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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Blog Tour: Review & Excerpt of Forever Home by Elysia Whisler

 

Author: Elysia Whisler
ISBN: 9780778311607
Publication Date: November 30, 2021
Publisher: MIRA Books

If home is where the heart is, Dogwood County may have just what Delaney Monroe needs.
Newly retired from the Marine Corps, Delaney is looking for somewhere to start over. It's not going to be easy, but when she finds the perfect place to open her dream motorcycle shop, she goes for it. What she doesn't expect is an abandoned pit bull to come with the building. The shy pup is slow to trust, but Delaney is determined to win it over.
Detective Sean Callahan is smitten from the moment he sees Delaney, but her cool demeanor throws him off his game. When her late father's vintage motorcycle is stolen from Delaney's shop, Sean gets to turn up in his element: chasing the bad guy and showing his best self to a woman who's gotten under his skin in a bad way.
Delaney isn't used to lasting relationships, but letting love in - both human and canine - helps her see that she may have found a place she belongs, forever

My Thoughts:

I was really looking forward to reading Forever Home.  I loved the first book Rescue You, so this was a most anticipated sequel.  I really enjoyed this book.  This one features Delaney and Sean.  Delaney has always wandered and had never had a permanent, lasting home.  Opening a motorcycle shop in her father’s memory is the first step toward permanency...maybe. 

As I said, I really enjoyed this one.  I loved watching the relationship grow between Delaney and Sean.  He was too sweet in his courting of Delaney.  They had great chemistry.  I also loved watching the relationship that grew between Delaney and the dog.  What a perfect metaphor for finding a “forever home”.  The last scene of the book was perfect. 

There is a side plot with Tabitha and her dealing with PTSD from war.  I thought it was done very well and realistically.  I hope her story continues in the next book.  I would love to see her get a HEA.  I highly recommend this one as well as the first book. 
 




Here is a sneak peek:

ONE

Three Rebels Street.

Delaney should’ve known that this was where she’d end up. This was the kind of street a woman went down when all the big changes in her life were happening at once. You simply couldn’t hit a retirement ceremony, the road and a funeral all in one week and not end up on Three Rebels Street.

Small is not the right word. I prefer quaint.” The real estate agent, Ronnie, gazed around the studio apartment situated on Three Rebels Street, and nodded her head in approval. “You said it was just for you, right? Which means it’s the perfect size.”

Stop trying to sell me on the apartment. Ronnie had described it as an “alcove studio”—not just a studio—because even though the living room and kitchen were all in one large space, the bedroom was situated in a little nook, with its own door. Delaney didn’t care. The living quarters didn’t really matter. Right now the place was dumpy. Dust everywhere, the ceiling fan hanging crooked with exposed wires, and debris in the corners, like the previous tenants hadn’t taken care of the place and then left in a hurry.

“We didn’t have a chance to get this cleaned before your showing,” Ronnie said, following Delaney’s gaze. “Remember, I suggested waiting until Friday.”

But Delaney hadn’t been able to wait.

Ronnie lowered her voice to a near whisper. “They were evicted. But this place cleans up nice, I promise.”

“Can we go back down to the shop?” Delaney ran her hands through her hair, rubbing the weariness from her scalp. Ronnie had whisked them through the front bay door and up the stairs, like the apartment was the prize inside the cereal box. And Delaney supposed it was—small, an add-on, not really the point. For Delaney, the shop downstairs was the entire point.

“Of course.” Ronnie’s voice was bright, forced, like she didn’t give two shits. This was probably her last showing of the day and she wanted to get home, into a hot bath with a glass of red as soon as possible. She clacked down the stairs in her high heels.

Delaney followed, the earthy clunk of her motorcycle boots the bass drum in the cacophony of their feet.

“The shop.” Ronnie swept out her arm. “Look how much space.” There was no enthusiasm in her voice. Ronnie, who probably did mostly living spaces, had no idea how to sell the garage.

