Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Welcome 2014 - Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!

1/1: Welcome 2014!
1/4: D.E. Stevenson's THE TWO MRS. ABBOTTS (Sourcebooks giveaway)
1/5: Weekly Winners
1/6: Tracy Anne Warren's LAST MAN ON EARTH

plus Jessica Scott's BACK TO YOU Blitz
1/7: Christine D'Abo's GILDED HEARTS
1/8: Anthology, BOOTS UNDER HER BED from Jodi Thomas, Jo Goodman, Kaki Warner, and Alison Kent
1/9: Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe, BETWEEN A RAKE AND A HARD PLACE
1/10: William J. Barry's FOREVER AWAKENING
1/11: Celebrate Little Victories
1/12: Weekly Winners
1/13:  Aloha to STEALING JUSTICE by Misty Evans and 

Adrienne Giordano 
plus Cara Elliott's SCANDALOUSLY YOURS
1/14: Susanna Kearsley's THE SPLENDOUR FALLS
1/15: Jane Ashford giveaways from Sourcebooks
1/16: ON TWO FRONTS:  SGT Adan Fenner and Lance Taubold

1/17: Mackenzie Lucas' ESSENCE
1/18: Celebrate Little Victories
1/19: Weekly Winners
1/20: Alison McQueen's UNDER THE JEWELED SKY
1/21: Shawntelle Madison's REPOSSESSED
1/22:  Kate Meader's FEEL THE HEAT

1/23: Jennifer Haymore's THE ROGUE'S PROPOSAL
1/24: Monica Epstein's WHERE THERE IS WILL
1/25: Burns' Night with Cathy Maxwell and THE BRIDE SAYS NO
1/26: Weekly Winners
1/27: Cheryl Bolen's LOVE IN THE LIBRARY
plus Samantha Grace's ONE ROGUE TOO MANY
1/28: Kimberly Palmer's THE ECONOMY OF YOU
1/29: Christie Craig's TEXAS HOLD' EM

1/30: Laura Drake's NOTHING SWEETER

2/1: Susanna Kearsley's THE SPLENDOUR FALLS
2/2: Weekly winners
Military Muscle Blog tour with Marilyn Pappano, Jessica Scott, and Rebecca Zanetti

2/4: Kristen Ashley's KALEIDOSCOPE - Launch Day Blitz
2/7: Megan Mulry's R IS FOR REBEL (Sourcebooks Giveaway)

plus Jane Ashford's THE BRIDE INSISTS
2/8: Laura Levine's KILLING CUPID
2/9: Weekly Winners
2/10: Christy English' MUCH TO DO ABOUT JACK (Sourcebooks Giveaway)
2/11: Michele Gorman's WEIGHTLESS
2/12: Brooklyn Ann's WRENCHING FATE
2/13: Ava Miles' COUNTRY HAVEN
2/14: Eloisa James' THREE WEEKS WITH LADY X
2/15: Nancy Naigle's MINT JULEPS & JUSTICE
2/15: Weekly Winners
2/17: Elizabeth Michels' MUST LOVE DUKES (Sourcebooks Giveaway)
2/18: Brooklyn Ann

plus Shana Galen’s EXCLUSIVE Jewels of the Ton Pre-Pub Blog Tour
Suzanne Brockman's DO OR DIE (Reluctant Heroes)
2/20: Open
2/21: Open
2/22: Celebrate Little Victories
2/23: Weekly Winners
2/24: Jade Lee's WHAT THE GROOM WANTS (Sourcebooks Giveaway)
2/25: Cathy Maxwell's THE BRIDE SAYS MAYBE
2/26: Open
2/27: Open
2/28: Maggie Mae Gallagher's ANOINTED

3/1: St. David's Day

3/2: Weekly Winners
3/3: Fourth Anniversary of SOS Aloha

3/4: Mary Behre's SPIRITED (A Tidewater Novel)
3/7: Jane Ashford's THE BRIDE INSISTS
3/14: Sabrina McAffee's TIME TO DIE
3/31: Jodi Thomas' BETTING THE RAINBOW

4/1: Joanne Kennedy's HOW TO HANDLE A COWBOY

4/2: Carolyn Brown's THE RED-HOT CHILI COOK-OFF 4/3: Ella Quinn's DESIRING LADY CARO
4/6: National Tartan Day
4/22: Tracy March's A SHOT OF RED
4/23: St George's Day

May is Armed Forces Appreciation Month

5/12:  Tracy March's SUDDENLY SMITTEN
5/12 - 5/18 ... New Orleans, here I come!
5/19:  Weekly Winners
5/20:  RT Recap
5/21:  RT Recap
5/22:  RT Recap

