Sunday, December 25, 2016

Holiday Heartwarmers By Mimi Barbour - $0.99

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Christmas is family time in small town, Carlton Grove... Three stories to lift your holiday spirits!

Snow Pup
A small town’s lovely deputy and a father who lost his son years ago to a vindictive wife team up to save the kid from an overzealous social worker and foster home he hates.

Find Me A Home
An accident changes the lives of: a little baby girl who loses her parents, a crabby puppy who hates all men, a soft-hearted beauty who fears for her brother and also the cop who can’t escape his destiny.

Frosty the Snowman
Stranded in an Alaskan snowstorm, strangers Hali and Terry are forced to rely on each other for survival. The frigid temperatures are brutal and when Terry falls through the ice to save a puppy, the stakes for survival become enormous.

25 Days of Christmas - Sami's Christmas Wish List by PJ Sharon

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All seventeen-year-old Samantha Owens wants for Christmas is a working car, a miraculous improvement in her grades, and a boyfriend who sees her as more than just a friend with benefits. But with a single mom who’s struggling to make ends meet, presents seem unlikely, and with legal troubles looming over her head, she’ll be lucky not to be spending the holiday in juvenile detention. When she’s forced to do community service at the local church, she finds that wishing her life was different won’t make it so, and that avoiding her past may be what’s standing in the way of her future.

It doesn’t help that Travis Vance, a freshman in college and intern for a teen drug and alcohol treatment program, is hanging around and pushing her buttons at every turn. Or that her friends are all going through their own dramas—most of which seem far worse than her own. Can Sami bring everyone together to save the church in time for Christmas? Or is hoping for a happy ending one more wish that will never be granted?

Excerpt:


The next day, Mom drove me to the church early on her way to work. Despite my pleading with her not to, she was determined to check in with Sister Mary Margaret and make sure I wasn’t causing any trouble. When we pulled up in front, Travis was in deep conversation with a tall, broad shouldered man with silvery blond hair and a stern expression that raised the hairs on my neck. From the similarities in stature and the chiseled jawline of both men, it was obvious Travis was in a heated exchange with his father. I paused before getting out of the car.
“Who’s that?” Mom asked.
“Travis Vance,” I said, my ears heating up. I went on to explain Travis’s role as Pastor Tom’s helper during Christmas break and his work at the teen center.
“You seem to know a lot about him,” Mom said suspiciously. “He looks way too old for you. I hope you aren’t going after him.”
“You make me sound like a pit-bull. He’s only nineteen, and it’s not as if I routinely hit on dads at the playground or anything. We’re just friends.”
Mom and I observed the interaction between Travis and his father for another few seconds.
“Whoever he’s talking to isn’t at all happy with your friend Travis.”
A gust of cold wind hit me when I stepped out of the car. I wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck and pulled on my hat, making my way around a snow bank to get to the narrowly shoveled sidewalk. Another four inches had come down overnight, and there seemed no place left to pile the snow.
As my mother and I approached, and Travis saw us coming, he stopped talking and his gaze dropped to his feet. The knot forming in my gut made me wonder if I wasn’t at the center of the discussion.
“Is this the girl?” The hard edge in the man’s voice matched his expression.
Yep…suspicion confirmed.
My mother stiffened beside me. “Excuse me?” she said as she stepped onto the landing at the top of the church steps. “Is there a problem with my daughter?”
To his credit, the man’s face flushed. “I’m sorry, ma’am…I…”
“Did you just call me ma’am?” Now Mom’s face flushed, and I sensed the take no crap waitress side of my mother was about to show. The wind howled and whipped my scarf.
“I didn’t mean…” The man fumbled over his words and glared at Travis, who seemed to be reveling in his father’s discomfort. “This is exactly why I wanted you to stay in California. You could have been at Stanford right now instead of freezing your…” he glanced at my mother and continued. “…freezing in the middle of nowhere.” He blew on his ungloved hands and pulled the collar of his coat up around his ears.
“Why, so you can dictate every minute of my life in person? It’s bad enough you’ve got someone checking up on me.” Travis, fuming, met his father’s gaze head on, the men remarkably equal in stature.
Mr. Vance shifted his gaze from me to my mother before responding to Travis, his jaw tight. “I only want what’s best for you, and we agreed that if you came to Connecticut, you would focus on your studies.” He turned his attention to Mom and forced a not unattractive smile. “It’s nothing personal. I’m sure your daughter is very nice. But she’s young, and from what I understand, she’s been in some…trouble recently. I’m sure you’ll agree she and my son are…” he glanced at Travis as if plotting his next words carefully. “…not a good idea.”
Mom’s signature tell when she was about to say something the other person didn’t want to hear was her chewing the inside of her cheek. Her eyes glazed over as if she were a Doberman about to spring.
“Tell me, Mr.…?
“Vance. Phillip Vance.” He extended a hand to my mother, who studied it for a second before reciprocating.
“Tell me, Mr. Vance…”
“Phillip. And your name?”
Mom looked as if she’d forgotten what she wanted to say. Then she cleared her throat. “Carolyn Owens,” she said dismissively. “My daughter’s troubles are not your concern, but for the record, she’s a great kid. I just want to know if the reason you don’t want your son dating my daughter is because of their age difference, or because you don’t think she’s good enough for him.”
Phillip Vance’s jaw dropped. “I didn’t say that. I just think…”
Before he finished his sentence, a gust of wind produced a loud creak from above. We all followed the sound, craning our necks to peer upward. A second later, the steeple released a thunderous groan, toppled, and crashed onto the roof. Screams echoed from inside as another crack of dried wood vibrated through the air and the roof gave way.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

25 Days of Christmas - Cowboy of Mine by Red L. Jameson


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Book Three of the Glimpse Time Travel Series

The matchmaking, time-traveling muses have a huge problem. An angry Norse god has just captured one of their mortals, refusing to tell them where he took Jacob Cameron, let alone when.

As a seventeenth-century Highlander, being shuttled through time by a man calling himself Odin, might have been enough to crack Jake Cameron’s sanity. He’s kept his mind only through grit, gumption, and the single goal to somehow return to 1653 and his brothers. Landing in the freezing wilds of Montana in 1887, becoming the sheriff for a small mining community, Jake now needs to make a plan to travel back in time. However, when a wee fae-like woman walks into his life all his best-laid intentions becomes hazy.

As a thief and liar, Meredith Peabody knows she has no chance with the new sheriff in town. Although, he melts her frozen heart with his protection and smoldering looks. Even if she did have a chance with him, how could she ever relate she’s not from this time? She might never get the chance because as soon as she realizes her winter’s wish—for Jake to stay close—the criminal he’s hunting turns the tables on him. But there’s no way in h-e-double hockey sticks Meredith will let that happen.

