Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Tour: Sweet, Texas Series by Candis Terry




Enter to Win
Signed Copy of SOMETHING SWEETER, 
Halloween Socks and Halloween Candy!

HE’S STUBBORN AND THOROUGHLY MALE...

If Charlotte Brooks thinks she and her TV makeover show can turn Reno Wilder’s hometown upside down, he’ll be happy to prove her wrong. The x-Marine has seen too much turmoil and he likes Sweet, Texas, just the way it is. Traditional. Familiar. A little dull. Everything Charli isn’t. But instead of backing off from his scowls like everyone else, Charli digs in her skyscraper heels.

SHE’S TENACIOUS AND WICKEDLY TEMPTING...

Reno Wilder is a one-man unwelcoming committee, but Charli isn’t budging. It’s clear the gorgeous cowboy needs an overhaul just as much as Sweet. Someone needs to break him out of that gruff shell and show him how fun and rewarding a little change can be.

THEY’RE ABOUT TO FIND THAT LOVE IS ANYTHING BUT PREDICTABLE.


Check out my review of ANYTHING BUT SWEET!

Amazon | B&N iTunes
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WHEN FRIENDS BECOME LOVERS . . .

Firefighter and former Marine Jackson Wilder has tough guy down to an art, but he’s learned the hard way that promises were made to be broken. Abigail Morgan was once his best friend, his first kiss, his first love, his first everything. He’d just forgotten to mention all that to her and she blew out of his life. Five years later, she’s back and he’s battling a load of mistrust for her disappearing act. But for some reason he just can’t keep his lips—or his hands—to himself.

IT CAN LEAD TO DISASTER OR . . .

When her stint as a trophy wife abruptly ends, Abby returns home to Sweet, Texas, and comes face-to-face with Jackson—her biggest and sexiest mistake. Time and distance did nothing to squash her love for the act-first-think-later stubborn hunk of a man, and when he suggests they renew their old just-friends vow, Abby realizes she wants more. She’d cut and run once. Could she do it again? Or could she tempt him enough to break his promise?


Check out my review of SWEETEST MISTAKE!
Read an excerpt here.

 Amazon | B&N  | iTunes
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The men in Texas are hard to resist...

Seattle event planner Allison Lane is an expert at delivering the perfect wedding—even if she might not exactly believe in the whole “’til death do us part” thing. When her father decides to tie the knot with a woman he barely knows, Allison heads to Sweet, Texas, to make sure his new honey is the real deal. What she didn’t expect to find at the local honky-tonk was a sexy Southern man as bent on charming her pants off as he is on blowing her “true love doesn’t exist” theory all to hell.

And they always promise...

Veterinarian, former Marine, and Sweet’s favorite playboy Jesse Wilder takes one look at Allison and knows she’s a handful of trouble he can’t deny. But even after a sizzling kiss and obvious mutual attraction, it seems Allison has no such problem. When Jesse uncovers her sweet side, can he crush his playboy image, melt her cynical heart, and change her mind about taking a trip down the aisle?


Check out my review of SOMETHING SWEETER!
Amazon | B&N | iTunes
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Candis Terry was born and raised near the sunny beaches of Southern California and now makes her home on an Idaho farm. She’s experienced life in such diverse ways as working in a Hollywood recording studio to chasing down wayward steers. Only one thing has remained the same: her passion for writing stories about relationships, the push and pull in the search for love, and the security one finds in their own happily ever after.





Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: Caught in the Act by Sara Jane Stone


 Title: Caught in the Act
Author: Sara Jane Stone
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Where to Buy: Amazon Barnes & Noble  |  Google Play  |  iTunes
Rating: 4 stars




From the book:

Falling for his rivals' little sister could cost him everything … 

For Liam Trulane, failure is not an option. He is determined to win a place in Katie Summers' life before she leaves Independence Falls for good. But first, he needs to make amends for the last time they got down and dirty. 

Only problem? 

His professional success hinges on striking a deal to buy Katie's family business. And after Liam's relationship with their Katie went south years ago, the Summers brothers are more enemy than friend. If both parties agree to set the past aside, they can reach an understanding. But when Katie welcomes him back into her bed, Liam risks everything to make her his. 

After Liam betrayed her trust, Katie Summers will do anything to keep him from walking away with the family business. She decides to seduce him, knowing that when her brothers find out, they will back off from the deal. And she'll finally have her revenge. But when her plan spirals out of control, Katie learns that payback may come at too high a price …

My review:

The second book of the Independence Falls series (which can be read as a stand-alone novel) was a fun story about a scorned woman who really wanted revenge, but she simply couldn't make it happen no matter how hard she tried. The problem? Her own sweet nature and a true love's calling...

Liam and Katie have a bad past. After seemingly getting what he wanted from her, Liam left her in the dust and broken her heart. Now, seven or so years later, Katie's convinced herself she's moved on, yet Liam knows she's the one for him.

Watching Katie and Liam struggle - Katie with attempting her revenge plots that always seem to backfire in the best possible way and Liam with trying to convince Katie that he's changed for the better - was definitely the escape I needed this week! Katie's a spitfire and Liam is cool, calm and collected. The two of them burned up my Kindle with chemistry and sizzle, and I loved meeting everyone in Independence Falls. I can't wait to go back and read FULL EXPOSURE, the first in the series, and I'll definitely be picking up the next one!

Four stars.

(Disclaimer: I was provided a digital Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) from the publisher for an honest and unbiased review.)



