Tag Archives: Romance

A Christmas Star – Blitz

A Christmas Star BANNER

 photo A Christmas Star_zpsionpei5a.jpg

Romance, Women’s Fiction
Date Published: November 2, 2018
 photo add-to-goodreads-button_zpsc7b3c634.png
Two years ago, Noelle North’s then-fiancé left her waiting at the church on Christmas—her wedding day and birthday. She knows she cannot endure another holiday season at home in Boston. At the urging of four women at the assisted-living community where she serves as health director, Noelle decides to rent Seashell Cottage on the Gulf Coast of Florida for the holidays. She meets Silas Bellingham, the cutest seven-year-old boy she’s ever seen, and his great-grandmother, Althea. Noelle discovers Althea’s caretaker has been abusing her and goes into action, ending up with the temporary care of both Althea and Silas. Becoming part of the Bellingham household has an entirely different series of challenges when it comes to Althea’s grandsons, Jake and Brett, who are having problems of their own with hotels to run and their parents missing in a plane crash. But after sparring with her, Silas’ father, Jake, realizes Noelle is just what he and his family need, and when she finds the perfect Christmas star for Silas, they both know he’s right.
 photo A Christmas Star print front and back_zpso6ubzdfr.jpg
 Excerpt
CHAPTER ONE
               On the Gulf Coast of Florida, Noelle North walked along the white, sandy beach that lined the shore like the fur on her slippers back home. The sun’s heat washed over her, hugging her with its warmth on this early December morning. She unzipped her light jacket and lifted her arms to the blue sky, welcoming the day with an embrace. She had a whole six weeks of freedom from work and her dismal life back home.
Her family had wanted her to stay in Boston with them for the holidays, but Noelle knew she couldn’t endure another Christmas of everyone feeling sorry for her. Two years ago, on Christmas Day, her fiancé, Alexander Cabot, had left her waiting at the church on her wedding day, while he’d taken off with another woman, his best friend’s wife. She’d wanted to die of embarrassment. Even now, thinking of that humiliation, a shudder shook her shoulders, and her stomach filled with acid.
               The one thing that had helped her keep going throughout the healing process was the conviction that she’d never fall for a glamour guy again. Besides, at thirty-two and with her grim track record with men, she was pretty sure she was destined to be single for the rest of her life. The thought didn’t bother her as much as it used to. Why should it? She had the freedom to come and go as she pleased, nobody was around to tell her what she could or couldn’t do, and evenings after a hard day of work at the New Life Assisted-Living Community were blissfully quiet.
               Noelle stopped walking and gazed out over the water. Waves rolled toward her in a steady pattern, greeting the shore with a kiss and pulling away like a shy child. Above her, seagulls wheeled in circles, their cries shrill in the stillness of the early morning. She watched as a group of sandpipers darted toward the water’s edge, dipped their beaks into the sand for whatever little morsel they could catch, and continued on their way, leaving tiny footprints behind.
               A flash of black caught her attention. She turned to see a big dog galloping toward her, yellow tennis ball in his mouth. She braced herself to greet him and then chuckled as the dog circled and ran right by her toward a small figure farther down the beach.
               She walked on, watching with interest as the dog ran into the water and came out again carrying the wet ball in his mouth. As she came closer, she saw that the person throwing the ball was a boy whom she guessed was seven or eight.
               The boy smiled at her as she approached.
“Your dog is a very good catcher,” Noelle said. “What’s his name?”
“Duke,” the boy said. The dog, hearing his name, came and sat by him.
“And what’s your name?” Noelle asked, thinking the boy with dark red hair, bright green eyes, and freckles was one of the cutest kids she’d ever seen.
“Silas. Silas Bellingham.” He studied her. “Who are you? And why aren’t you working?”
She grinned. “I’m Noelle North, and I’m not working because I’m on vacation for the next month or so.” She glanced around. “Are you here by the water on your own?”
“Naw. My great-grandmother’s over there. See?” He pointed to a woman sitting in a wheelchair on the porch of a sizeable house overlooking the beach.
               Noelle smiled and lifted a hand in greeting, but the woman didn’t wave back.
               “See you later,” the boy said and ran toward his great-grandmother.
               Noelle watched him go, thinking of all her friends’ children back home. Of the four women who had stuck together through everything since college, she was the only one who was unmarried and without children. She’d always wanted a large family, but that didn’t seem possible now. At her age and with no prospects of a husband in sight, she would be lucky to have even one baby.
               Trying to fight off depression, Noelle resumed walking. It was bad enough to have been dumped at the altar on Christmas, but that day was also her birthday. With a name like Noelle,  she’d always felt the holiday season was something extra special, almost magical, in her life. Until two years ago, that is. Now, Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, and especially Christmas music were nauseating to her.