Didn’t matter. Delaney sized up the shop herself: concrete floor, perfect for working on bikes. It was kind of dinged up, but that was okay, she was already envisioning painting it beige with nonslip floor paint. Modern fluorescent lighting. Large bay door, wide-open to the cool air, excellent for ventilation. A countertop with a register. Empty shelves on one side for parts and motor clothes. Showroom space for custom bikes, and enough room for at least two workspaces out front. The rest, Delaney would provide. Hydraulic lifts. Workbench. Parts tank. Tools. Parts. Bikes.

She wanted to pinch herself, but chose a poker face. Ronnie stood in the center of the floor, like she was trying to avoid touching anything, to avoid getting any grease or oil on her smart red suit. The shop was in better condition than the apartment, but it still looked like the last occupants had left quickly—or, if they’d truly been evicted, perhaps reluctantly was a better word. Nothing important remained, but the place hadn’t been swept or washed or readied for sale in any manner.

“I’ll consider this.” Delaney rubbed her chin as she strode through the shop. “It’s a little small.” It was actually larger than she’d expected. “Light’s good, but might get a little cold in the winter.” It was winter now, technically. Mid-March. Delaney loved this time of year, when winter and spring intersected, like lovers making up after a nasty fight, the weather edgy and unpredictable.

“There’s a lot of interest in this space.” Ronnie clutched her clipboard to her chest as she looked around. She could be looking at the inside of a spaceship and hold that same expression.

Motorcycle shops were going out of business, all over the place, including the one that had recently vacated. After suddenly finding herself on Three Rebels Street last week, in front of a shop-apartment combo for sale, Delaney had done her research. The previous tenants, who she now knew had been evicted, were brothers who ran a shop by day and lived upstairs by night. They sold mostly new bikes and motorcycle gear. Repairs and maintenance were basic. Their website was still up, despite the fact that Dude’s Bikes had closed. Dude’s appeared to focus mostly on male riders, leaving Delaney to wonder if Dude’s was just about dudes or if one of the owners was, indeed, named Dude. 

“What’s the story on this place?”

Ronnie glanced at her clipboard. “The owner wants to sell. After the last renters’ lease ran out, they were given the option of buying or moving. I don’t think their shop was doing well, because they couldn’t afford to buy. They weren’t even paying their rent. And they weren’t quick about moving. The rest, as they say, is history.”

If the last motorcycle shop had failed, buying would be a gamble. But any business venture was a gamble.

Life was a gamble.

“There are a couple of people looking, after you.” Ronnie continued, “About five.”

Delaney could respect white lies in the sales biz but seriously? Five? Five or so people were waiting to check out the bike shop with an overhead apartment suitable for one small, low-maintenance tenant? She had no idea how two brothers had managed up there.

She strolled through the space, wanting a good feel. She needed to touch things, inhale the shop, draw its molecules into her lungs and taste its history before she could decide on the symbiosis of her dream space. Triple M Classics—short for Martin Monroe’s Motorcycles, named after her father—would own her as much as she would it, so this relationship was going to be deep and mutual. Through the front window, she could see the parkway that ran the length of the county. At just past eighteen-hundred hours, rush hour was a jam of red taillights in the waning daylight. No amount of time would erase Delaney’s memory of her last tour here, when she had to commute to work every day. Pure hell. It would be nice to go right upstairs to her cozy little apartment after closing, rather than having to sit in that mess.

Across the street was a row of shops, including a grocery story and an Italian restaurant. Food. Check. 

On the south side, the shop butted up to the woods, which had a downward slope of grass and weeds that led to the trees. Privacy. Double check. Plus, Delaney figured if there was a tornado, that slope could count as a ditch, and would probably be the safest place to run. She laughed at herself. This wasn’t Omaha. Virginia tornado season consisted of a few warnings that rarely panned out.

Delaney withdrew the listing, printed from the internet, from her back pocket, crammed together with a grocery receipt for extra firm tofu, Tater Tots and Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. “This is the price, right?” She handed over the paper. Money would be tight, but Delaney should be able to manage for a little while until things got going.

That is, if she was going to do this.

Was she really going to do this?

All her adult life Delaney had moved around, from station to station. Forts, camps, bases. Not shops. Not homes. She’d never put down roots. Never had anything permanent other than her childhood home with Dad. Never owned a thing she couldn’t cram into a duffel bag.