5/23:  RT Recap
5/24:  RT Recap

5/25:  RT Recap
5/26:  Weekly winners
5/31:  Memorial Day - Remember the Heroes

Monday, December 30, 2013

Release Day Blitz for Sophie Barnes' THE SCANDAL IN KISSING AN HEIR

New Year's Eve is upon us ... get ready to kiss your (fill in the blank) at midnight.   Kisses can be sexy with your partner or friendly (on the cheek) with your friend.   Sophie Barnes delivers sexy kisses in her new book in the Kingsborough Ball series, THE SCANDAL IN KISSING AN HEIR ...

When Lady Rebecca, daughter of the Earl of Airmont, faked madness to avoid an undesirable marriage, she never thought she’d wind up secluded from society instead. Now with the Kingsborough Ball on the horizon, she’s determined to sneak out and meet the man of her dreams. There’s just one catch: not getting caught.

After losing the last of his monthly allowance in a game of cards Daniel Neville, rogue, reprobate and heir to the Marquisate of Wolvington, receives an ultimatum from his uncle: marry or get cut off without a penny. Faced with limited prospects due to his reputation, Neville can’t help but notice the beautiful young woman at the ball. He’s never seen her before and, better yet, she’s never met him either. This could just be a match made in heaven.

When Rebecca is unexpectedly shot at the ball and her cover is blown, the two are bound by the last thing either expected to find: a passion so binding that they will risk everything for the chance to be together.

Born in Denmark, Sophie has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish and Romanian. 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, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading. She currently lives on the East Coast.

You find Sophie on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @BarnesSophie. Visit her website at sophiebarnes.com.

Avon Romance link
Amazon link
Barnes & Noble link

CHAPTER 1 Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Kingsborough Hall, Moxley, England


Daniel Neville, heir to the Marquisate of Wolvington, removed himself to a corner of the Kingsborough ballroom—as good a place as any for a man who’d been labeled an outcast by Society.

Overhead, candles held by three large chandeliers spread their glow across the room, the jewels worn by countless women winking in response to the light. This was true opulence, and nobody did it better than the Kingsboroughs. Why, there was even a glass slipper sculpted from ice and a pumpkin carriage sitting outside on the lawn—a touch of fairy-tale splendor indicative of the theme that the dowager duchess had selected for her masquerade.

And what a masquerade. Never in his life had Daniel born witness to so many feathers. They were everywhere—attached to gowns, on the edges of masks, and sprouting from women’s hair.

The ball gowns were marvelous too. These were not the boring dresses generally on display at Almack’s. Certainly, one could still tell the debutantes apart, due to their tepid choice in color, but they all had a bit of something extra, like crystal beads that sparkled when they moved.

It was refreshing to see, and yet as he stood there, watching the spectacle unfold, Daniel felt nothing but bland disinterest. It was only one hour since he’d arrived, but it felt more like four. God help him, but he’d never been so bored in his life. Perhaps he should have remained in London after all. At least there he had his friends to keep him company and could avoid the constant reminder of how unwelcome he was among the finer set. His aunt and uncle were in attendance of course, but as soon as they’d entered the ballroom, they’d been approached by Lady Deerford. Daniel had hastily slipped away in order to avoid the countess who had a renowned tendency to talk the ear off anyone willing to listen. In hindsight, he was beginning to think that nodding his head in response to whatever she had to say, would be preferable to this self-imposed solitude. Recalling the glass of champagne in his hand, he took another sip of his drink and decided to request a brandy from one of the footmen at the first available opportunity. Stronger stuff would be required if he was to get through the rest of this evening. He watched as a group of ladies approach on their tour of the periphery. There were three of them, one being the Countess of Frompton. If Daniel wasn’t mistaken, the two young ladies in her company were her granddaughters—typical debutantes dressed in gowns so pale it was hard to discern where the fabric ended and their skin began. It would do them both a great deal of good to get married, if for no other reason than to be able to add a touch of color to their attire.

As they came nearer, Lady Frompton glanced in Daniel’s direction. Their eyes met briefly, then her ladyship quickly drew her granddaughters closer to her, circumventing Daniel in a wide arc that would have been insulting had it not been so expected. They weren’t the first to avoid him that evening. Indeed, the three youngest Rockly sisters had beaten a hasty retreat a short while earlier when they’d realized who they were heading toward on their own tour of the ballroom. Daniel wasn’t surprised, for his reputation was so tarnished that he could probably ruin a lady by merely glancing in her direction. Why he’d bothered to attend the ball at all, when the chance of enjoying himself had been as distant a prospect as traipsing through the African jungle, was beyond him.