               She walked on wishing her grandmother was alive. From an early age, she and Gran had had a special relationship. In fact, Gran was the reason why, as a graduate of Boston College’s nursing program, Noelle decided to specialize in caring for the elderly. She now headed the health program at an exclusive, assisted-living community outside of Boston. Over the past several years, some of the more active residents had become dear friends. Without them, she would not be in Florida.
               Noelle smiled at the memory of Edith Greenbaum confronting her with three of her closest elderly friends. “Now you listen here, young lady,” Edith had said with great earnestness, “it’s time for you to go somewhere, kick up your heels, and have a little fun. I was doing some research on the internet, and I’ve come up with the right place for you.”
               Shocked and pleased, Noelle had played along. “And where might that be, boss?”
               Edith and the other three women had tittered happily.
               “I’ve printed it out for you.” Edith handed her a sheet of information on the Seashell Cottage just south of Clearwater Beach in Florida.
               The minute Noelle saw the picture, she knew it was a perfect idea, the perfect place. Sitting on the edge of a broad expanse of white beach, a small, pink cottage beckoned to her.
With its painted clapboards, wide front porch, and two palm trees spreading shade nearby, it was everything she’d imagined in a beach getaway.
               “Thank you, Edith,” she’d said with meaning. “I’ll see if it is at all possible.”
               “You know we’re right, Noelle,” Edith replied kindly. “It’s time for you to move on with your life. If you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it for us. We’re stuck here. But you’re not.”
               Tears stung Noelle’s eyes as she’d embraced each one. It was the perfect time of year for her to do as they suggested.
               Thinking of those dear women, Noelle’s spirits lifted and she began to run.
###
               For the second morning in a row, Noelle awoke and stretched, relieved to be away from home. She’d wanted to come to Florida in time for Thanksgiving, but her mother had put her foot down and insisted that Thanksgiving be spent with all four of her children at home. Noelle loved her parents and her three older brothers and their families. But being with them for Thanksgiving had convinced her it was right to come to Florida for the Christmas holidays. Chaos reigned when the whole family was together. Eight nieces and nephews between the ages of one and fourteen were enough to rattle anyone. Even her mother, Jen, went to bed as soon as she could after everyone else had gone, leaving Noelle to do the last-minute tidying.
               Noelle put on her fuzzy pink robe, padded into the kitchen, and turned on the coffee maker. Through the kitchen window, she saw that the clouds the weatherman had predicted were marring the blue sky and hiding the sun. Still, with ice and snow back home, the day seemed full of promise.
               She took her cup of coffee out to the front porch and gazed out at the water. A sense of peace washed over her. Edith had told her life was full of challenges, forcing people to grow and change. Thinking of the past two years, she realized she’d been stuck in a pattern of self-doubt and hurt. No man, she vowed, was worth it. Edith was right. It was time for a change.
               With a fresh resolve to enjoy each day free from the past, she went inside, changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and headed out to the beach. Though the air was cool, the sun felt warm on her face as she headed down the sand at a brisk pace.
               Along the shore, egrets were dipping their beaks into the shallow water, retrieving small, silvery fish. Noelle loved their long legs and the orange beaks that accented their white feathers. How long has it been, she wondered, since she’d taken the time to stop and study the beauty around her.
               A number of people, children included, were searching the sand at the water’s edge for seashells. Some of the more experienced searchers held net bags that sagged with the weight of their treasures. She understood how hooked some people could be on searching for the best and the most unusual shells they could find. Each shell was truly a gift from the sea.
               As she got closer to the part of the beach where she’d met Silas, she slowed. But neither Silas nor the dog named Duke was in sight. Sorry to have missed them, she walked on.
               When she reached the long, wooden pier that reached out into the water like a finger testing for coldness, she sat down on one of the benches at the end of it. For a while, she watched fishermen patiently waiting for a strike. She especially liked to watch the young boys and girls fishing. The hope on their faces was priceless.
               Yawning softly, Noelle headed back to the cottage. The sea air, sun, and freedom from home were working their magic on her body, relaxing muscles that had been tight too long.
               In the distance, she could see Silas and his dog playing on the sand. Picking up her speed, she headed toward them.
               Duke bounded toward her. His black paws pounded the sand in steady, eager beats. Wagging his tail, he stopped in front of her, tongue hanging out. Laughing, she patted him on the head. “Hello, Duke.”
               She looked up to see Silas running toward her, waving.
               Her heart filled at the sight of him. She’d hoped for a little boy just like him one day.