About the Author


After several years on the other side of the publishing industry, Sara Jane Stone bid goodbye to her sales career to pursue her dream-writing romance novels. Sara Jane currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her very supportive real-life hero, two lively young children and a lazy Burmese cat. Join Sara Jane’s newsletter to receive new release information, news about contests, giveaways, and more! To subscribe, visit www.sarajanestone.com and look for her newsletter entry form.




Contact Sara:

Website |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads


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Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: WHAT A WALLFLOWER WANTS by Maya Rodale

 
Title: What a Wallflower Wants
Author: Maya Rodale
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Where to Buy: Amazon Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  |  iTunes
Rating: 5 stars




From the book:

In the third novel in Maya Rodale’s charming Wallflower series, London’s Least Likely to Be Caught in a Compromising Position finds temptation in a devilishly handsome stranger...

Miss Prudence Merryweather Payton has a secret.

Everyone knows that she’s the only graduate from her finishing school to remain unwed on her fourth season-but no one knows why. With her romantic illusions shattered after being compromised against her will, Prudence accepts a proposal even though her betrothed is not exactly a knight in shining armor. When he cowardly pushes her out of their stagecoach to divert a highwayman, she vows never to trust another man again.

John Roark, Viscount Castleton, is nobody’s hero. 

He’s a blue-eyed charmer with a mysterious past and ambitious plans for his future-that do not include a wife. When he finds himself stranded at a country inn with a captivating young woman, a delicate dance of seduction ensues. He knows he should keep his distance. And he definitely shouldn’t start falling in love with her.

When Prudence’s dark past comes back to haunt her, John must protect her-even though he risks revealing his own secrets that could destroy his future.


My review:

The third and final book in the Wallflower series has a darker bent to it than the previous novels. Rodale has masterfully brought to light the silent side of rape within the confines of a strict society, and in doing so, has created one of the strongest female historical romance characters I've had the pleasure of reading. 

Pru's discovery of herself throughout her journey is methodical instead of slow; her natural progression from "wallflower" to strong, fight-back-no-longer-a-victim heroine is nothing short of heartwarming and hope-inducing.

John is quite possibly the most perfect imperfect hero to ever grace the pages of a Regency. He's fighting the good fight for his family, himself - and, once he discovers her secret - Pru. He is all that is good in the world.

Born outside the ton, yet needing to break into their circle to save his family, John holds a secret of his own that, once revealed, pushes Pru further from the boundaries of the ton (and everything she has been raised to believe). 

This story is a must-read for historical romance lovers. It shows a darker side of the ton we all love to love (or hate, depending on the story!), the deep connections of female friendship, and redemption of a woman's once-bent (but never fully broken) spirit.

Five stars.

(Disclaimer: I was provided a digital Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) from the publisher for an honest and unbiased review.)



About the Author


Maya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Maya is now the author of multiple Regency historical romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.



Contact Maya:

Website |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads


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Friday, September 26, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: When the Rancher Came to Town by Emma Cane


Title: When the Rancher Came to Town
Author: Emma Cane
Publisher: Avon Impulse (HarperCollins)
Release Date: September 23, 2014
Where to Buy: Amazon Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  |  iTunes
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars





From the book:


Emma Cane returns to the amazing and romantic town for the latest installment in her sparkling series. When and ex-Rodeo star falls in love with the agoraphobic B&B owner, he must pull out all the stops to get her out of her shell. 

Welcome to Valentine Valley!

The Silver Creek Rodeo is in full swing and everyone’s talking about the rancher who came to town…

Bed & Breakfast owner Amanda Cramer wants nothing more than a quiet, private life. Well, she wants guests too, but after her share of unwanted notoriety she’s gotten comfortable hiding out in her inn…perhaps a little too comfortable. When her newest guest arrives, tall, dark and breathtaking…Amanda begins to question her self-imposed exile.

Ex-rodeo star Mason Lopez knows all about the limelight. He’d avoid it if he could, but since one last ride could mean saving his family’s ranch, he’ll go all in. When he gets to Valentine Valley for the Silver Creek Rodeo, Mason checks into Connections B&B and finds himself immediately drawn to the beautiful, reserved woman who owns it.

Mason only has three days in town…can he convince Amanda to open her heart to him and welcome the world back in?



My review:

Emma Cane adds another story to her Valentine Valley series with this novella. Mason, a rodeo star, and Amanda, a former-lawyer-turned-B&B-owner, are an unlikely couple who finds solace in each other's arms. Amanda is trying to heal herself from her agoraphobia (anxiety disorder) and Mason is trying to be in the limelight one final time to save his family's ranching business. 

As this is a novella, there wasn't much room for character development. Cane paints a beautiful picture of Valentine Valley, and the welcoming feel of the town that's woven throughout the series is very much present here. It's hard for me to believe two people can fall in love in only three days, but I was willing to suspend my belief because I did enjoy other books in the series.

This read was an easy one - a single sitting and it was through (I call these a lunchtime read - I can finish it in a lunch hour). While I do wish she'd spent a little less time on Amanda's background and a little more time on the romance, there's only so many pages available. That's just the way novellas tend to go; just as you're getting into it, it ends! The writing was, as it usually is with Cane, descriptive and emotive. I felt the B&B (named Connections), loved the history she poured into it, and could see the gardens in my mind. Cane's settings are always lovely and are almost a character of the story itself - she's a master at creating rich, dimensional places where you'd want to live.

