HOLIDAY EXTRAVAGANZA – GREAT GIVEAWAYS AND DEALS


Choosy Bookworm has partnered with eNovel Authors at Work to bring you a month long celebration with great books, great book deals, and let’s not forget the great giveaways! 


Check out today’s featured authors and books, then head on over to the event page and enter to win one of two $250 Amazon Gift Cards or Paypal Cash!


Be sure to check out the featured books and the awesome author sponsored giveaway below!


Death by Romance

by Anne Kennison

Genre:  Mystery

When prominent businessman Gordon Taylor is murdered, the case falls in the lap of Detective Ryan Hamlin. He has no clues and no leads until a chance conversation leads him to a long list of suspects, most involved in a “perfectly legal” scheme to get rich by tapping into the fortunes of others—so long as none of them is convicted. That’s when the deception and finger-pointing begin. Full of twists and turns, this clever whodunit will keep you guessing until the very end.

On sale for $0.99

November 1 – 30

Meet Anne Kennison

With more than 30 years of lawyering under her belt, and now retired from the practice of law, Anne describes herself as a “recovering attorney.” Anne’s unique plot twists, however, come from a fertile imagination honed by those long years of experience.

Rain Clouds & Waterfalls

by Piper Templeton

Genre: Literary Fiction

A novel told in short stories, follow young protagonist Ellen as she narrates each story of love, loss, longing, friendship, and entrapment. Inspired by the artistry of the Beatles, each story is framed by a Beatles song or Beatles event. Follow Ellen’s journey from 1976 to 1990:  Her beloved brother’s disappearance from the family, her navigation through high school, her loss of innocence, her challenges in the 1980s workplace, and her growth as a young woman taking charge of her life. Ellen injects insight, wisdom in hindsight, and humor into these slice of life stories.

Goodreads ~ Amazon US ~ Amazon UK

On sale for $0.99

November 1 – 30

Meet Piper Templeton

Piper Templeton lives in a New Orleans subdivision with her three feathered friends.  A Liberal Arts graduate from the University of New Orleans, Piper earns a living in the Louisiana Judiciary System while pursuing her passion for writing fiction.

Behind the Curtain

by P.C. Zick

Series: Behind the Love, #3

Genre: Contemporary Romance

When Lisa Williams returns to her hometown of Victory, Florida, with a reality TV show crew, not everyone is happy to see her. Lisa finds herself at odds with everyone in town, even her close friend Tommy.

When Tommy is assigned to cover the show’s filming as a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, he finds himself at odds with Lisa who he’s beginning to think of as more than a friend. He struggles to remain her friend, hoping she’ll realize that her actor boyfriend Jet isn’t any good for her. Then maybe he can win her fragile heart.

Pre-Order Behind the Curtain:


Get the first two books

Behind the Altar & Behind the Bar

FREE from November 3 – 7

Meet P.C. Zick

P.C. Zick writes contemporary fiction and romances. She describes herself as a storyteller no matter the genre.

All of her novels contain strong female heroines who live by their convictions and love with passion. Her heroes find themselves unable to resist the allure of intelligence wrapped in beautiful packages.

Head on over to the

Choosy Bookworm

Holiday Extravaganza

event page to learn more and enter to win one of two $250 Amazon Gift Cards or Paypal Cash!

Saturday Spotlight – Christmas Pets and Kisses Boxed Set #XmasPets #CoverReveal

SIXTEEN ALL-NEW, NEVER-BEFORE-PUBLISHED SWEET (PG-rated) CHRISTMAS ROMANCES from NY Times, USA Today, and Award Winning Authors – 99c for a limited time!
Ring in the Christmas cheer with sixteen all-new sweet and heart-warming romances from New York Times, USA Today and National bestselling authors. Don’t miss out on this romantic collection of Christmas tails…uh, tales as adorable pets with fins, paws, feathers, and hooves bring holiday magic with the gift of true love
Golden Christmas – 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?
Two Loves for Christmas – 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?
Dog-Gone Christmas – Melinda Curtis
Widow Marnie Haywood wants Christmas hosting her in-laws to go smoothly. And it would – if her handsome neighbor and his friendly St. Bernard would stop coming over, mooching food, and stealing kisses.
His Christmas Promise – Alicia Street
A stray dog with a penchant for giving warm and fuzzy love finds refuge with an ex-Army helicopter pilot and helps restore his bedridden grandmother’s will to live. It seems like a Christmas miracle until the bachelor war vet discovers the mutt belongs to a little girl who wants him back—and a single mom who makes him rethink his freewheeling ways and maybe even believe in love.
We Wish You A Ferret Christmas – Nikki Lynn Barrett
Widower Lance Rossiter wants nothing to do with the pet ferret who caused his daughter to be hit by a car. Widow Cara McLean is shocked by the ferret her son finds and wants to keep. When Lance and Cara meet, sparks fly and love suddenly seems possible. Can a lost and found ferret bring two fractured families together?
Christmas Lovebirds – Rachelle Ayala
Melisa Hart has a soft spot for her brother Connor’s ex-best buddy, Rob Reed, who slept with Connor’s girlfriend. When her pet lovebird is mixed up with Rob’s, Melisa discovers he’s always cared about her. Can two little lovebirds and Christmas cheer open Melisa’s heart to giving Rob another chance?
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?
The Vet’s Christmas Pet – J.L. Campbell
The last thing Toni wants for Christmas is more responsibility, but her daughter has other ideas. A near accident not only brings them a dog in need of a home, but Matthias Laing, who Toni would prefer to keep in the past.
Tails, Time, and St. Nick – Mary Leo
Kris Timemaker has inherited a magical clock. Using the clock’s magic for anyone other than St. Nick on Christmas Eve has some grave consequences, but when his daughter’s beloved Westie goes missing, and his estranged wife asks for his help, Kris has no choice but to take a chance with time and try to win back his family in the process.
Graced – Jade Kerrion
Connor Bradley doesn’t have time for distractions, not while juggling single parenthood and his clinic on five hours of sleep a night. He most certainly doesn’t have time for Noelle, the high school flirt, who is prettier and more irresistible than he remembers. When Noelle’s father’s heart attack derails Connor’s plans for his first Christmas without his wife, Noelle wants to save the day for his adorable children, but can she also find her way into Connor’s guarded heart?
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.

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?
The Christmas Wish – Michele Shriver
Ashley McLaughlin is struggling to move on from her husband’s infidelity. Brennan wants to make amends for his transgression. Their young daughter, Hayley, has only one wish for Christmas- for her family to be together again. When Hayley suffers a head injury after a fall from her horse, will it help her get her wish? Or do the wounds from Brennan’s betrayal run too deep for Ashley to forgive?
Dante’s Gift – Aubrey Wynne
Seventy years ago, a collie mix brought two hearts together in war torn Italy. Will their story help their grandson find his own Christmas love?
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.
The Impossible Rescue – Annamaria Bazzi
Christmas is no joy for Julia who’s gambling husband comes around only to ask for money. When a handsome stranger and his cute Pomeranian puppy moves in next door, Julia feels guilty for their mutual attraction. Michael’s not the rescuing type, but when he spies Julia’s husband haranguing her for holiday cash, anger flares and he is determined to rescue Julia from another miserable Christmas.

