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Author Showcase – Jaci Burton (The Matchmaker’s Mistletoe Mission)

New York Times bestselling author Jaci Burton celebrates the gift of love and the holiday season with a snowy Christmas wedding at the Bellini family vineyard.

Stranded at the Red Moss Vineyard a week before her best friend’s wedding, LA native and professional matchmaker Alice Weatherford is not pleased with her first trip to Oklahoma, or the epic snowstorm forcing her to stay. So much for Christmas cheer. What she needs is a project, something to distract her…and, oh, has she found one in neighboring rancher Clay Henry. Gorgeous, charming, and unlike any other man she’s ever met, finding the right woman for Clay should be easy….

Having grown up with the Bellini sisters, it’s no hardship for Clay to ride out the storm at their cozy family vineyard, especially since that means spending time with their savvy and smart houseguest. But despite Alice’s best efforts, he’s not the least bit interested in her matchmaking….

Alice is the only woman Clay wants. Now he just has to convince the matchmaker herself to give love a chance.

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Excerpt courtesy of Jaci Burton’s website

 

Alice Weatherford pulled her rental car into a parking space at the Red Moss Vineyards.

Talk about off the beaten path. This was her first trip to Oklahoma. As an LA native, her travels tended to be more coastal in nature, and her desires were definitely more exotic. She’d been to Hawaii, Fiji, the Caribbean, the Azores, Greece, so many places.

She had to admit she’d had preconceived notions when her best friend Lainie had started dating Jeff, an Oklahoma native. Even though Lainie had raved about Oklahoma City, Alice had had a hard time imagining it as a happening place. Then when Lainie and Jeff had gotten engaged and decided to get married at the vineyard about twenty miles outside the city, all Alice could think about were the amazing vineyards in Napa and Sonoma and what a wasted opportunity it would be not to have the wedding in California.

But as she got out of her car and took in the beautiful scenery in the middle of December, she was impressed. Rolling hills and tall trees adorned the landscape, along with rows upon rows of grapevines. In the not-too-far distance she spotted a picturesque pergola overlooking a lake, and could already envision Lainie and Jeff’s wedding next weekend. Besides, it was Lainie’s wedding, not hers, and Lainie could get married anywhere she wanted. Lainie loved Jeff, and if she wanted to get hitched in his home state, more power to her. Alice just wanted her best friend to be happy.

She only hoped the weather would be better next weekend than it was right now. Once she’d picked up her rental car and left the airport, it had started to snow, something they didn’t see much of in Los Angeles. Hardly ever, for that matter. She pulled her cardigan tightly around her, wishing she had bought a better coat than the thin wool one she’d picked up before leaving LA. The coat that was currently residing in her suitcase because she was an idiot. The wind whipped around her, slapping tendrils of her hair against her cheeks and making her quicken her pace.

She headed up the stairs of a large, beautiful wood-framed house that was decorated with bright white Christmas lights. A welcome sign with a friendly snowman waving at her adorned the door, making her smile. Hanging on the wall next to the door was a wreath that had been made from twisted branches and decorated with red berries, green leaves and a beautiful red bow. She rang the bell, already starting to shiver. She half turned to see that the snow was coming down even harder now.

Uh-oh. This could be bad. Very bad. Then again, maybe it was just flurries. How would she even know? She’d never been in a snowstorm before. She always planned her trips to coincide with nice weather.

Leave it to Lainie to decide on a Christmas-themed wedding. And she wasn’t even here yet, and wouldn’t arrive until next Thursday. As a pharmaceutical sales rep, Lainie was constantly on the go. And since Jeff was a doctor, the two of them led extremely busy lives. In fact, Lainie was currently managing a team of her own reps and attending a seminar in Portland this week. Jeff was an orthopedic surgeon and always buried in work. Because they were both taking off time for the wedding and their honeymoon in Greece after, they wanted to work as long as possible up to the wedding. Which meant it was up to Alice to fly on ahead and make sure all the preparations were made before the wedding.

Which Alice didn’t mind at all. Her job was a lot more flexible. She was planning to stay in a hotel in Oklahoma City and do some work. A change of scenery was always a good idea. Plus, she might make some contacts here. Maybe pick up some new business.