The muses have their work cut out for this glimpse—chasing after a god, trying to find clues where and when their humans could be, and fitting in time for dress shopping has been murder. Gods, hopefully not literally!



Excerpt 


Through the velvet blackness of the winter night, the Montana frost was already settling in, making his breath cloud. But Jake clearly saw all the glittering stars above, a sure sign of no snow.
He rode close to Meredith’s paint, then extracted his plaid, hoping it didn’t smell too dirty. Tethering his horse to a pole, he lowered himself then extracted Meredith from her dappled horse without a word. She made another little noise, her eyes staring at him the whole time, but didn’t say much. Placing her on his horse, he then wrapped the plaid around her, trying to tuck the ends around her dainty feet. Once he felt the chill on her skin though, he stopped and tried to warm her with his hands. He glanced up to see her reaction, but she merely looked at him with those huge eyes of hers. No complaints, no words. But her lids fluttered, and her shoulders seemed to relax under his coat once he got her toes a little warmer. Satisfied that she wouldn’t get frostbite, he then secured the plaid around her feet again, tied her horse to the back of his saddle, then hefted himself behind Meredith.
She wiggled, and at first Jake thought she was trying to distance herself from him. But then he noticed her draping one leg around the saddle horn, ensuring he had room in the saddle, which was very snug with two people in it. Wrapping one arm around her waist, he pulled the reins the direction she’d told him her house was located.
He’d have to say something to her eventually, but for the time being he was too distracted with the way she felt against him, the softness of her backside, the scoop of her waist in his hand. And the way she smelled—a mixture of vanilla and sweat pea blooms. He wasn’t sure if she applied the aroma or if it was her.
He swallowed, trying to regain his thoughts, trying not to nuzzle the back of her head.
She placed a cold hand over his. “I’m that house, down near the creek bed. I left all the lights burning.”
He nodded, but then realized she couldn’t see him. Jake tried to think of words, something to say, but could only concentrate on her palm still on him. He liked her little hand, so dainty.
She was here, in his arms because some man was prowling on her porch. Or she was mad, as Tom and Laura clearly thought. He needed to remind himself that he wasn’t taking a turn with the lady. He wasn’t here to court her. She needed him to protect her, and he’d better damned well do his job.

Where you can find Cowboy of Mine:

iBooks --
Barnes & Noble – http://bit.ly/1HWXRYX
Universal link for Cowboy of Mine -- http://mybook.to/cowboyofmine
And available at other retail book sellers

Bio for Red:




As a military historian by day, sometimes Red does feel a bit clandestine when she writes romance at night. No one knows that while she researches heroes of the past and present, she uses everything for her characters in her books. Her secret's been safe . . . until now.

She lives in Montana with her family and far too many animals but never enough books.

She loves her readers, so please feel free to contact her at http://www.redljameson.com

You can find Red L. Jameson at . . .

Amazon Author Page: http://goo.gl/Gvd2vq


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lost Boys by PJ Sharon - $0.99

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Justin’s friend Cody has disappeared, and Brinn is determined to find out why. Despite an escalation in the tensions between them over Cody and Brinn’s complicated friendship, Justin agrees to join her on a journey that leads to the mysterious jungles of Colombia, where whispers of human trafficking bring them face to face with an old enemy.

Brinn and Justin join forces with friends to do the unthinkable—enter the dangerous jungle on a rescue mission, sparking a battle for the lives of eight young boys and a fight for their own survival. Brinn’s haunted past rears its ugly head as she is forced to once again take on a brutal killer. But in risking her life to save her friend, will she lose the one man who has sacrificed everything for her?

Follow Brinn, Justin, Cody, and a cast of new characters through a series of novellas (30-40k word short novels). Each story will bring a new adventure, another crime to solve, and more danger for Brinn and company as they delve into the world of human trafficking and beyond.

Excerpt:


“Are you okay?” Cody and I asked simultaneously. I laughed.
“Yeah. I’m okay.” The feeling was beginning to come back to my leg and other than a deep ache in the upper thigh, the only damage was to my pride for so easily being brought to tears. I’d sworn I would never be anyone’s victim again, and there I was, bound and about to be tortured and sold into slavery.
“We need to get out of here,” Cody said as he fought against the ropes. He grunted in pain with every movement. “Any ideas?”
Things had quieted down outside, but light continued to stream through the cracks in the old barn door, illuminating the space enough for me to make out shadows. I wiggled and strained for another minute while I formulated a plan. “I’ve almost got these…ropes…off.” With one last sharp pull, my thumb dislocated and the rope slipped off my wrists, taking the bandages with it. Searing pain shot up my arm. I sucked in a breath, freed my arms, and yanked on the thumb. It popped into place, bringing immediate relief. Taking no time to shake out the ache, I untied the rope around my ankles.
“That was impressive,” Cody said as I proceeded to free him.
“It’s going to do us no good if we can’t find a way around all those guards.” We kept our voices low, and my gaze darted to the door to make sure no one was coming. “There are now two guards out front, and once the fire I started behind the dining hall is under control, there will be more patrolling the grounds. Not counting the swarm of men blocking every exit of the compound.”
“Leave them to me.” Cody stood and then wobbled. I wrapped an arm around his waist and ducked under his shoulder to help support him. Our eyes met and even in shadow I saw the tender look of admiration, affection, and gratitude in his eyes. “Thanks for coming after me. I wish you hadn’t,” he added, a stern quirk of his swollen lip making him wince. “But I appreciate the sacrifice.”
“Not a sacrifice,” I said, giving him the same admonishing tone. “You would have done the same for me, right? We can do this.”
“Right.” He gave my shoulder a squeeze. “Which leads me to the fact that it’s going to be tough getting Rick out of here. We’re going to need to borrow one of their trucks.”
“I know where they keep them,” I said.
“First things first.” Cody managed to walk on his own after a few steps and limped toward the back of the barn where the crates were stored. “Can you check on Rick for me while I see what I can scrounge for weapons?”
I nodded and left him to his task, hurrying to Rick’s side. His breathing was even more shallow than before. I untied his hands and feet. He groaned when I turned him onto his back, and his eyes fluttered open.
“You’re a pretty sight,” he croaked in a whisper, forcing a quick smile.
The dark sticky fluid beneath him and the fact the wound in his side was still oozing meant he’d lost a lot of blood and would likely not make a long trip out of the mountains—even if we could get him into a truck and escape the compound. My hands shook as I tucked my jacket under his head.
We had to try. I remembered the herbs I’d stuffed into my pockets back in the garden. Calendula and comfrey weren’t ideal, but they might help slow the bleeding and keep out infection. I dug out the aromatic herbs and crushed them between my hands, pulverizing the flowers and leaves together.
“Sorry, Rick. This is going to hurt.” I lifted his shirt, exposing the raw, blackened hole, the skin around it dark with bruising from the soft tissue damage. There appeared to be no exit hole, which meant moving him in the slightest would be a risk. He nodded and groaned as I packed the wound and placed his hand on top. “Hold this in place as best you can.” He flashed a weak grin and complied, gritting his teeth against the pain.
“Jackpot,” whispered Cody loudly from the back of the barn as he pried open a crate with a crowbar he’d discovered nearby. “Looks like a weapons stash.” He lifted out an AR-15 and continued his search, looking for crates of ammunition. My gaze went back up to the small vent leading to the outside. It would be tight, but I was the only one who could fit through.

