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CHASING SHADOWS excerpt & giveaway with Catherine Bybee

Avery’s head shot up at the sound of a female voice calling her name.

“Lori?”

Oh, damn…

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?”

Lori nodded.

“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.”

“Understatement.”

“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.”

***

Avery Grant doesn’t date. Her first marriage was a mutually beneficial contract that gave her the financial freedom she needed to step away from her controlling parents. Wealthy and single, the last thing she’s looking for is love sneaking in to mess up her life plans. And after a brutal attack, she’s determined to never be vulnerable again, even if the new man in her life helps her feel safe.
Mesmerized from the moment he sets his eyes on Avery, Liam is driven to learn everything about this tough, sexy, challenging woman. Breaking down her defenses won’t be easy, but Liam refuses to be pushed away. All he needs is a tiny crack in Avery’s armor to wiggle his way into her heart.
But when a terrifying lie about her attacker’s fate comes to light, Avery’s past returns to haunt her. Now she’s willing to put herself in danger to get the answers she needs. That means jeopardizing the best thing that’s ever happened to her: Liam.

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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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LOVE CAN BE~ A Literary Collection about Our Animals Review-- Net proceeds to animal charities

 

 Love can be, and sure enough is, moving in all things, in all places, in all forms of life at the same snap of your finger.”—Woody Guthrie
 

 


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)

My thoughts, 4 stars
Love Can Be: A Literary Collection about Our Animals is a limited edition that consists of poetry, stories, memorials, and reminiscences by a wide ranging group of authors about animals. All net proceeds go to various animal charities.
There’s a lot to enjoy in this collection. Most are bite sized and one or more could be read during a lunch hour, or while waiting on/for whatever or whomever.
The stories that stood out for me, and yes-made me smile through tears (which isn’t ideal at work) were:
Dogly Prayers and Wishes by Jill McCorkle. Yep, made me cry while remembering my own past special dogs who came at just the right time, like lil angels.
Dog Memory by Susan Orlean really made me cry as it reminded me of my most recent loss, Tommy.
And last, but certainly not least, The Emperor Maxie by Diane Rehm. Who hasn’t loved an ornery cantakerous pet?
Whether you buy to help out the charities, because you love animal stories or know someone who does, or any combination thereof, one or more of the offerings is sure to touch your heart.

Paige Tyler's WOLF RISING excerpt & giveaway

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.

Down, boy.

“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?”

“Perfect.”

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.

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Just when he’s found The One…he might lose her.
SWAT Officer Jayden Brooks doesn’t believe there’s a soul mate out there for him—The One. But when he saves high school teacher Selena Rosa from a hostage situation, he knows he’s in big trouble. Her scent is irresistible.
Selena finds the big cop irresistible, too. In fact, the buttoned-up teacher gets a little carried away—during a steamy make-out session, she bites him. Turns out, the traumatizing events at the school triggered her werewolf gene. Fangs and claws are appearing and her aggression is out of control. The change is happening, and Selena doesn’t understand.
It’s going to take everything Brooks has to pull her back from the edge…and ultimately win her heart.
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RECKLESSLY EVER AFTER excerpt & giveaway w/ Heather Van Fleet

 

 

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.

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A knock sounded at my door. Followed by a very unexpected voice.

“Kenna?”

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.

“They’re lilies.”

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.