The door opened, and a beautiful woman with raven hair pulled up into a ponytail smiled at her. “Hello. You must be Alice. I’m Erin Bellini. Please come in.”

“Thanks.” Alice stepped in and shook the snow off her shoulders and hair.

“This snow is extremely unexpected.”

Alice looked out the window next to the door, and she could swear it was coming down even harder than when she’d arrived. In fact, the windshield of her car was already covered with it. “Do you think it’ll last long?”

Erin closed the door behind her. “The forecast calls for six inches, so it might last a while. You’re probably cold. Come on into the family room, and I’ll make you some tea or coffee.”

“Thank you.” She followed Erin into a beautifully decorated room with arched windows surrounded by dark wood and a fireplace that crackled with a roaring fire. She already felt so much warmer. Next to the fire was the biggest Christmas tree Alice had ever seen, decorated with silver and gold balls, white twinkling lights and red ribbon. That tree had to be ten feet tall.

There was plenty of room for it since the room had a ceiling that seemed to go on forever. This house was huge. Alice hoped she’d have a chance to explore it.

“Take a seat by the fire,” Erin said. “Would you like coffee or tea?”

“Coffee would be great, thank you. Decaf if you have it.”

“I do. I’ll be right back. Please make yourself at home.”

She set her bag next to the chair and sat, pulling out her phone. She had several text messages—one from Lainie, of course. She replied to that one to let her best friend know she’d arrived. She left off the fact that large flakes were coming down like snowmageddon, figuring that worrying Lainie wouldn’t do the already nervous bride-to-be any good. Then she let Lainie know she’d call her tonight with a more detailed update.

She answered the other text messages, mostly from anxious clients, assuaging their fears. She had a few e-mails to answer, but she could handle those later.

“Here you go.” Erin returned with a tray that she placed on the table between the two chairs. She poured coffee into both cups. Erin had also brought cream and sugar, so Alice put a little cream into her cup and lifted it to her lips.

Mmm. Delicious. “Thank you for this, Erin. I’m sorry to be a burden.”

Erin held her own mug between her hands. “Nonsense. We’re happy to have you here. My sister, Honor, actually handles the wedding portion of the business, but she’s out right now. As soon as she comes back, she can tell you all the details of the wedding.”

“Of course. And what do you do?”

“I’m the business manager. Since the family handles both the vineyard and weddings, I manage the business side of both.”

“That’s a big job.”

“It is, but I love it. My other sister, Brenna, works with my dad at the vineyard.”

Alice smiled. “How ideal. So all three of you are involved in the family business in some way.”

“Yes, it just worked out that way. Our mother helps me manage the family business as a whole entity. She’s the accountant in the family. I went to college to get a business degree, planning to run off and do anything but be involved in Bellini business.”
 
“But?”

Erin smiled. “After I graduated, I could see how being part of the family business had its benefits. I couldn’t wait to dig in and make the operation flow more smoothly.”

“Plus, you already knew how things worked, right?”

“Exactly. What do you do, Alice?”

“I’m a matchmaker.”

Erin’s eyes widened. “No kidding. That must be so fun, helping people fall in love.”

Alice had noticed the big, beautiful diamond on Erin’s ring finger right off. “It’s an amazing job. But I see you need no help in that department.”

Erin laughed. “No, fortunately. I’m engaged, and I’ll be getting married next spring.”

“Here at the vineyard, I assume?”

“Yes, of course. Plans are in full swing.”

“Congratulations. I’m sure you’re very excited.”

“Thank you. And yes, I am.”

“I’m so sorry I’m late.” A beautiful brunette rushed in, brushing snow off her hair as she did. She held out her hand. “You must be Alice. I’m Honor Bellini. I got waylaid by traffic and then this snow. It’s very unexpected.”

“Nice to meet you, Honor,” Alice said, shaking her hand. “I guess no one was expecting this amount of snow.”

“Initially, they predicted a couple of inches. This morning they changed it to six inches. I heard on my way here it might end up being a foot.”