25 Days of Christmas - Believe In Me This Christmas Morn by L.A. Sartor - $0.99!

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It’s the week before Christmas and Belle Grantham has won the best gift ever. A website makeover she’s certain will save her struggling literacy nonprofit.

Mitchell Thomas is giving Belle what she needs, a new website to maximize potential donations. In return, he’s getting the Christmas present he so badly wants, an escape from snowy Boulder, Colorado, and haunting memories.

Their wishes are threatened after Belle meets with a donor and discovers his financial rescue comes with unwanted strings...and a ticking clock.

As Mitch and Belle work side by side against time, Mitch is sure that Texas-bred Belle, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, will have little in common with him, who barely owned a spoon until college.

Will Belle believe in him after being dealt a soul-shattering complication?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

25 Days of Christmas - Forever Yours This New Year's Night by L.A. Sartor - $0.99!


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Jennifer Malone Can't Believe What's Happening To Her...
How dare he? Granted she's far from home, dining alone on Christmas Eve. But that doesn't give Major Brice Young—the cocky man who'd out-experted her on a big cyber forensics case months ago—the right to invite himself to her table and then do what he did.

Brice Young Can't Believe He Did What He Just Did...
Stupid move. Brice needs Jennifer Malone to be the beta tester of his new cyber defense program and he bet he'd just ruined his chances. Why on earth did he come here at all, let alone do what he just did? Would Jen still show up at tomorrow's meeting and agree to work with him on testing his new system?

Can Two Prior Adversaries Work Together?
Getting Jen to test his new system is Brice's priority until he discovers she is so much more than the icy cyber geek she portrays to the world. Jen fights to keep her distance, despite Brice's undeniable charm. There is no way she ever mixes business with pleasure, especially with a recently divorced man…or can magic happen on this New Year's Night?

Excerpt:

Stepping into her kitchen gave her a moment alone, a second to catch her breath and steady herself. She and Brice hadn't been apart since this morning unless you counted using the jet's facilities, and she was surrounded by his presence. Then there was the subtle connection she'd felt since they'd left the Pentagon.
A sense of fitting with someone.
A feeling she didn't want or trust. Liar, you'd love to have a relationship that was equal, witty, fun.
Pushing that fruitless thought aside, she turned to the fridge and pulled out bacon, eggs, veggies, cheese and bread.
Jen hadn't been kidding when she said she liked to cook. It was something she learned from Annie, who was by far the better cook. But Jen knew if she did it more often, they would be neck and neck in any cooking competition.
She stopped turning the bacon as she realized she used the word competition. Why did she think everything had to be a test of who was better?
"I hope you're letting that cool enough for me to nibble on?"
She blinked at Brice's pleading voice and realized she still held the bacon midair in her tongs. "Sorry, it's not quite done. Another few minutes. Did you want to get your bag unpacked?"
"Sure, show me the room."
Jen pointed to the small building at the edge of her yard.
"Ah, your lab.
"Yep."
"You're really going to make me sleep in your lab?"
"Sure. You'll feel right at home."
Turning the heat down so the bacon wouldn't burn, Jen moved to the back door and turned on the yard lights, illuminating the pathway, covered by a good foot of snow.
"You'll have to walk through the white stuff, but you'll be okay once you get a path going."
"I need boots."
She looked down to see his shoes. "Seriously, you wore loafers to Colorado in winter?" Jen almost caved and told him about the guest suite in the house, but decided at least for tonight to give tit for tat. No reservations, then deal with it.
And she had this sneaking sense that Brice thought if he smiled hard enough, she'd cave. No way, this was business. She knew too much about him already. He was gorgeous, but he was divorced.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with loafers, you guys plow sidewalks in Colorado right?"
"Right. Public sidewalks."
And he was funny.
Keeping her face straight was an effort, but she won the battle as Brice's shoulders slumped. He trudged out of the kitchen as she bit down her smile. Returning moments later, suitcase and laptop in hand.
"Bacon will be ready by the time you unpack."
Stepping out into the snowy night, he looked back at her with big, sad, puppy-dog eyes.
Oh, mean trick.
Instead of giving in, she waved cheerfully, and Brice turned back to carving a path through the snow to the lab.
Guilt bit her and she turned on the walkway heating system. The bluestone-paved path, which ran from her house to the lab, had tubing beneath it that pumped heated antifreeze through the lines. A neat solution she'd had installed when years ago at 2 a.m. in the morning—after tossing, turning and punching her pillow—Jen finally figured out the solution to a complex problem that had plagued her for a week.
Not wanting to risk waiting until the morning to try out her idea, she ran across the snowy yard, slipped, and fell on her bum. It didn't hurt, but snow filled her sweatpants and fell down her shirt.
The next day she made a call to her landscapers and had the heating system on order.
Annie hadn't understood why Jen didn't want the lab in her house. After all, Annie often burned the midnight oil, and her office was right across the hall from her bedroom. But after Jen had explained that either Todd or Susan-her two employees, might need to come to her private lab to work on a problem or check a solution, Annie got it.
So she'd built the lab in what was originally going to be the pool house. She sure as hell didn't have time to care for or even use a pool. At least not at this point in her life.
The back door opened, letting in a blast of frigid air as Brice walked in. Perfect. The last of the bacon was just finished cooking.
He took off his shoes, and she laughed when she realized he'd put plastic bags over them for protection. "Did you find everything?"
"Yeah, cozy set up, even a couch, which I can barely fit on."
She smiled at his beseeching expression and sized up his six-foot-plus frame. "Nice try. It pulls out into a bed. Why buy a simple couch when you can get a bed as well?"
"If it's anything like the bed in the apartment I'm renting, I'll sleep on the floor."
"It's very comfortable, so no worries." She put the bacon onto a paper-towel-lined platter and held it out to Brice. "Careful, it's hot."
He ate one piece quickly and reached for another. "This is really good, where'd you buy it?"
"Maine."
His eyebrows rose. "No, really."
"Yes, really. It's one of my splurges and reminds me of home. I order a few pounds every couple of months from a small farm outside the town I grew up in. I keep some in the freezer."
"And your eggs, where do they come from?"
Again, unbidden laughter rolled up from her belly. She had to be careful—this man had made her laugh more in a few hours than several of her more recent dates did during their entire time together. "There’s this awesome place called a market, King Soopers, to be exact."
"Hmmm, I've heard of those kinds of stores, but they scare me."
"You're what, at least thirty-eight, and a grocery store scares you?"
"Forty, and yes, they do."
"How are you at chopping up peppers?"
"Which end of the knife do I use?" he said with a grin. "But I can learn, if you'll teach me."
Teach him? Standing body next to body while she showed him how to curl his fingers under on top of the food and make the proper undulating movement with the knife?
"Maybe later."
"Shucks."
"Seriously?" She looked at him, mouth open. "Shucks?"
"Sure, it's a perfectly good word."
"For a boy from Kansas," Jen said in a lighthearted tone.
"Found me out."
"Seriously?"
"There are other words in the dictionary. Yes, I grew up on a farm in Kansas. And I only use shucks when I'm trying to get into a lady's good graces."
"Huh, that's an interesting technique. Okay, no knives for you. How are you with a bottle opener?"
"Expert, gold medaled in the sport. Point out the bottle"
"It's in the fridge, the pinot grigio, if that's okay with you." She handed him the opener.
He nodded and looked around, then headed in the right direction toward the refrigerator, covered in wood that matched her cabinets.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

