SPRING INTO ROMANCE WITH A GREAT READ

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Cover design by Mallory Rock

Read some great romances this spring! Wishing you warm weather and sunny days. There’s much excitement in my writing world these days, so I thought I’d give you a little preview and a chance to read some of these in advance of the release.

Sweet Romances for Spring

It’s been a tough winter for many of us, but soon it enough it will be but a mere memory.

I kept busy writing. In November, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month and wrote the sweet romance, Misty Mountain, set in the Smoky Mountains. I’m excited to announce that this romance will be a part of the box set, Spring into Romance, set for release March 15. But it can be preordered now for only $0.99.

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An integral part of the success for any book involves reviews. Several of the books in this set are new releases, so we’re looking for honest reviews from readers. If you’re interested in reading any of the books on the left, please fill out the form below, and I’ll send you a free copy of one of the books below. All we ask in return is an honest review posted on Amazon for the book and for the set.

MISTY_MOUNTAIN_smallFill out the form below for a free review copy in exchange for an honest review for Misty Mountain. You’ll love this sweet romance between Lacy and George, both keeping shields around their hearts.If they can put down their shields long enough to discover the love growing between them, then nothing will stand in their way to finding happiness.

 

vsw resizedRequest a copy of The Vet’s Secret Wish by J.L. Campbell.This sweet romance is so new, it hasn’t even been released yet! Matthias Laing strikes an uneasy compromise with Toni Nevers, who agrees to marry him on Valentine’s Day—eleven months away. A man of action, Matthias can’t rest easy after Toni’s ex admits he wants her back. With Toni’s daughter and her small army of pets on his side, Matthias rolls out a plan to get Toni to reconsider the length of their engagement and opt for a summer wedding.

 

MailOrderGroomCover_resizedRequest a copy of Cindy Flores Martinez’s Mail-Order Groom. Lisa’s wedding is canceled when she catches her fiancé, Jeff, with another woman. In a twist of fate, she meets Krzysztof from Poland who is seeking an American woman to marry him and help him stay in America. After hearing his heart-tugging story, Lisa says “I do” to him. It’s strictly a business deal. He’s not planning to stay in America forever, but she starts falling for him.

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I said earlier that I’d spent the winter writing, which includes completion of another romance–this time one that’s a little steamier. Love on the Wind is a part of Melissa Foster’s Remington World and will be released March 2 on Amazon. Advanced Review Copies (ARCs) are now available in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

ONE DAY TO GO AND ONE LAST SNEAK PEEK AT CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES

 
Golden Christmas by Helen Scott Taylor
Every Christmas Vicky hides so she doesn’t have to celebrate the date she lost her husband and son. She doesn’t want to see anyone but when she finds a dog’s lost ball she meets Jon, a wounded ex-soldier who’s struggling with his own problems. This brave man touches Vicky’s shattered heart and makes her realize she can’t hide forever. With his support, can she find the strength to love again?