Well, not entirely.

He needed to find himself a wife, or so his uncle had informed him last week when he’d discovered that Daniel had hosted a most outrageous party at his bachelor lodgings – an event that had been sponsored indirectly by his uncle via Daniel’s monthly allowance, where vingt-et-un had been played until most of the courtesans and gentlemen present had been divested of their clothing. What made the incident worse, was that Daniel had been so deep in his cups that night, he’d offered the diamond earrings that his father had once bestowed upon his mother, to his mistress. They had been a treasured family heirloom, but would now grace the lobes of Solange. “You’re a bloody curse on this family!” Daniel’s uncle, the Marquess of Wolvington, had said as soon as Daniel had entered his study the following day. The marquess had then delivered a long list of reasons as to why he’d thought this to be the case. “It’s time you grew up, learned a thing or two about responsibility or you’ll end up running your inheritance into the ground after I’m gone. Heaven help me, I’d love nothing better than to disinherit you and allow Ralph to take up the reins, but—”

“My nephew?” Daniel had said, unable to help himself in light of the fact that his uncle would rather entrust his entire fortune to an infant.

“I doubt he’ll do any worse than you.” Daniel had winced, but had done his best to hide all signs of emotion as his uncle continued. “Your sister’s a levelheaded woman, her husband too. I’m sure the two of them would be prepared to act wisely on Ralph’s behalf, but since the law prevents such an outcome, I rather think it’s beside the point.

“That said, your aunt and I have come to a mutual agreement—one which we hope will encourage you to get that head of yours on straight. You will cease your gaming immediately, or we will cut you off financially, which, to clarify, will mean that you will have to work for a living unless you wish to starve. Additionally, you will stop associating with loose women, engaging in haphazard carriage chases, or anything else that’s likely to embarrass the name your father left you. And finally, you will get yourself engaged within a month and married by the end of the Season.”

Daniel had stared back at his uncle in horror. The older gentleman, however, had looked alarmingly smug and satisfied with his new plan. Daniel had turned to his aunt, whose presence had only served to increase Daniel’s humiliation tenfold. Although she was not his blood-relative, she had always been kind toward Daniel, had treated him like the son she’d never been blessed with, and had often stood up for him against his uncle who’d been more stern and restrictive. “He cannot be serious,” he’d said, hoping to incur a bit of sympathy from her.

She’d glanced up at him, eyes crinkling at the corners as she’d offered him a sad little smile. “I’m afraid so, love, and I have to say that I am in full agreement. You cannot continue down this path, Daniel—it will be detrimental if you do. Please try to understand that we’re only looking out for your best interests, as well as those of the family at large.” Her eyes had been filled with disappointment.

Of course he’d understood, but he’d still been furious with both of them.

A wife—ha! Raising his glass to his lips, Daniel took another sip. As if finding one here was likely to happen when no self-respecting parent or guardian would allow their daughters and wards within a ten-foot radius of him.

No, Daniel was there because it had been Kingsborough who’d issued the invitation. They’d moved in the same circles once, and Daniel had always enjoyed the duke’s company immensely. Things were different now though. The duke had reformed, abandoning his rakehell ways in favor of supporting his family. There was much to be admired in the strength of character Kingsborough had shown, and Daniel had wanted to offer his friend some respect for everything he’d been through—the difficulty he must have endured in dealing with his father’s demise. But with so many people in attendance, Kingsborough had only been able to speak with him briefly, as there were many others who craved his attention.

Daniel fleetingly considered asking one of the widows to dance, but he decided against it. No sense in wasting time on fruitless pursuits, since none of them had any inclination to remarry. They’d gained their independence and had every intention of holding on to it. The only thing he could hope for was to enjoy the comfort of their beds later, but that would hardly hasten his progress to the altar, nor would it improve his aunt and uncle’s opinion of him if they happened to find out. Knowing them, they’d probably decide he’d gone too far in thwarting their wishes and cut him off before the month was up—an unwelcome prospect, to say the least.

Across the floor, he finally spotted someone who would appreciate his presence. He and Casper Goodard often gambled together, and Daniel decided to go and greet him. With wife hunting being a futile endeavor here, sharing a bit of friendly banter over a game of cards would be a welcome distraction.

Squaring his shoulders, Daniel started to head in Goodard’s direction when a flutter of red met the corner of his eye. Glancing toward it, he took a sharp breath . . . and froze.