25 Days of Christmas - Be Mine This Christmas Night by L.A. Sartor Excerpt - $0.99!

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From bestselling author L.A. Sartor

The Children's Author …
Annie Hamilton's children's series Star Light~Star Bright is a mega hit. She loves kids and wants nothing more than a family of her own, but twice burned, thrice shy. When a gorgeous man with two young boys moves next door, Annie can't help but dream her impossible dream.

And The Widower Who Moved Next Door …
Cole Evans is a brilliant scientist, but finds fatherhood a challenge. When his son develops a bond with their enchanting neighbor, the boy’s favorite author, Cole discovers just how much he's lost—and how much he needs.

Will Their Wish Come True This Christmas Night?
Can Cole overcome family meddling and alleviate Annie's fears so they can be a ready-made family?

CHAPTER TWO …
Mannheim Steamroller played through Annie's earbuds from the MP3 player tucked into her parka pocket. What a glorious morning. The storm had moved on, the sky was brilliantly blue, and the sun sparkled off the pristine white blanket that covered everything.
Three weeks before Christmas and the snow was a foot deep. The forecasters predicted more this week, so Annie decided it was a sign they'd have a white Christmas. Not rational as that date was too many days away to forecast the weather, but she didn't care. Sometimes you just had to believe.
She stopped pushing the snowblower for a moment, catching her breath, leaning against the heavy machine. The weight of the snow-spewing monster on top of no sleep last night took its toll far sooner than normal.
She'd bought the biggest snowblower she could handle, not only because of her wide driveway, but also, once she got going, the whole sidewalk on her side of the street got the Annie treatment.
And it was good exercise, especially when she knew she was going to make her favorite coffee as a treat afterward.
Taking a deep, frosty breath, Annie turned back to resume her task and jumped a foot when Doctor Cole Evans stood right in front of her machine, lips moving.
A chuckle bubbled up and despite her best intention, laughter escaped just as she pulled the earbuds from beneath her cap.
The furrow between his dark brows grew deeper. Annie grasped the handles of the snowblower tighter, fighting the urge to push him into the snow. He needed to lighten up.
"Jeeze, scare me to death. I'm sorry I didn't see you come up, but I was listening to music." She held one earbud closer to his ears so he could hear the Christmas music. If he didn't believe in Christmas, then she was taunting him, and somehow that didn't bother her a bit. Not her normal behavior, but the guy just seemed to push her ornery buttons.
"You don't have to clear our walk. I was going to do it when I came out to clean off the Pilot before I headed for the lab."
"I don't mind—it's good exercise so I can make myself a mocha peppermint coffee topped with whipped cream afterward. What kind of doctor are you that you have a lab?"
"An atmospheric physicist."
Annie's jaw dropped, then she laughed to cover her own astonishment as well as her embarrassment. "Not an MD, then. My mistake."
"Not in a million years. I faint at the sight of blood and anyone will tell you I've got no bedside manner."
"You got that right," she murmured under her breath.
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
"Nothing. Really, I plow the neighbor's walks all the time and it's fun, honest," she said, seeing his skeptical gaze. "You have snow in Virginia, don't you?"
"Of course. The wet slushy kind."
"So you had to remove that, right?"
"Right."
"No different."
"Except you're doing my sidewalk."
"I'm a simple author who does sidewalks on the side, okay?"
He snorted and she loved that he would do so. It was such a plebeian thing to do. Not at all "East Coast."
"Not a simple author. As you may have guessed, Josh loves your books. And having you live next door may be a curse to you."
"Never. I love kids."
"It's evident in your writing."
Not quite believing her ears, she stared at the man standing in front of her. "Why I do believe that's a compliment, which, before you can retract, I'll take," she added swiftly, seeing his mouth open, then shut.
"What are Josh and his brother doing this afternoon? I've got a new character to illustrate and I'd love their input."
"Mitch is taking them Christmas tree shopping, then onto snow shoeing lessons this afternoon."
"Oh. Well that sounds like fun. Who is—"
Annie glanced up as Cole's front door opened. And when did you start thinking of him as Cole instead of Doctor Cole Evans?
The man Annie had seen helping Cole move in stood in the doorway, zipped his parka, and turned back in apparent surprise as Josh pushed past him.
"Annie, we're going Christmas tree shopping. Want to come?"
Cole froze as did the man at the door.
"Hey, Josh."
Without stopping to think, Annie hugged the boy after he ran right up to her.
"Want to introduce me to your brother and friend?" Annie nodded to the man and boy who now stood next to Cole.
"Oh. That's Uncle Mitch. And that," he said, pointing to the youngest in the trio of males standing together, "is my brother, Peter."
Peter stood unmoving and unsmiling until "Uncle Mitch" nudged him. Not Cole, Annie realized, but Mitch. Curious.
Peter looked at Mitch, then at her. "Ah, nice to meet you."
Annie smiled at Peter and held out her hand to Mitch. "And nice to meet you both as well. It's great Cole has a brother nearby."
"I'm Lauren's brother."
Ah. More curious. "My mistake." It was evident by Mitch's clipped tones he didn't like her. He didn't know her at all, but he sure didn't like her already. And that she wasn't invited to their outing was also pretty darn clear.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Proposal & Pumpkin Pie by Debora Dennis

$1.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers

Amazon

Welcome to Starlight Hills! Mountain views, small town charm, and one little bake shop, where romance is always on the menu.