Although I didn't love When the Rancher Came to Town as much as the other Valentine Valley novels, I wasn't disappointed with this read despite it's lack of character development and conflict. In fact, it left me wondering how they'll make it as a couple. I hope Cane revisits Amanda and Mason in a future Valentine Valley novel; a glimpse into their forever happiness would provide me with that happy sigh I'm always seeking.

Three and a half stars.


(Disclaimer: I was provided a digital Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) from the publisher for an honest and unbiased review.)

About the Author


Emma Cane grew up reading and soon discovered that she liked to write passionate stories of teenagers in space. Her love of “passionate stories” has never gone away, although today she concentrates on the heartwarming characters of Valentine, her fictional small town in the Colorado Rockies. 

Now that her three children are grown, Emma loves spending time crocheting and singing (although not necessarily at the same time), and hiking and snowshoeing alongside her husband Jim and two rambunctious dogs Apollo and Uma.

Contact Emma:

Website|  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads


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Friday, September 5, 2014

Review and Giveaway: CRAZY FOR HER by Sandra Owens



Title: Crazy for Her (Book 1 of the K2 Team Series)
Author: Sandra Owens
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: September 1, 2014
Where to Buy: Amazon Barnes & Noble
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



From the Book

When his best friend and fellow Navy SEAL, Evan Prescott, died in his arms on the battlefield, Logan Kincaid gave his word to watch over Evan’s widow. But for two years he kept his distance…torn between honoring his solemn vow and succumbing to his secret love for his fallen comrade’s wife. But when Dani Prescott desperately reaches out to Logan for the help only he can give, he rushes to her side—determined to fight for her safety as fiercely as he fights against his own buried desire.

Someone claiming to be her husband is stalking Dani and her infant daughter, making them virtually prisoners in their remote country home. Logan’s elite military training and high-risk security expertise have outmatched more dangerous enemies. But the real challenge will be the burning temptation that threatens to overcome Logan whenever Dani is near…especially when she reveals her own hidden passion.

My Review

This novel starts a new series for Owens, and she starts it off with a bang. On the battlefield, we meet Logan Kincaid and Evan Prescott - and throughout the novel, we fall in love a little with each of them. 

Logan is a tortured man who managed to pull both his sister and himself from the ashes of a very rough home life. He's made something of himself with his own special ops-ish company, but his training came from his days as a Navy SEAL, where he and his best friend Evan met. In his last breaths, Evan begs Logan to protect and care for his wife and unborn child.

Logan's been in love with Evan's wife from the first moment they both met her. However, Evan gets to her first and, as they say, bro code is immediately put into place. Logan strives to be noble and good and everything that a man should be...until Dani forces him to look to the future instead of the past. A true alpha, Logan is not a fan of being out of control...and that's just what Dani does to him every time he gets near her.

Danielle Prescott is a widow and, when we meet her, is just past her grief (two years after her husband's death). She's at a place where she can smile at the memories, and she has a young daughter (Regan) whom she's determined will know her father as someone wonderful. Owens did a stunning job at capturing this stage of a person's life; the hope of a child, the sadness but need to move on of widowhood, and the determination of a strong woman combined perfectly to create a believable, heartwarming story. Dani recognizes her loneliness and wants to move on with her life, and she knows Evan would be more than supportive. She has always had something of a crush on Logan, but as the story progressed, I enjoyed watching Dani try to figure out if she should give Logan a chance at more than the fling she has in mind (ha! As if she had a say in the matter of her heart!).

The suspense comes in with the stalker who's been calling Dani and claiming to be Evan. It's eery and gives you the goosebumps with each phone call and event. Dani deals with it herself until a box arrives with a teddy bear inside...holy freakiness. I was fully creeped out. Logan's desire for Dani begins to cloud his judgement, and his razor-sharp battle edge is significantly dulled by it - putting Dani and Regan in more danger. Logan's struggle to keep a lid on his desire to keep them safe was well-thought out, well-paced and understandable throughout the novel, and added a layer of complexity to the overall story. 

Evan's memory is well-served in Crazy For Her, which is so important in a second-chance love story about a military widow. Regan gives the feeling of hope to Logan, which he desperately needs, and I enjoyed how she wasn't pushed to the side and only brought out when convenient.

The supporting cast of former SEALs - from a creepy swampman (oh please, I hope there's a story about him!) to a modern-day Romeo, I can't wait to see what Owens cooks up for her band of SEAL brothers.

From the first page to the last, I was riveted. I started the book at 9pm, read until I couldn't keep my eyes open, then woke from a dead sleep to get back to this story. I finished it around five in the morning, and I didn't regret the lack of sleep at all. This story was worth the sacrifice! I highly recommend this novel if you're looking for a contemporary, fast-paced novel with unexpected twists and turns. Also, if you like when authors break conventions, Owens did a marvelous job of it with Logan Kincaid - he's my book boyfriend and I had a book hangover. The only issue with this book? It ended. :)

Four stars.

About the Author



A native of Florida, Sandra once managed a Harley-Davidson dealership, before switching from a bike to an RV for roaming the open road (though she’s also chased thrills from sky-diving to upside-down stunt-plane flying). In addition to Crazy For Her—a 2013 Golden Heart Finalist for Romantic Suspense—her works include the Regency Romance novels The Letter, winner of the Golden Quill Award, and The Training of a Marquess, winner of the Golden Claddagh Award. A member of Romance Writers of America, and potential cat owner, she lives with her husband in Asheville, North Carolina.

Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

Giveaway

Three lucky readers will win a copy of CRAZY FOR HER!

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(Disclaimer: I was provided a digital Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) from the author for an honest and unbiased review.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: YOU HAD ME AT HELLO by Mhairi McFarlane

Title: You Had Me At Hello
Author: Mhairi McFarlane
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: November 8, 2012
Where to Buy: Amazon Barnes & Noble
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi Mcfarlane

From the book:


What happens when the one that got away comes back? Find out in this sparkling debut from Mhairi McFarlane:
‘Think of the great duos of history. We're just like them.’
‘You mean like Kylie and Jason? Torvill and Dean? Sonny and Cher? ’
‘I think you’ve missed the point, Rachel.’ 
Rachel and Ben. Ben and Rachel. It was them against the world. Until it all fell apart. It’s been a decade since they last spoke, but when Rachel bumps into Ben one rainy day, the years melt away. They’d been partners in crime and the best of friends. But life has moved on: Ben is married. Rachel is not. Yet in that split second, Rachel feels the old friendship return. And along with it, the broken heart she’s never been able to mend. Hilarious, heartbreaking and everything in between, you’ll be hooked from their first ‘hello’.


My review:

"Sparkling debut" is the perfect description for this wonderfully-told tale of two former best friends who, after finally getting together in college, had a massive miscommunication that resulted in ten years of estrangement. 

Rachel bumps into her former flame, Ben, and she's immediately catapulted into a web of sticky feelings: He's married - happily so, from all appearances - and she's recently unengaged from her very longtime fiance.  She tries so hard to do the right thing in ignoring her feelings, and moving on with her life...but from the moment these two meet on the page, it's clear that they're meant to be together. 

This novel is filled with quick, snappy dialogue (it's British English, so Americans take note of the British-isms; they may be hard-to-follow if you're unfamiliar with English culture or contemporary British women's fiction). When Rachel's with her friends, the words fly out of their mouths in such a way that I felt as if I was sitting in the room with them. When Rachel's with Ben (especially in the beginning), I could feel the start-and-stop of her inner dialogue.

The ending of this novel really surprised me. Ben's married, and Rachel finally sees that she needs to move on with her life, but the final twist made my heart soar and gave me the elated feeling I'd so hoped to experience. This brilliant read led me to purchase her follow-up novel, Here's Looking at You. If it's even half as humorous, poignant, and heart-warming as this one, I'll be thrilled.

Five stars.


About the Author


Mhairi McFarlane
Mhairi was born in Scotland in 1976 and has been explaining how to pronounce her name ever since. (With a ‘V’, not an ‘M’. Yes, that’s us crazy Celts for you).

She is based in Nottingham where she used to be a local journalist and now she’s a freelance writer and sometime-blogger, which we all know is code for messing about on Twitter.


She likes drinking wine, eating food and obtaining clothes; all the impressive hobbies. Her best anecdotes involve dislocating her elbow tripping over a briefcase and a very bad flight to New York. She lives with a man and a cat.

Contact Mhairi:

WebsiteFacebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads



(Disclaimer: I was provided a digital Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) from the publisher for an honest and unbiased review.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review: SOMETHING SWEETER by Candis Terry



Title: Something Sweeter
Author: Candis Terry
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Where to Buy: Amazon Barnes & Noble | iTunes
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



From the book:


The men in Texas are hard to resist . . . 

Seattle event planner Allison Lane is an expert at delivering the perfect wedding—even if she might not exactly believe in the whole "'til death do us part" thing. When her father decides to tie the knot with a woman he barely knows, Allison heads to Sweet, Texas, to make sure his new honey is the real deal. What she didn't expect to find at the local honky-tonk was a sexy Southern man as bent on charming her pants off as he is on blowing her "true love doesn't exist" theory all to hell. 

And they always promise . . .

Veterinarian, former Marine, and Sweet's favorite playboy Jesse Wilder takes one look at Allison and knows she's a handful of trouble he can't deny. But even after a sizzling kiss and obvious mutual attraction, it seems Allison has no such problem. When Jesse uncovers her sweet side, can he crush his playboy image, melt her cynical heart, and change her mind about taking a trip down the aisle?


My review:


The third installment of the Sweet, Texas series did not disappoint - it was just as sexy, heartfelt and enjoyable as the first two! Jesse Wilder has an undeserved (although uncontested) reputation for being a playboy, and his first encounter with Allison certainly encourages the image. However, he's more than selective about whom he chooses to spend his time with, and this veterinarian is shocked to find out the woman he kissed in a bar is the daughter of the man who plans to marry his mom.

Allison is scoping out the Wilder family after her dad suddenly announces he's marrying someone he's only known a short while. She's busy in Seattle with a life of her own planning weddings and watching her sister lead the perfect life. Allison's not a fan of the "true love" idea, but she does love her father and wants to ensure he's okay. 

What she gets is a dose of reality when Jesse decides it's up to him to prove her wrong. He brings her around town, introduces her to the fun-loving cast we've gotten to know over the last two books, and we even get a scene that had me laughing so hard, I was wiping tears from my eyes! (Let's just say it was a luncheon gone horribly, horribly astray.) Jesse wants to show Allison that true love exists in Sweet, Texas...and by the end of it, I was once again wishing these Wilder brothers were as real as they seemed on the page. Sweet, at times emotional, and humorous - this is one novel (and series) not to be missed. Candis is an automatic pre-order author for me - I highly recommend she become one for you, too. Witty dialogue, flawless character development, realistic plot lines, down-to-earth heroes and heroines, and a strong family bond made stronger by shared loss and love...In my book, that's a clear winner. I'm looking forward to my next visit to Sweet, Texas!