“A foot, really?” Erin said. “Wow. We normally don’t get much snow at all.”

“Will it affect your vineyards?”

Honor shook her head. “Dad is bringing the warmers out just in case, but the vines are dormant this time of year, so we should be okay.”

Alice was relieved to hear that, not only for the vineyard, but also for the wedding next weekend. The last thing Lainie needed was a pre-wedding catastrophe at the venue.

“You probably want to go over everything for your friend’s wedding,” Honor said.

“I can wait. Take some time to catch your breath first.”

“Oh, I’m good. I’m used to running a hundred miles a minute.”

“This is true, she is,” Erin said, standing.

Honor looked at her phone. “Actually, we should eat before we get down to details. Everyone comes in for lunch, so you’ll get a chance to meet the family.”

“I don’t want to intrude.”

“Nonsense. We always end up with extras at lunch.”

“She’s right,” Erin said. “I hadn’t even realized it was lunchtime. That explains why my stomach is growling.” She smiled ruefully. “I skipped breakfast this morning, so I’m starving.”

Alice felt a little strange about inserting herself into the family. She had only planned to stop by and introduce herself, take a look at the vineyard and the wedding venue, then head over to her hotel. But since Honor was literally dragging her by the arm, she didn’t have much choice.

And, to be honest, she really didn’t mind, because now she could get a better look at the house, which was incredible. They walked down a long hallway, and Alice couldn’t help but admire the staircase leading to the second floor as they passed by. Cream wood spindles stood out under the dark wood rail. There was a grandfather clock in the hall that had to be an antique, yet it gleamed as shiny as if it were new. Black-and-white photos adorned the walls, and Alice wondered who the people in them were. But since both Honor and Erin were moving at a fast pace, she made a mental note to ask later.

They stepped into a dining room that by Alice’s standards was enormous. There was a long wood table that could accommodate at least twenty, and several people were already seated, including a woman who Alice could tell had to be Erin and Honor’s mother. She had dark wavy red hair pulled up by a clip and stunning green eyes.

“Mom, this is Alice Weatherford,” Honor said. “She’s maid of honor for the Tigen/Friday wedding next Saturday. She’s Lainie Tigen’s best friend. Alice, this is our mother, Maureen Bellini.”

Maureen clasped both her hands over Alice’s and smiled the warmest smile Alice had ever been graced with.

“Alice, we’re so happy to welcome you to Red Moss Vineyards.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Bellini.”

“Please. Call me Maureen. I’m glad you’re here for lunch. I’m sorry you arrived when we’re having an uncharacteristically vicious snowstorm.”

“Fortunately, I got here before the snow started coming down too hard.”

“Well, it’s snowing even more now, so at least you’re safe here.”

She smiled at Maureen. “Thank you for that.”

A big, burly guy came in and put his arm around Maureen. He had dark hair, graying at the temples.

“This is my husband, Johnny,” Maureen said. “Johnny, this is Alice Weatherford. Her best friend is getting married here next weekend.”

“Very nice to meet you, Miss Weatherford. We’re happy to have you at the Bellini home.”

She instantly liked Mr. Bellini. He had a kind smile and polite demeanor. He held out the chair for his wife and pressed his hand on her shoulder. When Maureen smiled up at him, Alice could immediately feel the affection between the two of them.

“Sorry I’m late—I was on the phone.” A gorgeous redhead came into the room and slid into one of the chairs. “Did I miss anything?”

“Alice, this is our other sister, Brenna,” Honor said. Honor told Brenna who Alice was.

“Oh, great to meet you, Alice. Glad you made it before the snowstorm got out of hand.”

“Thanks.” From what she was hearing, this snowfall was going to get bad. She tried to keep her spirits up, but she was beginning to think getting back to Oklahoma City was going to be hazardous.

Several other people came in and Honor introduced them as a few of the employees who worked at the vineyard. Then lunch was served, and Alice was shocked to discover there was a working kitchen staff as well.

Wow. Red Moss Vineyards was a big deal.

“Louise and her husband, Marcus, have been here for over twenty-five years,” Honor said. “Mom and Dad hired them on when they bought the vineyard, and they have their own house on the property.”

