How about some help with those romance readers on your gift list this year? Here’s a list of some great reads bound to give them all the feels they’re looking for.
To purchase any or all, head here.
Gift this to: Dog lovers, and fans of
Suggested gift pairing: A puppy! (just kidding) For the minimalist friend, give this along with making a donation to a local no-kill rescue shelter. For something that’s easier to wrap, pair this with a cozy pair of red mittens for a soft and sweet gift.
Don’t forget gifts for you! At the holidays we always spend so much time thinking about others that it’s easy to leave ourselves out. Treat yourself this Christmas and enter to win all 6 holiday books! Then cozy up with a blanket, a hot cup of whatever you like, and get lost in a wonderful romance.
“Looks like your ‘new friend’ has arrived,” Vivi said, a note of amusement in her tone.
Avery’s head shot up at the sound of a female voice calling her name.
When Lori was at their table, Avery detached from Liam’s side and stood for a hug. “What are you doing here? Where’s Reed?”
Lori eyed Liam while she answered the questions. “Reed’s on his way down. We’re going out to dinner. Wanted a drink first.”
What were the chances of Lori excusing herself before Avery was forced to make an introduction?
Lori reached out a hand toward Liam. “I’m Lori.”
Liam stood; a broad smile matched his broad chest. “Liam Holt.” Once he released Lori’s hand, he pulled out a bar stool. “Sit, we just ordered drinks.”
Avery wanted to elbow his ribs.
Instead, she smiled.
Liam signaled for Nikki.
“Liam, huh? Avery hasn’t mentioned you.”
He pulled Avery’s chair closer to his and waited for her to sit. “We haven’t known each other long.”
Lori sent a questioning look to Avery. Instead of adding to Liam’s explanation.
“I’ve known Lori for a few years. We live in the same building.”
“What do you do, Liam?”
Small talk … is that what this was going to be?
Lori signaled Reed when he walked in the door. “This is my husband.”
Avery laughed. “You love saying that, don’t you?”
“They’re newlyweds,” Avery explained.
Once again Liam stood when Reed approached the table.
“Look who I found,” Lori said.
Reed kissed Avery’s cheek. “I haven’t seen you here in a while.”
“That’s because you two never come up for air,” Avery teased.
“This is Liam … Avery’s friend.” Yeah, Lori wanted more details.
The men shook hands.
“Have I ever met one of your friends?” he asked.
Avery glared. “Smooth, Reed … really smooth.”
Lori nudged her husband’s arm. “Stop teasing.” She turned her focus on Liam. “Avery keeps her private life private.”
Avery tried not to flinch when Liam placed a hand over hers. “I’ve figured that out recently.”
“How did you two meet?” Reed asked.
Avery said “the gym” at the same time Liam said “a bar.”
Lori’s lawyer radar spiked. Avery saw it in her eyes. “Those two things are worlds apart.”
She caught Liam’s hand and squeezed.
“The first time I saw you was at Pug’s Bar. I approached you at the gym.”
“I knew it. That was you at Pug’s. How did you figure out where I worked out?” She’d been asking herself that question for over a week.
“That wasn’t hard. Leslie had a gym bag.”
“Who’s Leslie?” Lori asked.
Avery didn’t look away from Liam. “A friend. So your job at the gym wasn’t on accident?”
“I might have approached Brenda about a side job so I could meet you.”
Avery’s jaw dropped.
“Who’s Brenda?” Reed asked.
“The owner of the gym,” Avery and Liam said at the same time. “How did you know I was there on Tuesday and Friday nights?” She wasn’t sure if his actions were exciting or scary.
“Appointment book. Brenda’s office is always open.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Lori placed a hand between the two of theirs. “You see Avery in a bar. You search out a location of her gym, follow her to it, get a job there, and now you’re both here having drinks?”
Liam offered a brief, unapologetic nod.
Lori grabbed Avery’s hand. “How well do you know this guy?”
Avery liked the gleam in Liam’s eyes. “He’s safe.”
“What he just described is a little too close to stalking for my taste.”
