Monthly Archives: December 2017

Happy Holidays

2017 sure has a busy, eventful year. We started the beginning of it spending WAY TOO MUCH time in hospitals. Those moments, living in limbo, sure do make you cherish the time your loved ones are healthy. I’m thankful, that today, all my family members are at home to share this holiday season with me. I hope you all can say the same. No matter where you’re at, no matter what holiday you celebrate this month (if any), enjoy your day. Enjoy life


And see ya in …….



**new posts arriving in January**


🎄 KAM 🎄


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Author Showcase – Jessica Lemmon (A Crane Family Christmas)

(Billionaire Bad Boys Book 4) 

Gather ‘round the Christmas tree with your favorite Cranes…

Eli and Isabella Crane are hosting a very special Christmas gathering this year. Join Reese and Merina, Tag and Rachel, and even Alex “Big” and Rhona for a magical evening filled with love, laughter, and a few surprises that aren’t wrapped in ribbon…

This short story serves as an epilogue to the Billionaire Bad Boys series. If you haven’t read the series yet, you may encounter spoilers!

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Excerpt courtesy of Jessica’s Website


Chapter One

Elijah Crane          

“Well, I didn’t know I’d be hosting this year, maybe that’s why I’m crabby.” Eli fussed with his bowtie before grousing at his wife’s reflection behind him in the bathroom mirror. Isa wore the usual bemused expression on a face so beautiful it still hurt a little to look at her. It hurt because of how close his bumbling had come to losing her.

Thank God she was as stubborn as he was.

“You’re crabby every day. It’s what I love about you.” She dragged her fingernails over his crisp, white shirt and smiled. She wore a slinky, sequined black gown that accentuated her voluptuous figure and made his mouth water. Her beauty had always contrasted his “beast” nicely.

“How much time do we have?” His eyes feasted on the low V-neck, danced around her luscious hips and jerked back to whiskey-colored eyes he couldn’t get enough of.

“Don’t even think about it. Your family is due to arrive any minute.”

“Why are we dressed like this if everyone is coming here?” His warehouse was more rustic and comfortable than formal. His frown returned, but only so that his wife would tut at his tone.

“You know why.”

He’d been the last to know—or at least he felt like it.

“Tag ruins everything.” He turned to face her, but some of the bite went out of his tone when his hands found her supple hips. Fingers digging into the dress’s material, he growled, “I’d like to take you out of this dress.”

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Other Books in the Series

The Billionaire Bachelor

The Billionaire Next Door

The Billionaire Bastard


A former job-hopper, Jessica Lemmon resides in Ohio with her husband and rescue dog. She holds a degree in graphic design currently gathering dust in an impressive frame. When she’s not writing super-sexy heroes, she can be found cooking, drawing, drinking coffee (okay, wine), and eating potato chips. She firmly believes God gifts us with talents for a purpose, and with His help, you can create the life you want. 

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Author Showcase – Maisey Yates (Christmastime Cowboy)


It’s Christmas in Copper Ridge, and love is waiting to be unwrapped… 

Falling for a bad boy once is forgivable. Twice would just be foolish. When Sabrina Leighton first offered her teenage innocence to gorgeous, tattooed Liam Donnelly, he humiliated her, then left town. The hurt still lingers. But so does that crazy spark. And if they have to work together to set up her family winery’s new tasting room by Christmas, why not work him out of her system with a sizzling affair?

Thirteen years ago, Liam’s boss at the winery offered him a bribe—leave his teenage daughter alone and get a full ride at college. Convinced he wasn’t good enough for Sabrina, Liam took it. Now he’s back, as wealthy as sin and with a heart as cold as the Oregon snow. Or so he keeps telling himself. Because the girl he vowed to stay away from has become the only woman he needs, and this Christmas could be just the beginning of a lifetime together…


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Print Purchase Link (US)

UK – Amazon Link


Excerpt courtesy of Maisey Yates’ website


Liam Donnelly was nobody’s favorite.

Though being a favorite in their household growing up would never have meant much, Liam was confident that as much as both of his parents disdained their younger son, Alex, they hated Liam more.

As much as his brothers loved him—or, whatever you wanted to call their brand of affection—Liam knew he wasn’t the one they’d carry out if there was a house fire. That was fine too.

It wasn’t self-pity. It was just a fact.

But while he wasn’t anyone’s particular favorite, he knew he was at least one person’s least favorite.

Sabrina Leighton hated him with every ounce of her beautiful, petite body. Not that he blamed her. But, considering they were having a business meeting today, he did hope that she could keep some of the hatred bottled up.

Liam got out of his truck and put his cowboy hat on, surveying his surroundings. The Grassroots winery spread was beautiful, with a large, picturesque home overlooking the grounds. The winery and the road leading up to it were carved into a mountainside. Trees and forest surrounded the facility on three sides, creating a secluded feeling. Like the winery was part of another world. In front of the first renovated barn was a sprawling lawn and a path that led down to the river. There was a seating area there and Liam knew that during the warmer months it was a nice place to hang out. Right now, it was too damned cold, and the damp air that blew up from the rushing water sent a chill straight through him.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and kept on walking. There were three rustic barns on the property that they used for weddings and dinners, and one that had been fully remodeled into a dining and tasting room.

He had seen the new additions online. He hadn’t actually been to Grassroots in the past thirteen years. That was part of the deal. The deal that had been struck back when Jamison Leighton was still owner of the place.

Back when Liam had been nothing more than a good-for-nothing, low-class troublemaker with a couple of misdemeanors to his credit.

Times changed.

Liam might still be all of those things at heart, but he was also a successful businessman. And Jamison Leighton no longer owned Grassroots Winery.

Some things, however, hadn’t changed. The presence of Sabrina Leighton being one of them.

It had been thirteen years. But he couldn’t pretend that he thought everything was all right and forgiven. Not considering the way she had reacted when she had seen him at Ace’s bar the past few months. Small towns.

Like everybody was at the same party and could only avoid each other for so long.

If it wasn’t at the bar, they would most certainly end up at a four-way stop at the same time, or in the same aisle at the grocery store.

But today’s meeting would not be accidental. Today’s meeting was planned. He wondered if something would get thrown at him. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

He walked across the gravel lot and into the dining room. It was empty, since the facility had yet to open for the day.

rustic barn with a wooden chandelier hanging in the center. There was a bar with stools positioned at the front, and tables set up around the room. Back when he had worked here there had been one basic tasting room, and nowhere for anyone to sit. Most of the wine had been sent out to retail stores for sale, rather than making the winery itself some kind of destination.

He wondered when all of that had changed. He imagined it had something to do with Lindy, the new owner and ex-wife of Jamison Leighton’s son, Damien. As far as Liam knew, and he knew enough—considering he didn’t get involved with business ventures without figuring out what he was getting into—Damien had drafted the world’s dumbest prenuptial agreement. At least, it was dumb for a man who clearly had problems keeping it in his pants.

Though why Sabrina was still working at the winery when her sister-in-law had current ownership, and her brother had been deposed, and her parents were—from what he had read in public records—apoplectic about the loss of their family legacy, he didn’t know. But he assumed he would find out. About the same time he found out whether or not something was going to get thrown at his head.

The door from the back opened, and he gritted his teeth. Because, no matter how prepared he felt philosophically to see Sabrina, he knew that there would be impact. There always was. A damned funny thing, that one woman could live in the back of his mind the way that she had for so long. That no matter how many years, or how many women he put between them, she still burned bright and hot in his memory.

That no matter how he had prepared himself to run into her—because he knew how small towns worked—the impact was like a brick to the side of his head every single time.

And no matter that this meeting was carefully orchestrated and planned, he knew it was going to be the same.

And it was.

She appeared a moment after the door opened, looking severe. Overly so. Her blond hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, and she was wearing a black sheath dress that went down past her knee, but conformed to curves that were more generous than they’d been thirteen years ago.

In a good way.

“Hello, Liam,” she said, her tone impersonal. Had she not used his first name, it might have been easy to pretend that she didn’t know who he was.

“Sabrina.” The word came out neutrally enough, but he couldn’t ignore the fact that he could taste it. Like honey on his lips. Sweet. Enticing.

Something he hadn’t tasted in far too long.

Sabrina didn’t seem to feel the moment at all. Her expression remained cool. Her lips set in a flat line, her blue eyes looking through him.

“Lindy told me that you wanted to talk about a potential joint venture. And since that falls under my jurisdiction as manager of the tasting room, she thought we might want to work together.”

She finally smiled.

The smile was so brittle it looked like it might crack her face.

“Yes, I am familiar with the details. Particularly since this venture was my idea.” He let a small silence hang there for a beat before continuing. “I’m looking at an empty building at the end of Main Street in Copper Ridge. I think it would be a great opportunity for both The Laughing Irish and for Grassroots. A tasting room that’s more easily accessible to the tourists who come to Copper Ridge.”

“How would it differ from Lane Donnelly’s store? She sells specialty foods.”

“Well, we would focus on Grassroots Wine and Laughing Irish cheese. Also, I would happily purchase products from Lane’s to give the menu a local focus. It would be nothing big. Just a small lunch place with wine. Very limited selection. Very specialty. But in a town like Copper Ridge, that works well. People want wander the historic main street and shop in boutiques.  A place that offers the change to sit and have a short break is perfect.”

“Great,” she said, her smile remaining completely immobile.

He took that moment to examine her even more closely.  She was more beautiful now than she had been at seventeen. Her slightly round, soft face had refined in the ensuing years, her cheekbones now more prominent, the angle of her chin sharper.

Her eyebrows looked different too. When she’d been a teenager they had been thinner, rounder. Now they were stronger, more angular.

“Great,” he returned. “I guess we can go down and have a look at everything sometime this week. Gage West is the owner of the property, and he hasn’t listed it yet. Handily, my sister-in-law is good friends with his wife. Both of my sisters-in-law, actually. So I’ve got the inside track on that.”

Her expression turned bland. “How impressive.”

She sounded absolutely unimpressed. “It wasn’t intended to be impressive. Just useful.”

Her lips twitched, like she was holding back a smile. But not a particularly nice smile. “Well, aim for what you can achieve I suppose.”

“I didn’t say I couldn’t be impressive if I had the mind to be,” he said, unwilling to let that dig go.

Her lips twitched again, bit this time he sensed a lot more irritation than he had before. “That won’t be necessary.” She cleared her throat. “Lindy and I had discussed a shopfront in Gold Valley, since it’s slightly closer to the winery, and at the moment retail space is cheaper there. Why are you thinking Copper Ridge? Aside from the fact that it’s closer to your ranch.”

. It’s definitely on its way, but it’s not there yet.”

“But it’s on its way like you said. Property values are only going to go up.”