Louise looked to be in her early fifties, of medium height with short brown hair and peaches-and-cream skin. She was dressed in dark brown pants and a white top and wore a cardigan, and if Alice didn’t see her serving the meal she would have thought she was one of the houseguests. Louise passed out the soup and smiled at Maureen. “We’re like family.”

“Indeed we are. I don’t know what we would do without Louise and Marcus here to help us.”

“What Mom is trying to say is that she’s a terrible cook,” Brenna said. “And without Louise here, we’d have all starved.”

“Brenna.” It wasn’t Maureen admonishing Brenna—it was Louise.

Maureen laughed. “So true. My head was always in the books, and not in the kitchen.”

“That’s why you have me,” Louise said.

“A man can only eat so many plates of burned lasagna,” Johnny said, offering up a rueful smile to his wife.

“You were a champion about that,” Maureen said.

She heard the front door open and close and felt the cold chill of air all the way down the hall. The sound of boots making their way toward them intrigued her. A man’s tall, wide frame filled the doorway, and for a moment, Alice forgot to breathe.
 
He was magnificent standing there in a heavy long coat, a cowboy hat tipped low on his face showing off just a hint of beard stubble on his magnificent jaw. He looked straight out of an old Western movie, all the way down to his snow-covered boots.

He pulled off the hat, revealing a full head of thick, dark blond hair, and his eyes were a mesmerizing whiskey brown.

Alice wasn’t one to be taken in by a handsome man, but this one? Wow.

“It’s really coming down out there,” he said. “I was going to head to my place, but I can barely see. Plus, I rode over here on Mickey, and I was worried about trying to ride home in this weather. I hope you don’t mind, but I stowed Mickey in your barn and thought I’d say hello.”

“I’m glad you decided to stop here,” Johnny said. “Take your coat off and stay for lunch, Clay. We’ll see how the weather plays out.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

He half turned, but then his gaze caught Alice’s and he offered up a smile.

All of her parts suddenly woke up from their cold winter freeze.

Who was this gorgeous guy?


END OF EXCERPT

 

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Review of “Unscrupulous” – Morgan Lee Wylie

Gunfighter Josiah Wyland is tired of meeting his reputation in every town, of seeing his daddy’s blue eyes glaring back at him from the mirror, of knowing he’ll never be loved. 

Seven years ago, he was just a boy, smitten with a girl, wishing for a life like everyone else’s. That was before he shot and killed a man, before he rode with a gang of Arizona Territory’s most indiscriminate villains, and before he ended up in Yuma Prison. 

Now Josiah is a bounty hunter, trying to avoid his father’s fate, still looking for a way to prove himself a better man. He gets his chance when Sheriff Rook Kelly sends Josiah to rescue his wayward bride. 

After her parents’ deaths, sheltered Aimee traded freedom for protection. Desperate to escape the husband she’s come to fear, she discovers her best and only hope is a scarred stranger with a black past, deadly aim, and merciless blue eyes. 

On the run from bandits, the sheriff’s posse, and a vengeful ex-lawman, Josiah and Aimee forge a connection, on a dark night in the desert wilderness, that is jeopardized when they return to civilization—where Josiah’s reputation threatens Aimee’s, where decent folk will never allow an unscrupulous no count to be worthy of a good woman’s love. 

 

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(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique) 

 

Morgan Lee Wylie, the author, didn’t skimp on the gun battles. In one scene, she had a gang of bandits riding after two men and a little lady, firing at will. In another section, she had characters facing off in a town where the good guys were outnumbered 4 to 1. In this particular standoff, it ended with dead bodies, wounded heroes, and a damsel needing rescued. Basically, everything I believe you’d find in Old West (Wild West) times. Definitely things we’ve witnessed on many a television show or movie focused on this time period.

Morgan also had a few scenes that were of the more intimate nature. Not all of them were laced with love and affection. Just like in present-day time, the Old West (Wild West) had many places and opportunities for men to quench their carnal desires. The only bedroom scene that bothered me was between Evelyn and Silas. I know she didn’t mind if he struck her in the face but I did as a reader. Swatting a butt cheek… I’m okay with that. Striking a face and drawing blood… that’s not my kink at all.