Reed placed a hand on Lori’s shoulder. “Simmer down, Counselor. If Liam had an ulterior motive, he wouldn’t have told us all that.”
“I wanted to meet you,” Liam said. “
Yeah, well, you’ve met her.” Lori wasn’t happy.
Nikki showed up with Avery’s and Liam’s drinks.
“My usual, Nikki,” Lori told her.
“Hon, our reservations are in thirty minutes. Maybe we should go.”
Lori looked at Reed like he was crazy. “We aren’t leaving him with her. He could be a sociopath.”
Liam smiled, his eyes crinkling with amusement. “I’m not.”
“That’s what they all say.”
Avery put a free hand in the air. “Chill, Lori.”
Avery realized that her other hand had somehow ended up back in Liam’s. His thumb stroked the underside of her wrist in a strangely calming way.
“Do you want a drink, Reed?” Nikki was still standing there, watching the four of them.
“No, thank you. We’re leaving.”
Lori pushed back her chair. “We’re going to talk about this later,” she warned Avery. “And you … just so you know, I’m an attorney, and my big, burly husband here is in private security. He has even bigger friends.”
Liam reached into his back pocket and removed his wallet. From it, he pulled out what looked like a business card. “I have nothing to hide.”
Lori glanced at it briefly before Reed snatched it from her fingertips. “C’mon. Let’s leave them to their date.”
Liam stood again and shook Reed’s hand before he ushered Lori out of the bar.
“That was intense.”
“My friends are protective.”
“You really went through all that just to meet me?”
Liam picked up his cocktail for the first time. “Worked, didn’t it?”
Avery let loose his hand and lifted her glass to his. “Yes, it did.”
New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author Catherine Bybee has written twenty-eight books that have collectively sold more than five million copies and have been translated into more than eighteen languages. Raised in Washington State, Bybee moved to Southern California in the hope of becoming a movie star. After growing bored with waiting tables, she returned to school and became a registered nurse, spending most of her career in urban emergency rooms. She now writes full-time and has penned the Not Quite Series, the Weekday Brides Series, the Most Likely To Series, and the First Wives Series.
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Oklahoma native Woody Guthrie said it first and best. This new anthology of poems and prose, Love Can Be: A Literary Collection About Our Animals, is proof of what love can be, as thirty acclaimed authors join together to champion life in all its forms. This is their gift to the world, not just the artistry of their words, but their vision of an extended community that includes cats, birds, frogs, butterflies, bears, dogs, raccoons, horses—a full-out menagerie of being that enriches us all.
This broad-hearted vision comes with responsibility, and that responsibility speaks to the mission of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, publisher of the book. The Kirkpatrick Foundation will donate all net proceeds of sales of this volume to animal charities in Oklahoma as well as honoraria donated to the contributors’ selected animal charities.
Authors featured in the collection are Julia Alvarez, Blake Bailey, Rick Bass, P. C. Cast, Wayne Coyne, Kim Doner, Delia Ephron, Reyna Grande, Joy Harjo, Amy Hempel, Juan Felipe Herrera, S. E. Hinton, Brandon Hobson, Dean Koontz, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jill McCorkle, Teresa Miller, N. Scott Momaday, Joyce Carol Oates, Susan Orlean, Ron Padgett, Elise Paschen, Diane Rehm, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Wade Rouse, Alexander McCall Smith, Lalita Tademy, Clifton Taulbert, Michael Wallis, and Mary Logan Wolf.
Special contributions include:
* “The Cat,” one of the final original poems by the legendary Ursula K. Le Guin.
* A memorial tribute to Sudan, the last male white rhino, by former U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.
* An essay by noted novelist Alexander McCall Smith, who celebrates the whimsical link between baboons and opera.
* An essay on love, grief, and resilience by Peabody Award–winning journalist Diane Rehm.