               “Hi,” said Silas, beaming at her. “You’re early today.”
               “Yes, it was such a beautiful morning I decided not to stay in bed. How are you?”
               He looked down, kicked at the sand, and looked up at her with a sour expression. “Mrs. Wicked is back.”
               “Mrs. Wicked?”
               He nodded. “She’s my Nana’s nurse. I don’t like her. She’s mean. She was on her break. And now she’s back.”
               “I see. Well, nursing can be difficult,” Noelle ventured to say, unsure what the real problem was in the house.
               Silas took hold of her hand. “C’mon! I’ve got to hurry back. I’m supposed to stay right in front of Nana’s house. If I don’t, Mrs. Wicked will be mad.”
               Noelle allowed herself to be hurried along.
               Standing in front of Silas’s great-grandmother’s house, Noelle studied the old woman.
Even from a small distance, she seemed bowed in spirit and fragile as she sat in her wheelchair staring out at them. Others might not recognize these signs, but from her years of experience with the elderly, Noelle was used to seeing this. On a whim, she turned to Silas.
“Let’s go say hello to your grandmother.”
“She doesn’t talk much,” Silas said with a note of sadness in his voice.
Noelle smiled. “That won’t matter. I bet she’s curious about me and might like a visitor.”
As they walked toward the front porch, a figure emerged from the house. Noelle observed the big-boned, broad-chested woman and guessed that this was the person Silas called Mrs. Wicked.
“There she is,” whispered Silas.
Pretending not to have heard, Noelle lifted a hand in greeting. “Hello!”
The woman did not return Noelle’s greeting and, instead, went inside.
Noelle climbed onto the porch, walked up to Silas’s great-grandmother, and held out a hand. “I’m Noelle North, a new friend of Silas’s. I thought I’d come to say hello to you.”
From among the wrinkles and the downcast look on her face, her blue eyes lit and a smile emerged. “I’m Althea. Althea Bellingham.” Noelle could see how beautiful the woman must have been and wondered what kind of injuries kept Althea in a wheelchair when there seemed so much life to her.
“She’s Mrs. Bellingham to you,” said the woman emerging from the house to stand behind Althea. Dressed in dark slacks and a white shirt, she scowled at Silas and turned her disapproval on Noelle.
“And you are?” Noelle asked, curious about Silas’ name for her.
“Betty Wickstrom,” the woman said with a challenging expression.
Noelle held back a chuckle. Mrs. Wicked seemed such an appropriate name. She turned to Althea. “Maybe someday Silas and I can get you out in the sun for a bit. He and Duke play a mean game of catch.”
Althea nodded and then glanced at Betty.
“She’s doing very well right where she is. Right, Althea? And now it’s time for her medicine. So say goodbye to her.”
Althea’s expression changed to one of defeat.
“Silas, time for you to come into the house,” said Betty.
“No! I don’t want to go inside. I want to stay with Noelle. She lets me play with Duke.”
Noelle smiled at both women. “I’m happy to stay with him for a while longer. Will that is okay?”
“No!” said Betty.
As Althea reached up to touch Betty’s arm, her long-sleeved shirt revealed a bruise on her forearm. “Yes.”
“What happened to your arm?” Noelle asked as calmly as she could while suspicion rolled through her in a wave of unease.
Althea glanced at Betty.
“She’s fine, just a little clumsy, that’s all,” said Betty, waving away Noelle’s concern.
“You hit Nana there,” said Silas, moving closer to Noelle. “I saw you.”
“Why, you little … You know that didn’t happen. That’s where I helped her up from another fall.”
Silas clasped Noelle’s hand and shook his head. “Adults aren’t supposed to lie.”
Noelle knelt down in front of Althea’s wheelchair and spoke softly. “Althea, you can trust me. I’m a registered nurse who helps the elderly where I live in New England. Are you being hurt?”
Althea looked at Betty, turned back to Noelle, and nodded. Then she lifted her shirt. Bruises were everywhere.
Noelle scrambled to her feet and faced Betty, her hands fisted. The burning desire to attack the awful woman was almost overwhelming. Through gritted teeth, Noelle said, “I would suggest you pack up your things and leave now, Betty, or I’m calling the authorities.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” snarled Betty.
“I would, I can, and I will,” said Noelle, flexing her fists. The abuse of the elderly wasn’t new, but each time she saw an example, it made her sick to her stomach.
Noelle turned to Silas. “You stay here with your great-grandmother. I’m going inside to make sure Mrs. Wickstrom leaves.”
Mrs. Wickstrom placed her hands on her hips and glared at Noelle. “You can’t make me leave. You didn’t hire me.”
“If you don’t leave, I’m calling the police. I mean it. I’ve handled cases like this before,” Noelle said, well aware this really wasn’t her business. But she wouldn’t, she couldn’t let the abuse continue. The sight of those bruises felt like a punch to her gut.
“Okay then, I’m not leaving until I get paid,” said Betty.
“Write down what you’re owed, and I’ll see that you get the money. That’s the best I can do under the circumstances,” said Noelle. “It’s the nicest offer you’re going to get because if it were left up to me, you wouldn’t get a dime. You’d get a jail sentence.”
“You have no proof that I did anything wrong,” countered Betty.
Noelle’s smile was cold. “Oh, but I do. I have two very credible witnesses and, if necessary, I’ll take photographs to show the authorities. Now, get your things, and I’ll escort you to your car.”