Ronnie looked at the paper. “No.” She sniffed. “There’s a newer listing.” She flipped through her clipboard, laid it on the counter and pointed. “Here we go.”

Delaney looked at the asking price, choked a little bit, almost thanked Ronnie for her time and left. That would be the smart thing to do. Sometimes childhood dreams just needed to stay dreams.

She strode around once more, mentally saying goodbye to everything that she’d never even made hers. Even though all of this had been a panster move, it felt like all the blood in her veins had been replaced with disappointment. She stopped by the far wall, where a ratty piece of paper hung by a sliver 

of tape. Delaney smoothed out the curled edges and read the flyer.

Fiftieth Annual Classic Motorcycle Show.

Dogwood County Fairgrounds.

The event was in July. There was a contest, including prizes. The grand prize for the winning classic cycle was five grand plus a feature article in Ride magazine.

The disappointment started to drain away. Five grand wouldn’t pay all the bills, but exposure in a major motorcycle magazine would be a boon for business. Plus, there was something about that poster, just hanging there like that.

It seemed like a sign.

Excerpted from Forever Home by Elysia Whisler, Copyright © 2021 by Elysia Whisler. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.




Author Bio: 

Elysia Whisler was raised in Texas, Italy, Alaska, Mississippi, Nebraska, Hawaii, and Virginia, in true military fashion. If she's not writing she's probably working out, coaching, or massaging at her CrossFit gym. She lives in Virginia with her family, including her large brood of cat and dog rescues, who vastly outnumber the humans.

Social Links:
Author Website
Twitter: @ElysiaWhisler
Facebook: @ElysiaWhisler
Instagram: @Elysiawhisler
Goodreads
 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Blog Tour: Excerpt of The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan

 


Author: Sarah Morgan
ISBN: 9781335462817
Publication Date: October 26, 2021
Publisher: HQN Books
   
This Christmas, be whisked away by USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan in this uplifting novel of friendship, the festive season, and risking everything for the biggest gift of all...
 
Christy and Alix are forever-friends. Not even Alix's well-meant but badly-timed intervention the night before Christy's wedding has put a dent in their bond. There’s nothing Alix won’t do for the woman who helped fill the hole in her heart left by her own family's rejection. But taking Christy’s boisterous little daughter Holly on holiday to Lapland, days before Christmas, is a huge ask. Marketing whizz Alix might know how to turn toys into million-dollar Christmas bestsellers, but the responsibility of parenthood terrifies her. And unfortunately, she’ll have a witness to her ineptitude, in the annoyingly delicious shape of Zac, Holly’s father’s best friend, who will also be there...
 
Christy had hoped this year would be her dream Christmas, in her dream new family house. Instead, it's turning into the nightmare before Christmas, with a frightening list of household repairs, no money, and a make-or-break crisis in her marriage. Even worse, it's a crisis of her own making, and one that is on her shoulders to fix. With best friend Alix coming to the rescue and looking after Holly, Christy will finally have time to focus on rebuilding her relationship.
 
As Alix confronts her fears and finds unexpected romance under the Northern Lights, and Christy fights to save her marriage, could it be that their Christmas holiday opens their eyes, and their hearts, to what they’ve always wanted?

Read an excerpt:

1

Robyn

She hadn’t dared hope that this might happen.

Someone less cynical might have thought of it as a Christmas miracle, but Robyn no longer believed in miracles. She was terrified, but layered under the terror was a seam of something else. Hope. The kaleidoscope of emotions inside her matched the swirl and shimmer of color in the sky. Here in Swedish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, the unpolluted skies and clear winter nights made for frequent sightings of the northern lights.

She heard the door open behind her, heard the soft crunch of footsteps on deep snow and then felt Erik’s arms slide around her.

“Come inside. It’s cold.”

“One more minute. I need to think…” She’d always done her best thinking here, in this wild land where nature dominated, where a human felt insignificant beneath the expanse of pink-tinted sky. Everything she’d ever done that was foolish, selfish, risky or embarrassing shrank in importance because this place didn’t care.