“Property values in Copper Ridge already have. And oceanside real estate isn’t going to get cheaper. At the price Gage is willing to sell for we’ll come in with equity.”

She looked irritated, but clearly didn’t have another argument ready. She sighed slowly. “Did you have a day of the week in mind to go view the property? Because I really am very busy.”

“Are you?”

“Yes,” she responded, that smile spreading over her face again. “This is a very demanding job, plus, I do have a life.”

She stopped short of saying exactly what that life entailed.

“Too busy to work on this project, which is part of your actual job?” he asked.

She looked calm, but he could sense a dark energy beneath the surface that spoke of a need to savage him. “I had my schedule sorted out for the next couple of weeks. This is coming together more quickly than expected.”

“I’ll work something out with Gage and give Lindy a call, how about that?”

“You don’t have to call Lindy. I’ll give you my phone number. You can call or text me directly.”

She reached over to the counter and chose a card from the rustic surface, extending her hand toward him. He took the card, their fingertips brushing each other as they made the handoff.

And he felt it. Straight down to his groin, where he had always felt things for her, even though it was impossible. Even though he was all wrong for her. And even though now they were doing a business deal together, and she looked like she would cheerfully chew through his flesh if given half the chance.

She might be smiling. But he didn’t trust that smile. He was still waiting. Waiting for her to shout recriminations at him now that they were alone. Every other time he had encountered her over the past four months it had been in public. Twice in Ace’s bar, and once walking down the street, where she had made a very quick sharp left to avoid walking past him.

It had not been subtle, and it had certainly not spoken of somebody who was over the past.

So, his assumption had been that if the two of them were ever alone she was going to let them have it. But she didn’t. Instead, she gave him that card, and then began to look…bored.

“Did you need anything else?” she asked, still looking determinedly cheerful.

“Not really. Though I have some spreadsheet information that you might want to look over. Ideas that I have for the layout, the menu. It is getting a little ahead of ourselves, in case we end up not liking the venue.”

“You’ve been to look at the venue already, haven’t you?” It was vaguely accusatory.

“I have been to the venue, yes. But again, I believe in preparedness. I was hardly going to get very deep into this if I didn’t think it was viable. Personally, I’m interested in making sure that we have diverse interests. The economy doesn’t typically favor farms, Sabrina. And that is essentially what my brothers and I have. I expect an uphill fight to make the ranch successful.”

She tilted her head to the side. “And yet, our winery is well-established and very healthy.”

“But Lindy wants to expand, I’m not incorrect about that. She was very interested in this proposition, and not only that, she’s started hosting weddings and farm-to-table dinners, right?”

“You know you’re right,” she said. “Like you said, you do your research.”

Her friendliness was beginning to slip. And he waited. For something else. For something to get thrown at him. It didn’t happen.

“That I do. Take these,” he said, handing her the folder that he was holding on to. He made sure their fingers didn’t touch this time. “And we’ll talk next week.”

Then he turned and walked away from her, and  resisted the strong impulse to turn back and get one more glance at her. It wasn’t the first time he had resisted that.


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Also In this Series:

APRIL 18, 2017
(Lane’s Book: link)


JUNE 27, 2017
(Alison’s Book: link)


AUGUST 29, 2017
(Alex’s Book: link)

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Author Showcase- Marie Harte (Any Given Snow Day)

Ex NFL star + snarky single mom = a touchdown of a holiday romance

After two Super Bowl rings, MVP status, and retiring from the NFL while still on top, Mitch “Flash” Flashman’s millions should make life at the ripe old age of thirty-five a blessing. Yet he’s restless, rudderless, and can’t tell up from down. Roped into helping his brother coach a bunch of teenagers, Mitch finds himself playing defense against the many women in town wanting his attention. Except for one particular woman who doesn’t seem to like him much. Becka Bragg is mouthy, vulnerable, and sexy, and she captivates Mitch despite himself. But Mitch has no time for a sexy single mom when he’s still trying to figure out who he really is. With the playoffs, a boy’s future, and his own heart on the line, he’ll need to figure out how to pull the ultimate victory—winning Becka’s heart and keeping it. For good. 

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Excerpt courtesy of Marie Harte’s Website


Mitch was cold, hungry, and had a headache growing at the thought of the many people outside who would want to talk to him. He knew it came with the territory, but man, he’d love to just be average Mitch Flashman again. A simple guy who wanted nothing more than a cold beer and a plate of warm nachos to end the week.

Davey Madison popped his head around the lockers. “Hey, Coach? My mom wants to talk to you.”

Mitch contained a groan. “I’ll be out in a few minutes. I’ll meet her by the concession stand, okay?”

Davey nodded and left.

Mitch rubbed his face, suddenly bone-tired.

“She just wants in your pants.”

He spun to see Simon smirking at him.

“Mrs. Madison. She’s got a thing for you, like half the other moms out there.” Simon shoved his hands in his pockets, a tall kid swimming in a man’s coat a few sizes too large for his build. His light-brown hair needed a cut but seemed to fit the typical teenage style of too long and too shaggy. “Apparently you’re rich and handsome. I think I heard one of them call you sexy too.”

Mitch tried to play it off, though he felt his cheeks heating. Damn. Nothing like being a celebrity who hated the limelight and blushed too easily. Oh yeah, I’m macho and manly, alright. “Yep, that’s me. Sexy and handsome.”

“And rich, don’t forget that.” Simon grinned. The kid seemed to be enjoying Mitch’s discomfort.

Nothing like being wanted for your money. “Not your mom, though?”

Simon chuckled, his hazel eyes sparkling. “Nah, my mom thinks you’re an ass. ‘Night, Coach.” He left with a spring in his step.

Behind him, Deacon guffawed. “I do like that kid.”

“You would.” He walked slowly out of the locker room with his brother. “So what did you think?”

“About your crappy speech, the game, or the fact that we’re about to be mobbed by women who want in your pants?”

“Sometimes I really hate you. You know that?”

“Yep, little brother. I do.” Deacon put him in a headlock and dragged him out the door. “But hey, I did my time. You’re the new celebrity on the block. Roll with it.”

Mitch got free. “So was I too harsh on the kids? It’s only my third game helping out.”

“And I’m glad you are. Stan’s flu couldn’t have come at a worse time. The pub has me running ragged, what with that distributor problem and Roy out of town.” He groaned. “What a sucky time for his wife to go into labor.”

Mitch shook his head. “Such compassion for your best friend.”

Deacon laughed. “Right? I’m kidding. I wish Jess would have had the baby here though. Nope. Had to be down in Houston with her folks. She’s robbing me of my business partner!”

“What was she thinking?”

Roy had what they both wanted—a great job, a loving wife, and now a new baby. Deacon, like Mitch, had played pro ball. He’d had seven amazing years as a starring quarterback before he’d blown out his right shoulder to the point he couldn’t throw with the speed and accuracy he’d once had. A brutal divorce had stolen even more happiness, until Deacon had nearly quit everything—football, family, breathing…

Mitch had tried to help his brother, but he knew seeing him only reminded Deacon of all he’d lost. Their parents hadn’t known what to do either.

But good old Roy, Deacon’s best friend before, during, and after the NFL, had thrown Deacon a lifeline. Now Deacon was a partner in a thriving brewpub, head coach for a high school football team in a dream of a town, and had recently even dipped his toe back into the dating game.

“You know, all these women aren’t just here for me,” Mitch told him. “You’re fair game, from what I hear.”

“Ah, but I’m damaged goods.” Funny, Deacon didn’t seem too upset over the fact. “You’re rich and retired. Money, fame, fortune. You, little bro, have it all.”

“What I’ve got is a headache,” he grumbled as they passed many well-wishers. Parents from both teams shook his hand and made small talk, everyone wanting to touch the man who’d once been an MVP in the NFL. As if touching him would guarantee their kid’s own success. At least they bugged Deacon too. That made him feel a little better.

Mitch kept it together as they drew closer to the concession stand, encountering a rare moment of peace from the dispersing crowd. “God, kill me know. Deacon, don’t even think of leaving me to deal with her by myself.” He grabbed his brother by the sleeve and held on for dear life, having spotted Linda Madison’s flailing hands and bright smile.

Deacon didn’t try to hide his grin. “Mrs. Future Flash is waiting for you.”

Mitch shot him the death glare.

“Look, I’ll do my best to block for you,” Deacon conceded. “But you’d have an easier time saying no if you actually said no.”

“I did.” Mitch groaned. “The woman is like a pit bull, and her friends are just as bad. I tried to tell them I’m not interested. Yes, them, because all of them have made some not-so-subtle moves. It’s not funny,” he snapped.

Deacon continued to laugh.

“Hey, it’s not as if I’m out screwing half the town. I don’t want to date some pushy yokel so she can tweet about having landed the ‘Amazing Flash.’” He grimaced. “I have standards.”

“And so do we,” a husky voice muttered from behind him. “Come on, Simon. Let’s get away from God’s gift to women before I accidentally throw myself at him. I suddenly feel nauseous.”

He turned to see Simon grinning widely before the kid hurried to accompany two pretty, dark-haired women away. Mitch couldn’t be sure which one had insulted him, but tired, he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Wow. You really do come across as a huge ass,” Deacon said. “Simon’s mom is right.”

“Up yours.”

Huge.” Deacon dragged him faster toward the gaggle of women standing with Linda and Davey. “Hey, Linda. Look who I have with me? Flash wants to talk to you.”

Should totally have drowned him in third grade when I had the chance.

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Kindle Purchase Link (UK)



Award-winning author Marie Harte has been writing professionally since 2005. She’s both a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author and has written over 100 books and counting. Marie writes books with heat, humor, and Harte. ♥

She writes independently and for several publishers, to include Sourcebooks and Entangled. Though currently writing contemporary romance, she also writes paranormal and romantic suspense. Basically, everything romance with a touch of spice. 

Before turning to writing full-time, she earned a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University and spent several years in the United States Marine Corps as a communications officer.

Marie currently lives in Central Oregon with her family. There’s nothing she likes more than finding a good book to read and a great cup of coffee to drink.

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Website Link


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Author Showcase – Jill Shalvis (Chasing Christmas Eve) (Holiday Wishes)

Meet cute…

Run for the hills—temporarily. That’s Colbie Albright’s plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie’s so over it that she’s under it. She’s also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she’s pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won’t be a stranger for long.


Make merry…

Spence’s commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn’t have to worry about the powerful—okay, crazy hot—chemistry he’s got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself… just because she’s gorgeous and a great listener…just because she “gets” Spence immediately doesn’t mean he won’t be able to let Colbie go. Does it?


…and hope for a miracle.

Now the clock’s ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.