Noelle followed Betty inside and to a bedroom off the kitchen in the back of the house. She watched carefully as Betty hastily threw her things into a small suitcase. When she’d zipped her suitcase closed, she turned to Noelle.
“What are you going to do about it now?”
Noelle drew a deep breath. “I’m taking your keys to the house and escorting you to your car.”
“And then what?” sneered Betty. “Althea isn’t an easy woman to deal with. Too stubborn, too demanding for her own good.”
“We’ll see about that. Come on, let’s go.”
Noelle escorted Betty outside, wrote down the license number, and stood by as Betty threw her suitcase into the back of a small, blue sedan and climbed behind the wheel. After starting the engine, Betty gave her a middle-finger wave and took off with a roar.
Alone, Noelle stood in the driveway, breathing in and out in a calming pattern to slow her heartbeat. What in the hell had she done? She didn’t know Althea Bellingham. And now she was in charge of her until her family could find other help for her.
She went inside the house and out to the seaside porch. Silas was sitting next to the wheelchair, holding his great-grandmother’s hand. Althea was asleep in the chair. At the sweet sight of them, tears sprang to Noelle’s eyes.
“Hello,” she said softly to Silas. “Mrs. Wicked is gone. Come with me. I need your help.”
Silas followed her into the kitchen.
“Who do I need to call? Where are your parents?” Noelle asked.
Silas gave her a look that was so sad, Noelle’s heart clenched. “My dad is in New York. He’ll be back at the end of the week.”
“Do you have a phone number for him?”
Silas smiled and pointed to a printed list by the kitchen phone. “It’s the one on the top. His name is Jake.”
Noelle studied the mounted paper. Jake Bellingham’s phone number was listed at the top. She picked up the phone and dialed the number.
“The Bellingham Hotel New York. How may I help you today?” came a practiced, professional-sounding voice.
Noelle’s heart pounded with dismay. Bellingham Hotel? The family-owned hotels? “May I please speak to Jake Bellingham?”
“I’ll buzz his office for you.”
After a minute, a feminine voice came on the line. “Mr. Bellingham’s office. How may I help you?”
“Please, I need to speak to him. I’m a visiting neighbor calling from his grandmother’s house in Florida.” Noelle’s pulse sprinted at the idea of telling him what she’d done.
“Please hold, and I’ll see if he can take the call,” his secretary said.
A moment later, Noelle heard a deep voice say, “Jake Bellingham.”
Noelle swallowed hard. “Mr. Bellingham, you don’t know me, but I’m a new friend of Silas’s. My name is Noelle North, I’m a registered nurse visiting from Massachusetts, but not licensed in Florida, and I’m calling to tell you that I just escorted your grandmother’s caretaker out of the house for abusing her. I specialize in care for the elderly and recognize abuse when I see it. I did not call the police. I need to know what you want me to do next.”
“Let me get this straight. You don’t know me, my grandmother, or the woman who was taking care of her. Yet you had the balls to throw her out after, what, five or ten minutes in the house?  Is that it?”
“Yes,” said Noelle with a confidence she didn’t feel. “That’s about it. As I said, I am a registered nurse, so I’ve seen too many cases of abuse like this before. She has bruises on her arms and torso that are very telling.”
“Abuse? Really? Put Silas on the phone,” growled his father.
Noelle handed Silas the phone. “Your father wants to speak to you.”
Silas’s eyes grew round. He took the phone and listened, then he spoke in a series of staccato sentences. “Yes! I told you Mrs. Wicked was mean! Yes, I like her! Her name is Noelle and she’s here on vacation. Nana showed Noelle her bruises. That’s why.”
After a pause, Silas said, “Love you too, Daddy,” and handed the phone back to Noelle.
“I had no idea this was happening to my grandmother,” said Jake. “I have you to thank for uncovering the situation. I’ve been mostly away for the last several weeks, and Althea never mentioned any problems with Mrs. Wickstrom. Nor did I notice anything like that. I’m sorry, but I can’t make it home for another few days due to some international legal problems. Can you stay with my grandmother and Silas until I can send someone else to take over for you? In the meantime, who can I call for references on you?”
“You can speak to anyone at the New Life Assisted-Care Community outside of Boston. I handle the health program there. I’m in Florida for a vacation, and as I mentioned earlier, I’m not licensed to practice in Florida, and won’t be able to stay with your family for any length of time, and then only as a caretaker, not a nurse.”
“Until just this weekend, I promise,” said Silas’ father. “And if I can find a better service than the one I used for Mrs. Wickstrom, it could be for only a few hours. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you well.”
Noelle bristled. “You may be used to paying people to do your bidding, but it’s not necessary for me. I’ve done this because I care about others. Not to get your money.”
“Whoa! I didn’t mean … Forget it! I’ll be in touch.”
Noelle hung up the phone, still steaming from the notion that she and her work were for sale when she was just voluntarily helping to resolve a very tough situation.
“You’re going to stay with me now?” Silas asked, giving her a wide smile. “Maybe for a long time.”
“Just until your father can find a replacement,” Noelle said, not wanting to get Silas’s hopes up for something that wasn’t going to happen. She already knew she didn’t like Jake Bellingham.
About the Author

