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You’ll Give Diane Alberts’ Temporarily Yours a Permanent Place In Your Heart (and Your Bookshelf)

3 Feb
Temporarily Yours (Shillings Agency #1 - Cooper and Kayla) by Jen McLaughlin (Entangled Brazen, February 3, 2013)

Temporarily Yours (Shillings Agency #1 – Cooper and Kayla) by Jen McLaughlin (Entangled Brazen, February 3, 2013)

It doesn’t seem to matter if she writes under Jen McLaughlin or her other contemporary romance penname of Diane Alberts – this wonderful writer always hits me at heart level with her sexy, smart voice and amazing characters.

After loving her Take a Chance series, I was extremely excited to see that she was embarking on a new series, Shillings Agency, since this agency in question is a security firm based out of Maine and we all know that former military personnel populate the ranks of these organizations. Who doesn’t love a military hero? Diane Alberts specializes in tortured, handsome heroes who have one woman destined to reveal their sweetness, an ability which has always made her quite the writer goddess in my mind.

After reading this new release, I hope Mt. Olympus is pretty this time of year because she certainly is using all her power with Temporarily Yours!

Kayla Moriarity is just trying to hold it together as she waits for her flight from Maine to North Carolina. As an actuary, she is all too aware of the statistical chance of dying in a plane crash and this knowledge has only exacerbated her fear of flying. Going home for her sister’s wedding is hard enough when she doesn’t really believe in love (and can quote divorce statistics in her sleep), but add to it the method of transportation and she’s not having a great weekend. Kayla’s not even registering the post-holiday bustle around her, except for when one gorgeous guy gets nailed in the cashmere sweater by a three-foot-high hoodlum wielding a saliva-coated, candy cane like nobody’s business. He literally drops at her feet and it’s not long before this hunk is helping her forget all her fears, particularly when he arranges to sit next to her in the empty first-class seat adjoining hers.

Try Me (Take a Chance #1) by Diane Alberts (Entangled, May 2012)

While falling at a woman’s feet isn’t exactly the way he’d like to make a first impression, there is no denying the view of this beauty’s gorgeous legs and even more beautiful face might be worth the fall. Kayla stirs up all Cooper Shilling’s protective instincts, so much so that when he invites her to use him as the model of the fake boyfriend she’s invented to pacify her family, it’s not long before he’s offering to fill in as the in flesh version. They both know that he’s shipping overseas to take a security job – and not the one with his father’s firm back in Maine – so their time together has an expiration date. A few days to explore the chemistry between them and solve Kayla’s boyfriend dilemma is the perfect solution. When their chemistry becomes something more, Kayla finds herself wanting to defy the odds, but Cooper may not be capable of letting her in past the losses he carries from his time in service.

OH. MY. GOD. Cooper and Kayla are both terrific characters, deluded in the way they see and understand their family, but smart and insightful about one another. Their connection is so strong that I felt the need to ping the flight attendant for cold drink while they were busy kissing in front class! Alberts always does a great job with the sexy times, but she’s even better at surrounding her characters with flawed families who nevertheless overflow with love for each other. The plot is tight in this wonderful novel, with each piece of information and action building to a climax that had me reading with my hand over my heart the whole time. The epilogue was so heart-warming (and so tied into the plot) that I found myself choking up while wishing for my own Cooper. I’ll never look at first class the same way again. (I always knew amazing things happened behind that curtain!!!)

Do yourself a huge favor and take advantage of Entangled’s new $.99 deal for new releases to pick up this outstanding book. You, like me, will want to be in on this series from the get-go and Temporarily Yours is going to find a permanent place in your heart, I promise. For anyone within driving distance of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of Pennsylvania, you may want to come enjoy hearing Diane in person as she will be reading (possibly from this novel) at the newest location for Lady Jane’s Salon, along with several other authors on Thursday, March 6th. (And there will be wine.) I’ll certainly be there in the front row. :-)

Happy reading!

Tawna Fenske’s Marine For Hire Will Have You Wishing For Live-in Help (More Than Usual)

3 Feb
Marine for Hire (Front and Center #1 - Sam and Sheri) by Tawna Fenske (Entangled Blaze, February 3, 2013)

Marine for Hire (Front and Center #1 - Sam and Sheri) by Tawna Fenske (Entangled Brazen, February 3, 2013)

I fell for Tawna Fenske‘s writing this past summer after loving her Eat, Play, Lust novella. Now having read the first book in her new series for Entangled Brazen (yes, please!), I am definitely reminded why I love her writing. Hot, sweet heroes who occasionally step in it and flawed funny heroines generate plenty of heat together in the pages of her books, resulting in plenty of reader laughs and sighs as we watch two people struggle to get their happily ever after.

But even I wondered how much heat a talented writer could pull off when the heroine in question has twin seven-month-old boys. I have now come to the conclusion that Fenske lives to defy the odds, gleefully laughing while traveling where other authors fear to tread. This woman pulls off the impossible, delivering a relatively new Mom actually interested in having sex – but then again, who wouldn’t when the man in question is a sexy Marine who loves children and can clean and cook like Martha Stewart (minus the servant abuse)?

Sam Kercher can’t let on he’s a Marine however. His buddy Mac finds Sam helping his parents while contemplating whether or not to officially leave the Corps. Still torn up over his last assignment (which is under investigation), he’s taking some much needed time off, a fact Mac knows. Since Mac has saved Sam in the past, Sam owes him a pretty big favor, but nothing prepares him to hear that the favor Mac wants is for Sam to fly to Hawaii to pose as Mac’s sister’s nanny.

Sheridan has haunted Sam’s thoughts since he literally fell into her crocheted bikini cleavage in college and hearing that her now-ex-husband abandoned her and her new twins has him nothing but indignant on her behalf. But Mac isn’t in intelligence for nothing. Knowing that Sam comes from a huge family and is great with kids and can cook makes him a reasonable cover as a nanny hired to help Sheridan. That Sam can also wield a gun like nobody’s business is also vital as the ex is resurfacing and Mac believes him to be a threat. However, Mac makes Sam swear that he will help Sheridan, keep the fact that he’s a Marine a secret, and not touch Sheridan at all.

Eat Play Lust by Tawna Fenske (Entangled Flirt, August 2013)

Sheridan can’t believe that her new manny is smokin’ hot and that she can’t remember meeting him when he was Mac’s college buddy, although the circumstances appear to have made a big impression on Sam. She desperately needs another pair of hands and can’t help but feel like a failure as a Mom. After suffering through an overbearing military father, brothers, and former husband, she’s had enough of men who think they outrank her when it comes to her running her life. Now that her stripper-bonking ex is sniffing around again, she knows her oldest overprotective brother is only looking out for her in suggesting his friend fill in as nanny, but accepting help means admitting she can’t pull it off on her own. But her twins love Sam, he’s amazing in the kitchen and, she suspects, amazing in the bedroom as well. The fact she can’t keep her hands off him is not sexual harassment if her brother is the one who hired him, right?