As for the romance portion of the book, Josiah and Aimee weren’t the only couple to fall in love. Actually, I’m not quite sure if they were my favorite pairing at all. There were two other couples that stole the show at times. (Omitting their names on purpose.)

As for the ending, the acronym WTF seems to sum it up perfectly. I couldn’t believe how it ended. This is not the ending I was hoping for and I think many readers will not be pleased by it as well.

 

Heart Rating System:

1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 

Score: ❤❤1/2

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Morgan Lee Wylie inherited a love of books from her mom who introduced her to Nancy Drew. She grew up reading everything from comics to classics, including many Star Wars novels.

Morgan first knew she wanted to write after reading The Outsiders in the seventh grade. But it took some more growing up and some life experience before she discovered what she wanted to express with her writing. 

Morgan served in the United States Air Force then used the GI Bill to get her BA in English with Writing Emphasis from Boise State University. One professor noted her penchant for writing about characters that he deemed lowlifes. Years later, Morgan self-published her debut novel, dedicating it to her heroes: the loners, losers, outcasts, and underdogs. 

Morgan Lee Wylie lives in Idaho with her husband, their newborn daughter, two ornery Mustangs, and a rambunctious German Shepherd.

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Review of “Lovestruck Two Step: Rhythm & Romance Book 4” – Mariposa Cruz

~~ Rhythm & Romance Book 1-3 ~~

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(Rhythm & Romance Book 4)

Print Length: 63 pages

With her marriage and dance studio wiped out by divorce, Becca Collins reluctantly agrees to teach Two Step lessons at a country bar. Carson Quill isn’t thrilled about spending his Saturday nights playing guitar in a local dive, but a certain dance instructor with long legs and dark curls caught his eye. Does love have a shot in a bar called Last Chance?

 

~~ Short Excerpt ~~

 

“You don’t have to do this,” Becca said quietly as he led her to the center of the dance floor.

“Dance with the most beautiful woman in the room? Of course I do,” Carson replied, taking her in his arms.

He paused for a beat, listening to the vocals, before starting to dance. Becca heard the playful undercurrent of the keyboard while Eleanor and Greer sang in harmony that they weren’t going home alone tonight. Somehow, Carson had mastered the quick, quick, slow steps integral to Two Step just from watching her teach it. He moved easily with the rhythm of the music, smoothly leading her into a turn without rushing the move.

“You’re good,” she exclaimed.

“I always pay attention in class with the right teacher,” Carson replied. He smiled at her, and the rest of the world disappeared. His touch was subtle, yet firm, as he led her in perfect time with the music. No words were needed. Too soon, the song drew to a close, and with his arm circled around her waist, Carson escorted her to her table. With a light kiss on the lips, he thanked her for the dance, then turned and walked back to the stage.

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(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique) 

 

Life is all about curveballs. In Lovestruck Two Step, we witness two people who have faced their own bumps in the road but still push forward.

Becca lost her business, her husband to divorce, a job, and (for a time) she lost herself to depression, self-doubt, and lack of purpose in the world.

Carson, divorced dad, was trying to maintain a relationship with a teenage daughter who seemed to be pulling away in favor of her new step-dad.

Both of these characters were going through trying times, obstacles real life people face daily. These plausible scenarios are what will connect readers to Lovestruck Two Step.

People going through tough times like to see hope during their darkest moments. Readers will find that here in Lovestruck Two Step.

This story for me isn’t just about love and romance. It’s also about getting knocked down and finding the strength to get back up and try again.

Becca did dance again. She did teach dance again. Carson kept trying to connect with his daughter and his efforts paid off.

**This was a sweet romance with a HEA.**

 

Heart Rating System:

1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 

Score: ❤❤❤

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Mariposa Cruz balances writing with working as a fulltime corporate paralegal. For her Mariposa Musings blog she has interviewed a variety of real life characters from romance authors to psychics. She works, writes and dances Salsa in Reno, Nevada.