Lacey Andrews is focused on her city life and her CPA career. The last thing she wants is a relationship and up to now she’s managed to dodge her mother’s increasingly desperate attempts at matchmaking. But it’s Thanksgiving, and for Lacey that means family, the magic of walking through crisp fall leaves, and the Itty Bitty Bake Shop’s pumpkin pies. So she’s heading back to Starlight Hills for the holiday. Only this year, she suspects coming home alone might be a big mistake.

Kane O'Brien learned the hard way that being chivalrous only ends in betrayal and pain. He’s been an outsider in Starlight Hills since the Andrews family turned the town against him twelve years ago. While he's done his best to rebuild his life and his auto repair shop, he’s never quite outrun his turbulent past. Now he no longer believes in family traditions or holiday celebrations.

But a chance encounter in the Itty Bitty Bake Shop, a shared pumpkin pie, and one crazy proposal could make this the holiday that changes everything.

Plain Fame: By Plain Accident by Erin Brady

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Laura Sumers is not having a good day. She’s been fired by her boss and may be forced to move back home to Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. She’s running out of time and she’s running out of luck! She needs a job to stay in New York City and fast! It’s then that fate intervenes when she is struck by a bike. The bike rider is none other than Scott Bratton, the famously handsome CEO of Bratton Publishing. Scott offers Laura the opportunity of lifetime, the chance to stay in the city she loves. It’s an offer she can’t refuse. In no time, Laura’s playing personal assistant to New York’s most eligible bachelor and wondering what she may have gotten herself into.

From Newsprint to Footprints: A River's Edge Cozy Mystery by Elaine Orr

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Grouchy news publisher Hal Morris fires reporter Melanie Perkins because she takes too many photos of flowers when she's supposed to concentrate on the story at hand. She lands work as a landscaper, but there's an ugly surprise her first day at the new job.

At first no one thinks Melanie could be a killer. But when her hoe turns up in the same mulch pile as a body, the local sheriff isn't so sure. Mel’s initially willing to let law enforcement clearher name, but the hoe and a nighttime assault convince Melanie she has to look out for herself.

Life along the Des Moines River in Iowa can be peaceful, but the murderer has no problem disturbing Melanie’s tranquility.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

25 Days of Christmas - Just in Time for Christmas by Kim Boykin

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Nobody does Christmas like Miranda Hamilton, and now that she finally has her chance to chair Magnolia Bay's tree lighting and the cotillion, which benefits her late mother’s breast cancer foundation, this Christmas is shaping up to be the best ever. That is until her childhood nemesis Logan Mauldin buys his way on her committee and starts making plans of his own.

Logan Mauldin loves to get under Miranda's very sexy skin, and it's only fair. She's been getting under his since long before their first kiss at 13. Logan’s the last man interested in co-chairing a Christmas committee or participating in a sexy bachelor auction, but since that night he interrupted Miranda on a date and cornered her under the mistletoe, he can't stop thinking about her. Or vying for her attention and bugging the hell out of her.

Christmas cheer isn’t the only thing that heats up between the Miranda and Logan, but, thanks to a lie that is as much her fault as it is his, he loses the woman he’s loved since forever. Logan will need a Christmas miracle for Miranda to forgive him. A grand gesture to melt her heart and win her back just in time for Christmas.

CHAPTER ONE


Miranda Hamilton yanked the freshly baked sugar cookies out of the oven and lightly touched the tops of them to make sure they were as perfect as the B&B experience she created for all her guests at Ivy Cottage. She put the pan of biscuits in the oven, cranked up the temperature, and set the timer. Normally, she kept freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on the warming plate on the ancient mahogany table at the top of the stairs, but Christmas called for sugar cookies. Perfectly decorated, like the rest of Ivy Cottage, Magnolia Bay’s finest B&B.

            Outside, friendly magnolia wreaths with bright red plaid bows adorned each of the fifteen windows of her gorgeous historic home. At night the house sparkled, completely outlined in white twinkling lights. The same for the base and lower branches of the ancient live oak in the front and the tall slender trunk of each stately palm. Powder pink Camellias in full bloom encircled the house like a delicate bracelet and were also interlaced with lights as well, because goodness knows, if Miranda learned anything from her dad, she learned there was no such thing as too many Christmas lights.

            She headed up the stairs with the cookies and couldn’t help smiling at the smell of the fresh pine garland that lined the bannister mingled with the scent of the cookies, making her heart quicken. She loved Christmas as much as she loved her beloved two hundred year old home that was considered by most to be one of Magnolia Bay’s finest bed and breakfast.

Eying one of the red plaid bows that was a hair cockeyed, she made a mental note to set it right on her way back downstairs. She put the cookies on the table and noticed that three of the five copies of the Charleston Post and Courier were missing from the threshold of the bedrooms. That meant she’d have guests downstairs soon; she’d better get a move on if she was going to have breakfast ready and be out the door before nine.

She hurried back downstairs straightening the plaid bow and the handmade stockings she’d hung over the fireplace. She’d missed the Thanksgiving bargains that weekend. While she loved to shop as much as the next girl, Miranda’s Black Friday was always spent in Boone, in the other Carolina.

As usual, she’d chosen the perfect Christmas tree for her foyer. Sure, she always caught hell for not buying her tree local at Pineville Farms, but she ignored the complaints from friends who gawked at and secretly coveted her gorgeous Douglas fir. The requirements were simple, not too fat as to overpower the foyer, not so skinny that it looked like a stick, and it had to be at least twelve feet tall. At just a hair under fifteen feet, this year’s tree was exquisite decorated in white twinkling lights and ornaments from the sea. Starfish. Sea urchin angels with white seashell wings and sand dollars of all sizes bleached white by the sun, collected from the beaches on Bulls and Capers islands, the nearby barrier islands.

            The train set her grandfather willed to her meandered around the base of the tree and throughout the living room. He had obsessed over it for as long as she could remember, and it always made Miranda feel childlike to see it chugging around the room. Christmas figurines her grandmother had given her dotted the living room and were tastefully arranged around the cottage. The poinsettias throughout the house would need watering today, all forty-two of them.

            In the kitchen, she filled a big pot with water and grits. The shrimp had been peeled the night before. The timer on the oven sounded; the biscuits were golden brown. She smeared butter over the tops of them and threw together what many had called the best shrimp and grits in the Lowcountry together. She could make this recipe in her sleep and, if she’d enjoyed herself a little too much with her best friends, the Six Chicks, sometimes she did.

She’d already whipped peppered pimiento cheese into the snowy white grits. Stirred the heavenly shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic, sweet red pepper, and swimming in her secret creamy sauce.