Five stars.


About the Author




Candis Terry was born and raised near the sunny beaches of Southern California and now makes her home on an Idaho farm. She’s experienced life in such diverse ways as working in a Hollywood recording studio to chasing down wayward steers. Only one thing has remained the same: her passion for writing stories about relationships, the push and pull in the search for love, and the security one finds in their own happily ever after.






(Disclaimer: I was provided a digital Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) from the publisher for an honest and unbiased review.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Excerpt: BAD GIRLS DON'T MARRY MARINES by Codi Gary

Title: Bad Girls Don't Marry Marines
Author: Codi Gary
Genre: Romance / Contemporary
Publish Date: May 20, 2014
Publisher: Avon Impulse (HarperCollins)
Where to Buy: Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  | iBooks  |  Kobo

Codi Gary, author of Things Good Girls Don't Do and Good Girls Don't Date Rock Stars, has just released her third installment of the Rock Canyon series, Bad Girls Don't Marry Marines! Once you've finished reading Chapter 1, please add her to your shelves on Goodreads! Read on for an excerpt...

Picture

From the book:


The bad girl who stole his heart … 

Valerie Willis has done it all: tattoos, one-night stands, even strip poker. And now she can add getting a messy public divorce to that list. Back in her hometown of Rock Canyon, Val just wants to bury her head and wait for the scandal to pass. But when she suddenly finds herself at a singles' weekend face-to-face with former flame Justin Silverton, hiding from her heart—and the sexy Marine—won't be that simple.

Is just too good to let go … 

It's been ten years since Justin kissed Val, but he still remembers the way they just seemed to … fit. Since then he's served his country and helped his father keep their ranch intact, but he's never forgotten Val or her wild ways. So when a twist of fate brings him the chance to chase her across state lines and spend a weekend winning her heart, Justin's all in. Because when he sees something he wants, he fights for it. And he's ready to fight for the right to call this bad girl his one and only.

Excerpt


Chapter One

Valerie Willis reached for a bottle of Merlot, located on the highest shelf of Hall’s Market, and cursed the shelves’ discrimination against short people. Just barely over five feet, she had a step stool at home for when she needed something high, but out in public, it was like the world conspired against her.

She’d walked to the end of the aisle, trying to get someone’s attention, but the only person who’d acknowledged her had been one of the checkers, and all she’d gotten from her was a look of disapproval.

It was no secret that the people of Rock Canyon thought the Willis sisters were trashy, despite the fact that their father ran a successful law firm and was a former Rock Canyon mayor and state representative. They came from a very wealthy family with connections in high places and yet none of that had saved Val’s older sister, Caroline, from being called a “man-stealer” when she’d barely hit eighteen, or her younger sister, Ellie, from picking up a wild reputation. Val had thought she’d escaped small-town life with barely a dent, but all it had taken was a very high-profile, public divorce, and she became the worst of “those Willis girls.”

Now, she half-wondered if people were standing around the corner with video cameras, watching her struggle for kicks, but decided that no one would be that petty.
Just as she was about to start climbing shelves, a voice behind her asked, “Do you need some help with that?”

Val spun around in surprise and came face-to-face with a very impressive chest under a dark gray shirt. Slowly, her eyes traveled up over the wide expanse of shoulders and a smooth, square jawline that would tempt even the sanest woman to stroke it. When her eyes passed the wide grin to meet amused golden brown eyes, her brain had a severe malfunction.

It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen Justin Silverton around town since moving back, but it was the first time they’d actually said a word to each other in ten years. Not since that night at the high school. That night was one of a handful of unforgettable memories that still made her smile, but that was all he was: a nice memory.

She had to crane her neck to look up at him. Had he always been so tall?

“Valerie? You okay?” Justin asked, that one lone dimple in his left cheek hypnotizing her.
She had been asking herself that question since she’d moved back to town a year ago, holing up like a hermit with only her dog for company. She’d been trying to avoid her father, the people in town, and any man between the ages of 25 and 45, but she had to come out sometime.

The man in front of her was definitely in the to-be-avoided category. Not only had he made her lose her head ten years ago, but it was because of him that she’d spent her last two years of high school in an all-girls school.

Okay, so it wasn’t actually Justin’s fault her dad hated his guts and had wanted her as far away from him as possible, but still, a man like that was dangerous. She’d been with men, had experienced some crazy nights since, but the one night they’d hung out always crept up on her at odd times. She’d been a young woman taking her first big rebellious leap, and he’d been on leave from the Marines, just passing time. The attraction had been instantaneous, like the flick of a lighter, and obviously there was still a spark or she wouldn’t be standing there like an idiot, speechless.

The concern on his face broke through her dumbstruck daze. “Sorry, Justin, I guess I need coffee this morning.” His gaze shifted to the Local Bean Coffee Shop cup in her cart and she amended, “More coffee.”

“Gotcha.” He stepped up next to her and the smell of his cologne was intoxicating. She caught herself before she leaned right in and buried her nose in his chest, but it was a close call.

Why was she acting like a lust-filled Pepé Le Pew?

A few reasons popped into her head, the first being that Justin was grade-A hot male and completely worthy of her drool. Another had to do with the fact that it had been almost two years since she’d slept with anyone. The last reason was that of all the guys in Rock Canyon, Idaho, Justin had been the only one ever to treat her like more than Mayor Willis’s daughter or one of “those Willis girls.”