Jamie Beck's THE MEMORY OF YOU excerpt & giveaway

“I do understand, Emmy. Better than you think.” Steffi took the partially folded tarp and snapped its final fold on her own, then crouched to Emmy’s eye level. “I wasn’t much older than you when my mom died. I missed her so much it felt like the whole world turned into a dark black hole. Most days I wanted to jump right through that hole and follow her to heaven. I was so angry that she left me like that, even though she couldn’t help it. But I kept all those feelings tight inside, like a ball right here.” Steffi pointed at Emmy’s stomach. “Holding all that stuff inside hurt, but it made me feel strong. It seemed better than crying, for sure. Then a girl named Claire moved in across the street. She was very sweet and sporty, and I liked her right away. I was lucky because she was patient with my moods. And at the end of our street was another girl our age, Peyton. Peyton was popular, but it turns out she was kind of lonely, too, for other reasons.
“Anyway, somehow that summer we all started spending time together. We gave ourselves a name—the Lilac Lane League—and we started a journal, because Peyton liked to write. We wrote down our dreams and the things that made us mad, and the things that made us laugh. Our crushes, first kisses, all that stuff. Little by little, that knot in my stomach unwound because my friends made me less lonely. That’s how I know the fastest way to feel better is to make a new friend.”
“You’re my new friend.” Emmy’s voice sounded small and shaky.
“I am your friend, but you also need a friend your age. I know you miss your old gang, but try to make one new friend here, too. I promise there are nice girls. I grew up here, after all, and I’m nice.” Steffi smiled and brushed some of Emmy’s curls off her face.
Ryan decided to enter the conversation now, before Emmy broke down in front of Steffi or put her in a more difficult situation. He exited through the kitchen door and crossed the partially framed porch to get to the yard. “Hey there, ladies.”
Emmy snapped her gaze at him, and he saw the panic in her eyes. His daughter’s fear of him speared his chest like a sword. He’d failed at his marriage, and his daughter was paying the highest price. He couldn’t fail her, too. He dropped to his knees and opened his arms. She flew into them in a heartbeat.
He hugged her and swayed, like he’d done when she was so much younger. Steffi quietly retrieved her toolbox and took it to her van.
“Emmy?” Ryan asked once they were alone. “I’m sorry this is such a hard time for you. I want to help you, but I don’t always have all the answers. I do know one thing, though. You can’t call people names and expect to make friends.”
She cried against his chest, each tear falling like acid raining on his heart. “Oh, sweetie, it’ll be okay. We all make mistakes. The important thing is to apologize and try to learn from it.”
“You always say that,” she muttered into his shirt.
“Because it’s the truest thing I know.” He kissed her head.
“So why can’t you and Mom apologize and make up?”
He hadn’t expected that question, although maybe he should have. “It’s not that simple.”
“You always say that, too.”
If a conversation with her took this much work at this age, he could barely imagine dealing with her in her teens. “You’re all dirty from helping Steffi. How ’bout you go inside and clean up before dinner? I need to talk to Steffi for a second. Then I’ll come in, and we can figure out how to apologize to Katie Winston.”
Emmy nodded while swiping her arm under her runny nose. “Okay.”
She wandered into the house just as Steffi came back from the van to get the rest of her personal things. He stood to speak with her. “I heard part of what you said to Emmy.”
“I know you don’t want me to speak for you, but I just—”
“It’s okay. Thank you for making her feel like she can confide in you. I should’ve listened to you the other day.” He crossed his arms and blew out a long breath. “I’m in over my head doing this on my own.”
“You’re not on your own. You’ve got your parents. But even if you were, I know you can do it. She loves you. She wants to make you happy and proud.”
He nodded, although he knew he was screwing it all up.
“Well, I’d better take off. Benny’s expecting me for another training run.”
“You guys are disciplined. I haven’t had a chance to get in a good workout in three months. Pretty soon I’m going to be too soft.” He patted his gut. Granted, he was still pretty fit. He could probably keep up with Steffi for a few miles, anyhow.
“I’m sure your mom would watch Emmy if you need to hit the gym or the mean streets of Sanctuary Sound.” She tipped her head, grinning. “My brother might even like some male company now and then. He gets sick of my singing.”
Ryan laughed. “Well, you were good at a lot of things, but singing wasn’t one of them.”
“You didn’t used to complain.” She hit his arm.
He grew quiet for a second, remembering the many times he’d listened to her terrible rendition of Lifehouse’s “You and Me” in the car or on the patio. “No, I never did mind those private concerts.”
The air between them turned sweet and thick with fond memories. Holding hands, soccer footwork challenges, the first time he’d copped a feel, and the light in her eyes when he had. The images almost made him want to take hold of her hand again; his heart beat with that hot desire like it had at seventeen.
“Dad!” Emmy called from the door, breaking the spell.
“You’d better go,” Steffi said with a wistful smile before she turned and walked back to her car.

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National bestselling author Jamie Beck’s realistic and heartwarming stories have sold more than one million copies. She’s a 2017 Booksellers’ Best Award finalist, and critics at Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist have respectively called her work “smart,” “uplifting,” and “entertaining.” In addition to writing novels, she enjoys dancing around the kitchen while cooking as well as hitting the slopes in Vermont and Utah. Above all, she is a grateful wife and mother to a very patient, supportive family. Fans can learn more about her on her website, www.jamiebeck.com, which includes a fun “Extras” page with photos, videos, and playlists. She also loves interacting with everyone on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JamieBeckBooks.

Rachel Van Dyken's DANGEROUS EXES Excerpt & giveaway

I was a planner.

I had one Erin Condren planner for work, and another for home and recreational activities like my biweekly running and yoga sessions.

I even mapped out my meals on the front of my fridge in different-colored chalk for each day of the week. I’d never faltered in my routine, I never forgot to highlight, to color code. It was my life.

Until Jessie.

He was the wrench you throw in the perfectly good engine, causing it to sputter to its death.

I picked up the binoculars again, despite Blaire’s heavy sigh. “He’s just … staring right back at us. Leaning against his stupid Tesla like he owns the world. Why is he even driving a Tesla?”