Who on earth is that?

Next to the terrace doors, partially concealed by a pillar and an oversized arrangement of daffodils, stood a woman unlike any he’d ever seen before. Her hair was black, and from the looks of it, exceptionally long, for it wasn’t cut in the style that was fashionable but piled high on her head in an intricate coif. And her skin…it was not the milky white tone that made most English women appear a touch too pale for his liking. On the contrary, it looked bronzed - as if she’d been basking in the afternoon sun. It took a moment for Daniel to come to his senses and realize that he was not only staring openly at her but gaping as well. Quickly snapping his mouth shut, he cursed himself for being such a fool—it was just hair, after all.

And yet he suddenly had the most bizarre and uncontrollable urge to unpin it and run his fingers through it. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the woman promised to be a tantalizing beauty if the fullness of her lips was anything to go by. Unfortunately, the upper half of her face was concealed by a mask, but if he could only get close enough, he ought to at least be able to see the color of her eyes.

He began going over all the ladies he’d ever been introduced to, attempting to recall someone who shared her attributes, but it was to no avail. Clearly, he’d never encountered this woman before, and he found the mystery most intriguing.

Moving closer, he watched as she tilted her chin in profile, her jawline fine and delicate beneath her high cheekbones. A lock of hair falling softly against the sweep of her neckline had come to rest against the bare skin of her right shoulder, and the unexpected urge he felt to brush it aside and place a kiss there in its stead was startling. Daniel hesitated briefly. Women didn’t affect him, and whatever was said to the contrary was untrue, for the charm and soulful eyes he chose to display were no more than tools he applied in his endless pursuit of pleasure. He was methodical in his seduction. If he placed a kiss against a lady’s shoulder, it would be for a reason, not because he couldn’t stop himself. The fact that he’d felt a helpless need to do so now, however brief it had been, disturbed him.

Whoever she was, she couldn’t possibly be an innocent, dressed as she was in scarlet silk. He wondered if she might be somebody’s mistress, or if not, then perhaps a widow he hadn’t yet met—one who might be willing to remarry? As unlikely as that was, he could always hope.

Knowing that the only way to find out would be to talk to her, he decided to do the unthinkable—ignore etiquette and address her without being formally introduced. After all, it wasn’t as if his reputation was likely to suffer further damage at this point, and considering her gown, he thought it unlikely that hers would either. Dressed in such a bold color, the lady could hardly be a saint.

One thing was for certain however—he needed a wife, and he needed one fast. If her reputation did suffer a little from his talking to her, then so be it. Perhaps he’d marry her and tell all the gossipmongers to go hang. The corner of his mouth lifted at the very idea of it. What a satisfying outcome that would be. Hands clasped behind his back, he stepped up beside her and quietly whispered, “Would you care to dance?”


Rebecca flinched, startled out of her reverie by a deep, masculine voice brushing across her skin. Turning her head, she caught her breath, her body responding instinctively as it flooded with heat from the top of her head all the way down to the tips of her toes. The man who stood beside her was nothing short of magnificent—imposing even, with his black satin mask that matched his all-black evening attire.

His jawline was square and angular, his nose perfectly straight, and the brown eyes that stared down at her from behind the slits of his mask sent a shiver racing down her spine—there was more intensity and determination there than Rebecca had ever seen before in her life. He wanted something from her, no doubt about that, and as nervous as that made her, it also spoke to her adventurous streak and filled her with excitement. “Good evening,” she said quietly, returning his salutation with a smile.

He studied her for a moment, and then he smiled as well, the corners of his mouth dimpling as he did so. Oh, he was a charmer this one. “I hope you will forgive me, considering we haven’t been formally introduced, but I saw you standing here from across the way and found myself quite unable to place you. Naturally, I had no choice but to make your acquaintance. I am Mr. Neville at your service, and you are . . . ?”

Rebecca knew her mouth was scrunching together in an attempt to keep a straight face. Oh, how she’d love to tell him exactly who she was. The knowledge would undoubtedly shock him, but unfortunately the risk of discovery was far too great for her to divulge her true identity.

Rebecca gazed up at the gentleman before her. “This is a masquerade, Mr. Neville, is it not?” she asked, deciding to keep his company a little while longer. How pleasant it was to be in the presence of a young and handsome gentleman for a change, rather than suffer the attentions of men who coughed, croaked and hobbled their way through what remained of their lives, as was the case with the suitors her aunt and uncle kept pressing upon her.

“It is,” Mr. Neville said, dragging out the last word with a touch of wariness.

