Tag Archives: military

Stealing His Heart by Diane Alberts Will Run Away With Yours

29 Aug

Stealing His Heart (Shillings Agency #2 – Jake and Tara) by Diane Alberts (Entangled: Brazen, August 25, 2014)

Diane Alberts (aka Jen McLaughlin) is a contemporary romance author at the top of her game. Whether it’s her raw and emotional Take a Chance series, or her super hot contribution to the multi-author Wedding Dare series (*fans self*), this writer knows how to create vulnerable and appealing heroes and heroines who come together in a burst of heat under unusual circumstances only to find that the unlikely pairing is actually a perfect match.

When her first book in the Shillings Agency series, Temporarily Yours, came out this past winter, I was most definitely hooked with Cooper and Kayla’s story, and the latest installment, Stealing His Heart, has proved no exception. A testimony to Alberts’ talent is that I usually don’t have the time of day to give to “reunion” romances (it’s a personal mental block – they are great books), but when she writes one, all I can do is turn the pages faster!

Tara Harris isn’t a thief, she’s a “recovery consultant” who tracks down stolen items and then steals them back in order to return them to their rightful owners. Having seen the justice system fail both her and the people she loves means she doesn’t have a high opinion of the traditional route of turning to the authorities. Her genius IQ and the trust fund left to her by her parents’ untimely death mean no one considers that this unassuming and wealthy young woman is one of the premiere cat burglars stealing from mob bosses and seamy celebrities. But when what should have been an easy art theft has her caught red-handed, she’s shocked to discover that the man so effectively holding her still is none other than her former friend, partner and first love, Jake Forsythe.

Falling for the Groomsman (Wedding Dare #1 – Christine and Tyler) by Jen McLaughlin (Entangled Brazen, June 2014) – This is the story of Jake’s sister and gives an interesting perspective on his childhood trauma of losing their parents

Jake wishes he wasn’t enjoying keeping Tara pinned against the wall as much as he is. The two of them came together as kids with the common ground of her loss of her parents at the same time he lost his. The difference was while she went to a loving if prissy grandmother in a mansion, he went to an abusive foster home, separated from his sister, Christine. Thankfully his sister has found happiness with a doctor and she’s back in Jake’s life happy and content, but her bliss only emphasize how alone Jake is.

Years ago before the military, Tara was his lifeline – his partner in crime (literally) and the princess who was so irresistible to him. Their one night together had him satisfying her without taking the final step of taking her virginity, as he knew she deserved better than his dark desires. He ran off to join the military the next day and the years in his country’s service have taken their toll, mentally and physically. His leg is covered with scars and hardly fully functional, but it’s nothing compared to the emotional scars left from the IED explosion that killed most of his fellow soldiers on patrol. He knows he’s cold and alone but that’s what he has to be in order to do his duty for the Shillings Agency. After Tara got past their security and stole a vase from a client, they’ve needed her to show them how she bypassed their system, hence the sting that nabbed her.

Tara felt rejected twice being trapped by Jake – the first time when he left her high and dry after delivering more pleasure than her young self thought existed and now when it’s clear he’s been back stateside for a while and never looked up his former friend despite them having been so close. But the real sense of betrayal comes when he cooly informs her that she is going to have to show his security agency how she got past their system on her last job or they’ll use the footage from this break in to put her in jail. She’s not about to give up either her code knowledge or endanger her network of contacts who help her. However, she’s happy to play along since Jake’s body is clearly enthusiastic to see her even though his frowny face says otherwise and she wants to figure out what’s really going on in that gorgeous head of his.

What follows is an exercise in frustration – for both of them. The spark they knew as kids is a raging inferno now and while Jake makes clear that his need for being dominant in the bedroom should scare Tara away, she can’t wrap her head around submitting to anyone, although Jake makes the idea damn appealing. Her practical joker tendencies quickly crack Jake’s shell with her mouth and body widening the gap to his heart. Tara finds that Jake is exactly what she needs but since he’s about to land her in jail, they hardly have a future. With Jake torn between his duty and saving Tara, he knows he’s forced to betray her trust in a way that might have her cutting him out of her life. But now that he’s had a taste of what it means to feel again, he’s not about to let her get away.

Temporarily Yours (Shilling Agency #1 – Cooper and Kayla) by Jen McLaughlin (Entangled Brazen, February 2014) – This is Cooper’s story of how he came to fall in love and decide to go back to Maine to the family security business.

There is no way to not love the isolated Jake who made the biggest mistake of his life not heading back to find Tara the instant he was stateside. That they are clearly exactly what each other needs is evident, but he is reluctant to let go of his mental image of her as a past princess who deserves the best. Diane Alberts writes the sexy times like nobody’s business, but it was the incredible moments of laughter that got to me. Because Tara knows Jake and all his buttons, her jokes were awesome, penetrating right through the drone shell he’d adopted to cope with his life. Cooper Shilling, Jake’s boss, was just as yummy as I remembered him from the first book in this series, Temporarily Yours, and I liked that, knowing his own personal happiness and what it gave him, he didn’t hesitate to kick Jake in the right direction when it came time for him to figure out the “grand gesture” that would bring Tara back to him. And what a gesture! I was tearing up in that final scene as Jake proved he knew the real Tara as much as she knew him.