“Why are we mad about his car again?” Blaire asked in a bored voice.

I glanced over my shoulder. “Don’t you have a date with your perfect man-bun-wearing millionaire hotel-empire-owner slash bartender?”

“I love that you actually included the slash.” Blaire laughed. “And yes, yes I do.” She walked over to me and jerked the binoculars from my death grip. “Give it a rest, he’s just trying to get into your head. He’s still pissed about everything that was leaked to the press.”

“That wasn’t our fault and you know it.” I put my hands on my hips. “That was his blood-sucking wife trying to make us and him look bad.”

I’m a professional.

I’m in control.

Breathe in and out.

Everything is fine.

I’m co-partner of one of the premier PI companies in Hollywood.

I’m the Beyoncé of catching cheaters with their pants down.

Everything.

Was.

Fine.

“Right.” Blaire nodded slowly. “But in the end it just made him look stupid in front of the entire world—in front of a world that he’s trying to make a better place through all of his charity endeavors, which means, even though he’s not a terrible person, everyone now thinks he is.”

A headache pulsed behind my temples, I rubbed my head and tried to think of a solution. It’s what I did. I fixed things. I fixed broken marriages, relationships, and if a client was too far gone and in a free fall, I handed them a safety net and made it better.

Yet every time I thought of Jessie Beckett I either wanted to inflict violence on his person, or just … huh, I guess all I really wanted was to fight him.

I was tall.

He was muscular.

I would lose.

He would laugh.

Plus it would mean touching him.

I shivered.

“Cold?” Blaire grinned.

“You’re still here?” I said, confused.

She shoved me toward the door. “Go talk to him, throw up the white flag, and move on. Thanks to the news, we didn’t get the short end of the stick and have a client load that’s going to force us to take on another employee.”

I sagged a bit. “Right, you’re right. Okay, I’ll just tell him it’s over. How hard can it be? He has to be bored out of his mind anyway. He’s been there all day.”

Blaire smiled and then gave me an encouraging nod before walking to her car. I gulped at Jessie and stared him down, all six foot four of him.

There were so many things wrong with him as a human that I was offended just thinking about them.

For one, his eyes were too knowing, like he’d already done a search on every single part of your body that responded to male touch and memorized it just in case he got the chance to corner you.

His light eyes against tan skin, dark hair that was a bit longer in the back curling at the ends and making a girl think about giving them a tug.

And don’t even get me started on his muscular build.

It said one thing, in bold colors above his head, that he put physical perfection above all else and wanted everyone else to not only know it, but comment about it, appreciate it—he basically had a big giant freaking “You’re Welcome” sign hovering over him. And it irritated me.

It irritated me that when I’d tried to get close to him during our investigation, he didn’t play into my hands as easily as I was used to with most of our targets.

And to be honest, it stung a bit that when I dumbly threw myself in his face in order to distract him from Blaire—he looked at me like I was a sad excuse for bait. I’d never had a guy react to me in that way, typically it was easy to distract them, tempt them to default to their cheating tendencies, catch them on camera, and be done. But Jessie … Jessie hadn’t even blinked in interest—if anything, I annoyed him. Which in turn annoyed me, made me try harder to push his buttons, until he relented and we became friends.

He gave me another small wave.

I steeled my gaze and made the slow, painful walk across the street.

From friends.

To enemies.

In one final swipe.

Bastard.

***

 

 
 

Isla made one teeny little mistake. Now she and her PI company, Dirty Exes, are being targeted by one seriously angry and furiously sexy ex-quarterback. Jessie freakin’ Beckett. But there’s no way some NFL superhunk is going to take her business away. If only he didn’t make her so hot—and bothered.
Jessie wants payback for a ruined reputation. His plan? Top secret. His hard-to-hide arousal for Isla? Not so much. Especially when they let down their guards and sneak a kiss. Like any juicy scandal, it goes so viral, so fast, that only a good lie can combat the bad press. Mortal enemies in a fling? No way. Um…this is love!
Actually…could it be?
Isla’s not faking it. Jessie can’t. As the game of let’s pretend gets real, Jessie forgets all about revenge. That’s the problem. His plan is already out of his control. Now it could undo everything they’ve been trying to build. Coming clean may be the only thing that can save it.
 
Rachel Van Dyken is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and #1 New York Times bestselling author known for regency romances, contemporary romances, and her love of coffee and Swedish fish. Rachel’s also recently inked a deal for her Wingmen Inc. series—The Matchmaker’s Playbook and The Matchmaker’s Replacement—to be made into movies.
A fan of The Bachelor and the Seattle Seahawks (not necessarily in that order), Rachel lives in Idaho with her husband, a super cute toddler son who keeps her on her toes, and two boxers. Make sure you check out her site, www.RachelVanDykenauthor.com, and follow her on Twitter (@RachVD).
 
