The other woman stared at her. “Sonia. What is going on? Who is this man? Why is he calling you Elizabeth?”
“It is…a really long story, Rosa.”
“He says he is your husband.”
“He was. A long time ago.”
The anger simmered hotter, flaring up like a controlled burn that was trying to jump the ditch. He did his best to tamp it down. He would not become his father, no matter the provocation.
“I’m still your husband. Nothing has changed. Until we divorce or you are declared dead, we are very much still mar­ried in the eyes of the law.”
Her mouth opened again, eyes shocked as if she had never considered the possibility. Maybe as far as she was concerned, her act of walking away without a word had terminated their marriage.
It had in every way except the official one.
“I…guess that’s probably true.”
“That’s why I’m here. I need you to come back to Haven Point so we can end this thing once and for all.” He was un­able to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “It shouldn’t be that hard for you. You know the way. Apparently you’ve been back to town plenty of times. You just never bothered to stop and say hello to me or your two children.”
Her skin, already pale in the weak December afternoon light, seemed to turn ashen, and Luke was immediately ashamed at his cruelty. He tried to be better than that, to take the higher ground in most situations. He was uncomfort­ably aware that this unwanted reunion with his long-missing wife would likely bring out the worst in him.
The other woman looked shocked. “You have children? I don’t understand any of this, Sonia.”
She winced. “It’s so complicated, Rosa. I don’t know…where to start. I… My name isn’t Sonia, as you’ve obviously…figured out. He is right. It is Elizabeth Hamilton, and this…this is my husband, Lucas.”
The other woman was slow to absorb the information, but after a shocked moment, her gaze narrowed and she moved imperceptibly in front of Elizabeth, as if her slight frame could protect her friend.
It was a familiar motion, one that intensified his shame. How many times had he done the same thing, throwing his body in front of his mother and then his stepmother? By the time he was big enough and tough enough to make a differ­ence, his father was dead and no longer a threat.
“Are you afraid of this man?” Rosa demanded. “Has he hurt you? I can call Chief Townsend. He would be here in a moment.”
Elizabeth put a hand on the other woman’s arm. It was clear they were close friends. The wild pendulum of Luke’s emotions right now swung back to anger. Somehow she had managed to form friendships with other people, to completely move on with her life, while he had been suffocating for seven years under the weight of rumor and suspicion.
“It is fine, Rosa. Thank you. Please don’t worry about me. I…I need to speak with…with my husband. We have…much to discuss. Go on inside. I’ll talk to you later and…and try to explain.”
Rosa was clearly reluctant to leave. She hovered on the porch, sending him mistrustful looks. He wanted to tell her not to waste her energy. He’d spent years developing a thick skin when it came to people suspecting him of being a mon­ster.
“I’m here,” she said firmly. “I’ll wait inside. You only have to call out. And Melissa is in her apartment as well. We won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Nothing is going to happen to me,” Elizabeth assured her. “Luke won’t hurt me.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” he muttered, though it was a lie. Some might think him a monster but he suspected Elizabeth knew he could never lay a hand on her.
First of all, it wasn’t in his nature. Second, he had spent his entire life working toward self-mastery and iron control—doing whatever necessary to avoid becoming his father.
After another moment, Rosa turned around and slipped through the carved front door, reluctance apparent in every line of her body. On some level, Luke supposed he should be grateful Elizabeth had people willing to stand up and pro­tect her.
“How did you…? How did you find me?”
He still didn’t know everything Elliot had gone through to locate her. He knew the FBI agent had spent long hours track­ing down leads after a truck driver came forward years later to say that on the night Elizabeth disappeared, the trucker thought she gave a woman resembling Elizabeth’s descrip­tion a ride to a truck stop in central Oregon.
Somehow from that slim piece of information, Elliot had undergone an impressive investigation on his own time and managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together. If not for Elliot, Luke wouldn’t be here in front of this big oceanfront Victorian in Cannon Beach and this familiar but not famil­iar woman.
Thinking about Elliot Bailey always left him conflicted, too. He was grateful to the man but still found it weird to think of his former best friend with Megan, Luke’s younger sister. After several months, he was almost used to the idea of them being together.
“I didn’t.” He jerked his attention back to the moment. “Elliot Bailey did. That’s not really important, is it? The point is, now I know where you are. But then, I guess you were never really lost, were you? We only thought you were. You’ve certainly been back to Haven Point in your little dis­guise plenty of times over the years.”
It burned him, knowing he hadn’t recognized his own wife. When he looked closer now, knowing what he did, he could see more hints of the woman he had loved. The brows were the same, arched and delicate, and her lips were still full and lush. But her face was more narrow, her nose completely different and her cheekbones higher and more defined.
Why had she undergone so much plastic surgery? It was one more mystery amid dozens.
“What do you want, Luke?”
“I told you. I need you to come home. At this moment, the Lake Haven County district attorney’s office is prepar­ing to file charges against me related to your disappearance and apparent murder.”
 “My what?”
“Elliot has tried to convince the woman you’re still very much alive. He hasn’t had much luck, especially consider­ing he’s all but a member of the family and will be marrying my sister in a few months. The DA plans to move forward and arrest me in hopes of forcing me to tell them where I hid your body.”
“Wait—what? Elliot and Megan are together? When did that happen?”
He barely refrained from grinding his teeth. “Not really the point, is it? This has gone on long enough. I’m going to be arrested, Elizabeth. Before the holidays, if my sources are right. The district attorney is determined to send a message that men in her jurisdiction can’t get away with making their wives disappear. I’m going to go to jail, at least for a while. Our children have already spent enough Christmases with­out one parent. Do you want them to lose the other one?”
“Of course not.”
He didn’t know whether to believe her or not. How could he? He didn’t even know this woman, despite the fact that she had once been closer to him than anyone else on earth.
“Then grab your things and let’s go.”

Excerpted from Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnn Thayne. Copyright © 2019 by RaeAnn Thayne. Published by HQN Books.


A Wedding In December
by Sarah Morgan
Title: A Wedding In December
Author: Sarah Morgan
Publisher: Harlequin Books (HQN)
Release Date: 31st October 2019

BLURB from Goodreads
In the snowy perfection of Aspen, the White family gathers for youngest daughter Rosie’s whirlwind Christmas wedding. First to arrive are the bride’s parents, Maggie and Nick. Their daughter’s marriage is a milestone they are determined to celebrate wholeheartedly, but they are hiding a huge secret of their own: they are on the brink of divorce. After living apart for the last six months, the last thing they need is to be trapped together in an irresistibly romantic winter wonderland.

Rosie’s older sister, Katie, is also dreading the wedding. Worried that impulsive, sweet-hearted Rosie is making a mistake, Katie is determined to save her sister from herself! If only the irritatingly good-looking best man, Jordan, would stop interfering with her plans…

Bride-to-be Rosie loves her fiancé but is having serious second thoughts. Except everyone has arrived—how can she tell them she’s not sure? As the big day gets closer, and emotions run even higher, this is one White family Christmas none of them will ever forget!


Goodreads Link

PURCHASE LINKS


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary
romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans
across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5 th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.