Excerpt

Music pounded in Vicky’s head in time with the thud of her feet on the dirt path as she ran. She concentrated on the rhythm to fend off the memories that circled just below the surface, like demons trying to grab her ankles and drag her down.
Cold nipped her cheeks, and her breath billowed in smoky plumes as she ran up the incline to the higher path. The thermometer outside her rental property had indicated it was around freezing, even though the sky was bright blue and the sun was on her face.
As she reached the top of the ridge, the rolling English landscape of the North Cotswolds lay before her. Rosemoor Hall, a Jacobean manor house, presided majestically over its twelve acres of manicured gardens, the golden hues of its Cotswold stone walls shining in the sun.
Every year she rented an isolated country property a week before Christmas, and this year she was staying in the manor’s gatehouse. She stocked up on groceries and if she were lucky, could go for the whole time without seeing another living soul.
Fifty acres of gardens, parkland, and farmland lay around the manor house, and she had access to all the land. Apparently the house was open to the public during the summer season, but at this time of year it was closed up, giving her miles of empty paths to run.
Vicky surveyed the historic house and briefly imagined the interior—the huge fireplaces, the four-poster beds, and the antiques the house likely contained. Once she had a passion for old houses and loved visiting them. Her interest started at school when she did a history project on the Victorians. She’d even kept a journal of the visits she’d made to various historic houses around the country. But that felt like a lifetime ago now.
Her feet slapped against the frozen ground, giving a satisfying jolt with each step, and Vicky tried to focus on her music again. She managed for a few minutes before her attention wandered back to the scenery. Giving up on the monotonous tune, she pulled out her earbuds. The sun was surprisingly warm for December. Where it touched the whitened grass by the house, streaks of green appeared as the ice melted.
As she ran on, the front of the house came into view. A man with a golden Labrador stood on the half-acre rectangle of frosted grass outside the front door. Tall and lean, clad in jeans, a blue winter jacket, and a dark wool hat, the man drew back an arm and hurled a yellow tennis ball.
“Go on, girl. Fetch it.” His voice rang out, deep and cultured, a note of enthusiasm and pleasure in his tone.
The dog streaked off across the icy grass and grabbed the yellow tennis ball in its mouth, then loped back to the man, sat, and dropped the ball obediently into his outstretched hand.
“Good girl.” The man bent and smoothed the dog’s head, talking more softly so Vicky couldn’t make out the words. Then she realized her feet had stopped moving and she was standing still, watching.
She blew out a breath of irritation with herself. She didn’t want contact with anyone who might be happy and celebrating Christmas. She just wanted to be alone to mourn.
Pulling her attention away from the scene below, she continued, focusing instead on the distant trees dotted across the acres of parkland, huge old oaks and sweet chestnuts, their bare branches skeletal against the blue sky.
Yet the strange attraction of the man drew her attention again. In her peripheral vision, she saw him toss the ball a couple more times and pet his dog, but she made sure she kept running.
When she reached a fork in the path, she decided to take the right turn, away from the house and the unwanted distraction. Yet her feet went the other way, carrying her along the route that circled the house, keeping the man and dog in view.
She was closer to them now, only fifty yards away. Elevated on the bank in her bright pink-and-blue running gear as she was, he must have noticed her, but he didn’t look her way. He drew back his arm and tossed with incredible power. The tennis ball arced through the air, bounced on the chest-high stone wall surrounding the lawn, and hit a tree.
The Labrador took off after it, jumped up at the wall a few times, then stood with its front paws against the interlocking rocks and barked.
“Get the ball, Honey.” The man stared after the dog, but he didn’t move to retrieve the ball. Couldn’t he see he’d thrown it too hard and it was lost outside the wall?
Vicky halted and stepped off the path to get a better view. From up here, she could see the yellow ball was stuck in a tree, wedged between a branch and the trunk.
Should she say something? She didn’t want to get involved and have to talk to anyone, but the dog was frantically jumping up at the wall now. It had obviously seen the ball but couldn’t reach it.
“Go on, girl. Fetch it, Honey.” The guy bent and held out his hand to receive the ball.
What was he, some kind of idiot?
Vicky sucked in a chilly breath and shook her head. She should have taken the other path. “The ball’s in a tree,” she shouted.
The man’s head jerked up as if he hadn’t seen her. “Oh, thanks. I didn’t know.”
He reached behind him and grabbed something resting against the wall at his back—a white cane.
Vicky pressed a hand over her mouth with a burn of shamed surprise as he held the cane in front of him and walked forward slowly.
No wonder he hadn’t seen her. No wonder he hadn’t noticed the ball was out of his dog’s reach. She felt bad now for thinking he was an idiot.
“I know where the ball is,” she shouted. “I’ll get it for you.”
Vicky ran down some lichen-encrusted stone steps to the lower level and jogged across the crisp grass to where the dog was standing up against the wall, whining.
“Hey there, girl.” She pulled off her gloves and patted the dog’s silky head. Then getting a firm hold on top of the wall, she pushed her toe in a gap between the rocks, climbed up, and worked the ball loose from the tree before dropping it to the eager dog.
She jumped down and turned to face the man as he reached her. He was a good-looking guy, his lips curved in a friendly smile. His eyes were dark brown and looked perfectly all right, except they didn’t move normally. It was strange to be standing here in front of him and know he couldn’t see her.
“Thanks. I let rip a bit with that last throw. Usually when I do that, it bounces back off the wall. I must have aimed too high.” He pulled off a glove and held out his hand. “Jonathan Bramwell.” He nodded back over his shoulder. “I have an apartment in the house. I assume you’re staying in one of the estate cottages over Christmas.”
The word Christmas stung Vicky as she slipped her hand into his strong, warm grip. “Yes. I’m staying in the gatehouse.” To avoid Christmas, she added silently.
“This is Honey, who’s very grateful to have her ball back.” Jonathan’s smile widened as he stroked behind the dog’s ears. “Say thank you to…” His head came up, almost as if he were looking at her. “You didn’t tell me your name.”
“Vicky Jones.”
“Say thank you to Vicky, girl.”
Honey nuzzled Vicky’s hand, her tail wagging and her intelligent brown eyes warm and friendly.
“It was my pleasure, Honey.” Vicky stroked the dog’s velvet ears and realized it really was a pleasure to pet this sweet dog. Not much touched her these days. She was surprised such a simple thing affected her so much.
“Do you need to get back quickly?” Jonathan asked.
Vicky shook her head and realized he couldn’t see that. “No. I was out for a run.”
“Come inside and have a cup of tea, then,” he said, a hopeful note in his voice. “When you have time, I’ll give you the guided tour, if you like. I do that in the summer when we’re open to the public. I know Rosemoor Hall like the back of my hand, so I can do it from memory. The place hasn’t changed much since I was a kid,” he added with a laugh.
Vicky was already shaking her head again, the motion instinctive as she stepped back to distance herself. The old Vicky would have jumped at a private tour of such a beautiful manor house, but since the accident that took her husband and son, she couldn’t summon enthusiasm for anything. She didn’t want to have to make small talk because it invariably got around to family.
“You don’t have to stay long,” Jonathan said.
Honey pursued her, nudging Vicky’s leg with her nose, a pleading look in her eyes. Or perhaps Vicky imagined that.
“Thank you for the invitation, but I don’t want to cause you any inconvenience.”
“You won’t. It’ll be nice to have someone to talk to.” Jonathan pulled off his wool cap, revealing shaggy dark hair, and rubbed at a scar on his forehead. “Actually, you could do me a favor, if you don’t mind. I have a migraine coming on and I can’t find my medication. If you could spare a few minutes, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d take a look. I think the packet might have fallen down behind the cabinet.”
Vicky hesitated for a moment, but how could she refuse?
• • •
Three steps up from the grass to the gravel, then fifteen steps to the house. Jonathan counted silently, noticing the change in temperature as he moved from the sunny lawn to the shadow of Rosemoor Hall. He held his cane out and tapped the wall, a sharp ringing sound against the Cotswold stone, once, twice, three times before the corner, then he turned along the side and continued until the hollow tap of his cane on the wooden back door.
He reached for the handle and turned it. The fresh, clean, frosty air gave way to the familiar smell of polish and seasoned wood inside the house. The footsteps behind him stopped as he held the door open.
Jonathan felt bad asking a complete stranger for help, especially a woman who was reluctant; he could hear it in her voice and her hesitant steps. It went against every instinct he had to impose on others, but it was a matter of survival. The migraines were bad enough if he took the medication; he didn’t want to suffer twenty-four hours of even worse pain. He could call one of his cousins, but they both led busy lives and he didn’t want to impose.
“I’m sorry,” he said, catching Vicky’s subtle floral fragrance as she walked in and passed him. “It won’t take long.”
“It’s okay. I’m not in a hurry.”
He noticed the embarrassment in her voice. Even people he’d known before he lost his sight were uncomfortable around him now. Some didn’t know what to say, and he understood how they felt. In the old days, he’d have probably been the same way.
He caught Vicky’s fragrance again, and it summoned an image of a tall, slender woman wearing a yellow summer dress with flowing dark hair over her shoulders. Of course, Vicky wouldn’t be dressed like this in December. She’d said she was running. The image morphed, and the woman in his head now wore form-fitting Lycra.
He pressed the side of his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat as he banished the evocative image and the flash of desire. It had been four years since a woman who wasn’t either a member of staff, family, or a medical professional had entered his apartment. Sometimes he wondered if he’d ever meet a woman who was interested in him again. Not that Vicky was here for a social visit, of course. He was certain she’d much rather be outside running.
Four steps along the flagstone corridor, the grit on the soles of his shoes crunching. He’d forgotten to wipe his feet, but it was too late now. He tapped his cane on the wall and found the opening to the bottom of the narrow wooden staircase. This used to be the servants’ staircase when he was a boy—a lifetime ago.
He gripped the handrail, the wood sliding beneath his palm, polished smooth by thousands of hands over the last four hundred years. Familiar with the run and rise of each stair, he mounted them quickly and stepped onto the carpet in the upper hallway.
“My apartment is just down here.” With a hand to the wall, he took eight steps, then touched the varnished door that he only ever locked in the summer when members of the public visited the house.
Jonathan pushed on the door, and Honey’s sleek body brushed his leg. He angled his head and listened, half fearing Vicky had doubled back and gone, but the faint rustling of fabric and her sigh reassured him she was still there.
In his rooms, Jonathan could move about easily. He kept everything in its place and had a clear mental map of the space. “My medication is in a tray on my chest of drawers in the bedroom. If you want to follow me.” He’d thought he had a few hours before the headache got worse, but it was bad already.
An uncomfortable prickle of heat up his neck made him feel like a teenage boy asking a girl to his room for the first time, awkward and clumsy and not sure what to do.
His fingers rose to the scar on his forehead. He massaged the ridge of skin that marked the near-fatal head injury. He hated being blind and scarred. Sometimes he even forgot he was the lucky one. He’d escaped the twisted wreck of the Army Mastiff alive after it ran over an IED. Three of the men under his command had died there.
About the Author
 
NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Helen Scott Taylor lives in South West England near Plymouth in Devon between the windswept expanse of Dartmoor and the rocky Atlantic coast. As well as her wonderful, long-suffering husband, she shares her home with a Westie who digs up the garden searching for voles, and an elderly cat who adores treats.
Golden Christmas is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 – November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Golden Christmas  by Helen Scott Taylor

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SNEAK PEEK COUNTDOWN – MONA RISK’S TWO LOVES FOR CHRISTMAS

Two Loves for Christmas by Mona Risk
Tabloid pictures of charming laywer, Josh Dutton, threaten his father’s senatorial campaign. The family decides he needs a sweet ‘temporary fiancée’ to repair the damage. With only her German shepherd for friend, Emma struggles with problems. Attraction sizzles between Josh and Emma but no one mentions the ‘fake fiancée’ detail. When the truth surfaces will Josh be able to prove that his kisses were not part of a charade?
Excerpt