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Audiobook – Unabridged (US)

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Audio CD (UK)



Prologue (courtesy of Jill Shalvis’ Website)



Colbie Albright stood in the crowded LaGuardia Airport staring up at the flight departure board. Her chest was tight and her throat felt like it was closing in.

Classic anxiety, she told herself. Just breathe right through it.

Not that her body listened to her brain. Her body rarely listened to good sense.

In any case, it was December 1 and people were rushing all around her like chickens without their heads, while she stood still trying to figure out her choice of destination. Her only requirements were warm and tropical. An exotic beach would fit the bill perfectly.



Oooh, I wanna take you . . .

Great, and now the Beach Boys song was stuck in her head. Doing her best to shake it off, she eyed the board again. So many choices for a twenty-eight-year-old runaway with a packed bag and no regrets.

From inside her purse her phone vibrated and she grimaced. Okay, so there were regrets. Buckets of them that made her suitcase feel like a thousand pounds and sucked the air from her lungs, but she refused to let herself turn tail and go back.

She was doing this.

But even as she thought it, the board changed and a bunch of the flights—all the southbound ones—blinked off and came back on … showing as delayed or cancelled.

“A surprise late season hurricane,” someone said in disgust next to her. “Of course.”

Okay, so she wasn’t going south. There was a flight to Toronto in twenty minutes but Toronto was the opposite of warm and tropical, and plus it wouldn’t give her enough time to grab some breakfast. Apparently running away really ramped up a girl’s appetite…

That’s when her gaze locked on a flight leaving for San Francisco in an hour. Huh. California, the land of celebrities, avocados, surfer dudes. She’d never really had a chance to enjoy any of those things. In fact, LaGuardia was the furthest she’d been from home in three years. But hey, there was a first time for everything, right?


She nodded, psyching herself up for this. After years of taking care of her family and working herself half to death, she deserved this. She needed this.

So…San Francisco or bust.

It would work, she assured herself. Getting away would allow her to find her muse again, her love for the writing. And so, convinced, she strode to the ticket counter.

Fifteen minutes later, she hit the very long, very slow-moving security line. Surrounded by people complaining about the wait, she was in the process of removing her laptop, her sweater, her shoes, her watch, and her bracelet and was patting herself down to make sure she’d gotten everything out of her pockets when a TSA agent pulled her aside.

“Oh,” she said, “I’m not carrying any liquids over three ounces.”

The guy shrugged. “Random female,” he said. “That your bag?”

“Yes.” This was what she got for buying a last-minute one-way ticket and she bit her lower lip as the agent started to go through her things. She favored layers, especially tees and sweaters with loose skirts or yoga pants—even though she’d never been to a yoga class in her life. He pawed through everything, pausing at the sight of her bunny slippers—which, hey, totally completed her favorite writing uniform.

“My three-year-old kid has these,” he said and then kept going, alternately looking up at the X-ray monitor and down at her bag, clearly seeking something specific. He moved aside a lightweight jersey dress and she grimaced as some lacy, silky things were exposed. Maybe her clothes were nothing special but she did have a thing about what she wore beneath them, her one concession to feeling sexy in this crazy life she’d built where she didn’t have time to actually be sexy . . .

Luckily for his health, the agent’s stoic expression never changed. No doubt he’d seen it all and couldn’t care less as he dug past her favorite peach lace bra-and-panty set, a box of tampons, and . . .

“Ah,” he said, holding up an apple.

“Are apples a problem?” Colbie asked.

“They sometimes look weird on the screen.”

“No weirdness here,” she said. “Just a morning snack. It’s not even poisonous.” She added a harmless smile.

He didn’t return it, because he was staring at some papers she’d paper-clipped and shoved in her bag to read on the plane. “How to murder people by poison without detection,” he read aloud.

The woman behind Colbie gasped in horror.

“Okay,” Colbie said, pointing to them. “That’s not what it looks like.”

The woman behind her, cradling a leopard-print cat carrier, had turned and was frantically whispering to the people behind her.

“Really,” Colbie said. “It’s a funny story, actually.”

But the TSA guy was flipping through her notes, not even remotely interested in her funny story. He didn’t need to read aloud what he was looking at, because she knew exactly what was there—other Google searches, such as how to get away with murder using a variety of different everyday products that weren’t considered weapons. “It’s research,” she said to the room.

“Yeah, that’s probably what I’d say too,” a guy said from somewhere behind her.

Colbie didn’t look back; she just kept her gaze on the TSA agent, trying to look nonthreatening as she said something she rarely if ever said aloud. “I’m a writer.”

“Uh-huh.” He pulled out his radio now with an ominous “Female agent, please.”

“Oh, pluck it!” she snapped.

The agent narrowed his gaze. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing bad,” she said. “That’s the point. See, we’ve got this swear jar at home, which means I’ve gone broke swearing, so I say other stuff instead of bad words. Stuff that sounds like bad words but isn’t. I don’t lose any money that way, and—” She broke off because he didn’t appear impressed. “Look, never mind that,” she said. “Just believe me, I’m not a problem. You saw the bunny slippers, right?”

“Ma’am,” he said, pulling her bag aside. “I’m going to need you to come with me.”

“No, really! If you look in my purse, you’ll see it’s filled with scraps of paper, napkins, whatever, all with handwritten notes on them. I write notes for my books all the time. Plot points. Characterization stuff. Just little things, really. For instance . . .” She looked around and gestured to the woman behind her. “‘Crazy cat lady with a leopard-print cat carrier—’”

“Hey,” the crazy cat lady with the leopard-print cat carrier said.

Colbie ignored her. “—or ‘friendly, sweet, kind TSA agent with a heart of gold…’” she said, and added a flirty, hopefully innocent-looking smile. “I use the notes in my books. It adds color and heart to the story and all that.”

The agent’s eyes were still suspicious, but at least he opened her purse to check her story. And just as she’d said, it was filled with what probably looked like trash but were in fact little treasures to be revisited and added to her manuscript.

“What do you write?” he asked, unraveling a small square bar napkin and staring at the words she’d scribbled on it: Icicle—the perfect weapon. It melts and vanishes!

The agent lifted his gaze and leveled it on her.

“Cheese and rice!” she exclaimed and drew a deep, calming breath. It didn’t help. “Okay, listen,” she said. “It’s not what it looks like. I write young adult action-adventure. Postapocalyptic world.” She was hoping to not have to go further than that, but the expression on his face told her she was on borrowed time. “The characters are teenagers with powers they acquired in the radioactive war,” she added.

“And these teenagers, they . . . kill people?”

“No,” she said. “But the bad guys do. And it’s fiction. You know, made-up stuff.” She pointed to her brain and shook her head, like See? Harmless. “And so really, all this is for naught. It’s not like I’ve got a bomb in my bag or anything.”

In hindsight, she probably shouldn’t have mentioned the word bomb. She missed her flight and almost the next one, instead becoming intimate, very intimate, with a pair of female TSA agents.

She also missed breakfast.

And lunch.

And the nap she’d been counting on since she hadn’t slept more than a few hours in so long she couldn’t remember what a good night’s sleep felt like.

Not exactly an auspicious beginning to her vacation from life, but hopefully all her trouble was behind her now and the rest of the trip would be perfect.

A girl could dream anyway…

Eight hours later, she pressed her face to the window of her plane as it banked and came in for a landing at SFO International. They’d been diverted twice for too much air traffic, which turned out to be a blessing because they came in from the north, giving her a view of the Golden Gate Bridge glowing red in the late afternoon sun. The bay was a gorgeous sparkling blue, all of it looking like a postcard, and something in her tight chest loosened. It seemed like the entire world was laid out in front of her and she brought a hand up to the window as if she could actually touch the sight.

This, she told herself. This was exactly what the doctor had ordered—if she’d actually gone to a doctor for her anxiety and crippling writer’s block. Here she would find herself, so that by the time she went back home in three weeks for Christmas Eve, she’d be happy again.

She was sure of it.

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It’s Christmastime again in Heartbreaker Bay!
When Sean O’Riley shows up at the Hartford Bed & Breakfast for his older brother’s bachelor weekend, he’s planning to get through this weekend as well as he can and fulfill his duties as best man. What he’s not expecting is to come face to face with the woman he lost his virginity to a decade ago—a woman he’s never really forgotten.
The last time Lotti Hartford saw Sean, she told him she loved him while he said nothing. Now, ten years later, she’s just looking for a good time. For once, she wants to be wild and free, and when she sees how good Sean grew up, she thinks he might actually be the perfect candidate. 
As the weekend continues, Sean realizes that after a lifetime of being the hook-up king, he’s ready to find happily-ever-after with Lotti. But is she ready to open her heart once again? As Christmas sweeps through the little B&B, love and magic are in the air. 

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Excerpt courtesy of Jill Shalvis’ Website


Chapter One

To say Sean felt stressed was a huge understatement. Give him a cliff to scale or a bar brawl to break up. Hell, give him a freight train to try to outrun, anything but having to pull off being the best man for his brother Finn’s wedding—including but not limited to keeping said brother from losing his collective shit.

It’s not like Sean didn’t understand. Getting married was a big deal. Okay, so he didn’t fully understand, not really, but he wanted to. He really did. And how funny was that? Sean O’Riley, younger brother, hook-up king extraordinaire, was suddenly tired of the game and found himself aching for his own forever after.

“We almost there?” Finn asked him from the backseat of the vehicle Sean was driving.


“And you double checked on our reservations?”


“No, I’m serious, man,” Finn said. “Remember when you took me to Vegas and when we got there, every hotel was booked and we had to stay at the Magic-O motel?”

“Man, a guy screws up one time…”

“We had a stripper pole in our rooms, Sean.”

Sean sighed. “Okay, but to be fair, that was back when I was still in my stupid phase. I promise you that we have reservations—no stripper poles. I even double and triple checked, just like you asked me a hundred and one times. Pru, I hope you realize you’re marrying a nag.”

Pru, Finn’s fiancée, laughed from the shotgun position. “Hey, one of us has to be the nag in this relationship, and it isn’t me.”

Sean held up a palm and Pru leaned over the console to give him a high-five.

“Just so you know,” Sean said to Finn, “I didn’t pick this place, your woman did.”

“True story,” Pru said. “The B&B’s closed to the public this entire weekend. Sean booked the whole place for our bachelor/bachelorette party weekend extravaganza.”

“I superheroed this thing,” Sean said.

Finn snorted and let loose of a small smile because they both knew that for most of Sean’s childhood, that’s what he’d aspired to be, a superhero—sans tights though. Tights had never been Sean’s thing, especially after suffering through them for two seasons in high school football before he’d mercifully cracked his clavicle.