What Early Reviewers Are Saying

Golden Christmas – Helen Scott Taylor
Two wounded hearts are brought together at Christmas by a golden retriever puppy.
“I found this to be well written and so heartwarming,… You are going to love this story as well as each one in this box-set.” – Cynthia, Page by Page Inside-Out Reviews
“I enjoyed this book so very much! It’s hard to go wrong with a hunky wounded warrior and not just one, but two precious pups!!” – Sandra D on Goodreads
“It is a really sweet story about second chances and it will touch your heart as it touched mine.” – Winnie Lim on Goodreads
Two Loves for Christmas – Mona Risk
Her German shepherd is her only friend until Josh teams up with Rino to love and protect her.
“This is not only a story featuring romance, but it has a touch of suspense too. Romance, suspense, danger and a German Shepherd – definitely a great combination. You’ll love this as much as I did.” ~ Winnie Lim
“This story is a romance story with a hint on danger and suspense. This story will definitely keep you interested.” ~ Julie Fowler
“Will Emma truly change Josh? Will they fall in love? This was a really enjoyable book!” ~ Kimberly Dawn
Dog-Gone Christmas – Melinda Curtis
A handsome neighbor and his friendly St. Bernard mooch food and kisses from a merry widow.
“It’s a sweet love story, with a bit of angst, a lot of humor, and some lovely kisses. I really enjoyed this story, and wouldn’t hesitate to read more from this author.” – Elizabeth Robbins from Goodreads
“Dog-Gone Christmas by Melinda Curtis is a sweet story. It is all about new beginnings and forgiveness.” – Julia David from Goodreads
“Dog-Gone Christmas is a sweet love story with some angst and humor involving a dog owner, his neighbor, and a dog — be prepared to laugh out loud at times.” – JoAnne from Goodreads
We Wish You A Ferret Christmas – Nikki Lynn Barrett
Can a lost and found ferret bring two fractured families together?
“As with every other Nikki Lynn Barrett book, I loved the characters and was drawn into the story immediately. You can’t go wrong reading a book by Mrs. Barrett and this is another example of that.”
“Nothing makes me happier than a book that deals with difficult issues and really gets down to the heart of the matter and how hard it can be…Such an amazing read and it really touches the heart!”
“We Wish you a Ferret Christmas is just the perfect story for getting us prepared for the holiday. Loved it.”
Christmas Lovebirds – Rachelle Ayala
Can two little lovebirds and Christmas cheer open Melisa’s heart to giving Rob another chance?
“I love it when authors add in a little animal love, too! It feels almost like 2 romances in one.” – Nikki from Goodreads
“This story is a great reminder of what the Christmas season is truly about…family and forgiveness.” – Julie Fowler
“It had laughter, love, heartache, forgiveness, and two little lovebirds that had their own thing going on.” – Lisa Longstreth
The Vet’s Christmas Pet – J.L. Campbell
A near accident brings Toni and her daughter a homeless dog and a man she’d prefer to keep in her past.
Ms. Campbell has hit the nail on the head with what love is all about. Bravo!—Rose Morales
The characters are lovely from the beginning and especially Jade and Ridley, the puppy, who actually steal the show.—Sally Stackhouse
It was sweet, refreshing and a good balance of how a blended family comes together.—Celeste Williams
Graced – Jade Kerrion
Noelle, armed with several goldfish and a kitten, brings Christmas cheer to a widower and his children.
“You definitely are on an emotional rollercoaster while reading Graced.”—Julie Fowler
“Graced is a must read that will pull on your heart strings.”—Terri Merkel
Unexpected Gift – Chantel Rhondeau
Far from home, a lonely young woman strikes up a friendship with a lost cat and his secretive owner.
“Unexpected Gift was truly heartwarming and a very different kind of love story. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop.” – Maria Diaz
“An emotionally turbulent, yet sweetly poignant, reminder that love has the power to heal all wounds.” – Liza Robbins
“What an incredible heart-warming story on true love that grows from the inside and not based on appearances.” – Rebecca Austin
Minty’s Kiss – P.C. Zick
One kitten, a broken-hearted girl, and long lost loves are brought together for a special mountain Christmas.
“I loved this novella. It is the first time I’ve read anything by this author and I liked her style of writing. This author has succeeded brilliantly.” ~Sally Stackhouse
“This story right here screamed made for TV. I love the Hallmark channel, and I could see this being played out there.” ~Celeste Williams
“This is a sweet story of love lost and regained, which will certainly put you in the Christmas spirit. If the rest of the stories are half as entertaining as this one, then readers will be well served.” ~David Lawlor
The Christmas Wish – Michele Shriver
Will a fall from a horse bring Hayley’s parents back together in time for Christmas?
“This was a great novella and I love the writing around it and how Hayley and Thunder showed Ashley and Brennan what really matters!”- Rebecca Austin
“Michele Shriver has once again given us another heartwarming story.”- Elizabeth Clinton
“This is another great read by Michele Shriver! Loved the sweet family story centered around Christmas!!”- Jill Snead
Dante’s Gift – Aubrey Wynne
Seventy years ago, a collie mix brought two hearts together in war torn Italy. Will their story help their grandson find his own Christmas love?
“Wynne has crafted a beautiful short story guaranteed to warm your heart and make you sigh.” ~ Kishan Paul, author of Blind Love and The Second Wife
“It is a story of romance…that will have you misty-eyed.” ~ Celeste Williams ~ Goodreads Reviewer
“This is a really beautiful love story that will touch everyone’s heart and brings tears to your eyes.” ~ Winnie Lim ~ Top Goodreads Reviewer
Mavy’s Christmas Miracle – Sharon Coady
Anne takes a rescue kitten to the vet, only to discover he’s the man who broke her heart.
“I just couldn’t put down! Very sweet, family oriented reading… A definite “feel good” story that is at home around the holidays or any season! I heartily recommend this story!” ~ Holly Lachman-Militello
“This story is full of Christmas hope, dreams of lost love found and family. I couldn’t put it down. A delightful tale you will read again.” ~ Karen Baird-Butler
“..this story is phenomenal. Love the characters and the plot is amazing. I couldn’t put it down. Would highly recommend this to anyone that loves a good romance!!” ~ Delina Parker
Available Now!

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

Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99cAmazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Amazon UKGoogle

You’re Invited to the Christmas Pets & Kisses Countdown Launch Party! [September 21 – Oct 6]
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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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COUNTDOWN CONTINUES WITH ANOTHER SNEAK PEEK – DOG-GONE CHRISTMAS

Dog-Gone Christmas by Melinda Curtis
Widow Marnie Haywood wants Christmas hosting her in-laws to go smoothly. And it would – if her handsome neighbor and his friendly St. Bernard would stop coming over, mooching food, and stealing kisses.
Excerpt