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Dylann Crush's COWBOY CHRISTMAS JUBILEE excerpt & giveaway

Merry Christmas from your new friends in Holiday, Texas:

The most celebratory town in the South!

When Jinx Jacobs’s motorcycle breaks down outside Holiday, Texas, the last thing she wants is to get stuck in the cheery little town, especially during the holidays. The whole place has gone Christmas crazy, but all she has to do is stay out from under the mistletoe—and do her best to keep that unnervingly attractive cop off her back.

Single dad and sheriff’s deputy Cash Walker doesn’t have time for romance, and yet something about the tempting loner twists his stomach up tighter than a tangle of tinsel. He may have finally found the missing piece in his life…but with Jinx so determined to avoid putting down roots, convincing her to stay may just take a Christmas miracle.

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The walk back and forth to the honky-tonk was getting to her. She’d been keeping her eyes open for a spot to camp closer. So far, nothing beat this tract where she’d first parked the bike. The scrubby trees provided a break from the wind, and there was a freshwater stream just a few minutes’ walk through the brush. But she did need to start thinking about a more semipermanent solution. She’d text Jamie today to find out how long she could hold the job in New Orleans. If things looked good on that front, she could bunk with Dixie for a while and still make it to Louisiana before New Year’s.

Her backpack stuffed with dirty clothes and with a grumpy Chihuahua in his soft- side crate, she set off on the walk back to the Rambling Rose. She arrived in enough time to brush her teeth and put on a touch of makeup in the bathroom.

For the next couple of hours, she mixed mimosas and hauled trays of Texas french toast and huevos rancheros to the waiting crowd. The kids wanted to touch her hair, and more than once, she caught a skeptical glance from a surly local or concerned parent. She was about to sneak off to the backroom to take Hendrix out when someone shrieked her name from the doorway.

“Jinx!”

Kenzie barreled across the room, legs and arms flapping like she’d just seen her favorite cartoon character. Jinx caught her right before Kenzie plowed into her. Scrawny arms wrapped around her waist, and a mass of light-brown hair pressed into her gut. Jinx instinctively hugged the kid back.

Kenzie took two steps backward, grabbed Jinx’s hand, and began tugging her toward the doorway. “Daddy told me you work for Aunt Charlie now. Are you gonna have breakfast with us? I like the french toast sticks. Angelo always makes them look like a face and gives me extra whipped cream. Do you like whipped cream?”

“I…uh— ”

“You gotta like whipped cream. Papa sometimes squirts it into my mouth from the can.” Kenzie’s voice quieted as she glanced at the older man standing next to her dad. “Oh, I wasn’t supposed to tell Daddy that.”

“You must be Jinx.” A woman about Jinx’s height enveloped her in a hug.

Awkward. Who in the hell were these people? So far, Texans sure seemed to like to dole out the hugs. All of them. Well, all of them except the tall, dark, and cranky deputy. Jinx stood still, waiting for the moment to pass.

Cash cleared his throat. “Sorry, my family’s made up of huggers. Mom, enough already.”

The words sounded funny coming from the man who couldn’t seem to stand her. He definitely didn’t strike her as a hugger. Or much of a smiler either. The chip on his shoulder seemed to be as big as the double- wide where she’d last seen her own mother.

Cash’s mom backed away. “I’m sorry. It’s just that Kenzie and Charlie have told us so much about you. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Jinx side-eyed the beaming girl. They’d only met once. What could Kenzie have told them?

Cash gestured to his mother. “Mom, meet Jinx. Jinx, this is my mom, Ann, and my dad, Tom.” He shifted from foot to foot, clearly uncomfortable performing the introductions.

Tom offered a hand, so Jinx shook it. Warm, rough, the way she imagined a rancher’s hands would feel. Charlie had told her she grew up around here with a ranch full of brothers. Lucky for her she had so mucCOh family around.

“Can you eat with us? Nana, can she?” Kenzie grabbed Jinx’s hand in one of hers and Ann’s in the other.

“We’d love to have you join us. Kenzie, why don’t you go find a table?” Ann pointed to the far side of the room, at the tables closest to the windows.

Couldn’t they tell she was on the clock? Surely the logo T-shirt or apron ought to provide a built-in excuse. “Oh, I’m actually working right now. I can’t— ”

“Place is about cleared out, wouldn’t you say?” Tom gestured around the mostly empty room.

The brunch crowd had come and gone. A few regulars sat on barstools watching a college football game. Dixie walked by at that exact ill-timed moment.