Trees bowed under the weight of new snow, the surface glistening with delicate threads of silver and blue. The cold numbed her cheeks and froze her eyelashes, but she noticed only the beauty. Her instinct was to reach for her camera, even though she already had multiple images of the same scene.

She’d come here to escape from everything she was and everything she’d done and had fallen in love with the place and the man. It turned out that you could reinvent yourself if you moved far enough away from everyone who knew you.

Erik pulled the hood of her down jacket farther over her head. “If you’re thinking of the past, then don’t.”

How could she not?

Robyn the rebel.

Her old self felt unfamiliar now. It was like looking at an old photo and not recognizing yourself. Who was that woman?

“I can’t believe she’s coming here. She was three years old when I last saw her.”

Her niece. Her sister’s child.

She remembered a small, smiling cherub with rosy cheeks and curly blond hair. She remembered innocence and acceptance and the fleeting hope of a fresh start, before Robyn had ruined it, the way she’d ruined everything back then.

Her sister had forbidden her to ever make contact again. There had been no room for Robyn in her sister’s perfect little family unit. Even now, many years later, remembering that last encounter still made her feel shaky and sick. She tried to imagine the child as a woman. Was she like her mother? Whenever Robyn thought about her sister, her feelings became confused.

Love. Hate. Envy. Irritation. She hadn’t known it was possible to feel every possible emotion within a single relationship. Elizabeth had been the golden girl. The perfect princess and, for a little while at least, her best friend in the world.

Time had eased the pain from agony to ache.

All links had been broken, until that email had arrived.

“Why did she get in touch now, after so long? She’s thirty. Grown.”

Part of her wanted to celebrate, but life had taught her to be cautious, and she knew this wasn’t a simple reunion. What if her niece was looking for answers? And what if she didn’t like what she heard?

Was this a second chance, or another emotional car crash?

“You can ask her. Face-to-face,” Erik said, “but I know you’re nervous.”

“Yes.” She had no secrets from him, although it had taken her a while to reach the point where she’d trusted their relationship not to snap. “She’s a stranger. The only living member of my family.”

Her sister was gone, killed instantly two years earlier while crossing the road. There was no fixing the past now. That door was closed.

Erik tightened his hold on her. “Your niece has a daughter, remember? That’s two family members. Three if you count her husband.”

Family. She’d had to learn to live without it.

She’d stayed away, as ordered. Made no contact. Rebuilt her life. Redesigned herself. Buried the past and traveled as far from her old life as she could. In the city she’d often felt trapped. Suffocated by the past. Here, in this snowy wilderness with nature on her doorstep, she felt free.

And then the past had landed in her in-box.


I’m Christy, your niece.


“Was it a mistake to ask her here?” It was the first time she’d invited the past into the present. “Apart from the fact we don’t know each other, do you think she’ll like this place?” For her it had been love at first sight. The stillness. The swirl of blue-green color in the sky, and the soft light that washed across the landscape at this time of year. As a photographer, the light was an endless source of fascination and inspiration. There were shades and tones she’d never seen anywhere else in the world. Midnight blue and bright jade. Icy pink and warm rose.

Some said the life up here was harsh and hard, but Robyn had known hard, and this wasn’t it. Cold wasn’t only a measure of temperature, it was a feeling. And she’d been cold. The kind of cold that froze you inside and couldn’t be fixed with thermal layers and a down jacket.

And then there was warmth, of the kind she felt now with Erik.

“Christmas in Lapland?” He sounded amused. “How can she not like it? Particularly as she has a child. Where else can she play in the snow, feed reindeer and ride on a sled through the forest?”

Robyn gazed at the trees. It was true that this was paradise for a Christmas-loving child, although that wasn’t the focus of the business. She had little experience with children and had never felt the desire to have her own. Her family was Erik. The dogs. The forest. The skies. This brilliant, brutal wilderness that felt more like home than any place she’d lived.

The main lodge had been handed down through generations of Erik’s family, but he’d expanded it to appeal to the upper end of the market. Their guests were usually discerning

travelers seeking to escape. Adventurous types who appreciated luxury but were undaunted by the prospect of heading into the frozen forest or exploring the landscape on skis or snowshoes. Erik offered his services as a guide when needed, and she, as a photographer, was on hand to coach people through the intricacies of capturing the aurora on camera. You couldn’t predict it, so she’d learned patience. She’d learned to wait until nature gave her what she was hoping for.