“The abominable snowman is in our backyard!”
Marnie Haywood kept stirring the gravy. She had a few days to perfect her gravy-making technique before Christmas. She wasn’t going to burn the gravy this year, especially since her in-laws were coming for the holiday.
Besides, the likelihood that a live snowman was in their sunny San Diego backyard was small.
Five year-old Alex jumped up and down next to her. “Abominable! Snowman!” He made claws with both hands and dropped his voice to a monster snarl. “A-bom-in-a-ble! Snow-man!”
Maybe it’d been a mistake to allow Alex to binge-watch Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and sample the baked goods she’d made to share with their friends and neighbors. He was supercharged, bursting with enough energy to power Rudolph’s nose through a foggy all-nighter.
No fictional snowman was ruining Marnie’s gravy. She stirred as vigorously as her son jumped.
And then they both stopped, because something growled. Something in their backyard.
Alex gripped her jean-clad leg. “I told you.” He pointed to the glass slider behind her. The one leading to their condo’s backyard.
A thin sheet of glass separated them from a huge white dog. A pony-sized dog. A slobber-on-the-slider, paws-as-big-as-softballs, jaws-as-big-as-bear-traps dog.
Marnie’s insides shimmied like tinsel near a heating vent. This situation wasn’t covered in the Single Mom Handbook.
The dog gave another growly-grumble.
“No. I will not let you in,” Alex said as if he understood dog-speak.
The canine drooled and licked the slider, but mostly he panted. Now that the initial shock of him had passed, Marnie noted he had a black nose and a brown mask and ears. He was just so large, white, and Abominable Snowman-like.
“He’s thirsty.” Alex’s death grip relaxed on Marnie’s leg. “We have water, doggy.” Her little man took two steps toward the slider before Marnie dragged him back.
Panting, the dog plopped to his haunches and tilted his head to one side, trying to see in.
“Mama, you said we have to be nice to the new neighbor.”
Their condo shared a backyard and a wall with the unit next door. They’d heard someone move in yesterday. Marnie had planned on introducing herself tonight after whoever moved in had time to settle. But this…
Marnie held on to Alex’s small shoulders. “That dog is not a new neighbor. He’s a stray.” Had to be. There was a no pet policy at the condo complex. She had no problem with people sneaking in hamsters, indoor cats, or parakeets. But this…
The dog rested his humongous head on his humongous paws and made a sound that was half growl/half howl in a way that sounded as if he said, “But I’m harmless.” And then he put a paw on the glass with all the grace of a ballerina.
Her heart wanted to soften. But Marnie was a single mother. She had to be strong.
Alex broke away from Marnie’s arms and ran to the sliding door. He pressed his hand where the dog’s paw was. His small one was almost a perfect fit with the dog’s.
Marnie hurried after him. “Touch that slider latch, young man, and you’ll never watch Rudolph again.”
The beast lifted his head slowly, staring at Marnie with soulful eyes. He licked the glass near her son’s face before resuming his panting in a way that sounded like, “Hot-hot-hot-hot.”
Granted, it was warm. Ninety degrees wasn’t too warm for San Diego. But it was warm for the week before Christmas and for a big, furry dog.
“Water, Mama. Please?” Alex had big soulful eyes of his own.
“We’re not letting in a stray dog.”
An even larger figure stepped on to their small concrete patio.
Shrieking, Marnie and Alex stumbled back.
The setting sun outlined a towering, muscular frame, and kept the man’s face in shadow. He surveyed the backyard, paused, and then peered inside as the dog had done.
A second scream caught in Marnie’s throat. A man. At her backdoor. With only a flip-lock and a thin sheet of glass separating them.
He moved, and sunlight illuminated him in all his raggedy glory. A sleeveless black T-shirt, faded blue jeans, and tan work boots – torn, dirty, and scuffed. None of which made her pulse slow. Her gaze met his smiling one – blue eyes as soulful as the dog’s, his teeth just as white. She wasn’t fooled by his good looks and that meant-to-be-reassuring smile. Dressed like that, her money was on vagrant serial killer. The Single Mom Handbook was clear on big strange men in tattered clothing – call the police.
Marnie ran through their small living room/dining area and into the galley kitchen, looking for her phone. Where had she left it?
“Mom?” Alex pointed to the patio.
The man had straddled the sitting dog and was pounding the beast’s barrel chest as if it was a drum. “Good boy, Snowflake.”
Snowflake?” The name was more fitting for a small white poodle than that monstrosity.
The vagrant serial killer straightened, smiling as if he had the world at his feet. He knocked on the glass.
Did she trust those soulful blue eyes? That sun-kissed brown hair? That sigh-worthy smile?
Alex did. He unlocked and opened the slider.
“Alex!”
“I didn’t do anything.” Her son’s standard disclaimer.
Snowflake bounded in, circling Alex and licking his face, eliciting a giggle. The dog finished with her son and galloped through the living room, past the Christmas tree, toward Marnie.
Big white teeth. Big white paws. Big white underbelly.
He tackled her, knocking the air from her lungs, banging her head to the hardwood, and wiping every trace of makeup from her face with his tongue.
~*~
“Off the nice lady, Snowy.” Using the dog’s nickname and his cop voice, Jonas Johnson took hold of the St. Bernard’s collar and pulled him off the petite woman. “Sorry. He only tackles people he bonds with.”
“But…We just met.” She wiped her face with the back of her hands. “Tell me you didn’t move in next door.”
“I did. I was crashing at a friend’s apartment, but Snowy wouldn’t have fit in that small space.”
Introductions were exchanged.
The little boy, Alex, giggled. “You smell like my friend Ursula’s Christmas tree.”
“That’s because I’m managing some Christmas tree lots for my family. We have a big Christmas tree farm. Three generations.” He took a couple of weeks off from the police department at the holidays every year to help out.
Holding Snowy back with one arm, Jonas extended his free hand to help Marnie up from her whitewashed hardwood floor. Only then did he get a good look at her – velvety brown eyes, a delicate nose, and a cascade of black, silken hair. Her small hand fit in his like a properly placed puzzle piece. When he brought her to her bare feet, she hardly came to his shoulder. But there was nothing petite about her attitude.
“No dogs allowed.” She tossed her hair and tugged at her clothing. Her hair was straight and her body was curvy, covered in blue jeans and a simple red tank top.
Something shifted in the air between them. And it wasn’t dog breath. It was a bone deep awareness that spread from Jonas’ lungs to his chest to his gut. Her words finally sunk in. “No dogs? In your house?”
“In the entire condo neighborhood!”
“Well, I…Is something burning?” He glanced at the brick fireplace. Was that what had him all tied up in knots?
My gravy.” The spitfire hurried into the small kitchen, turned off the stove, and put the saucepan on the back burner. “Ruined again. I’ll never get past this.”
Snowy trailed after Marnie. He was tall enough to put his nose on the stove, but he didn’t. He took deep breaths and then did his doggy-mutter, the one he used to beg for food. He sat, still talking, sounding hopeful and reproachful at the same time.
“Gravy isn’t good for dogs,” she said. “Especially dogs who aren’t supposed to be here.” She leaned against the counter, brought Jonas in her sights, and crossed her arms.
“Don’t you like Snowy?” Little Alex hugged the St. Bernard. “I do.”
Snowy made a soft noise and licked the boy’s cheek.
“He talks,” Jonas said, studying her for more than just her negative reaction to a dog. “How can you not love a dog like that?”
“It doesn’t matter what skills your dog has. He has to go. Little boy. Big dog. Someone’s going to get hurt.” She touched the back of her head, wincing slightly. “The policy is clear. No pets.”
Snowy slumped.
She couldn’t possibly care that much about the rules. More likely she didn’t want any more overly-loving take-downs or extra-large poop piles for Alex to step in.
“He’s not my dog,” Jonas admitted. “I’m taking care of him for a friend who just deployed. This was the only place I could find that was available on short notice and had a fenced yard.” Yeah, he’d seen the photo of a Marine in dress blues on her corner table next to the brown microfiber couch. And yeah, he wasn’t lying. Darren had been deployed with his SEAL team yesterday and was due back in two weeks.
Her gaze flew to the picture in the corner. Something flashed across her face. Pain? Guilt? Remorse? The jumbled emotions disappeared as fast as they came, triggering Jonas’ spidey-cop sense. What had begun as a friendly, neighborly distraction, threatened to plunge into private territory Jonas wanted to avoid.
Jonas flashed an expression of his own: his most charming smile – the one that settled speeders he’d pulled over to ticket and that sold Charlie Brown Christmas trees at full price on Christmas Eve. “I’m only here until Christmas Day and then I’m gone.”
“So he’s here until the holiday?”
The “he” in question grumbled softly and slid to the floor, putting his head on his paws. Alex sank next to Snowy and gave him another hug.
Marnie shook her head. “Does Snowflake always take things so personally?”
“He’s a sensitive dog.” Her white granite counter was lined with baked goods, including an open tin decorated with toy soldiers and filled with sugar cookies. “Are these homemade?” He selected a red stocking cookie as she nodded, and then handed one to Alex. The cookie was soft and sweet, worth savoring. “I miss home cooking. Your husband is a lucky man.”
Marnie paled.
“Daddy’s in Heaven.” Alex stood, dropping cookie crumbs on Snowy’s head. He bounded over to the couch. “And my grandparents live in Houston and Hackensack.”
Somebody liked alliteration.
“Michael’s parents are coming to spend the holidays with us for the first time.” Marnie’s words were tension-filled, her eyes clouded with worry. “They arrive day after tomorrow from Hackensack.”
Ah, the reason for the rules comes out.
Marnie glanced at the pot of ruined gravy and then back to Snowy. “Is there anyone else Snowflake can stay with once they arrive?”
“No.” Jonas took another cookie and admired the fridge art. If he had to guess, the rectangle with stick legs, Xs for eyes, and a red nose was Rudolph.
“Just for a few nights?” Her voice had a hand-wringing quality to it that reached inside Jonas’ chest and squeezed.
How far did she have to reach before she found his heart? Most days lately, it felt like it had gone missing. Some days, like today with an exuberant, friendly dog, it felt merely Grinch-sized.
“My former in-laws didn’t approve of me either.” Jonas admitted begrudgingly, tugging at his wrinkled, sap-stained T-shirt over the place where his heart should be beating. He was only crashing here for a few days. Why did this have to be complicated? “Hillary’s parents wanted someone with a college degree and an office job.” Anyone who wasn’t a cop.
Snowy climbed onto the couch and curled into a tight ball next to Alex, who leaned on him as if he was a pillow.
“I just…” Marnie lowered her voice, glancing at her son. “I just want us all to get along and move past…things.” Her gaze returned to the photograph of her dead husband. She seemed as reluctant to talk about her past as he was. “Things that…Well, I just want Christmas to be perfect.”
Things. Such a small word with such big emotional punch. According to his police captain, Jonas had “things” to get past before he could return to patrol. For the first time in weeks, Jonas felt he wasn’t the only person in this oversharing world that didn’t want to regurgitate the past. Maybe that wasn’t sexual attraction he’d felt when he’d helped her up earlier, but an intuitive emotional connection. Had to be. He hadn’t felt anything like it since.
“I could be convinced to take Snowy to work with me at the Christmas tree lot while they’re here, if you could see it in your heart to share some of your holiday treats.” He gestured to the apple pie and cinnamon rolls on the counter. Both looked homemade.
“Could you?” Marnie perked up. “I’ll close the curtains at night so they won’t see Snowflake. This will be perfect.”
Snowy grumbled and nuzzled Alex’s head.
Jonas bit into his cookie. It was bakery quality. Really, setting aside the burnt gravy, Marnie had skills in the kitchen. “So we have a deal?” It was the least he could do for their mutual “thingness.”
“We have a deal.” And then Marnie smiled.
He hadn’t seen her smile before, hadn’t experienced that deep hit of joy and enthusiasm.
The air deflated from his lungs quicker than an inflatable snowman with a puncture wound.
This had nothing to do with things.