 photo A Christmas Star Author Judith Keim_zpskhgxygvr.jpg

Judith Keim was born and raised in Elmira, New York, and now makes her home in Idaho with her husband and their two dachshunds, Winston and Wally, and other members of her family.
Growing up, books were always present being read, ready to go back to the library, or about to be discovered. Information from the books was shared in general conversation, giving all of us in the family a wealth of knowledge and a lot of imagination. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the idea of writing stories early on. I particularly love to write novels about women who face unexpected challenges and meet them with strength.
A hybrid author who both has a publisher and who self-publishes, Ms. Keim writes heart-warming stories of strong women who face challenges and find love and happiness along the way. Her books are based, in part, on many of the places she’s lived or visited and on the interesting people, she’s met, creating believable characters and realistic settings her many, loyal readers love.
Contact Links
Purchase Links 
 
 
 
RABT Book Tours & PR

2 Comments

Filed under BOOKS

Doggy Style by Alana Albertson – Blog Tour

Doggy Style banner

Doggy Style

Rescue Me Series, Book #1
by Alana Albertson
Publication Date: October 23, 2018
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Erotic, Romance, Romantic Comedy

Doggy Style cover

Read for FREE in KindleUnlimited: Amazon

When it comes to doggy style, he’s behind you 100%.

Preston Evans is a legend in and out of the bedroom. He’s six foot two, gorgeous, and famous because his celebrity ex snapchatted his huge package. I hate him. I hate his stupid puppy store, Doggy Style. I hate the way he looks at me like I’m a piece of meat. I don’t care that his abs are chiseled, his arms are tattooed, and his face belongs on the cover of a magazine. Every dog bred means a shelter dog dead!

I chain myself to his store in protest, but instead of calling the cops, he throws me a bone.

If I spend one week with him in Hawaii pretending to be his fiancée to snag an investor, he will transform his store into a shelter dog adoption center, saving thousands of dogs’ lives.

One week and I never have to see this sexy, dirty-talking jerk again. How hard can he, uh I mean it, be?

Sex is off the table. So why do I want him to bend me over it?

Doggy Style teaser 1

Doggy Style_Teaser 2

About Alana Albertson

Alana Albertson is an award winning Latina author, the former President of Romance Writers of America’s Contemporary Romance, Chick Lit, and Young Adult chapters. She holds a Masters of Education from Harvard and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford. A recovering professional ballroom dancer, Alana currently writes new adult romantic suspense, young adult, and contemporary romance. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, two sons, and five dogs. When she’s not spending her time needlepointing, dancing, or saving dogs from high kill shelters through her rescue Pugs N Roses, she can be found watching episodes of House Hunters, Homeland, or Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Bookbub | Amazon | Newsletter

Doggy Style_Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Doggy Style_Teaser 2

Comments Off on Doggy Style by Alana Albertson – Blog Tour

Filed under BOOKS

No Ordinary Duke by Sophie Barnes – Blog Tour

No Ordinary Duke banner

No Ordinary Duke

by Sophie Barnes
Publication Date: October 30, 2018
Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance

No Ordinary Duke cover

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks

He’s everything she’s trying to avoid…But somehow precisely what she needs…

Caleb Crawford doesn’t want to be a duke. He’d much rather build houses for a living. So when fate disrupts his peaceful life and burdens him with the responsibilities of a newly inherited title, he does what any sensible man would do by fleeing London, disguising himself as a laborer, and seeking refuge with three young spinsters who need his help with a leaky roof.

Ruined by a marquess who promised her the world, Mary Clemens has sworn to avoid marriage forever. Instead, she intends to live out her days with her friends and the orphaned children they’ve taken into their care. But when Mr. Crawford comes knocking, Mary finds herself in real danger of risking heartbreak all over again. Especially when she discovers that he’s not at all what he seems.

No Ordinary Duke meme1

EXCERPT

Smiling fondly at the five children who played nearby, Mary hung another pillowcase on the clothesline. It was a sunny autumn day with a brisk breeze, so the laundry would dry quickly.

Reaching inside the basket beside her, she pulled out a sheet, struggling a little when it billowed and flapped against her hold. Her life was so different now from what it had once been, before she’d fallen in love and allowed herself to dream. But dreams, as she’d learned, were fickle things easily torn apart.

Inhaling deeply she forced the sheet to comply by pinning it with a couple of pegs. She then grabbed the now-empty basket and marched toward the house.