Through the snowy branches she could see the soft glow of lights from two of their cabins, nestled in the forest. They were five in total, each named after Arctic wildlife. Wolf, Reindeer, Elk, Lynx and Bear. Each cozy cabin had floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a breathtaking view of the forest and the sky. The Snow Spa had been her idea and proved a popular addition. The focus here was wellness, with an emphasis on the nature that surrounded them. She and her small team used local resources whenever they could. Guests were encouraged to leave phones and watches behind.

Erik was right. It was the perfect escape. The question she should have asked wasn’t Will she like it here? but Will she like me?

She felt a moment of panic. “The last time I saw Christy—well, it wasn’t good.” The kitten incident. The memory of that visit was carved into her soul. Despite all her good intentions, it had gone badly wrong. “What age do children start remembering? Will she remember what happened?” She hoped not. Even now, so many years later, she could still remember the last words her sister had spoken to her.

You ruin everything. I don’t want you in my life.

Robyn pressed closer to Erik and felt his arms tighten.

“It was a long time ago, Robyn. Ancient history.”

“But people don’t forget history, do they?” What had her sister told her daughter?

Robyn the rebel.

She wondered what her sister would say if she could see her now. Happy. Married to a man she loved. Living in one place. Earning a good living, although no doubt Elizabeth would see it as unconventional.

Christy, it seemed, was happily married and living an idyllic life in the country, as her mother had before her.

What would Elizabeth say if she knew her daughter was coming to visit?

Robyn gave a shiver and turned back toward the lodge.

Elizabeth wouldn’t have been happy, and if she could have stopped it, she would have done so. She wouldn’t have wanted her sister to contaminate her daughter’s perfect life.



Excerpted from The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Morgan. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.




 
Author Bio: 
 
USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes contemporary romance and women's fiction. Her trademark humour and warmth have gained her fans across the globe and three RITA® Awards from the Romance Writers of America. Sarah lives with her family near London, England, where the rain frequently keeps her trapped in her office

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Blog Tour: Review & Excerpt of Burglary at Barnard by Lynn Morrison



Author: Lynn Morrison
Narrator: Pearl Hewitt
Length: 8 hours 16 minutes
Publisher: Marketing Chair Press2021

Series: Oxford Key Mysteries, Book 2
Release date: Nov. 16, 2021

A secret chamber. A dead body. And one ghost who won't tell the truth!

When Nat agrees to meet a friend in the archives of historic Barnard College after hours, she doesn’t expect to find a hidden chamber or stumble across another dead body.
The Master’s assistant has been murdered, and although Nat figures out who is responsible, finding the evidence is a challenge. Especially when the one ghost who witnessed the crime refuses to say what happened.

The closer Nat comes to finding the proof she needs, the more tempers flare and threats fly. The situation becomes a race against time, and just when she thinks she’s won, Nat realizes the murderer is willing to do whatever it takes to escape justice, including getting Nat out of the way. Permanently.

Nat’s miscalculation will cost someone their life, but whose?
If you like cozy mysteries where ghosts walk the halls, paintings come to life, wyverns play around, and magic seems within reach, the Oxford Key Mysteries are sure to delight.

Buy Links for Audiobook #2

Buy on Audible


My thoughts:

Burglary at Barnard is the second book in the Oxford Key series.  This one takes place a couple of months after the first book.  This time around, Nat is at Barnard College to set up an event.  While Nat and the other prefects are investigating the theft of a candlestick, they find a secret chamber in the archives along with another dead body.  

I enjoyed this installment.  The murder mystery was fun to solve.  We get to learn a little bit more about the magic at Oxford.  I wish it was a lot more, but I suspect this will be drawn out over the subsequent books in the series.  The characters from the first book are back in this one as well as a new and surprising addition.  I love Nat's group of friends.  There is also a nice revelation about one of the characters...I won't tell who.  I also love the romance that is blossoming between Nat and Edward.  It's seriously really sweet.  I definitely recommend this one.