AUTHOR LINKS
Twitter: @SarahMorgan_
Instagram: @SarahMorganWrites

EXCERPT
From Chapter One

Maggie
When her phone rang at three in the morning, ripping her from a desperately needed sleep, Maggie’s first thought was bad news.
Her mind raced through the possibilities, starting with the worst-case scenario. Death, or at least life-changing injury. Po­lice. Ambulances.
Heart pounding, brain foggy, she grabbed her phone from the summit of her teetering pile of books. The name on the screen offered no reassurance.
Trouble stalked her youngest daughter.
“Rosie?” She fumbled for the light and sat up. The book she’d fallen asleep reading thudded to the floor, scattering the pile of Christmas cards she’d started to write the night before. She’d chosen a winter scene of snow-laden trees. They hadn’t had a flake of snow in the village on Christmas Day for close to a de­cade. They often joked that it was a good thing their last name was White because it was the only way they were ever going to have a White Christmas.
She snuggled under the blanket with the phone. “Has some­thing happened?” The physical distance between her and Rosie made her feel frustrated and helpless.
Everyone said global travel made the world smaller, but it didn’t seem smaller to Maggie. Why couldn’t her daughter have continued her studies closer to home? Oxford, with its famous spires and ancient colleges, was only a few miles away. Rosie had done her undergraduate degree there, followed by a master’s. Maggie had loved having her close by. They’d taken sunlit strolls along cobbled streets, past ancient honey-colored buildings and through Christchurch Meadows, golden with daffodils. They’d followed the slow meander of the river and cheered on the row­ing crews. Maggie had hoped, privately, that her daughter might stay close by, but after Rosie had graduated she’d been offered a place in a US doctoral program, complete with full funding.
Can you believe it, Mum? The day she’d had the news she’d danced across the living room, hair flying around her face, twirling until she was dizzy and Maggie was dizzy watching her. Are you proud of me?
Maggie had been proud and dismayed in equal measure, al­though she’d hidden the dismayed part of course. That was what you did when you were a parent.
Even she could see it was too good an opportunity to turn down, but still a small part of her had wished Rosie had turned it down. That transatlantic flight from the nest left Maggie with email, Skype and social media, none of which felt entirely satis­factory. Even less so in the middle of the night. Had Rosie only been gone for four months? It felt like a lifetime since they’d delivered her to the airport on that sweltering summer’s day.
“Is it your asthma? Are you in hospital?” What could she do if Rosie was in the hospital? Nothing. Anxiety was a constant companion, never more so than now.
If it had been her eldest daughter, Katie, who had moved to a different country she might have felt more relaxed. Katie was reliable and sensible, but Rosie? Rosie had always been impul­sive and adventurous.
“I’m not in hospital. Don’t fuss!”
Only now did Maggie hear the noise in the background. Cheering, whooping.
“Do you have your inhaler with you? You sound breathless.” The sound woke the memories. Rosie, eyes bulging, lips stained blue. The whistling sound as air struggled to squeeze through narrowed airways. Maggie making emergency calls with hands that shook almost too hard to hold the phone, the terror raw and brutal although she kept that hidden from her child. Calm, she’d learned, was important even if it was faked.
Even when Rosie had moved from child to adult there had been no reprieve.
Some children grew out of asthma. Not Rosie.
There had been a couple of occasions when Rosie was in col­lege when she’d gone to parties without her inhaler. A few hours of dancing later and she’d been rushed to the emergency depart­ment. That had been a 3:00 a.m. phone call, too, and Maggie had raced through the night to be by her side. Those were the episodes Maggie knew about. She was sure there were plenty more that Rosie had kept to herself.
“I’m breathless because I’m excited. I’m twenty-two, Mum. When are you going to stop worrying?”
“That would be never. Your child is always your child, no matter how many candles are on the birthday cake. Where are you?”
“I’m with Dan’s family in Aspen for Thanksgiving, and I have news.” She broke off and Maggie heard the clink of glasses and Rosie’s infectious laugh. It was impossible to hear that laugh and not want to smile, too. The sound contrasted with the silence of Maggie’s bedroom.
A waft of cold air chilled her skin and she stood up and grabbed her robe from the back of the chair. Honeysuckle Cot­tage looked idyllic from the outside, but it was impossibly drafty. The ventilation was a relief in August but froze you to the bone in November. She really needed to do something about the in­sulation before she even thought about selling the place. Historic charm, climbing roses and a view of the village green couldn’t compensate for frostbite.
Or maybe it wasn’t the house that was cold. Maybe it was her.
Knocked flat by a wave of sadness and she struggled to right herself.
“What’s happening? What news? It sounds like you’re hav­ing a party.”
“Dan proposed. Literally out of the blue. We were taking it in turns to say what we’re thankful for and when it was his turn he gave me a funny look and then he got down on one knee and—Mum, we’re getting married.”
Maggie sat down hard on the edge of the bed, the freezing air forgotten. “Married? But you and Dan have only been to­gether for a few weeks—”
“Eleven weeks, four days, six hours and fifteen minutes—oh wait, now it’s sixteen, I mean seventeen—” She was laughing, and Maggie tried to laugh with her.
How should she handle this? “That’s not very long, sweet­heart.” But completely in character for Rosie, who bounced from one impulse to another, powered by enthusiasm.
“It feels so right, I can’t even tell you. And you’ll understand because it was like that for you and Dad.”
Maggie stared at the damp patch on the wall.
Tell her the truth.
Her mouth moved but she couldn’t push the words out. This was the wrong time. She should have done it months ago, but she’d been too much of a coward.
And now it was too late. She didn’t want to be the slayer of happy moments.
She couldn’t even say you’re too young, because she’d been the same age when she’d had Katie. Which basically made her a hypocrite. Or did it make her someone with experience?
“You just started your postgrad—”
“I’m not giving it up. I can be married and study. Plenty do it.”
Maggie couldn’t argue with that. “I’m happy for you.” Did she sound happy? She tried harder. “Woohoo!”
She’d thought she’d white-knuckled her way through all the toughest parts of parenting, but it turned out there were still some surprises waiting for her. Rosie wasn’t a child anymore. She had to be allowed to make her own decisions. And her own mistakes.
Rosie was talking again. “I know it’s all a bit fast, but you’re going to love Dan as much as I do. You said you thought he was great when you spoke to him.”
But speaking to someone on a video call wasn’t the same as meeting them in person, was it?
Maggie swallowed down all the words of warning that rose up inside her. She was not going to turn into her own mother and send clouds to darken every bright moment. “He seemed charming, and I’m thrilled for you. If I don’t sound it, it’s be­cause it’s the middle of the night here, and you know what I’m like when I’ve just woken up. When I saw your name pop up on the screen, I was worried it was your asthma.”
“Haven’t had an attack in ages. I’m sorry I woke you, but I wanted to share my news.”
“I’m glad you woke me. Tell me everything.” She closed her eyes and tried to pretend her daughter was in the room with her, and not thousands of miles away.
There was no reason to panic. It was an engagement, that was all. There was plenty of time for them to decide if this was the right thing for them. “We’ll have a big celebration when you and your sister are here for Christmas. Would Dan like to join us? I can’t wait to meet him. Maybe we’ll throw a party. Invite the Baxters, and all your friends from college and school.” Planning lifted Maggie’s mood. Christmas was her favorite time of year, the one occasion the whole family gathered together. Even Katie, with her busy life as a doctor, usually managed to beg and barter a few days at Christmas in exchange for cover­ing the busy New Year shift. Maggie was looking forward to spending time with her. She had a niggling suspicion her eldest daughter was avoiding her. Every time Maggie suggested meet­ing up, Katie made an excuse, which was unlike her because she rarely refused a free lunch.
Christmas would give her a chance to dig a little deeper.
In her opinion, Oxford was the perfect place to spend the fes­tive season. True, there was unlikely to be snow, but what was better than a postlunch walk listening to the peal of bells on a crisp, cold winter’s day?
It promised to be perfect, apart from one complication.
Nick.
Maggie still hadn’t figured out how she was going to handle that side of things.
Maybe an engagement was exactly what they needed to shift the focus of attention.
“Christmas is one of the things I need to talk to you about.” Rosie sounded hesitant. “I planned to come home, but since Dan proposed—well, we don’t see the point in waiting. We’ve chosen the day. We’re getting married on Christmas Eve.”
Maggie frowned. “You mean next year?”
“No, this year.”
She counted the days and her brain almost exploded. “You want to get married in less than four weeks? To a man you barely know?” Rosie had always been impulsive, but this wasn’t a soft toy that would be abandoned after a few days, or a dress that would turn out to be not quite the right color. Marriage wasn’t something that could be rectified with a refund. There was no reason for haste, unless—“Sweetie—”
“I know what you’re thinking, and it isn’t that. I’m not preg­nant! We’re getting married because we’re in love. I adore him. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”
You barely know him.
Maggie shifted, uncomfortably aware that knowing someone well didn’t inoculate you against problems.
“I’m excited for you!” Turned out she could fake excitement as convincingly as she could fake calm.