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Review of “Cowboys, Cattle, and Cutthroats” – Gini Rifkin

Ochessa is heartbroken when she finds her brother fatally wounded. His dying words are about a childhood puzzle box, missing legal documents, and a drifter named Nicodemus Breedlove. Ochessa vows to find Will’s murderer—and the man Will described.

No stranger to trouble, Nic’s only concerns are his Stetson, his mule Sadie, and a long awaited chance at retribution. After gaining Ochessa’s trust, and taking the job she offers, life gets more complicated. 

Back on the ranch in Colorado, Ochessa works as hard as any man. Then Nick tempts her into playing even harder as a woman—both are consumed by their growing love for one another. 

Weathering a stampede, a gully washer, and a pack of outlaws, they locate the killer. As Nic’s quest for justice, and Ochessa’s vendetta for Will play out, bullets fly…

Not everybody’s gonna make it out alive.

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Naked to the waist, and bent over the horse trough, his sculpted muscles standing out in sharp relief, Nic scooped handfuls of water over his head. A growl escaped him as he straightened to his full height, and slicked back the dripping mane of dark hair. Arms still raised, he met her gaze, as the excess water trickled happily across his bare chest.

Involuntarily she sucked in a deep breath. The distance between them felt charged with lightning, thunder pounding in her brain, leaving the rest of the world dead silent.

A look of surprise flickered across Nic’s face. His muscles flexed and bulged as he lowered his arms to his sides.

“Good evening, boss.” He emphasized the last word as if were a personal joke.

She swallowed hard, and fought to find her voice. “Time’s a wasting, Breedlove. Why are you still hanging around the ranch? Shouldn’t you be out earning your keep?”

“Well, we all have our own way of doing things, and my way is usually different from the norm.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”

Retrieving his hat, he carefully dislodged a thistle from the battered brim then settled the coveted headgear upon his head. “What would surprise you, Ochessa?” He studied her with an expression that sizzled and danced through her like water on a hot griddle.

“Not seeing you every time I turn around would be a good start.”

“You’re not very good at lying.”

She nudged a dried up cow pie with the toe of her boot. “Maybe not. But I am good at recognizing a load of bull when it comes my way.”

He gave a deep chuckle, and reached for the shirt dangling from the water pump. “Sounds like you’ve been on both ends of the shovel.”

“No more than anyone else, I guess.”

He stood his ground, casually shucking into the article of clothing, his movements so sure, no wasted motion, no hesitation. Did he live his life the same? Taking what he wanted when and where he found it? She imagined him wanting her, taking her, and as his gaze slid down the front of her body, memories of their stolen passion again flared hot in the pit of her stomach.

His eyes brightened as if the same thoughts held him transfixed. Then his expression hardened, and the gleam in his eyes turned to flint. “I should have some information for you soon. I’ll be out of your way come morning.”

The fluttering in her belly turned to a panic. His leaving disturbed her more than running into him at every turn. Yet, it was what she wanted, wasn’t it? Confusion had her at a loss as to how to respond or how to proceed. It felt as if she’d captured a wild creature, and now before ever knowing what made him so intriguing, so unique, she had to set him free.

His mouth softened into a mocking smile. “I’ll be back in a day or two. I’m only going to Denver.”

Apparently her face was an open book, and now she felt the fool. “Don’t hurry on my account. I was only worried Lucky might miss you.”

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(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique) 

 

When you look back on the history of the Old West, you’ll see more men recognized than women. However, women did have a great impact on this time period much like they do today.

No matter the era, women are strong, fierce, warriors who can hold their own in a fight. In Cowboys, Cattle, and Cutthroats, Gini brought us Orchessa Starr. She had more skill with a firearm than a rolling pin. She ran a ranch and was well respected for her leadership. She was strongly independent, brave, and fiercely loyal to all those around her. She’s the type of character, a woman, I’d loved see portrayed more in books.

Nic, the drifter, was your typical male character you’ll see in many stories. He was adventurous, charming, flirtatious, and brave.

They might’ve had their differences, at first, but they came together to make one dynamic team.