“Then part of the amusement comes from the mystery of not always knowing the identity of the person with whom you’re speaking. Wouldn’t you agree?”

She watched as Mr. Neville’s eyes brightened and his smile turned to one of mischief. “Tell me honestly,” he said, ignoring her question, “are you married?”

“Certainly not,” she said, attempting to sound as affronted as possible, which in turn made him laugh. Surrendering, she allowed the smile that threatened to take control of her lips. “If I were, I would have ignored you completely and rudely walked away.”

“Is that so?”


“Well, then I suppose I should inquire if you have any brothers that I ought to live in fear of.”

She grinned this time and shook her head with amusement. “You are incorrigible.”

“I’ve been called much worse, I assure you.”

“I do not doubt it for a second.” And it was the truth, though she had no intention of sharing any of the adjectives that were presently coursing through her own mind, like magnificent and delicious. Her cheeks grew instantly hot and she cringed inwardly, praying he wouldn’t notice her blush. Heaven forbid if either word ever crossed her lips—the embarrassment of it would likely be impossible to survive, particularly since her mind had now decided to turn those two words into one singular descriptive, namely magnificently delicious. Her cheeks grew hotter still, though she hadn’t thought such a thing possible.

“Would you care for some air? You’re looking a bit flushed.”

Oh dear.

She’d rather hoped he wouldn’t have been able to tell. Looking over her shoulder, she considered the escape the French doors offered. She wouldn’t mind the cooler outdoors right now, not only to cure her overheated reaction to Mr. Neville but also to avoid for just a little while longer the task she’d set herself. Looking the way she did, how on earth was she to make a good impression on any of the young gentlemen present? She wasn’t sure, though she knew she’d have to figure it out before the evening ended and she lost her chance altogether.

Her eyes met Mr. Neville’s, and the promise of trouble in them only compounded her instinct to dismiss him as a possible candidate. But instinct could be wrong, couldn’t it? So far, he was the only person she’d spoken to, the only man who’d asked her to dance. Granted, hiding behind a pillar probably hadn’t helped her much in that regard. Still, despite her better judgment, she couldn’t help but acknowledge that when Mr. Neville looked at her in that particular way, she lost all interest in the other gentlemen present. Perhaps she ought to consider him after all.

“It’s very kind of you to offer,” she said as she looked him squarely in the eye, “but I must consider my reputation. Why, you look precisely like the sort of man who’d happily kiss me in some secluded corner without a second thought for the consequences.”

Mr. Neville’s mouth quite literally dropped open. She knew her words were bold and inappropriate and that she probably ought to have been mortified by what she’d just said. But she wasn’t. Mr. Neville’s reaction was entirely too satisfying to allow for any measure of regret. Folding her hands neatly in front of her, she stared back at him instead, challenging him to respond while doing her best to maintain a serious demeanor.

“I . . . er . . . assure you that I would do no such thing,” he blustered, glancing sideways as if to assure himself that nobody else had heard what she’d just said.

It was all too much, and Rebecca quickly covered her mouth with one hand in a hopeless attempt to contain the laughter that bubbled forth. “My apologies, but I was merely having a bit of sport at your expense. I hope you’ll forgive me—and my rather peculiar sense of humor.”

He leaned closer to her then—so close in fact that she could smell him, the rich scent of sandalwood enveloping her senses until she found herself leaning toward him. She stopped herself and pulled back.

“Of course . . . Nuit.” His eyes twinkled. “I must call you something, and considering the color of your hair, I cannot help but be reminded of the night sky. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” she said, attempting a nonchalant sound to her voice, though her heart had picked up its pace as he’d said it, the endearment feeling like a gentle caress of her soul.

Who was this man? Could she really have been so fortunate to have stumbled upon the man of her dreams? A man who might potentially agree to marry her once she confessed to him the true nature of her situation? She dismissed the hope, for it was far too na├»ve and unrealistic. Besides, Mr. Neville’s suave demeanor screamed rake and scoundrel rather than incurable romantic, which was what she would need. In fact, he was probably precisely the sort of man she should try to avoid, although . . . she made an attempt to look beyond the debonair smile and the lure of his eyes. Could he be genuine? Surely, if he really was a rake, he wouldn’t have been so shocked by her suggestion that he might try to compromise her. Would he? She wasn’t sure and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt instead.

The edge of her lips curled upward into a smile. “How about a refreshment,” she suggested. “A glass of champagne, perhaps? And then I believe I’d like to take you up on that offer to dance.”

“Yes, of course,” Mr. Neville said as he glanced sideways, undoubtedly trying to locate the nearest footman. There was none close by at present. “If you will please wait here, I’ll be right back.”