“You go ahead, Jinx. I’ll cash out the table you’ve got left. Enjoy the break.” She winked, and Jinx vowed to royally screw up her next cocktail order.

“It’s all settled then. Looks like Kenzie found us a table.” Tom guided his wife toward an empty table where Kenzie sat, swinging her legs in a too-big-for-her chair.

Jinx looked up at Cash, waiting for him to make up some excuse. She didn’t want to budge her way into their little family lunch.

Instead, he pulled his mouth into a resigned line. “Shall we?” He gestured toward the table across the room.

Toward his mom and dad.

Toward his kid.

Toward uncharted territory.

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Take the "Fidelity Test" with Tara Brown's He Loves You Not w/ giveaway

 

My newest release is He Loves You Not!  
The high concept romance is centered around Lacey Winters, my hard working and slightly devious heroine. She’s intelligent, fun, and absolutely gorgeous inside and out.
Her main love in life is her brother Martin, who at the start of the novel is diagnosed with something terrible. The sickness puts Lacey into a bit of a tailspin. Not only is her favorite person in the world sick, but the availability of her funds for her final year of college come into question.
 
Not that she would ever complain, the money is going to a worthy cause. But Lacey needs to graduate. Her dream job is awaiting her. 
Which means nothing will stop Lacey from finding the money. She’s ingenious, crafty, and surrounded by the wealthy elite of Manhattan. All she needs is a plan. 
As if God handed her the idea himself, the week she is desperate for an idea, one lands in her lap. Most of her friends are dating guys Lacey has questioned at one point or another, and that week one is being particularly shady.
 
With the help of her brother, Lacey puts that questioning into practical application—a fidelity testing company called The Test Dummy.
 
What she doesn’t expect is that the idea will hit home with so many of Manhattan’s upper crust. But it does. And pretty soon, business is good.
 
Too good.
 
Which is where everything goes wrong, and right.
 
Fidelity testing is how Jordan Summers is brought into her life, even if it’s to test him for his socialite girlfriend. The number one rule of the company was don’t get caught.
 
After meeting Jordan, it quickly changes to don’t fall for the clients.
 
But nothing is easy in love and war. And make no mistake, Jordan Summers is at war.
 
His father has decided to use him in a plot to get a huge investment from a family friend, by hooking Jordan and the man’s daughter up.
 
The daughter couldn’t be less interested in the relationship and Jordan is desperate to get out of it. Desperate enough to hire the hot new fidelity testing company under the guise he’s his new girlfriend then make himself look guilty.
 
It’s a brilliant plan.
 
What he doesn’t know is the company is owned and operated by the girl he’s chasing and that his infidelity will question everything she thinks she knows about him.
 
This tale is high drama, loads of angst, and laughing out loud for hours.
 
You won’t want to miss this one!
 
 
He Loves You Not Excerpt
 

I dialed my brother and hid in an alcove.

“Lacey?” He answered like he was confused.

“Yeah,” I whispered, and glanced around. “I need advice.”

“Okay.” His tone still seemed skeptical.

“What if I created a company that fidelity-tested guys, offering this as a service for a fee? Is that morally wrong?”

“Fidelity-testing service? Who would honestly pay someone—never mind. Forget I even asked that. We both know who would pay for something so stupid. Is this hypothetical?” He laughed hopefully.

“No,” I whispered, and scanned the hall again. “What would I need?”

“Honestly? I don’t know. I’d need a minute to think about it.”

“You have a minute.”

“Okay. Uhhhhh. A website that couldn’t be hacked. A system of being paid that couldn’t be traced. A couple of girls who could easily blend in and not be recognized if they wore simple disguises. A way of recording every interaction as proof. An email account that’s linked to the website that could send the recordings of the guy being disloyal.”

“Have you given something like this much thought before?” I asked quietly, a little worried.

“Yeah, this is totally what I spend all my free time thinking about,” he said sarcastically. “It’s simple logic, moron.”

“Can you help me make this?” I closed my eyes for a second and really contemplated if this was a good idea.

“Probably. You would make your entire year of tuition and probably mine in the next two months of summer. I would totally be down for this.” He was too eager. “I legit have nothing better to do. But I have one condition.”

“What?”

“Hennie. You give me your blessing to ask her out. I will knock that website outta the park.”

“Fine,” I hissed, and closed my eyes and forced myself into a momentary chant of do whatever makes him happy before I continued with the regular worries. “Are we going to burn in hell for manipulating people like this?” Second-guessing was already starting.

“No. Dude. If girls are willing to pay you for this, that’s their choice, and you should take the money. And it’s the guy’s choice whether or not he acts like a dick. Not your problem. This is like being a PI for love. That’s what you should call it. PI for Love.”