Gun battles, outlaws, mystery, death, deception, romance, and love…. Cowboys, Cattle, and Cutthroats was a very well written Old West story.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely.

 

Heart Rating System

1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 

Score:  ❤❤❤❤

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Where the past and the present meet adventure and romance:

Gini Rifkin’s characters are courageous and passionate, and when they meet sparks fly and danger often threatens. Her settings include the American West, Medieval England, Victorian England, and contemporary fantasy. When not reading or writing, she has the privilege of caring for a menagerie of abandoned animals including ducks, geese, goats, rabbits, donkeys, and cats. Her writing keeps her hungry to learn new things, and she considers family and friends her most treasured of gifts.

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Author Showcase – Barbara White Daille (Court Me, Cowboy) (The Lawman’s Christmas Proposal)

The End…or Just the Beginning?

Gabe Miller’s marriage ended so fast it had hardly begun. Which is why he couldn’t quite believe his luck—or his “ex”—when she returned a few months later with the news that legally they were still husband and wife. And that the child she was carrying was his son.

Gabe feared Marissa would bolt again, making a custody battle his only option—unless he could turn back the clock and woo her the way he should have during their whirlwind romance. But even with his boy’s future at stake, mending fences with a woman—especially the one he loved—wasn’t something the strong, silent type found easy to do….

 

CHAPTER ONE

One day soon, he’d get rid of this wedding ring.

Gabe Miller tossed the gold circle into the air and snatched it back again, trying not to think of the woman who’d slipped it onto his left hand, third finger. Trying not to think of what she’d had inscribed inside.

Forever, M

Ha. What a crock. Forever hadn’t lasted but three short weeks.

Scowling, he shoved the band into the velvet-lined jeweler’s box and slid it back beneath the stack of flannel shirts in the dresser drawer. Call him a dumb cowboy, but it’d taken his own wife’s desertion to finally get the message rammed into his thick skull:

Never trust a woman.

“Yo, boss.”

He turned. Warren stood in the bedroom doorway, his whiskered face scrunched into a frown.

“Shake a leg. The boys’ll be raring to eat any minute now.”

“Right.” He hustled along the hall in his elderly ranch hand’s wake. Their two pairs of boots sounded loud on the bare wooden stairs. He glared at the older man’s back, then felt immediate guilt. Warren hadn’t caused his ugly mood.

He followed him into the kitchen.

“We gotta get us a cook, boss. It’s been months since Joe and Mary went back east.” Warren flipped a switch, powering up the coffeemaker Gabe had gotten ready the night before. “Lord knows, a rancher’s got enough to keep him moving, sunup to sundown. And you’re kept busier than most, considerin’ the size of your spread, and managing it yourself ‘n all.”

“We’re doing just fine, Warren.” He kept his tone neutral, knowing how much the older man hated that he couldn’t pull his weight with the younger hands any more.

“Yeah, ‘long as you don’t try gettin’ too fancy.”

“Okay, so the pancakes didn’t work out too well.”

That earned him a chuckle.

Gabe grabbed the egg carton and a pack of pork links from the refrigerator. Sure, this’d been the last thing he’d needed–undertaking kitchen duties once his ranch cook and her husband had moved on. And Gabe did have more to handle than most of the local ranchers. Something Marissa hadn’t understood.

He rubbed the back of his neck and tried to swallow a growl. Tried to stop thinking of Marissa.

Lost cause, that idea. He brooded on it, anyway. Why in heck did he wake up this morning–alone in his big bed–with the feeling today would turn out worse than the usual? He couldn’t manage to push the feeling of gloom from his mind, the way he’d shoved the wedding ring back under his flannel shirts. The ring he should have tossed out, just the way she’d tossed him aside and walked out, months ago.

That, right there, was the problem.

She’d taken off three months ago today.

Jared and Hank and the rest of the cowhands trooped into the kitchen. Their usual whooping and hollering drowned out the sizzle of eggs and sausages.

“Hey, boys, hold it down a bit,” Warren grumbled. “Don’t know where you get your energy this early in the morning.”