“Is this the one you want?” Justin pulled down the bottle she’d been trying to reach and held it out to her.

Clearing her throat, she took it with a smile, hoping he couldn’t read the crazy on her face. “Thanks. I couldn’t find a bag boy, and I’m too vertically challenged for the high shelf.”

“Not a problem. You got a hot date?” he teased.

“No!” Realizing she had almost yelled the word, she wanted to smack herself, just haul off and whack her own cheek, but then he’d really think she was nuts. Dates led to relationships, which led to marriage, and from there . . . well, she’d already been down that road. “Sorry. No, it’s just for me.”

“That’s a shame.” He tapped the bottle and added, “That’s a nice bottle of wine. It should be shared with someone, especially with how cold it’s been lately.”

It was true. They were having record low temperatures this year, some days not even reaching ten degrees, and with nights below zero. If there had been someone in her life, it would have been the perfect plan, but the last thing she wanted was a man. She was enjoying her uncomplicated life, and thankfully, the more she hibernated, the more her father ignored her. Life was never good when Edward Willis came up with one of his evil public-appearance schemes.

Finally getting her bearings, she smiled. “Maybe I’ll call my sister, then. See if she wants to help me drink it.”

“That wasn’t exactly what I meant—”

“I know what you meant, but I’m not dating.” It came out sharper than she’d meant, but she wasn’t ready. Hell, she didn’t know if she’d ever be ready again.

Justin stared at her like he was trying to Vulcan mind meld with her and it brought her back to who she’d been before she’d been sent away, before she’d married Cole and spent three years of her life miserable and lonely. That girl had been wild and reckless and it was painful to wonder how things might have been different if only . . . 

If only she hadn’t been born Valerie Willis and Justin hadn’t been Fred Silverton’s son.
It was no secret how her father felt about Fred Silverton and his sons. She didn’t know the details of what had gone down between them, but apparently, Fred’s drinking had screwed up a deal Edward was trying to make with a big farming outfit. It was supposed to be a win/win situation, but when the deal fell through, Edward had called Fred a drunken waste of space and had tried to convince his daughters that Fred’s sons were no different.

If her father hadn’t discovered her missing that night ten years ago and watched by the window for her return, he might never have known who had dropped her off. Seeing her and Justin together was all it had taken for her dad to go off on a full rampage and pack her off to that convent of a school.

Val almost snorted out loud. Like that had really kept her out of trouble.

She realized how long she’d let the silence stretch between them, and felt bad when she caught Justin’s expression. It wasn’t his fault she’d made a mess of her life and he didn’t deserve her snapping at him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” Val said, placing the bottle in her cart.

He hesitated before he spoke, as if he was weighing his response. “It’s okay, I was just teasing you. I didn’t mean to overstep.”

His face had taken on a blank quality she hated. “It’s not you—”

“It’s you.” He gave her a small nod. “I get it. Hey, enjoy the wine.”

He walked down the aisle toward the checkout and Val called, “Thank you” after him, but he just kept walking like he hadn’t heard her.

Grabbing her cart, she turned it angrily and muttered to herself, “You are such an idiot.”

“I beg your pardon?” Val looked up to find she’d almost crashed into Mrs. Andrews, and by the look on the older woman’s face, she was not happy about it.

“I was talking to myself, Mrs. Andrews.”

“Oh, so you’re insane as well as immoral. It seems to run in the family. I thought for a while there that Eleanor would have learned from the mistakes of her sisters, but from her latest antics, that seems to be too much to expect. “Mrs. Andrews’s tone was cutting, and Val felt every slice. “Now, can you please move your cart?”

She knew coming back to this town had been a mistake, but she couldn’t leave Eleanor, who had gone by Ellie since she was a toddler. Val had never been lily white, especially in college, but she had never been reckless either. Her little sister was heading down a dangerous road, and no matter what Val said about it, Ellie just shrugged her off. Val had watched their older sister almost destroy herself trying to escape their father’s stranglehold, and Ellie didn’t have Caroline’s strength. Beneath all her dramatics, Ellie was just a sweet kid who had lost her way.

She knew all three of them had bad reputations, but she’d seen the way “nice” girls got bullied and taken advantage of. Aside from some weakness where her father was concerned, at least no one would ever take advantage of her. People could believe what they wanted, but she would never be a victim.

However, just because the whole town thought Val was an adulterous slut, it didn’t mean she was going to take their abuse without fighting back. Especially when that venom encompassed her sisters.

Edward Willis hadn’t raised weaklings, after all.

“Mrs. Andrews, I don’t like your tone or appreciate your insults. And to be honest,” Val lowered her voice for dramatic effect, “I find your top offensive. Your tatas are about to pop out.”

In reality, the top wasn’t immodest in the least, but Val felt the warmth of satisfaction when the woman huffed and moved around her. She hoped the cranky old bat went home immediately and burned it.

But her triumph was short-lived as she made it to the end of the aisle and passed a woman with a car seat in her cart. Peeking inside, she saw a pink blanket and the sweet face of a sleeping baby.

Val’s stomach twisted with envy as she turned down the next aisle. It happened every time she saw a pregnant woman or a small child, and the reality of what she’d never have came back to haunt her.

Before she’d married Cole, she’d always imagined having a large family: three or four kids and a loving husband. But after trying for their whole marriage with nothing to show for it, Val had gone to her OB/GYN for answers.