“I was thinking Fidelity Tester,” I whispered, and checked the hall again.

“That sounds stupid.”

“You’re stupid.” We automatically slipped back into our brother-sister banter.

“Love Tester,” he offered, ignoring the name-calling game.

“Man Tester.”

“Dear God. Don’t you claim to work at a marketing firm?”

“Shut up. Test Dummy.” I laughed, thinking how insanely stupid this idea might be and how dumb I sounded even contemplating it.

“Winner!” He smiled. I could hear it in his tone. “Test Dummy it is. I’ll set up the email account now: iamthetestdummy@gmail.com. The address is available; no surprise there. I guess there isn’t a lineup of other creeps putting money on the name.”

“Okay.” I inhaled sharply. “I’ll go advertise it where all the girls look, kinda random and casual, like it’s on the DL.” I took a second deep breath. “Thanks.”

“No, no. Thank you for the chance to contribute my talents on such a positive, healthy, world-benefitting project, with the side perk being you forced to accept my adoration of Hennie. First order of business, stop the players; next up, save the whales. I’ll get started now.”

***

 

Among her superrich friends, Lacey Winters never minded being the “poor one.” That is, until her tuition money and big dreams vanish overnight. Now Lacey has a plan to make some extra cash—a devilishly brilliant plan. For a fee, she’ll test your boyfriend to find out if he’s faithful or a cheating jerk. Her next target: a slick and sexy trust-fund playboy. Unfortunately for Lacey, his charms aren’t just legend. And before she knows it, she’s under his spell.

It was bad enough that Jordan Somersby’s father forced a spoiled “society princess” on him. Then Jordan had to go and find his dream girl—the beautiful, fun, and down-to-earth Lacey. And he’ll do anything to prove he’s sincere. But pretty soon it’ll be Lacey’s turn to prove that this is not just a game.

Because, when it comes to mixing love and deception, nothing is what it seems. And Lacey and Jordan are about to face the ultimate test.

 

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The international bestselling author of Roommates and the Puck Buddies series, Tara Brown writes in a variety of genres. In addition to her comedic Single Lady Spy series, she has also published popular contemporary and paranormal romances, science fiction, thrillers, and romantic comedies. She especially enjoys writing dark and moody tales, often focusing on strong female characters who are more inclined to vanquish evil than perpetrate it. She shares her home with her husband, two daughters, two cats, an Irish wolfhound, and a Maremma Sheepdog. Find out more about Tara by visiting www.TaraBrownAuthor.com.

 

 

BETWEEN A HIGHLANDER AND A HARD PLACE excerpt & giveaway w/ Mary Wine

A fierce Englishwoman on the run.

A Highland Laird who needs a proper wife.

And a desire neither can resist.

Athena Trappes thinks she’s in love…until she discovers the scoundrel only wanted her as his bit on the side. Enraged, she does what any spirited Englishwoman would do: set fire to his belongings, incur his dangerous wrath, and flee—immediately. With nowhere else to turn, she seeks freedom in the wilds of Scotland.

Highland Laird Symon Grant lost his wife years ago, and it’s his duty to find another. Athena is not exactly what the clan has in mind for him, but Symon’s heart burns with unexpected passion for the woman who would risk everything to be free.

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The difficulty with escaping was a person needed a place to go. Athena discovered the truth of her dilemma once she spied her uncle’s home. The moon was rising, but the night was still bitter. The sturdy wool dress she had lamented wasn’t pretty enough was now her dearest friend, for it kept her from shivering.

At least as far as the chill in the night went.

Inside her heart, there was ice forming.

What a fool I was.

And now, her lack of judgment was going to destroy everything. Galwell would do as he promised, she had little doubt. It felt as though his shell had cracked, allowing her to see what manner of foul creature he truly was. Well, she would not allow him to claim a victory over her. But how? Nobles controlled the world. His blue blood would be seen as more honest than her word. The sin of her parents would be taken as a stain against her account of what had happened.

He could accuse her of thievery. Have her flogged or any other manner of horrible fates. Yet there was nowhere else to go.

“Athena?” The door suddenly opened wide, the light from within illuminating her. “Thank Christ! I have been near to death with worry.” Henry was pulling her inside, even as she tried to fend him off. She didn’t really want to. No, he was her family, the man who called her his own when others had advised him to abandon her to an orphan’s lot.

“Tell me true,” he demanded once the door was shut and the warm glow of the candles on the table surrounded her.

Sweet Christ, she had not given enough thanks for how wonderful her home was. The world beyond the door was crueler than she might ever have imagined.

“Athena.” There was a subtle reprimand in her uncle’s voice.

Her memory rushed in with vivid recollection of Galwell’s threats. “I must leave.”

Henry’s forehead furrowed.