Gabe grimaced, knowing his own bad mood had caused the complaints. He was used to rowdy cowboys before the sun was even up–he’d breakfasted with ranch hands all his life. But he remembered those days–those way too few days–when he’d skipped the chow-downs out at the bunkhouse and spent every last early-morning moment he could bedded down with his wife.

Hank, best known as the ranch’s clown, looked over Gabe’s shoulder. “No pancakes today, boss?”

The rest of the men guffawed.

“All right, so I’m not much of a cook.” Marissa was. He shook the thought away. “Better knock it off, or y’all will be taking turns at the stove yourselves.”

Silence fell heavier than a bale dropped from the hayloft. His back still turned to his men, he reached for the egg carton again and grinned. Shut them up, all right.

In the calm, he heard the noise of a car’s engine outside. Awfully early for visitors.

Warren pushed up the blind over the kitchen sink and squinted through the window. “Seems like you got company, boss.” The old cowboy’s voice had gone rusty.

Gabe stepped to his side. “Must be Doc, right? Nobody else’d–”

What he saw through the window shut him up, too. The light over the back porch stabbing through pre-dawn darkness. The white Mustang purring in the drive. And the woman sitting behind the wheel.

Marissa.

He must not have woken up yet after all, must have dreamed Warren’s call and his trip to the kitchen. Because, Lord only knew, he was dreaming now. Blinking didn’t help. The picture didn’t go away. He closed his eyes for a long moment and opened them again. Nope, she was still there.

Looking right at the lighted kitchen window.

He stumbled back a pace.

“Easy, now.” Warren might’ve been talking to a skittish colt. He pulled the forgotten carton of eggs from Gabe’s hands. “Got it under control here, boss. I guess you got some business needs taking care of.”

“Yeah, right.” He looked through the window again, gritted his teeth and set his jaw.

He had something to take care of, all right.

Throwing his ex-wife off his land.

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A husband for Christmas?  

Mitch Weston’s back in Cowboy Creek, and self-proclaimed matchmaker Jed Garland has his single granddaughter Andi on his mind. Mitch is a lawman, good with the little ones and easy on the eyes. He and Andi were high school sweethearts, for heaven’s sake! Why can’t they see they’re perfect for each other?  

Because Andi already lost one husband to a dangerous job, and now she’s all about playing it safe, for her sake and her children’s. Being a cop is everything to Mitch. After discovering Jed’s plan, Mitch and Andi come up with their own: they’ll pretend to get engaged and then break up due to irreconcilable differences. Jed’s got his work cut out for him—because this match needs a Christmas miracle!

 

 

As Mitch strode through the doorway, Andi crossed her arms, rested her hips against the table, and gave in to the pleasure of seeing him. In tight black T-shirt, jeans and black biker boots, he looked taller and tougher and sexier than ever before. That T-shirt and his black hair made his eyes startling blue.

“Jed and Paz told me I would find you here.”

She frowned. “Is everything okay? Do they need me to take Missy off their hands?”

“No, they’re feeding her Paz’s Christmas cookies, and they said that’s keeping her out of trouble. They also said your kids won’t ever want to go home.”

Just what Jed was hoping for, she knew.

“What can I do for you?” she asked. When he grinned, she crossed her arms more tightly. “I’m very busy.”

“That’s why I’m here. Jed figured he’d keep me out of trouble by giving me a job.”

She stood straighter. “I don’t need a helper, thank you.”

“Too late. I’m on board. What do you want me to do?”

She turned away and rummaged through a carton of ornaments. “Nothing. I’ve got everything under control.” The words made her think again of her reaction to his kiss. Of her loss of control.

“Andi, walking away yesterday didn’t make me go away. Pretending to be busy here doesn’t mean I’ll disappear. Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you?”

“At the moment, you are.”

“Well, that’s a start.”

She shot a look over her shoulder and found him smiling down at her. He was so close, she could have taken a step back and found herself in his arms.

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I’m Barbara, and I write small-town romance that usually includes quirky characters and a touch of humor.

Have fun looking around the site and my blog, The Daille-y News.” And consider signing up for my newsletter, where you’ll get insider info on my writing life, sneak previews, and access to subscriber-only book giveaways.

 

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