“We found you a fiancée.” Sitting behind his imposing desk, Josh Dutton’s father didn’t even blink as he uttered his outrageous statement.
“Excuse me?” Genuinely puzzled, Josh stepped closer and studied his dad’s expression.
Was the new campaign putting too much stress on Senator Howard Dutton?
Deep lines crinkled the skin at the corner of his eyes, but the senator’s lips showed his usual arrogant smirk. Had Josh been summoned to his father’s office in the Wellesley mansion just to hear this nonsense?
To reassure himself that he’d misheard his father, Josh spun toward his mother. Relaxing on the brown leather sofa she casually leaned forward to rearrange the roses in a crystal vase adorning the glass and brass cocktail table. The aromatic fragrance didn’t do much to soothe Josh’s mood.
“Mom, is he okay?” Josh jutted his chin out toward his father.
“Of course I’m—”
“Your father and I found you the perfect fiancée,” Nancy Dutton announced patiently. Usually her sweet voice agreeably counterbalanced her husband’s autocratic decisions. Today, her soft words exacerbated Josh’s headache.
“So kind of you, Mom. Frankly I’m not looking for a wife. Even if I needed to consider a serious relationship I believe I have enough willing women around me not to require your generous help.” He hoped his sarcastic tone would end the annoying conversation and allow him to leave soon enough to meet his gorgeous date of tonight. With a snort, Josh shoved his hands in his pocket and fingered his car keys. Convinced he’d better not linger around his father’s treacherous office he sidled toward the door.
“Too many willing girlfriends. Too many scandals,” his father bellowed. “That’s exactly the reason why you need a steady woman at your side. I’m fed up of seeing the tabloid magazines feature your scandalous exploits on a weekly basis.” Senator Howard brandished a newspaper and opened it to the middle page. “Look, look at this picture,” his father tapped the paper with a furious finger. “Look at this person.”
A muscle jerked along Josh’s jaw. Determined to remain unruffled, he took the paper and smiled at the photo of the blonde woman dancing with him at the City Hall Gala. “Nice picture. That’s Tammy Burt, a paralegal working at the court. Very pretty.”
“Who cares?” his father spat. “And this one?” He handed him a magazine with another picture of Josh with a brunette in a bikini on a yacht.
“Another good shot with Annabelle on her father’s boat.” Josh summoned his reserve of calm. “What’s wrong with it? We went out for the day with a group of friends. Annabelle is a colleague, a lawyer and a successful one at that.”
“A lawyer? All I see is an almost naked woman at your side.”
“Give me some credit, Dad. I have good taste. She’s not only smart, she has a stunning figure.” Josh affected a nonchalant shrug. His charm served him well in business and a beautiful woman on his arm never hurt. What more could he ask for?
“I can see that. And she’s cuddling against you for the paparazzi’s delight. Did you read the caption? Read it. Out loud.”
“Senator Howard Dutton’s son, attorney-at-law, Joshua Dutton, enjoying an outing in style. Hmm…”
“And this one.” Dad shoved another paper in his hands. “Read it.”
“Lovely Brooke McColey and Joshua Dutton in an amorous pose. Senator Howard’s son entertaining himself with extra-curricular activities while his father preaches hard work and good behavior to straighten our economical crisis. Maybe we should follow Josh’s example to succeed in life,” Josh read and examined the picture. “What a jerk. Anyway, don’t worry about this one, Dad. It’s an old photo from last year. We broke up a few months ago.”
“That’s the problem.” Senator Howard banged his fist on his desk and heaved a heavy sigh.
“Howard, let me explain the situation to Josh.” Nancy Dutton raised an appeasing hand. “Josh dear, you keep dating different girls and leaving them. Unfortunately this reflects badly on your father who’s running a new campaign. You’re giving ammunitions to his rivals and they are having a field day using all these pictures to snatch his voters.” She left the sofa and came to stand near the desk, next to Josh.
Josh frowned. On one hand he understood his father’s frustration, on the other hand Senator Howard’s endless campaigns tended to restrict his children’s freedom to no end. “I promise I’ll be more discreet.” Josh added a reasonable nod to appease his father and get him off his back.
“You already told us as much a year ago,” his father fumed.
Annoyed by his dad’s accusations, Josh opened his palms. “I can’t always look over my shoulder for a hidden camera.”
Both parents rallied around him.
“That’s my point. If you’re in an official relationship you don’t have to worry.” Senator Howard seized Josh’s arm in an iron clutch, proving he was still the powerful man his rivals would like to defeat.
An exasperated huff escaped Josh. “But Dad do you realize you’re asking me to sacrifice my chosen way of life for your damn campaign? Aren’t you going too far?”
“It’s only for three months. You can break the engagement as soon as I’m elected.”
“What?”
His mother pushed her husband aside and grabbed Josh’s hands. “You know I volunteer at Newton-Wellesley hospital twice a week. Two months ago, I met this woman, Maria Cassiero, a patient, undergoing therapy after a difficult back surgery. Now she’s doing her best to walk again. Well last week, I found her crying and refusing more treatment. Apparently, the insurance hardly covered two-thirds of her expensive procedures. Her husband died almost a year ago in a boat accident. A mechanic by trade, he owned two thriving auto shops in the Newton area.”
“So why can’t she pay for her treatment?” So far his mother’s story didn’t hold much interest. “If you want to help her, I can contribute.” He reached in his pocket for his phone to write an online check.
“Thank you, Josh. No need for that now. I already offered to cover her extra costs when she mentioned that after her husband’s death the shops’ income greatly shrunk. Her stepdaughter left law school to take care of her.”
“Ah.” So there was a young woman in the picture. Obviously a good-hearted, loving daughter, generous enough to sacrifice her studies for her stepmother. A paragon of virtue, hardly his type. He bit back a derisive comment but gave his mother an impatient glance.
“Poor Maria, she sobbed while telling me she didn’t want her daughter to lose her future because of her. When she showed me the young woman’s photo I had an epiphany.”
Mom smiled and Josh’s heart sank. He’d already guessed the conclusion his mother had reached.
“She’s so pretty. I could easily see her with you, Josh. But I don’t want to upset you by interfering in your life.”
“You could have fooled me.” He snickered. “So what have you and Dad been doing for the past hour?”
“Spare us your sarcasm,” Senator Howard barked. “All we want is your cooperation for three months. Only three little months with a beautiful fiancée.”
“She accepted?” Talk about an opportunist.
“We don’t know yet.” Mom sighed. “Stop bickering you two. I explained to Maria my idea of giving you a fiancée for a few months to erase the lousy image caused by your scandals—”
“Mom, I didn’t cause any scandals. I didn’t hurt any woman. I didn’t create any unwanted kid.”
“Thank God. As if we needed that.” Mom crossed herself and Dad’s cheeks turned a heavy shade of purple that worried Josh. He hated his father’s politics but he still deeply loved his parents. After counting to ten to recover his cool, he pledged to remain calm in front of any crazy eventuality they came up with.
“Okay Mom, keep going.”
“Well Maria was so grateful for my help that she promised to vote for Senator Howard and to bring Emma to meet you.”
“Emma?” Nice name. For the sake of his mother who’d never let him down, Josh smothered his annoyance. “You have a picture? I should at least see the face of the woman who’d be hanging on my arm for three months.”
“No picture, but you’ll meet her tomorrow.” A smile grew on his mother’s face. “I knew you love you father enough to —”
“Of course I love my father. And I love you.” He gently patted her shoulder.
“I invited them for dinner here and told Maria our chauffeur will pick them up around 5 pm.”
“Tomorrow?” Just like that. He rubbed his neck already feeling an unwanted noose strangling him.
“Will you do it, sweetheart?” Mom pleaded. “It’s for a good cause. Two good causes actually. Your father neutralizes the smear the tabloids have thrown on his campaign and Maria continues her therapy.”
“I see a third good cause.” Forgetting his usual diplomacy, Dad smirked. “Josh gets a taste of monogamy for a while.”
Josh’s mouth twitched at his father’s lousy joke but he swallowed his acerbic reply.
“Well what’s your answer, Josh?” Mom squeezed his hand although her tone had turned a tad impatient.
His gaze flipped from his mother to his father. In spite of her easygoing manner and charitable heart, Mom could be as manipulative as Dad. And often more efficient. No wonder Senator Howard had maintained his senatorial seat for ten years. He had her infallible support. How come Josh had never found a woman who loved him unconditionally as Nancy loved her dictatorial husband?
“Josh?” Mom repeated.
“Okay, Mom.”
“Oh darling, I knew you’d accept.” Mom threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. “You’re free to go now, but be here tomorrow before 5 pm. I’m counting on you.”
These were the same words he heard so often as a little boy.
I count on you meant he should ace his classes, score goals in soccer, win his tennis match, make sure his younger brother and sister behave. Yes, the same I’m counting on you. At ten or at thirty, the middle child of Senator Howard’s five kids hated to disappoint his parents.
Tonight the cost of his good behavior soared.
“Goodnight, Mom, Dad. See you tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Son.” His father gave him a hand and Josh shook it, and then Dad pulled him in for a hug. “I really appreciate your effort.”
His back straight, Josh feigned an indifferent expression and walked out of the office to the front door. These three coming months would test his will power, but he’d consider them a contribution to his father’s wellness, rather than his campaign. Maybe with a little blooming luck his engagement to Emma would prove to be a charming interlude.
~*~
In the comfortable but messy living room of their two-story house, Emma Cassiero helped her stepmother prepare for their special evening. Crouched next to her stepmother’s recliner, Rino, the golden-brown German shepherd, relaxed and watched her through half-open eyelids.
With precise downward strokes Emma swept and blended the makeup on Maria’s cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead. “Much better. This foundation gives you some color.”
Maria chuckled. “You can’t transform a sick woman who looks like a ghostly witch into Cinderella.”