“Valerie, I’ve looked at the tests, the ultrasounds, and the blood work. You have something called polycystic ovary syndrome. As of right now, I see no cysts, but your testosterone and sugar levels are high, which combined with your infertility helped me to diagnose it. This disease makes it very difficult to get pregnant without fertility drugs.”

She’d asked for percentages, read everything she could find on it, and even cut sugar out of her diet. When none of that worked, she’d asked Cole to go to the doctor too, just to check his sperm count. He’d been furious with her at the suggestion and refused.

“We already know who the problem is.”

For two months, tensions grew between them, while Val tried everything to save their marriage. She had been open to adoption, but Cole had nixed that idea.

“If I’m going to raise a child, it’ll be my child.”

She’d just wanted a family.

She had been heartbroken over the discovery that she would never know what it felt like to have her child move inside her for the first time. That she wouldn’t get to hear its heartbeat or look into its face and see herself there.

This is why you need to avoid leaving the house.

Val grabbed a package of premade cookie dough and decided that the rest her grocery shopping could wait. Right now, she wanted to be home, alone, without any catty townspeople, adorable newborns, or men who could make a grown woman turn to mush with just a glance.

***

“Hey, what’s the matter with you? You’re acting like Dad kicked your dog or something.”
Justin had his head under the hood of their old farm truck, so he had no idea why his brother thought he was acting like anything. “I’m just working on the truck.”

“Yeah, but you’re slamming tools and jerking around. What happened? You lose another bet?”

Justin pulled up from what he was doing and gave his brother a level look. “No. I am concentrating. That’s it.”

“Fine, I was just trying to help.” Everett’s wide grin made the scarred side of his face more distinctive. The red, puckered flesh had been healed for several years but still drew the eye. He was a strong man and sported the same square jaw and light brown eyes as Justin, but that wasn’t what strangers noticed first. They noticed the scars.

Everett had been finishing his second tour in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb had taken out his Humvee. After trying to save his friend, he’d ended up in a military hospital with third-degree burns along the left side of his face and neck and damaged hearing. His friend hadn’t survived.

Still, the townsfolk of Rock Canyon looked at Everett as a hero. They didn’t know about his nightmares, though, or the severe PTSD that had cost him his wife, Melanie. By the time he’d come back to Rock Canyon, he’d been seeing a counselor for six months and signed up for classes online. Now he divided his time between his nonprofit organization for military personnel just returning home and helping his dad on the ranch.

Everett was the reason Justin had joined the Marines in the first place, but while his brother had been in infantry, working his way up the ranks, Justin had scored so high on the ASVAB that he had been able to practically choose his assignment. A guy he’d met in basic had chosen a tech position and been stationed in Japan, but Justin hadn’t wanted to sit in front of a computer all day; he had spent his whole life working outside and couldn’t imagine being cooped up.

He’d chosen to be a mechanic—a trade he could take with him when he got out. He wasn’t like Everett, who would have been a lifer, although he had stayed in longer than he’d originally planned. He’d only planned on staying in for the minimum enlistment period, but when most of his unit had decided to reenlist, so had he.

He’d wanted the education and the benefits because without them, the only thing he was going to end up doing was working the farm and taking care of his dad when he got too drunk to stand on his own. But as the years went by, it became more about doing the right thing for his country.

Justin’s mouth twisted grimly. He’d left home at eighteen to escape the life of a farmer and twelve years later, he was right back where he’d started. He could have left any time, if he’d really wanted to, but he couldn’t turn his back on the only family he had. In spite of the times his dad let his demons get the best of him, he was a good man and father.

He was just a stubborn son of a bitch.

“You seem more pensive than usual,” Everett said, handing him a beer as he sat down on one of the stools in the garage.

Justin grinned as he popped the top and took a swig. “Trying to psychoanalyze me, brother?”

“You kidding me? I don’t want to delve any deeper in that head of yours.” Everett tipped his beer up again and wiped his mouth. “Who knows what I’d find?”

“Nothing terribly complicated up here.” Justin tapped the side of his head for emphasis, despite the image of one extremely complicated woman that he couldn’t seem to forget.
He’d seen Valerie Willis around town a few times since she’d moved back, but today at Hall’s Market had been the first time he’d really talked to her. Rumor had it she’d cheated on her ex-husband, Cole Channing, a real up-and-comer in politics, and after he’d divorced her, she’d come home to ride out the scandal. It was hard for Justin to reconcile the Valerie he remembered with the cold, heartless bitch the townspeople portrayed her as.

But wasn’t there a grain of truth to every rumor? People changed a lot in their early twenties, and it was entirely possible that the Valerie he’d met ten years ago was gone. That Val had been beautiful and wild, like a bobcat he’d once seen running across a meadow.

She’d been up for anything: from their first kiss to streaking across the Rock Canyon High School football field. Afterward, he’d dropped her off and kissed her good night, asking if he could see her again. He hadn’t even slept with her, but the little spitfire sure had gotten under his skin. He could still remember the taste of her strawberry lip gloss as she’d kissed him one last time, whispering “yes” as she ran for the side of her house.
But when Justin had gone by her house to see her the next day, her dad had told him Val was gone and that he didn’t want Fred Silverton’s son anywhere near his daughter.

It had stung that she’d left without telling him, but Justin had finally figured out that their night had meant more to him than her. He’d moved on and gotten over what could have been.