After that, he’d turned to fighting, and not the good kind either. Finn, physically older by seven years, mentally older by about a hundred, had single-handedly saved Sean from just about every situation he’d ever landed himself in. Thanks to Finn, there’d been a lot fewer situations than there should’ve been and it hadn’t been for lack of trying.

Fact was, everyone knew Sean had taken the slowest possible route on his way to growing up, complete with plenty of detours, but he’d hit his stride now. Or at least he hoped so because Finn was counting on him in a big way over the next week and Sean had let him down enough for a lifetime. He wouldn’t let him down now.

Sean pulled into the B&B’s parking lot and turned to face the crowd he’d driven from San Francisco to Napa. And he did mean crowd. They’d had to rent a fourteen-seat passenger van to fit everyone, and he was the weekend’s designated driver.

Oh, how times had changed. “Ready?” he asked.

Finn nodded. Pru was bouncing up and down in her seat with excitement. Willa, her BFF, was doing the same. Keane, Willa’s boyfriend, opened the door for everyone to tumble out.

It was two weeks before Christmas and the rolling hills of Napa Valley were lined with grape vines for as far as the eye could see, not that they could actually see them right now. It was late, pitch dark, and rain had been pouring down steadily all day, which didn’t detract from the beauty of the Victorian B&B in front of them. It did, however, detract from Sean’s eagerness to go out in the rain to get to it though.

Not Pru and Willa. The two raced through the downpour laughing and holding hands with Elle, Colbie, Kylie, and Tina—the rest of Pru’s posse—moving more cautiously in deference to the preservation of their heels. Sean, Finn, and Finn’s posse—Archer, Keane, Spence, and Joe—followed.

They all tumbled in the front door of the B&B and stopped short in awe of the place decorated with what had to be miles of garland and lights, along with a huge Christmas tree done up in all the bells and whistles. This place could’ve passed for Santa’s own house.

Collectively the group “oohed” and “ahhhed” before turning expectedly to Sean.

This was because he was actually in charge of the weekend’s activities that would lead up to the final countdown to the wedding happening next week at a winery about twenty minutes up the road. This was what a best man did apparently, take care of stuff. All the stuff. And that Finn had asked Sean to be his best man in the first place over any of the close friends with them this weekend had the pride overcoming his anxiety of screwing it all up.

But the anxiety was making a real strong bid right at the moment. He shook off some of the raindrops and started to head over to the greeting desk and twelve people began to follow. He stopped and was nearly plowed over by the parade. “Wait here,” he instructed, pausing until his very excited group nodded in unison.

Jesus. He shouldn’t have poured them that champagne to pre-game before they’d left O’Riley’s, the pub he and Finn owned and operated in San Francisco. And that he was the voice of reason right now was truly the irony of the century. “Stay,” he said firmly and then made his way past the towering Christmas tree lit to within an inch of its life, past the raging fire in the fireplace with candles lining the mantel…to the small, quaint check-in desk that had a plate with some amazing looking cookies and a sign that said: yes, these are for you—welcome!

“Yum,” Pru said and took one for each hand.

She hadn’t “stayed.” And neither had Finn. They both flanked Sean, munching on the cookies.

A woman sat at the check-in desk with a laptop, her fingers a blur, the tip of her Santa hat quivering as she typed away. She looked up and smiled as she took in the group. That is until her gaze landed on Sean and she froze.

He’d already done the same because holy shit—

“Greetings,” she said, recovering first and so quickly that no one else seemed to notice as she stood and smiled warmly everyone but Sean. “Welcome to the Hartford B&B. My name’s Charlotte Hartford and I’m the innkeeper here. How can I help you?”

Good question. And Sean had the answer on the tip of his tongue, which was currently stuck to the roof of his mouth because he hadn’t been prepared for this sweet and sassy redheaded blast from his past.

It’d been what, nearly a decade? He didn’t know exactly because his brain wasn’t functioning at full capacity, much less capable of simple math at the moment. The last time he’d seen Lotti, they’d been sixteen-year-old kids and at a high school football game. It’d been back in those dark, dark times after he and Finn had lost their parents and Sean had been at his most wild. Still, he’d somehow managed to sweet-talk the kindest, most gentle girl in school out of her virginity, losing his own in the process.

Finn nudged Sean, prompting him to clear his throat and speak. “We’re here to check in. We’re the Finn O’Riley party.” He smiled. “It’s really great to see you, Lotti. How’re things?”

She cocked her head to the side and looked out the window. “Well the storm’s certainly been challenging. I heard the roads were bad, so wasn’t sure you’d all even be able to get here. I’m glad you made it. So, the O’Ryan party…” She turned to her computer. “I’ll get you checked in.”

“O’Riley,” Sean corrected. And why was she playing like she didn’t know him? “Lotti, it’s me. Sean.”

“O’Riley,” she repeated, fingers clicking the keyboard. “Yes, here you all are. Twelve guests, two nights. Wine tasting tour tomorrow. Bachelor/bachelorette here tomorrow night. Checking out Sunday morning.” She then proceeded to check them in with quick efficiency, managing to avoid Sean’s direct gaze the entire time.

It wasn’t until she handed him a room key and their fingers touched that she actually met his gaze, her own warm chocolate one clear and startled.

Again she recovered quickly, lifting her chin and turning away.

“You really going to pretend you don’t remember me?” he asked quietly.

She didn’t answer. This, of course, delighted Finn to no end. He grinned wide at Sean as they all turned to head up the stairs to their rooms.

“What’s so funny?” Sean snapped.

“It finally happened. You being put in your place by a woman. And she was hot too.”

Pru cuffed Finn upside the back of his head.

“I mean she was smart and funny and had a great personality,” Finn said.

Pru rolled her eyes.

“And,” Finn went on, “she didn’t remember you. That’s the best part. Where do you know her from anyway?”

Sean shook his head. “Never mind.”

The ass that called himself Sean’s brother was still chortling to himself when they all vanished into their respective rooms. Because the B&B had only six guest rooms total, and eight of their group were coupled off, the four singles had been forced to pair up. Sean keyed himself into the room he was going to share with Joe. They both tossed their duffle bags onto each of the two beds.

Twin beds. And shit, those beds were small.

Sean stood there hands on hips, the bedding that was thick and comfortable looking, but done up in a girlie floral print, situated way too close to Joe’s bed to please him.

Joe was looking less than pleased himself. “Damn.”

“Yeah. Sucks to be single in a wedding party.”

“Yeah,” Joe agreed. “But hey, positive spin—it doesn’t suck to be single.” He flopped onto his bed and grabbed the remote, bringing up an MMA fight.

Sean blew out a breath and turned to the door.

“It’s nearly midnight,” Joe said to his back. “Where you off to? Back down to the hot chick who didn’t recognize you?”

“She totally recognized me,” Sean said.


“She did.”

“Dude, then that’s even worse.”

Sean flipped him off and left as Joe laughed, heading back down the stairs. Because Joe was right, being recognized and ignored was worse. And it was all his own fault.

The night had gotten noisy. Wind battered the old Victorian, rattling the windows, causing the trees outside to brush against the walls, which creaked and groaned under the strain. Sean hoped like hell that the carpenters back in the day had known what they were doing and that the place would hold.

For the second time in ten minutes, he strode up to the check-in desk. Pru had been the one to insist on this B&B because it’d been built in the late 1800s and had a cool history that he’d been told about in great detail but couldn’t repeat to save his life because he hadn’t listened. All he knew was that Pru had wanted to stay here so badly that he’d made it happen for her.

But it didn’t mean he had to like it.

Lotti was no longer in sight. There was a small bell for service on the desk and just as he reached out to hit it, he heard a male voice from inside what looked to be an office.

“I’m sorry, Charlotte,” the unseen man was saying. “But you know we’re not working. You’re so closed off that I can’t get close to you.”

Sean froze for two reasons. One, Lotti had always hated her full name. Hated it to the bone so much she’d refused to answer to it.

And two…those words. You’re so closed off that I can’t get close to you…They reverberated in Sean’s head, pulling memories he’d shoved deep. That long-ago summer night they’d shared had been the accumulation of several years of platonic friendship, started when he’d needed help in English and she in chemistry. They’d tutored each other, the perennial bad boy and the perennial good girl, and then one night they’d been each other’s world in the back of her dad’s pickup on the bluffs of Marin Headlands.

Afterward, she’d told him she loved him. He could remember staring into her sweet eyes and nearly swallowing his own tongue. Love? Was that what this all-consuming, heart and gut wrenching emotion he felt for her was? And even though he’d suspected that yes indeed it’d been love, he’d wanted no part of it because it hurt like hell.

And then proving just that, she’d gone on to tell him that her family was moving away, but since they were in love, they could stay in touch and write and call and visit.

She was going to leave. Even with all he’d felt for her, he’d known he wouldn’t, couldn’t, be the guy she’d needed. She’d indeed written him, and being the chicken-shit, emotionally stunted kid he’d been back then, he hadn’t written back. Or returned her calls. Losing her had been like a red-hot poker to the chest but he hadn’t been able to see himself in a long-distance relationship, or in any relationship at all.

Hell, he couldn’t have committed to a dentist appointment back then.

He’d thought of her, always with a smile and an ache in his chest because he deeply regretted how he’d behaved. By the time he graduated, he’d grown up enough to try to find her to apologize, but he’d had no luck. He’d never seen her again—until now.

A guy came out of the office, presumably the one who’d spoken, and headed straight for the front door, walking out into the storm without looking back.

Sean waited a minute, but there was only silence coming from the office. No sign of Lotti, nor a single sound. Clearly it was the worst possible time to try to talk to her, but her eerie silence worried him.

Then suddenly came the sound of glass shattering, but before he could rush into the room, she came out.

She wasn’t crying, which was a huge relief. Her eyes were…blank, actually, giving nothing away. That is until she saw Sean. Then they sparked, but not the good kind of spark.

“You,” she said.

Yep, he had the bad timing thing down pat.


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New York Times and USA Todaybestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s sexy contemporary and award-winning books wherever romances are sold and click on the blog button above for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.




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Author Showcase – Tilly Tennant (An Unforgettable Christmas)

Book One: A Very Vintage Christmas

Vintage FINAL

The fairy lights are up and shoppers are flooding the snowy seaside promenade. It’s going to be a busy month at Forget-Me-Not Vintage, a magical shop with a warm heart where every item has a story to be told.

With bright red hair and an infectious smile, Dodie is a hopeless romantic and absolutely one of a kind, just like the pieces in her shop.

When Dodie finds a love letter in the pocket of an old woollen coat, she makes it her mission to deliver it to its rightful owner. Following the address, she manages to persuade the handsome but reluctant new tenant, Edward, to help her with her search.