Excerpted from A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Morgan. Published by HQN Books.


An Alaskan Christmas
by Jennifer Snow
Title: An Alaskan Christmas
Series: Wild River
Author: Jennifer Snow
Publisher: Harlequin Books (HQN)
Release Date: 24th September 2019

BLURB from Goodreads
In Alaska, it’s always a white Christmas—but the sparks flying between two reunited friends could turn it red-hot…

If there’s one gift Erika Sheraton does not want for Christmas, it’s a vacation. Ordered to take time off, the workaholic surgeon reluctantly trades in her scrubs for a ski suit and heads to Wild River, Alaska. Her friend Cassie owns a tour company that offers adventures to fit every visitor. But nothing compares to the adrenaline rush Erika feels on being reunited with Cassie’s brother, Reed Reynolds.

Gone is the buttoned-up girl Reed remembers. His sister’s best friend has blossomed into a strong, skilled, confident woman. She’s exactly what his search-and-rescue team needs—and everything he didn’t know he craved. The gulf between his life in Wild River and her big-city career is wide. But it’s no match for a desire powerful enough to melt two stubborn hearts…


PURCHASE LINKS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Snow lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her husband and four year old son. She is a member of the RWA, the Alberta Writers Guild, Canadian Authors Association and SheWrites.org. Her first Brookhollow book was a finalist in the Heart of Denver Aspen Gold contest and the Golden Quill Award. 
More information can be found at www.jennifersnowauthor.com.

AUTHOR LINKS
Twitter: @JenniferSnow18
Instagram: @jensnowauthor


EXCERPT
CHAPTER ONE

Her arms full of patient files, Dr. Erika Sheraton tipped her head back as Darren, her premed intern, poured a double shot of espresso down her throat. The hot liquid delivered the instant adrenaline boost she needed to get through the rest of her fourteen-hour shift.
Dinner? A quick glance at the clock on the wall above the nurses’ triage station revealed it was almost nine. A late dinner.
“How are you not vibrating? That’s your third in two hours.” Darren crumpled the paper cup and tossed it into a recycle bin as they walked.
“Caffeine stopped affecting me a long time ago. Now’s it’s about the taste,” she said, only half kidding. Double course loads and all-nighters in college and then med school had prepared her for the long hours she put in now as a general surgeon and caffeine had been her best friend.
The twentysomething looked like he could use a cup himself, as he stifled a yawn. His sandy blond hair poked up in the back as though he’d crawled out of bed at the last possible minute and his hazel eyes were bloodshot. If he was tired now after only eight hours on shift, he’d be reconsidering this particular profession by midnight. The staff at Alaska General Hospital never rested. The revolving doors at emergency constantly rotated with broken bones, heart attacks and bleeding patients filing in. No day was ever the same. Unpre­dictability kept Erika alert and on her toes.
“After these rounds, I’m going to need you to check in on Mr. Franklin—he’s in recovery. His family is wondering when they can see him.” The man’s entire extended family was camped out in the surgical ward waiting room—fifteen or sixteen of them at least. They couldn’t see the man, but they all refused to leave. Each one took turns driving the nurses on duty crazy. “Make sure they know only immediate family can go in. He needs his rest.”
Darren nodded, but a look of hesitation appeared behind his dark-rimmed glasses.
“What?” She checked her watch.
“I just… Well, shouldn’t you talk to them? I know his wife wanted to thank you…”
Erika shook her head. “Keeping him on the low-cholesterol, low-sodium diet I’ve prescribed—and off my operating table—will be thanks enough,” she said, scanning the top folder on her stack.
“Okay, but…”
She shot him a look.
“No problem. I’ll check in on him.”
“Thank you.” She continued down the hall toward the next high-priority patient.
“Don’t forget, your dad still wants to see you,” Dar­ren said, struggling to keep up to her half sprint.
“I know.” And she could do without the hourly re­minders. Her father rarely requested her presence dur­ing her rounds, so whatever it was wouldn’t be good. If she put him off long enough, maybe he’d forget.
 “Top chart—Mr. Grayson. He’s scheduled for an appendectomy in a few hours,” she said, approaching the man’s hospital room.
Darren nodded as he smiled. “This old guy is hilari­ous. Did you know he was a stunt motorcycle driver in the circus in the ’80s?”
“No.” She knew he had an inflamed appendix and had waited far too long to come in. She knew his vitals and that in an hour, they’d be prepping him for surgery. Knowing personal details of a patient’s life didn’t make her job any easier or guarantee a better outcome. She juggled the files on one arm as she reached into her pocket for a new set of sterile gloves.
“Hey, before we go in there, can I talk to you?” Dar­ren asked, stopping her outside the room. He stared at the checked patterned floor tiles.
Damn. “You’re requesting a transfer to a different physician.” He wasn’t the first medical student who’d gotten reassigned. She’d made it a month with Dar­ren—a new record.
Another intern bites the dust.
He nodded, obviously relieved that he hadn’t had to vocalize it himself. “You’re amazing, Dr. Sheraton, and I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to work with you, but you’re also very busy and unavailable…”
The sharp sting of the words was familiar. She’d heard the same speech from interns and boyfriends alike. She’d successfully eliminated the problem in one group right after her first year of residency…interns were hospital assigned and therefore out of her control.
“I mean I just need all the training I can get and be­tween patients and your research work…”
She didn’t need an explanation. She was busy. Too busy to have someone following her around in fact. This was totally fine with her. “I understand.”
“You’re not upset?”
“Only about having to get my own coffee from now on,” she said.
The joke missed its mark and the intern’s eyes wid­ened. “I can still do that…”
Wow, was she really that scary? She was demand­ing and expected the students to put in the hours she did. She may not be the friendliest doctor on staff, so­cializing after work and remembering birthdays and such, but she gave these interns a real picture of their future in medicine. Wasn’t that what they were there for? “I was kidding, Darren.”
“Oh…right.”
“Dr. Sheraton, please report to emergency. Stat.”
The call over the hospital intercom had her handing Darren the stack of folders. “Please take his heart rate and blood pressure,” she said, practically running to the elevators. “And don’t forget Mr. Franklin.”
“Got it,” he called after her.
The quiet twenty-six-second elevator ride to the first floor was the closest thing she got to a spa day. It was the only time she was forced to slow to a pace other than her own usual breakneck speed. But even that half a minute was too long. It gave her time to think. Think about her previous surgeries and replay the details—what went right, what went wrong, what she could do better next time. Constantly reevaluating herself made her a better surgeon, but too often it left her feeling like she was coming up slightly short of her potential. Her type A personality left little room for failure or complacency.
Checking her phone in her lab coat pocket, she scanned her schedule for the rest of the evening, eval­uating what she could push back if this emergency demanded her immediate attention. The number of things marked urgent made her will the elevator to move quicker. She’d be lucky to get out of there by 2:00 a.m.
A text popped up from Darren.
If you change your mind about Mrs. Franklin…
She wouldn’t. She ignored the text from her intern—former intern—and put the phone away.
As the elevator stopped, she took a deep breath, ex­pecting to see a flurry of organized chaos as the doors opened. Stretchers, ambulance lights flashing and si­rens wailing outside, paramedics and nurses… Instead, she ran square into her father.
No emergency, just his six-foot-three frame and his usual neutral expression. It was impossible to read her father, as his face gave nothing away. His emotions were never too high or too low, just infuriatingly bal­anced no matter the circumstance. His calm presence and rational thinking made him fantastic at his profes­sion, but sometimes he was irritating as shit as a father.
“Hi. I was just coming to see you.” Eventually.
“Walk with me,” he said, turning on his heel and nodding.
Her jaw clenched so tight her teeth might snap. This was so like him—assuming she could drop everything at his command. He may run the hospital, but he often had no idea how hectic her schedule was. “Can we talk as I do my rounds, Darren is…”