Clearly this is a train wreck waiting to happen. Our hero and heroine are perfect for each other but a relationship built on a lie has got a cracked foundation. Any woman will empathize with Sheri’s feelings that all other mothers are naturals while she’s fumbling to make things work and there is no warm-blooded woman alive who won’t swoon for Sam. This is no overbearing alpha asshole; Sam is a sexy nurturing beta happy to switch on his alpha when Sheri or the babies are threatened. I found myself tearing up when he sang the “Halls of Montezuma” to the boys or cooking and cleaning so Sheri could sleep.

My only wish (and it’s a minor blip on the awesome book radar) was that Sheri’s ex-husband’s actions were a little more explained. Obviously he was a total dick having left her like that, but a little more about their non-relationship or a better understanding of why he suddenly was so unhinged as to want to get back together would have made him seem more of a threat. The supporting characters were outstanding while never taking over the story. This is a good thing considering that this novel is the first in Fenske’s new series, Front and Center. Considering the ending, it’s obvious that the next book is going to focus on Sheri’s brother, the mysterious Mac, and Kelli, Sheri’s veterinarian friend who has had the hots for Mac for some time now. I, for one, will be looking forward to reading their story. And there is still another brother we haven’t met, who I imagine is as sexy as Mac. An abundance of riches, indeed!

Keep in mind Entangled’s new policy of having their new books at the $.99 price for the first week or so – you’ll want to hop on board that price if you haven’t had a chance to enjoy Fenske’s work before (and you’ll be congratulating yourself on the great bargain if you have).

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Presidential Romance Has Never Been So Awesome with Peter’s Christmas by M. L. Buchman

17 Dec

Peter’s Christmas (The Night Stalkers #4.5 – Peter and Genny) by M. L. Buchman (Buchman Bookworks, November 7, 2013)

Hopefully by now you’ve taken a look at my post on the latest book from the Night Stalkers seriesTake Over at Midnight, but I wanted to take a moment to feature one of author M. L. Buchman’s self-published novellas (all of which support the series incredibly well). Interestingly, he tackles these novellas in the context of a holiday, which works as a great framing device.

While Daniel’s Christmas, focuses on the brilliant Ph.D. who serves as the President’s Chief of Staff and manages to have this gorgeous genius find both love with a sexy CIA analyst and thwart a nefarious North Korean plan (with the help of the 160th Night Stalkers, obviously), Peter’s Christmas deserves a special shout out.

Frank’s Independence Day (The Night Stalkers #3.5 – Frank and Beatrice) by M. L. Buchman (Buchman Bookworks, November 7, 2013)

Since it took me a little time to figure out the order to read these, let me share my wisdom. The excellent story of Daniel’s Christmas is clearly labeled #2.5 of the series, putting it smack between I Own the Dawn, Archie and Kee’s story and Wait Until Dark#3 and John and Connie’s story. The novella that follows Wait Until Dark (which was published in February of this year) is Frank’s Independence Day, a terrific story which vacillates between the 1980s and the present day as the head of President Matthews’ Secret Service detail, Frank Adams, recounts to his employer the circumstances under which he met Agent Beatrice Belfour and the first couple years of their tempestuous romance. While he does that, Frank receives word that Belfour, charged the protection of the ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, has disappeared off the map along with her charge during yet another military coup in that tempestuous country. As Frank works to determine if Beatrice is still alive and to hopefully get her the help she needs before the new regime kills her and the people she’s protecting, President Matthews does everything he can to help, even if he is in the middle of some crucial negotiations at the United Nations.

While it’s not necessary to read Frank’s Independence Day, it’s a terrific romance with interesting twists I didn’t see coming and it has some great history, such as the Secret Service and SOAR’s involvement in the invasion of Panama in 1989. Frank and Beatrice are also very visible in Peter’s Christmas, a novella which (despite its publication date in November) actually happens after Take Over at Midnight, so appreciating their characters is a nice bonus while reading this holiday novella.

Kim-Ly Genevieve Beauchamp is the head of UNESCO‘s World Heritage Sights in Southeast Asia. Her job is to be apolitical, deftly handling the various national factions and personal vendettas in order to preserve the world’s heritage in priceless locations filled with ancient temples that have managed to survive the recent decades of violence. With both French and Vietnamese heritage, Genevieve (Genny to her family and friends) knows that men usually only look at her appearance or enjoy her intellect until they become threatened by it. She’s had a very French take on lovers, but it’s been a while since she’s had a serious one, and, as she looks up at the White House Christmas tree, Genny wonders if the reason for the butterflies in her stomach are due to the man who personally issued her an invitation – President Peter Matthews.

Daniel’s Christmas (The Night Stalkers #2.5 – Daniel and Alice) by M. L. Buchman (Buchman Bookworks, November 7, 2013)

Peter Matthews has beaten out British royalty for the world’s sexiest eligible man since the death of his wife two years ago. This widower is not only a good-looking, brilliant policy wonk, terrific friend, down to earth guy, and Scrabble enthusiast but he’s also sure of one thing – that he desperately wants to know Kim-Ly Genevieve Beauchamp better. Since she diplomatically protected several UNESCO World Heritage sites during his time at the United Nations, he’s been taken with her beauty and brains, but his previous personal invitations were rebuffed, so he’s elated she’s accepted one to see the White House at Christmas time. Usually suave and a good reader of people, Peter is flustered to find himself not really sure of where he stands with Genevieve…and delighted when she seems to decide he’s worth the risk of all the public exposure.

Yet a man who is holding some serious secrets, including how his first wife died, might not be able to have the open communication necessary for a relationship and Genevieve’s status is not even one of a U. S. citizen. But the two of them are willing to take a chance, even when the situation in which they find themselves becomes incredibly dangerous.

Wow. Double wow. I love these novellas but this one felt like one of the regular novels of the series to me. I’ve always adored Peter’s character and this novella just made me fall a lot harder for him! Handsome geeks are always my downfall, especially when they are not intimated by a beautiful, brilliant woman, and Peter fits that bill. Genevieve is so not American in her thinking or approach to relationships that she is actually a much better match for him than someone from the U. S., with her family a rich melange of eccentricities and history. Genny is also seriously badass, immediately earning the respect of Major Emily Beale, Chief of Staff Daniel Darlington and his wife, and Secret Service Agents Frank Adams and Beatrice Belfour, so enough said about her awesomeness!

Because President Matthews is clearly single in Take Over at Midnight (which happens in the warmer weather), Frank’s Independence Day is in the #3.5 slot in the series, Take Over at Midnight is #4 and Peter’s Christmas is #4.5, so do read them in that order for maximum effect.