“Come help me prepare the tea,” she called to Bridget, Daphne, Penelope, Peter, and Eliot whose scruffiness proved a fondness for the outdoors. Their laughter danced through the air as the kitten they played with toyed with a piece of string. His name was Raphael, and he’d been gifted to them by Mr. Townsend, a gentleman farmer whose interest in Mary had recently increased.

Daphne swept the kitten up into her arms and raced past Mary with the rest of the troop close on her heels.

“Remember to wipe your shoes,” Mary called.

The reminder caused quite the ruckus in the narrow doorway, and Mary could hear her friend Cassandra on the opposite side, issuing threats to anyone who dared bring dirt inside the newly swept kitchen.

“Do you ever have any regrets?” Mary asked when she reached Cassandra. She cleaned her own boots with a brush and entered the boisterous interior where cups and saucers clattered together as the girls helped each other prepare two trays. Eliot, the youngest of the boys, reached for the tin filled with biscuits, and Mary charged toward him. “Clean your hands before opening that, or you’ll not have a single one.”

“Never,” Cassandra grinned, answering Mary’s question. “This is where happiness lives. I would not trade it for anything else in the world.”

Agreeing, Mary filled the kettle with water from a jug and hung it over the fire. Despite the various challenges they’d faced over the years, they’d acquired their freedom in this tiny corner of the world. They could walk about as they pleased and keep the company they chose without causing a stir. Now that she and her friends had been labeled spinsters, nobody seemed to care what they did, which was, to be honest, rather liberating.

Reaching for the tin filled with tea, Mary spooned a little into a strainer and glanced across at where Peter was sitting. The twelve-year-old boy had moved in with them six weeks earlier after his parents had died. He’d kept to himself ever since, his eyes always downcast, his mood always somber.

No matter how hard they all tried, they’d failed to reach him so far, and while Mary knew he would need time to heal, she wished there was some way to help him.

“I’ve finished cleaning the grates and polishing the brass tools,” Emily told Mary and Cassandra as she came to join them. A wallflower whose fondness for sweets had been evident in her figure, Emily had never secured a dance and had eventually given up trying after enduring her third failed season.

It was a pity really, for the active lifestyle she now enjoyed had helped her shed enough weight to reveal a woman many would likely call pretty.

“Well done,” Cassandra said. “The weather is unusually pleasant for this time of year. It will likely turn sooner than we expect, and when it does, we’ll need to be ready.”

“Which means we’ll need firewood too,” Emily said. She glanced at Mary. “Do you suppose Mr. Townsend might be willing to offer his assistance with that?”

Mary glanced at Cassandra and then back at Emily. “I’m sure he’d be happy to oblige.” Especially if she invited him back to the house for tea after church on Sunday. She hesitated on that thought and bit her lip. “I just don’t want to take advantage.”

“And you wouldn’t be, as long as he’s happy to oblige,” Cassandra told her.

Mary gave her a quelling look. “You know what I mean.” Mr. Townsend was a nice man, but it had also become alarmingly clear that he was in the market for a wife and that he favored Mary for this position. The only problem was she had no intention of ever marrying anyone. Because if her time as a debutant had taught her anything, it was that even the most honorable gentleman was not to be trusted.

“Perhaps we should set our minds to matching him with a lady who’d be more appreciative of his advances,” Emily suggested.

“Good heavens,” Mary protested. “No man would wish for three spinsters to involve themselves in his search for a bride. Not even a man as charismatic as Mr. Townsend.”

A knock at the front door interrupted their conversation. Cassandra frowned. “Who could possibly be calling at this hour?” She made her way toward the front of the house while Mary and Emily trailed behind.

“Perhaps it is Mr. Townsend who’s come to call on Mary,” Emily suggested. “How convenient would that be, considering we were just discussing the need for his help?”

Not bothering with a response, Mary rolled her eyes and followed Cassandra and Emily out into the front hallway. Another knock sounded and Cassandra opened the door to reveal a tall, broad shouldered man with dark, windswept hair and a shrewd gaze.

“Lady Cassandra?” he inquired. His eyes searched each of their faces, and Mary instinctively retreated a step. “Viscount Aldridge’s sister?”

Cassandra raised her chin. “I am she. And you are…?”

Again his gaze drifted from one to the other, this time with a hint of expectation, as if he waited for them to guess his name. When none of them added anything further, he said, “Mr. Crawford, at your service. Your brother sent me to inspect your home and to make any necessary repairs.”

Mary drew a sharp breath, because just as he said that, their eyes locked. Not for too long, but for long enough to unsettle her. Unwittingly, she assessed his age, which had to be close to her own though perhaps slightly older, the perfect shape of his mouth with its broad lower lip, his angular jaw line and aquiline nose. All combined to create the most handsome face she’d ever seen. It also provided a sharp reminder of a similar pair of eyes a few shades lighter. Those eyes had gazed upon her as if she’d been special—as if she’d mattered. Except she hadn’t. At least not enough.