About the Author: Lynn Morrison


Lynn Morrison lives in Oxford, England along with her husband, two daughters and two cats. Born and raised in Mississippi, her wanderlust attitude has led her to live in California, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, in addition to the UK. It’s no surprise then that she loves to travel, with a never-ending wish list of destinations to visit.
She is as passionate about reading as she is writing, and can almost always be found with a book in hand. You can find out more about her on her website LynnMorrisonWriter.com.
If you want to chat with her directly, join her Facebook group - Lynn Morrison’s Not a Book Club - where she happily talks about books, life and anything else that crosses her mind.
Website

About the Narrator: Pearl Hewitt

Originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in Northeast England, audiobook narrator Pearl Hewitt currently lives with her husband and two children in Houston, Texas. Over the years she has worked as a customer service rep, a teaching assistant, and a teacher, but deep down there was always a performer wanting to get out. In 2007 her twelve-year-old son told her that he believed she was so good at reading stories out loud that she should do that as a job. That was her defining, eureka moment, and she's never looked back. Pearl immersed herself in training and pursued a career in general voice acting but in 2012 she decided to focus her attention to narrating audiobooks in a wide range of genres. It was then that her professional career blossomed. She regularly works directly with indie authors but also narrates for a number of major publishers and has gained lots of recognition in the process including IAAIS awards, a Voice Arts Award nomination and Audiofile Magazine reviews. Pearl's is comfortable narrating both fiction and non-fiction titles and has been very successful reading British Regency romance, cozy murder mysteries, fantasy/science fiction, children's literature, the classics, history, biographies and more.
Website

Blog Tour: Review & Excerpt of Christmas at Colts Creek by Delores Fossen

 


Author: Delores Fossen
ISBN: 9781335454577
Publication Date: October 26, 2021
Publisher: HQN Books

An unexpected inheritance rekindles a red-hot romance just in time for Christmas…
 
Janessa Parkman spent one long-ago summer in Last Ride, Texas, trying to bond with her estranged father, Abe. Turns out that was plenty of time to fall hard—and crash badly—for Brody Harrell, who managed Abe’s ranch. Everyone believed Brody would inherit Colts Creek one day, but now, fifteen years on, Abe’s will reveals the shocking truth—Janessa gets everything, and she must agree to stay in town for three months…through Christmas.
 
Brody’s attraction to Janessa burns hotter than ever. Though he refuses Janessa’s offer to give him the ranch, refusing her is impossible. Misunderstanding drove them apart once before, and secrets and betrayals run through both families. But what starts as a temporary Christmas fling might turn into a love strong enough to last every holiday season yet to come.

 
Buy Links: 
 
My thoughts:

Christmas at Colts Creek
is the second book in the Lat Ride, Texas series.  It can definitely be read as a stand-alone book.  Characters from the first book, Spring at Saddle Run, show up here, but they aren’t integral to this story.  This one is Brody and Janessa’s story.  While it’s a pretty steamy romance, it’s also a story about forgiveness and family secrets.

I enjoyed the story.  The romance was steamy and I enjoyed Janessa and Brody.  They had great chemistry.  I definitely was rooting for them.  Aside from the romance, I loved the rest of the book and the revelations that come out about Janessa’s father.  There are a few surprises that I didn’t see coming.  I loved Janessa’s decision in the end, especially regarding Sweet Pea.  I do recommend this one, especially for a good holiday romance.


Here is an excerpt to tempt you:
 

1

THIS IS LIKE one of those stupid posts that people put on social media,” the woman snarled. “You know the ones I’m talking about. For a million dollars, would you stay in this really amazing house for a year with no internet, no phone and some panty-sniffing poltergeists?”

Frowning at that, Janessa Parkman blinked away the raindrops that’d blown onto her eyelashes and glanced at the grumbler, Margo Tolley, who was standing on her right. Margo had hurled some profanity and that weird comment at the black granite headstone that stretched five feet across and five feet high. A huge etched image of Margo’s ex, Abraham Lincoln Parkman IV, was in the center, and it was flanked by a pair of gold-leaf etchings of the ornate Parkman family crest.