Grab this holiday novella if you can and just revel in the world M. L. Buchman has created with the Night Stalkers series – it’s terrific!!

Happy reading!!

M. L. Buchman Continues to Deliver Emotional Military Romance with Take Over At Midnight

17 Dec

Take Over At Midnight (Night Stalkers #4 - Tim and Lola) by M. L. Buchman (Sourcebooks, December 3, 2013)

The main feature of a good military romance for me is that it’s smart. Okay, I read the fluffy ones that are more about emotion and psychology (military hero or heroine is dealing with the after effects – physical or psychological – of their service) and those are great, but the smart ones, filled with tons of details about ordnance and training, those make me salivate. It’s like watching a great medical drama – you don’t have to know what everything means, but the language and accuracy provide layers of authenticity which ramp up the emotion and the action while engendering trust in the writer.

M. L. Buchman is a master at delivering military romance which does not stint on the real details that make combat come alive while also giving readers a hot, emotional read. I’d put him in a cage match with Catherine Mann, Lindsey McKenna, Maya Banks, and Kaylea Cross – and Buchman would totally come out on top (although they are all phenomenal writers). If you have a guy you’ve been wanting to introduce to romance and he’s a Clive Cussler/Tom Clancy kind of person, this is the series to bring him over to romance fiction!

The Night Is Mine (The Night Stalkers #1 – Mark and Emily) by M. L. Buchman (Sourcebooks, February 2012)

The Night Stalkers is one of my favorite military series because with each couple, I fall further in love with this group of kick ass helicopter pilots, mechanics and gunners. Each character is at the top of their profession, the only way they’ve made it to the exclusive SOAR group, the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, aka the Night Stalkers, who fly extremely dangerous missions, many of which never make it out of the shadowbox.

Take Over at Midnight is the fourth book in this stellar series (which I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed before). At their heart, these books focus not just on a specific mission or series of dangerous encounters in the field, but also on the interpersonal conflict between the hero and heroine, either brought on by a difference in rank (a big problem in the military) and/or a difference in background. While some of our servicemen and women come from privileged backgrounds and join for reasons fueled by patriotism, so many other people enter the military in an effort to turn their lives around or reject difficult upbringings. A source of deep-seated admiration for Buchman’s writing is his ability to dig deep into the psyche of women serving in elite combat positions, demonstrating an understanding of the personal grit they require to deal with the chauvinism encountered repeatedly on their journey to an elite unit like the Night Stalkers.

I Own the Dawn (The Night Stalkers #2 – Archie and Kee) by M. L. Buchman (Sourcebooks, August 2012)

While you don’t have to read the other books in this series to enjoy Take Over at Midnight, you’d be a fool not to. The team is led by two legendary helicopter pilots – Majors Mark Henderson and Emily Beale – who happen to be married to one another (their incredible story, with a pulse-pounding presidential espionage plotline, can be found in The Night Is Mine). Mark’s co-pilot, Boston Brahmin Archibald Stevenson is married to Emily’s crack gunner, Kee Smith, who came from the worst possible background you can imagine in East L.A. (their gut-wrenching book, I Own the Dawn, is incredible). Finally, Mark’s big Okie chief mechanic and gunner, Staff Sergeant “Big John” Wallace won the heart of Emily’s flight engineer and mechanic, Sergeant Connie Davis, despite his initially misreading her quiet personality as aloofness rather than the slight autistic streak she possesses (and honestly, their story, Wait Until Dark, is my favorite of the whole series, and I love all these books).

Wait Until Dark (The Night Stalkers #3 – John and Connie) by M. L. Buchman (Sourcebooks, February 2013)

You can imagine how hard it would be for a new person to break into these two tight-knit crews, rendered even closer by intermarriage than the average high-level team honed by combat and long-term service together. Yet that’s exactly what Chief Warrant Officer Lola LaRue must do when she finally gets a shot at being Major Emily Beale’s co-pilot in Take Over at Midnight. These two crews are not exactly warm and fuzzy, so fitting in is a challenge, particularly when her rough background of a criminal father and growing up in a New Orleans bordello makes her feel like a fraud when the doubts of her childhood creep into her head. The only person who makes any effort to be a friend is Major Henderson’s prankster gunner, Sergeant Tim Maloney, and Lola loves their backgammon games and banter.

Tim has felt like he’s been hit by a two-by-four since he spotted Lola on the deck of carrier in Poland. He didn’t know her name but he recognizes her as soon as she strips out of her flight suit and unleashes that long mane of hair. Her Creole accent and hot body leave him without the smooth moves he’s known for around the ladies, but soon her blazing zest for life have him head over heels in love. But Lola isn’t forthcoming about her past, whereas Tim tells stories about his extended loving family all the time. With her an officer and him an enlisted man, he has to tread carefully in order to not ruin their careers. With the looming danger of a Iranian mission whose tentacles extend right into Lola’s former home, Tim wonders if he can help her overcome her past to realize the future they’d have together.

Daniel’s Christmas (The Night Stalkers #2.5 - Daniel and Alice) by M. L. Buchman (Buchman Bookworks, November 2013)

Oh. My. God. I honestly couldn’t imagine M. L. Buchman surpassing Wait Until Dark, but he nailed it with this incredible novel. For two people with very different upbringings, it’s fascinating to watch Tim and Lola realize their similarities and common values and grow closer together. Nevertheless, the reader’s spectator position means that we have to watch Tim flounder when he really doesn’t understand Lola and her feelings about something more permanent and it’s pretty painful (I found myself yelling, “Not yet! NOT YET!” at my iPad). The mission is scary and all too easy to imagine as reality, and it’s great to see the characters of Emily’s childhood best friend, U.S. President Peter Matthews and his Chief of Staff Daniel Darlington III (who has his own wonderful HEA happen during a North Korean mission in the self-published e-novella Daniel’s Christmas), reappear in all their glory.

I was worried with all the pairing off that the series might be coming to an end, but there are a few interesting characters still floating around single (Emily’s friend Liz O’Malley and the uber-sexy Delta operator are two people I need to read more about) and the circumstances Buchman highlights for a specific couple mean they will be leaving for civilian life. I was pleased to spot on Goodreads that there is a new series listed on his author page, entitled Firehawks, which will clearly relate to this plot development and continue our relationship with the characters. Yay!!! The expected publication date of 2014 guarantees my pre-order opportunity will come soon.

This entire series of The Night Stalkers is a must read for anyone who enjoys military suspense and/or military romance. I’ve decided to follow this review today with one for Peter’s Christmas, (just wait an hour) an additional novella from the series showing the sexy widower President find exactly the woman meant for him. She’s something special, let me tell you, and completely deserving of the December Read-a-Thon focus. Stay tuned for that later today and in the meantime, download this series!

