Tag Archives: New York City

December Read-a-Thon: Remind Yourself How Lucky You Are With the Military Anthology, A Soldier’s Christmas

28 Dec

A Soldier’s Christmas, featuring novellas by Leslie Kelly, Joanne Rock, and Karen Foley (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2013)

I’m a sucker for military romance any month out of the year, but come December, romances featuring members of our armed forces grab me by the throat as much as those damn Hallmark commercials or that Apple commercial with the kid who makes the video which induces the whole family to cry.

Fortunately the addition of hot sex and the promise of a happily ever after helps balance me out, and even luckier for me, the clever editors over at Harlequin’s Blaze line seem to know this, as based on their latest holiday anthology,  A Soldier’s Christmas.

Because it’s Blaze, readers get the perfect combination of sexy heat in these encounters balanced by the holiday “awwwww” each of them evokes. Luckily each of these three excellent writers have serious military romance chops, so you’ll be impressed by the tone and authenticity of each novella, I promise. Let’s get to the breakdown, okay?

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Leslie Kelly

Although it’s not yet listed on Leslie Kelly’s Santori series (featuring a very fun and feisty Italian American family from Chicago), this novella is actually part of that group. Ellie can’t believe that Rafe Santori has turned up at the New Year’s Eve party for a local pet rescue. This soldier broke up with her years ago after the best relationship (and sex) of her life, telling her that it was unfair to make her wait for him when he had several more years of service ahead of him in the Rangers. He seems shocked that she’s recently engaged to her good friend Dennis, but why would he be? He told her to move on and that’s exactly what this veterinary student has done. One slow dance and a New Year’s kiss that drags up old memories and he disappears. Again.

Flash forward a couple of years and Ellie is stranded in the airport in New York on Christmas Eve, desperate to get back to Chicago to be with Dennis and her family. While she didn’t marry him, he did marry her best friend – Rafe’s divebombing back in her life made Ellie realize that she didn’t have the necessary spark with Dennis (but he did with someone else). He’s a great partner with their small animal clinic and since it’s his baby’s first Christmas Ellie wants to be there. With a massive snowstorm burying the East Coast in snow, her only hope is to rent an SUV and chance the roads. Guess what soldier just got the last one?

Don’t Open Till Christmas (Santori Stories #3 – Mark and Noelle) by Leslie Kelly (Harlequin Blaze, 2005)

Yep, it’s Rafe, who seems startled to see her but hesitantly asks if Ellie wants to share his ride. She realizes that this is fate giving her the opportunity to see if the man she fell in love with seven years ago still exists under that uniform. For Rafe, he knows he’s torturing himself with a married woman but he can’t help it – the thought of Ellie is what gave him comfort during some lonely nights and if he has to live with the reminder that he was an idiot for letting her go then so be it. The news that she is not married – especially when combined with his revelation that he’s officially stateside for one more year in the Rangers and then he’s a civilian – puts a whole different tone on their trip home. A few sexy detours into questionable motels due to the weather and these two people are contemplating that a Christmas miracle may have occurred…if they can convince the other person to take a chance.

One of my favorite things about Leslie Kelly’s writing is her sense of humor and this novella is no exception, continuing the hilarious situational fun and banter that I found in another book of the series (also a Christmas themed one), Don’t Open Until Christmas, Rafe’s brother Mark and his wife Noelle’s full-length novel. The whole series is fantastic (this is one over the top Italian family I’d love to join) but both Mark Santori’s story and this novella featuring his war-weary brother, Rafe, will brighten your holiday season.

“Presents Under the Tree” by Joanne Rock

Las Vegas producer Arianna Demakis is nervous this Christmas Eve and it’s not because she’s juggling three shows tonight. No, the reason she’s on edge is because sexy Air Force Captain Dylan Rivera – a man who gave her one unforgettable night four months ago – has promised to spend the holiday with her. It’s almost midnight and Ari is worried that he’s a no show, and she’s disappointed (but not surprised) since Dylan went on a mission right after their tequila-fueled celebration. She hasn’t heard from him since and it’s not a huge shock except for the fact that they are…um…married.

Full Surrender by Joanne Rock (Harlequin Blaze, September 1, 2012)

Dylan makes it to Ari by the skin of his teeth in the parking lot outside one of her theaters and finds himself as lost in her beauty and fire as ever. He’s happy to see she’s still wearing the ring he put on her finger four months ago but he knows she’s bound to ask for a divorce. He’s loved Ari since they were friends in high school, and couldn’t believe his luck when she showed up for his thirtieth birthday celebration. They’d promised each other senior year that they’d consider getting married if they both hit the big 3-0 and weren’t hitched yet. But he knows she must be worried that their alcohol-filled night was a mistake and he’s got a limited amount of time to convince her.

Dylan was adorable in his geekiness and the fact that he’s been thinking about Ari for years. He finds her fierce independence not just sexy but also potentially exactly what they would need if she agrees to give this marriage a chance – his tech job is perfect for a former chess club leader but his work falls under the highly classified label and he’ll potentially be out of touch for weeks and months at a time. Rock does a great job sketching both characters and showing their shared history and common interests that make their sudden marriage actually believable. I did wish that there was a little more discussion for the final revelation of feelings – and a hint of exactly how their relationship would work. I also felt like I was missing if this excellent novella was connected to another story; Ari compares her marriage to her friend Krista, who is married to a Lt. Col. (Lars?) in the Air Force – is this another Uniformly Hot novel? I really wish that Blaze would make a point of just tucking in a reference for readers at the start or end of novellas when there is a connection to another story. I don’t want to miss out and I’m enough of a completionist to be irritated if there’s another book I should be reading, particularly by an an author whose work I enjoyed in another story.

This was my first Joanne Rock story and I’ll definitely be trying another. She seems to have written quite a few military romances and other Blaze novels, as well as has a few historicals under her belt and is clearly an author worth exploring!

“If Only In My Dreams” by Karen Foley

Hot-Blooded by Karen Foley (Harlequin Blaze, 2010)

Navy SEAL Aiden Cross cannot figure out why he feels so horrible or why he’s no longer with his team traipsing through the African jungle on their mission. The only silver lining about waking up in a hot tent in excruciating pain is seeing army medic, Sergeant Lily Munroe hovering over him. He’s been attracted to her since the first moment he saw her nine months ago at a joint operations center in Entebbe. Knowing that relationships in the field can be more like hook-ups and often disrespectful to the women involved, he ignored his attraction (and hers). Much to his chagrin, his team buddy Brad swooped in and got involved with her, so she’s doubly off limits now, even if Aiden wasn’t suffering from Dengue fever. The only silver lining in all this pain is the news that he’s being shipped stateside for recovery in time for Christmas with his family and that Lily is going with him since she’s rotating out.

Lily has been extremely worried about Aiden and is more than a little nervous about traveling with him. Christmas is a pretty unhappy time in her family since her mother died on Christmas Eve when Lily was still a child, so she’s in no rush to get home. Despite her being attracted to Aiden and letting him know it, he wasn’t interested, hence her childish flirting with his buddy which came to nothing. When Aiden mentions on the trip home that he only believes in serious relationships and Lily knows she only does casual – having seen how hurt people can be when someone they love dies – she thinks that’s the door closing officially on anything they might have. But a combination of getting snowed into a midwest town without hope of making it home for the holiday, and her dispelling Aiden’s misconceptions that she’s in a relationship, seems to make their dynamic take a drastic shift. Sharing the last room in town might help Lily get her Christmas wish of Aiden in her bed, but the question still remains if there can be any kind of future between them.

OMG – such a good novella. I enjoyed having a military story not set in the Middle East and especially liked the realistic feeling of the misunderstanding between Aiden and Lily regarding her “relationship” with Brad. The B&B scenes were heartwarming and did a great job demonstrating Aiden’s ability to truly understand Lily and her fears – this was one man who I bet was amazing on a mission considering how focused he was on his objective! I’ve enjoyed several of Foley’s other military romances but just went out and bought a few others based on how hot and sweet this one was. She bowled me over!

Because of the nature of a soldier’s life, it’s hard not to come away from A Soldier’s Christmas being both high on the bittersweet romance of each story as well as impressed by the writing. As a reader, you are naturally thankful both for the men and women of our armed forces but also for being at home with family during the holidays when so many other people aren’t. I think a lot of the emotion I experienced reading this anthology wasn’t just provoked by the outstanding stories told, but how fortunate I felt to have love and family this holiday season in my life after seeing each of these couples experience their emotional roller-coaster during a potentially difficult time.

This is a terrific addition by the Blaze line to both their quality holiday novellas as well as their military romance collection.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-thon: All I’m Asking For Anthology Demonstrates How Taking Risks Equals the Best of Holiday Rewards

9 Dec

All I’m Asking For: A Contemporary Christmas Anthology by Brighton Walsh, Kat Latham, and Christi Barth (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

This is quite a personal motto of mine, actually. The best things in my life (my college education, my career and most importantly, my husband of 20 years) have happened because I took a huge risk – just stepped forward into the air like the scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy has to trust that he can cross the chasm and get the chalice to save his dying father. It’s scary as hell while you are doing it, but it’s also exhilarating. Setting standards and making sure that you and others live up to them is hard but incredibly important, and I firmly believe that it’s one of the keys to happiness.

Imagine how thrilled I was to see this personal theme laced through one of Carina Press’ holiday anthologies, namely All I’m Asking For: A Contemporary Christmas Anthology. Let’s take a close up look at each of the stories in this anthology for further analysis, shall we?

Keep in mind that you can buy the entire anthology (see above links in the text or caption of the cover) but editor Angela James and Carina Press are nothing if not accommodating, so if you feel that it’s just one or two stories you desire, you can purchase them as stand-alones as well. The below links in each review and next to the individual book cover will take you right to that story on Amazon.

Tinsel My Heart by Christi Barth

Tinsel My Heart by Christi Barth (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

Right off the bat, I’m wondering about the order of the authors on the cover of the anthology. If Christi Barth‘s story is first, which it is, why is she not listed first? It’s not alphabetical order either, so is it some kind of Carina Press “whoever was published first” seniority? I swear, these kind of questions keep me up at night. I remembered enjoying Barth’s Christmas story last year, and the premise of Tinsel My Heart was intriguing.

Becca Heglund gave up her dreams to leave Minneapolis and pursue a career in the theater in New York in order to stay home and care for her dying grandmother. She’s watched her two former best friends, Tyler Peterson and Jack Whittaker form a highly successful business partnership and even win an Oscar for Best Director and she’s happy for them. But Ty promised to film her theater company’s Christmas production and the pre-sales to the DVD could save the organization, but not if Ty doesn’t show. Considering he just entered a Malibu rehab facility for his drug problem, she’s up a creek and looking for a paddle.

Yet her secret high school crush, Jack Whittaker, appears on the theater’s doorstep looking none too pleased about being home in Minnesota but stating he’s here to fulfill Ty’s obligation. He’s a lifesaver even if he is being a total grouch and hearing that he hates Christmas means that taping the Christmas production is going to be no cakewalk with this particular Grinch. Yet amid the live goats and chopping down Christmas trees, hot, stolen kisses become something much more (the car scene at the tree farm, WOW!), yet they both know that Jack can’t wait to get out of Minnesota again and Becca is going to be left behind.

Rich in detail (I adored the fried cheese curds and “you betchas”), I instantly loved the competent, loyal Becca and her determination to embrace any opportunity to save the theater group and the production. Jack is afflicted with dickishness between his brusque manner and hating Christmas, but once you understand how he was treated growing up and also how betrayed he feels by his best friend screwing him and all their employees with his recurring drug problem, you understand where he is coming from. Tyler is revealed as always having been a user and while it’s not stated, you can easily see that a young Becca and Jack didn’t see the signs that their friend was already an addict before he even graduated.

I was startled by two pieces of this story. The first was how we had a fade out from the first dinner together to the following morning. Purportedly there was a pretty hot couch make out session, something that was repeated four or five times according to the text and I didn’t get to see one of them. That sat funny with me – not only did I want in on the chemistry, but these two people are hiding their long-standing attraction to one another. How did that play out in their initial physical intimacy? How and why did Jack call a halt to not going past 2nd base and why on earth did Becca not lay it all on the table and order him into her bed? I felt like I was being left out of the loop even while I was loving the rest of the story.

The second piece that took me aback was the very ending. Becca announces her plans and Jack steps up to declare himself. Big “awwwww” moment with the ornament (loved that!) but never once does Becca worry that a career move at the same time she’s becoming a couple with an Oscar-winning movie director might give the appearance of using him to climb the professional ladder. I know she’s not doing it for that reason, but I wondered that neither she nor Jack had the thought flit through their mind. And it seemed like a big decision – if they had been together before I think it would have felt a little more understandable, but while they knew one another as friends, they didn’t as lovers and I’m still sitting here worried that it’s going to be far from smooth sailing when they move to New York City. Jack’s a bigwig there with hordes of women he’s “dated” around every corner, he’ll be hugely busy for months on end with movie projects, blah, blah. Can it work? I’m freaking out a little. Good luck, Jack and Becca – I’m pulling for you!

Season of Second Chances by Brighton Walsh

Season of Second Chances by Brighton Walsh (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

I really hate second chance stories (I think it’s my firm belief that people rarely change that makes me not read them), but this story was part of the anthology and since I never read any Brighton Walsh before I figured I would gird my heart for emotional agony and simply try and get a sense of her writing. I was so impressed. I loved the story but plan on reading other Walsh novels as Season of Second Chances was excellent, combining believability with strong emotion.

Californian Claire Hanlin is stuck in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport during a snowstorm. If that doesn’t suck enough, it’s also her birthday, the day before Christmas, and the city reminds her all too painfully that she left here two years ago when she broke up with her fiancee, Logan Dawes, the man who promised her forever and instead put work first. While desperately trying to find a hotel room, an all too familiar voice greets her. Yep. It’s Logan in the flesh with an all-too-intriguing offer.

Logan cannot believe that the woman he let get away is standing before him in the terminal, even more beautiful than he remembered. He’s had two years to wallow in the fact that he screwed up his chance at happiness. He’s tried to reform his work habits, making more room in his life for his little daughter Sophie who missed Claire being in her life as well, and this snowstorm might be just the chance he needs to show Claire that things could be different. When the two of them give into the heat between them, Logan knows that he desperately needs to get this right, yet a promise to Claire that he has to break again means that he’s never going to hold onto this incredible woman.

It’s always a good sign when a novella can put your heart in your throat praying that everything will work out, even when you believe it can’t. It’s hard not to understand and empathize with both Claire and Logan since we understand their choices even when it’s hard to agree with Logan’s. The writing is terrific, with truly three-dimensional characters, enough backstory to ground us beautifully yet not so much that it takes away from the action in the present, and a movie-worthy conclusion and epilogue. I know have a couple of Walsh’s books on my to-read list and I’m really looking forward to it!

Mine Under the Mistletoe by Kat Latham

Mine Under the Mistletoe by Kat Latham (Carina Press, December 5, 2013)

Ever since I raved about Kat Latham’s terrific book, Knowing the Score, I knew I’d pre-order anything she wrote, and that’s actually why I purchased this anthology (and in further support of her, the individual copy of Mine Under the Mistletoe as well!).

Ashley Turner is horrified to be jarred awake by a naked man climbing into her borrowed bed, having swapped her apartment in San Diego with a guy in London in order to have the storybook Christmas she’s always wanted. While her two roommates couldn’t make it, called away by holiday obligations, Ashley is determined to live her mother’s lifelong wish and she’s brought everything she needs to make this happen. The bonus of her absentee host appearing might be just the local touch she needed, particularly since he so handsome albeit a little Grinchy about the holiday.

Oliver Stansfield couldn’t wait to get out of London and away from his past. His recent loss of his disabled sister festers in him, especially since she adored the Christmas season and this is his first holiday without her. Finding a gorgeous Christmas angel in his bed comes as shock since his grueling day at Heathrow Airport ended with all flights cancelled due to the snow and ice descending on the city. He literally forgot he had swapped houses, but one look at the beautiful blond with her nightshirt slipping off her shoulder and he’s wondering if the holiday doesn’t have a silver lining.

Watching these two people not only acknowledge the incredible chemistry between them but also begin to find common ground despite their disparate approaches to the holiday is so sweet that I feel this novella is the best of the entire anthology. Latham writes the disconnect between Americans and the English incredibly well (each protagonist’s bafflement at certain turns of phrase or traditions is adorable) and her sex scenes are hot and delicious – believe me, you’ll be pricing flights to London after reading them!

For anyone with dreams of visiting England or giving themselves a magical European Christmas (and perhaps finding love along the way), this novella is a Christmas wish fulfilled. Laced with humor (Ashely’s astonishment that Ollie is so polite while naked and holding a pillow in front of himself after she nailed him between the legs is going to bring a smile to your face), the story is also understandably emotional. While these two people move quickly into love, it’s completely believable as they are two people who are already experts at loving – Ashley with her mother, students and friends and Ollie having loved his sister with all his might after their parents abandoned her to his care.

One of the best aspects of the story which builds your affection while reading it is the contrast between the two characters. While this strong contrast brings out the best in characters, with Ashley’s intrepid attitude and sheer joy in the context of her past forcing Ollie to face his demons, the similarity between them is that they both are lonely with the loss of a relative they loved binding them together in their particular brand of loneliness. These are two people truly destined for each other and I adored the epilogue!

All I’m Asking For is an excellent holiday anthology combining the efforts of three talented writers, and is one I would heartily recommend to any contemporary romance reader. At just over $5 the entire anthology is an excellent value, with individual stories (if that’s your preference) priced around $2.50. If you haven’t had an opportunity to sample these three authors, this is an outstanding introduction.

Happy reading! 🙂

Norse Jewel by Gina Conkle Builds on Viking Interest While Adding a Great New Voice to Historical Fiction

9 Oct

Norse Jewel by Gina Conkle (Entangled, June 2013)

I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever read a Viking-themed romance before this one. Chances are it probably happened in the 80s, hardly the heyday of consensual relationships and whatever I read probably scarred me for a while. That said, I find Norse history fascinating, with their rich mythology and legends and a culture based on a combination of agriculture and carefully executed raids on neighboring lands for goods and slaves.

My great-grandfather was actually from Sweden and while family accounts have him as quite the jackass personality (“mean” and “taciturn” were words bandied about by his wife, my French great-grandmother), he was quite the personality. He immigrated a little after the turn of the twentieth century, actually rode in the U.S. Calvary against Pancho Villa in the American Southwest and then became a chauffeur during the time of World War I in New York City. My great-grandmother came to America from France in 1918 with a couple of her sisters (she was the youngest at a mere 17) trying to escape the devastation of France and got work as a nursery maid for a rich family in Manhattan. Guess who was next door? The handsome, tall, blond Swedish chauffeur, that’s who. They ended up married and with two children, yet she continued to work for the family for some time, traveling all over with them (we called her Tutu after the Hawaiian name for grandmother because her employers spent so much time there).

As Tutu used to say, luckily for her he died (not romantic, I know) because they had a terrible marriage and he was an awful husband. She followed up this disaster of a marriage by marrying the man who would be the love of her life and treated her like a princess, so she got a happy ending, but the legacy of the Swedish great-grandfather lives on in our family who you would easily mistake for Vikings. The men are extremely tall, blond or red-haired with pale blue eyes and the women are beautiful, tall and with the same coloring. I got a little more height than my Mom’s side of the family (not much) but my light eyes and high cheekbones are courtesy of Sweden (so my thanks to that country).

With the mental image of my family members it was rather easy to envision the hero of new author Gina Conkle‘s novel Norse Jewel. Hakan is a Svea chieftain close to his king who wants nothing more than to retire from raiding and work his farm and be with his son. That his king continues to make demands on his time and his grasping ex-wife will not release his son Erik to him as dictated by Norse custom continues to rankle. When he stumbles across the wounded Frankish maid at a slave auction, the last thing he wants is a young, pretty woman stirring up trouble. But it’s clear she’s in danger from the group of Danes trying to buy her, and his instincts have him purchasing her as a thrall, a slave, to work in his home.

The Viking invasion routes during this time period – rather easy to imagine a Frankish maid ending up as a slave in a chieftain’s house, isn’t it?

Helena cannot believe that she’s at the mercy of the tall Norse warrior. She was living her life in her small Frankish village as the daughter of the apothecary and betrothed to a local scholar. The wound on her face is from one of the Danes attempting to cut away the purse around her neck holding the jewel that was to be her dowry, but her intended husband ran to safety when the raiders arrived in the village and she was snatched. Her knowledge of some Norse makes her useful to this man who is clearly a chieftain, but he wants nothing to do with her, beyond mending and cooking.

While Hakan discovers quickly that she cannot cook, he also discovers that Helena is actually an incredibly intelligent woman of many talents, bringing order to his homestead and tremendous wealth to him. As their feeling for one another grows deeper, the barrier of his ex-wife’s betrayal combined with political elements around the king continue to be barriers they cannot cross. Helena has the added mental block that she is truly Hakan’s slave and while she does love him, her self-respect will not allow her to yield to him until he can show her that he truly cares for, preferably by giving her freedom to return home.

Norse mythology and culture are becoming increasingly popular as indicated by movies like Thor and the BBC drama Vikings.

I thought this was a terrific historical romance – at almost exactly 200 pages this had the feel of a category romance in terms of the romance part of the plot, yet Conkle delivers such depth of well-researched information that you feel you are reading a longer book set in the time period, complete with complex religious and cultural conflicts our hero and heroine encounter. Both characters are highly sympathetic (and stubborn) but the feeling between them is very real, and I love that the author has them becoming friends first even though the frisson of attraction is always present.

The actual sex comes pretty late in the book and it was a little bit of a closed-door scene (you only get to see the hot foreplay) which did not make me happy. Yet I was so thrilled they were finally confessing their feelings to each other that I was okay with it, which honestly indicates how great Conkle’s writing is because normally I’d be pretty pissed about being denied by detailed sexy times. This lack of explicitness nevertheless makes this novel highly appropriate for readers who like their romance a little more on the sweet side.

What I cannot figure out is if there will be a series based on some of the characters introduced in this book! *arrgggh* Considering that the political situation continues to be unresolved, and that I want to know what happens to Hakan’s best friend Sven who has seemingly betrayed him, I feel like Entangled would be crazy not to pursue at least a second related book. Yet, no indication exists on Goodreads or Conkle’s website to hint that there will be other books related to this one, so I’m going to have to keep my fingers crossed.

Erik Northman, the millenia-old vampire in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books (and in its companion TV series, True Blood) is a Viking living in modern times, but with an age-old ruthlessness

There is no denying a cultural upswing in interest around Norse culture. Thor and it’s upcoming sequel prove the box office loves Norse gods and mythology and the BBC series Vikings (a Canadian-Irish drama) was picked up by the History Channel proving so popular there is going to be a second season (it’s also on Hulu and I have it in my queue to watch). Yet Norse historical romance is still in such an early stage of development in the world of romance that there doesn’t seem to be a dedicated Goodreads list. You can find the “Best Viking Books” listing Norse Jewel alongside erotica with a Norse theme and historical fiction by Bernard Cornwell. More than a few of these books (particularly the romances) have time-travel or paranormal themes, featuring Vikings living in the present (think of Eric Northman from Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series) rather than plunging readers into the world of the past.

Gina Conkle’s Norse Jewel not only adds a wonderful novel to the world of Viking romance but it also showcases a vibrant new voice to the world of historical fiction with her layered world, well-written characters and plots that demand more than one book to flesh out. My fingers are crossed that more books will be on there way soon since I find this writer a bargain at a mere $2.99.

Happy Reading! 🙂

Countdown to Christmas: Jill Shalvis’ Holiday E-novella Under the Mistletoe Reminds You Why Lucky Harbor is the Place to Be at Christmas

13 Dec

Under the Mistletoe (Lucky Harbor #6.5) by Jill Shalvis (Forever Yours, December 4, 2012)

In a competition of which place I most wanted to live in a contemporary romance series, Lucky Harbor would undoubtedly make the top three. Remember, this was the series I read backwards, first reading books four through six then reading books one through three. Truth be told, I like the most recent three books the best, but I love Shalvis‘ writing and the town of Lucky Harbor, like the series, cannot be beat.

If there was a contemporary romance author who was secretly a Christmas elf, Jill Shalvis would probably also have that spot. I can’t count the number of holiday anthologies she has warm and fuzzy novellas in (some of which involve sexy chemists and their high school crushes) and even her Lucky Harbor series has had a few holiday tie-ins (see below). I’m thrilled her Christmas spirit overflows to the point where she has to publish new stories for her readers, so you won’t catch me complaining!

The subject of this novella is Mia, the wonderful, forthright, brainy but vulnerable seventeen-year-old we meet in The Sweetest Thing, when she goes to the town to find her birth parents, Tara Daniels and Ford Walker, who are rapidly realizing that the heat that brought them together as teenagers has not gone away. The three of them figure out a new dynamic of love and acceptance and it’s great to see Tara and Ford’s horror as Mia gets together with the gardener of the Daniels sisters’ Bed & Breakfast, the wonderful and sexy Carlos.

Christmas in Lucky Harbor (the first two books in the Lucky Harbor series including the one in which Mia is introduced) by Jill Shalvis (Forever, November 1, 2011)

In Under the Mistletoe, Tara lives in New York City and is enrolled in a graduate program to become a high school counselor. For six months she has been dating Nick, a sexy, handsome guy she met in one of her classes. They bonded when they discovered they’d both been put up for adoption as infants – the difference being that Mia got adopted by a wonderful family and then rediscovered loving birth parents on top of her original good fortune. Nick, on the other hand, stayed in the system but was determined to break out and help others. He’s recently graduated law school and just passed the bar, so Mia is hoping that he might someday say the “L” word to her soon, particularly since she knows she’s fallen for him.

A romantic candlelit dinner and plenty of sexy flirting later and she’s hoping that this will be the night Nick says it. She decides to up the ante by giving him his holiday present early – she’s gotten him a ticket to go home with her to Lucky Harbor for the holiday to watch her Aunt Chloe get married on Christmas Eve. But Nick’s reaction is far from what she imagined. She knows that he’s commitment phobic from his past, but she wasn’t asking him to get married, she just wanted to spend the holiday with him. His abrupt “no” and closed off body language sends a clear enough message to her and she ends their night by shutting the door in his face.

Nick knows he’s screwed this up in a big way. Mia makes him feel things he never has before. He even meant to tell her at dinner that he got the big legal job with the nonprofit which serves underprivileged kids – the one that will enable him to do all the traveling he’s always wanted – but being with her made him believe he didn’t want to go anywhere. He tries to tell himself it’s for the best as he tosses and turns but he gives up when the morning comes. He might not know anything about families or relationships but he does know that Mia is too important to him to give up so easily. Their shared experience of being given up for adoption gives him an insight others don’t have. Listen to Nick explain it.

And he also knew something else, something she’d never verbalized to him: for as well adjusted as she was, she needed her people to make a stand for her.

Nick had failed her in that, big-time, and both his heart and gut were churning over it. She’d never asked for a thing from him, but he’d known that need of hers was there and he hadn’t fulfilled it.

He could fix that. He would fix that, and then she’d never doubt him again.

Shalvis, Jill (2012-12-04). Under the Mistletoe (Kindle Locations 206-209). Kindle Edition.

Small Town Christmas (including #2.5 from the Lucky Harbor series “Kissing Santa Claus” which focuses on the happily ever after for Tara’s ex-husband, NASCAR driver Logan) by Jill Shalvis (Forever, November 1, 2011)

After discovering she’s already left the city, Nick flies to Lucky Harbor and walks in on Mia talking to her ex-boyfriend Carlos, getting a pretty cozy hug from him. This is not good, considering the fact that not six months ago when Nick’s relationship with Mia was starting up, Carlos showed up with a ring wanting to renew their relationship.

Nick doesn’t know that Mia has been moping for a day and that Carlos is with the love of his life now. Mostly, Mia is surprised and astonished to see Nick. In typical Lucky Harbor fashion, his request to talk with her is made in front of her birth parents, all her aunts and uncles, her young cousin (Maddie and Jax’s daughter), a dog and Carlos, with no one looking to move away to give them any privacy. It’s a pretty priceless moment (and it’s great to see all those previous couples so happy).

But they do go somewhere private, on a houseboat on the lake, actually, which leads to a super sexy love scene between Nick and Mia. Nick realizes that he’s undergone a massive paradigm shift of never wanting to get too close to anyone, to knowing that Mia is it for him. After their amazing physical reunion, he tells Mia he loves her to which she replies that she never asked him to love her, just to be with her “for now.” While most guys would love to hear that, Nick sticks to his guns, insisting on staying for the wedding and figuring out how to show Mia and her family that he is in this relationship for the long haul.

He does figure it out, in a very eloquent way, that convinces Mia and everyone else that Nick knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s a heartwarming happily-ever-after that will put a Christmas smile on anyone’s face. A big Santa hat for Jill Shalvis for combining her great Lucky Harbor series with the holiday to give us yet another super love story for this wonderful town!

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