About the Author


USA Today bestselling author Melinda Curtis

Award winning, USA Today bestseller Melinda Curtis writes the Harmony Valley series of sweet and emotional romances for Harlequin Heartwarming, and the indie pubbed Bridesmaid series. Brenda Novak says: “Season of Change has found a place on my keeper shelf”. Melinda also writes independently published, hotter romances as Mel Curtis. Jayne Ann Krentz says of Blue Rules: “Sharp, sassy, modern version of a screwball comedy from Hollywood’s Golden Age except a lot hotter.”

Dog-Gone 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 Dog-Gone Christmas by Melinda Curtis
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99cAmazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Amazon UK ~ Google

You’re Invited to the Christmas Pets & Kisses Countdown Launch Party! [September 21 – Oct 6]
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SNEAK PEEK OF A CHRISTMAS PROMISE AND CHANCE TO ENTER RAFFLECOPTER!

His Christmas Promise by Alicia Street
A stray dog with a penchant for giving warm and fuzzy love finds refuge with an ex-Army helicopter pilot and helps restore his bedridden grandmother’s will to live. It seems like a Christmas miracle until the bachelor war vet discovers the mutt belongs to a little girl who wants him back—and a single mom who makes him rethink his freewheeling ways and maybe even believe in love.

Excerpt

Veronica Hughes walked out of the gray stone building and was guided across the windy pier by a man wearing big fat baby-blue earmuffs—the industrial strength variety. The kind especially made for manly tasks like firing pistols at the range, using leaf blowers, or in this case, escorting customers to their designated helicopter.
Her ride sat perched at the edge of the asphalt landing pad amid an array of white circular chalk lines: a cool jet-black helicopter with its mighty blades already roaring and chopping through the crisp November air. Its windy downdraft caused ripples in the water of New York City’s East River that surrounded the downtown Manhattan pier. It also sent Ronni’s long straight brown hair swirling about, although the set of regulation muffs she wore helped keep it somewhat out of her eyes.
Enough to see that the pilot waiting in the cockpit was Justin Reynolds.
She told herself it didn’t really matter, that whatever pilot was assigned to her flight would be fine. So how come she couldn’t suppress that happy relief that bubbled up knowing she’d get to see him one last time?
Foolish girl. Did she really want to be just another notch on his belt? Another female conquest? Mr. Alpha’s latest fix?
When the guide at her elbow helped her climb into the helicopter and buckled her safely into the seat right up front beside the pilot, Justin turned his head and faced Ronni, his brown eyes fixed on hers. He always looked like he’d stepped right out of one of those old World War II movies she’d seen on TCM—all virile and ready to rumble, his broad shoulders filling out his brown leather flight jacket. Perfect square jaw. A wisp of dark hair across his forehead.
He cracked a warm grin and a thunderbolt shot right through her. How was it that a mere look from this man could wake up some part of her she’d thought was long gone?
Holding her reaction in check—she wasn’t about to let him think she was one of those silly women taken in by his looks—she offered him a stiff, businesslike nod.
His face changed to a mask of cordiality as he welcomed her aboard. “Good afternoon, Veronica. Got some crisp clear weather for you today.”
Since she was the only passenger on this chartered flight, Ronni’s headset had a mouthpiece that allowed her to speak back to him. Too bad his deep voice in her ears sent her into a state of brain freeze, so all she could manage was a nod and a squeaky hello.
How could she allow him to affect her like this? Especially after she saw what a hotshot he was on the group shuttle flight she’d taken into the city this morning. At six hundred dollars a pop, the other five seats on that flight had been occupied by “beautiful people” straight off the gossip pages, including a few fashion models who’d flirted with the hunky pilot and vied for the seat next to him. Luckily Ronni’s client was even wealthier and usually chartered a solo flight for her, to the tune of $3500.00. She couldn’t help thinking how many shelter animals that could feed, or needy children for that matter. But she couldn’t risk losing her job by opposing a client’s way of doing things.
The ground fell away as the helicopter rose up, its nose dipping slightly downward when it moved east across the river toward Long Island. As they sailed above Brooklyn’s gray skyline, the buildings below bunched together like toys she almost felt she could reach out and grab in the palm of her hand. Ronni recalled her days backpacking in the Rockies and the deceptiveness of distance. Mountains that were miles off seemed only a short jaunt, when in reality they equated three days of hard trekking.
After Justin Reynolds made his usual comments about the flying conditions and their projected arrival time, he said, “So this is your last trip. Gonna miss ya.”
Her eyes went wide. He actually remembered. To keep her racing pulse in check, she reminded herself this was just a comment coming from a pilot doing his job to make customers feel special. It did not mean this well-practiced player had any feelings for her.
“I’ll bet you say that to all your passengers.” Ronni’s response sounded more sarcastic than she’d intended, so she added softly, “Yes. Thank you for remembering.”
“You must be one heck of a physical therapist.” As if the compliment weren’t enough to throw off her cool performance, he flashed her that devastating smile of his.
“Actually, I’m only a physical therapist assistant.” She’d dropped out of college to work full time to put Craig through law school. Then it was going to be her turn when he finished and signed with a firm. But her turn never came.
“Walker told me he’s ready to get back in action, thanks to you. Says he’s stronger than ever.” Mega-star action hero Walker Strout had been flying Ronni into Manhattan for his private physical therapy sessions every week. He’d originally been treated out in Southampton in one of the hospitals where Ronni worked part time, and he’d specifically requested that her supervisor give Ronni the eight-week assignment.
Its completion was like a gold star on her career file. She should have been feeling elated—and would have been if she hadn’t developed this stupid teenage crush on the man who piloted her flight each week. Even though she tried to keep her distance, he always managed to pull her into interesting conversations. Every week after seeing him she’d find herself thinking about things he said—and eagerly awaiting a chance to be near him again.
Good thing it was ending. She didn’t have time or energy for this nonsense.
As they flew over Queens and into the Long Island suburbs, she noticed all the cars on the highway below. “Whoa. Check out the Long Island Expressway. Bumper to bumper.”
“Aren’t you glad you don’t have to ride in that mess at this hour?”
“Yes, but I think my daughter might be down there. She spent the day with her father and he’s probably driving her home now.” Her tone went dry. “My illustrious ex. The reason I will never marry again.”
Why did I just say that? Where is my control?
“Oh, right. I remember you mentioned him.”
How embarrassing. Ronni knew he was referring to the one day she’d lost her cool. After having a texting argument with Craig, she couldn’t hold back venting her frustrations in front of Justin on the return flight.
Ronni changed the subject. “Do you ever fly over the city at night? I’ve noticed your shuttle schedule is only daytime.”
“Daytime’s safest. But we take the occasional charter flight at night. Why?”
“The Christmas lights will be up soon and I was thinking it would be a beautiful way to see them.”
“It is. Give me a buzz, and I’ll give you a little tour.”
“How much would that cost?”
“On the house.”
“Are you sure?”
He flashed a sly grin. “You doubt my generosity?”
She laughed. “Let’s just say, when it comes to women, I’ve found most men are usually seeking something in return for their… generosity.”
“Cynical.”
“Realistic.”
His eyes stayed on her as if he wanted to say something else. But he didn’t.