Happy reading!!

December Read-a-Thon: Second Chance Christmas by Ellen Butler a Sweet Reunion Romance To Enjoy for the Holiday

13 Dec

Second Chance Christmas by Ellen Butler (Entangled Flirt, November 25, 2013)

Entangled Publishing’s Flirt line has been producing several great novellas and I have to say, it’s a great way to try out a new author, both as a reader, and (I imagine) as a publisher. Despite my hesitation with reunion romances, I trust Entangled enough to know I’m going to get a good story.

It’s certainly what debut author Ellen Butler delivered with Second Chance Christmas.

I think it was the premise that suckered me in. Emma Taylor can’t believe she’s been called into an ER still dressed in her formal gown from the interrupted concert she was sharing with her date from the French embassy. The last thing she expected to do tonight was to pick up the ex-fiancee who she hasn’t seen for two years because he got hurt in a bar fight.

She’s shocked to discover that Major Colton Evans now walks with a cane, courtesy of a roadside bomb that took his friend and left shrapnel in his leg, and that his most recent address was Walter Reed Military Hospital. She wants to drop him somewhere safe for the night but a quick car conversation and it’s clear that she’s his best bet, particularly while he still needs care for a possible concussion. So she takes him home.

Colton cannot believe that fate landed this chance in his lap. He’s literally counted the days since he and Emma had the fight of the century and he’s more than willing to admit that he screwed up when he tried to force her to choose between his career and hers. Eight hundred and eighty-four days later and he can see how she made the right choice – but even her gorgeous car and house can’t compete with how beautiful she still is. Colton decides this time together is the perfect opportunity to clear the air between them while showing Emma that the holiday season can be about new beginnings as well.

There was something so engaging about this lawyer who has tried to build a shell around her heart since Colton and she broke up and the returning soldier who had kept the picture of the woman he loved in his battle helmet while overseas. Told entirely from Emma’s perspective, I was taken aback at the lack of sex scenes – while sexual tension abounds, all the real action is totally behind closed doors. Butler transmits the true vulnerability of these two protagonists while letting their path back to love unfold naturally. The military piece is beautifully done, offering an insight into Colton’s character while also providing some poignant moments in this novella. While the holiday piece is fairly quiet in the backdrop, the symbolism is still present and quite lovely.

After reading this excellent novella, I’ll be keeping an eye on Ellen Butler for stories since I enjoyed this one. I would encourage Ms. Butler to be a bit more present on social media – like so many people, I like to connect with authors and while she has a relatively new Facebook page, I notice that Butler is not on Twitter and doesn’t yet have a lot of content on her blog. I’ll look forward to seeing her build more of a digital footprint as her oeuvre grows.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Get a Santini Under the Tree With Melissa Schroeder’s Novella, A Santini Christmas

5 Dec

A Santini Christmas (The Santinis #5 – Steward and Joey) by Melissa Schroeder (Harmless Publishing, November 26, 2013)

Melissa Schroeder is known for writing hot military heroes and her personal experience at both growing up a military brat as well as as a military wife lends a distinct authenticity to her writing.

I would heartily endorse her longer length erotic romantic suspense Harmless series (particularly in the dead of winter since exotic climes like Miami and Hawaii are heavily featured), but her other series deserve a look as well. The Santinis consists of four novellas, each focusing on a Santini son who went into a different branch of the military. While this well-rated series is all about the Santini curse of falling for a willful woman and wanting a happily ever after yesterday (and you can imagine they don’t easily get it), at the heart of the series are the heroes’ parents, Stewart and Joey Santini.

In a flashback novella, A Santini Christmas takes us from a modern day crisis with the Santini family back to the 1970s and the moment that Stewart Santini, nicknamed Papa to his fellow Special Forces Marines, walks into a bar owned by a the parents of a friend lost in Vietnam. When the sassy, blond waitress comes over to take his and his friends’ order, Papa feels like he’s just been hit by a two-by-four between the eyes, making the realization that he is far from immune to the Santini curse of love at first sight.

To say that the subject of his affection is reluctant is putting it mildly. Joey (Josephine) Antonio left the Pacific Northwest for the Carolinas and now works 16 hour days in order to make enough money for art school. She also has no use for men, gun-shy from a horrible experience in high school. Yet this patient Marine is nothing but respectful and caring, no matter how many times she makes it clear nothing is going to happen. When he finally kisses her, she feels none of the revulsion she’s come to expect when dipping her toe into the dating scene. With Christmas around the corner, could it be that they will both get a long-lasting present, or will Joey’s past drive Stewart away for good?

The Santinis Bundle by Melissa Schroeder (Harmless Publishing, November 20, 2013) – a great way to get all four books and a mere $3.99

Despite this story being novella length, the emotion packed into it feels more like a meal. Fans of The Santinis will enjoy the reappearance of all the sons and their growing families in the present day start of the novella, but you don’t have to have read the series in order to enjoy the bulk of the story. Keep in mind that this series, perhaps due to the shorter length of each story, possesses conflict but a pretty quick turnaround in terms of the heroine dealing with whatever emotional baggage she’s brought into the relationship (it’s sometimes startling). While I enjoy seeing the human struggle (and I know Schroeder can write it since she includes this type of emotional evolution extremely well in her Harmless series), there is something to be said for moving things along when you want a fast read, and this series fits that bill. If I have any criticism, it’s for the occasional typo or usage error in this series which takes me momentarily out of the story. Considering that these books are self-published, the good news is that I’m sure she will correct them since it’s easy to update ebooks to remedy such minor mistakes.

I really appreciated the foreword Schroeder attached at the start of the A Santini Christmas, highlighting her readers’ possible concerns regarding the handling of the topic of date rape and the lack of condoms in this essentially historical story. It’s important to remind a generation of younger readers that in the early 1970s there was virtually no such thing as a rape crisis center, with second wave feminists slowly founding them in grassroots fashion in the larger cities during this time period, and terms like “date rape” hadn’t even been coined yet. While I understood the choice to not have a condom discussion, in 1975 there still should have been a birth control discussion since the Pill had been around for over a decade a that point (and I believe that men in the military received a lot more condom encouragement than the average citizen). How could Joey and Stewart not worry about her getting pregnant, particularly since she was obviously very sexually inexperienced? I began worrying about Leo’s birthday based on that special Christmas night!

Any contemporary reader who likes their heroes with a rank, their heroines on the spicy side, and their romance of the love at first sight variety should seriously consider A Santini Christmas. At a mere $.99, it’s the ideal stocking stuffer for your e-reader this holiday season.