“More than capable,” he said, leading the way to his first-floor corner office. “And requesting to be trans­ferred, I see.”
His tone made her palms sweat. He should be happy that she was pushing these interns to their limits. What awaited them once they graduated wasn’t for the faint of heart. Better to get used to grueling days and nights now, performing on little to no sleep, living on caffeine and leftover Halloween chocolate bars, than to real­ize they couldn’t cut it when lives were in their hands.
Unfortunately, he didn’t always agree with her be­liefs . He wanted the interns to feel at home at Alaska General so they’d apply here once they graduated. The hospital was short staffed and more doctors would ben­efit everyone, but Erika preferred to work alongside the best.
Her father had an open-door policy—literally—so when he closed the office door behind her, she knew the head of General Surgery hadn’t called her in to dis­cuss Thanksgiving dinner plans.
She glanced at his wall calendar as she sat. Espe­cially since Thanksgiving was a week ago.
“Dad, this intern thing is just ridiculous…”
He held up a hand. “This isn’t about your inability to effectively manage others.”
Kick to the gut delivered and received. She clamped her lips together.
He opened his desk drawer and handed her a letter as he sat in the plush, leather chair behind his oversize mahogany desk.
Her eyes widened, seeing the Hospital Foundation logo on the top of the page. “Is this the final approval from the board for the clinical trials?” They’d submit­ted the application six months ago to start trials on a new antirejection drug after years of research, and they were waiting on the formal go-ahead to start with a test group.
Would Darren reconsider staying with her if he knew he could be part of a medical breakthrough? He’d been a lot of help in the past month.
“Just read it,” her father said.
She scanned the letter from the board of directors, feeling her excitement fade and anxiety rise with each word. “Recommended vacation? What is this?”
“I don’t like it either, but the board is reviewing policies and making sure we are following them,” he said, the edge indicating he’d been outvoted in this de­cision. He certainly didn’t believe in time off and had never encouraged her to take any. Her life was her ca­reer, just like him.
“But any day now we will be starting clinical trials on the new drug.” It had taken her father and his team almost three years to get the experimental antirejec­tion product approved for testing on organ transplant patients and they’d finally gotten it. They’d worked around the clock for a year to make sure they did. Subjects were undergoing assessment right now to be ready for the trials.
Now was not the time to take a break.
Her father looked as though he’d made the same argument to the hospital board. “The team will have to handle it.”
So recommended actually meant forced. “Why now? I’m fine. I don’t need a break.” At twenty-nine, she was eager to prove herself as one of the top general sur­geons in the state. Between her surgical success record and the research time she’d invested in this new drug, she was close. Helping her father get one step closer to winning the Lister Medal was high on her priority list. “Come on, Dad, you know I’m good. My last two operations were impossible surgeries…”
Improbable surgeries.”
Erika clamped her lips together again, forcing her argument to stay put. It wouldn’t do any good. Three years working alongside her father and she’d yet to prove herself. Despite two back-to-back improbable surgeries that she’d performed successfully, he still doubted her abilities. His micromanagement over her research team had driven her insane, but he’d reluc­tantly agreed to let her run her own set of clinical trials on the antirejection drug, and she’d foolishly believed she was making progress with him.
Now she was being forced into taking a break.
What the hell was a break? She hadn’t had one since starting university. She’d graduated with her bachelor’s in three years instead of four by doubling up on courses and then had applied directly to med school. She’d in­terned at Alaska General and secured a position there shortly after graduation. She couldn’t remember the last day she had off, let alone…she glanced at the let­ter. Two weeks?
What the hell would she do with all that free time?

Excerpted from An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow, Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Snow. Published by HQN Books.


Cowboy Christmas Redemption
by Maisey Yates
Title: Cowboy Christmas Redemption
Series: Gold Valley
Author: Maisey Yates
Publisher: Harlequin Books (HQN)
Release Date: 24th September 2019

BLURB from Goodreads
As snowflakes fall in Gold Valley, Oregon, will this rugged cowboy finally win the woman of his dreams?

Cowboy Caleb Dalton has loved single mom Ellie Bell, and her little daughter, Amelia, for years. But since Ellie is his best friend’s widow, Caleb’s head knows Ellie will always be strictly off-limits. If only his heart got the memo. So when Caleb discovers that Ellie has a Christmas wish list—and hopes for a kiss under the mistletoe—he’s throwing his cowboy hat into the ring. If anyone’s going to be kissing Ellie and sharing this magical time with her and her daughter, it’s him.

Ellie has dreaded the holidays since losing her husband. But this year, she’s finally ready to make some changes. She never expects the biggest change to be the heart-stopping kiss she shares with Caleb. For almost five years, Caleb has been her best friend, her rock, her salvation. This Christmas, can Caleb prove he’s also the missing puzzle piece of Ellie’s and Amelia’s hearts?


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit. 