“You’re beautiful, Mom. I just want you less pale if you’re so determined to visit these people. To be invited to dinner by a senator’s wife is not a daily event here,” Emma joked to lighten her own grim mood. “Right, Rino?”
At the sound of his name, the dog slowly moved his muzzle toward her, rubbed her leg and groaned his approval.
Maria slipped a pearl necklace around her head and clipped on her earrings. Exhausted by the effort, she slumped against the back of the recliner and closed her eyes.
“You look too tired. You sure you want to go?”
Mom seemed so preoccupied today. Several times she’d started to talk about her new friend Nancy, and then stopped in mid-sentence and mumbled under her breath. Emma had caught her crying a couple of times which was normal considering…
“The least I can do is accept their invitation. Nancy Dutton is a very nice lady. A generous soul the kind you don’t find anymore.”
“I’m grateful that she convinced you to sign up for the second phase of your treatment. That’s why I agreed to go to their house with you to thank her personally.”
Emma sighed at her reflection in the mirror above the living room credenza. The blue color of her outfit suited her well. She’d bought the silk dress when Dad took her out with Maria to celebrate her good grades at the end of her second year of law school. Little did they know that two weeks later his cherished boat would explode and kill him.
Mom had insisted she wear the fancy dress today. What a waste, just to entertain an unknown politician and his wife.
“I want you to meet Nancy and her husband. They’re good people we can count on if we need help.”
“I still wonder…” Emma sprayed a whiff of perfume on her neck and then on her stepmother’s. “Since when does a hospital volunteer, especially a senator’s wife, invite a patient to her house?”
“Nancy has become a good friend, always encouraging me. They want to meet you. Maybe he can give you a job or…” Mom blinked several times and bit her lip.
“Do you think so? A part-time job would be great. I’d still have enough time to take care of you.” Emma exhaled with relief. You’re starting to improve. You’ll walk again soon, Mom, with the right therapy.” Emma repressed the pang of anxiety gnawing at her stomach and blanked any sign of worry from her face. Bringing the walker closer to the recliner, she held Maria’s elbow with one hand and slipped an arm behind her back to help her stand.
“I’m doing my best, sweetheart. I don’t want you stuck to my side forever. I often pray you meet a nice man and find happiness.”
“Nice man?” With a snort, Emma crushed her mom’s daydreaming. Where would she meet a nice man who’d accept her and her mountain of problems? So far she’d met more jerks than nice men, Scott Garett and the likes.
“Yes, a presentable man, educated and with good-manners. You’re pretty enough to attract any guy you set your heart on. Nancy mentioned she has four sons and—”
“For heaven’s sake, Mom, stop dreaming. Politicians or their sons are not paragons of virtue. Far from it. They know how to take advantage of people.”
“But Nancy is not like that. She wants to…to…” Maria sighed. After she shifted to straighten her back, she rested a pensive gaze on Emma. “We won’t have problem with payments.”
“Of course we won’t. I told you I’ll sell the small shop soon. It’ll cover the first phase of your treatment, and then if necessary I’ll sell the second shop. It’ll be more than enough.” She offered her dear mom a reassuring smile.
Maria caught Emma’s hand. “Don’t sell anything. It’s your inheritance. It should help you go back to law school.”
“I’ll resume my studies once you get better. I can get a scholarship or a loan that I’ll repay later.” With a gentle hand she caressed her mom’s hair.
Rino scrambled up to a sitting position and turned his head to the left, his ears twitching.
The door bell chimed and he barked. Their ride had arrived.
Emma collected their purses, the box of chocolate wrapped in silver paper for their hosts, and a silk shawl for her mother to add over her suit.
A hiss escaped Maria’s lips as she slowly shuffled to the door. “You’re not listening, Emma, I don’t want you —and I don’t need you— to sacrifice the shops. Mrs. Dutton said she’d pay the medical expenses that are not covered by insurance.”
“No way.” Emma’s hand stalled on the doorknob and she stared at her mother, her eyebrows gathered in shock. “You can’t let a stranger pay for your treatment. We don’t need her.”
“She’s a dear friend now.”
“A senator’s wife? What does she want in return? Our votes for her husband?” Bitterness underlined her questions.
Maria shook her head and grabbed Emma’s arm. “Wouldn’t you vote for a politician whose wife is so generous? I would do anything to thank them.” She raised imploring eyes to her daughter.
“Why, Mom? We’re not paupers. Dad left us two auto shops. Why would you accept charity from strangers when I can help?”
A couple of votes didn’t justify paying for the expensive treatment. What else did they want from Maria and Emma? After her father’s death, Emma had met her share of unscrupulous people. Many had tried to take advantage of the sick woman and her young daughter.
“Enough, Emma. I want you to meet them before casting unfavorable judgment.” Her labored breathing frightened Emma. She refrained from more comments and opened the door.
“I’m Carl, the Dutton’s chauffeur.” In black suit and cap, the man gripped the walker to lower it down the two steps. “Are you ready, Ma’am?”
“As ready as can be.” Maria twisted herself to tackle the first step.
Rino growled at the stranger and bared his impressive canines. A bit on the defensive, the man jumped down two steps and stared suspiciously at her protector. “Huh, your dog wouldn’t bite, I hope.”
Sure he would. “Hmm.” He’d already done it to defend her. “Just a moment please. I’ll be right back.”
Emma raked her fingers through Rino’s fur the way he loved it and urged him inside. “Come, buddy, we’re going to the backyard.”
“Take your time, Miss. Meanwhile, I’ll help the lady to the car.”
Emma led Rino to the fenced backyard and the doghouse where he could nap in the shade. “Be a good boy.” She set out a bowl of water and another with chow. “Have fun and guard the house.” After an extra dose of caresses, she entered the kitchen and closed the door, then went to the front hall entrance.
The driver had settled Maria in the backseat of a black Mercedes waiting at the curb. After an indifferent glance at the luxurious car, Emma locked the house and slid next to her mother. Lost in her thoughts, she repeatedly cursed her stepmother’s tendency to match-make and barely paid attention to the scenic drive or the time spent until the driver slowed down to pass through a gate. The car rolled on a gravel driveway between two rows of magnificent maple trees and stopped in front of an imposing mansion.
Good Lord, was that where they were having dinner?
Emma climbed out of the car while the chauffeur opened the other side door to help her mother. Their hosts must have been watching for their arrival. An elegant woman in a maroon dress, her strawberry blond hair impeccably coiffed, glided down the five marble steps and bent to hug Mom. “I’m so glad you were able to come, my dear Maria,” she greeted with a friendly voice.
“Thank you for inviting us and sending your driver.” Maria turned to Emma and proceeded with the introductions. “My stepdaughter, Emma Cassiero. Mrs. Nancy Dutton.”
“Emma, what a pleasure to meet you. You’re even prettier than your picture.” Nancy hugged her with as much affection as if she had been a long-lost niece.
Why had Mom shown her picture around? Was Emma making too much out of a friendly gesture?
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Dutton. I’m very grateful for the support you’ve given my mother. This is for you.” Emma gave her the box of chocolate.
“Thank you. Very kind of you. And here is my son, Josh Dutton.” Nancy waved to the striking man who’d followed his mother outside. Gorgeous enough to be called Man of the Year on any magazine—and make Emma’s heart beat erratically. Maybe she’d been confined at home for too long caring for Mom and had forgotten some men could be attractive enough to stir her blood.
Josh’s unfathomable gaze swept over her from head to toe and backtracked, roaming over her legs, skimming her waist and chest, and resting on her face for more appraisals.
Oh but he was so annoying… even conceited.
A flush warmed Emma’s cheeks but she raised her chin, returned the once-over, and stared him down. “Mr. Dutton,” she said with an icy tone.
Amusement glittered in his ocean-deep blue eyes shaded by a fringe of long dark lashes. “So glad you came, Emma.” He had the audacity to wink at her.
Yes, a perfect jerk.
In spite of his brazen arrogance, his smile confused her and her gaze riveted on his chiseled jaws and nose in the hope of finding his features lacking. Wistful hope. Physically he was close to perfection.
A queasy feeling filled her stomach and she slowly inhaled to regain control of her senses.
Nancy guided Maria up a side ramp and through the front door opening on a marble entry hall adorned with an antique credenza, gilded mirror and a velvet love seat. “Please come inside. We have a lot to talk about.”
Was Mrs. Dutton planning to explain her generous offer?
Emma didn’t have time to delve into the question. A warm hand settled on her back. Josh’s lemon scent surrounded her. He led her to a huge family room furnished with two brown leather sofas, matching armchairs, dark wood cocktail tables, and various knickknacks she couldn’t take in with her mental faculties focused on the large palm stiffening her shoulders and melting her insides.
Without waiting for an invitation she eased out of his hold and scooted to her mother’s side. Nancy had already helped Maria into a comfortable wingback chair and arranged a pillow behind her back, and then sat on a chair close to her guest.
Ignoring Josh who observed her curiously, and determined not to share a sofa’s closeness with her unsettling host, Emma sidled to the matching wingback chair across from her mother’s and dropped there.
A robust man in his late fifties entered the room, a jovial grin on his face. “Ladies, what a pleasure to meet you. Nancy talks so much about you.”
“Here you are, Howard,” Nancy introduced her husband.
“Maria, I feel I already know you.” Senator Howard was as friendly as they come.
His charisma filled the air and he outstretched both arms to enfold Maria’s frail hand between his. With silvery hair at the temples and thin lines underlying his eyelids, he presented a mature and pleasant personality quite in line with his position. Emma flipped a glance from the senator to his son and noticed the subtle smile hovering on Josh’s lips.
He’d settled on the empty sofa and seemed amused by his father’s affable greeting.
Had she missed something?