Happy reading. :-)

December Holiday Read-a-Thon: Gifts of Honor Duology Offers Heart-wrenching Heroes and the Holiday Season

1 Dec

Carina Press holiday anthologies are always a go-to for me during December – I’ve never read one that contained a saccharine story, and the credit goes to editor Angela James who always manages to find authors who combine great characters, heart-warming settings, and the true spirit of the holiday.

Gifts of Honor is no exception, except authors Stacy Gail and Rebecca Crowley add the twist of two military heroes so damaged by their service that they are unable to give the women they love the relationship she deserves. Or so they think.

I’ve loved Stacy Gail since last December when I devoured her steampunk holiday romance novella Crime Wave in a Corset, followed by her awesome science fiction novella How the Glitch Stole Christmas. Since then, I’ve read a bunch of her paranormal angels books as well as her contemporary Ugly Ducklings Finish First, and I can confidently say this author has chops since she seems to be able to excel in all genres and still keep a fresh voice and utilize truly unique story ideas. Rebecca Crowley is a newer author of contemporary romance, so it was great to sample a holiday story from her to see what she would bring to this theme. She did not disappoint!

Note that while both stories are offered in the duology Gifts of Honor for under $4.00, you can also get each one individually for around $2.50, if one sounds like it appeals and not the other. The individual links under their specific book cover will take you right to that story, if that’s your preference. But considering the quality of both of them, you’d be wasting your money to not by the duology. Just sayin’.

Starting From Scratch by Stacy Gail

Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

Lucy Crabtree is busy at her job baking all the holiday treats for her small town’s Sweet Shoppe and is just managing to hold it together. Her ex-husband, Sullivan Jax, has finally moved home after his lengthy stay in military rehab where he’s been recovering from a head trauma, a trauma that had him waking up with no memory of Lucy or their marriage.

The only thing she’d prayed for was for Sully to come back alive.

She should have been more specific.

Their marriage had been rocky with his last deployment with the Rangers, a deployment he had barely told her about, leaving her with a lot of anger and once again crushing her dream of them finally making a home and family together. Now she had to look forward to the awkwardness and gossip surrounding the fact that they’d undoubtedly be bumping into one another.

Sullivan Jax would be the first to admit that his ex-wife is heart-stoppingly gorgeous but he also knows that a woman that beautiful deserves to have a life free of a man who can’t even remember her. It galls him to no end that he has begun remembering so many of the details of his childhood and time in the military, but this woman is a just a big, painful blank spot.

That he also has developed an insane craving for cookies – cookies that smell just like the scent that clings to Lucy whenever he sees her – must just be a weird side effect of the season. But one taste of Lucy’s mouth and all thought of cookies gets pushed aside. This is what he’s been craving all along. But while he thinks he might be falling in love with his wife all over again, Sullivan also realizes that he might be the one person she never wants to be with, as he’s already torn her heart to pieces.

This story had everything – great characters, mouth-watering food (always part of the holiday romance genre), and a small-town setting perfect for the backdrop of the holiday spirit. Yes, it’s utterly gut-wrenching to place yourself in Lucy’s shoes, but Gail does an outstanding job of outlining the pressures deployed soldiers and their spouses both face, specifically focusing on how this element eroded Lucy and Sullivan’s marriage. I loved it when Lucy’s good friend and mechanic, Coe read her the riot act of how she had always been the one giving and Sullivan the one taking. Lucy’s understanding of what she did and didn’t do in her marriage showed her growth as much as the pieces of his mistakes in his marriage coming back to Sullivan.

Sullivan’s instinctual response was the most fascinating, first from the standpoint of screaming every time he saw her in the hospital to his despair whenever she would run away from him in their town. Gail does not shy away from the heat in this story, and there were times I thought Lucy’s cookies were going to bake on the counter based on how hot it got in the kitchen with this couple! Most sigh-inducing was the final realization that Sullivan had always loved Lucy as much as she did him and that he wasn’t going to give up in winning her once again, which leads me to the quote that had me falling in love with this big former Ranger:

“I’ve learned the hard way that being careless with you, hurting you, is the quickest way into hell,” he grated, and self-condemnation edged the words in bitterness. “But I understand. It’s okay. You’re gun-shy with me now, so I won’t push you into anything you don’t want to do, or feel. And I don’t expect all the pain to magically vanish just because I remember you now. We both went to war, and we both have battle scars that are going to take time to heal.

“But I have so much hope for the future, Lucy,” he added as he pressed her hand to his mouth, and the passion that vibrated in his tone made her throat clench. “A year from now, I hope you’ll have agreed to be my wife and we’ll be trying for our first baby. I hope a month from now you’ll trust me enough to want to live with me so that you can get used to sharing your life with me again. I hope a week from now you’ll believe me when I say I love you, instead of looking like you suspect I’m playing some kind of cruel trick on you. And I hope that by tomorrow, you’ll be able to smile at me without sadness.”

Gail, Stacy; Crowley, Rebecca (2013-11-21). Gifts of Honor: Starting from Scratch\Hero’s Homecoming (Kindle Locations 1788-1796). Carina Press. Kindle Edition.

Starting from Scratch contains the sweetness and spice of the heroine’s Pfeffernusse cookies with enough heat to bake them, proving Stacy Gail is a romance writer who can encapsulate human emotions so well that readers feel like they’ve grown as people when the final page is turned. This is a must-buy!

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

College professor Beth Tate always thought of herself as a sturdy Midwestern woman until she bumped into Captain Chris Walker when he filled in for an absent archivist at Fort Riley. He was a six foot stud in uniform and she was more than stunned when he looked at her like he wanted to eat her up.

For four days they had a hot affair and while she was willing to let it just be a fling, not wanting to burden him with expectation prior to shipping out to Afghanistan, Chris wanted more. They exchanged long, thoughtful emails and had sweet phone calls for four months and then…nothing. A terse email after a couple weeks of radio silence merely saying that things weren’t going to work out and the most powerful relationship of her life had ended.

Getting a call months later at Christmas from the same Captain who broke her heart, and Beth is literally rendered speechless. With a blizzard blowing in and his parents stuck at their ranch meant Chris needed a ride to a hotel from the airport and could Beth help? Saying yes just to get a good look at the man who would have the gall to behave like this, she’s stunned to see a scarred serviceman with clouded eyes and a cane. Much to the horror of the Christmas crowd at the airport, she promptly cracks him across the face with a slap that should have sent him back overseas.

When Chris realized that the suicide bomber who killed his friends had taken his sight, one of his first thoughts was breaking up with Beth. Not because he didn’t love her but because he knew that she would unflinchingly take on the burden of his disability and she deserved more. He wanted to just disappear from her life so she could find a good man to have a normal life with, but instead he ends up having to call upon her since he has no one to help him with finding a place to stay. Having been worried about her pity, her serious slap quickly dispels that notion. But as they are forced by circumstances to stay at her house, Chris gets a glimpse of what he might still actually be able to have. But his physical scars are nothing compared to the emotional ones he gave Beth, who might not be able to take a chance on him once more.