AUTHOR LINKS
Twitter: @maiseyyates
Instagram: @maiseyyates


EXCERPT
Caleb Dalton hadn’t had much to smile about for a long time. It had been a bear of a few years, since his best friend’s death, and while time might ease a wound, it wouldn’t ever bring Clint back.
But that permanence made space for movement, around the grief, around the pain. And finally toward a future he’d been planning for a long time.
Clint had been, honest to God, one of the best men on earth. The hole he’d left behind had been huge, and Caleb had dedicated himself to caring for his friend’s widow and child in his absence.
That had been his life, his whole life, for nearly five years. And it was fair, because it had been Ellie’s life, too.
He cared for Ellie. A hell of a lot. He’d met her be­cause of Clint, but she’d been in his life now for more than ten years.
His feelings for Ellie were complicated. Had been from the beginning. But she’d been with Clint. And there was no doubt Clint was the better man. More than that, Clint was his brother. Maybe not in blood, but in every way that counted.
Caleb had never claimed to be a perfect friend. Clint was one of those people who’d drawn everyone right to him. He was easy to like. Caleb’s own parents had been bowled over by Clint from the time they were kids.
And Caleb’s jealousy had gotten the better of him once when they’d been younger. Something that made him burn with shame even now.
He hadn’t let it happen when they’d been adults. No matter how tempting it had been. No matter how much he’d…
A muscle in his jaw ticked.
He gave thanks that there was a space in front of the Gold Valley Saloon, and he whipped his truck there up against the curb, ignoring the honk that came from behind him.
He turned around and saw Trevor Sanderson in his Chevy, giving Caleb the death glare.
“Hold your damn horses, Trevor,” he muttered as he put his truck in Park.
He should have been quicker.
Hell, that was life in a nutshell. Sometimes, you were just too late. For parking spots, and for women.
He’d tried to get that image out of his head. More times than he could count over the past decade. Had tried to erase that first time he’d seen Ellie.
It was at his parents’ barbecue. Late one summer afternoon.
He’d been talking and laughing with his brothers, and he’d lifted a beer to his lips and looked out away from the party. Then he’d frozen.
It was like the world had slowed down, all of it cen­tering on the beautiful blonde walking toward him. The golden light from the sun illuminated her hair like a halo, and her smile seemed to light him up from the inside out.
As she’d gotten closer, he’d taken in every last de­tail. The way the left side of her cheek dimpled with that grin; her eyes, a mix of green and blue and a punch in the gut. Her lips were glossy pink, and he wondered if it was that stuff that women wore that smelled and tasted like cherries. He couldn’t decide if he hoped that it was or not.
Twenty years old, more experienced with women than he probably should be, and ready right then and there to drop down to his knees and propose marriage to the one walking in his direction.
It took him a full minute to realize that the beautiful blonde was holding hands with someone.
And that that someone was Caleb’s best friend on earth.
It was a surreal moment. It had been a sea change in his soul. When his feelings for Ellie had tipped over from nothing to everything.
A revelation he hadn’t been looking for, and one he sure as hell hadn’t enjoyed.
It was like the whole world had turned, then bucked, like a particularly nasty-ass bull, and left him sprawled out on the ground.
It had been the beginning of a thorny, painful set of years. As he’d gotten to know Ellie, as his feelings for her had become knit deep into his heart, into his soul. She’d become more than his friend’s woman, and more than a woman he’d desired. She’d become a friend to him.
In many ways he was thankful for the depth of the feeling, because it was the reason he’d been able to put aside the lust. The idea that he’d fallen in love with her at first sight.
When Clint had first started dating her, she’d been in school, so she hadn’t been around all the time. But during the summers, and on breaks, she came around with Clint.
Went to the lake with them. Went fishing. Came to Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The summers at the lake, though, that had been a particular kind of torture. All of them swimming out in the water, her and her swimsuit. A tiny bikini that had left little to the imagination.
And he had been so very interested in imagining all the things that it did conceal.
And he’d felt like the biggest, most perverse asshole.
Then there had been the time that Clint had asked him to take her out riding.
Just the two of them.
Because Clint trusted him. Of course he did. Why wouldn’t he trust his best friend? So he’d done it.
Had taken her out on the trails that wound behind the Dalton family property, up to the top of a moun­tain. And he looked over at the view with her, watched the sunset. And everything in him had wanted to lean over and kiss her on the mouth. To act on the feelings that were rioting through his chest.
For just a breath she’d looked back at him, met his eyes. And he’d thought maybe she’d wanted it, too.
Yeah, it would have exploded his relationship with Clint, but for a minute it seemed like it might be worth it.
Then she’d looked away. And then he’d come back to himself.
Clint was his brother. In every way but blood.
And he couldn’t betray his friend like that.
Anyway, Ellie loved Clint.
She didn’t love Caleb.
And no matter how much he might not want to, he had to respect that.
So he hadn’t kissed her. They had ridden back down that mountain, and nothing happened between them. But late at night, Caleb had taken himself in hand and fantasized that it had.
Two days later Clint and Ellie had been engaged.
Caleb had agreed to be the best man.
She’d married Clint. And while his feelings for her had remained, they’d shifted. As they’d had to.
He wasn’t perfect. He’d never touched Ellie. Not like a man touched a woman, though that hadn’t stopped him from going over the accidental brush of fingertips, of their elbows touching, over and over in his mind if it had happened on accident.
It hadn’t stopped him from keeping and cherish­ing secrets with her, even when he knew he shouldn’t. Hadn’t stopped him from pushing some boundaries that not even Ellie had realized he’d been pushing at.
Ellie was the one who’d realized, for the first time, that he was dyslexic. And he’d sworn her to secrecy. And in that secrecy had come secret reading lessons.
And he’d…well, he’d lost control of his own feelings again. And once he’d recognized that, he’d cut them off. Cut her off.
But then Clint had died, just a month later. And ev­erything changed again.
Since then, his relationship with Ellie was about their coming together to try and fill the gap Clint had left behind. His helping where she needed it.
Helping with the house, with her grief, with Amelia.
That was all.

Excerpted from Christmas Cowboy Redemption by Maisey Yates, Copyright © 2019 by Maisey Yates. Published by HQN Books.


Christmas From The Heart
by Sheila Roberts
Title: Christmas From The Heart
Author: Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin Books (HQN)
Release Date: 24th September 2019


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Sometimes you need to look beyond the big picture to see what really matters

Olivia Berg’s charity, Christmas from the Heart, has helped generations of families in need in Pine River, Washington, but this year might be the end of the road. Hightower Enterprises, one of their biggest donors since way back when Olivia’s grandmother ran the charity, has been taken over by Ebenezer Scrooge the Second, aka CFO Guy Hightower, and he’s declared there will be no more money coming to Christmas from the Heart.

Guy is simply being practical. Hightower Enterprises needs to tighten its belt, and when you don’t have money to spare, you don’t have money to share. You’d think even the pushy Olivia Berg could understand that.

With charitable donations dwindling, Olivia’s Christmas budget depends on Hightower’s contribution. She’s focused her whole life on helping this small town, even putting her love life on hold to support her mission.

When Guy’s Maserati breaks down at the edge of the Cascade foothills, he’s relieved to be rescued by a pretty young woman who drives him to the nearby town of Pine River. Until he realizes his rescuer is none other than Olivia Berg. What’s a Scrooge to do? Plug his nose and eat fruitcake and hope she doesn’t learn his true identity before he can get out of town. What could go wrong?


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PURCHASE LINKS


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have been published in several languages. Her book, Angel Lane, was an Amazon Top Ten Romance pick for 2009. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her novel, The Nine Lives of Christmas, was made into a movie for Hallmark . 
You can visit Sheila on Twitter and Facebook or at her website (http://www.sheilasplace.com).

AUTHOR LINKS
Facebook: @funwithsheila
Instagram: @funwithsheila

EXCERPT
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy

Dear Ms. Thompson,
Happy Valentine’s Day to you! I’m following up our January newsletter with a special greeting as this is, of course, the month for love. Love for our sweethearts, our family and friends, and for those in need. As you could see from the newsletter, we put the money our loyal supporters donated to us to good use. So many families benefited from your generous donation to Christmas from the Heart last year and I just wanted to remind you that, even though the holidays seem far away they will be here before we know it. I hope we can count on Hightower Enterprises again this year. We have such a history together. Let’s keep up the good work!
Warmly,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference


From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Subject: Holiday Joy

Dear Ms. Berg,
Thanks for reaching out. Our fiscal year is just ending and I haven’t yet received word as to how our charitable donations will be dispersed this year. I will keep you apprised.
Best, Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises


From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Thank you so much. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-1-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Happy May Day!
Dear Ms. Thompson, just wanted to wish you a happy May Day. The flowers here in Pine River are now in full bloom, and our organization has been busy helping people make their dreams bloom, as well. As you know, while our focus is primarily the holidays, Christmas from the Heart tries to help people all year round when needs arise. Of course, Christmas is our big thrust, and as there is no other organization working in this area, we are much needed. As are your kind contributions. I still haven’t heard and I do hope we can count on you.
Warmly,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
Reaching out again in case my last email went astray. I’m wondering if you have any news for me regarding Hightower’s involvement with our cause for this coming year.
Thanks!
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
Ms. Berg, sorry I haven’t been able to get back to you sooner. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. It appears that the company is going to be scaling back on their charitable giving this year and funds have already been budgeted for other causes. I’m aware of the fact that in the past we’ve donated to your organization and I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you. I do wish you all the best in your search for other funding.
Best,
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
There must be some sort of misunderstanding! Hightower has always donated to Christmas from the Heart. The company’s founder, Elias Hightower, was my great-grandmother’s first contributor, and he promised her that Hightower would always be there for this organization. This is a company tradition! Please speak to your director.
Hopefully,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
I’m sorry. The decision is out of my hands.
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
Then please tell me who I need to talk to. Who’s your CFO?
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
Our CFO is Guy Hightower, and his email is ghightower@hightowerenterprises.com
Good luck!
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Guy Hightower, CFO, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Please reconsider

Dear Mr. Hightower, I understand from your corporate social resources director that Hightower isn’t planning on making any donation to Christmas from the Heart this year. There must be some mistake! Surely you’re aware of the long-standing relationship between your company and our organization. I’m sure I can count on you for some small amount.
Best, Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

Guy Hightower frowned when he saw the email from Olivia Berg in his in-box. Marla Thompson had been forwarding her emails to him, keeping him abreast of Olivia Berg’s varied begging tactics, and had finally even come into his office, trying to dump the load of guilt the woman had laid on her from her shoulders to his.
“Don’t open it,” he told himself. He opened it anyway. Then he read it and swore.
Actually, he’d been swearing ever since meeting with his brothers to discuss the budget back in December. If either of them had listened to him three years ago, they wouldn’t be having to pull the company belt so tight now. This was the problem with being the youngest. It didn’t matter how many degrees you had, how smart you were or what your job title was. Big brothers never listened.
Hard to listen when you were going through your third divorce.
That was Mike’s excuse. What was Bryan’s? Oh yeah. He was a wuss. He always agreed with Mike, no matter what. And Mike hadn’t wanted to change directions. Never mind that the company was struggling, keep on doing the same thing. The definition of insanity.
Sorry, Little Miss Christmas. Times were tough all over. Hightower had kept its commitment to the more visible causes and turned the little fish loose. And that was how it worked in the corporate world.
He typed his reply.

Dear Ms. Berg, I regret that Hightower can’t help you this year. We’ve had to reassess our commitments to various causes. I’m sure you’ll understand.
        
               Then he signed off with the time-honored adios: Respectfully, Guy Hightower.
               And if she didn’t understand, well, not his problem. He had his hands full trying to keep the family company afloat. Maybe now Mike would be ready to take his advice and diversify.

               Olivia Berg—Livi to her family and friends—read the email from Guy Hightower a second time. Yes, the message was the same. Really? Really? Who was this man, Ebenezer Scrooge the Second?
She plowed her fingers through her hair, the birthstone ring Morris had given her for her birthday catching in the curls. She was so angry she barely noticed.
With a snarl, she began to type.

You should be ashamed. Your great-grandfather is probably turning in his grave right now. What’s the matter with you, anyway, you selfish bastard?
              
               She pulled her fingers off the keyboard with a gasp. What was she thinking? Was this any way to get someone to contribute to her cause? And what kind of language was this? Her great-grandmother would be turning in her grave right now, along with Elias. Adelaide Brimwell had been a lady through and through. So had Livi’s grandmother, Olivia, as well as Livi’s mom.

               The thought of her mother made her tear up. How she wished Mom was still around to advise her. They’d always planned that Livi would take over running the organization one day, but neither had dreamed that day would come so soon. Her mother’s heart attack had struck like lightning. Livi’s brother had left town, moving to Seattle, which was just far enough south to keep the memories at bay. Livi had stayed put, holding on to every single one, weaving them together into a lifeline to cling to as she kept Christmas from the Heart afloat.
               Oh, Mom. What should I do?
Try again came the answer.
Yes, her mother never gave up. She’d chased one potential donor for two years before he finally came through. Livi still remembered the day her mom left the house, clad in a Mrs. Santa costume she’d created—requisite white wig along with a frilly white blouse and a red skirt topped with a red-striped apron. She’d taken with her a batch of home-baked cookies nestled in a red basket and returned home with a check for five hundred dollars. The man had been a loyal contributor ever since. Livi still took him cookies every year.
“Persistence pays,” she told herself as she deleted what she’d typed.
She started over.

I’m asking you to reconsider. Your company is our major donor, and without you so many people will have little joy this Christmas. Any amount you can give will be greatly appreciated.
              
               There. He’d have to be a heartless monster not to respond to that.
               Guy trashed the guilt-inflicting email. What was he, Santa Claus? He had his hands full keeping his company solvent.
               But then, people like Olivia Berg never considered the fact that a company might have needs of its own. What made them feel so entitled to sit at the edge of the salt mine while a man slaved away and then greet him with their hands out when he emerged broken and bruised? Maybe some of those people always begging for money should get out there and actually earn a living. Let them work their tails off, putting in seventy-hour weeks. Sheesh.
               Anyway, the company had already met their good deed quota for the year. The only cause Guy was interested in now was Hightower Enterprises.

               By the end of the workday, Guy Hightower still hadn’t responded to Livi’s last email. “You are a heartless monster,” she grumbled, glaring at her empty email in-box.
               “No word yet?” her part-time assistant, Bettina Thomas, asked as she shut down her computer.
Livi sighed and shook her head.
“That is so wrong,” Bettina said in disgust.
It sure was. “They’ve been our major donor ever since my great-grandmother founded Christmas from the Heart. Without their contribution how will we put on the Christmas dinner at the community center? How many families won’t have presents under the tree or Christmas stockings or a Christmas turkey?” There was no Salvation Army in Pine River, no Toys for Tots— none of the usual organizations serviced this area. There had been no need. Christmas from the Heart had it under control.
Until now.
“We’ve had to reassess our commitments,” Livi quoted. The words left a bad taste in her mouth and she frowned. “It sounds like something your boyfriend says when he’s dumping you.”
“They are dumping us,” Bettina pointed out. “But don’t worry. We have time. We’ll find someone else to come through.”
“Not like Hightower. There must be something I can do,” Livi mused.
“There is. Go home and eat chocolate.”
And try not to think bad thoughts about Guy Hightower.
In all fairness, he probably didn’t grasp the situation. She’d call him the next day and invite him to come to Pine River for a visit so she could let him see the need, show him a little of what Christmas from the Heart did for the community. She could take him to lunch, introduce him to some of the people in town, put a face—or better yet, several—to Christmas from the Heart. She’d top it all off by following in her mother’s footsteps and baking him cookies. Then how could he help but catch the vision his great-grandfather and her great-grandmother had shared?
Yes, that would do it. Sometimes you had to be a little patient, give people a second chance.

Excerpted from Christmas From the Heart by Sheila Roberts. Copyright © 2019 by Roberts Ink LLC. Published by MIRA Books.  

Christmas In The Silver Springs
by Brenda Novak
Title: Christmas In Silver Springs
Series: Silver Springs
Author: Brenda Novak
Publisher: Harlequin Books (HQN)
Release Date: 29th October 2019


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Come home to Silver Springs for the holidays, where broken hearts learn to love again…together.