Ronni wasn’t sure what to make of his offer. Despite her overpowering attraction to him, she would guess this flyboy Romeo was like most men. Never seeing beneath the surface when it came to women.
Even when it came to their wives, as she’d learned from her disastrous marriage. It took her six years to realize her ex didn’t really know her and never cared to discover who she was or what she wanted.
She’d never be that stupid again.
***
About forty minutes after takeoff, and moving at 178 miles per hour, Justin looked out to see signs of their destination. He flew along the coast of Long Island Sound, but beyond the ribbon of sandy beach lay a gridwork of greenish gold rectangles dotted with tiny gray rooftops. The farms and vineyards of the North Fork reached into the distance, spanning a long skinny finger of land that led to the Atlantic Ocean.
Justin loved this place. He’d grown up on a farm in the down-home, rural North Fork, but he could also appreciate the more fashionable South Fork where he regularly delivered New York City passengers to the Hamptons. Right now he was headed for the heliport in Greenport near the tip of the North Fork.
Where Ronni lived.
“Almost home, Ms. Hughes.”
She glanced up at him and smiled. Justin loved those luminous amber eyes of hers. She was an angel with chestnut hair and a quick athletic body. He liked that she didn’t dress in a showy way. She wore a simple navy blue woolen pea jacket with practical loose-fitting trousers that would allow a physical therapist to move freely in her work.
Justin knew he should keep his mouth shut and just focus on flying the copter, but something inside him wanted desperately to change her mind about men.
Face it: the truth hurt. She may have a bad attitude, but could he blame her? Considering the one-night stands that made up his social life, guys like him didn’t exactly inspire female faith in the male gender. Who was he to judge her cynicism? After all, Justin Reynolds was a perfect example of the kind of man who wasn’t good enough for a woman like her.
So why was she getting under his skin? What did he have invested in changing her opinion of him? Why not simply chalk her up as a hot girl who had his number and didn’t feel like playing his game?
Maybe because lately Justin sensed that something was lacking in his life. A deficiency nagged at him. He felt like a person who’d lived on fast food for too long, then found himself craving something different. Something nourishing, life inducing. Everyone had a breaking point, that time when out of the blue they hit the wall and end up making changes.
Was Ronni his catalyst for change?
***
Buckled into the black leather backseat of her father’s car, eight-year-old Daphne Hughes glanced at her dad and Ellen up front, then whispered a secret to Cuddlebug. She didn’t really have to whisper it because Dad and Ellen never listened to anything she said anyway.
Right now they were busy talking about their boring law firm stuff, as usual. It went this way every visit. Her dad would ask how she was doing in school and start looking at his phone while she answered him. Ellen would tell Daphne she had pretty blond hair like her dad’s, then order a pizza or Chinese food, and Daphne would eat while Dad and Ellen talked to each other. After that they’d go into their home office and work, leaving Daphne in the room with the giant TV.
That was why she’d asked her father if she could bring Cuddlebug along this time. Her tawny-colored doggie with big brown eyes was the best company ever. When her dad said yes this morning, she’d let out a giddy squeal. Except when they got to his house, Ellen got mad and said the dog would mess on her rugs. So Daphne told them she really wanted to play outside in the back yard today and headed out there with Cuddlebug. That got them to stop arguing.
Trouble was, Daphne forgot the weather had turned cold. Thanksgiving was coming next week, but it felt more like Christmas. After a couple hours, her dad came out and tossed a football around with her, but by then her fingers were like ice sticks and she missed each pass, making him grumble something about girls.
She thought she’d warm up having Cuddlebug on her lap here in the backseat of the car, but then Ellen insisted on having all the windows wide open. Daphne wasn’t sure if she believed what Ellen said about dogs needing to have lots of air, because she saw her give Daddy a look and hold her nose.
Even though Cuddlebug wasn’t that big, he was kind of heavy on her lap, his head taller than hers as he sat. He kept fidgeting and making nervous whines, and his head was sticking pretty far out the window.
“Don’t worry, boy. We’ll be home soon,” Daphne whispered, hugging her arms around Cuddlebug’s narrow back, brushing her fingers into his coarse fur. “And Mommy will be home by the time we get there.” Just as she said it, Daphne got that uncomfortable twist in her tummy. It happened this morning when her mom left for the place she called a heliport. She might be flying in the air right now.
Daphne leaned her head near Cuddlebug’s and tried to look up at the sky, but that only brought back the nervous crimp in her stomach.
What if the helicopter crashes and Mommy never comes home to me? She squeezed her eyes shut. Please, please let my mommy be safe.
Daphne took a few breaths the way her mom had taught her to do when she got too worked up. Then she sat back and watched the world go by from the car window, her beloved pooch doing the same. She held tight to the dog, pretending her arms were his seatbelt. They passed a bunch of shopping malls and then the landscape turned to woods. Lots and lots of boring woods. So Daphne started thinking about Christmas coming and pretended she and Cuddlebug were riding in Santa’s sleigh.
Her fantasy was interrupted by her father using a swear word—the kind she’d been told never to say—followed by horns honking, screeching brakes, and a jolt that sent her lurching into the seat in front of her.
A loud bang came and then a second jolt, this one bigger than the first, lifted the car up off the ground. For a split second it seemed like the fun ride her mother took her on at Luna Park, the one that spun around while sailing through the air.
But this one hurt. Her arm banged hard against the door when she was thrown to the side. She heard Ellen scream. And in what seemed a blur, she watched Cuddlebug fly straight from her arms and shoot out the window into space.
“No!” Daphne cried and desperately tried to unlock her seat belt so she could go after him, but it was jammed. Or maybe her hand just wasn’t working right.
The cars had all stopped and she heard a siren in the distance. Daphne’s father bolted out of the driver’s seat, rushed around to the front passenger side, and tended to Ellen.
Unable to get the buckle to release, Daphne started yelling out the window for her dog. He always came when she called, but now as she watched him in the distance and could only sit there desperately shrieking his name, she saw his skinny brown tail disappear into the woods that bordered the expressway.
“You okay?” asked her father while opening her door.
“Cuddlebug got scared and ran away.” Her voice cracked and she couldn’t stop the tears that would only make her dad start muttering complaints about “girls” again.
“Most likely got spooked by all the commotion.” He unhooked her seat belt and helped her out. Daphne broke into a run, but her dad grabbed her waist. “Whoa. Hold still. Your hand is bleeding.”
Daphne struggled against his grip. “I don’t care. I need to go get Cuddlebug.”
“Just stay put. Anything else hurt?”
“Let me go. Cuddlebug’s upset and he doesn’t know his way around here.”
“That dumb dog is probably halfway to Canada by now. Nothing you can do about it.”
“I need to go find him.”
“You need to go to the hospital. We all do. See if anything’s broken. Your wrist looks like it might be.”
Yeah, her wrist hurt. A lot. But they were miles from home. If she left here now, how would Cuddlebug know where to find her? “I’m not going anywhere without Cuddlebug,” she sobbed.
“Quit whining. I’ll get you a new dog. A better one than that mutt.” He picked Daphne up and carried her across the road toward the arriving EMT.
“Nooooo.” She let out a wail that turned into a shriek. Daphne knew she was making a scene, crying and howling like a baby, but she didn’t care.
All she cared about was getting Cuddlebug back.
***