“I’ll fetch the tea,” she said and turned away, deliberately breaking eye contact. “Just in case you decide to invite Mr. Crawford inside.”

Returning to the kitchen, Mary took comfort in the peace that had settled over the children because of the biscuits they’d all procured from the tin. They halted in the process of chewing the moment they saw her, their anxious eyes waiting to see if she’d scold them for starting on their snacks before they’d been invited to do so.

“We have a guest,” she told them, ignoring the issue as she went to fetch the kettle. The water was already boiling, so she grabbed a dishrag, pulled the kettle off the hook above the flames, and poured the water through the strainer into the teapot. Steam rose in thick swirls, filling the air with hot humidity. Glancing over her shoulder, she narrowed her gaze just enough to remind the children of who was in charge. “I hope there are still a few biscuits left for him.”

“There’s three,” Cassandra’s daughter, Penelope, said before wiping her hands on her skirt. “One for you, Emily, and Mama.” The little blonde girl stared back at Mary with big round eyes. “We didn’t think to save one for a guest.”

Mary bowed her head to hide her smile and nodded. “Very well then. No biscuits it is.” She picked up the tray and started for the door. “But this will cost you when the tickle monster hears what you’ve done.” And then she swept out into the hallway with a grin while squeals erupted behind her.

She could still feel her lips twitching with mirth when she walked into the parlor. Cassandra and Emily were both seated on the only sofa the room had to offer while Mr. Crawford filled out one of the armchairs. His bright blue gaze latched on to Mary with intense interest, and in spite of her conviction that she’d never respond to any man ever again, her stomach tightened and her hands began to tremble.

A slight dimple puckered the edge of Mr. Crawford’s mouth, affording him a humorous expression. Mary’s pulse quickened and she hastened forward to set the tray down, eager to be rid of it before she dropped it.

“—so with that in mind,” he continued, returning his attention to Cassandra and Emily, “it could take anywhere from a week to a month before the roof is completely intact.”

His voice…

Mary placed the tray on the low table between the sofa and the armchair and tried to ignore the rich cadence of it. Swallowing, she sat in the remaining chair before pouring tea for each of them.

“Milk and” –she cleared her throat which had suddenly gone quite squeaky—”sugar?”

Mr. Crawford turned his gaze toward her, and all of her strength seeped out of her limbs as they instantly turned to jelly. Determined not to let it show, she stared back at him and did her best not to blink. But his eyes were like azure blue lakes on a hot summer’s day, and for some inexplicable reason, she found herself leaning toward him.

A grin tugged at his lips. “Neither.”

Mary took a sharp breath and leaned back. Averting her gaze, she set Mr. Crawford’s cup before him and then offered tea to her friends, who both watched her with curious expressions. No. She would not let this handsome stranger addle her brain. This was a path she’d been down before, and it had broken her heart and denied her the chance of marriage.

On that sobering thought, she returned the teapot to the tray and took a sip from her own cup. Mr. Crawford was a laborer, a man sent by Cassandra’s brother to patch up the roof. She didn’t care how handsome he was or how well he looked in those beige colored breeches that hugged his thighs. Sighing, she slumped back in her seat and almost spilled her tea in the process. Of course she’d noticed. She’d have had to be dead not to.

“We cannot offer much in the way of accommodation,” Cassandra said. “To stay with us in the house would be inappropriate, and even if it weren’t, I’m afraid all the rooms are occupied.”

“I understand.” The deep timbre of his voice stroked its way along Mary’s nerves as he spoke. She shuddered slightly and reminded herself once again to take control of her senses. “But your brother mentioned a caretaker’s cottage. Is that still available?”

“It is,” Cassandra said. “In fact, it was vacated by the caretaker only a week ago, so it should still be somewhat clean and ready to move into, though I must warn you that it is pretty sparse.”

“That’s quite all right.” He smiled warmly at Cassandra, and Mary felt the oddest pang in her chest. “My needs are few. As long as there’s a roof and a bed, I’ll be content.” He picked up his cup and cradled it carefully between his large hands. Sipping the tea he then asked, “Why did the caretaker leave?”

It was so to the point Mary felt like she’d just been pushed into the path of a charging carriage. “Because he accused us of squandering our money on others instead of seeing to Viscount Aldridge’s wishes.”

The room fell silent in the wake of her sharp response. Mary took another sip of tea, not daring to look at any of them while heat warmed her cheeks.

“Not a very sympathetic man then, I take it,” Mr. Crawford murmured.

Heart pounding, Mary raised her gaze to his and stiffened her spine in an effort to maintain at least some of her composure. “He did not understand why we would feel any responsibility toward children who aren’t our own.”