Rebecca followed him with her eyes as he walked away, his confident stride reflecting his purpose. She was not unaware of the looks of reproach he received from those he passed, and she couldn’t help but wonder if her instincts about him had been correct after all. Was she wasting her time on a scoundrel? She hoped not, for she’d quite enjoyed their conversation. It had been comfortable and unpretentious, spiced with a sense of humor.

As he vanished from sight, she gave her attention to the rest of the guests. One gentleman, she noticed, was making his way toward a cluster of young ladies with quick determination. She watched him, wondering which of the women had caught his interest. But right before he reached them, another gentleman cut in front of him and offered his hand to one of them—a lovely brunette dressed in a dusty pink gown. Placing her hand upon his arm, the pair walked off without as much as acknowledging the presence of the first gentleman. Rebecca wondered if they’d even seen him. Perhaps not, she decided, except that the second gentleman suddenly looked back, grinning with victory at the first gentleman.

What cheek!

She was just about to turn her attention elsewhere when a man’s voice said, “I don’t believe I’ve ever had the pleasure of making your acquaintance.”

Turning her head, she was forced to look up until her eyes settled upon a handsome face, but where there was something playful about Mr. Neville’s features, this man looked almost menacing—as though he was not the sort who was used to having his wishes denied. “I really wouldn’t know,” Rebecca told him, feigning boredom as she did her best to still her quaking nerves. Whoever he was, he was huge—the sort of man who could easily fling her over his shoulder and carry her off without anyone being able to stop him. “Perhaps if you told me your name . . .”

He smirked. “Lord Starkly at your service. And you are?”

She offered him a tight smile in return. She was not about to play the same coy game with this man as she’d done with Mr. Neville. That would only lead to trouble. But she could hardly give her real name either, so she said, “Lady Nuit.”

Lord Starkly frowned. “I don’t believe I—”

“This is a masquerade, my lord, is it not?” She heard the impatience in her voice but didn’t bother to change it. “Let’s just say that I’d rather not give away my real name for personal reasons.”

“Yes, of course,” Lord Starkly said, his features relaxing a little. The predatory glimmer returned to his eyes. “I understand completely why a woman such as yourself would prefer to remain incognito, though I—”

“A woman such as myself?” Rebecca asked, unable to keep the blunt tone of indignation from seeping into her voice. She shouldn’t have been shocked, considering her gown, but she didn’t seem to be able to stop herself.

“Come now, Lady Nuit. There’s no need for you to keep up your charade for my benefit. I mean, what other reason would a woman possibly have for engaging in conversation with Mr. Neville unless she was already a fallen angel? Not to mention that your attire is rather indicative of your . . . ah . . . experience in certain areas.” He paused, leaned closer and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I trust that you are his mistress or perhaps hoping to become so, which is why I decided to hurry over here and proposition you myself.”

Rebecca could only stare at him, agog. Who was he to so blatantly insult a woman as if she was nothing more than bothersome dirt tainting his boots? She so desperately wanted to hit him that she could barely contain her enthusiasm to do so, her fingers already curling into a tight fist at her side. And what was it he’d said about Mr. Neville? That keeping his company was what had led him to believe that she was a doxy in the first place? Disappointment washed over her. She should have known. Mr. Neville had only his own interests in mind as far as she went, and they would not include marriage. He might have more charm than Lord Starkly, but when it came to it, they were cut from the same cloth—libertines through and through. Neither man would do. Rebecca needed the permanence and security of marriage, not to a relic, but to a man of her own choosing if she was to escape the future her aunt and uncle had in mind for her, and for that, she would have to look elsewhere. Deciding she’d had enough of Lord Starkly’s presence and hoping to be gone before Mr. Neville returned, she resolved to walk away and find someone else entirely.

With a swift “If you’ll please excuse me,” she spun on her heel, only to barrel straight into Mr. Neville, who’d just come up behind her with two champagne flutes in hand, the bubbly liquid spilling onto both of them in the process.