“I must,” she insisted. “Oh, Uncle, I have made a grave misjudgment of character.”

Henry held up a hand. His fingertips were marked with scars from years of toil at his trade. She fought back nausea as she recalled how Galwell had promised to destroy it all in his quest to have her submission.

“Tell me everything. We shall find a solution.”

“I must leave,” she muttered, suddenly losing the strength to stand. She lowered herself onto one of the benches at the table. A place she had so often enjoyed the company of her family. Now it was empty, and she faced the knowledge that she could not be there at dawn when they came down to break their fast.

“Galwell…came upon me as I was leaving service…in his carriage…”

Henry had always been a man able to keep his thoughts hidden. Tonight she witnessed him fighting for control of his temper. It flashed in his eyes as he tapped the tabletop with his fist.

“I shall have to leave…” And yet she had no idea where to go. “Galwell will ruin you.”

“Aye, he’s a black-hearted man and no mistake.”

Her uncle stood, pacing about the kitchen. He stopped as he came to some sort of decision. Athena stood, ready to face whatever he might say as her due for loving unwisely.

“We need time,” Henry said. “I am not a man without friends, but it will require planning to ensure Galwell cannot destroy us. As a noble, his word will be listened to first and with more weight. I will have to make inquiries discreetly, for not many will go against Galwell’s blood. At least publicly. Behind closed doors is another matter entirely.”

There was a commotion on the street, the sound of boots stamping against the cobblestones as men approached.

“The priest hole,” Henry whispered.

He didn’t wait but grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward a side of the hearth. There he ran his fingers along a stone until he found the small indentation where he could open a hidden door. She had to turn sideways to fit into the hollowed-out section of the wall. Her uncle closed it, locking her behind the wall of the common room.

It was dark, but she’d often played in the space as a child. She drew in a deep breath and slid down farther, to where she could see into the kitchen through tiny places where the plaster had been removed so a hidden priest might see out.

Someone pounded on the door.

“What’s all this?” her uncle asked gruffly. “Is that my niece at last? I’m sick with worry.”

“We are here for Athena Trappes.”

Through the peepholes, Athena saw the constables with their white staffs. All along the street, doors opened as the neighbors came to investigate why the sheriff had sent the constables out into the night.

Every honest man was expected to show he was not harboring a criminal by opening his door wide.

“And you come to me?” Henry demanded. “Why?”

It wasn’t a lie. Athena realized Henry was a man who was bound by his honor. She bit her lip as her insides churned. Tonight her fate would be decided.

“Baron Scrope’s son has accused her of setting fire to his London home.”

There was a shifting among those watching in the streets. Fire was a grave crime because it might spread so easily in the tight confines of the city.

“You say my niece was with Galwell?” Henry demanded again. “Before he finished the contracts with me? He has offered for my niece and then takes her to his home? I will have satisfaction!”

“So will the sheriff,” the captain of the constables said. “You shall—”

Henry interrupted the man. “You will return to the sheriff and demand to know why Galwell Scrope took my niece to his home when he had sworn to finish negotiating contracts with me, as he pledged his word of honor to do. What manner of a man is noble by birth and yet not honest in his dealing with a common man such as myself? He stood in my home and vowed to wed Athena! It is well known on this street! If my niece set a fire, she was likely attempting to escape from a man who is dishonorable at his core. Did he attempt to make her his whore?”

Now there was a mumbling among those watching, good men who had indeed heard Galwell say he would wed her. The constable captain was uncertain. He looked between Henry and the crowd moving closer.

“I will put the question to the sheriff.”

The constables turned and marched away. Henry nodded to a few of his neighbors before firmly shutting the door.

She wanted to be relieved. But her worry only grew as she recognized just how much power Galwell wielded.

“Stay in there, Athena. I shall return.”

Her uncle was gone a moment later, slipping out of the back door.

It left her alone with her thoughts.

Love hurt.

Her heart was torn. Oh, she understood she owed not a single tear to Galwell, not after what he had done and threatened to do.

And yet her dreams were a pile of rubble at her feet, her world upside down, and even hope seemed beyond her grasp as she felt as though she was turning as hard and cold as the stones she was pressed against.

Perhaps that was for the best.

Yes.

It truly was.

She would never love again, for men were vile creatures. They declared themselves so many things, and beneath it all was naught but the craving to use women to satisfy their lust.

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Jennifer Probst's A BRAND NEW ENDING excerpt & giveaway

 

 

 

 

 

Ophelia Bishop was a lovestruck teenage girl when she and Kyle Kimpton chased their dreams to Hollywood. Kyle’s dreams came true. Ophelia’s did not. When Kyle chose his career over their relationship, Ophelia returned home to rural New York to run the family’s B & B—wiser, and more guarded against foolish fantasies. Now Kyle has come crashing back into her life, and all her defenses are down.