As the story of the letter unfolds, Dodie is there, as always, to pick up the pieces and make things right. But who will be there for her when her own love story needs a helping hand?

Is it too much to dream of a happy ending like the ones in the black and white movies she adores?

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Book Two: A Cosy Candlelit Christmas


All Isla wants for Christmas is to be left in peace, but in the Alps there’s potential for romance in every snowflake that falls…

It’s the week before Christmas and Isla McCoy has just received an unexpected gift: a letter announcing she is due a life-changing inheritance, but onlyif she’s willing to make peace with the father who abandoned her.

She has absolutely no intention of making amends, but who could resist an all-expenses-paid trip to the French resort of St Martin-de-Belleville?

There she meets smooth-talking Justin and nerdy glaciologist Sebastian; two very different men, with two very different agendas. Torn between her head and her heart, Isla finds herself utterly lost in a winter wonderland of her own feelings.

Surrounded by twinkling candles and roaring log-fires, Isla’s resolve finally begins to melt. But will she learn how to reconnect, not only with a whole new family, but with herself and her heart?

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photo (5)Tilly Tennant was born in Dorset, the oldest of four children, but now lives in Staffordshire with a family of her own. After years of dismal and disastrous jobs, including paper plate stacking, shop girl, newspaper promotions and waitressing (she never could carry a bowl of soup without spilling a bit), she decided to indulge her passion for the written word by embarking on a degree in English and creative writing, graduating in 2009 with first class honours. She wrote her first novel in 2007 during her first summer break at university and has not stopped writing since. She also works as a freelance fiction editor, and considers herself very lucky that this enables her to read many wonderful books before the rest of the world gets them.

You can get the latest news on book releases and special offers by subscribing to Tilly’s mailing list. So you never need to be left out!

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Christmas Anthology Showcase – Holiday Heat: The Men of Starlight Bend

5 All-New, Never-Before-Published Holiday Romances, Featuring NYT Bestselling Authors Jennifer Ashley & Jennifer Probst! Let The Men of Starlight Bend keep you warm on cold winter nights!

Starlight Bend is a cozy Montana town nestled between glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains. This Christmas, holiday magic is in the air and wishes can come true–all it takes is believing. Visit us in Starlight Bend and meet five sexy, heartwarming heroes and the women who steal their hearts…



Snowbound in Starlight Bend ~ Jennifer Ashley

Haley McKee is furious to find herself stuck in the tiny town of Starlight Bend so near Christmas, helped out by the handsome Maddox Campbell, a cowboy who’s not impressed with her fancy job titles and parents’ money. In fact, no one has given her this much crap her entire life. But there’s a lot more to Maddox than at first seems–he’s a hard-working man who gives much of his time and patience to help those who have little. When a spark of Christmas magic promises Haley all she wants, will she make her wish with her head or her heart?



The Long Gone Girl of Starlight Bend ~ Erin Quinn

Kari has big plans that are about to pay off, and she doesn’t have time for tall, dark, and amazing Ty Timberlake. Ty knows he’s in trouble as soon as he meets smart, beautiful Kari. He understands her goals, but knows the rat race won’t make her happy. Kari is hell-bent on making her mark and moving onto the next challenge; Ty is determined to win her love and make her stay. As Christmas approaches, Kari begins to question what she wants. Should she stick to her plan and be long gone by the New Year, or choose the man who’s stolen her heart?



His Angel of Starlight Bend ~ Calista Fox

Anna Voss and Nick Hoffman are Starlight Bend’s star-crossed lovers. They were inseparable growing up, but destined for different paths. They haven’t seen each other in over a decade, but this Christmas, Nick returns home—with some startling surprises that turn Anna’s world upside down.

Love and desire have always burned bright between these two, but they’re both haunted by the past. Yet there’s a mystical entity working in their favor this time around—if they can open their hearts and minds to a destiny rewritten, with the help of family and a little holiday magic…



Ropin’ the Lone Cowboy of Starlight Bend ~ Mary Leo

Jolie Shepherd didn’t want to spend Christmas alone. So when she accepts an open invitation for a visit to Starlight Bend, Montana from her best friend, Jolie expects to pass most of the holiday season holed up inside a rustic cabin, not playing cowgirl with quite possibly the most adorable cowboy in the entire state. Red Weisman is a man who prefers to ride alone . . . that is until he meets Jolie Shepherd. Once they team up to grant a Christmas wish for a needy child, something magical happens between them. Now all they have to do is believe . . . but can they? 


The Grinch of Starlight Bend ~ Jennifer Probst

Noah used to be a beloved member of the Starlight Bend community, until a tragedy turns to betrayal and drives him into solitude. His face horribly scarred, he retreats to his mountain top mansion—until a stubborn social worker asks for a Christmas wish to help a sick child. He never expects to fall for the spitfire, do-gooder, but when she offers love as the solution, can he let go of the past? When Josephine convinces Noah to host a Winter Carnival, she’s intrigued by the fascinating man hiding a bruised heart. But will her love be enough for him to take a chance on a brand new future?


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Author Showcase – Lori Wilde (Cowboy, It’s Cold Outside: A Twilight, Texas Novel)

Everyone in town knows that Christmas in Twilight has a way of bringing lovers together . . . but will its magic bring this pair from “I won’t” to “I do”?

Wearing a too-tight “Santa Baby” costume held in by a double pair of Spanx, Paige MacGregor runs headlong into a gorgeous, grey-eyed hunk of a long, tall cowboy. And not just any cowboy, but country-western star Cash Colton, visiting Twilight to perform in a charity concert. Most women would melt at his feet, but Paige knows all too much about self-assured men with cocky attitudes, so she tells him to get lost.

Cash is in town, nursing his own broken heart, but Paige has knocked him off his feet. He’s convinced she’s perfect—someone to inspire his music and share his now-empty bed. True, he’s not marriage material, but he’s determined to convince her that they’re perfect together—at least for a while. But what he doesn’t count on is falling in love with the one woman who isn’t about to give him the time of day!


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Excerpt courtesy of Lori Wilde’s Website

Christmas Eve, 1997

Nashville, Tennessee


“Always remember. . .” Lorena Colton cupped her ten-year-old son’s face in her palms, and stared deeply into his eyes.

She lay propped up in the hospital bed against three hard plastic pillows, and wore a thin white gown with tiny blue squares printed on it. The room smelled of Lysol, wilting flowers, and something darker, uglier. Her skin was spaghetti-squash yellow, and her lips the color of sidewalk chalk. A tube, attached to a bag of liquid, twisted into a vein in her arm like a clear plastic snake.

“Always remember . . .”

Cash hauled in a breath, fisted his hands at his sides, and shifted his gaze to the smiling, paper Santa Claus taped to the wall above his mother’s head, and waited for her words of wisdom.

“Never fall in love.”

Granny stood at the end of the bed, a deep frown pulling her mouth down, arms folded tight over her chest. Grandpa hovered near the closed door, Stetson cocked back on his head, looking just as stony, but less certain of it.

“Love is a trap,” Lorena rasped, her lungs rattling thick and wet. “Don’t fall for it. You’re special, Cash . . .”

She paused, coughed violently into a tissue. Wheezed. Started again. “You’ve got talent. So much talent.”

A hot shiver ran through Cash, landed hard in his belly. Burst. Bloomed.

“You can be somebody.” Her voice was low, her lips cracked and dry, eyes glistening with fever. “Don’t ever let a pretty face and hot body suck you into giving up your dreams.”

“Lorena!” Granny snapped. “That’s a horrible thing to tell a child!”

Summoning the last bit of strength in her, Lorena glared at Granny. “Cash is destined for great things, but not if he lets an ordinary life trip him up. He needs to know that.”

“He needs love. Everyone needs love,” Grandpa said, stuffing his long broad hands into the pockets of his faded jeans and hunching his shoulders forward.

“Then let him love Euterpe.”

“Who the hell is Euterpe?” Grandpa looked confused.

But Cash knew. His mother had been telling him about the Muses since he was a toddler.

“Euterpe is one of the nine Greek Muses.” Lorena’s voice grew softer still, losing strength the longer she talked, flickering, fading. “Euterpe…is the goddess of music, song, and dance.”

“There’s no such thing as a Muse.” Granny moved to cover Cash’s ears with her palms. “Stop filling the boy’s head with nonsense or he’ll end up just like you.”

Cash squirmed away from Granny, perched on the edge of his mother’s bed.

“Told ya we shouldn’t have sent her to that fancy school,” Grandpa mumbled. “It gave her funny ideas.”

“You’re the one who bought her the guitar,” Granny accused.

“Falling heedlessly in love got me here.” His mother struggled to sit straight up, her eyes flashing fierce for the first time since his grandparents had brought him into the room. For a moment she was her old self again. “Not education. Not the Muses, and certainly not the guitar. Music is the only decent thing in my life. My only saving grace.”

What about me? Cash bit his thumbnail. Aren’t I decent?

“I passed it on to you, Cash.” Lorena collapsed back onto the pillows that crinkled when she landed. “The music. My talent. That’s why you can’t ever let love lead you astray. You can make it as a musician where I failed.” Her voice was thin, evaporating.

He could hardly hear her, and he leaned closer.

“You can be famous, Cash, and rich beyond your wildest dreams. Just don’t let love lead you astray. Not ever.”

“This is wrong.” Grandpa shook his head like a windmill trembling in a West Texas sandstorm. “Wrong in so many ways.”

“Hush.” Granny grabbed his elbow and pulled him aside, and said in an angry whisper, “She’s dying. Let her say what she needs to say. We can fix it later. We won’t fail him the way we failed her.”

“Pick it up.” Lorena looked at Cash and waved a wispy hand at her guitar propped in the corner. The guitar she had never let him touch.

Cash hesitated, wondering if he’d misunderstood, wondering if it was a trick. Mom could be fickle like that. Tell him to do something, and then get mad when he did.

“Go on,” she prodded.

Granny and Grandpa huddled near the door, looking as uncertain as he felt. Granny laid a restraining hand on Grandpa’s shoulder, shook her head.

Cash eased toward the guitar, and cautiously picked it up.

“It’s yours now,” his mother said. “My Christmas gift to you.”

His heart caught fire, flamed. She was giving him her Gibson? It felt wonderful and terrible at the same time. Why was she giving him her most beloved possession?

Cash frowned, chewed his bottom lip. He didn’t like this. Giving away her guitar made no sense.

No. No. A creepy feeling crawled over the back of his neck.

And yet, and yet. . . he wanted that guitar. Wanted it with every muscle, cell, and bone in his body. Wanted, yearned, craved.

His mother closed her eyes, her hands flopping to her sides as if they were too heavy for her to hold up, and her chest barely rose when she inhaled.