“Abe was a miserable coot, and this proves it,” Margo added, spitting out the words the way the chilly late October rain was spitting at them. She kicked the side of the headstone.

Janessa really wanted to disagree with that insult, and the kick, especially since Margo had aimed both of them at Janessa’s father. Or rather her father because he had that particular title in name only. However, it was hard to disagree or be insulted after what she’d just heard from Abe’s lawyer. Hard not to feel the bubbling anger over what her father had done, either.

Good grief. Talk about a goat rope the man had set up.

“Do you understand the conditions of Abe’s will?” Asher Parkman, the lawyer, asked, directing the question at Janessa.

“Yeah, do you understand that the miserable coot is trying to ruin our lives?” Margo blurted out before she could answer.

Yes, Janessa got that, and unlike the stupid social media posts, there was nothing amusing about this. The miserable coot had just screwed them all six ways to Sunday.

Twenty Minutes Earlier

“SOMEBODY OUGHT TO put a Texas-sized warning label on Abe Parkman’s tombstone,” Margo Tolley grumbled. “A warning label,” she repeated. “Because Abe’s meanness will surely make everything within thirty feet toxic for years to come. He could beat out Ebenezer Scrooge for meanness. The man was a flamin’ bunghole.”

Janessa figured the woman had a right to voice an opinion, even if the voicing was happening at Abe Parkman’s graveside funeral service. Janessa’s father clearly hadn’t left behind a legacy of affection and kindness.

Margo, who’d been Abe’s second wife, probably had a right to be bitter. So did plenty of others, and Janessa suspected most people in Abe’s hometown of Last Ride, Texas, had come to this funeral just so they could make sure he was truly dead.

Or to glean any tidbits about Abe’s will.

Rich people usually left lots of money and property when they died. Mean rich people could do mean, unexpected things with that money and property. It was the juiciest kind of gossip fodder for a small town.

Janessa didn’t care one wet eyelash what Abe did with whatever he’d accumulated during his misery-causing life. Her reason for coming had nothing to do with wills or assets. No. She needed the answer to two very big questions.

Why had Abe wanted her here?

And what had he wanted her to help him fix?

Janessa gave that plenty of thought while she listened to the minister, Vernon Kerr, giving the eulogy. He chirped on about Abe’s achievements, peppering in things like pillar of the community, astute businessman and a legacy that will live on for generations. But there were also phrases like his sometimes rigid approach to life and an often firm hand in dealing with others.

Perhaps those were the polite ways of saying flamin’ bunghole.

The sound of the minister’s voice blended with the drizzle that pinged on the sea of mourners’ umbrellas. Gripes and mutters rippled through the group of about a hundred people who’d braved the unpredictable October 30th weather to come to Parkmans’ Cemetery.

Or Snooty Hill as Janessa had heard some call it.

The Parkmans might be the most prominent and richest family in Last Ride, and their ancestor might have founded the town, but obviously some in her gene pool weren’t revered.

Margo continued to gripe and mutter as well, but her comments were harsher than the rest of the onlookers because she’d likely gotten plenty of fallout from Abe’s firm hand. It was possibly true of anyone whose life Abe had touched. Janessa certainly hadn’t been spared from it.

Still, Abe had managed to attract and convince two women to marry him, including Janessa’s own mother—who’d been his first wife. Janessa figured the convincing was in large part because he’d been remarkably good-looking along with having mountains of money. But it puzzled her as to why the women would tie themselves, even temporarily, to a man with a mile-wide mean streak.

A jagged vein of lightning streaked out from a fast approaching cloud that was the color of a nasty bruise. It sent some of the mourners gasping, squealing and scurrying toward their vehicles. They parted like the proverbial sea, giving Janessa a clear line of sight of someone else.

Brody Harrell.

Oh, for so many reasons, it was impossible for Janessa not to notice him. For an equal number of reasons, it was impossible not to remember him.

Long and lean, Brody stood out in plenty of ways. No umbrella, for one. The rain was splatting onto his gray Stetson and shoulders. No funeral clothes for him, either. He was wearing boots, jeans and a long-sleeved blue shirt that was already clinging to his body because of the drizzle.