Aloha to Chip Hughes' MURDER ON MOLOKA'I and Jill Marie Landis' THREE TO GET LEI'D

Kalaupapa, Moloka'i

I watch Hawaii Life/HGTV on Sunday nights (link) (link) and Buying Hawaii/Destination America on Monday night (link). These shows give me a taste of paradise.  I recently read two cozy mysteries set in Hawaii, authored by kama'ainas (locals), that also remind me of the good life I enjoyed in the Aloha State:


When Boston heiress Adrienne Ridgely strides into his Honolulu office, Surfing Detective Kai Cooke likes what he sees, but doubts what he hears. Adrienne’s sister, environmental activist Sara Ridgely-Parke, plunged to her death from a mule on Moloka‘i – the first fatal incident on the soaring cliffs above Kalaupapa’s fabled leper colony. Murder, cries Adrienne, perpetrated by Sara’s ex-husband, developer J. Gregory Parke. Cooke flies to Moloka‘i, tracking tantalizing leads to an unlikely murder that, despite himself, he starts to believe in.

Was the mule prodded or spooked or drugged? Did Parke do it for vengeance, or Adrienne for an inheritance, as Parke alleges? Soon Kai uncovers a motive more noxious than either of these – entangling him in the shady dealings of big-time developers, corrupt politicians, and underworld thugs. As he hops from island to island seeking a pivotal clue, the clock ticks down on more than the P.I.’s case or even his own life. The future of Moloka‘i itself is at stake.


Jill Marie Landis' THREE TO GET LEI'D:

A jigger of tranquility is all Em Johnson wants, but now that her beloved Tiki Goddess Bar has been chosen as the location for Trouble in Paradise, TV's hot new reality show, life is anything but tranquil. When a member of the camera crew is found dead in her kitchen-stabbed to death with Chef Kimo's sashimi knife-the scene on the sleepy North Shore of Kauai goes from eccentrically crazy to downright dangerous. Suspects lurk behind every paper drink umbrella. 

It's not enough that Chef Kimo is the number one suspect or that the life's-a-party Hula Maidens nearly burn down the place while dancing the hula with flaming coconuts. Em still has to deal with her Uncle Louie's wedding to The Black Widow-until his fiancee's Mercedes plunges into the Pacific. Roland Sharpe, a handsome, Hawaiian, fire-dancing detective, warns the locals not to interfere, but Em and the madcap Maidens can't help themselves and soon wind up knee deep in danger again. Can the irrepressible troupe solve three murders before the champagne goes flat?


They are easy reads with island humor intertwined with quirky characters.  If you are a fan of cozy mysteries and Hawaiian culture, these books are for you!

I am giving away my last Hawaiian souvenir to one randomly selected commenter.  To enter the giveaway, 

1.  Have you read a book set in a small locale that you have visited?

2.  This giveaway is open to all readers.

3.  Comments are open through Saturday, January 4, 10 pm in Baltimore.  I'll post the winner on Sunday, January 5.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

To learn more about Chip Hughes and his books, check out his website at surfingdetective.com.

To learn more about Jill Marie Landis and her books, check out her website at thetikigoddess.com.

Anahola Beach Park, Kauai

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Weekly Winners

We have winners at SOS Aloha!

Gloria Gaynor's WE WILL SURVIVE
- Maureen wins a print copy from Grand Harbor Press.

- Debby and Marcy win print copies from Harlequin MIRA.

- Betty H. and Cathy P. win print copies from Harlequin MIRA.


Best of 2013 - Top 13 Books (part 1):  Historicals
- Linda M. and Carol L. win print copies of Mia Marlowe's PLAID TIDINGS from Kensington.

Plaid Tidings

Winners - please claim your prize by sending your mailing address to sos.aloha@yahoo.com.  


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

Friday, December 27, 2013

Best of 2013 (part 2) - Contemporaries, Novellas, and H50

Continuing my list of the top 13 books of 2013, spotlighting contemporaries, novellas, and even H50!

Contemporaries ...

7.  Jodi Thomas' CAN'T STOP BELIEVING (Berkley)

Link to my guest post on The Reading Reviewer
Link to my review on Goodreads

8.  Stephanie Evanovich's BIG GIRL PANTIES (William Morrow)

Link to my blog post
Link to my review on Goodreads


9.  Jenny Colgan's MEET ME AT THE CUPCAKE CAFE (Sourcebooks)

Link to my guest post on the Reading Reviewer
Link to my review on Goodreads

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe: A Novel with Recipes

10. Anne Elizabeth's ONCE A SEAL (Sourcebooks)

Link to my blog post
Link to my review on Goodreads


Novellas ...

11.  Michele Gorman's CHRISTMAS CAROL (Notting Hill Press)

Link to my blog post
Link to my review on Goodreads


12.  Laura Levine, SECRET SANTA/Nightmare on Elm Street (Kensington)

Link to my blog post


 .... and Hawaii Five O! 