About the Author


NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Mona Risk
A tireless traveler, Mona lives in Florida and writes contemporary romance, medical romance, and romantic suspense, simmering with emotion and sprinkled with a good dose of humor. Her novels are set in the fascinating places she visited–or in Florida, her paradise on Earth.
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HOW ABOUT ANOTHER SNEAK PEEK AT CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES?


Christmas on Cougar Mountain – Nancy Radke

Hard-working Zoey is dedicated to helping children learn, and has built her business to the neglect of having a family. When she rescues a dog on the freeway, she discovers that the escape artist brings a family with him, including a boy she would like to help, and as love grows, a man she would like to keep. But will Kellen ever trust her to help his son, much less give her his heart?t.

Excerpt

A dog… on the freeway! Or just about. A lovely Border Collie, it was walking up the on-ramp, headed into deadly traffic. Zoey’s headlights picked up the shadowy form as she drove past.
Quickly decelerating, she pulled over to the edge and stopped, throwing on her emergency flashers. She hadn’t reached the actual freeway yet, she still had about thirty feet before the lanes merged. Watching for any cars coming up the on-ramp behind her, she opened her driver’s door and stepped out into the pouring rain. It was December in Seattle, so she was used to it. She splashed around to the back of her car and called the dog.
“Here boy. Here girl.” What did you call a dog when you were a total stranger? “Come on.” She bent forward and patted her hands against her legs. Zoey had grown up on a farm in Idaho and was no stranger to animals. She used her very best, soft coaxing voice, one that had saved the lives of lambs and other baby animals who had lost their mamas and had to be coaxed into eating. “Come on, pet. This is no place for you. You’ll get killed, or cause a pile-up, as people try to miss you. Come on, sweet.”
The dog paused, looking about, totally bewildered, then looked toward her, head low. Hers was the only encouraging, friendly voice around, and Zoey called again, wishing she had even part of a sandwich to help bring the dog to her. The rain soaked her hair and shoes and made short work of her raincoat. She could feel the moisture working its way around the collar.
“Come on. Would you like to go for a ride?”
The collie lifted its head.
“Ride? Go for a ride?”
That evidently meant something, and Zoey hurried over to the passenger door and opened it. “Get in! Ride.”
The dog bounded forward and leaped into her car. She shut the door quickly. None too soon, as two cars made the turn and were headed up the ramp, their headlights blinding her. She waited for them to swerve around and pass on by, then she rounded her car, cracked open the driver’s door, and slipped inside.
A wet tongue greeted her, adding to the wetness on her face. The dog was halfway onto the driver’s seat, thoroughly soaked, and Zoey had to push it away so that she could sit down. It put a wet paw on her arm and licked her face, treating her like a long lost friend, giving her a big doggy “thank you.”
“Down. Get down,” she protested, thankful that she had chosen to travel in her jeans and heavy coat, rather than in her better clothes.
The dog immediately jumped down on the floor and sat there, head cocked to one side, as if to say, “Now what?”
She stared out into the pouring rain. Almost a monsoon. Now that she had the collie off the freeway, what was she going to do with it? She was still close to Bellevue, although not familiar with this neighborhood.
“Well, I’m not going to have to worry that you’ll bite me,” she said, flipping on her turn signal and accelerating onto the freeway. “Let’s hope your owner had a chip put in you.”
She continued alongside the freeway for a few hundred feet, then pulled back off it, following the cloverleaf around. She drove down to the small shopping mall where she had stopped to get some coffee. There should be a veterinarian somewhere close. She didn’t want to take the dog with her, out of the area where she found it, in case the owners were looking for it.
Flipping on her phone, she searched for a nearby vet’s office. She found an animal hospital about a mile away, and drove to it.
Leaving the dog in the car, she tried the office door. Still open.
“Hi. I found a dog on the freeway, and would like to see if it has a locator chip,” she called across the room to the attendant.
“Sure. Bring him in.”
Zoey still wasn’t sure if the dog was male or female, so checked when she opened the door to take it out. Male.
He ran happily ahead of her, but when she said “Heel,” he came in close to her left side and stayed there.
“Well, someone has been teaching you manners,” she said, opening the vet’s door and going inside.
“He doesn’t look like he’s been injured,” the lady said, as they approached her.
“No. He was running up the on-ramp when I got him.”
The attendant petted the dog on the head and got a sweeping tail wag response. “Good boy. He might have been following his owner’s car. Dogs do that, expecting to get picked up. Then they get lost or hurt.”
“If so, he might be from around here. I picked him up on this exit.”
The lady scanned him along the back and shoulder. “No chip. Probably a family pet, and so no one thought to put in a chip. Do you want to leave him here?”
“What will you do with him?”
“We’ll send him to one of the pet rescue groups. If they can’t find his owner, they’ll put him out for adoption. If no one takes him, he’ll be put down.”
“That would be a shame. He’s a nice dog. Well trained. I think I’ll leave my name and number with you, and take the dog. You know what he looks like. If someone calls looking for him, you can send them to me.”
“Do you have room for him?”
“Yes. I have a large enclosed porch where he can stay.” Zoey wrote down her name and phone number on a pad and handed it to the attendant. “I put ‘Found Dog’ beside my name.”
“Border Collie. Male,” the attendant said, and added the words to the paper. Then she tore off the note and stuck it on a bulletin board on the wall behind her.
Zoey looked at all the notes. There were a lot of them. “All lost dogs?”
“Dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds… you name it. Even a rooster. We get a lot of missing pets this time of year. Folks get busy with the Christmas holidays and forget to check their animals. Or they think someone else in the family has done it.”
That wouldn’t be her, Zoey thought. Her family was still in Idaho.
“Come along, Dog.”
“You’d better name him. Do you want a leash?”
“A name?” Zoey’s mind stayed blank. What would she name the dog?
“Call him Jack. Just something rather than ‘Dog.'”
“OK. Jack was my grandfather’s name. I can remember that.”
“Have you had a dog before?”
“Not recently. But my folks had dogs. There was always one or two around.”
Leashes and collars hung on a rack near the counter. Should she get one? She might only have this dog for one day. She realized she wanted Jack. He would keep the nights from being so long. He probably wouldn’t sleep out on her porch, after all.
“I’ll take a leash and collar.” She chose a serviceable-looking set from the rack and put it on Jack. Sixty dollars. She could afford it, and pulled out her credit card.
The attendant ran the card and handed it back to her. “There you go. Don’t get too attached. Owners have a habit of showing up out of the woodwork, when you figure they never will.”
“Thanks for the warning.” She put the collar and leash on the dog. “Come on, Jack.” The collie followed her to the door and waited while she opened it. “Good dog. Heel.”
Jack positioned himself on her left side and stayed that way out to the car. She opened the door and he looked at her. “Get in.”
Thus invited, he jumped inside. She went around the car and joined him.
“There is no way I’d let anyone put you down,” she told him, giving him a scratch behind the ears. “Even if you chewed holes in my boots. I’m a sucker for a lost animal. Besides, you’ll make the kids feel at home.” And herself less lonely. She didn’t say it, but she thought it.
Zoey’s biological clock was ticking. She was almost twenty-eight and had no man interested in her. She had tried gym membership, but couldn’t stand the smell. Online dating seemed too risky. Her work kept her so busy, she really didn’t have time for dating. She had spent her college-age years getting her business going, and hadn’t met anyone.
Now she wished she had spent a little time looking around, “husband hunting,” but it had seemed so important to find a place where she could work. She had tried renting a duplex, where she could live in one side and work in the other, but it wasn’t set up the way she wanted it, and the double rent was just as expensive as a house. So she had bought a new house, built the way she wanted it.
She felt left behind. As lost as this dog. The eligible men had all settled down with someone else. She was going to have to make some changes in her life. Schedule more vacations. Join some clubs. Go out and meet people. Pray about it more often.
She turned on the windshield wipers and drove home to their rapid thumping. At top speed they still couldn’t keep the windshield clear of the heavy rain. Like everyone else on the freeway, she slowed down to forty miles an hour.
The dog in the car made a difference. She had made this trip many times, to and from the airport, but always by herself. Just the presence of a living, breathing being in the car beside her made a difference. He couldn’t talk back to her, but she chatted away to him, happy to have a companion for the journey.
“Do you know you are both beautiful and intelligent?” she asked Jack. “I don’t expect I’m going to get to keep you very long, not a dog like you. But if your owner is out of town or somewhere, I wouldn’t want you to end up at a shelter and go to someone else. Or get put down. I’ll take care of you. You really are a sweetie. You don’t look very old.”
In reply, he steamed up the windows and filled the air with the smell of wet dog, but she was very glad to have him.