Stealing His Heart is an excellent buy for $3.99 and I eagerly await the next book in the Shillings Agency series, which I hope will star Jake’s coworker and playboy, the tattooed Gordon and the cool blonde he was sent to investigate in this book.

Happy reading!! 🙂

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!

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 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!!

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!

Cat Johnson Shows Us How Oklahoma Nights Are Steamy in Two Times As Hot

23 Sep

Two Times As Hot (Oklahoma Nights #2 – Logan and Emma) by Cat Johnson (Kensington, September 24, 2013)

Sometimes I am just in the mood for a cowboy romance, but I happen to like the books that don’t cater to what they think a reader believes cowboys are like, instead heading straight to a more authentic view of modern life where bulls and horses are as natural as driving pickup truck. Cat Johnson is fortunately an author whose authentic voice trumpets loud and clear through her characters and in her settings, so I was eager to try her latest novel, via NetGalley.

Two Times As Hot certainly lived up to its name and to its cover (letting us know beer wasn’t going to be the only thing found in six pack form inside this novel *wink*). While it is the second book in Cat Johnson’s Oklahoma Nights series, the prologue and epilogue are so well done as to provide the reader with a seamless understanding of the other characters and storylines, allowing anyone to jump right in and enjoy the book fully.

One Night with a Cowboy (Oklahoma Nights #1 – Tuck and Becca) by Cat Johnson (Kensington, February 26, 2013)

Johnson positions a flashback right at the start (which shows the beginning of One Night with a Cowboy) to the night New York native Emma takes her sister Becca to an Oklahoma rodeo to blow off some steam and hopefully find someone for the night. Emma wants Becca to loosen up before interviewing for an English professor position at the local university and Mr. Rodeo is just what the doctor ordered (Emma being the doctor). Emma herself almost hooks up with Tuck’s friend, Jace, but he’s called away at the last minute to help his ex-girlfriend with a car problem and she never hears from him again. Oh, well.

Flash forward to a year later and Emma is arriving dressed to kill at Becca and Tuck’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Yes, she wants to rub Jace’s face in exactly what he missed out on, but a bigger fish actually bites her hook – in the form of oh-so-sexy, no-games-playing Lieutenant Colonel Logan Hunt, Tuck’s commanding officer in the military science department of the university where he and Becca teach. Logan is fast approaching forty and feeling a little wistful that his career has had him missing an opportunity to find someone who would look at him the way Becca is looking at Tuck. But all that is driven out of his mind the minute he sees Emma unfold those long legs bared by her little black dress from the family rental car.

Three Weeks with a Bull Rider (Oklahoma Nights #3 – Jace and Tara) by Cat Johnson (Kensington, March 2014)

From the minute their eyes connect, the sexual tension between Logan and Emma is so startling that even the besotted couple getting married notice it. Yet continual distractions exist, with Jace attempting to get back into Emma’s good graces (and her bed) and Tuck’s little sister Tara deciding she’s all grown up and ready to show the much older Logan that she wants to act on the feelings she’s had for him since she was a child. But Logan didn’t survive Afghanistan to have these kind of logistical problems throw him through a loop. He and Emma have a mind-blowing night (and morning) before she gets back on a plane to head home.

Yet this is when all hell breaks loose for Logan, who doesn’t even have the time to wrangle her phone number from someone so he can let her know how much he’s missing her. Emma back in the city is miserable that her sister and her new husband have dropped off the face of the earth for three weeks and the man who gave her the best sex of her life also hasn’t lifted the phone to call. She’s feeling unsettled and unhappy and life intervenes to show her that she needs to head back to Oklahoma in order to figure out exactly what Logan and she might have. Right. Now.

There were so many pieces of this book that I not only enjoyed but found downright refreshing. The dialogue and language was true to the characters while never venturing into the wince-worthy “hick” dialect that so many authors feel necessary for cowboy romance. While there was a decent amount of jealousy and tension regarding Jace and Tara, the reader was always comforted that Logan and Emma were clear on who they wanted to be with, and the little triangles made the drama seem so realistic, I felt I was at a real wedding! Can I also complement Cat Johnson on demonstrating how a hero can be a strong man while also not being an asshole? It’s a pretty key point that so many writers today seem to miss, and she demonstrates how Logan is a sexy, dominating guy while being a gentleman down to his toes.

Based on the teaser chapter at the end, it’s clear that Tara and Jace are going to have to move beyond their hang-ups and issues to grow up a little since they are clearly the next intended match in the Oklahoma Nights series, with their story, Three Weeks With a Bull Rider, projected to come out in March of 2014. I for one am looking forward to going along for the ride and seeing another Oklahoma couple steam up Stillwater. 🙂

%d bloggers like this: