Hajar’s Hidden Legacy by Maisey Yates

Title: Hajar’s Hidden Legacy

Author: Maisey Yates

Genre: Category romance (contemporary)

Synopsis: Beauty…

Princess Katharine has always been destined for a political marriage. Her heart heavy, she prepares to meet her future husband—the man whisperers in his royal kingdom call the Beast of Hajar

…and the Scarred Sheikh

Concealing his disfigurement from public scrutiny, Sheikh Zahir rules his country from within the castle walls, allowing no one in. Until duty demands he carry on the Hajar family dynasty, and allow his new bride to cross the threshold.

Zahir expects Katharine to flee at first sight. Yet her unflinching gaze fires Zahir’s blood, their attraction burning hotter than the scorching desert sands…

Review:  I loved this book! It’s right up there with Maisey’s “Girl On A Diamond Pedestal”.

Zahir has spent the past five years dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), following the deaths of his mother, father and older brother in an explosion during a public ceremony in Hajar.

Katherine was supposed to marry Zahir’s older brother, Malik,  so she’s spent the past five years enjoying a sense of freedom and independence. That all changes however, when her father becomes ill and a family member threatens to destabilise Austrich if there isn’t a male regent to manage the kingdom’s affairs until her teenaged brother comes of age.

Katherine braves Zahir’s fierce demeanor and reclusive habits to convince him to honor the marriage contract –  if Malik died, Zahir would marry her instead, in order to save her brother’s future and her country.

The sparks, oh how they fly, when Zahir discovers Katherine actually moved into the palace rather than return home as he ordered. The princess obviously convinces the ‘beast sheikh” (as Maisey nicknamed him) to honor the deal but the real prize is this mutually scarred couple finding their own HEA.

Trust me, you’ll cheer each of them on at different points in the book and wish you had more to read at the end.

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On The First Night Of Christmas by Heidi Rice

Title: On The First Night Of Christmas

Series: Harlequin Presents Extra

Author: Heidi Rice

Synopsis: Cassie’s tips for the Perfect Christmas Fling!

1. ‘Tis the season to be daring: Find the perfect Mr. Right Now (extra points for a bad-boy-turned-billionaire) and be brave about getting him—even if that means jumping straight into sexy Jace Ryan’s car!

2. Enjoy the ride: Once you’ve chosen your man, get swept away by the moment! For once, Cassie’s determined to stop worrying about the future, but she must remember one thing…

3. This fling is just for Christmas: Jace Ryan’s a seasonal special. Do not start falling for him, Cassie, no matter how perfect the package or how much you’ve enjoyed unwrapping it.…

Review: This may have been my first Heidi Rice book but it won’t be the last by this relatively new author – 7 books for Harlequin/Mills&Boon since 201, but there’s a reason she’s a USA Today Bestselling Author! :D

Cassie and Jace (Jacob) are so real, the scenes with them alone, with her friends (cause he didn’t have any real ones then), out shopping together for Christmas gifts, were so well written that I felt as if I was standing right there.

We’ve all experienced heart break or known someone who felt stupid for having been in a bad relationship and Cassie is no stranger to that.

Her wish for Christmas love is one many of us have at some point in time wished would become a reality. Well, for her it does, in the form of physically fantastic, wealthy but emotionally flawed Jacob ‘Jace’ Ryan.

The chemistry between these two in On The First Night Of Christmas  is amazing and it translates into ‘hawt’ sex. ;)

That’s not all though. The each have emotional issues to overcome and how they brave those to experience what starts as a hot fling but which quickly progresses to something more, is the other half of what makes this book so engaging.

No wonder this book was published under Harlequin Presents Extra.

A must-read for sure. Add this one to your shopping list.

Grade: A+

Excerpt: If only my love life were as perfect as Selfridges at Christmas.

Cassie Fitzgerald let out a wistful sigh as she gazed at the explosion of festive bling in the iconic London store’s window display. The Sugar Plum Fairy sparkled flirtatiously on the shoulder of a hunky mannequin dressed in a dinner suit, silver snowflake lights making her tiny wings twinkle. Cassie’s heart lifted. Selfridges’ Christmas window dressing never let you down. It always captured the hope and expectation of the season of goodwill so beautifully. And okay, maybe her love life wasn’t perfect—in fact, it was non-existent—but that was still a big improvement on last year.

A frown creased Cassie’s brow as she recalled the Christmas wish she’d made the year before while standing in front of Selfridges—involving Lance, her boyfriend of three years, and a proposal of marriage.

She wrinkled her nose in disgust, the frozen air making it tingle, as her mind conjured up the image of Lance and Tracy McGellan getting up close and pornographic on the sofa in Cassie’s flat a month after Valentine’s Day. A month after Cassie had accepted that wished-for proposal.

Colour hit her cheeks as she remembered her shock and disbelief, swiftly followed by the shame of her own idiocy.

What on earth had possessed her to agree to marry a dead-beat like Lance?

As Christmas wishes went, it was one of her worst. Right up there with wishing for a pair of inline skates when she was eight—which had resulted in a broken wrist and four hours in Accident and Emergency on Christmas Day. Marriage to Lance would have been worse, but in her typically romantic fashion she’d overlooked all his shortcomings, determined to convince herself that he was The One.

Cassie hunched her shoulders against the brisk winter wind. From now on she was going to stop looking at life through rose-tinted glasses…because all it did was blind her to reality. And she wasn’t making a Christmas wish this year, because it might come true.

It would be a shame not to have anyone to wake up with this Christmas morning—and she’d been in a funk about it for days. She adored bounding out of bed, brewing a pot of spiced apple tea and then savouring the presents artfully arranged under the tree. Having to do all that alone wasn’t quite the same.

But as her best friend Nessa had pointed out, Cassie was better off doing it alone than with Lance the Loser. Cassie huddled in her coat. Absorbing the bright sparkle of Sugar Plum and her beau, she let the thought of her lucky escape from Lance strengthen her resolve.

‘What you need is a candy man—to give your girly bits a wake-up call. Then you wouldn’t need another deadbeat boyfriend.’

Cassie’s lips edged up as she recalled Nessa’s use-him-then-lose-him advice when they’d chatted on the phone that morning. Sometimes she really wished she could be as pragmatic about sex as Nessa. If she could just take sex a little less seriously, maybe she could have some fun without getting tangled up with creeps like Lance…………….

(Jacob) Jace Ryan might be a lot more than she felt capable of handling. But where was the harm in enjoying his company? At least for as long as it took to clean her coat………..

“Tell me something,” she said softly. “Do you try to kiss every woman you meet?”

He smiled. Nuts or not, her candour was captivating. “The answer is no.” Sitting up, he nudged the riotous curls of chestnut hair over her shoulder.”Not every woman.”

Her gaze came back to his and her throaty chuckle made reaction coil in his gut. “You must have kissed quite a few though, if you can’t remember who they are.”

He stifled a groan. Busted. “What can I say? I had a misspent youth.”…..”If it’s any consolation…” he looped his fingers in one of her curls, watched the silky hair spring back against her cheek, “…I can guarantee you, I pay a lot more attention now.”………………

Cassie braced her palms against his chest as his mouth captured hers. His lips were firm, hot, demanding. His pectoral muscles flexed beneath his shirt as he angled his head to deepen the kiss.

Heat scaled the pit of her stomach and radiated out, sizzling and tingling against her skin. He raised his other hand, massaged her scalp to hold her in place. She gasped as reaction raced through her, and his tongue thrust into her mouth, exploring in intimate strokes.

She clung on, poised over him as they sank into the sofa cushions – and desire spiralled and twisted inside her. It had been so long since she’d had a chance to feel a man’s heat, his mouth on hers, the hardness of his chest pressing into her breasts. And she certainly didn’t remember a kiss ever feeling this incredible.

He lifted his head, nipped her bottom lip as he stared into her eyes. His hands cradled her cheeks, his quick smile making the pulse of desire settle lower………….

“Let go, Cassie. Come for me.”

The orgasm roared through her, exploding into a billion glittering sparks like a firework display on Bonfire Night. She heard someone cry out as the wave of pleasure crashed over her. Someone who sounded a lot like her but was thousands of miles away.

Then she buried her head into his neck, dazed and delirious, and whispered, “Candy man.”

Flanked by Cat Johnson

Title: Flanked

Series: Studs In Spurs, book 5

Author: Cat Johnson

Genre: Contemporary (rodeo romance)

Synopsis: It’s the perfect plan…until the ties that bind reach into their hearts.

Garret James doesn’t need a woman tying him down. Not when the number of buckle bunny notches on his belt—and his position in the pro bull rider standings—are both on the rise. Just when he learns he’s this close to blowing out his bad shoulder, Silver Jordan roars into his life, long, leather-clad legs straddling her Harley. Hell, he might not mind being tied to one woman, if that one woman was her. There’s one problem—she’s his friend’s sister. But once their eyes lock, resistance is futile.

Then Silver offers him a smoking-hot deal. He gets the hottest sex of his life and access to her health insurance for his career-saving surgery—all wrapped up in a marriage of convenience.

For a while, dodging questions and hiding their arrangement is easy. But in private, they battle emotions between them they never expected to grow. After all, the marriage is only temporary…isn’t it?

Warning: Contains body piercings guaranteed to make you squirm, a very intimately placed tattoo, one clandestine wedding and even more secretive sex.

Review: This was a great introduction for me to Cat Johnson’s work. I felt a part of each character’s life, I got to know a bit about how the rodeo circuit works and I got to watch two strong, independent people fall in love without them even realising it. :)

There’s plenty of hot action and amazing chemistry between Silver and Garret. So much so that you know they’re meant for each other way before they even admit it to themselves, far less to each other.

I laughed out loud when Silver’s brother and one of Garret’s good friends on the rodeo circuit, Aaron, says of course they wouldn’t be having sex during their arranged marriage. This time Silver and Garret had been humping like bunnies everywhere except a bed. :)

I wanted Silver and Garret to meet earlier in Flanked but I get that we needed to understand their backstory before they hooked up. That’s my only complaint…that and wanting to ‘see’ these two experiment with some of the things they talked about but never did, as far as we know, in the book.

I also hope Ms Johnson writes a steamy story about Silver’s cousin and best friend, Beckie, and her relationship with tattoo artist, Rico.  :)

Grade: A

Excerpt: THIS IS HOT!! 

 “So I was thinking…”

“Mmm, hmm.” That was all he could manage while he watched her slide her lips over his cock.

She slid back up and off the tip of him, her eyes focused on his face as she did. A shiver ran up his spine from her gaze alone as his length popped out of her mouth. “You need this shoulder operation, right?” She continued like this was a perfectly normal conversation to have during a blow job.

“Yeah.” Garret frowned. She wanted to talk about this now? Just when his cock was very happy, she was putting a damper on the rest of him.

“I have excellent health insurance.” Silver ran her tongue up the underside of him until she reached the slit at the top.

“That’s good. Wish I did.” He hissed in a breath as she concentrated on torturing him by sliding just the very tip of her tongue in and out of the top of his cock.

“That’s the point. You should and you can.” After that proclamation, she slid him all the way in until he hit the back of her throat.

“I can’t afford as much coverage as I’d need. I’m not exactly—oh God—a good risk.” Garret barely got the words out as she added a hand to the mix and palmed his balls.

“So here’s the plan. You marry me, I add you to my insurance, you get the operation, then we can get a divorce afterward when you don’t have any more doctor bills.” She delivered that bombshell, then went back to sucking and stroking Garret so hard he would probably have come if the words marry me weren’t echoing so loudly in his head.

“What?” He reached down and grabbed her head, pulling her off his cock. In any other situation he normally wouldn’t let anything interfere with his shooting off in this incredible girl’s mouth, but there was nothing normal about this situation.”

Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh

Title: Archangel’s Storm

Series: Guild Hunter book #5

Author: Nalini Singh

Genre: Paranormal romance

Synopsis: Enter New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh’s darkly beautiful world of archangels and immortal power, as a pact is sealed between two souls bound by blood, stirred by desire, and driven by vengeance…

With wings of midnight and an affinity for shadows, Jason courts darkness. But now, with the Archangel Neha’s consort lying murdered in the jewel-studded palace that was his prison and her rage threatening cataclysmic devastation, Jason steps into the light, knowing he must unearth the murderer before it is too late.

Earning Neha’s trust comes at a price—Jason must tie himself to her bloodline through the Princess Mahiya, a woman with secrets so dangerous, she trusts no one. Least of all an enemy spymaster.

With only their relentless hunt for a violent, intelligent killer to unite them, Jason and Mahiya embark on a quest that leads to a centuries-old nightmare… and to the dark storm of an unexpected passion that threatens to drench them both in blood.

Both Heather and Sasha read and reviewed this book. Both reviews are posted here.

Sasha’s Review: Jason’s journey to love and his partnership with Princess Mahiya to solve the vicious murder of Eris; the consort of Archangel Neha, is a gripping read that takes you inside the heart and mind of Archangel Raphael’s Spy Master.

Although this is book 5 in the Guild Hunter series, you won’t feel left out if you start your GH journey with Jason. Nalini Singh picks up where Archangel’s Blade left off – at the wedding reception of Dmitri and Honor. :)

The happy interlude comes to an end for Jason when the wind carries a name to him, Eris. It’s the first whisper of trouble from Neha’s court in India.

The Queen of Poisons has lost her beloved yet scorned consort whom she imprisoned eons ago for his cheating ways. Having already lost her daughter Anoushka, who crossed over to the dark side, Neha’s deep state of mourning could lead her to lash out at Raphael, whom she blames for Anoushka’s death, and start a major war.

Seeking to avoid this, Raphael sends Jason to Neha’s court, where he is called on to swear a blood vow to Mahiya. This means Jason is now ‘family’ and thus bound to protect the family’s interests. While a tricky road to navigate as Raphael’s Spy Master,  it gains Jason entry to the most restricted parts of Neha’s court. Access he needs to solve Eris’ murder and avoid a war.

Jason is quiet and unruffled when dealing with others but even after the traumatic events in his childhood, a tiny flame of warmth and love still flickers within him. That little flame is given much-needed oxygen when he meets the mysterious Mahiya.

To the world and much of the court, Mahiya is Neha’s cherished niece. Gifted with jewels, fine silk saris and other traditional Indian garb, Mahiya appears to be the favoured niece when in fact she’s actually survived years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of her ‘beloved’ aunt.

Nalini Singh does a fantastic job of weaving the story of Jason and Mahiya’s murder investigation with their growing attraction to one another. You will fall in love with these two, I’m sure, and look forward to more from them and the rest of Raphael’s Seven in future Guild Hunter books.

Heather’s Review: I’m not going to go into the plot as I think that Sasha did a great job breaking down the plot. So here’s my thoughts on the book.

From the moment Nalini introduced Jason he has intrigued me (not as much as Dimitri but if you are a follower of us you know how I Dimitir *swoon*). From the small clues Nalini had given about him, we knew there was something traumatic in his past. And what a trauma it was. If I have one complaint on the book is that I wish there had been more about this, not a lot just a bit more information.

Mahiya was a character I wasn’t expecting. On the outside she appears very weak and submissive. When in reality she is someone who has been waiting for her opportunity to escape from Neha’s court and in a way that Neha can’t drag her back.

The pairing of Jason and Mahiya was so seamless I almost missed them coming together because of the way they interacted I felt like they’d always been together.

One of the things I loved about this book was the glimpses we also got of what Dimitri and Honor and what is happening with them, and more of Venom. I can honestly say I can’t wait for his book.

Once again Nalini has hit it out of the ball park (or should I say Library) for me when it comes to one of her books. She is one who I will definitely keep coming back to for more.

Heather’s Grade: A

Sasha’s Grade: A+

Excerpt:  Chapter 1

Standing on velvet green grass still sparkling with dew, Jason watched Dmitri cup the face of the hunter he had just made his wife, the dawn sunlight kissing her skin, lighting up eyes that saw only the man in front of her.

The grounds of the Archangel Raphael’s home, Jason thought, the Hudson rushing past beyond the cliffs and a mass of fragrant roses in full bloom climbing the walls of the house itself, had seen centuries pass, but a scene such as this, they had never witnessed and perhaps never would again.

A scene in which one of the most powerful vampires in the world took a Guild hunter for his bride.

That Honor loved Dmitri was in no doubt. It didn’t take a spymaster to read the incandescent joy in her every breath, her skin radiant with it. What startled Jason was the potent emotion he saw in the eyes of a vampire who had been a pitiless blade for all the centuries Jason had known him.

Cruelty came easily to Dmitri, maybe too easily in recent times. The vampire was near to a thousand years old and jaded with it, blood and death no longer enough to cause him to break his stride, much less shock. Jason had seen Dmitri wield his scimitar on the field of battle to take off invaders’ heads, glory in the spray of their dying blood, and he had seen Dmitri seduce women with sensual elegance and a cold heart simply to amuse himself.

Yet the man who touched Honor, who claimed her lips in a kiss of possession, had a tenderness about him that was as dangerous as it was gentle. And Jason comprehended that Dmitri would be a brutal weapon against anyone who dared harm his wife, that the darkness in him had not been tempered but merely leashed.

“He cannot deal with the Cadre if he is leashed,” he said to the woman who stood next to him, a hunter with wings of midnight and dawn. Feathers of a rich, silken blue flowed from the pure black at the inner curve of her wings, to segue into a softer indigo and the ephemeral shades visible in the skies when day broke, before becoming a brilliant white-gold at the primaries.

Elena was Raphael’s consort, and Raphael was Jason’s liege. Perhaps that was why he felt an unexpected kind of ease with her. Or it might be that she was a stranger in the land of immortals, searching for a path that would take her into the centuries to come, as he once had. Or perhaps it was that, unbeknownst to Elena, they were linked by a far bleaker tie, a tie that spoke of mothers and blood.

Iron rich liquid matting his hair, soaking into his tunic, sticky on his arms.

Elena looked up, shook her head, the startling near-white of her hair pinned back in an elegant twist, her body clothed in a simple ankle-length gown of a blue the shade of a pristine high-mountain lake. Her only ornamentation came in the form of the small amber hoops she always wore as an outward sign of her commitment to Raphael. “Don’t you see, Jason?” she said as the bridal couple broke a kiss that had more than one sigh rippling through the crisp morning air. “He is only this Dmitri for Honor.” She joined in the clapping and cheering when Honor and Dmitri turned to the assembled guests, well-wishers moving forward to congratulate them.

Having spoken to Dmitri before the ceremony, Jason waited for the crowd to thin. Elena, too, held her place, giving others a chance to speak to the newly wedded couple. As he’d been with Dmitri before the ceremony—alongside Raphael, Illium, and Venom, Elena had been with Honor, the archangel and his consort having turned over a suite in their home to the bride’s party. That party was composed of hunters, all certainly with a weapon or two hidden beneath the sleek, elegant clothes they wore for the wedding.

Blue flickered at the edges of his vision, and he turned to see Illium spread his wings for a hunter who had made the request. Clad in the same formal black worn by the groom as well as Raphael and the others of the Seven here today, he had a flirtatious smile on his face. The smile was real as far as it went, but then, it did not go far. Jason had seen Illium love until his heart broke, and he had seen the angel mourn until there was no light in those eyes of molten gold.

“I understand,” he said to Elena when she glanced back at him, reminded once again of the capacity others had for endless nuances of emotion. Jason had watched mortals and immortals alike for centuries, was able to glean even the most subtle changes in their emotional equilibrium, for no man could be a spymaster without that capability. Yet, through all that time, he had never been able to feel as they did. It was as if life skimmed across the surface of him, leaving his heart and his soul untouched.

“You are the perfect spymaster. An intelligent, gifted phantom unaffected by anything he sees.”

It was Lijuan who had said those words to him, four hundred years ago. The oldest of the archangels had also made him an offer—riches and women trained in the sensual arts; men if that was what he desired—if he would change his allegiance, put himself in her service. Except Jason had already earned and created enough wealth for a hundred immortal lifetimes. As for the other—when Jason wanted a woman, he had a woman. He had no need for anyone to act his procurer.

Elena’s wing shimmered lightly over his as she stretched a little, and he didn’t shift away to break the fleeting contact. In many ways, he was the opposite of Aodhan, the angel so broken, he couldn’t bear the slightest touch. Jason, by contrast, sometimes only felt real and not the phantom Lijuan had named him if he had the pressure of another’s skin, another’s wing against his own. It was as if all those years, decades, when he hadn’t felt the touch of another sentient being had created a thirst in him that could never be assuaged.

A sybarite drunk on sensation, that was what he might have become, but for the fact that those years of excruciating, endless aloneness had left him with other scars—scars that led him to embrace the very shadows he’d hated as a child; scars that meant he meted out trust with a careful hand. Regardless of his need, Jason allowed very few people to touch him outside of the bedroom, for the touch of a friend, it was a far different thing than the caress of a lover taken in the dark of night and left behind when morning broke.

“It was a beautiful wedding, wasn’t it?” Elena said, her eyes soft in the way women’s often were at such things.

“Do you wish for one?” Marriage was thought of as a mortal thing, but as today showed, some immortals continued to embrace it—Dmitri had been most insistent on the ceremony.

Startled laughter from Elena. “Raphael and I married above the wreckage of New York, when he fell with me in his arms.”

Raphael, too, Jason thought, was a different man with his consort, this mortal woman become an angel. Such a weak angel in terms of power, her immortality a flickering flame, and yet she had a strength that spoke to the survivor in him. So he’d taught her how to remain unseen in the sky, watched her push her body to merciless extremes in an effort to achieve a vertical takeoff so soon after her becoming, and listened for threats to her life.

For Elena was Raphael’s biggest weakness.

A tiny giggle, a mischief-eyed little girl running to Elena on wobbling legs, curls of bronze-threaded black captured at the sides of her head with ribbons of summer orange. Smiling in unhidden delight, Elena bent to pick up the child in her arms. “Hello, Zoe, Warrior Goddess in Training.” A kiss on one plump cheek, Zoe’s flower girl dress a confection of lace over Elena’s arm. “Did you give your mom the slip?”

Jason met the child’s direct gaze as she nodded, saw that she held a silver-edged feather of distinctive blue in a careful fist. The daughter of the Guild Director stared at his wings for a moment before whispering something in Elena’s ear. Jason heard what she said, understood none of it, her language that of very small children.

Clearly not at the same disadvantage, Elena glanced at him, silver-gray eyes shining with laughter.

“The imp’s coveting more of your feathers for her collection, Jason. I’d be careful.” She was distracted a second later by a tall man with long black hair tied neatly at the nape of his neck, his cheekbones sharp against copper gold skin.

Ransom Winterwolf.

Hunter.

It was strange to see so many of the Guild on the grounds of Raphael’s home. Located in the Angel Enclave, on the other side of the river from the gleaming glass and metal of Manhattan, it was undoubtedly elegant, but Jason knew the Sire had offered Dmitri far more stunning locations in which to make Honor his bride. However, the leader of the Seven had been adamant.

“Daybreak,” he’d said a bare three hours before sunrise. “We marry at daybreak.”

In those three hours, Elena and the Guild Director had managed to alert every hunter in the New York area who wasn’t on assignment and was within traveling distance, while Jason, Illium, and Venom stood for the rest of the Seven. Naasir, Galen, and Aodhan had been told, had all three spoken with Dmitri before the wedding.

United in their loyalty to Raphael—and to each other—the Seven had forged bonds that were unbreakable, but even had there been more time, it was impossible for all of them to ever be in one place at one time. To keep the balance of power in the world, Raphael needed to maintain a presence in the Refuge and in New York, and now, in the lost city of Amanat, home to the Ancient who was Raphael’s mother.

That three of them stood here to witness Dmitri’s wedding, it was an unexpected gift. There were other invited guests of course—the proud staff who ran Raphael’s home, a number of men and women who worked directly under Dmitri at the Tower, and whose loyalty belonged as much to the vampire as it did to Raphael, two mortal policemen who were considered part of the Guild family.

The well-respected man who’d officiated the ceremony belonged to that family, too, having headed the Guild before passing on the mantle.

Raphael himself had stood at Dmitri’s side during the ceremony, the friendship between the two men old enough, deep enough, that it was the archangel who had played the second this day. Jason didn’t know of any other such friendships among those who served the Cadre of Ten, the archangels who ruled the world, but he knew this one had endured centuries, through anger and war and even a short defection by Dmitri to Neha’s territory. That hadn’t lasted long, and now Dmitri’s lips curved at something Raphael said.

While the vampire was dressed in a crisp black-on-black suit, his bride wore a gown of deep, vibrant green that caressed and embraced her curves before rippling in a liquid waterfall to the dew-laden grass, the fabric arranged cleverly at her left hip to give the illusion of waves. When her gaze landed on Jason, she smiled and came toward him, halting at the border of the invisible space that separated him from the world, one hand holding the wildflower bouquet Elena had created using the blooms in her greenhouse.

“Thank you,” she said, her happiness so luminous, it outshone the diamonds at her throat, diamonds Jason had seen Dmitri buy as rough stones three centuries ago.

It had taken the vampire another hundred years to get them finely cut and set into a necklace of exquisite beauty, until the stones appeared to be droplets of captured starfire.

“Who will you gift it to?” Jason had asked at the time.

Dmitri’s response had been a sardonic twist of his mouth, the hardness in his eyes akin to the gems he held. “A woman whose spirit dazzles brighter than these stones.”

The necklace had graced none but the honey-skinned neck it now encircled.

“For this amazing dream of a dress,” Honor continued, stroking her hand down the fabric. “I don’t know how you found it so early in the morning. It fits like it was made for me.”

“No thanks are necessary.” So much of life he spent on the sidelines—many times out of choice, sometimes because he didn’t know how to belong—but he’d needed to be a part of this day when a man he respected, and who was as close a friend as he was capable of having, claimed this woman for his own.

“Jason can find anything,” Dmitri said, walking over to slide his arm around Honor’s waist. “The winds talk to him, tell him where to go.”

Honor laughed, husky and warm, and then she was being embraced by Elena, the hunter’s wings iridescent in the white light of morning. Stepping a little to the right, Jason met Dmitri’s gaze. The vampire shrugged, the words unspoken but not unheard.

No one will ever believe it.

No, Jason thought, no one would. Even he had thought himself mad when he was a boy on the verge of adulthood. It had taken reading Jessamy’s history books once he arrived at the angelic stronghold that was the Refuge to understand he’d inherited his mother’s “ear,” her ability to sense things happening hundreds of miles away, across oceans and beyond mountains. It was how she’d always had stories to tell him about people in the Refuge, though they lived on an isolated atoll surrounded by the shimmering blue of the Pacific.

“I will write this story down for you, Jason. You must practice your reading.”

He had. Over and over, until the parchment disintegrated, he’d read those stories and the others in the books in the house. Then he’d copied the words out on wood, on flax, in the sand, forcing himself to remember that he was a person, that he should know how to read. It had worked . . . for a while.

“I’m happy for you, Dmitri,” he said now, allowing the ghosts of the past to fade into the background. “This is my gift to you and your bride.”

As Dmitri glanced down at the small note card Jason passed across, Honor’s second—a long-legged hunter who had unique gifts of her own—came to join Elena and Honor, and the women laughed and began to talk all at once.

“A safe place,” Jason said when Dmitri looked up from reading the address on the card, the sun glinting off the simple gold band he wore on the ring finger of his left hand. “Where no one will find you.”

Understanding whispered across the sensual lines of Dmitri’s face. Moving a small distance away from the women, he said, “I shouldn’t be surprised at what you know, and yet I am.” He slid the card away. “How certain are you of the security?”

“The house is mine, and no one has found it in two hundred years.” Hidden in the dense forests of an otherwise uninhabited mountain, it could only be reached via a very specific route that he now shared with Dmitri, mind to mind. Even aerial entry is impossible unless the angel in question knows how to find a particular small clearing. He gave Dmitri the coordinates. Without that, severe damage to the wings as a result of the thick canopy—and the safeguards hidden within—is a distinct possibility.

Dmitri’s eyes gleamed. Good. His next words were spoken aloud. “I didn’t know you had another home in this country.”

“I don’t.” He had houses he used when needed, but home was a concept that had no meaning to him, though Dmitri likely assumed he considered his apartment at New York’s Archangel Tower home. “You’ll be safe there, and you can be private.” Honor’s transformation from human to vampire would take time, and while Jason knew Dmitri would ensure she navigated it in a deep sleep, safe from any suffering, he also knew the other man would not leave her side during the process. “There is no need to take a guard unit.”

“I wouldn’t trust those words coming from anyone’s mouth but yours,” Dmitri said, his face angled toward Honor. “I don’t know when we’ll use your gift. I have her promise . . . but I will not rush her on this.”

“You want to.”

“Yes.” Unvarnished ruthlessness. “But you see, Jason, it appears I have a fatal weakness when it comes to Honor—even should she change her mind and decide to remain mortal, I can’t force her and still live with myself.”

Jason said nothing as Dmitri walked back to his wife, who looked up to offer him a smile Jason had seen her share with no other. Her friends moved away to give husband and wife a moment of privacy, but everyone continued to linger on the luxuriant green of the lawn, the birdsong a delicate accompaniment to the murmur of conversation. Champagne was sipped, greetings exchanged, friendships renewed in the glow of the joy that came off Honor and Dmitri.

Unlike the others, Jason felt exposed out here in the sunlight, the unrelieved black of his wings a target, but he didn’t give in to the compulsion to fly up high above the cloud layer, where no one could see him. A minute later, when the winds began to whisper, he listened.

A single word. A name.

Eris.

The only significant Eris Jason knew of was husband to Neha, the three-thousand-year-old archangel the only one in the Cadre who had chosen to follow the mortal ceremony of binding. Eris was also her consort, but he hadn’t been seen in public for some three hundred years. Many believed him dead; however, Jason knew the male lived, imprisoned in a palace inside Neha’s sprawling fort. Except for when he’d attempted to escape early on in his captivity, he had not been physically harmed.

Neha loved Eris too much to hurt him.

It was why she hated him so violently for his betrayal.

Eris.

Sliding into the shadows of the trees that edged Raphael’s property, a welcome respite from the light, Jason took out his cell phone. In earlier centuries, even with his considerable mental abilities, it had taken him days to communicate with his men and women, weeks to gather a single piece of information. Technology made it so much simpler—unlike some angels of old, and though his chosen weapon remained a sword, Jason did not abhor the modern world.

Now, he saw that he had a number of missed calls that must’ve come in during the ceremony, while his phone had been in silent mode. All were from Samira—she was a servant with clearance to work in Neha’s private quarters, and technically his highest-ranking spy in the other archangel’s court, though Jason had his doubts about her continued efficacy. “Samira,” he said when the call was answered. “What has happened?”

“Eris is dead.” A hushed whisper. “Murdered inside his palace.”

“When?”

“I don’t know, but he was found an hour ago. Neha has not left the body. Mahiya is by her side.”
Jason had never spoken to Mahiya, but having done a subtle investigation when Neha first adopted her just over three centuries ago, he knew the princess was of Neha’s bloodline. That relationship was accepted knowledge, but the facts behind it had long been buried. Many in Neha’s own courtchose not to remember, not to see the truth—that Mahiya had been born of Nivriti, sister to Neha and dead as long as her child had been alive.

No terrible secret that . . . except if you knew the name of Mahiya’s father.

Eris.

A Night of Southern Comfort by Robin Covington

Title: A Night of Southern Comfort (eBook)

Author: Robin Covington

Genre: Contemporary romance (with suspense)

Synopsis: One night of passion…

Detective Jackson Cantrell never imagined that one night with an irresistible stranger would turn his life upside down. He’s spent years living in the shadows, but Dr. Michaela Roarke awakened a passion inside him he’d buried years ago.

He never expected the woman would turn out to be the governor’s daughter…and his next assignment. The governor blackmails Jackson to secretly watch over Michaela and protect her from a stalker, or kiss his dream job at the FBI good-bye. Swearing to keep things strictly professional, Jackson moves in with Michaela. Too bad his heart can’t keep the same promise.

But when the stalker’s attacks quickly escalate beyond mere photographs to bodily harm, Jackson must race to save Michaela’s life. And he’ll have to figure out how to keep her once she discovers his lie.

Review: Robin Covington has won me over with her debut novel, A Night of Southern Comfort, ANoSC for short. There’s an immediate connection between Jack and Kayla that keeps you hooked on their journey from one-night stand to involved, to in a committed relationship.

The sex is hawt and feels real, not forced for the sake of having a sex scene or two in your book. Kudos to the author for having such skill. :)

Jack is drawn back into Kayla’s life because of a stalker, whose photos of their hook-up prompts her father, a high-profile, ruthless politician, to engage security to deal with the threat to HIS career. Note the ‘caring’ father-figure because he’s had an impact on all of his daughter’s relationships. Jack is no exception and how he and Kayla deal with the fall-out is wrapped up in the climax of the stalker storyline.

Ms Covington also introduces us to Jack’s childhood posse, The Boys, in ANoSC and I for one am looking forward to Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence Line green-lighting all three (3) of their stories. :D

Grade: A+

Excerpt: “So…why are you drinking alone?” “I’m not drinking alone. Now.” Michaela gestured toward his drink and ordered him another when he nodded. “Okay, so you’re here…?”

“Celebrating my new life.” “Aahhh.” He lifted his glass to her in salute. “Let me be the first to say that your ex-husband is an idiot.” Michaela laughed and, without thinking, ran her hand up his chest, tracing the line of studs until her fingertips made contact with the heat of his tanned skin.

He stiffened at the touch and she froze. Too much? Too soon? Flustered, she began to withdraw her hand, but he reached up and held it there. She swallowed hard. He smelled delicious. Woodsy, crisp, and all male. His hot fingers traced a lazy circle over her wrist with his thumb. Suddenly, she understood the meaning of “swoon.” “Let me say it again. Your ex is an idiot.”

Mr. I-Am-a-Sex-God lowered her hand to his thigh, placing it against hard muscle before skimming his fingers under the hem of her dress. Heat traced along her spine and she shivered when his hand caressed the length of her thigh and then slid down to gently cradle her calf.

Michaela shifted forward, running her hand up his thigh, mirroring his exploration and enjoying the thrill of hearing his quickened breathing at her touch. This was crazy. This was wanton. This was not what Michaela Eastland should be doing on a Saturday night. But this was exactly what Michaela Roarke needed.

“No ex.” She licked her lips. “Just my new start. My new life.” “I’m honored that you’ve included me in your celebration.” “The celebration isn’t over yet.” Michaela’s voice had a husky edge that betrayed how turned on she was, but she didn’t care. She wanted this man, wanted freedom, control over her own decisions and their consequences.

“Would you like to help me celebrate somewhere more…private?” She studied his face. Dark hair, lush lashes, chiseled jaw dusted by a five o’clock shadow. Faint lines crinkled at the edges of his eyes, but not enough to indicate he smiled or laughed a lot. She shivered at the thought of all that intensity focused on her.

His continued silence made her nervous. She blurted out, “I’ve never done this before,” then immediately wanted to bite her tongue.

Abruptly, his hand curled around the nape of her neck and pulled her close.

It wasn’t a tentative kiss. This was a hot, open-mouthed, possessive kiss that demanded her response. Her blood turned to liquid fire as it flooded the folds of her sex. Every female part of her sought to answer the primal maleness of him. Michaela grasped the lapels of his tuxedo jacket while her tongue chased his in a blatant request for what she wanted. Dirty, sweaty, wall-banging sex.

And an orgasm. Oh, yeah. Definitely an orgasm. From a man, not a battery-operated boyfriend.

He released her mouth, his features hard and lips wet. “I just want to be sure we’re on the same page.” The tendons in his throat flexed with a swallow. “I want you in my bed.”

His honesty, coupled with that blistering kiss, addled her brain. But she’d denied this part of herself for too long. Something about this stranger dared her to embrace it. Hell, maybe she was just horny. Either way, she was good with the “in his bed” part.”

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

Title: About Last Night  (eBook)

Author: Ruthie Knox

Genre: Contemporary romance

Synopsis:  Cath Talarico knows a mistake when she makes it, and God knows she’s made her share. So many, in fact, that this Chicago girl knows London is her last, best shot at starting over. But bad habits are hard to break, and soon Cath finds herself back where she has vowed never to go . . . in the bed of a man who is all kinds of wrong: too rich, too classy, too uptight for a free-spirited troublemaker like her.

Nev Chamberlain feels trapped and miserable in his family’s banking empire. But beneath his pinstripes is an artist and bohemian struggling to break free and lose control. Mary Catherine — even her name turns him on — with her tattoos, her secrets, and her gamine, sex-starved body, unleashes all kinds of fantasies.

When blue blood mixes with bad blood, can a couple that is definitely wrong for each other ever be perfectly right? And with a little luck and a lot of love, can they make last night last a lifetime?

Review: This was my first Ruthie Knox novel and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. :D

She had me LOL and empathising with Cath, or as Nev fondly calls her, Mary Catherine, as she battles wits in between bouts of hot sex with ‘City’ (Nev).

Cath is a smart, witty, honest woman trying to start over as a ‘good girl’ in England, so she tries to deny her attraction to City when he attempts to turn their one night stand into something more. I love that Cath was mature enough though, to realise she had something truly special with Nev and so she gradually opened up to him about her past.

Nev is a determined, witty, good-looking man who’s not vain. And he’s a painter! The latter seals the deal for Cath, who has a fondness for the artsy type, the bad boy. Nev’s cold, upper-crust British family were a ‘trip’ and I loved how he handled them, marriage on  a deadline and all.

While Cath had begun to open up to Nev in a major way about halfway through About Last Night, he still had not told her about his family’s threat to ‘get married or you’re out of the bank and cut off’.

How Mary Catherine and Nev navigate their way through the fallout, and how Nev blossoms as a known portrait painter, is something I’ll leave you to find out.

This is a must-read eBook for sure!

Grade: A+

Girl On A Diamond Pedestal

Title: Girl On A Diamond Pedestal

Author: Maisey Yates

Genre: Contemporary romance

Synopsis: Noelle was once the girl who had everything. Until the piano prodigy fell from grace. Destitute and desperate, she’s forced to accept billionaire Ethan Grey’s convenient proposal.

Ethan wants revenge – all he needs is Noelle’s signature on the marriage certificate. Yet his carefully composed façade cracks in the face of her innocent attempts at seduction.
Noelle’s only ever felt love and excitement whilst at her beloved piano – yet now her traitorous body craves the white-hot passion ignited by Ethan’s skilled touch. But will he ever see her as more than a means to an end?”
Review: Girl On A Diamond Pedestal (GOADP) had me engaged in Noelle’s and Ethan’s story from start. You learn early on that Noelle is in serious financial trouble but she’s not looking to get rescued by anyone, lest of all Ethan. He in turn has veiled reasons for wanting to acquire Noelle’s hand in marriage, reasons that become clear as their story unfolds.

As Yates takes you through the journey of discovery these characters make about love, relationships and their motivations in each, you learn about the darker side of success and being a child star; Noelle’s story, and about the invisible but potentially lasting scars of having parents that don’t seem to care about you all that much; Ethan’s story.
GOADP was refreshing, touching, engaging and laugh-out-loud funny at times. There’s a Viagra joke that’s priceless but I won’t spoil it for you. Buy the book and LOL too when you get to that page.
Noelle’s and Ethan’s story has the potential to be turned into a full length novel by Yates. I’ve read her work before but truly think this was one of her best novels and I eagerly look forward to reading more from her.
Grade: A+
Excerpt: “He watched as she wove through the crowd, a bright spot amid the sea of customary New York black. Golden hair, pale skin, silken red dress, making her a force of color and light that was impossible to ignore as she made her way to the stage.And once she was there, sitting behind the piano, she commanded every eye in the room to watch her.She put her hands on the keys and he swore he felt her fingertips on his body. Long, elegant fingers caressing the keys, easy to imagine them on his skin. She started playing a piece he recognized, one he’d heard in department stores many times. Something from one of her old albums, he assumed. But actually hearing it in person, watching her perform it, made it a totally new experience.

It was so fluid. Smooth. Pure perfection.

And it felt like it was only for him. Not for anyone else in the room. His chest tightened, breathing a little harder as arousal assaulted him. Flooded him.

Each note was a caress, the flow and rhythm of the song like making love, hard and fast then slow and sweet. Everything he wanted to do with her, everything he dreamed of, put out in the open, forcing him to confront it.

She lifted her head and looked into the crowd, looked at him, her eyes locked with his as she continued to play, her entire body moving with the effort she put into playing, every part of her involved in her performance.

She would move like that in bed. Perfect. With passion, with all of herself.”

The Desert Lord’s Bride by Olivia Gates

Title: The Desert Lord’s Bride

Series: Throne of Judar

Author: Olivia Gates

Genre: Contemporary romance (Silhouette Desire)

Synopsis: The future of Judar rests with Farah Beaumont, a foreigner who wants nothing to do with her heritage.

And to secure his country’s peace, prince Shehab Aal Masood must make her his bride—by any means necessary.

Hiding his identity and sweeping Farah off her feet is a start. But the joyful, seemingly innocent Farah is nothing like he expects. And Shehab’s calculated seduction soon becomes an affair too powerful to control….

Review: Another guaranteed good Arabian/Middle Eastern story from Olivia Gates. No other category romance author is as consistent in creating realistic characters and locations while seamlessly weaving Arabic into the story.

I also LOVE that Gates often uses names authentic to the Middle East and writes about men and women of mixed race. Too many times, ‘desert sheik’ category romances are about ‘white’ women falling in love with an Arab prince or sheikh. Diversity is a wonderful reality, which is reflected in the readership of these books, so kudos to Olivia Gates for reflecting this in her books.

The Desert Lord’s Bride is book 2 in Olivia Gates’ Throne of Judar series for Silhouette Desire.  (Book 1 id The Desert Lord’s Baby while book 3 is The Desert King)

Shehab may have been thrust into the role of crown prince of Judar but he vows to do what he must for Judar’s future safety and prosperity. With his head full of gossip magazine reports on Farah, the new ruler sets a clever trap for her.

Unfortunately for Shehab, he ends up falling into it too and gets caught up in a passionate encounter with Farah in the ‘forested’ area of the posh mansion at which he is throwing a party one night.

Farah has a reputation as an aloof, materialistic, young woman who is dating her dead father’s former business partner because he has lots of money. So far from the truth, and discovering this puts Shehab in an uncomfortable position.

Like any human being with doubts, pre-conceived notions, goals and major responsibilities, Judar’s crown see-saws between having faith in the Farah he gets to know intimately and the woman she pretends to be to the world.

Everything comes to a very emotional head when the full truth about Farah’s biological father (the neighbouring ruler) comes to light. Gates made me feel like I was right there with Farah, when she suffers an emotional breakdown after years of ‘pushing through’ the pain and heartache.

Shehab’s journey to redemption in Farah’s eyes may have taken place in a few pages but you totally  buy the commitment he makes in that short space of time to his one true love.

Grade: A

Excerpt: “He shook his head. “How can you underestimate your effect on me to that extent? You think I’d forget you?” He clamped her shoulders again, his eyes filling with what looked like a vow…………………………..

He’d brought her here to seduce her. He’d struggled each moment to remind himself she was a means to an end. He’d fought to convince himself that no matter how much he craved her, and though he would marry her, there’d never be emotions involved.

But with each moment he could no longer connect the the reality of the woman who delighted him, who roused every appreciative emotion he’d never though he had, with the image of the unfeeling, amoral woman she was supposed to be. Then came today.

Memories bombarded him now that she was no longer in pain  or danger. Of every heart-bursting second as she’d charged him, exchanging places with him. As he’d watched her convulse, felt her scream gurgle through the water, electrocuting him with fright. And then what followed, where only the blinding need to carry her to safety, to absorb her fear and agony, had existed…………….

Blind, out of his mind, (Shehab) caught (Farah)  to him, filled his hands with her, honey and life and unconditional surrender made flesh, made woman, all woman.  And she was his for the taking.  And he would take her. And take her.

 

Let Me In by Callie Croix

 

Title: Let Me In

Author: Callie Croix

Genre: Contemporary erotica
(short story)

Synopsis: On leave for Thanksgiving, the last thing marine lieutenant Talia Barnett expects to find is Liam Brodie waiting for her at the airport. He’s had a starring role in her fantasies for the past two years, and although she’d love to make them a reality, she has a dark secret that prevents her from taking things further.

A former marine, Liam’s specialty is planning tactical operations, and that’s just what he plans to do to win Talia. The woman has kept him at arm’s length for too long, and this time he’s finally going to claim her—body and heart.

What begins as comfort quickly turns hot. When Liam shows Talia a hint of the dominant nature inside him, the submissive part of her flares to life. Though she desires him, she’s going back on deployment and doesn’t want to dump all her drama on him. Will he find a way to break through the protective walls around her heart and convince her they have a future that goes far beyond the bedroom?

Review: I was drawn in to Talia’s story immediately, which is key in a short story. :D

If you’re looking for a great read with erotic love scenes thrown in and you don’t have all weekend, then THIS is the book for you.

Callie Croix had me rooting for Talia to get her wish for some ‘one-on-one’ time with Liam from Chapter 1 and their journey to a ‘happy ending’ was one I would re-read any time.

Grade: A+

Excerpt: “Liam climbed out of the driver’s side (of the truck and) Talia’s mouth went dry.

Well over six-feet tall, wearing faded jeans and a black leather jacket that stretched across his broad shoulders, the sight of him took her breath away. He’d done many years and tours in the Corps, and it showed in the way he carried himself. His whole bearing screamed military, that absolute air of confidence, his self-assurance in everything he did sexy as hell.

It left her weak in the knees everytime she saw him.

His short black hair gleamed in the sunlight; his skin tanned a golden brown, probably from his most recent stint as a military contractor in Afghanistan. Those dark, melted-chocolate eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at her.

A warm tingle flooded her body, suffusing her with sudden heat until she barely noticed the cold wind tugging at her.

“Hey Tal,” he said hen she got close enough, reaching out to pull her into a hug.

Talia automatically wound her arms around his neck and returned the embrace, fighting the need to press up against all that hard muscle and bury her face in his neck the way she’d dreamed of for so long. God, he felt good. Her skin was overly ensitive, her nipples tightening in response to his nearness. He smelled fantastic, clean and masculine, his arms strong and familiar around her. Caring and protective. Even this platonic embrace made her wish she could indulge in her fantasies of him just once. Without a doubt e’d be every bit as amazing in bed as she’d always imagined.”

 

 

 

Party of Three by Daire St Denis

Title: Party of Three

Author: Daire St Denis

Genre: Erotic romance ( Ménage erotica, f/m/f, f/f)

Synopsis: Determined to end a long dry spell, Tina is thwarted by her best friend, Des, who scares off the only eligible guy at their party. But Des more than makes up for it when she and her boyfriend, Josh, invite Tina to their own intimate celebration.

The encounter awakens cravings Tina didn’t even know she had. She’s intrigued when the couple asks her to join them for two days of sun, sand and steamy sex in Santa Barbara. She should say no. But she doesn’t…

The erotic weekend is beyond amazing. But there’s something deeper developing between the trio—something Tina is not yet ready to explore. After all, their party of three can’t last forever—can it?

Review: There were elements of a great plot in “Party of Three”, snippets of the 20-year best-friends-forever (BFF) history between Tina and Des, and of course, lots of sex, but the book lacked connectivity.

I applaud Daire St Denis (a new-to-me author) for showing that entering a ménage- à-trois relationship isn’t all roses but the story line jumped at times and transitions between about to and having sex was sometimes super-sonic in speed.

(SPOILER) There is also a rape scene in this book, involving Tina and Kenton, a man Des casually warned her away from a few times.  If you know someone has a really bad reputation, why would you be so vague with your BFF?

Also, this book is written in first-person narrative, from Tina’s perspective and that may have been done because she doesn’t seem able to voice her thoughts at times, choosing instead to go along with Des’ plans for all three of them (Des, Josh and Tina).

I saw  potential from Daire St Denis in this book/short story and will give her other/future books a chance but I really hope the story and character development flows much better in those.

The excerpt I chose is from chapter 1 and shows the author’s awareness that a ‘threesome’ isn’t all roses all of the time, even in fiction. The scene also gives you an idea of the relationship between Tina and Des and shows Tina’s realisation that she just may be into ‘threesomes’, at least with these two people. Tina also seems inclined toward lesbian encounters, a fact she explores with a ‘stranger’ before becoming brave enough to express herself to Des.

Grade: C

Excerpt: “Hey.”

I was so startled by Desi’s voice behind me I slopped coffee over the rim of my cup. Pulling my housecoat tight and with eyes downcast, I turned to the sink, grabbed a cloth and began wiping up the spill.

“Don’t do this.”
“Do what?”
“Avoid me and feel bad.”
I stopped wiping but still didn’t turn around. “I can’t help it. After what I did?”
“After what we did, Tina.”
I didn’t say anything. I mean, what was I supposed to say?
“Look at me.”

I was mortified. Here was my best friend and I didn’t think I could face her.
“Teen, turn around and look at me. You’re not going to go around blaming yourself for this too.”

I had no idea what she meant by that, but whatever it was, she’d managed to get me to turn around.
There were dark circles under Desi’s eyes. I expected that. What I didn’t expect to see was the glow in her cheeks. I also didn’t expect the unholy sparkle in her eyes.

“Des?”
She smiled. It was a slow smile but it was genuine. “I’m sorry we did that to you. Maybe you weren’t ready.

I frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Josh and I. We’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”
“What?”
“Don’t go all righteous on me. It’s no biggie.”
“No biggie? Are you insane?”

Desi calmly poured herself a cup of coffee and then stirred in some milk and sugar. After a long sip she looked me up from top to bottom. “You know you’re every guy’s wet dream, don’t you?”
“Desi, would you stop talking crap.”

She shrugged. “I’m not talking crap. Everyone wants you. Petite frame, big tits, tiny waist, blond hair, blue eyes. I’ve been watching guys lust after you for years.” She took a sip of coffee. “So it was no big deal when I first caught Josh watching you,” she continued matter-of-factly.

“He doesn’t watch me.”
“Yes, he does. Around the pool, the beach. After your workout. He’s subtle about it. But he watches.”

“This was Josh’s idea? How could you go along with it? I’m your best friend!”
Desi moved closer so her hip was in contact with my waist. “It wasn’t Josh’s idea. It was mine.”

“Yours?” She was too close to me. I stepped away, but what I really wanted to do was run. “What are you talking about?”

“At first Josh pretended to be appalled, just like you’re pretending to be now. But then he warmed to the idea.” Des arched a single brow. “I’d say last night set him on fire.”

She took a step toward me and draped her arms over my shoulders and said in that low, smoky voice of hers, “And you, my dearest and bestest friend, during the prime of your life, you’ve chosen this ridiculous life of celibacy. Then, just when it looks like you might fall off the abstinence wagon, you choose the worse possible candidate.”

“Who?”

“Kenton.”

“Kenton! At least a roll in the hay with him would have been normal.”
“Don’t count on it.”

I pulled out of her embrace and set my coffee down because my hand was shaking so much I was slopping coffee on me, burning the back of my hand. “And I suppose what we did is normal? C’mon, Des! This was not the way I planned to climb back aboard the sex train.”

“No. But this is how it is. And just so you know, after you left last night, Josh and I had the best sex we’ve ever had. Ever.”
“Stop it.” I covered my ears as if that could keep the carnal images of my best friend and her boyfriend from flitting through my mind’s eye.

But Desi didn’t stop. She kept right on going. “I came five times. Five times! Can you believe it? Jesus H. Christ. I thought I was going to explode. And it’s all because of you.”

I shut my eyes. Squeezed them tight, but that only made things worse. All I could see was Des with the same expression of lust she wore last night as she watched me orgasm while her boyfriend’s tongue was probing my p**sy.

“You know, you’re not the first woman I’ve been with.”
“Huh?” I dropped my hands.
Des grinned at me and absently drew circles in the wet spot on the counter. “I’ve experimented.”

What was she trying to tell me? Something weird tickled in the pit of my stomach. It must have been the hangover.
“What about Josh?” I asked, completely confused.
She laughed. “You’re his first foray into that realm of three-play. But after last night, I can honestly say he’s going to want to explore further.”

“But—”

Des interrupted me. “Sex doesn’t always have to be so serious, you know. It can be fun.” She took a step toward me. “Really fun if you’re willing to experiment a little.” Then my friend’s hands were on mine, gently pulling me closer. “There’s no reason to be so uptight about this.”
“I—”
“I wanted it this way. I wanted to share Josh with you. He’s the best thing I’ve ever had. And I wanted to share you with Josh. You’re the other best thing I’ve ever had.”

I was about to say something, though quite honestly, I had no idea what I was going to say, when Josh walked into the room. He was bare-chested, which was hard enough to take, but worse, he came to stand beside Desi and kissed her on the cheek.
“Hey, babe.” Then his gaze fixed on me. His smile was tentative, but his eyes hid a dark secret. “Morning, Tina.”

“Hey.” My voice was barely more than a whisper. I desperately wanted to look away but some strange force held me, captivating me, forcing me to watch the display of affection between them. Desi running her left hand up Josh’s abdomen, her right hand dropping down to his ass.

Josh cupped Desi’s face for a full-on lip-lock and then she whispered something in his ear. Whatever it was, it made him grin and look at me, at my flushed face. Could they tell I was turned on? That even though I’d planned to go about my business and pretend like nothing happened, all I really wanted was for the whole thing to happen all over again?

They’d awakened something in me. Something that went beyond my passion for any guy or boyfriend I’d ever been with. Something I hadn’t even known I desired.”

A Little Harmless Submission by Melissa Schroeder

Title: A Little Harmless Submission

Author: Melissa Schroeder

Series: Harmless Series

Genre: Contemporary (BDSM)

Synopsis: For a tough as nails Dom hunting a sadistic serial killer is nothing compared to losing his heart.

Rome Carino is hunting a predator. One who likes to hurt submissives and the most popular BDSM club’s patrons are being targeted.  With each fresh kill, he gets more brazen. Rome knows he just needs one little break, but before he can make headway, the FBI shows up. Worse, the uptight, buttoned-down Special Agent Maria Callahan suggests a plan that is dangerous, but worth it because it might just catch the killer. If Rome can keep his mind on the case and off the beautiful FBI agent, he’ll be just fine.

Maria is still trying to step out of her legendary father’s shadow and knows just how to do it. Luring the killer by posing as Rome’s new sub seems like a good idea. That is, until undercover becomes real life and she finds herself tangled up with a man who amazes and scares her at the same time. Her growing attraction to the Honolulu Police Detective is a little too much to handle. Even knowing that, she can’t help falling in love with the tough Dom and losing herself in the games they play in the bedroom.

Rome is overwhelmed by his need for Maria. He has never had a sub respond to him the way she does and no matter what he does, he feels himself slipping off that cliff into love. As their relationship starts to unfold, he realizes that he will do anything to win her heart, to convince her to become his sub for a lifetime. But before he can do anything, the killer turns his attention on Rome and the one thing he holds dear: Maria.

Review: Read this book. That’s my recommendation. :D Melissa Schroeder wonderfully combines suspense, BDSM (in this case predominantly spanking) and a love story with a cast of supporting characters from previous books in her Harmless Series.

This was my first Melissa Schroeder book and I’m looking forward to reading lots more, especially about Romeo ‘Rome’ Carino’s friends.

If you’ve ever read erotica or BDSM, you may have realised that not everyone can   combine a good story with good sex. Sometimes the book is all about how many sexual positions or situations the characters can find themselves in, at the expense of any ‘connection’ or insight.

Not so at all with Melissa Schroeder. As Rome combines his skills as a police officer in the US State of Hawaii with Maria’s skills as an FBI agent to track down a serial killer that’s targeting submissive women who frequent BDSM clubs across the country, they find themselves sharing an immediate connection and attraction to each other.

This book wasn’t full of “Yes Sir” and “No Sir” dialogue, which may have been partially because the book at the beginning of Rome’s and Maria’s relationship, but there was a definite Dom/Sub relationship in the bedroom. This was balanced by their working and ‘public’ lives, in which both of them were stronger in different situations.