About the Author

Author Nancy Radke, started out writing full-length, modern romance and suspense stories, then switched to novella length for her western series, The Traherns, and now writes both, usually two or three books at the same time. She has published ten Sisters of Spirit books, including Christmas on Cougar Mountain, thirteen Trahern books, and one book of a new Brothers of Spirit series. A former special education teacher, her education background shows when she includes history, or in this case, reading problems, in her books. Her books are G-rated, no sex, no swearing.


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SNEAK PEEK – MINTY’S KISS IN CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES

I’m proud to present an excerpt from my addition to Christmas Pets & Kisses. Minty’s Kiss is set in the Smoky Mountains during the holidays. I hope you enjoy reading a little bit from the first pages of this romantic novella.

Minty’s Kiss – P. C. Zick
When newly divorced Molly retreats to a family cabin with Gracie, her ten-year-old daughter, she’s surprised to find her childhood crush, Nick, still living in the area. Can a small kitty named Minty help Gracie accept the love developing between Nick and Molly in time for her first Christmas in the mountains of North Carolina?
Excerpt

Prologue

The bundle of black fur became Molly’s trusted companion the year she turned ten. It was her consolation prize for being the child of two people who hated one another so much they ended their marriage right before Christmas. Molly’s father brought the kitty over on Christmas Eve, and left it in a box with holes in the top under the Christmas tree. When Molly and her mother returned from midnight Mass, she heard squeaks coming from a box laden with a large red ribbon, sitting beneath the tree.
“A kitty!” she screamed when she tore open the top. She pulled the furry creature out of the box. The squeaking stopped only to be replaced by a loud purr.
“That purr is bigger than it is,” her mother said as she knelt down on the carpet next to Molly. “Your father finally got one thing right this Christmas.”
Molly ignored her mother as she buried her nose in his fur. “We need food, Mommy. Everything’s closed.”
“Go look in the kitchen.”
She carried her present with her and found cans of food and a box filled with litter on the floor by the sink.
“Just point it to the box, and everything should be fine.”
“Is it a girl or a boy?” Molly asked as she carried the fur ball to the litter box.
“It’s going to be hard to tell with all that fur. Knowing your father, he got you a male cat.”
“I think I’ll name him Harold. I think he’s a boy.”
“Harold? Why?”
“It fits. I like it.”
“It’s not very cat-like, but I suppose you’ll do what you want no matter what I say. Just like your father.”
Harold helped Molly ignore her mother and her bitterness over the divorce. He became her constant companion and confidant during the dark days of the winter, holed up in the mountain cabin in North Carolina. Her father’s family owned it, but her mother decided she would start her new life as a single mom in the Smoky Mountains, even though she never liked the cabin. Marilyn Irving enjoyed going to the theater and shopping at the mall. When the family did come to the cabin for vacations, Marilyn complained about the backwardness of Murphy, the closest town, and the rural area surrounding them. Her decision to move to the cabin came as an effort at revenge because Molly’s father enjoyed escaping to the mountains, and he loved the cabin. Since he initiated the divorce, he wasn’t in a position to deny his daughter and ex-wife much of anything.
“Molly, Nick is here.” The announcement came on Christmas afternoon as Molly sat on the kitchen floor playing with Harold. Nick was one of the only reasons she hadn’t protested too much when her mother made the surprising announcement about moving to Murphy.
“I see Santa was very good to you.” He knelt down next to her and gave Harold a rub on the head.
“Meet Harold. Harold, this is my friend Nick.”
Nick, two years older than Molly, reached for the kitty and rolled him over on his back in his arms. “People don’t think cats like their undersides rubbed like dogs do, but if you scratch right here on the chest between the front paws, most of them love it.” He scratched Harold in that spot and instantly his eyes closed and his purring machine started working.
“He loves it.” She looked at Nick with his blonde hair falling down into his eyes. He still wore his down jacket, but had pulled off his knit cap.
“How’s it going, Molly?” Nick looked at her with his bright blue eyes, and she lost herself in his gaze.
“It’s better now that you and Harold are here,” she said.
“My mom said you’ve moved here for good.”
“That’s what she says.” Molly nodded her head toward the living room where her mother sat reading a novel. “I hate her. She’s so mean.”
“It’s tough, isn’t it?” Nick reached for her brown hair and rubbed her head. “You just come find me anytime you need a friend, you hear?”
Molly nodded, and right there, on the kitchen floor, she vowed that one day she would marry Nick.
About the Author


P.C. Zick describes herself as “a storyteller no matter what I write.” And she writes in a variety of genres, including romance, contemporary fiction, and nonfiction. Her female characters are strong and sexy and her male heroes are easy to love. She’s won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction. When she’s not at the computer, she’s boating, kayaking, golfing, and just generally enjoying life with her husband—a lost love from her youth who resurfaced six years ago. Talk about a romantic story!
Minty’s Kiss is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 – November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Minty’s Kiss by P.C. Zick
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KEEP ON TAKING A PEEK AT CHRISTMAS PETS AND KISSES!

Unexpected Gift – Chantel Rhondeau
Aspiring decorator Cali Johnson moves to New York City—lonely, afraid, and far from home during the holidays. When she finds a lost cat in her apartment building, she strikes up an odd friendship with his reclusive owner, Marcus Ritz. If only she knew what he was hiding.
Excerpt