About the Author


Alicia Street is a USA Today bestselling author and a Daphne du Maurier award-winner. She writes both sweet and steamier romances and sometimes collaborates with her husband, Roy. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher and is a compulsive reader of every genre. Alicia grew up with dogs and cats and could not imagine living without furry pals.
His Christmas Promise 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 His Christmas Promise by Alicia Street

Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99cAmazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Amazon UK ~ Google

You’re Invited to the Christmas Pets & Kisses Countdown Launch Party! [September 21 – Oct 6]
Chat with the authors and win great prizes! Come join the Fun.
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RACHELLE AYALA’S CHRISTMAS LOVEBIRDS SNEAK PEEK!

I am very pleased to welcome one of my favorite authors, Rachelle Ayala. When I started Author Wednesday more than two years ago, Rachelle was my first guest. Click here to read my very first interview. Rachelle is also the reason I’ve ventured into writing romances. Through her Romance in a Month class, I learned about the genre and became inspired by her energy. She’s also the creator and leader of the Christmas Pets & Kisses box set. Today, I am very pleased to offer a sneak peek at her story in the box set. I hope you enjoy!

Christmas Lovebirds by Rachelle Ayala
Melisa Hart has a soft spot for her brother Connor’s ex-best buddy, Rob Reed, who slept with Connor’s girlfriend. When her pet lovebird is mixed up with Rob’s, Melisa discovers he’s always cared about her. Can two little lovebirds and Christmas cheer open Melisa’s heart to giving Rob another chance?
Excerpt