So much for forever. When Elle Devlin’s rock star husband ditches her on his way to the top, she takes her two daughters to her sister’s place in Silver Springs for the holidays, hoping family can heal her broken heart. But comfort comes in unexpected places when she crosses paths with Tobias Richardson.

The moment Tobias spots Elle, he recognizes a sadness he knows all too well. After spending thirteen years in prison paying for his regretful past, Tobias is ready to make amends, and maybe helping Elle is the way to do it. But offering her a shoulder to cry on ignites a powerful attraction and a desire neither saw coming.

Fearing her reaction, Tobias doesn’t divulge his ex-con status, let alone the shameful details. So when Elle’s ex shows up in Silver Springs and reveals the truth in a bid to win her back, Tobias is sure he’s lost her for good. But maybe this Christmas he’ll receive the forgiveness—and the love—he deserves.
 


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brenda Novak, a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, has penned over sixty novels. She is a six-time nominee for the RITA Award and has won the National Reader's Choice, the Bookseller's Best, the Bookbuyer's Best, and many other awards. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she's raised $2.5 million. 

For more about Brenda, please visit www.brendanovak.com.

AUTHOR LINKS
Twitter: @Brenda_Novak

Face Book: @BrendaNovakAuthor
Instagram: @authorbrendanovak

EXCERPT
CHAPTER ONE


Friday, December 6
Tobias Richardson couldn’t help noticing the petite blonde sit­ting at the old-fashioned counter of the diner—and not just be­cause she was pretty. He was sure he’d never seen her before. With a population of seven thousand, Silver Springs wasn’t small enough that he’d recognize everybody, especially because he’d only been living here for five months. The town seemed to have gotten a lot smaller since the weather turned, though. It didn’t snow in this part of California, but it was the rainy season and the region was experiencing colder than normal temperatures. Tourists weren’t interested in visiting when it was chill and damp, and the same went for the many residents of LA, ninety minutes to the southeast, who had vacation homes here. This month, and probably for the next two or three, he guessed Sil­ver Springs would be limited to the locals.
He blew on his hands, trying to warm them while waiting for the coffee he’d ordered when he first sat down. He’d man­aged to squeeze in a hike after work. He didn’t care that it was dark and wet by the time he was on his way back. He had a
headlight to guide him to the trailhead and was willing to put up with the rain. But he was chilled to the bone. After such an arduous hike, he was starving, too, and craving a hot shower.
Again, he glanced toward the counter. He didn’t want the woman to catch him staring, but something about her—besides her looks—drew his attention.
She didn’t seem happy…
“Here you go.” Willow Sanhurst, the barely eighteen-year-old girl who worked evenings at the Eatery, stepped between him and the woman who intrigued him, smiled broadly and put his cup on the table with a flourish. “Warming up yet?”
“Starting to.”
“I can’t believe you’ve been out hiking. It’s December!”
“Little bit of rain never hurt anybody.”
He’d traded out his muddy hiking books for a pair of clean shoes before coming into the restaurant. Other than that, he was only a little damp, so he wasn’t sure why she was making such a big deal of it.
“You must really like the outdoors.”
“I do,” he said.
“So do I.”
He got the impression he was supposed to follow that up with an invitation to go hiking with him sometime, but he didn’t.
Even though they’d already discussed his hike when he’d sat down and she’d brought him water, and the diner was full of people waiting for a chance to order, she didn’t move away as most waitresses would.
Before bringing the coffee to his lips, he looked up to see if there was something she needed.
As soon as their eyes met, she blushed a deep red, wiped her hands on her ruffled white apron and mumbled some remark about being careful not to burn himself—that the coffee was hot—before hurrying away.
Damn it. She had a crush on him. She’d clearly wanted to say something but hadn’t been able to gather the nerve, and that made him distinctly uncomfortable. After being released from prison in July he was committed to making better choices, to building a productive life. He couldn’t have some high school girl staring at him with the longing he saw shining in her eyes. If she started seriously pursuing him, he was afraid he’d end up in a bad situation just because he was so damn lonely.
With a sigh, he took a tentative sip of his coffee. This was his favorite place to eat—the comfort food and Norman Rockwell vibe reminded him of the wholesome existence he’d always se­cretly admired. But he’d have to quit coming here. He wouldn’t allow himself to be tempted. His brother, Maddox, said over and over that his first year out of prison would be the hardest, and although Tobias acted as though he was doing fine, that he had his life under control, his journey was not as sure-footed as he let on. Sometimes, especially late at night, he felt as though he’d been cast adrift on a vast ocean and might never find safe harbor. And that sense of being so small and insignificant made him crave the substances that had gotten him into trouble in the first place.
Willow kept looking over at him, obviously hoping to catch his eye. While he poured a dash of cream into his coffee, he considered canceling his meal. He could eat somewhere else—grab something to go and head home to shower. But just as he was about to slide out of the booth, his phone dinged with a text from Maddox, asking if he’d like to come over for dinner.
Already ate. Enjoy your night. See you at work tomorrow, he wrote back.
He knew his brother worried about him, was trying to help him adjust to life outside prison and didn’t want him to back­slide and become like their mother. But Maddox had recently married the girl he’d loved since high school. He deserved to be alone with Jada, his new wife, who was now pregnant, and Maya, their daughter. The last thing Tobias wanted to do was get in the way of their relationship—again. It was because of him they hadn’t gotten together the first time around, and that had cost Maddox the first twelve years of Maya’s life.
As he slid his phone in his coat pocket, he saw that it was too late to cancel his food. Willow was once again coming toward him, this time carrying a plate.
“You texting your girlfriend?” she asked, flirting with him as she put down his meat loaf and mashed potatoes.
He allowed himself another glance at the blonde sitting at the counter. Her meal had come, too, and yet she held her fork, turning it over and over in one hand, staring at her food with­out taking a bite.
“Did you hear me?” Willow asked.
Putting his napkin in his lap, he picked up his fork. “I’m sorry. What’d you say?”
She looked over her shoulder in the direction he’d been look­ing and lowered her voice. “I see you’ve noticed Harper.”
“Harper?” he repeated.
“Yeah, Harper Devlin—Axel Devlin’s wife. She’s been in here before.”
“Who’s Axel Devlin?”
“Are you kidding me? He’s the lead singer of Pulse. They’re, like…the biggest band on the planet!”
He’d heard of Pulse, was familiar with their music and liked it. He’d also heard the name of the band’s lead singer many times. He’d just never dreamed Willow could be referring to that Axel Devlin—although there was no good reason why she couldn’t be. A lot of celebrities came to artsy, spiritually focused Silver Springs. Quite a few, especially movie people, retired here. And he often interacted with Hudson King, a professional football player, at New Horizons Boys Ranch, where he worked doing grounds and building maintenance. Hudson did a lot to help the troubled teens who attended the boarding school—both the boys’ side and the recently built girls’ school on the same prop­erty. He’d donated the money to buy an ice-skating rink both sides could use. “Do they live in the area?”
“No. She and her two kids are staying with her sister for the holidays. I overheard her talking to the owner.”
“She looks a little…” When he let his words trail off, Wil­low jumped in to finish the sentence.
“Depressed?”
“I was going to say ‘lost.’”
“Probably is. I watched an interview with Axel a few months ago. He said they were splitting up. Maybe that’s why.”
It was none of his business, but Tobias couldn’t help asking, “Did he give a reason?”
She seemed to like that they’d found something to talk about that wasn’t so strained and awkward for her. “Blamed it on the travel. He has to be gone too much. Yada, yada. What else is he going to say? That he’s cheating with a different girl every night?” she added with a laugh.
Tobias felt bad for Harper. It couldn’t be easy to be married to a rock star. She wasn’t that old, likely hadn’t been prepared for that kind of life. If Tobias remembered correctly, Axel was from a small town in Idaho, and he and his band had become fa­mous almost overnight. Now he was sitting on top of the world.
But where did that leave her?
“You said they have kids?” he asked.
“Yeah. Two little girls. I don’t remember their ages—maybe eight and six? Something like that.”
So Harper had married Axel before he’d become a big suc­cess, and they’d started a family. That indicated she’d married for love. “Where are the kids?”
“With her sister, I guess.” Willow lowered her voice. “It would suck to be her, right? I mean, she has to see his name and his face everywhere, can’t escape the constant reminder.”
Now that he wasn’t paying as much attention to Willow’s hopeful smiles and nervousness when she was around him, Tobias could see others in the restaurant nudging their compan­ions and pointing to Harper. Apparently a lot of people knew who she was—or word was spreading fast.
Poor thing. He understood what it was like to be the talk of the town. He’d been only seventeen when he’d been pros­ecuted as an adult and jailed for thirteen years. Returning to Silver Springs after his release this past summer had been like being put under a microscope. Suffering privately was one thing. Suffering publicly was something else entirely. That took what she was going through to a whole new level.
“Shouldn’t be too hard for her to find someone else.” He said it as though he wasn’t particularly invested, but Harper had caught his eye, hadn’t she?
“Are you kidding me?” Willow responded again. “How will anyone else ever compare?”
She had a point. It would be tough for a regular guy to match Axel, financially and otherwise. “True.”
You’re not interested in her, are you?” Willow looked slightly crestfallen.
Apparently he hadn’t been as careful to hide his feelings as he’d thought. But he was an ex-con, making a modest wage working for a correctional school. He’d never known his father, and his mother was a meth addict, constantly in and out of rehab. He knew when he was out of his league. “No.”
“Good.” A relieved smile curved her lips. “Because I’ve been watching you for a while and…well… I hope there’s someone else in this restaurant you might be interested in.” She finished in a rush, couldn’t quite look at him and then hurried away—only to return with a slip of paper that had her number on it when she brought the check.
Harper shoved her garlic mashed potatoes from one side of her plate to the other as she listened to the hum of voices in the diner. Although surrounded by people, she’d never felt so alone.