Cali Johnson covered her nose, trying to block the putrid smell of rotting garbage and body odor as she navigated the dirty linoleum flooring in the hallway of her apartment building. Four more doors and she’d reach her tiny place. Knowing she had a safe haven of cleanliness and cheer at the end of the hall was the only thing that kept her walking through it.
She couldn’t believe the way her neighbors treated their home. In her small hometown of Idaho City, no one would ever think about leaving rotting trash in another person’s way. Her new fifth story apartment off Bedford Park in the Bronx was an entirely different matter. Cali usually tried to see the good in everyone, but her new neighbors left a lot to be desired. She wondered how many of them were drug dealers or killers.
“But I’m living my dream,” she muttered under her breath, gagging when she walked by a bag at the apartment next to hers with something stinky inside.
The doorway across from her apartment opened and a tall, muscular man stepped out. His well-built arms made Cali gulp with fear and the scowl on his face didn’t invite friendly conversation.
She gripped the pepper spray canister attached to her key ring as she walked toward him, knowing she had to be ready if he came after her. She’d already learned that lesson on the subway last week. A thug overtook her while she rested and stole her purse, which would cause her aggravation for some time to come. People were different in New York than they were back home.
Just as the man was about to pass, a low hissing sound traveled through the hallway, making Cali jump and fumble her key chain protection to the floor.
“Again?” the man roared and pounded his fist against the wall with a short jab. “I’m sick of this crap!”
Cali pressed herself flat against the opposite hallway wall, not daring to bend over for her keys and be more vulnerable to the stranger. She turned her head briefly toward the hissing, noting a large ginger and white cat emerging from a garbage bag. The cat was a minor threat, however, and Cali fixed her attention on her neighbor.
“Don’t worry, miss,” the man said. “He probably won’t hurt you. It’s me he wants a piece of. I hate that cat.”
Swallowing quickly, Cali struggled to moisten her tight throat so she could speak. It seemed the man had misunderstood her fear. He must not be planning to attack if he assumed her fear wasn’t directed toward his scowling face and bulging biceps. “I thought cats weren’t allowed in this building,” she managed to say. “You’ve seen him before?”
The man rolled his eyes, clearly frustrated. “Yeah. That’s Jasper. He’s a service animal for the weirdo who lives in the apartment above yours.” He stuck his hand out. “I’m Clint, by the way. Been meaning to introduce myself since you moved in last week, but I work nights so it’s tough to sync up schedules with daytime folks.”
As he gave her a reassuring grin, Cali’s fear began to melt away. This was the first person in the building to offer her their name or a friendly word. Cali didn’t know anyone in this city and was awfully lonesome. Maybe Clint wasn’t so bad. She shook his hand. “I’m Cali. Just moved here to work as an assistant for an interior decorator down in Manhattan.”
Jasper stopped hissing and walked toward Cali and Clint. Even though the cat’s eyes stayed trained on Clint, he came up to Cali and rubbed against her leg in a friendly enough fashion.
“Of course he would like you,” Clint grumped. “Damn thing bit me last time he got out and I tried to take him home. No one can control him, but the woman who lived in your apartment before you managed to handle him.” He glared down at the cat. “You’re pure evil, Jasper.”
“Do you have a number for his owner?” Cali asked. “We really should get him home.” She wrinkled her nose, thinking about what Jasper might be rubbing against her work slacks. “He’s going to need a bath after digging through that garbage bag.”
“If our neighbors gave a sh—” He paused. “Sorry, Cali, I meant a crap. If they gave a crap about where we lived, Jasper wouldn’t have rotting garbage to dig through.”
She nodded her agreement. “It’s definitely a lot different than where I come from. Unfortunately, The Bronx is the only place in New York City I can afford. At least the subway ride down to my job in Manhattan isn’t too bad.” If she didn’t include getting robbed last week, of course.
“Yeah, it’s cheap but we’re basically living in the slums. Our slumlord doesn’t give a crap about this place. I’ve never seen the owner show his face around here, of course. All he cares about is our money. I used to try and clean up, but it’s pointless.”
She couldn’t worry about that. The hallway wasn’t her problem. Then again, she had a furry, orange problem still rubbing her leg. “So, about the cat’s owner…?”
“I don’t know his number, but he lives upstairs right above you. Apartment seven.” Clint narrowed his eyes. “Be careful around him. I wasn’t kidding when I called him a weirdo.”
Gulping, Cali twisted her hands together. “What do you mean? Is he dangerous?” Maybe she’d just mind her own business and let Jasper roam the halls until his owner came to find him.
“Not dangerous,” Clint reassured her. “But definitely not normal. Don’t expect to see him. He never comes out of his apartment.”
“Then how can I give him the cat?”
Clint’s black bushy eyebrows scrunched down and then he shrugged. “There used to be a cat carrier up there to put him in. This little jerk gets out at least a few times a month. I wish he’d get some bad garbage and we could get rid of him for good.”
Cali widened her eyes in shock. Maybe Clint wasn’t the good guy she thought. Who could wish death on a poor cat?
She glanced down, finding that Jasper had sat next to her foot with his tail curled around the back of her high-heeled shoe. He purred loudly, licking whatever he’d gotten into off his paw.
“I’ll take him home,” Cali decided. His owner had to be a good person if he liked animals. Weird was a relatively broad term in this strange town as far as Cali was concerned. The owner couldn’t be any worse than some of the people she’d already come across. “It was nice to meet you, Clint. I’m glad to know someone in the building finally.” After all, it wouldn’t do her any good to be rude to him, even if he wasn’t as kind as she’d hoped.
Clint bent down, snagging her keys off the ground. Jasper hissed again and took a swipe at his face, but Clint was too fast. He handed them to her. “Probably won’t see much of me, due to the opposite schedules, but if you ever need anything, let me know. Pretty, young girl like you living all alone in a place like this?” He shook his head, expressing his disapproval. “Don’t let any of the weirdos bug you, okay? I’m gone from ten at night until ten in the morning, but I’m normally here sleeping other than that. Holler if you need me.”
As Cali accepted her keys, she realized her over-simple method of judging good and bad might not work for her in such a diverse area of people. Clint might not be a saint, but he wasn’t all bad. “That’s very nice of you. Thank you so much.”
Grinning, Clint took off down the hallway, continuing to wherever he’d planned to go before running into her.
Cali looked down at the cat and sighed. Speaking of weirdos in the building, she needed to go meet one now. “Come on, Jasper. Let’s take you home.”
She bent down, holding her hand out for the cat to sniff. After he’d thoroughly inspected her hand and began purring again, she lifted him from the floor and cradled him to her chest.
The rotting smell became stronger with the cat so close to her nose, and Cali hoped she didn’t have many problems returning him to his owner. She definitely needed a shower.
***
Stepping onto the top floor of the apartment building was like walking into a different world. The walls and linoleum flooring were spotless and not a single garbage bag graced the hallway. A crisp, clean scent of pine pervaded the area.
Cali scratched behind Jasper’s ears. “Why would you ever run away from this place to dig through trash?”
Jasper only purred louder in response. For Clint’s claims of the cat being such a vicious beast, Jasper hadn’t offered to bite her once on the way up the stairwell. He continued to be docile and sweet while they moved toward his home. If only he didn’t stink so badly, Cali might enjoy holding him.
She’d never been allowed to have a cat growing up, though she’d spent a lot of time trying to make friends with the feral cats that lived on nearby farms. She’d always wanted one, and Jasper was just the loving sort of furry friend she wished to have. She wondered what type of weirdo a person had to be in order to get a cat as a service animal. She’d love to have one if she qualified—after all, no one could really claim to be ‘normal.’
With growing trepidation, she reached apartment number seven. There wasn’t a cat carrier by the door, so Cali hoped Clint had exaggerated when he said the person living inside never came out.
“Here goes nothing, Jasper.” Cali raised her hand and knocked, holding her breath as she waited for a response.
After several moments, her heart continued to hammer away with nerves but no one came to the door. She knocked again, longer and harder.
“Go away!” yelled a deep voice from inside.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” Cali yelled near the crack in the door. “I have Jasper. He was digging through garbage downstairs.”
“So put him inside the door and leave.”
The man definitely wasn’t friendly, but it seemed Cali could at least drop the cat off.
She tried the knob and it turned easily in her hand. A small part of her worried whether the man would be on the other side, ready to jump her and steal her new purse, but Clint said he wasn’t dangerous, just weird.
What awaited her on the other side of the door was a surprise. It was a small room with another closed door. Logically, she’d expected the apartment to be set up like hers. She never figured someone would have a pointless room inside their entryway.
More nervous than before, she walked into the room and tried the knob on the second door. That knob didn’t turn in her grasp. “Sir? The door is locked.”
“Set Jasper down out there and shut him in. I’ll get him after you leave.”
Something was certainly different about this situation, but at least Jasper could get home. Then again, Cali worried about the man living here. Clint said he never came out of his house. Why would that be? She knew how lonely she was living in this city and not knowing anyone. Purposely avoiding everyone was the strangest thing Cali had ever heard. This man definitely needed Jasper, just so he had some companionship and wasn’t completely alone. How sad that seemed.
“Look, sir, I’m new here,” she said through the door. “My name is Cali Johnson and I live in the apartment right below you.” She hesitated, wondering if that was too much information to give to a stranger. She wasn’t used to watching what she said or worrying about stranger danger. Strangers were an unusual occurrence in her small hometown except when tourists came through, and Cali never worried much about them.
Deciding she wanted to help this man even if he was a stranger, she forged on. “How about I give you my phone number in case Jasper gets out again? I’ll keep an eye on him for you. My neighbor said he gets out a few times a month, and he seems to have a problem with Jasper. I’d hate for you to lose your cat because no one brings him home.”
A loud snort came from the other side of the doorway. “Why would you do that? You don’t even know me.”
“Isn’t that what people do?” she asked, sincerely shocked. “It’s the holidays. Christmas is just around the corner. Isn’t this a time to be kind to other people?”
“Great,” the man said. “One of those bleeding heart types. You all want to help others until it’s an inconvenience to you and you stop helping.”
He certainly wasn’t grateful, but Cali reminded herself that she shouldn’t do nice things in the hopes of getting recognition for it. Being kind was reward enough.
Awkwardly, because of Jasper’s heavy weight in her arm, Cali sifted through her new purse and found a receipt from lunch. Not daring to shut herself inside the small room in case the door didn’t open back up and the ‘weirdo’ trapped her, she couldn’t put Jasper down. Carefully, she managed to write out a shaky message with her name and phone number. “I hope someone would help me if I were in the same situation, sir. I’m leaving my phone number. Call if you need anything at all. I just moved to the city and don’t know many people, so I’m home a lot besides going to work. Jasper seems like a good boy. I’ll keep an eye out for him.”
“If I could keep the damn cat inside the house, it wouldn’t be a problem. He’s tricky. Always sneaking out when the groceries get delivered. He hides in that room until the door gets opened again.”
Even his groceries were delivered? The man must have quite a bit of money, despite living in a rough neighborhood and a rundown building. It explained why the hallway up here smelled good and was free from trash. He must pay to have it cleaned so his delivery people wouldn’t have issues making it to his door. Not that money mattered if he were trapped inside his home.
“I’ll help out,” Cali promised. “Jasper seems like a good boy. Oh, I didn’t catch your name.”
“I didn’t throw it,” the growly voice replied.
She sighed. “Well then, have a good evening, sir. I’ll leave Jasper and go now.”
Setting the slip of paper with her phone number on the ground, Cali stroked Jasper’s chin and kissed his head despite the smell. “Be good, boy.”
Carefully she backed from the room, set Jasper on the floor, and shut the door.
About the Author