* A classic, “Jubilate,” by Joyce Carol Oates. (synopsis from Amazon)
The dayroom was big enough for the whole SWAT team to fit, as well as their extended pack, which was a good thing, since it was growing in leaps and bounds. In addition to the two couches and coffee table, there were beanbag chairs and a sweet big-screen TV. Since it was the holiday season, there was also a Christmas tree with all the trimmings. Brooks gestured to one of the couches, then sat down beside her.
“I’m glad we got a chance to talk in private,” Selena said. “I wanted to ask if you got injured in the rescue but wasn’t sure if I should bring it up in front of everyone else. I know guys can get embarrassed when women ask questions like that around other men.”
He was so distracted by the sexy curve of her hips as she crossed her legs that he almost missed what she’d said. “Injured? Nah.”
“You weren’t? Huh.” She frowned, confusion clouding her eyes. “There was so much blood on my clothes, not to mention the floor, and when I realized it couldn’t be Pablo’s, I naturally assumed it was yours.”
Brooks’s first instinct was to say nothing. That was the standard response anytime someone outside the Pack saw something they shouldn’t. But Selena looked so distressed, he had to tell her something.
“Oh, you must mean these.” He gestured at the freshly healed scars on his forearm from both the small bullet hole up near his elbow and the larger incision he’d gotten when Trey had dug Pablo’s bullet out of him. “I cut myself on a piece of glass picking you up. It was nothing.”
Selena studied the scars, her eyes narrowing a little before she looked back at him. Brooks had no doubt she was trying to figure out how scars that looked like they were a week old could possibly have produced as much blood as she’d had on her clothes. When she stared him straight in the eyes for several long moments, he wondered if this was what her students felt like when they’d been caught lying. He held his breath, sure she was going to call him on it.
But instead, she nodded and broke eye contact. “I’m glad it wasn’t anything more serious. You could have gotten shot shielding me like that.”
He breathed a sigh of relief. “It was nothing. I was more worried about hurting you. I slammed into you pretty hard. I didn’t break anything, did I?”
Selena shook her head. “No breaks, thank goodness. The doctor was worried I might have gotten a concussion, though. He could be right. My head was a little wonky last night for sure.”
“Wonky?” It was his turn to frown. “What do you mean? Should you be out of the hospital?”
Brooks subconsciously moved closer, his heart beating faster at the thought that he’d hurt her. He was half a second away from sweeping her up into his arms and hauling ass for his truck to take her to the hospital.
Selena must have read his mind, because she stopped him with a smile and a gentle hand on his arm. “I’m okay…really. I’ll admit my heart rate was all over the place when I was there, and I had a fever nobody could explain, but thankfully, everything went back to normal. As it turns out, the doctor decided my symptoms weren’t related to anything physical.”
“What was it then?”
She took her hand away from his arm as she shrugged. “He seemed to think I’m dealing with post-traumatic stress.”
A part of Brooks was relieved Selena wasn’t physically injured, but at the same time, he was worried. PTSD wasn’t anything to mess around with. He’d known a lot of good cops who’d lost their jobs, their families, and sometimes more because they’d gone through a rough situation they’d never been able to get past.
“Have you thought of talking to someone about it?” he asked.
She sighed. “You sound like my principal and vice principal. They want me to talk to somebody, too. In fact, they’ve essentially kicked me out of my class for the rest of the week, so I can take time off to recover. Whatever the heck that means.”
“Selena, this is serious,” Brooks said. “Someone tried to kill you. It’s normal to be affected by something like that. Normal to feel confused, scared, and freaked out as hell. It’s also completely normal to sit down and talk with someone about it.”
Her shoulders sagged. “I know. And to be honest, I am a bit freaked out by everything that happened—the parts I can remember anyway. But honestly, I’m not sure who I’d even talk to about something like this. I don’t know if I could walk into a therapist’s office and open up to someone I’ve never met. My grandmother is the only family I have left, but I don’t want to worry her any more than she already is after what happened yesterday.”
Selena thought a moment. “I suppose I could talk to my priest, but he’s such a gentle soul that I’m not sure I could bring myself to tell him all the things I was feeling in the classroom when Pablo was waving that gun around.”