“Come here, cutie pie. Step up.” Melisa Hart stuck her finger into the birdcage for her lovebird, Cassie. “That’s a good girl.”
Her entire class of kindergarteners held themselves still in barely suppressed excitement.
“Can I hold her?” her most talkative student, Bree, squealed.
“It’s ‘may I hold her,’ and, no, not right now.” Melisa brought her bird’s beak to her lips and let Cassie take a nibble, which was her version of a kiss.
“Eweee!” Mattie, the tallest boy in the class, shouted, pointing. “She kissed the bird on the lips.”
“Beak,” Bree corrected Mattie. “Birds don’t have lips.”
“Oh yeah?” Mattie retorted. “How do you know? Bird Brain Bree.”
Melisa stuck Cassie on her shoulder and put her hands over her hips. “Class. What did I say about teasing? Is it nice or mean?”
“Mean,” the children shouted in unison, startling Cassie, whose wings flapped briefly.
“Inside voices,” Melisa reminded the children. “Cassie gets scared easily.”
“Will she fly?” Mattie asked.
“Of course she can fly.” Bree turned her nose up at the taller boy. “Everyone knows birds can fly.”
“Actually, she has her wings clipped to keep her safe.” Melisa tickled Cassie under her wing and said, “Scratchy.”
The little bird lifted her wing and spread out the feathers.
“You’re stupid.” Mattie stuck his tongue out at Bree.
“That’s enough,” Melisa said. “Mattie, go back to your sharing chair. Bree, you too. Talking out of turn. The rest of you will get to line up and hold Cassie.”
“But I wasn’t being mean,” Bree said.
“You were belittling Mattie and talking without raising your hand. Go.”
She stomped back to her chair, her blond curls bouncing. “My Papa’s getting me a big bird for Christmas.”
“You too, Mattie.” Melisa pointed toward the boy’s chair.
“Screech,” Mattie shrieked and flapped his arms at Cassie.
The bird squeaked and flapped her stubby wings. She lifted straight up like a helicopter, hit her head on the ceiling and landed on the top of a row of hanging overhead lights.
The rest of the class jumped up and down, pointing and yelling.
“She can fly.”
“Come here, little birdie.”
“Is she stuck up there? Is a fireman going to get her?”
“Oh look, she’s scared.”
“Everyone, take your chairs,” Melisa said as calmly as she could. “Sharing time is over.”
“Ahhh …” the children complained.
Melisa glanced at the wall clock. Ten more minutes until Christmas break. As much as she loved her students, their energy and excitement with Christmas drawing near meant they couldn’t sit still or follow directions.
She passed out the green candy Christmas trees she made by drizzling melted candy over straight pretzel sticks, along with a flyer about the Giving Tree Toy Drive at the Reed Christmas Tree Farm. Bring a wrapped toy and take a picture with a pet bird, ride in a firetruck, and other fun activities.
When the bell rang, Melisa stood at the door and wished all the children a happy vacation and New Year. She kept one eye peeled for Cassie, in case she made a break for the open doorway, but the little bird seemed content to perch high above her and preen her colorful feathers.
“Bye, Miss Hart,” Bree waved her candy Christmas tree. “I want to take a picture with Cassie. How are you getting her down?”
“The janitor has a ladder.”
“My Papa’s coming home.” Bree nodded. “I prayed real hard.”
“He will, sweetie.” Melisa caught the eye of Ella, Bree’s aunt, and reassured. “I’m also praying for him.”
Bree’s father was a war veteran who’d gone back to Afghanistan for a humanitarian trip. He’d been taken hostage by terrorists, but the news reported that he was safe and had been airlifted to Germany to be debriefed, and hopefully able to return by Christmas.
“Are you going to the Christmas Tree Farm tomorrow with Cassie?” Ella took the green pamphlet from Bree and helped her unwrap the Christmas tree candy.
“If I can get her down from the light.” Melisa pointed to her bird. “How about you?”
“Bree, you want to go to the toy drive?” Ella ruffled Bree’s head.
“Yes, I want to hold Ms. Hart’s birdie and take a picture. But we have to bring a toy.”
“Then let’s go to the toy store and pick one up,” Ella said, winking at Melisa. “Maybe we’ll see your teacher there tomorrow.”
“Sure thing.” Melisa said to her friend from UC Berkeley where they’d taken student teaching classes together. “Let’s have coffee some time and catch up now that school’s over.”
“Great. I’ll text you,” Ella said as she took Bree’s hand.
Once all the students were gone, Melisa shut the door and called Larry, the custodian. After she got Cassie down, she’d have to get her wings trimmed again, despite what the guys on the bird forum argued.
Clipping was for Cassie’s safety. She’d heard too many stories of birds flying away, landing in frying pans, or crashing into windows to be persuaded by the free-flight people, especially that arrogant guy with the handle Lovebone who claimed his parrot regularly flew outdoors and hadn’t gotten lost yet.
These days, anyone could say anything on the internet without proof.
Melisa climbed onto a table and held her finger, waving it up and down as a landing strip. “Come on, Cassie. Don’t be afraid. Fly to me, baby. Come on.”
The bird bent low and arched her wings, shaking and considering, but unable to figure out a way down. She’d been so frightened by Mattie that instinct took over, but now that she was calm, she couldn’t bring herself to try.
Melisa turned on her cell phone to check her messages. Maybe she’d ask Lovebone how he got his bird to fly to him.
# # #
Dr. Rob Reed was running late. He hated evening shifts, and these days, they were getting slammed, especially with the increased ambulance traffic due to all the holiday parties and their drinking and carousing activities.
He whistled for his bird, Casey, a lovebird he rescued from his irresponsible actor brother who was the king of the impulse buy. The little bird flew skillfully, hovering a second before landing on his outstretched finger.
“Good boy,” Rob said, handing him a sunflower seed. He tucked the bird inside his cage. “Papa has to go to work. Sorry I have to cover you early tonight.”
Rob was an emergency room doctor working shifts that jumped around without rhyme or reason. He’d go from twelve-hour overnight shifts, to sixteen-hour six AM to ten PM shifts, to ambulance rides to transfer critical patients. But it was the evening shifts that relegated his dating life to a big fat zero.
Not that he could complain. He was making good money for a young doctor fresh out of residency, and this year, he’d purchased a cabin in the mountains near Lake Tahoe. Not bad for a twenty-nine-year-old.
San Francisco General was the only level-one trauma center for the entire City of San Francisco and northern San Mateo county. Once Rob was on the job, he was on. No time for phone calls, internet, chit-chat, or even catching a bite to eat.
After packing his food in thermal packs, he checked the free flight parrot forum where he was the moderator.
There was a message from HaveAHart, a kindergarten teacher who was a newbie bird mama.
My little bird had a fright in the classroom and she’s perched on the overhead light bar. She seems to be trying to fly to me, bending low and lifting her wings, but she’s not taking off. What do I do?
He dashed a reply.
Call a fireman. It’s easier for a bird who doesn’t know how to fly to go up, but it’s scary to come down. Your bird doesn’t have the confidence to fly, so to her, it’s like jumping off a cliff.
He shut his laptop. There really was nothing he could do. Why did these people never listen until they were in trouble? Clipping wings was like chopping a man’s legs off. Rob was sorry he was so grouchy, but he’d bet her bird had other problems too, probably feather-picking, incessant screaming, and other pathological behavior that came from not being able to do what came naturally—fly.


About the Author

I love the magic of the Christmas season filled with family and the spirit of giving and helping others. From romantic suspense to sweet contemporaries, I write from my heart and love to include children and pets in my stories. My stories range from steamy to sweet, so be sure to check the reader’s guide at my website.
Christmas Lovebirds 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 Christmas Lovebirds by Rachelle Ayala
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c


#New Release – Romancing Christmas Box Set

What fun! Several of my colleagues have the perfect holiday novels for you to enjoy. Stop by the Facebook party on November 3 at 12:30 p.m. where I’ll be hosting and giving away copies of my new romance Behind the Altar.





Romancing Christmas: 10 Love Stories to Spice up the Holidays


Multi-author boxed set
Release Date: November 3, 2014
Genre: Holiday Romance
Cover Artist: http://www.bellamediamanagement.com/


~~Blurb~~

Do you like your Christmas nice…or a little naughty? Bring the season into your heart with love stories to match your mood. This boxed set from 10 of today’s hottest romance authors will warm your heart even on the coldest night.


~~Purchase Links~~

~~JOIN IN THE FUN AT OUR FACEBOOK PARTY~~


Join the ROMANCING CHRISTMAS authors for their LAUNCH DAY PARTY! The authors and a slew of their sassy friends will be celebrating the release, November 3rd, 4th, and 5th, 10:30 AM to 10:30 PM (EASTERN TIME).


Prizes Galore, Q&A, Authors, Readers, Books, and FUN! So what are you waiting for? Come join us and have a blast!

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Broken Protocols 3.5 by Dale Mayer



When Charmin Marvin wonders when Christmas Day would be in their new time frame, he sets events in motion no one could have expected.