            “Good morning,” the cute couple from Arkansas chimed in unison as she placed the chafing dish on the antique buffet table. They’d come the day before Thanksgiving and were staying until Wednesday.

            “Morning, y’all. Everything’s almost ready. Juice, coffee, mimosa, or all of the above?”

            “Mimosa for me,” Ms. Arkansas drawled. “Coffee for him.”

            Miranda thought it was funny that these two had been married for so long, the husband rarely spoke. He didn’t have to; his wife did it for him.

            “We adore your place, Miranda. Thanksgiving was perfect and waking up yesterday to a Christmas wonderland was even better.” Ms. Arkansas looked at her husband who nodded in agreement on cue. “I can’t believe it’s already Monday. Seems like we just got here.”

            “Thank you. I’m glad you love Ivy Cottage as much as I do. Wish you all could stay until the Christmas tree lighting. You’d adore the formal,” Miranda nodded at the wife. “It’s elegant and beautiful, really something to see.”

            “I wish we could stay too. Maybe we’ll come back next year for the event, although we’d already planned to come back for your Thanksgiving feast. The sweet potato casserole alone is worth the trip.”

            “Thanks. I’d love to have you.” She set the rest of the breakfast in place. “Everything’s out on the buffet. The chafing dishes will keep things warm. There’s plenty of coffee and juice, an endless supply of champagne,” Miranda smiled as she poured the mimosa. “I apologize for leaving you all this morning, I have to dress and get to a meeting by nine.” And Miranda couldn’t wait. “I told the other guests last night. They’ll find their way to the food and coffee, and I’ll be back before you know it.”

            The meeting was a block away at City Hall; if it went well, she’d be back by ten. And everything would go well. Even if it was just for this year, the Bloom Bitches, Daisy and Camellia, who ran The Historical Society and thought they ran Magnolia Bay, had finally and begrudgingly handed over the reigns to two of the biggest annual events in Magnolia Bay. Miranda couldn’t be more proud to be the chairman of the city Christmas tree lighting and Winter Formal.

            With her organizational and creative hooks into the events, Miranda was in heaven. Just two weeks away, the events were going to be bigger and better than ever, but Miranda wasn’t doing it for the accolades that would surely bring. A large portion of the money raised from concessions at the tree lighting as well as the silent auction and tickets to the Winter Formal went to her favorite Lowcountry charity. While the tree lighting and formal had been around as long as Miranda could remember, both now carried the name of the Barbara G. Hamilton Foundation, named for Miranda’s mother who’d died of breast cancer the year Miranda graduated from college.

Half of the proceeds the foundation received went to research. The other to half went into a fund that provided help to patients and their families with travel and medical expenses, which, as Miranda from experience, could eat up a family’s resources in a heartbeat.

Miranda had honored her mother’s memory every year working tirelessly for Daisy and Camellia. The Bloom Bitches didn’t like to give up control of anything, much less the biggest events in Magnolia Bay. Lucky for Miranda, Daisy was receiving a lifetime achievement award at the American Historical Society the first weekend of December and her sister and co-chair Camellia wouldn’t miss seeing that for the world. With Miranda as chairperson, she could do things the way she wanted, make the event bigger, better, and raise more money to help families in need. Help find a cure for the horrible disease that had taken her mother.

She pulled on a lovely Christmas red sheath dress and a gorgeous pair of Stuart Weizman black pumps. She ran a brush through her thick blond shoulder length air and finished the look with her mother’s pearls. Saying her goodbyes to the guests who were in heaven around the breakfast table, she was out the door. The crisp Lowcountry morning felt delicious as her heels clicked along the sidewalk. She’d checked ticket sales for the formal online last night before she went to bed and again this morning. They’d already surpassed last year’s record and if sales kept going up, they’d need to find a bigger venue, which could be a problem. But a wonderful problem.

Daisy and Camellia had almost canceled their trip when they’d learned that Miranda had advertised the formal to the public. It had always been a hoity-toity affair for the locals held at the historic city gardens with the silent auction bringing in the most cash.  Miranda had changed things around a bit, raising the cost of tickets, inviting the public, and in addition to the same old silent auction with the same old items, Miranda was auctioning off dates with Magnolia Bay and Charleston’s most eligible bachelors. That alone probably accounted for sales being up ninety tickets over last year.

She entered City Hall and was greeted by Dee, a sweet round receptionist in her fifties who singlehandedly ran City Hall. She’d been invaluable to Miranda, getting her up to speed so that she could do this job, even with the scrutiny of the Bloom Bitches. “Morning Sunshine,” Dee said, handing Miranda her coffee.

“You’re a mind reader, I really needed a third cup.” Miranda took a sip and nearly spat it back in the cup.

“About the coffee,” Pat began in a hushed tone, “You’re going to need that shot.” Crap. Pat had known Miranda since she was a kid. This couldn’t be good.

She tossed the cup in the trash and poured herself a fresh cup. The last thing she wanted was the board members thinking she was a lush. “Are Daisy and Camellia here again? I thought after the last meeting, they trusted me to get this thing right.”

“They’re not here, but--.” Pat was cut off as Mayor Delaney breezed out of her office in a flowy navy dress.

“Miranda.” She had a pained look on her face she tried to make pleasant with a smile. This wasn’t like Mayor Delaney at all. She gave Miranda an air kiss, but never looked directly at her. “Come. The meeting’s already started.”

“But I’m fifteen minutes early,” Miranda stammered following her down a long hallway toward the boardroom. “Aren’t I?”

“Yes and no. There’s been a new development. Really, a wonderful development that came with a great big fat donation made out to your mother’s foundation. I know the Christmas tree lighting and the Christmas Cotillion are your pies, but there’s going to be another pair of fingers in them,” she said hesitantly. “But it’s all good. All for charity.”

“Fabulous.” Miranda said, but what had this woman so tentative, almost worried?

“The money comes with some strings,” the mayor continued. “That’s what we were meeting early about. I left a message on your cell last night.”

“I’m sorry, when I’m decorating the cottage for Christmas, I’m oblivious. It’s wonderful about the donation. Whatever those strings are, I’m thrilled.”

As they were passing the ladies room, the door opened and out strutted Pammy Anderson dressed like a runway model in couture. Shit. Was this where the money came from? Was the catch that Miranda would have to work with the woman who was vying to take the title of Biggest Bitch in the bay away from the Bloom sisters? Great. But if it came with money that would go to her mother’s foundation, she could work with anyone. Even Pammy.

“Morning, Pammy. Great to see you.”

Miranda put on her best smile. She was sure Mom was looking down from heaven and laughing at the show. Mom had comforted Miranda through her grade school years when Pammy lived to torture her. If Miranda achieved something, was given or earned something, Pammy made it her job to bully her out of it. But in the sixth grade, after Miranda grew a little backbone and some boobs, which shouldn’t have but did improve her social status but did, things were better. Not that Pammy didn’t try to  Miranda really thought Pammy would eventually grow out of it, but no such luck.