This meant the BDSM aspect of their lives was just that, a fun, ‘hawt’ aspect of their lives but not the be-all and end-all of “A Little Harmless Submission.”

For all of the above, I gave Melissa Schroeder an A+.

Grade: A+

**Note: Heather has also reviewed this book and you can find her review here.

Excerpt: “Somehow Rome inserted himself into the space beside her.

“I was wondering if the lady would like to dance?”

(Maria) turned toward him, and the impact was even more powerful than before. A blast of heat surged through her entire body. Her lips started to tingle as she remembered the way he had kissed her the night before.

“Sure,” she said without looking away from him. She shoved her glass at Ashton as Rome took her hand and led her onto the dance floor. Even though it was cool in the club, she felt her body start to warm, being so close to him. Rome let off so much heat. He stopped and pulled her closer as a slow song started. Damn, she wasn’t prepared for the impact of having his entire body against hers.

He leaned down, his lips against her temple. “Got yourself quite a little harem there.”

She tried to adjust to the fact that she was this close to him again. The rumble of his chest as he spoke had her shivering. Maria knew he could probably feel her hardened nipples.

It took a second for the irritation in his voice to reach her. She pulled her head from his shoulder and looked up at him. He wasn’t looking at her. He was looking out over the crowd.

“That was the plan, wasn’t it?”

He grumbled something, and his chest rumbled against her again. With the music so loud, she couldn’t make out what he said.

Before she could ask, he said “Ashton isn’t the killer.”

She blinked at the change in topic. “Shouldn’t we wait to talk about that? Maybe you should ask me my name? Or act like you want to be dancing with me? You’ve barely looked at me.”

He glanced down at her, then back out at the crowd again. The hand on the small of her back pressed her closer. She could feel his erection then. Every thought in her brain seemed to fizzle away.

“If I look down at you, I might not be able to control myself.”

She scoffed at that. “Yeah right, Carino, why don’t you pull my other leg? I know your type, and you are all about control. Hell, you practice BDSM, so don’t think I don’t know a Dom like you is into control.”

His jaw flexed slightly. If she hadn’t been watching him, she would have missed it. It was definitely his one big tell.

“I can’t.”

For a second, she wasn’t sure she heard him correctly. “What?”

He sighed, aggravation filling the sound. Why was that sexy to her? She knew she was pushing him, pressing buttons.

That thought made her wiggle her hips ever so slightly, causing her stomach to move against his erection more. He growled, and she smiled.

He slipped his hands down to her hips and tried to hold her still. “Stop that.”

“Watcha gonna do?”

She was surprised by the teasing sound in her voice but she couldn’t help it. He brought it out in her.

He looked down at her, his hazel eyes dark with lust.

“Stop. Or maybe I can take you into one of the rooms and show you just how it feels to publicly submit.”

Heat rushed through her at the image he brought up…but Maria knew she would never be able to do it, and that would go above and beyond the call of duty but dammit, it sounded utterly delicious. She licked her lower lip.

“Jesus,” he muttered. He slipped his hand up her back to her head then pressed it closer, forcing her to settle it against his shoulder. “We can’t leave right now. So stop looking at me like that.”

 

Remember When by Judith McNaught

Title: Remember When

Author: Judith McNaught

Genre: Contemporary romance

Synopsis: When multinational tycoon Cole Harrison approached her on a moonlit balcony at the White Orchid Charity Ball, Diana Foster had no idea how extraordinary the night ahead would be.

The most lavish social event of the Houston season had brought out American aristocracy, Texas-style, in glittering array. So, after losing her fiancé to a blond Italian heiress and reading about it in a sleazy gossip paper, the lovely Diana felt obliged to make an appearance-if only to save face and to bolster her company’s image.

Foster’s Beautiful Living magazine was her family’s sucess story, and Diana knew that, single, childless, and suddenly unengaged, she was not living up to its lucrative image of upscale domestic tranquility. A women of gentle grace and kindness, Diana deeply valued her privacy and her dignity, both of which were at risk that night among certain rumor-driven socialites. And now the pride of Dallas billionaires, Cole Harrison, was closing in on her with two crystal flutes and a bottle of champagne.

The tall, lithe former stableboy couldn’t negotiate his way out of a contract with his crusty uncle, Cal-he had to bring home a wife, and soon, or see Cal’s share of the business Cole had created go to an undeserving relative.
A man as coolly analytical as he was arrestingly attractive, Cole decided that his bride-to-be should be rich in her own right, meltingly beautiful, and a woman of impeccable character… Diana Foster! It was the perfect to their respective dilemmas, and, after a lot of champagne for Diana and some skilled persuasion from Cole, their lips met in a long, slow, bargain-sealing kiss.
Neither one dared imagine that a match made in logic’s heaven might be headed straight for an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime love.

Review: This book was promoted heavily in Judith McNaught’s previous book, Paradise, and having thoroughly enjoyed taking the journey to true love with Matt and Meredith, I expected another great story but ended up being very disappointed. 

While I enjoyed the detailed story of their relationship as teenager (Diana) and young adult (Cole), it seemed like a ‘cop-out’ to gloss over major plot points in their adult lives together – their first time together (sex) and Diana drunk-dialing the media to share her good news, through flashbacks.
I wasn’t looking for an erotic-style love scene but to have to figure out that what Diana thought was a dream, recounted in a couple paragraphs, was disappointing. Even more disappointing was how long it took her to figure out she had actually done all of those things.

Diana’s and Cole’s journey to truth, love and commitment as adults seemed to drag for me. I appreciate it may have been written as a tender, subtle romance, as some readers have argued, but to me it lacked the usual McNaught touch.

Perhaps I placed RW on a pedestal because of how much I fell in love with the writing and unusual plot lines in Paradise but even so, there was something lacking in RW which was made worse by all of the promotional pages in Paradise and other books.

Don’t get me wrong, Judith McNaught is a great author but Remember When is best forgotten…or better yet, Rewritten.

Grade: C+

Excerpt: “While you’re getting dressed,” Diana said as she turned and started toward the back stairs that led down to the kitchen, “I’ll see what kind of food I can find to bring for Cole.”

“For who?” Corey (Diana’s sister) asked, her mind fixated on the unexpected thrill of seeing Spence.

“Cole Harrison. You know – at the Hayward’s stable. Doug said Cole’s back from his vacation,” she explained with a smile and a breathless catch in her voice. “Unless something’s changed, he’ll be short of food, as usual.”

Corey watched her walk away, immobilized by the unmistakeable undercurrent of excitement she’d just witnessed in Diana. Not once had Diana ever said anything to indicate she had secret feelings for the Hayward’s stable hand, but then Diana didn’t blurt out every thought that came into her mind the way Corey did………..

“Cole lives at the Haywards’ stable and works there too but he’s thin and I don’t think he wants to ‘waste’ what little money he has on food.”…

“Gram, could I take some of your canned peaches and a few of these jams too?…The last time I brought Cole some of your strawberry preserves he said it was better than candy, and he’s crazy about candy.”

Aglow at this praise from a hungry stranger, Mrs Britton promptly added four more jars of strawberry preserves to the bag…When she reached for a second paper bag and headed back into the panty, Diana stopped her. “I don’t want him to think this is charity, Gram.” With an apologetic grin, she added, “I’ve got him completely convinced you’re a sort of a ‘compulsive canning addict’ and that we always have piles of leftovers after every meal.”…………………

She realised that she would never know how it felt to have his mouth cover hers in a kiss, or his arms close around her, or his hands press her tightly against him. She accepted all that with only a little regret. Because she was smart enough to know that if he ever made up his mind to kiss her, she probably wouldn’t be able to handle it or control him……………….

They were as different as two people could be…Cole was bunt, reckless and earthy. Diana was reserved, cautious and hopelessly proper.

He was motorcycles and blue jeans and battered duffel bags, with a need to blaze his own trails through life.

She was BMWs and prom gowns and matched luggage, with a need to stay on smooth, paved roads………….

Cole…didn’t want to distress Diana and now that he knew she wasn’t another one of Addison’s army of admirers, he felt charitable to give the man some credit. “If he does know, he either doesn’t find it annoying, or else he’s too much of a gentleman to hurt her (Corey’s) feelings.”

Cole propped both of his elbows on the fence, and he and Diana lapsed into a companionable silence for several moments. Finally, Cole said, “If it isn’t Addison, then who’s the latest guy who makes your heart beat faster?”

“…the dean of admissions at Southern Methodist – he signed my college admission letter and made my little heart flutter.”

“Diana, that’s wonderful!” he interrupted with a heart-stopping smile. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

Because when I’m with you, nothing else seems to matter, Diana thought. “I was waiting for the right moment,” she said.

 

 

The Replacement Wife by Caitlin Crews

Title: The Replacement Wife

Author: Caitlin Crews

Genre: Contemporary romance

Series: Book 1 of 2 about the Whitney heiresses. Larissa’s story “Heiress Behind The Headlines” is out already in UK. Comes out in US in October 2012.

Synopsis: Becca Whitney has always lived with the knowledge that her blue-blooded family disowned her as a baby. So when she receives a summons to return to the ancestral mansion she’s intrigued.

Theo Markou Garcia needs a wife – or at least someone who looks strikingly similar to his infamous fiancée. Becca would be the perfect replacement…

The deal: masquerade as the Whitney heiress in exchange for your own true fortune – but do not fall for your husband!

Review: A thoroughly enjoyable read!

You get a clue this isn’t your average marriage deal Harlequin story in the blurb but it’s not until you read chapter 2 that you realise how raw and cold Becca’s relationship has been with her uber-wealthy aunt and uncle.