“You could always talk to me,” he said softly. “I mean, I know you just met me, but at least you don’t have to fill me in on all the details, since I was there with you. And I do a pretty good job of listening, if I do say so myself.”
That gorgeous smile returned. “Well, since it seems like I have the rest of the week off whether I want it or not, maybe we could get together and talk over lunch?”
“Lunch would work,” he agreed. “But how about dinner instead? If you’re comfortable with that, I mean.”
Selena didn’t answer. Crap. Had he completely misread the situation? It hit him then that he’d never even considered the possibility she might have a boyfriend…or a girlfriend, for that matter. But then he heard her heart thump a little harder and realized she was definitely intrigued by the suggestion.
“I’ll consider dinner,” Selena said slowly, her lips curving in a surprisingly sultry way. “But only if you come to my place.”
Brooks certainly didn’t mind going to her place, but he was a little taken aback by the invitation. Then he picked up a very distinct scent filling the room. Damn. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she was getting aroused. Which immediately got him going, too. The image of him humping her leg came roaring right back.
“Are you good in the kitchen?” he asked.
Selena gave him a look that suggested she knew exactly what she was doing to him. “I’m good in every room of my place.”
He chuckled, loving the unexpected flirty banter, especially when her face heated up, making him think she’d been more shocked by the words than he had.
“Well, in that case, dinner at your place it is. Tonight work for you?”
She hesitated, and again he was struck by the idea that this wasn’t the way she normally behaved. But then she took a deep breath and nodded her head. “Tonight sounds good. Eight o’clock?”
They talked a little while longer…and flirted a bit in between exchanging phone numbers, too. Every once in a while, he’d pick up the tantalizing scent of her arousal.
But now, it was mixed with the one he’d picked up when he’d first walked into the admin building. He tried to get his head around the amazingly complex aroma. It was equal parts delicate flowers, exotic spices, and something feminine and uniquely Selena.
He couldn’t believe how different her scent was today from yesterday. It was almost like he was smelling a different woman.
But no matter what Selena smelled like, Brooks couldn’t deny how strongly her scent affected him.
Some of the guys in the Pack had experienced this sensory sensation before, and in every case, it involved stumbling across The One.
Did Selena’s amazing scent mean she was his soul mate, a woman he’d known for all of thirty minutes?
His head spun at the idea. Not because he didn’t believe in the idea of finding The One. It was simply that he’d never expected it to happen. He’d tried a long-term relationship once, and it had failed spectacularly. After that, he’d stopped trying.
But if Selena was The One, that would all change, right?
He was still wrestling with those thoughts when Selena stood up. “I’d better get to the store and pick up some stuff for dinner if I’m going have everything ready by eight.”
“You know you don’t need to do anything fancy, right?” He flashed her a grin as they walked to the door. “I’d be happy with another tray of brownies.”
Selena laughed. “You know, I think you mean that.
But putting together a good meal isn’t work for me. I love to cook. It’s what I do for the important people in my life. Like you.”
Brooks gazed down at her, suddenly robbed of speech. Selena slowly ran the tip of her tongue over her lips, leaving a moist sheen behind that made his gums tingle as his fangs threatened to slip out. He leaned in to kiss her, when suddenly, the door jerked open.
Brooks shot out a hand and caught Selena before she could fall, but that didn’t keep her from blushing as Khaki and Rachel stood there with knowing looks on their faces. There were some introductions, a few apologies, and a lot of laughter as Selena got her feet back under her.
Neither of them spoke as Brooks walked her to her car. When they got there, Selena opened her door before turning to him with a smile.
“I’ll see you tonight.”
The urge to kiss her was still there, but he held himself in check and returned her smile instead. “I’ll be there.”
As Brooks watched Selena’s car disappear down the street, he replayed the moment right before Khaki and Rachel had opened the door and interrupted them.
The thought of Selena’s luscious lips had him thinking about all kinds of things a couple normally didn’t do on a first date.