Pammy still loved to get her digs in whenever she could, but since she started working for Big Jim Mauldin’s huge Arcadia Dunes development as sales director, she’d been busy. Making a shrimp boat full of money, which she loved to throw around town, buying fabulous clothes and shoes and a custom made BMW that cost more than Miranda made in a year.

Miranda took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. This is for Mom. “Thanks for your very generous donation, Pammy. I looking forward to working with you.” For a moment, Miranda was hypnotized by Pammy’s predatory smile.

The mayor paused outside the boardroom and was saying something; Miranda only caught the tail end. “—New co-chair.” What? Pammy Anderson is her co-chair? This couldn’t get any worse.

For you, Mom. This is for you.  . “You’ll make a great co-chair,” Miranda offered. But you taught me to let people know where I stand. Never back down. “I look forward to working with you, Pammy.”

“Oh, Pammy’s just a new committee member Logan Mauldin brought on,” the mayor gushed, as she pushed open the door. “He’s your new co-chair.”

Fabulous. Logan Mauldin. The only person other than Pammy Anderson she would never want to be stranded on a committee with.

He stood with the rest of the gentleman as she entered the room and buttoned his black blazer. Her eyes glided down his well-worn jeans for a fraction of a second and then jerked back up to his face. The crisp white shirt he was wearing stood out against his perfect year round tan and accentuated his disgustingly beautiful blue eyes that sparkled. No. Twinkled, and he was enjoying this. Too much. Between the shock, and well, him, no wonder, Miranda’s mouth was gaping open.

She should have slapped herself for gawking at him. Instead, she turned her attention to the rest of the board members, and gave even Pammy, her most genuine smile. “Everyone. Wonderful to see y’all. Logan.”

“You can’t imagine my surprise when Logan here, nabbed me Saturday night at Crusoe’s,” the mayor said, like the man was the second coming. The sexy smirk on his face wasn’t helping Miranda at all. “Put a great big fat check in my hand and said he had some fabulous ideas for our little Christmas events. Even asked if he could co-chair. Of course, knowing you wouldn’t mind, I said yes.”

Miranda nodded. She’d been at Crusoe’s Saturday night and had seen the mayor and her husband. Miranda had been on a date with John Jackson, a yummy attorney from Charleston who Miranda had recently met at one of the gallery crawls there. He had talked her into taking a break from decorating the house, and she was glad she did. The food and the wine had been as good as his company.

Although there hadn’t been any real sparks at dinner, they were just getting to know each other and the night was young. John asked Miranda if she wanted to walk on the docks; when she said yes, he asked the waiter to split the last of their wine in to-go cups.

John had just put her wrap in her shoulders when she noticed Logan coming in with a stunningly beautiful leggy redhead. As Miranda and John and some other diners who had the same idea bottlenecked near the restaurant door that faced the docks, Logan was headed to his table. His hand brushed Miranda’s, and the current that always passed between them made her jerk away. Her heart beat faster than it had at any point during the evening. Her chest felt tight.

“Sorry,” she muttered to Logan. Jesus. She was with a date and totally embarrassed by her body’s immediate reaction to him. She was so grateful no one had seemed to notice. Especially John.

As the diners in front of her filed out the door, Logan leaned in close enough to whisper. “Not. Sorry.” Then he sat down and gave his date a polite smile, obviously not as affected as Miranda was by their brief exchange.

The cool Lowcountry night was beautiful, and the full moon hung over the center of the bay like a giant luminous ornament. Hand in hand, she and John walked to the very end of the pier where it was more private. He kissed her. He was a good kisser, at least an eight on her friends’, the Six Chicks’, scale, but Miranda didn’t feel anything close to what she felt from simply brushing hands with Logan Mauldin.

And now he was here at her committee meeting trying to upend things in the ninth hour. Usual sexy smirk. A big fat donation with strings attached. What did that mean? That he was nuts? They were oil and water. This would never work.

            “Miranda.” He extended his hand. “Always a pleasure.”

That smirk said he knew exactly what he did to her. She sat in the only available seat beside him, determined to get down to business. When she gave his hand a firm shake, her heat fluttered.

Damn heart.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Injury & Ecstasy by Marly Andrews

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Injured Air Force pilot Nick Thompson is slowly recovering from a piloting accident that brought him out of the field. With demanding effort, he has pushed himself to rebuild strength and endurance to prove he can return to the cockpit. He has to – flying is his life.

Months later, while recuperating at home he begins to realize that the beautiful widow next door is doing more than helping him heal. She is showing him how to become the man he’s always wanted to be. As he gets closer to her, an unfamiliar ache and desperation takes hold of his heart.

After a year of grieving over the sudden loss of her husband, Maggie Carter is ready to rebuild and start over. At the age of 40, she is a vibrant woman ready to live life again. With an empty nest on Lake St. James, she finds the sexy recovering pilot next door to be more than the solution to her loneliness.
As these two cross the fence of friendship, the heat builds as a part of Nick’s past catches up to him.

25 Days of Christmas - Petectives: Christmas Party by Robert J. Smith

$0.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers

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Christmas time is here and cat detectives Yoshi and Gatsby are back in this holiday whodunnit! Someone not filled with the holiday spirit is trying to kill an obnoxious dog and the Petectives are on the case. While conducting their latest investigation, Gatsby's also planning a Christmas Eve blowout for the neighborhood animals. Yoshi is dead set against the party but he may be able to use the festivities to unmask a would be killer and teach Gatsby what Christmas is all about. Throw in a canine love triangle and a cute orphan kitten and you've got the recipe for one riveting Yuletide affair. The Petectives are throwing a Christmas party and you don't want to miss it!
A 19,000 word mystery novella

Monday, December 12, 2016

25 Days of Christmas - Still Presence by Kyan Christopher

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A weekend in a cabin up north is the perfect getaway. At least that’s what Tristan and Kyle think when they invite their friends to join them for a holiday vacation. But after the tragedy that befell their friends, can this year’s festivities help Kacy and Mitch learn to live after their loss? Does the Christmas season truly bring hope or will heartache overtake any chance for a Christmas miracle?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

25 Days of Christmas - Seduction at the Christmas Court by Jenna Jaxon

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Alyse and Geoffrey, Lord and Lady Longford, have journeyed to the glittering Christmas Court of King Edward III in the year 1349 to wait upon the king and take part in some Yuletide merriment. However, when Geoffrey is suddenly called into the king’s service again, Alyse must remain at court, attending the queen and persuading her rebellious sister to accept an unwanted betrothal. When rumors of Geoffrey’s death arise, Alyse fends off an old suitor who wants to renew their friendship. But how long will he take “No” for an answer?