Bestselling author Chantel Rhondeau once thought a great mystery or fantasy book with strong romantic themes was the highest level of reading bliss. After reading her first romantic suspense novel, she never looked back. Chantel is author of six romantic suspense novels, a Christmas novella, and the new McCallister’s Paradise series with many more in the works. She lives in the western United States, and when she’s not writing she loves playing cards with her family, bowling on leagues, and snuggling with her lazy kitties.
Unexpected Gift is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 – November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Unexpected Gift by Chantel Rhondeau
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c


Sneak Peek – Christmas Pets & Kisses box set

Mavy’s Christmas Miracle – Sharon Coady
Anne Hurd returns to the Pocono’s to help her elderly grandfather. Six years earlier Kyle Shafer disappeared from her life. She rescues a kitten, takes her to a vet who turns out to be Kyle. Kyle can’t believe Anne walked back into his life. Will he scare her away, or will she give him another chance? Kyle decides to take a chance and try for the love he gave up on.
Excerpt

Anne couldn’t believe this was happening. She knelt down and sobbed as the tiny gray kitten tried to raise his head. His body was shaking and foam spilled from his mouth along with a diminutive meow.
“Oh poor baby, why would someone do this to you? I’ll be right back.” She ran into her grandparents’ cabin.
“Pop, one of the kittens is hurt. I think someone poisoned him. He can’t move and foam is coming from his mouth.”
“Let’s go take a look.” He reached over and took her arm to steady himself as she helped him down the three wooden steps and off the porch. At ninety years old, he was still independent, but smart enough to know his step was no longer steady.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked down at the kitten. “Poor little fellow.” He glanced at Anne. “Looks like you were right. Go get my gun, girl. The Smith and Wesson twenty-two. We don’t want him suffering any longer.”
Anne ran back into the house, sadness for the kitten engulfing her. She had fallen in love with him the first time he had come out from under the house and stared at her with his dark green eyes. It had taken her almost three weeks to coax him into letting her get close enough to pet him. The kittens were about eight weeks old now and she had hoped to convince her grandfather to adopt the one of them.
Grabbing Pop’s gun carefully, she hurried back outside and waited patiently as he asked her to steady him while he put the kitten down. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the trigger. The bang resonated loudly and echoed in the silence that followed. Pop sighed, shook his head and wiped a tear away from his deeply wrinkled cheek.
“I’ll never understand how some people can be so cruel to little animals. Can you bury him, girl?”
“Yes, but I’ll take you back inside first.” She took his arm and helped him back to the porch, not trying to hide the tears streaming down her cheeks. She glanced at his face as she helped him up the steps and saw how tired he was. He stumbled a bit on the last step and she put her arm around him and gave him a hug.
“Things happen and people are mean sometimes. See if you can find any of the others after you bury him.”
“I will.”
He shuffled over to his cabinet and laid the pistol down. He stood for a moment, shaking his head and mumbling under his breath. His shoulders bent as he put his hands in his pockets.
“I’m going now. I’ll let you know if I see any of the others.” She pulled on her old wool coat and zipped it up, not looking forward to the task at hand.
After she took care of the kitten, she put the shovel back in place and made her way to the porch. It made her sad to see the cracked and peeling paint covering the cabin. She closed her eyes and brought to mind the images of the place she remembered from her childhood: Gram’s lovingly tended gardens full of different types of flowers in front of the small, enclosed porch. The white paint covering the wood siding of the cabin, making it neat and tidy. Her favorite image was of Gram looking out the kitchen window while she washed her dishes, smiling as Anne picked the blackberries off the bush.
Kneeling down, she tried to see underneath the porch, hoping to spot the other kittens. Her heart sank when she saw no movement. I hate to tell him the other ones are gone. I can’t do it. She stood up and made her way slowly into the house.
When she walked in, he glanced at her. “Did you see the rest of them?” His steel-blue eyes searched her face.
“It was too dark. I’ll have to look again tomorrow. I’m going to start dinner now.” She prayed he wouldn’t see the sadness on her face.
“Do you need me to peel potatoes? I always did for your grandmother.”
“That would be wonderful. I’ll bring them to you.” She grabbed four potatoes, the old green Tupperware strainer and his favorite peeler. “Here you go.” She stooped down and kissed the top of his bald head. “Love you,” she whispered.
“Love you too, girl.” He set to work peeling the potatoes.
She wondered if her resemblance to Gram bothered him. Everyone told her she looked just like a younger version of her grandmother. Anne had the same cinnamon colored hair and slight build, but her grandmother’s eyes had been a deep hazel color while hers were green.
Pop interrupted her thoughts. “So, you’ll look for the other kittens?”
“Sure. I’ll go out first thing in the morning and look around.” She glanced over to see his brows drawn down, and his lips pressed together. “Hopefully, they’re okay.”
Reviewer’s Comment
“Sometimes, Christmas miracles come in small packages — a sweet and heartwarming story.” – Rachelle Ayala

About the Author


Sharon Coady lives in Florida with her husband, three of their daughters and five of their eleven grandchildren. She wrote two books before discovering Romance novels. She has now written a romantic suspense, a romance novella and is currently writing a Christmas novella. She has two published novels. When not working as a nurse for the Veterans Administration or writing she enjoys spending time with her family and riding behind her husband on their Harley.Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sharon-Coady-Author/320824178053345?ref=hl
Twitter:
https://twitter.com/srcoady

Mavy’s Christmas Miracle is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 – November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Mavy’s Christmas Miracle by Sharon Coady today!
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c


CALL FOR WRITERS – AUTHOR WEDNESDAY TO RETURN IN THE FALL

cropped-typewriter.jpgAuthor Wednesday returns in the fall, beginning September 9, but I need authors to fill the slots. Right now, I’m scheduling through the end of the year.

I welcome interviews and guest posts about your latest work. If you have a new release or a novel to promote, please contact me. If I think you’d be a good fit for my blog and my followers, then I will schedule you for an upcoming Wednesday. Please leave me a comment or fill out the contact form on the website.

If you’ve been featured on Author Wednesday before, I’m still happy to host you again, if you have something new to tell us.

I love doing this feature on my website because I’ve met so many wonderful folks, and in turn, I’m told that I’ve introduced others to new writers. It’s a great win/win for everyone. I only ask that you share the post with your followers on social media and that you stop by to comment on the post.

Third Base_low resolution for webIt’s been a productive summer for me. I published Third Base, a baseball romance, which is one of ten novels in the Score One for Love box set now available at all major retailers. This past week, I finished Minty’s Kiss, a sweet romance featuring an equally sweet kitty. It’s featured in the box set Christmas Pets and Kisses now available for pre-order. Now I’m diligently at work on Behind the Curtain, the third book in the Behind the Love series.

Score One for Love 3D

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