Wow, was I impressed with this story! Crowley not only gives us two complex characters but imbues both of them with a very understandable emotional evolution. Chris, when confronted with the reality of Beth and her honest reactions, realizes that the grey existence he has mapped out for himself might be completely opposite the one she feels him capable of and that helps him believe more in himself. Beth has to confront the fact that she is just as much in love with Chris as ever, while also trying to understand his physical injuries and PTSD and ponder if she can trust him enough in his state not to throw her to the curb again.

Both situations are so believable but the turning point is Chris’ epiphany about what Beth has gone through, and his acknowledgement offers the final linchpin in her decision to go forward. Hero’s Homecoming is an emotional read that kept me riveted, turning each page to discover if this man and woman could overcome the obstacles and embrace the happiness within their reach, if they are just brave enough to take a chance.

With the quality of both stories in Gifts of Honor, I think you’d be crazy to not buy both books in the duology for $4.00 rather than only one story. Stacy Gail and Rebecca Crowley have both penned contemporary military romances that bring home the idea that the holiday season is about hope and the renewal of life with love at the center.

Have a super holiday season!!

Disgraced Special Forces Heroes, Courageous Heroines, and Sexy Ink Combine to Make Laura Kaye’s Hard As It Gets A Must Buy

27 Nov

Hard As It Gets (Hard Ink #1 – Nick and Becca) by Laura Kaye (Avon, November 26, 2013)

I have been waiting for months for this book to come out (and was soooo thankful its debut occurred on my Thanksgiving vacation). I’ve qvelled about Laura Kaye’s writing ability, particularly her way of transforming damaged military heroes into men with a mission regarding the woman they love, and Hard As It Gets is no exception.

Becca Merritt can’t handle losing one more family member. This brave ER nurse lost her mother as a child, her older brother to a heroine overdose and her Special Forces father on a dangerous mission in Afghanistan, and now her younger brother Charlie is missing. Yes, he’s always been a paranoid computer genius, but when they argued during a secure online chat session, he claimed that he had uncovered evidence that implicated their father in something horrible. Becca had argued with Charlie that he needed to let his animosity toward their dad go, but he signed off with a cryptic message to get help.

A message which landed her about twelve minutes from her house at a Baltimore tattoo parlor emblazoned “Hard Ink.” Asking for Rixey manages to get two brothers, but it’s clearly older brother Nick who was the one who could help Becca. His whole demeanor screams Special Forces, but the chill in his eyes when he turns down any prospect of helping her makes Becca feel she is totally and utterly alone. A little more warmth in those green eyes and Nick Rixey would have been a walking sex god, but she’s gotten through worse and she’ll do it again.

Nick Rixey is a man drifting. A silent partner in his brother’s tattoo parlor, he’s been going through the steps as an apprentice to get a license he began before enlisting after 9/11. For years, the military and later Special Forces were his life, until he and his team were betrayed by their commander, Colonel Merritt. Six good men died and more were wounded, but the greatest ignominy was Nick and his surviving men having fabricated offenses planted in their files so they could be run out of the military with dishonor. Feeling responsible and recovering from having his lower back and pelvis shot up in the ambush, Nick has avoided his former team and anything having to do with the FUBAR situation that got him home. The gorgeous blond who looked at him with such hope in her eyes may be barking up the wrong tree, but even Nick knows that it’s not her fault that her father was a traitor, something she clearly doesn’t realize.

Even though he sent her away, Nick listens to the little voice telling him something isn’t right. Two nights of recon on Becca Merritt’s house indicates that she’s clearly scared of something, and the second night demonstrates her valid feelings when Nick rushes into her home in time to scare away an intruder who was waiting for her at home. The wrench in his gut at the thought of something happening to her, combined with her telling him that her brother may have found something nefarious against her father, tells Nick that not only does he have to help keep this beautiful woman safe and find her brother, but that doing so might hold the key to clearing his name and the names of his fellow survivors.

Hard As You Can (Hard Ink #2 – Shane and Crystal) by Laura Kaye (Avon, February 25, 2014)

While attempting to fight the rising heat between them, Nick calls his team members back together and a happy reunion it’s not. Worse is that now the people he’s been trying to hold at arms length, his brother Jeremy and Becca, aren’t having it, forcing Nick to face his inner demons and realize that a new day is dawning, one in which he can finally face what happened and fight to get back his sense of self with the people who care about him at his side. To open himself will mean risking everything, but only by doing this can he win more than he ever imagined.

Nick and Becca are terrific characters and considering this is a the first book in the series, Laura Kaye had a LOT of ground to cover. Not only did she lay the hot foundation between Nick and Becca who have more in common than they initially realize, but she also set each of the characters of the members of the Special Forces team, the employees of Hard Ink and Becca’s brother Charlie. Since several of these individuals will undoubtedly star in their own book down the line, it’s important to get a sense of who they are and their backstory up front, and Kaye succeeds without ever making the reader feel like they are suffering through an info-dump.

The larger story arc of their betrayal at the hands of Becca and Charlie’s father is extremely interesting to me, mostly because I can’t help but doubt tremendously that he really did it. Do I believe everything transpired the way Nick and his crew said it did? Yes, definitely, but for a Special Forces colonel with an upstanding record, no known vices, and a son who died of a heroin overdose to turn to aiding opium traffickers in the mideast? I don’t see the psychological motivation, although I see a big one to work secretly to undermine it, and that whoever in the military is dirty would want to disgrace his team and cover his tracks. Just saying.

The next book in the series, Hard As You Can, will focus on Southern charmer, Shane McCallan, and the red-haired beauty who helped the team at the strip club during Charlie’s extraction. Awesome! I’ve already pre-ordered my copy (and since it’s going at under $5 for either the Kindle or the paperback version, I’d encourage interested readers to do the same) and have got the February 25th release date on my calendar. Easy’s novella, Hard to Hold Onto, is scheduled for the late summer, and computer genius and amputee Marz (who I confess is my favorite) will have his full-length novel, Hard to Come By, come out right around this time next year, making me have another terrific Thanksgiving, I’m sure!

Laura Kaye has begun her new series in a big way, and the only thing “Hard” about them is waiting for the next one. Happy reading!

Love and Cordite Make an Unbeatable Combination in Kaylea Cross’ Titanium Security Series, Including Her Latest Novel, Extinguished

26 Nov

Ignited (Titanium Security #1 – Khalia and Hunter) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, June 2013)

I’ve definitely told you how Kaylea Cross is a terrific suspense/military romance writer, but I’ve been remiss in hogging her Titanium Security series all to myself. With the latest release, Extinguished, published just this past Friday, this seemed like a great opportunity to let you in on a terrific series (and an even better writer).