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He parked the car and cut the engine. 

Ten years.

Ten years since he’d come home to the small upstate New York town of Gardiner and gazed upon the staggering Shawangunk Mountains. Ten years since he’d touched snow. Ten years since he’d been surrounded by the eerie beauty of nature’s silence.

And too many years since he’d seen the only woman he’d ever loved.

They’d been the three musketeers—Ethan, Ophelia, and him—caught in a world of their own making. Memories assaulted him. Of running through the woods when they were young and racing horses barefoot as the green meadow flashed below. Of moonlight walks and late nights at Bea’s Diner, squeezed into the cracked red-vinyl booths as they spun dreams of the future and feasted on greasy burgers. Of his first kiss with Ophelia. The taste of innocence and passion mixed with Juicy Fruit chewing gum.

He closed his eyes, staggering under the raw emotions the images brought. Some of those dreams had come true for him, but the price had been brutal.

It was time to make things right.

It was time to reclaim what he’d lost.

Kyle glanced at the passenger seat, his fingers already reaching to stroke the leather laptop case. He’d left a fancy mansion behind, along with rooms filled with expensive trinkets meant to amuse, entertain, and distract the masses. He’d walked away from a gourmet chef, housekeeper, and personal trainer. His garage still held the laser-blue Lamborghini and the sleek black Hummer. He’d left the tuxedoes and designer clothes in his closet; the cedar wine cellar still filled with rare, expensive wine; and the four-poster mahogany bed that had seen too many lonely nights.

Now all he had to his name was one battered suitcase, his laptop, and a Ford Fusion rental car.

And for the first time in way too long, he felt the beginning of a creative spark—the sexy wink of his muse beckoning him closer to his childhood home, where he’d sworn he’d never return.

He grabbed his phone and tapped out a text to Ethan.

I’m here. How bad is she going to take it?

He waited a bit, until the familiar gray bubble with ellipsis popped up.

Don’t know—depends on how pathetic you look. Still have no clue why she’s mad at you.

Kyle winced as guilt punched through him. Falling in love with your best friend’s younger sister was a no-no. Running away with her was even worse. But eloping and not telling his friend about it?

There was no making amends for that one.

He cursed, then tapped his fingers again.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Don’t be stupid—it’s a great idea! The inn isn’t booked up and she’s just being stubborn. Go inside, make nice, and I’ll be there in an hour.

He groaned and resisted the urge to bang his head against the steering wheel. When he’d asked about staying at the inn for three months to work on a new project, he’d worried Ophelia would refuse. When Ethan told him to book his ticket, he’d been relieved.

Until he found out on the plane ride that Ophelia had actually said no. Ethan had conveniently left that part out, citing in true guy code it would all be fine.

Her refusal to see him hurt more than he’d imagined it would, but now he had no choice. Everything was set in motion, and he wasn’t about to return to LA. Not only had he committed to writing this screenplay surrounded by his memories, he’d sworn to fight for a second chance with Ophelia. It was time they both faced the past, put some ghosts behind them, and figure things out. After all, it had been eight years.

She had no idea he was about to walk through her door with the intention of staying for the next three months—in the dead of winter.

That’d be bad enough, but when she heard his other piece of news?

Things were gonna get a hell of a lot worse.

He stayed in the car a few more minutes, trying to psych himself up. Maybe she’d surprise him and be open to talking things through. Maybe she wouldn’t be horrified when he told her about what he’d discovered a few months ago. Maybe it would all work out fine, just like Ethan said.

Even better?

Maybe he’d find himself again.

Grasping at all those positive possibilities, he gritted his teeth, grabbed his bag, and got out of the car.

Kyle can’t think of a better place to write his latest screenplay than his hometown. After all, that was where he met the heart of his inspiration—his first love. He knows the damage he’s caused Ophelia, and he wants a chance to mend their relationship. If anyone can prove to Ophelia that happy ever afters aren’t only for the movies, it should be him.

As much as Ophelia’s changed, she still has feelings for Kyle. But her heart has been broken before, and she knows that Kyle could run back to Hollywood at any time. She gave up her dreams once, but maybe she can dare to change her own love story…one last time.

 

***

Jennifer Probst is the New York Times bestselling author of the Billionaire Builders series, the Searching For series, The Marriage series, the Steele Brothers series, and The Start of Something Good, which is the first book in the Stay series. Like some of her characters, Probst, along with her husband and two sons, calls New York’s Hudson Valley home. When she isn’t traveling to meet readers, she enjoys reading, watching “shameful reality television,” and visiting a local Hudson Valley animal shelter.

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