“I’ve got a number five,” the cook barked out for the wait­resses.
Harper checked the menu, which she’d left open at her elbow so she’d have something to look at. It was difficult to go out in public right now. After the documentary she did with Axel last year, trying to remove the stigma of depression and using a therapist when necessary, people often recognized her, so she had little privacy.
A number five was a chicken breast with lemon-dill sauce, steamed vegetables and a gluten-free corn muffin. She’d or­dered a number seven—peppercorn steak, garlic mashed pota­toes and green beans, which had sounded good at first, but the only thing she’d been able to make herself eat was part of the dinner roll. She doubted it was gluten-free. Axel had made a big deal about staying away from gluten, but he was allergic to it, not her. And although she thought it was probably wise to avoid it, she didn’t care about her diet right now. She didn’t care about much of anything since her marriage had unraveled. It’d been all she could do just to hold herself together for the sake of her kids, and now Christmas would be here in only three weeks. It would be her and the girls’ first Christmas without Axel. He was touring Europe and wouldn’t be back until after the first of the year, since his last big concert was scheduled for New Year’s Eve.
Now that everything had changed between them, they wouldn’t have spent the holidays as they had in the past, anyway.
He might’ve asked to take the girls, however.
She could only imagine how lonely she would have felt with them gone, and yet…she sort of wished he had taken them. She didn’t feel capable of holding up her end, of putting on a brave face and telling their children that everything was going to be okay when it felt as though the ground had given way beneath her feet. She had no interest in decorating, putting up a tree or buying presents, which was why her sister had insisted she come
for an extended visit, even if it meant having the girls trans­fer schools for a couple of months. Piper and Everly were at a church Christmas party tonight with their cousins—twin girls who were older than Everly by four years. But Harper needed to be ready to face them with a smile when they came home.
Her phone vibrated in her pocket, but she didn’t bother to get it out. No doubt it was her sister. They’d had an argument before Harper stormed out of the house. Karoline had grown angry when Harper told her how little she was getting for child sup­port. According to her sister, she was letting Axel off far too easy.
He was making a fortune, but Harper didn’t want to fight. She was still in love with him. As soon as he’d made it clear that he didn’t want to be married to her anymore, that he was no lon­ger willing to try to work through their differences, she’d set­tled for the first figure his lawyer had thrown out. Otherwise, she was afraid the media would start to claim they were going through a “bitter” divorce. As she’d told Karoline, she’d make it on her own somehow, even though she hadn’t worked in an of­ficial capacity since the first three years of her marriage, when Axel was trying so hard to get a start in show business and he’d needed her to cover their basic living expenses.
Maybe she was a fool to be so accommodating. But she couldn’t imagine Axel would consider keeping the family to­gether if she turned into a bitch. Besides, she didn’t even know who he was anymore, he’d changed so much. She couldn’t de­cide what she had a right to demand. Had she let Axel down? Or had he let her down? He’d always suffered from anxiety and depression. Maybe she hadn’t done enough to help him—
“Is everything okay?”
She forced herself to look up. The waitress working the coun­ter had paused in front of her, obviously wondering if there was something wrong with the food.
“Fine,” Harper mumbled. She hadn’t really come to eat. She just needed some time alone, couldn’t face going back to her
sister’s quite yet. As nice as it was of Karoline to provide a ref­uge during this difficult month, being with her only sibling wasn’t much easier than being alone, because now she had to constantly explain and justify her actions. And with her emo­tions zinging all over the place, she wasn’t being consistent, couldn’t be consistent. Most of the time, she wasn’t even making a whole lot of sense.
Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” came on the sound system as the waitress moved on to her other customers.
Harper took a sip of her coffee and braved a quick glance around. Although she liked this restaurant, she didn’t feel she belonged in Silver Springs. Why wasn’t she in Denver, where she and Axel had lived after their college days at Boise State?
Because as much as she and Axel had once believed that they’d be the exception to the rule, that nothing could come between them, they’d been wrong. Slowly but surely, Axel had lost all perspective and started caring more about his work than he did his family. Fame had destroyed their relationship like so many celebrities before them.
With a sigh, she took the bill the waitress had put near her plate and paid at the register. She owed her sister more respect than to make her worry. She had to go back and face Karoline whether she wanted to or not.
Harper hadn’t put on makeup for weeks, hadn’t done any­thing with her hair, either, other than to pile it in a messy bun on her head, so it didn’t bother her that it was raining. She was cold, though; couldn’t seem to get warm. Tightening her over­size coat—a castoff of Axel’s from the good old days when they were first married—she pushed out of the warm café into the bad weather.
Putting her head down, she stared at her feet, bracing against the gusts of wind that whipped at her hair and clothes while stepping over two or three puddles to reach the Range Rover
Axel had let her keep when they split. If she got desperate, she supposed she could sell it. It had cost a pretty penny.
She was opening the driver’s door when she noticed a tall, lanky man with longish dark hair crossing the lot toward her.
“Don’t be frightened,” he said, lifting one hand in a gesture intended to show he wasn’t being aggressive. “I just… I saw you inside and…”
Prepared to rebuff him, she set her jaw. She was not in the mood to be hit on. But when she met his eyes, something about his expression told her that wasn’t what this was about. Taking a long-stemmed white rose from inside his coat, he stepped for­ward to give it to her.
“Hang in there. It’ll get easier,” he said. Then he walked off before she could even ask for his name.