Cross’ strengths are that she possesses the ability to write empathetic, courageous characters (every hero or heroine would be sorted into Grffyindor), mix in steaming hot sex scenes, and tie everything together with a badass story arc that keeps the action moving through each book and into the next one. Her military details are meticulously researched and she doesn’t shy away from specifics or dumb anything down for the reader, placing her on par with terrific military romance writers like M. L. Buchman, Maya Banks, and Catherine Mann.

In the first book of the series, Ignited, we meet a grouchy but incredibly efficient Hunter Phillips, an ex-Navy SEAL, who has taken on the head of a security detail escorting a rich woman into the heart of Pakistan where her father was just recently brutally murdered. His daughter, the beautiful Khalia Patterson, doesn’t know if her father’s foundation (which seeks to help young women get an education) was worth dying for, but she plans to honor his sacrifice and continue his work. Completely out of her depth in terms of the danger, she finds herself relying on the taciturn and compelling Hunter, despite his standoffishness.

Hunter is doing this detail as a favor to his boss since he is still reeling from losing a friend in the line of fire. Khalia’s honesty and bravery is not what he expected from the head of a charity, and he finds himself dangerously falling for this beautiful woman despite every effort to keep his distance. When things heat up and she (and his team) are in serious danger from the same people who killed her father, Hunter knows that he will do whatever it takes to both keep her safe, and make her his.

Hunter is smoking hot and Khalia’s refreshing honesty and sense of what’s right is so appealing that you fall for both of them pretty quickly. As the first book in the series, Ignited does a great job setting up the quality of Titanium Security, some of the work dynamics and lays a foundation for the other characters. Clearly the hints at the machinations behind the scene help the reader understand the psychological makeup of the villain and the pawns he uses to further his goals, as well.

Singed (Titanium Security #2 – Claire and Gage) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, July 2013)

The next book, Singed, is downright gut-wrenching as the two protagonists actually broke up not six months before (I have a problem with reunion stories, but for Cross, I’ll read them). NSA analyst Claire Tierney couldn’t handle all the obstacles in her path to happiness half a year ago, despite her knowing that she couldn’t love former Special Forces Master Sergeant Gage Wallace more. Her father is an alcoholic who needs her and her brother is walking the line with suicide, having returned from combat with severe PTSD. Just when her life couldn’t get any more complicated, she’s assigned to Titanium Security’s team to help them hunt down a Taliban assassin who plans to make a stateside strike – and discovers she’ll be working with Gage. Even better, she also finds out that she’s been named a target by the terrorist in question.

Gage knows he has strikes against him with Claire – he’s a lot older than her and he’s got a teenage daughter – but his life has been so empty since she left him that this assignment feels like the second chance he can’t screw up. When he discovers she’s in danger, it’s not even a question of insuring her safety – and what better place to be than right by her side? The spark still exists between them and as it flares to life once again, Gage only wonders if he can convince Claire to let someone else share her burden and her life in these dangerous times.

OMG – Gage is such a teddy bear deep down and his love for Claire (and hers for him) is so strong. You absolutely empathize with Claire – I was exhausted seeing her level of caretaking and co-dependency with both her father and brother, so it would be very easy in her shoes to feel like she couldn’t take on anything more with Gage, particularly with him having such a dangerous job. I loved seeing Gage with his daughter (and his daughter with Claire since she clearly was helping foster their relationship). The ending was heart-stopping and propelled me into pre-ordering the next book long before it came out. Cross can write her mysterious villains in a big way!

Burned (Titanium Security #3 – Zahra & Sean) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, August 2013)

I was chomping at the bit to read Zahra Gill’s story in Burned – after all, this mysterious woman has always been strongly protected by Alex Rycroft, head of Titanium Security, but there clearly wasn’t anything sexual about it. Since she walked with a limp and had lost her family, something heinous had clearly shaped her in her past. Seeing this beautiful woman rebuff former Force Recon Marine Sean Dunphy (a charming prankster and Zahra’s personality opposite) again and again was both amusing and intriguing since there was more than a frisson of sexual tension there if she cared to move on it. Her cryptology work has always been vital to the firm’s safety and success, but with the terrorist threat having heavily escalated and Zahra specifically in danger, Sean Dunphy decides he is not going to leave her alone, and that he’s also going to use his proximity to get behind those shields of hers.

What he discovers is an unbelievably brave person who has faced death at the hands of those people she most wanted to trust, but who still found the courage to follow her dream, even though it came at an incredibly high cost. Sean decides that Zahra is the person meant for him right around the time that the threat to Titanium Security escalates into a situation that feels like deja vu for Zahra, and it is going to take everything Sean has to keep her safe.

Sean is not just unbelievably sexy (like, melt-your-underwear-sexy) but he’s so protective and tender with Zahra, despite her initial prickliness, that you are reduced to a puddle while reading about him. When you find out just what this poor woman has been through – and how she channelled all her reaction into working for the good guys – you just want to be her best friend (and tell her to go for Sean, already!). Cross develops the threat as she always does, on two levels – the local sleeper cell manipulated by the big bad boss from afar as well as what’s happening back in Pakistan. Like any good writer, you understand how the master villain really does see himself as the hero of the series, but that only makes his evil more chilling. Cross has a deft hand in writing not only fundamentalist Muslims bent on terrorist activity as our villains, but also writing the three-dimensional, very modern Zahra who has rejected the dictates of the fundamentalist interpretation of her religion while still being a spiritual person who loves Islam.

Extinguished (Titanium Security #4 – Blake and Jordyn) by Kaylea Cross (November 20, 2013)

In the latest book, Extinguished, we get to see where Sean’s good friend, the strong and silent sniper, Blake Ellis, went when the team decided that they needed to add another member who was good with guns and machinery. Blake has had to face some demons, namely one hot former Marine, Jordyn Bridger.

Jordyn is the younger sister of Blake’s best friend who died six months ago in combat. The Bridger family has always been Blake’s extended family as well, but he’s had very non-brotherly feelings for Jordyn for a few years now. He’s done a good job hiding them from her, at least until she broke down after her brother’s funeral and a session of comforting turned into a hot kiss that rocked Blake’s world. Worried he had betrayed his friendship with her and his former friend, he fled and has been out of contact ever since.

Jordyn can’t believe when she slides out from under one of the cars in her father’s shop that Blake has the gall to be standing there, offering her a job. She’s been in love with him for years, even having to suffer through his idiotic infatuation with the trashy Melissa who he almost married until she dumped him when he was overseas. That he respects her work enough to unequivocally recommend her for this position is a balm to her shredded heart, but she’s not sure she can move past how he gutted her – first by leaving after the kiss she’d been dreaming about for most of her life, and second by apologizing to her about it. Men!