“Mommy?” Cash called her the name he hadn’t said since he was a toddler. These days, he mostly called her Lorena, because she asked him to. She didn’t want people thinking she was old enough to have a son his age.

“Play for me, Cashie,” she murmured without opening her eyes. “Play “Stone Free.’”

From the doorway, Grandpa snorted. Granny nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. “Wrong,” Grandpa muttered. “So wrong.”

Reverently, Cash cradled the Gibson, sat in the chair next to his mother’s bed, his fingers strumming the first notes of the Jimi Hendrix anthem to restlessness. His mother’s favorite song. The first tune she’d ever taught him to play on the cheap pawnshop guitar she’d given him for his sixth birthday.

He sang the lyrics about freedom and rebellion. Sang as if he would never have the chance to sing again. Sang with all the heart and soul he possessed.

Sang and sang and sang.

Several nurses crowded into the room, watching him with wide eyes and opened mouths. Impressed.

Cash paid them no mind. He was playing for his mother. Giving it his all. Everything. Left nothing on the table.

His fingers flew over the strings, his voice ringing out clear and certain with each guitar lick. He’d never played so masterfully.

He was the music and the music was he.

No separation. No thought. Nothing but experience.

Sound. Vibration. Rhythm.

Jimi Hendrix lived inside him, through him.

As Cash sang the last line, the last words “bye-bye baby,” Lorena—his mother, the woman he’d tried so hard to please but could never seem to make happy—smiled softly, took her last breath, and finally flew free.


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Author Showcase – Jaci Burton (Love Me By Christmas)

Ellie Washington lost her husband in a tragedy five years ago at Christmas. She wouldn’t have made it through her grief if not for her husband’s brother, Nick, who helped her pick up the pieces of her shattered life. And with every year, her feelings for Nick have grown. Now she realizes she might be in love with him, but that’s not fair, because Nick deserves a life that isn’t about his brother’s widow and son.

Sharing his life with Ellie and her son has been the balm that soothed Nick’s soul after losing his brother. Now that friendship has turned into something deeper. Nick doesn’t want to upset the status quo, but someone has to make the first move, and it’s time they figure out if their feelings are real. Nick believes in what they have. He also believes in Christmas miracles, and he thinks they’re both long overdue for one.


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Chapter One courtesy of Jaci Burton’s website

“Do you want me to bring the Christmas decorations down from the attic?”

Ellie Washington tensed. She hated this time of year. And even though it would be five years this holiday season, she still missed her husband, John.

She turned to John’s older brother, Nick, and forced a smile. “I guess. Sure.”

Nick leaned against the kitchen counter. In many ways he resembled John. Tall, lean, dark good looks. But John had been her sweet, button-down shirt and khaki pants nerd—a financial planner by trade who’d worn the same look at home.

Nick was a grease monkey, an auto mechanic who owned a shop a few miles from his house. He wore jeans and T-shirts that were often smudged and dirty. His black hair was always a bit too long, and his eyes were a sea blue, whereas John had had green eyes.

She missed John’s eyes, that way they used to crinkle at the corners when he laughed.

Still stuck in the past, Ellie. Five years later, you’re still thinking about John.

Time to move on.

She knew it, and yet she still felt…stuck. As if she couldn’t quite find that joy that used to be hers.

Especially at the holidays, which was always tough.

But this year was going to be different.

“Hey, Ellie. You listening?”

She blinked, lost in the memories. “Sorry. What?”

“I said I thought maybe we’d take Henry and get a tree this weekend.”

Her stomach knotted. John had died at Christmastime five years ago. Henry had been growing in her belly and they’d stood in front of the tree, John rubbing her belly bump and the two of them dreaming about the following year, when there would be a new baby in their house.

And then her husband had died and her life had gone to hell. It had taken her a long time to get over that, to be able to function again as a living, breathing human.

She thought she was doing pretty damn well at the functioning part. The living part? Maybe not so much.

Nick came over and pulled her against him. “You’re thinking about John.”

He always seemed to know her so well, knew her moods and even her reflective moments. That came from spending so much time together over the past five years.

She looked up at him. “Yes.”

He rubbed her back. “We can put off the tree and the decorations if you want.”

She pulled away. “Nope. We can’t. Henry loves Christmas. You love Christmas, probably even more than Henry does. I’ll get into it once all the decorations are up just like I always do.”

He tipped her chin back with his fingers. “Like you always do?”

She let her lips lift, just a little. “Okay, buddy. Maybe I’m not all that jolly this time of year, but I’m working on it.

And if she wasn’t all gung ho about Christmas, okay, so maybe she was still a work in progress there. Her husband had died in a fire on Christmas Eve when she’d been at work. John, exhausted and overworked, had fallen asleep. Faulty wiring had sparked a fire in their old house and he’d died from smoke inhalation.

“So…what do you think this year?” Nick asked. “A noble fir?”

She shook herself out of the bad memories. Bad memories were for the past, and she refused to live in the past anymore. “That sounds great.”

Nick picked up his phone. “We could go today. There’s still plenty of time before it gets dark.”

“Or we could wait until tomorrow.”

Nick cracked a smile. “Yeah, because why do something today we could do tomorrow instead? Especially something you don’t really want to do, right?”

He gave her that look that told her he knew her all too well. And of course he did.

“Maybe we could wait a few days?” She cast him a hopeful look.

He responded with his signature smile. “Sure.”

She wouldn’t let him see the relief that swept through her. Instead, she offered up a smile. “Thanks, Nick.”

“Hey, no big deal.”

“It is a big deal. You have no idea how much everything you’ve done for me, and for Henry, has meant to me.”

“Whoa. Where did that come from? And no thanks is necessary, Ellie. You’re family.”

Family. Yeah, that’s what they were to each other. But they were also so much more. At least now. Back then when John died, they’d been each other’s saviors.

She’d moved into his house five years ago. She’d had nowhere else to go. She didn’t have family. When she’d married John, his family had become her family. And after the fire, it had been Nick who’d taken her in and become her lifeline.

She hadn’t meant to stay at Nick’s house this long. But she’d been five months pregnant with Henry when John had died, and finding a new place to live had been impossible at that time. Then she’d given birth and Henry had been an infant and Nick had told her he had three bedrooms and there was no hurry.

His place was perfect, a one-story brick house near the hospital in St. Louis where she worked as a labor and delivery nurse. She’d settled in with Henry and had felt safe and comfortable.

Then safe and comfortable had become routine for all of them.

Now Henry was four and he loved his uncle Nick. He had his own room and Nick had wired model airplanes to soar on the ceiling. They’d painted the room a bright blue, and he had a four-drawer dresser and oversized wooden box that Nick had made for all of Henry’s toys, plus a nice twin bed next to the window that looked out over the huge backyard.

Her room was nice, too. It was spacious with a queen bed and a beautiful quilt plus a lovely sitting area where she could read. It had a connecting bathroom that she shared with Henry, which was perfect in case Henry wasn’t feeling well or she needed to check on him. It also gave her privacy and a separation from Nick, which Nick thought was important.

In the beginning she hadn’t been thinking much of anything other than basic survival. But after a while she’d seen its merits. Plus the room had a walk-in closet, which worked perfect for her. Not that she had a lot of clothes. She had her scrubs, her jeans, and basic tops. It wasn’t like she went out on dates or anything.

Ugh. Dates. Just the thought of it, of going out with anyone who wasn’t Nick…

Not that she was going to go out on a date with Nick. Because he’d never asked her. Not that she hadn’t thought about it once or twice or a hundred times in the past year or two.

The change had been subtle. First, he’d been her brother-in-law and nothing more. And then, there were these chemical signals, like running into him in the hall while he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and she found her gaze lingering. At the time, she’d thought she should probably look away. Only she hadn’t looked away.

It was at that point she’d realized she needed to start living again. She’d noticed Nick as a man. A hot, living, breathing man. It was time.

“Let’s go out tonight.”

She blinked, feeling like she’d been caught fantasizing about Nick. Had she been staring at him? She wasn’t sure. She looked over at him. “What?”

“Henry mentioned pizza before I dropped him off at Oscar’s for his playdate. What do you think?”


Nick cocked his head to the side and smirked. “Pizza, Ellie.”

Shake it off, Ellie.

She cocked her head to the side and gave Nick the once-over. Despite the hotness factor, of which he had an ample amount, the dude was looking a little shaggy.

“You need a haircut.”

He dragged his fingers through the unruly thickness of his dark hair. “No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do. If it gets any longer, I’ll be able to put it up with one of my ponytail holders.”

“Bullshit. It’s not that long.”

“It is, too. At least a trim.”

“We have to go pick up Henry.”

She lifted her phone out of her pocket to check the time. “Not for another half hour, which gives me plenty of time to trim your hair.”

“I hate haircuts.”

“I know. But you can let me trim it, then we’ll go get pizza. Now sit.”

He sighed. “Is this a torture/reward kind of thing?”

She shrugged. “If you want to look at it like that, fine. But you’re getting a haircut, and then we’ll get pizza.”

“Fine. But not too short.”

She smiled as she went to one of the drawers in the kitchen to pull out her hair-cutting scissors. “Of course not. I wouldn’t want to ruin your rock star good looks.”

He’d taken a seat at the kitchen table, so he tilted his head back until she could see the twinkle in his eyes. “So…you think I look like a rock star, huh?”

She grabbed a kitchen towel and draped it over his shoulders. “Yes. Shaggy and unkempt.”

She dragged her fingers through the thick softness of his hair, and for a moment she wanted to linger. The thought of it gave her pause.

She’d cut Nick’s hair countless times and not once had she ever thought about how it felt in her hands. The softness of it, or how her fingers tingled as she sifted the strands through them.

Softness? Tingles?

She paused. What was that all about?

“Don’t cut too much. Seriously. I hate short haircuts.”

Her lips curved. “You know, for a guy who never complains about anything, you sure are picky about your hair.”

“My hair is magic, Ellie.”

She rolled her eyes. “Right. And I have unicorn eyelashes.”

He tilted his head back and looked at her face. “I knew there was something special about those long lashes of yours. Bet your hair is made from pixie dust, too, isn’t it?”

He picked up a strand of her hair and sifted it through his fingers, and maybe he lingered just a little longer than was usual when he teased her.

She felt that zing of attraction.

This flirting was killing her. Or was she reading something into it that wasn’t there?

Yeah, she definitely had to shake it off.

“And here I thought maybe it was your hair that was made of pixie dust, the way you fuss over it.”

He laughed and the deep, gravelly sound of it shot right through all the feminine parts of her that had lain dormant for the past five years.

“No way. My hair is made from ancient Thor and Hulk follicles.”

She paused and stepped around to stare at him. “Yeah? And where do you find those?”