Until today, when he’d gone and made an ass of himself, insinuating she should share her bottle of wine with him. When had he become a desperate idiot who needed to chase after a woman who clearly wanted nothing to do with him?

“Hey, are you listening to me?”

Justin realized Everett had been talking. “Sorry, man.”

“What is up with you? Is it girl problems?” Everett asked, his smirk lifting up the good side of his face.

He returned his brother’s smile, but there was no way he was going to talk about his epic strike-out with Valerie. His brother would have a field day with that one.

“I’m fine. What’s up?”

“We need to do something about Dad,” Everett said, picking at the label of his beer.
Justin sighed. It felt like they had this conversation every couple of weeks, but there never seemed to be a good solution. Their dad’s alcoholism was a huge point of contention between them.

Everett wanted to find an alcohol treatment center that would take their dad without his consent, but Justin thought that if it wasn’t his choice, nothing they tried to do would help.

“Come on, Rett. He’s got to do it for himself.”

“I don’t like the way he looks lately. He’s pale, and I swear he’s lost a good twenty pounds. A couple times he’s been helping me and then suddenly he clutches his stomach, and when I try to help, he waves me off and heads for the house. I think there’s something really wrong, but if I suggest he go get checked out, he’s going to tell me to mind my own business.”

Justin had also noticed their dad seemed to be dropping weight. “I’ll mention to him that he looks like shit and see what he says. Who knows, maybe he’ll agree to go; miracles happen every day.”

“Well, I can’t ask for more than that,” his brother said, setting his empty beer bottle on the workbench. “I better go tend to my chores. See you later.”

Justin shook his head to clear it and said, “Yeah, see ya.” Finishing his beer, he turned up the radio and the heater, his breath still fogging in front of him.

“Thank you for listening to the Kat, and stay tuned, because we are stocked up with prizes to help you make it through this Valentine’s Day. For all you lucky people out there who already have Valentines, or at least someone in mind, stay tuned for your next chance to win tickets to see Brad Paisley, February 14th! Just listen for Brad’s ‘Little Moments’ to win.” Kat Country DJ Callie Jacobsen called out through the speakers, and Justin’s ears perked up. He’d tried to get tickets to that show, but they’d sold out so fast, he’d been shit out of luck. “And for all of you singles, how would you like to win an all-inclusive weekend vacation to the place where perfect matches are made? Just listen for this jingle . . . ”
***

Val stood in front of her stove stirring in the powdered cheese packet of her mac and cheese while her English bulldog, Gus, sat at her feet, licking his monstrous chops.

“This is my lunch, Gus-man. Your belly is starting to drag.”

The dog whimpered and pawed at her with his short front leg, his brown eyes begging for her to share. She loved her dog, a gift from Cole for her twenty-third birthday, and she had fought hard to keep him during the divorce. Cole had wanted Gus for breeding but had finally relented when she’d let him have her Porsche. It was a silly car to have, especially in winter, and Gus was worth it. She’d had his sperm collected, since he did have champion lines, and neutered him.

She was just pouring the milk into the saucepan when there was a pounding on her front door and she sloshed it all over the counter.

“Crap.”

Whoever it was, they were knocking so hard it was shaking the door of her comfortable little ranch house. It couldn’t compare to the huge mansion she’d lived in with Cole, but the house actually felt like a home and not a prison. She hurried to the door and swung it wide open, ready to give whoever it was a piece of her mind.

Ellie stood on her doorstep with three suitcases and a woebegone expression. Val’s heart sank.

“What happened?”

“Nothing, Dad’s just overreacting. Again.” Ellie hefted up one of the bags and gave Val her best pleading look. “Can I stay with you for a while? Please?”

Val groaned and leaned her head against the doorjamb. She loved her sister, but she was five years younger than Val, and instead of going off to college somewhere, she’d decided to just take classes at the local junior college, where she was barely passing and spent more time skipping class than going. Her friends were the troublemakers in town, and Val did not want them coming over all the time, wrecking her house and pissing her off.

Standing firm, Val laid down the law. “Rules first.”

“Come on, Val, it’s freezing,” Ellie whined, making her usual dark beauty dim a little in Val’s mind. Her sister had definitely gotten their mother’s body, with curves to make a man sweat, but she wasn’t as mature as she looked.

“Rule number one: pick up after yourself. I am not a maid.”

“Fine. Sure. Hurry up,” Ellie pleaded, hopping from one UGG-booted foot to the other.

“Number two: your little friends are not allowed in the house when I’m not here.”

“God, you really need to get laid,” Ellie said, but when Val started to shut the door, she yelled, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Yes! No friends over when you aren’t home.”

Val stepped back and Ellie started dragging her bags in, kissing Val’s cheek on her way. As she started down the hallway, Val remembered one last thing. “And no men in this house. This is a man-free zone.”

Her sister muttered something Val couldn’t hear, but she let it go. Her sister could think she was being an uptight prude all she wanted, but Val believed her attitude was more about self-preservation.

Looking down into Gus’s smushed face, she frowned. “Did I make the right choice?”
Gus growled, and Val had to agree with him.

About the Author

Codi Gary
From the time I could put a Disney Book cassette into my little stereo, and read along, books have held a fantastic distraction. When I was eleven, I decided I wanted to be one of those magical people that brought stories to life. Devouring a book a day sometimes, my first romance novel stuck with me. I've always been a sucker for a happy ending (and the great romantic gesture) and that's what I try to put into my stories. I am so honored to be a part of Avon, and am so excited to have my own dreams coming true


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