Nevertheless, she does take the job since it would feel good to dust off some of her abilities in the field. When Jordyn finally tells Blake in Pakistan that they are fine and he shouldn’t worry about their relationship, she understands if he doesn’t feel anything more than friendship for her, Blake feels like his world just tilted on its axis. Jordyn has feelings for him, and he’s been an unobservant idiot apparently for years. Despite the fact they are stuck in tight quarters and facing death every time they walk out the door, Blake is determined that nothing is going to keep him from claiming her as his – not even a very determined terrorist.

Wow and double wow. Jordyn is awesome, fitting into the team very easily since both Blake and Sean Dunphy are friends of hers from the Marines and they know her ability behind a gun or buried to the elbows in an engine. When Sean gets hurt (and I’m going to have insomnia until the next book comes out and I know if he’s going to be okay), Jordyn has to go in the field with Blake and they are terrific team. Their hot first time in the ammunition closet had me wondering at the fact that all those incendiary devices didn’t explode from the heat, however! The next book featuring head of the firm, Alex Rycroft, and the woman whose life he ruined four years ago (but never stopped loving) is going to be as amazing as the first four! When is it coming????

Because this series has been self-published (and I bet most readers don’t even realize it, considering how well-written and edited it is, as well as the outstanding cover designs which exceed the anemic offerings of so many publishing houses), we are fortunate to have a rapid timeframe for each succeeding novel, so my fingers are crossed that there will be a December or January timeframe for Alex’s book. Kaylea Cross has written another wonderful, suspenseful series which manages to prove why she is on my “must-buy” list!

Happy reading!

Falling for the Marine by Samanthe Beck Surpasses Previous Books in the Series (and That’s Saying Something!)

28 Oct

Falling for the Marine (McCade Brothers #2) by Samanthe Beck (Entangled, October 28, 2013)

It’s official. With this third book in the McCade Brothers series, Samanthe Beck has catapulted to the top of my “must-buy/pre-order it, dammit!” list.

While I knew I loved her writing from reading the first two books, Lover Undercover (the first book) and the interim novella in Lovers Unmasked, “Wicked Games” which I adored, there’s always that scarred part of any voracious reader which rears its inner dialogue head. “What if you don’t like the next book? What if there’s sloppy editing? Or you hate the hero? They might not be as good and then your hopes will be dashed on the rocks of anti-climactic sequels!!! Mwhahahahahaha!!”

What? Your inner voice doesn’t do evil villain laughs?

Well, my inner voice has now shut the hell up because Samanthe Beck’s third installment of the McCade Brothers series, Falling for the Marine, has not only met my high expectations but utterly surpassed them.

I think the key piece that clinched my impression of her as an outstanding writer is her originality. Two people pretending to be engaged is a very common trope in romance (and one I usually like) but Michael and Chloe’s situation didn’t carry a whiff of anything I’d read before. Add to that Beck’s ability to turn characters into people so vivid that you accidentally start talking about them, forgetting they are fictional, and you have a powerful writer ready to take her place at the head of contemporary romance fiction. Oh, did I mention she’s off the charts when it comes to the sexy times writing? Have your significant other on standby.

Lover Undercover (McCade Brothers #1) by Samanthe Beck, April 2013)

The book starts with one of the best opening scenes I’ve seen in forever. Chloe is handcuffed to her own bed, surrounded by lit candles with a trail of condoms running from her front door to her thong and bra clad self. The problem? Her casual hook-up, who was going to end the sexual drought imposed after her divorce, has just called from Tijuana to say that he’s not only not coming, but he thinks he might have gotten married. Click.

She’s not upset about him not coming, it’s more a matter of her sexual frustration going unattended that has her throwing her cell out of reach and jostling the key to the handcuffs down the grate. Did I mention she needs to pee? Yikes.

Marine Major Michael McCade is wincing his way up the stairs to his new apartment, a condition caused both by the back injury that has sidelined him from flying helicopters and by the fact that his doctor/best friend Dane is lecturing him on the importance of physical therapy. Dane just informed Michael that he scheduled him for a series of massage appointments, making Michael wonder if his “spa treatments” will fully leach away all his testosterone. When he hears a cry for “Help!” coming from the apartment of a new neighbor, he’s glad he doesn’t have to break down her door since his back couldn’t take it.

You can imagine that he forgets about his back pretty quickly as the slightly embarrassed and strangely fidgety strawberry blond with the killer body and adorable sense of humor explains the need for his help. He gets her out of the handcuffs with a slick MacGyver move with a hairpin and her hot gratitude kiss turns into the potential for something much more. But his back quickly puts the kibosh and any horizontal action, much to both their frustration. Naturally when he shows up for his massage appointment the next morning, Michael knows exactly what is under Chloe’s lab coat since it’s vividly etched in his mind for all eternity.

Lovers Unmasked (Including McCade Brothers #1.5) by Samanthe Beck (Entangled September 2013)

When sexy circumstances result in her being fired because of something they both were doing, Michael can’t handle the thought of Chloe – whose temp company handles her housing and car situation as part of her employment – being homeless and running through the last of her savings. He offers a place in his apartment, but there’s a catch. The condition involves wearing his grandmother’s engagement ring since his CO does not approve of officers using their housing allotment for unlawful cohabitation. Chloe’s got a LOT of baggage between her military father being less than awesome and her cheating ex, but there is something about Michael which has her taking a chance, even when her heart knows this is a dangerous game they are playing.

Chloe was delightful – a little flaky, but it was more from being bludgeoned by repeat abandonment from everyone who had ever loved her. She is also beautiful, caring and spontaneous, which complemented Michael perfectly. And Michael *fans self* – I bet there will be legions of women jumping in their cars to drive to San Diego in the hope of picking up a Marine that fits his description. This series is aptly named for these stand-up McCade brothers who believe in doing the right thing and who aren’t afraid to go after the woman they want, even when she’s running scared in the opposite direction. I dare you not to fall in love with this gorgeous hunk of a man and cheer for his happy ending as he races to show Chloe that he’s not going to give up on them.

Considering that the novella that was part of Lovers Unmasked involved Trevor’s cop partner and best-friend, I’m pulling for the womanizing doctor, Dane, to have his comeuppance and find a woman who can resist his charm long enough for him to see her as a potential partner. There is also still the final McCade brother working himself to death in Colorado to look forward to, so at least I feel that we’ve got more than a few more books in this outstanding series to anticipate.

The best news, though? It’s that Samanthe Beck’s writing is always going to be this good, no matter her characters, so do yourself a favor and get on her bandwagon now, so you, too, can fall for a Marine this week.

Happy Reading!

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