Dani and Charmin lost a lot when they were brought 200 years into the future. But nostalgia brings the possibility of Christmas back into Dani’s life – if she can make it happen.

Levi hates to deny Dani anything, but all holidays were removed from his society by the government decades ago. He has no idea what she’s talking about – and when he does research and finds out – he wonders if something can be done. And someone outside of their small family wonders, too…

Dani has the best of intentions – but creating Christmas in a world that no longer knows what a holiday is makes her life very complicated very quickly.
Website: http://www.dalemayer.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DaleMayer.author
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DaleMayer



Shades of Holly by H. D. Thomson



Do you like murder and mystery with your mistletoe?

Enter Zach Howard, a man who’s finally managed to get his life on track this holiday season, until that is, he comes across a pair of otherworldly sunglasses. They reveal scenes of a terrifying future. Holly, the one woman he’s never stopped loving, is in danger of a psychopath. This time around, he’s determined to fight for Holly, even at the risk of his own life. But even if he manages to save her, can Zach restore her faith in him? He prays that this Christmas miracles and angels do exist.

Season For Love by Chantel Rhondeau



The specter of death tempered by beautiful miracles is all in a day’s work for head nurse Tess Riggs and pediatric specialist Dr. Dash Brisson. But discovering Christmas is the season for love could be their biggest challenge yet.

Website: http://www.chantelrhondeau.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChantelRhondeau
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChantelRhondeau







Christmas Hope (2013 Golden Heart finalist) by Leslie Lynch 


A one-man landscape business keeps a roof over Sam Bledsoe’s head and food on the table—and keeps his badly scarred face away from curious eyes. Free spirit Becca Sweet is pregnant—and down on her luck. With Christmas and a storm on the way, living in her car is no longer an option. When Sam comes to Becca’s rescue, they discover that Christmas hope applies to all, even to them. Will hope lead to love, the most precious Christmas gift of all?

Website: www.leslielynch.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeslieLynchWrites
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Leslie_Lynch_




A Christmas Miracle (a 2014 Carolyn Reader’s Choice winner) by Sandy Loyd



Megan Jenkins isn’t looking forward to Christmas, a holiday that reminds her of what she had and lost, a husband who died right after Christmas the year before, leaving her a young widow with a fatherless son to raise. During the course of this Christmas Eve, Megan experiences her own Christmas Miracle as she learns the true meaning of giving with the help of Kevin Murdock, a long-time friend who’s always been there for her.

Website: www.sandyloyd.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sloydwrites
Twitter: www.twitter.com/sloydwrites






The Salty Carmel Christmas by Barbara Lohr


Nothing ever changes for Rachel Morgan in Paris, Indiana. And then Eli kisses her. When Rachel returns home for Christmas, she’s not exactly the family success story. The soft-spoken guy with killer blue eyes makes Rachel take a second look. Paris offers her a second chance. Sometimes life can be like a salty Christmas carmel—sweet but with a tang you remember. Sometimes the boy you leave behind is the man you want forever.

Website: www.BarbaraLohrAuthor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Barbaralohrauthor
Twitter: www.twitter.com/BarbaraJLohr



Heating Up the Holidays by Marcia James



When Chris Spencer returns home with his daughter, he’s not looking for a second chance with his first love. And the last thing Nicky Paxton needs at Christmas time is her high school heart-breaker. But thanks to a hairless dog and a lonely child, they might get their Christmas desires.


Website: www.MarciaJames.net
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarciaJamesAuthor
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Marcia_James






Insanity Claus by Carolyn Hughey


A widow of two years, Mallory Gardner is struggling to keep her business alive and still function in her dysfunctional family. Having two daughters, one of which who blames Mallory for her father’s death is enough to test anyone’s sanity. But when Arden J. Miller waltzes into town, he has other ideas—like capturing Mallory’s heart even though love is the last thing on her mind.

Can two irresistible forces deal with immovable objects, or will the effects of the holiday spirit help resolve issues previously thought to be unsolvable?

Website: www.carolynhughey.com
Facebook: http://on.fb.me/YUamEZ
Twitter: www.twitter.com/ScribBLINGDIVA


A Family for Christmas by Tallulah Grace



Erin Matthews returns home to find closure, but she soon discovers truths that change her life forever. Luke Simmons never expected to meet a woman who sparks fire in his soul, even as his heart is breaking. Together, they find healing, and the true spirit of Christmas, in the love of a patchwork family.





A Father for Christmas by Rachelle Ayala

Single mother Kelly Kennedy can’t afford lavish gifts for her four-year-old daughter, Bree. Homeless veteran Tyler Manning doesn’t believe he deserves a Merry Christmas. When Bree asks Santa for a father and picks Tyler, both Tyler and Kelly must believe in the power of love to give Bree her best Christmas ever.

My Novel Christmas Party

NovelChristmasPart

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I love Jae over at Lit and Scribbles. She always has inspiring posts such as her recent Novel Christmas Party. Today, I’m throwing a Novel Christmas Party for my novel Live from the Road.

Question:  What Christmas carol best describes Live from the Road and why?

Answer: Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer by Elmo and Patsy

I chose something that was just crazy enough to match some of the antics of the four women in the novel. This comes as close as anything. I was even more convinced after watching the video.

Jae also challenged other authors to answer a few questions about the characters of the novel who have attended a Christmas party, but in the answers, they are not allowed to kill one another.

  1. Who’s the first to show up and who’s the first to leave? Why? The first to show up would be Sally who is punctual and precise and a bit of a nerd. That’s why she would also be the first to leave the party, but only after she’d made sure all the counter tops were spotless.
  2.  Who’s the first to start a fight? Why? That would have to be CC because she’s carrying around a lot of anger that needs to be expelled. She often ends up saying things that made folks mad.
  3. Who’s the first to get drunk? Why? All four main characters, Meg, Sally, CC, and Ramona, would be the first at the party to get drunk because they like to party. They’d start with doing shots and end with doing shots, but Sally would stop in time to clean the kitchen and be sober enough to drive home.
  4. Who will enjoy the party most and who will loathe being there? Why? CC and Ramona will enjoy the party the most because they live in the moment most of the time. As long as CC can sing a song on the karaoke machine, she’ll have a blast. Meg will have the least fun because she’ll sit in a corner by herself thinking about her son and her jerk of a boyfriend.

So now, it’s your turn. What carol, even if you have to stretch a little, best describes your novel and why?

Next, imagine all your characters are attending a Christmas party where they’re not allowed to kill each other. Answer the following questions:

  1. Who’s the first to show up and who’s the first to leave? Why?
  2. Who’s the first to start a fight? Why?
  3. Who’s the first to get drunk? Why?
  4. Who will enjoy the party most and who will loathe being there? Why?

You can either tell me in the comments below or create your own post. If you do a post, call it My Novel Christmas Party and link back to this post so I can share it.

Live from the Road giveaways in December:

book-lovers-giveaway button

 

Goodreads Giveaway – December 7-31 Print Edition

December 21-25 My Birthday Celebration – Live from the Road (Kindle version) will be free on amazon.com to celebrate the winter holidays and my birthday on December 23. What better way to celebrate than to give something away?

I hope you’re enjoying the beauty of the season and not getting caught up in the nonsense.