“He was a very plain-spoken man,” Emily added while Mr. Crawford’s gaze remained fixed on Mary. It took a moment for him to turn slowly away in order to face her friend, leaving Mary’s insides in a jumble and her head slightly dizzy. “Too plain-spoken, in the end.” Emily grinned and jutted her chin in Mary’s direction. “Miss Clemens put him in his place. I’ve never seen a man pack up and leave so quickly.”

“I’m sure you haven’t,” Mr. Crawford said. His voice was soft and his eyes trained on Emily, and yet Mary felt her insides quiver as if he spoke only to her.

Reaching up, she pinched the bridge of her nose and muttered a gentle reminder to herself about not letting any man tempt her.

“You probably want to take a look at the damage and at the cottage where you will be staying,” Cassandra said. “Mary can do the honors while Emily and I start on supper. You are welcome to join us for our evening meal if you like, unless of course you prefer the tavern in the village.”

“Thank you, but I do believe a hearty home-cooked meal would be just the thing this evening,” Mr. Crawford said. He stood and lowered his gaze to Mary. “Shall we proceed with the tour, Miss Clemens?”

No Ordinary Duke meme 2

About Sophie Barnes

Born in Denmark, Sophie has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world.

She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor’s degree from Parson’s School of design, but most impressive of all – she’s been married to the same man three times, in three different countries and in three different dresses.

While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion – writing.

When she’s not busy, dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family. She currently lives on the East Coast.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Newsletter | Instagram | Bookbub | Amazon

No Ordinary Duke giveaway banner

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No Ordinary Duke meme3

2 Comments

Filed under BOOKS

No Ordinary Duke by Sophie Barnes – Blitz

No Ordinary Duke banner

No Ordinary Duke

by Sophie Barnes
Publication Date: October 30, 2018
Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance

No Ordinary Duke cover

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks

He’s everything she’s trying to avoid…But somehow precisely what she needs…

Caleb Crawford doesn’t want to be a duke. He’d much rather build houses for a living. So when fate disrupts his peaceful life and burdens him with the responsibilities of a newly inherited title, he does what any sensible man would do by fleeing London, disguising himself as a laborer, and seeking refuge with three young spinsters who need his help with a leaky roof.

Ruined by a marquess who promised her the world, Mary Clemens has sworn to avoid marriage forever. Instead, she intends to live out her days with her friends and the orphaned children they’ve taken into their care. But when Mr. Crawford comes knocking, Mary finds herself in real danger of risking heartbreak all over again. Especially when she discovers that he’s not at all what he seems.

No Ordinary Duke meme1

About Sophie Barnes

Born in Denmark, Sophie has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world.

She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor’s degree from Parson’s School of design, but most impressive of all – she’s been married to the same man three times, in three different countries and in three different dresses.

While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion – writing.

When she’s not busy, dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family. She currently lives on the East Coast.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Newsletter | Instagram | Bookbub | Amazon

No Ordinary Duke giveaway banner

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No Ordinary Duke meme 2

Comments Off on No Ordinary Duke by Sophie Barnes – Blitz

Filed under BOOKS

FINDING HOME: Roped by the Cowboy Duet, 1 – Blog Tour

 

FINDING HOME banner
FINDING HOME
by J.C. Valentine
Roped by the Cowboy, #1
Publication Date: October 18, 2018
Cover Credits: J.C. Valentine
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Cowboy, Duet

FINDING HOME cover
SYNOPSIS
Life is unpredictable. Vivian learned that the hard way and did the only thing she could: she ran. But life
isn’t about to let her off easy.
Nash is everything a woman wants and nothing Vivian could have planned for.
Gorgeous with his sexy blue-eyed stare, toned body, and wearing a cowboy hat,
he’s the perfect package and Vivian’s ideal rebound. Too bad he wants nothing to
do with her. That’s fine. Vivian wasn’t looking for love anyway, but her
meddling new roommate has other ideas.

Two people from different worlds shouldn’t make sense, but desire is an animal
that won’t be denied. With secrets lurking on both sides of the fence, however,
it’s just a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41959410-finding-home
FINDING HOME teaser 1

 

FINDING HOME teaser 2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

J.C. Valentine is the USA Today and International
bestselling author of the Night Calls and Wayward Fighters Series and the
Forbidden Trilogy. Her vivid imagination and love of words and romance had her
penning her own romance stories from an early age, which, despite being poorly
edited and written longhand, she forced friends and family members to read. No,
she isn’t sorry.
Living in the Northwest, she has three amazing children and
far too many pets. Among the many hats she wears, J.C. is an entrepreneur.
Having graduated with honors, she holds a Bachelor’s in English and when she
isn’t writing, you can find her editing for fellow authors.
Sign up for J.C.’s newsletter and never miss a thing! http://bit.ly/1KxXWWB
ENTER THE GIVEAWAY
http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1a26b8aa37/?

Comments Off on FINDING HOME: Roped by the Cowboy Duet, 1 – Blog Tour

Filed under BOOKS