Gavin St. James
After the hell I’ve been through in the Marines—in life—there’s nothing I crave more than routine, stability, peace. Until McKenna Brewer walks into my life.
She’s impulsive, fiery, tempting as hell, and everything I dGavinon’t need. But when she offers me a night of no-strings-attached passion, I can’t resist.
When our night together has unexpected consequences, I can’t help but think this might be the perfect opportunity to show McKenna just how much I want her.
The only problem? She doesn’t do forevers. But forever is exactly what I need with her.
A knock sounded at my door. Followed by a very unexpected voice.
I jerked up in bed at the noise, scrambling for my pants on the floor. “Uh, just a minute.” Oh my God.
Oh. My. God.
Gavin? He was here? In my house?
Just outside my freaking bedroom door, at that.
“Breathe, Kenna,” I reminded myself as I looked in the mirror to check for possible drool lines.
Once assured that my condition was, well, semi-presentable, I inhaled through my nose once more and opened the door, blinking quickly at what I saw.
Gavin, just like I thought, but with Stargazer lilies in hand.
“Hi,” he said shyly, those dark lashes of his batting lazily against his cheeks.
“You…me…flowers?” I’m pretty sure I was speaking gibberish. Apparently, swoon-sucker me didn’t have the ability to say coherent sentences. Never had I been incapable of words to the point where I stuttered like an idiot. But, there again, never had I been wooed by Gavin St. James.
He cleared his throat, his green eyes as bright as the leaves with the flowers. I died a little inside at the sight.
And believe me when I say, it was the best way to go. “They’re beautiful.”
“The, um, florist said they mean I missed you. I asked her.”
Heart? Meet belly.
I smiled widely at the gesture and urged him inside. When it came to romance, a man asking for the meaning of flowers before purchasing them was pretty much a woman’s dream. Or at least mine.
The door clicked shut behind me as I turned to face my new guest. There was something incredibly intimate about having him in my room. A step in a direction I wasn’t sure I was meant to take…until that moment.
“Did I wake you?” he asked. “Your sister let me in. Said you were in here.”
Hand in his shorts’ pockets, chin to his chest, Gavin looked downright adorable. His cheeks were pink, barely visible under his beard, and beneath his dark lashes, he stared back at me as though I was a certified goddess.
“No, I, um… I’ve been awake for a while.” I ran my hand over the front of my shirt, then winced at the tiny bulge there. When I looked up, I found him at my dresser, his eyes flitting over the framed pictures of me and my sister, and me and Addie.
“Um, so, wanna do a late lunch or early dinner?” He turned to face me, his back to my mirror and dresser. One of his hands was on the nape of his neck, rubbing feverishly, the other still held the flowers.
Feeling like an idiot for not taking them earlier, I stepped forward and pulled the bouquet from his hands. He smiled as I settled them against my chest, and I heard him chuckle when I pressed them to my nose and inhaled.
“Lunch, huh?” I tipped my head back to look up at him when I was done, licking my lips.
He nodded, eyes twinkling as he stared at my mouth. For a big, bearded, muscular marine, this guy had a secret, softy heart when you got to know him.
“I’m pretty tired.” I teased, setting the bouquet on the dresser. “Kind of had a long night.”
“Someone keep you up late?” His brows lifted in suspicion, but I saw the twitch of his lips all the same.
“Maybe I kept that person up late instead.” I closed the distance between us, our chests just a foot apart.
His lips pulled up in an easy grin. Gavin had the type of presence that always managed to suck me in, no matter what kind of mood he displayed. It was engaging, the way he spoke to others. Short, brief, to the point. And it turned me on in more ways than I could count. I’m pretty sure his lack of communication bothered him more than it did anyone else. But the fact of the matter was, I liked how he was. How he acted. Gavin knew what he wanted, though it took him some time to get what he wanted. In a way, he reminded me of a tiger: slow to pounce, but all claws and bite once he took his prey. That occasional shyness he exhibited only complemented—not to mention complicated—his ways, making him more intriguing.
I’m not sure if I’d ever figure him out completely, but I was going to have a damn good time trying.