She snorted out a laugh, then went back to focusing on the task at hand.

“I like you better with your hair a little longer,” she said.

He tilted his head back and gave her that signature smile of his, the one where one side of his mouth lifted. “Aha. See? You do think I look like a rock star.”

Now it was her turn to laugh. “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

She shook her head and finished the trim, then grabbed the comb, though it wouldn’t do any good. Nick’s hair just fell naturally into place whichever way it wanted to. And typically whatever way it wanted to fall was still pretty darned hot.


He got up and shook his head. “Thanks. And you’re right. It does feel better having a little of that length cut away.”

“Plus you look much better.” She swept some of the hair away from his face, her body once again tingling in response to touching him.

What. The. Hell. Is. Going. On. With. You. Ellie?

She had no idea, but she quickly snatched her hand away. “Yup. Looks fine.”

“Good. I’m gonna go shower and wash away the motor oil smell from work today. Then we’ll head out.”

She wouldn’t tell him she liked that motor oil smell on him. He’d think it was weird. Or kinky. Or something.

Oh, my God what is wrong with you? Now you’re turned on by his motor oil scent?

She was most definitely not turned on. His scent was just familiar to her, which made Nick comfortable to her.

Not hot or sexy or anything.

Stop thinking about Nick like that.

When he left, she exhaled, exhausted by her body’s responses and her utterly bizarre thoughts. She grabbed the broom to sweep up the hair on the floor. After she finished, she went into her bathroom to check herself in the mirror.

Her face was flushed, and since it was early December, it wasn’t because of the heat. She washed her face, then brushed her hair. On impulse, she applied makeup and lip gloss, realizing as soon as she’d done it that it was ridiculous because she never thought about those things when she was hanging out with her son and with Nick.

So why are you doing it now?

She had no answer for that, but since she’d already done it, there was no undoing it.

It was just pizza night with Nick and Henry and nothing more. As for her reactions to Nick, well, she had no answers for what had happened.

Maybe it was time to start thinking about herself as a woman again. And maybe her body was pushing her in that direction.

But not with Nick. Nick was John’s brother. And her friend. Her lifesaver.

And something—anything—with Nick could never happen.


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Author Showcase – Debbie Mason (Sugarplum Way)

Romance writer Julia Landon knows how to write a happily-ever-after. Creating one for herself is a whole different story. But after a surprising–and surprisingly passionate–kiss under the mistletoe at Harmony Harbor’s holiday party last year, Julia thought she might have finally found her very own chance at true love. Until she learns her Mr. Tall, Dark, and Broodingly Handsome has sworn off relationships. Well, if she can’t have him in real life, Julia knows just how to get the next best thing….
Aidan’s only priority is to be the best single dad ever. And this year, he plans to make the holidays magical for his little girl, Ella Rose. But visions of stolen kisses under the mistletoe keep dancing in his head, and when he finds out Julia has written him into her latest novel, he can’t help imagining the possibilities of a future together. Little does he know, though, Julia has been keeping a secret that threatens all their dreams. Luckily, ’tis the season for a little Christmas magic.


(courtesy of Debbie Mason’s Website


With each frantic beat of my heart, Adrian’s name echoes in my mind. I have to reach him before he discovers my secret. As I race across the ice-crusted meadow, my breath forms small, frosted clouds in the frigid, moonlit night. My throat, my chest, my legs, everything aches but I can’t stop until I reach the white castle by the turquoise sea. Adrian is there, waiting for me. He needs to hear this from me and no one else. If he. . .

A loud buzzing sound pulled Julia Landon out of the scene she was writing and onto the hard chair behind her desk in her cramped, one-bedroom apartment. She gave her head a slight shake to free herself from the grip of her heroine’s emotions and reached for the Santa timer that danced on top of her narrow desk.

Julia’s timers had saved her butt in the past, and this was no exception. Although it didn’t feel that way at the moment because her secret crush still filled the pages of her book for all the world to see.

She turned off Santa, set him on the crowded shelf above her desk, and replaced him with a turkey. Julia had forty-eight timers in her collection, and she had a sinking feeling she’d use each and every one of them before she sent off Warrior’s Touch to her editor. Her manuscript was due tomorrow at nine a.m. sharp. And unless things had changed while she was running through a meadow on a moonlit night in the Emerald Isle, there were still just twenty-four hours in a day.

Which was where the trouble all began. She’d mistakenly assumed she’d be granted a three-day reprieve due to the Thanksgiving holiday, only to discover that New York editors rarely took time off.

Asking for an extension was out of the question. She’d blown through one deadline already. If she blew through another one, she was afraid her editor would write her off as an unprofessional one-hit wonder and cancel the contract, ruining Julia’s chance of making her dream come true.

Back in June, she’d published the first book in the Warrior trilogy, Warrior’s Kiss, on her own. It had taken off almost immediately, exceeding her wildest expectations. Reader support had been phenomenal, and the extra money had come in the nick of time. Sales were down at her bookstore—Books and Beans—and fulfilling her vow to her late fiancé was costly.

But as much as the digital success of Warrior’s Kiss had been mind-boggling in the happiest of mind-boggling ways, Julia’s dream was to see her books sitting on the same shelves as the authors she adored.

The added benefit, which was almost as important, was the hope that the four alpha males in her life—her father and three older brothers—would believe that seeing her in bookstores across the land meant they no longer had to worry about her, that she had what it took to support herself.

Maybe then every phone call home wouldn’t begin and end with her father and brothers exhorting her to move back to Texas so they could look after her—folding her like a burrito in bubble wrap to ensure she wouldn’t get hurt or have her heart broken again.

Honestly, it felt like she’d been trying to prove herself to them her entire grown-up life. If opening Books and Beans hadn’t convinced them she could manage on her own, she didn’t know why she thought being published would. No doubt her brothers would tell her it was her magical thinking at work again. To her mind, there was nothing magical or wrong with being hopeful.

If she hadn’t held onto the hope that things would get better these past couple of years, she didn’t know where she’d be. Maybe cast adrift on a turquoise sea. She wished she didn’t care what everyone thought about her, but sometimes it felt like she’d been born with an extra people-pleasing gene.

Emmeline, Julia’s mother, would have been over the moon for her. The former actress would have held Texas-sized celebrations the day Julia had finished her first book at eighteen, the day she’d received her first non-form rejection letter at twenty-eight, and the day Warrior’s Kiss hit number sixteen on the USA Today bestseller list a week before Julia’s thirty-second birthday.

Every step of the way, every small victory and minor defeat, her mother would have been there cheering her on. Even though Emmeline had died when Julia was twelve, she believed her mother held parties for her in heaven.

Julia paid tribute to Emmeline in each and every book she wrote. In the Warrior’s trilogy, an Urban Fantasy set in Ireland, her mother was the inspiration for the White Witch. In a way, it was like bringing her back to life. The White Witch looked, acted, and dressed exactly like Emmeline once had.

Julia refocused on the computer screen. She’d been a finger press away from deleting the last three chapters when Santa shook his booty and brought her back to reality. Sometimes reality sucked. Because no matter how much she wanted to, there was no way she could kill off Adrian Greystone, the trilogy’s hero. He was the book boyfriend that readers lusted after and the reason they were clamoring for more.

Including Julia’s friend Olivia, who had finished Warrior’s Kiss a few weeks earlier. But unlike Adrian Greystone’s other fans, Olivia had told her that she was uncomfortable lusting after the fictional hero. And it had nothing to do with her friend being a married woman. Olivia said it was because Adrian reminded her of her brother-in-law Aidan Gallagher.

All too clearly, Julia recalled the knowing look Olivia had given her that morning in the bookstore. She’d brushed off Olivia’s silent insinuation with a laugh before making an excuse to run up to her apartment above the bookstore. She’d taken the back stairs two at a time to check for herself.

The evidence was overwhelming. From his physical description to his badass demeanor to his name. Adrian alone may not have raised eyebrows, but then Julia had made the fatal mistake of using Greystone as his surname. Greystone Manor, the fairy-tale castle standing sentry over the town of Harmony Harbor, was the Gallagher family’s home as well as a hotel.

Julia knew exactly where to lay the blame. It was because of that one kiss they shared under the mistletoe last Christmas at the manor. Given the length of time Aidan’s mouth had been on hers, it probably wouldn’t even qualify as a kiss—more like a peck. He hadn’t known her, and she hadn’t known him, and Kitty Gallagher had been standing right there with a twinkle in her eyes demanding they take advantage of the long-standing tradition or risk a lifetime of bad luck.

Since Julia had suffered enough bad luck at that point, she wasn’t willing to take a chance she’d have to live through decades more. Beside that, Aidan was big and beautiful, and at that moment, she’d needed something big and beautiful to distract her. But she should have risked a lifetime of bad luck.

Because while the kiss was merely a brief touch of his firm lips upon hers, it had an earth-shattering effect on Julia. She’d felt like she’d been transported to another place and time, as if she were dancing among the stars. And when she looked into Aidan’s extraordinary blue eyes, something inside her clicked into place. She’d known then that she’d found him. Her soulmate. Her one true love. In her head, she could almost hear her brothers groaning at the idea she’d discovered her true love after sharing only one kiss.

But they’d be happy to know that thoughts of tall, handsome princes and fairytale endings had vanished the second the Gallagher matriarch had introduced the two. Aidan Gallagher would never be the man of Julia’s dreams. He couldn’t be. Because if he ever found out why she’d taken on the job of the Gallaghers’ fairy godmother, he’d have her thrown in jail and would instruct them to lose the key.

Oddly enough though, she’d begun writing Warrior’s Kiss months before she’d met Aidan. But it wasn’t until he’d kissed her under the mistletoe that the story took on a life of its own and her hero, Adrian Greystone, came fully alive.

As much as Julia knew a relationship between her and Aidan could never be, it didn’t stop her from living vicariously through her heroine and embarking on a love affair to end all love affairs with Adrian Greystone.

Within hours of discovering that Olivia was right and that Julia had exposed her secret crush for all the world to see, she’d developed a debilitating case of writer’s block. Every time she sat at her desk, her brain would freeze and her fingers would seize and her first deadline flew by. And now here she was again, staring another deadline in the eyes.

As she saw it, she had three choices. One, get the manuscript to her editor on time and take the risk that someone other than Olivia—who’d been sworn to secrecy—discovered that Julia was author J.L. Winters. Two, kill off her hero and risk alienating both her readers and her new publisher. Three, ask for an extension and risk the possibility of being dropped by her editor.

Deciding the risk was worth it, she went with number three and brought up a new file on the screen. As she worked on a believable way to disguise Adrian’s resemblance to Aidan, she noticed wisps of smoke floating past her. It always amazed her how quickly the real world faded away and she stepped into her imaginary one, but this was downright freaky. Never before had she. . .

The sound of the smoke detector beeping and the voice inside it repeatedly saying fire cut off the thought.

Her head snapped up, and her gaze shot around her apartment, searching for the smoke’s source. She made out the Christmas tree in the corner of her living room, its colorful miniature lights twinkling through the fog. If it wasn’t the tree . . .The bookstore! She jumped from the chair.

And that’s when the smell of burning cookies invaded her nostrils.

Her Santa timer hadn’t gone off to remind her to get up and shake her booty; it was to remind her that her contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was ready to come out of the oven!

Frantically, she searched for her cell phone on her cluttered desk, around the boxes of Christmas decorations she’d yet to unpack on the floor, and the clothes on the couch that she’d forgotten to put away. Her cell phone was nowhere to be found.

And her overprotective father, who was more overprotective than most fathers of daughters because he was a sheriff, had ordered and installed a state-of-the-art alarm system the last time he’d visited. As soon as the smoke detector went off, Julia had four minutes to call the company and report a false alarm or the Harmony Harbor fire trucks would be on their way, sirens wailing.

Just like they had last month.

* * *

Julia walked down the narrow, smoke-filled stairway from her apartment to the bookstore with a fishbowl in her arms while apologizing for a second time to the fire chief. The sixty-something man with a full head of silver hair bore a striking resemblance to Paul Newman, right down to his blue eyes that appeared to be glinting with amusement as he held open the door leading into her store.

“I really am sorry, Mr. Gallagher. From now on, I’ll make sure I have my phone on me before I put anything in the oven.”

He scratched his chin, obviously fighting back a grin. “Colin, remember? And if I’m not mistaken, last time you were making spaghetti sauce and the time before that it was oatmeal. So let’s make a deal. You don’t use the stove or oven until you’re fully awake, okay?”

She typically started her day at five a.m. to get in her word count before opening the store. But it wasn’t like she could tell him she set things on fire because she disappeared into her make-believe world, so she’d told him she fell back to sleep. She’d used the excuse so often that he probably thought she had narcolepsy.

“I think I’ll give up cooking altogether,” she said as she placed the fishbowl on a low table in the children’s section. Her worry that Ariel and Erik had been affected by the smoke in her apartment was alleviated when they began swimming around. But while she could set aside her concern over her goldfish, she had another worry to contend with. . . “My dad didn’t happen to have the alarm system wired so that he gets notified too, did he? Like a three-strikes kind of thing?”

“Not that I know of,” Colin said, no longer holding back a grin. He was giving her a smile that she was unfortunately familiar with. It was the same smile people got on their faces just before they pinched her cheeks. She’d known a lot of cheek pinchers in her thirty-two years.

“He didn’t tell you to call him if my alarm went off, did he?” She made a mental note to ask Paul Benson, the chief of police, the same question. She’d forgotten her pass code and set off the intruder alarm last Sunday when she came back from a walk. In her defense, it was a new password. She’d had to change it when . . . she forgot it the last time. She needed to think about using one password for everything.

“No, he didn’t, but your oldest brother did.” At her groan, Colin added, “Don’t worry. I won’t call unless it’s for something other than a false alarm. You should be glad they worry about you like they do, honey. It shows how much they care.”

Of course he’d side with the men in her family. Just like her father and brothers were the to-serve-and-protect Landons, Colin and his sons were the to-serve-and-protect Gallaghers.

There was one big difference though. Her family got an extra Texas-size helping of alpha which made them way more annoying than the Gallaghers. Thinking back to her interactions with Aidan Gallagher this past summer, she revised that thought. He was the a in alpha and annoying.

“I know they do, and I love them too. I just wish they’d remember I’m thirty-two and not fifteen.”

Colin looked down at her feet, and his lips twitched. She followed his gaze. She had on a cozy red plaid onesie with fake fur lining the hood and reindeer slippers on her feet. She shrugged, smiling up at him. “What can I say? I love Christmas.”

“No one would argue with you there. That’s quite the plan you’ve come up with for decorating Main Street. I got a look at it yesterday.”

“Do you think it’s too much? I made sure there was enough room for the firetrucks to pass under the lights and garland.” It was her first year as head of Harmony Harbor’s Christmas committee, and she wanted to do a good job.

“It’s ambitious, that’s for sure.”

“If you think I’m being ambitious, you should see what they’re doing in Bridgeport. It’s important that we keep up, you know? For the manor’s sake.” Bridgeport was the town adjacent to Harmony Harbor and was the home to Greystone Manor’s biggest competitor.

Which was the reason Julia had volunteered to head up the committee despite having a bookstore and coffeeshop to run and a book to write. Now that she thought about it, it was no wonder she couldn’t keep the code for her alarm straight. But it’s not like she had a choice. Greystone played an important role in ensuring the Gallagher family’s happiness. A job Julia’s late fiancé, Josh Winters, had tasked her with, and one she feared that if she failed, he’d never rest in peace.

“So my mother and the Widows Club keep reminding me,” Colin responded to her keeping up with the Jones comment, or in this case the town of Bridgeport. “Don’t worry, I approved the plan. A few of the boys have volunteered to give you a hand on Sunday. I’ll e-mail you their contact information.”

She hoped his second oldest son wasn’t one of them. “That’s great, thank you. Now we just have to pray that Mrs. Bradford doesn’t try and file another injunction against us.”

The seventy-something woman’s husband owned the local bank and had chaired the Christmas committee for the past twenty years. She wasn’t happy that she’d been replaced by Julia, and she’d made her unhappiness known by taking the town to court for wrongful dismissal. The case had been thrown out of course, but Mrs. Bradford still managed to put them two weeks behind in their decorating schedule.

“She won’t try again. Not with the Widows Club threatening to close their accounts at the bank if she does.” His radio crackled. “I better get going. Give your apartment an hour to air out before you go back up.”

She followed him through the bookstore and the small coffee bar to the front door. “Thanks so much for coming so quickly. I’m just sorry it was for another false alarm.” She wrinkled her nose. “Umm, not that I wanted it to be a real fire, just that . . . well, you know what I mean.”

He laughed and patted her cheek. “You’re welcome. Happy Thanksgiving, honey.”

She held back a heartfelt sigh. Colin Gallagher was the nicest man, and so handsome too. After everything he’d lost, he deserved the happiest of happy ever afters. She was glad that she’d played a small role in helping him achieve it. “You have a happy Thanksgiving too. Say hi to Maggie for me and tell her two o’clock Sunday is fine.”

Julia smiled at the thought that all her scheming and plotting to get Maggie and Colin together had finally paid off. She’d spent most of the fall maneuvering the couple into chance meetings all around town.

Her smile fell at the look that came over Colin’s face. It was not the look of a man who’d just heard the name of the woman he loved. He looked like a man hearing the name of the woman he’d just dumped. Again.

He shifted on his booted feet. “The thing is, Maggie and I . . . Maybe you should just call and let her know the time yourself.”

The bell above the door tinkled as Colin said goodbye and closed it behind him. Through the frosted glass, she watched him get into the firetruck. She didn’t understand it. The man was brave, heroic even. Every day he put himself in danger on the job and had been doing so for more than thirty-five years. But when it came to opening his heart to love again, he got cold feet. This was the second time he’d bailed on poor Maggie. As far as Julia was concerned it would be the last, because one way or another she was getting the couple together for good.

The Gallaghers’ happiness had been her priority, her mission, for eighty-four plus weeks. And as much as she wanted Josh to rest in peace, she wanted to hang up her fairy godmother wings and move on with her life. Being responsible for someone else’s happiness—make that five someone’s—was a heavy burden to bear.

She’d hoped by helping the Gallaghers achieve theirs, she’d find her own. Weighed down as she was by guilt, true happiness had been an elusive thing these past few years. She was ready to change that. Her goal had been to hang up her wings on New Year’s Eve. She’d been thrilled when it looked like she’d achieved her objective months before her self-imposed deadline. Now here she was strapping her wings back on with only five weeks until the ball dropped.

Disappointment and a small dose of self pity caused her stomach to head for her toes as slowly as that big old ball in Time’s Square. But before she managed to sink even a foot into despair, Julia reminded herself of something her mother used to say Nothing is impossible; the word itself says “I’m possible.”

A few years ago, she’d discovered her mother had borrowed the line from Audrey Hepburn. Julia decided she’d borrow some of that positive thinking for herself today. The odds of accomplishing her goal by New Year’s Eve wasn’t impossible or insurmountable. After all, she had only Colin left. And whether he’d admit it or not, he was in love with Maggie. Everyone in town knew it . . . Obviously he didn’t, or at the very least, he was a pro at denying his feelings.

Another small flicker of doubt crept up on her at the thought that Colin’s fear of loving again might be stronger than Julia’s matchmaking skills. But like before, she brushed those pesky worries aside. This time with the reminder that she had four successes to her name—Colin’s sons. Finn, Griffin, and Liam were all happily married, and Julia credited herself with playing a small role in helping them achieve their dreams.

Their brother Aidan’s dream hadn’t included a wife, for which Julia would be eternally grateful. And it had nothing to do with her secret crush on the man. Tall, dark, and dangerous had destroyed any tender feelings Julia might have had for him last summer. Up until then, she thought he was a prince among men. But he’d turned out to be a beast. In good conscience, she couldn’t match him with any of her friends.

So yes, she’d been relieved to learn that what Aidan wanted most was a job. The former DEA agent had moved home to Harmony Harbor in order to prove to a judge that he could provide a stable environment for his six-year-old daughter. But he’d needed a job to do that.

So, in true fairy godmother fashion, she’d finally managed to convince Paul, the chief of police, to hire Aidan at HHPD three weeks ago. She’d even been able to conclude her assignment without any direct contact with Aidan. Not an easy feat in Harmony Harbor. In her book, that made it a win all around.

As long as she didn’t think about Paul who apparently thought they were an item. Because while she didn’t have to interact with Aidan to make his wishes come true, she’d had to interact with his boss-to-be to get him the job. Interact as in date him. Three dates to be exact.

She didn’t have time to worry about Paul now. If she planned to be fairy wing-free by New Year’s Eve, she had work to do and no time to lose. She turned to look over her bookstore, and a plan formulated in her mind. One that would require a pre-dawn visit to Maggie’s house on Breakwater Way.

There was just one teensy problem with her plan. Detective Aidan Gallagher was staying in his childhood home across from Maggie’s. But surely it was early enough that he was still in bed dreaming of sugarplums. She snorted at the thought of anything sweet entering Aidan Gallagher’s dreams. He’d probably shoot it if it did.




Other books in the Harmony Harbor series:
Sandpiper Shore – TBA

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