Theo is a driven guy who worked his way up from poverty to running the Whitney media empire…and he’s not about to let a comatose fiancee stop him from gaining full control.

Hate him right? You’ll fall in love with Theo right along with Becca, even as he irritates her with his focus on turning her into Larissa.

It’s Becca’s mother’s brother and sister who really make you want to pelt something at them. Unbelievable!

Knowing they’re in an impossible situation, Becca risks it all to experience passion with Theo and in the process, they fall in love.

But they can’t act on that love nor express it to each other amidst the charade for shares.

Their path to a happy ending isn’t easy but it’s worth it.

Trust me. You want to read this book and you’ll definitely be on the look-out for Larissa’s story afterward. :D

Caitlin Crews’s www.caitlincrews.com website didn’t lie when it described her work as “passionately sensual romance”.

Grade: A+

Excerpt: “The house had not improved since she’d seen it last. It loomed over New York City’s tony Fifth Avenue like a displeased society matron, all disapproving elegance and a style that dated to the excesses of the Gilded Age. Becca Whitney sat in the vast and chilly parlor, stuffed with priceless paintings and fussy, disturbingly detailed statuary, and tried to pretend she couldn’t feel the way her two so-called relatives were glaring at her. As if her presence there, as the illegitimate daughter of their disinherited and long-disparaged late sister, polluted the very air.

Maybe it did, Becca thought. Maybe that was one reason the great hulking mansion felt like a soulless crypt.

The strained silence–that Becca refused to break, since she’d been called here this time and was thankfully no longer the supplicant–was broken suddenly, by the slight creaking sound of the ornate parlor door.

Thank God, Becca thought. She had to keep her hands tightly laced together in her lap, her teeth clenched in her jaw, to keep the bitter words she’d like to say from spilling out. Whatever this interruption was, it was a relief.

Until she looked up and saw the man who stepped inside the room. Something like warning, like anticipation, seemed to crackle over her skin, making it hum in reaction. Making her sit straighter in her chair.

“Is this the girl?” he asked, his voice a low, dark rumble, his tone brisk. Demanding.

Everything–power, focus, the strained air itself–shifted immediately. Away from the horrible aunt and uncle she’d never planned to see again and toward the man, dark and big and goose bump-raising, who moved as if he expected the world to shuffle and rearrange itself around him–and with the kind of confidence that suggested it usually did exactly that.

Becca felt her lips part slightly as their eyes met, across centuries of artifacts and the frowns of these terrible people who had tossed her mother out like so much trash twenty-six years ago. His were a rich, arresting color, an electric amber, and seared into her, making her blink. Making her wonder if she’d been scarred by the contact.

Who was he?

He was not particularly tall, not much over six feet, but he was…there. A force to be reckoned with, as if a live wire burned in him, and from him. He wore the same kind of clothes they all wore in this hermetically sealed world of wealth and privilege–expensive. Yet unlike her fussy relatives, in their suits and scarves and ostentatious accessories, everything about this man was stripped down. Lean. Powerful. Impressive. A charcoal-gray sweater that clung to his perfectly shaped torso, and dark trousers that outlined the strength of his thighs and his narrow hips. He looked elegant and elemental all at once.

He gazed at her, his head cocking slightly to one side as he considered her, and Becca knew two things with every cell in her body. The first was that he was dangerous in a way she could not quite grasp–though she could see the fierce intelligence in him, coupled with a certain ruthless intensity. And the second was that she had to get away from him. Now. Her stomach cramped and her heart pounded. Something about him just…spooked her.

“You see it, then,” Becca’s pompous uncle Bradford said in the same patronizing tone he’d used when he’d thrown Becca out of this very same house six months ago. In the very same tone he’d used to tell her that she and her sister Emily were mistakes. Embarrassments. Certainly not Whitneys. “The resemblance.”

“It is uncanny.” The man’s remarkable, disconcerting eyes narrowed, focused entirely on Becca even as he spoke to her uncle. “I thought you exaggerated.”

When She Wasn’t Looking by HelenKay Dimon

Title: When She Wasn’t Looking

Author: HelenKay Dimon

Genre: Romantic suspense

Synopsis: No woman could deny the appeal of the sexy deputy sheriff Jonas Porter. But to Courtney Allen, Jonas has one major flaw—his badge. Years ago, Courtney’s father was wrongfully convicted of a crime and she vowed to never trust a cop again. But when Jonas becomes the only man to believe in her father’s innocence, Courtney begins seeing the brooding lawman in a whole new way.

Jonas knows in his gut that the real killer is still out there and determined to finish what he started long ago. To protect Courtney and bring the criminal to justice will require all the skills he can muster. And that means focusing on the job. Not the woman who makes him forget his troublesome past and arouses in him a passion that is anything but professional.

Review: This book gets off to a quick start, with Courtney making a run for it after a deputy sheriff (Jonas) shows up at her door to check up on a Margaret Taynor.  Courtney is obviously hiding from a man, perhaps an abusive spouse, the truth of which is revealed as the H/H navigate various perils.

This is unexpected, given the synopsis on the back cover and is an indication of just how much actually takes place in 252 pages.

I liked that HelenKay Dimon took turns writing the story from both main characters’ perspective, starting with Jonas at the end of a long shift before switching to Courtney in a panic over possibly having been found by a mysterious man from her past.

While  I am all for doing it yourself and not depending on the hero to do all the ‘saving’, there is a reason law enforcement officers go through training, so when Jonas advises Courtney to let him handle certain situations, she should’ve listened.

Ah well, “When She Wasn’t Looking” was still an enjoyable read, complete with a happy ending for two people who fell in love while solving a mystery and facing danger.

Grade: A-

Once Touched, Never Forgotten by Natasha Tate

Title: Once Touched, Never Forgotten

Author: Natasha Tate

Genre: Contemporary romance

Synopsis: Super-exec Stephen Whitfield and high-flying colleague Colette Huntington both understand the rules of their attraction. One: it will never be anything more than a fling. Two: either can walk away at any time they wish.

Only, Colette hasn’t counted on walking away pregnant. And, to Stephen’s frustration, after Colette, other women don’t seem to provide quite the same satisfaction.

Now Stephen’s going to lay down some new rules—rules that will most definitely give him the opportunity to indulge his craving for Colette once more.
I liked that this book began with the female lead, Colette, choosing to walk away from what she thought was a pointless situation.
However when Colette and Stephen next meet five (5) years later, he manipulates her so quickly and easily into being his mistress upon discovering they have a daughter together, that I had to question if Colette knew her rights. 

Yes, I understand and appreciate Stephen’s anger and need for revenge, plus his far healthier bank account balance but Colette is five years older, a single mother, and should therefore have put up more of a fight. He offers marriage, she counters with offering to be his mistress. 

Tate crafts their story well and their interaction with their daughter, Emma, came across as genuine but there were far too few scenes of the family or even of Stephen and his child together.
Especially since Emma ‘stole the show’ in a couple of scenes and because her very existence was the plot line that leads to Stephen and Colette passionate reunion.
Overall a good way to pass the time but not a book I would hold on to. Interesting since other readers have said they didn’t enjoy a previous book by Tate but loved OTNF. 
Grade: B+
Excerpt: No.Shocked denial cinched Colette’s stomach into a tight knot and she couldn’t seem to draw a proper breath. As she stared at the telltale blue line, the second in as many hours, Colette’s trembling hands nearly dropped the evidence she wanted so desperately to deny.How had this happened?

It doesn’t matter. It’s happened.

She couldn’t avoid the truth any longer. One test might lie. But two? Never. Shaking, and feeling slightly ill, she placed the plastic testing wand on her flat’s scarred bathroom counter and then braced her quivering arms against the sink.

She was pregnant.

With Stephen Whitfield’s child.

Colette closed her eyes, leaned her forehead against the cool mirror, and tried to think through her options. As if she had any.

She knew Stephen. She knew his plans for the future, and they didn’t include her. They never had. How many times had he told her of his decision to never marry or have children? He liked his solitary life, loved his freedom. It allowed him to focus on business without messy, emotional distractions.

Through a tacit, unspoken agreement, neither of them had pressed for more. Neither had asked questions the other didn’t wish to answer. The past remained in the past; they lived for the moment. It was safer that way. For today, for the duration of their affair, he’d accepted her, pleasured her, and made her feel wanted. She’d told herself it was enough.

And it had been enough.

Until she’d fallen in love.

Closing her eyes, she inhaled sharply. She couldn’t change the rules on him. She wouldn’t. They’d been too careful to avoid talk of each other’s pasts, too careful to make no demands the other wouldn’t wish to fill. Though she suspected he carried scars no mere female could heal, she certainly was in no position to try. She wouldn’t be naive enough to offer.

But you’re going to have his child.

It didn’t matter.

No way would she be one of those women who trapped a man into marriage by getting herself pregnant. No way would she repeat her mother’s mistakes and put her child in the middle of a loveless marriage. And she knew Stephen well enough to know that he’d demand just that. He’d forfeit his future for his child, and then hate them both because of it.

Curving a hand over her abdomen, she felt a rush of pro-tectiveness bring the sting of tears to her eyes. It didn’t matter that her baby’s father had no desire for children. It didn’t matter that their fling was supposed to be a temporary indulgence with no strings. No expectations. No future.

She’d make her child feel loved regardless of the circumstances of her conception. No baby of hers would ever feel like a pawn in a marriage built on coercion, obligation and resentment.

She had to break things off with Stephen. Today.”