Once, years ago on a hot July night, she’d run her tongue over some of the very places where that shirt was now clinging.

Yes, impossible not to remember that.

Brody was standing back from the grave. Far back. Ironic since according to the snippets Janessa had heard over the years about her father, Brody was the person who’d been closest to Abe, along with also running Abe’s sprawling ranch, Colts Creek.

If those updates—aka gossip through social media and the occasional letter from Abe’s head housekeeper—were right, then Brody was the son that Abe had always wanted but never had. It was highly likely that he was the only one here who was truly mourning Abe’s death.

Though he wasn’t especially showing any signs of grief.

It probably wasn’t the best time for her to notice that Brody’s looks had only gotten a whole boatload better since her days of tongue-kissing his chest. They’d been seventeen, and while he’d been go-ahead-drown-in-me hot even back then, he was a ten-ton avalanche of hotness now with his black hair and dreamy brown eyes.

His body had filled out in all the right places, and his face, that face, had a nice edge to it. A mix of reckless rock star and a really naughty fallen angel who knew how to do many, many naughty things.

A loud burst of thunder sent even more people hurrying off. “Sorry for your loss,” one of them shouted to Brody. Several more added pats on his back. Two women hugged him, and one of the men tried to give Brody his umbrella, which Brody refused. You didn’t have to be a lip-reader to know that one of those women, an attractive busty brunette, whispered, “Call me,” in his ear.

Brody didn’t acknowledge that obvious and poorly timed booty-call offer. He just stood there, his gaze sliding from Abe’s tombstone to Janessa. Unlike her, he definitely didn’t appear to be admiring anything about her or remembering that he’d been the one to rid her of her virginity.

Just the opposite.

His expression seemed to be questioning why she was there. That was understandable. It’d been fifteen years since Janessa had been to Last Ride. Fifteen years since her de-virgining. That’d happened at the tail end of her one and only visit to Colts Creek when she’d spent that summer trying, and failing, to figure Abe out. She was still trying, still failing.

Brody was likely thinking that since she hadn’t recently come to see the man who’d fathered her when he was alive, then there was no good reason to see him now that he was dead.

Heck, Brody might be right.

So what if Abe had sent her that letter? So what if he’d said please? That didn’t undo the past. She’d spent plenty of time and tears trying to work out what place in her mind and heart to put Abe. As for her mind—she reserved Abe a space in a tiny mental back corner that only surfaced when she saw Father’s Day cards in the store. And as for her heart—she’d given him no space whatsoever.

Well, not until that blasted letter anyway.

She silently cursed herself, mentally repeating some of Margo’s mutters. She’d thought she had buried her daddy issues years ago. It turned out, though, that some things just didn’t stay buried. They just lurked and lingered, waiting for a chance to resurface and bite you in the butt. Which wasn’t a comforting thought, considering she was standing next to a grave.

Reverend Kerr nervously eyed the next zagging bolt of lightning, and he gave what had to be the fastest closing prayer in the history of prayers. The moment he said “Amen,” he clutched his tattered Bible to his chest and hurried toward his vehicle, all the while calling out condolences to no one in particular.

Most of the others fled with the minister, leaving Janessa with Brody, Margo and Abe’s attorney, Asher Parkman, who was also Abe’s cousin. It’d been Asher who’d called her four days ago to tell her of Abe’s death, and to inform her that Abe had insisted that she and her mother, Sophia, come to today’s graveside funeral. Both had refused. Janessa had politely done that. Her mother had declined with an “if and when hell freezes over.” That was it, the end of the discussion.

But then the letter from Abe had arrived.


Excerpted from Christmas at Colts Creek by Delores Fossen. Copyright © 2021 by Delores Fossen. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.




Author Bio: 
 
USA Today bestselling author, Delores Fossen, has sold over 70 novels with millions of copies of her books in print worldwide. She's received the Booksellers' Best Award, the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award and was a finalist for the prestigious Rita ®. In addition, she's had nearly a hundred short stories and articles published in national magazines.

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