Excerpt:

Alyse stared in horror as Guy nonchalantly raised her hand to his lips. The skin seemed to shrink, as though it would crawl off her bones to escape his touch. She longed to snatch it away from the vile man however, mindful of the thousand eyes that marked her every movement, she instead gave him a coy look and a nod. “You are kind to remember me, Guy, now that you have my sister to wife. I doubted you would give me a glance in the wake of her beauty.”

Geoffrey moved closer to her, his hulking presence a subtle warning.

An she knew her husband, he was now sorely tempted to run Guy through with his sword. Thank God it lay safe in their chamber. “I give you good evening, Sir Guy. It has been long since last we met at my father’s house.” Remind him who had triumphed that evening and mayhap he’d keep his distance and his head.

“Too long, cherie. Perhaps now we are to be kindred, we will see much more of one another.” His gaze rested on her mouth and he licked his lips.

Bold villain. Alyse drew closer to Geoffrey. The man’s dark-eyed gaze would peel the clothes from her like the skin from an orange an she endured it much longer.

Face blackened in a scowl, Geoffrey bumped her side as he stepped between her and Guy. “My wife will enjoy her sister’s company as often as she likes while we are at court, Sir Guy. An you are in the room you may bear them company as well during the Christmastide. Should you journey to Longford after you are wed, of course, we will always open our home to you.” Her husband’s teeth clenched so tight his jaw creaked. He’d rejoice in Guy’s company when the last trump sounded.

“Pippa,” Alyse said, turning to her sister, sorry that she must bear witness to Guy’s disrespect. Pray God His Majesty never heard tell of this conversation. She grasped her sister’s hands, pulling the girl from Guy’s side. “’Twill only be a short time ‘ere we are gone from here. This feuding twixt Guy and Geoffrey will last only so long as we remain here. Once you are married—”

“Once I am married to him there will be no escape, Alyse.” Pippa’s voice, hard-edged, flat, and filled with anger, made her cringe. “I will be forever chained to a man who cares nothing for me, only for my sister.”

Saturday, December 10, 2016

25 Days of Christmas - 'Twas The Night by Linda Wisdom

$3.99

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Nothing could send Ukiah Jones running except something shocking. Two of his best buddies got hitched and eternal Ki was determined not to be number three. Now he was holed up at the friends’ jointly owned Lake Tahoe cabin until he felt it was safe to come out.

There was only one, make that three, problems.

The cabin was taken over by a lady on the lam and two young kids. His masculine safe haven was quickly cluttered with toys and filled with the noise of kids singing Christmas carols. What didn’t help was Ki’s response to their beautiful and very mysterious protector.

But it wasn’t about to stop there. Not when Sydney and the kids wanted him to play not only Santa, but daddy!

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Sweet Montana Christmas by Roxanne Snopek

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Melinda Sweet loved her husband before she learned of his wealth and she loves him still, despite the fact that it’s gone. Unfortunately, while she knows the collapse of his Chicago financial services business had nothing to do with him, he believes otherwise. His upbeat adjustment to their new – and temporary – life on his grandfather’s rundown honey farm is a foil to cover the burden of failure. She wasn’t expecting to throw – in five weeks – the traditional Sweet Christmas Open House, but it’s a good earning opportunity and how hard could it be?

Austin Sweet is determined to make his wife proud of him again. But he also wants to erase the sting of shame he feels from his parents, to whom he owes a debt of gratitude for arranging for this caretaking job. Getting paid to fix up this disaster is better than living in their basement, sure. But what does he know about bees? Or fixing broken plumbing? Or cleaning a chimney?

But when Austin’s grandfather gives him the farm as a Christmas gift, there’s only one response. Accepting the gift will secure a future that will make his wife even more unhappy than he already is. Refusing the gift will finalize the rift between him and his family, but he’d rather lose them than Melinda. Then he discovers she’s spared him the choice. Austin’s not-so-Sweet side rears up as he determines that he’s done trying to make everyone happy. He’ll get his wife back, no matter what. And they’ll decide their future together.

Excerpt:

Thwack!

Splinters of bark and wood exploded onto the snow as the last log split apart at his feet.

Austin Sweet yanked the axe-head out of the stump, straightened up and stretched his back. A cord-and-a-half of dry lodgepole pine, split and stacked neatly next to the honey shed. Would it be enough to heat the 150-year old pile of ugly he now called home, through to spring?

He took off his work glove and wiped the sweat off his face, surprised again by the beard. He hadn't intended to grow it exactly, but a month without shaving will do that.

The temperature dropped dramatically in December after dark and suddenly he felt it. Time to go in. He looked across the yard at the house, the sagging wrap-around porch, the weathered shingles, the shutters falling drunkenly away from the windows, like his grandfather's eyes after the stroke that finally killed him.

Maybe, thought Austin, if he closed off the parts of the house he wasn't using, the firewood would last long enough. "Come on, Speedy Gonzales, let's go scrounge up some food."

The ancient Malamute or husky or wolf or whatever he was began the process of getting to his feet. His actual name was Jackson. According to the neighbour who'd handed him the keys, the dog came with the farm. From the way he moved, you'd think he'd been there from the beginning.

"I feel like you look, buddy."

Jackson's tail swayed politely, too busy putting one foot in front of the other for any more enthusiasm. Could also be he was deaf.

Austin shrugged his jacket back on and hiked up his jeans, reminding himself to punch another hole in his belt. And to go to town for some groceries.

Bring home the bacon, son. That's what a man does. A husband provides.

He shook his head, trying to erase the thoughts but they were on replay. The best he could hope for was a shuffle.

He hated going to town. Shopping meant people. And people always had questions.

Are you reopening Sweet Montana Farms?

How are you handling the adjustment from Chicago?

Aren't you lonely, out there all by yourself?

And the worse one of all.

So what brought you to little old Marietta, Montana?

The answers were yes, badly, yes and don't ask.

Austin helped the dog up the rickety steps to the porch and through the front door.

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, at a particularly loud creak. He told himself yet again that he'd fix it. The whole thing. Tomorrow.

Or, he'd let it fall off and put a milk crate under the front door. Who cared? What did it matter?

Inside the kitchen, he opened a can of dog food for Jackson and a can of human food for himself. The dog ate from his dish on the floor. Austin stood at the sink and didn't bother with a plate. They finished at the same time.

"So," he said to the dog. "That's dinner. Now what?"

With no cable or wi-fi, no city or nightlife, what did a single guy do?

He looked down at the wedding band still on his finger. Was he single? He wasn't divorced. They weren't even formally separated yet. But if a man moves to the forest, and his wife isn't there to share his spaghetti-os, are they still married?

**


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