From my blog (link),

Hats off to the producers of Hawaii Five O for last night episode, HO'ONANI MAKAU KANE - HONOR THY FATHER. This episode, airing one week after the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, focuses on an unsolved murder from WWII. The episode offered a historical perspective of the surprise attack, the internment of Japanese Americans, and the 442nd Infantry Regiment - comprised of Japanese Americans who served in the European Theater. The 442nd is the nicknamed the Purple Heart Battalion because it is the most decorated unit in Army history. For an excellent review of the episode, check out this link.

The emotional content was gripping ... and I enjoyed the scenes shot on Pearl Harbor ... places I've lived, visited, and posted on my travel blog, ALOHA ON MY MIND (link).

Well done, H5O, well done!

Salute in "Ho'onani Makuakane" Season 4 Episode 10

I am giving away a book choice from my convention stash.  To enter the giveaway,

1.  Do you have a favorite contemporary romance, novella, or even TV episode from 2013?

2.  This giveaway is open to all readers.  

3.  Comments are open through Saturday, January 4, 10 pm in Baltimore.  I'll post the winners on Sunday, January 5.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

Check out my Best of 2013, Nos. 1 - 6, Historicals, at this link.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best of 2013 (part 1) - Historicals

Aloha!  We celebrated Boxing Day by visiting the Montpelier Mansion - check out my photos on my travel blog, ALOHA ON MY MIND, at this link.  

I offer you my top 13 books from 2013 ... or least the first six which happen to be historicals, my favorite genre.  They are numbered in chronological order of release date in 2013:

1.  Jennifer McQuiston's WHAT HAPPENED IN SCOTLAND (Avon)

Link to my blog post.
Link to my review on Goodreads.

WhatHappensinScotland Cover

2.  Cathy Maxwell's THE DEVIL'S HEART (Avon)

Link to my blog post.
Link to my review on Goodreads.

The Devil's Heart (The Chattan Curse, #3)

3.  Shana Galen's TRUE SPIES (Sourcebooks)

Link to my blog post.
Link to my review on Goodreads.

True Spies

4. Mia Marlowe's PLAID TIDINGS (Kensington)

Link to my blog post.
Link to my review on Goodreads.


5. Anne Cleeland's THE DAUGHTER OF THE GOD-KING (Sourcebooks)

Link to my blog post
Link to my review on Goodreads


6. Susanna Ives' WICKED LITTLE SECRETS (Sourcebooks)

Link to my blog post
Link to my review on Goodreads


I am giving away a print copy of PLAID TIDINGS (courtesy of Kensington) to one randomly selected commenter.  To enter the giveaway,

1.  Do you have a favorite historical from 2013?

2.  This giveaway is open to all readers.

3.  Comments are open through Saturday, December 28, 10 pm in Baltimore.  I'll post the winner on Sunday, December 29.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

Monday, December 23, 2013


Christmas Eve ... 

... my husband is working the midnight shift so our celebration begins when hubby wakes up Christmas afternoon.  We will open gifts and enjoy a holiday feast with another military family (whose husband/father is deployed to Afghanistan).   I plan to read aloud Scott Roloff's THE INNKEEPER OF BETHLEHEM - THE STORY OF SANTA CLAUS, available from Amazon (link) and several reviews on Goodreads (link):

A Christmas book for children, families, and anyone who has ever wondered how Santa Claus came to be. This book will permit you and your family to enjoy Santa Claus and the other secular customs of Christmas within the Christian celebration of Jesus’s birth. For little children, Santa Claus becomes a real person delivering presents to them from Jesus. Each Christmas season, reading a chapter a night will become a holiday tradition for the entire family. 

The book is a story within a story, told by a visiting uncle to a little girl and her nephew. Each night before bedtime beginning on December 6th, St. Nicholas’s Day, and continuing through Christmas Eve, the uncle tells part of the story. Instead of numbers, the chapters are titled by day. The book can be read as a normal book or a chapter each day, and it can be read to oneself or out loud to children. When read out loud, the chapter lengths vary between 10 and 15 minutes.

December 6th–The Inn
December 7th–The Birth of Jesus
December 8th–The Flight to Egypt
December 9th–Obeying Your Parents
December 10th–Befriending the Shunned
December 11th–Choices
December 12th–Joseph Dies
December 13th–The Test
December 14th–Perseverance
December 15th–Jesus Preaches
December 16th–Jesus is God
December 17th–The Black Day
December 18th–Easter
December 19th–What It Means to be a Christian
December 20th–The Journey North
December 21st–The Palace at the North Pole
December 22nd–A Day at Santa’s Palace
December 23rd–The Chapel of Light
December 24th–Christmas Eve

Wherever you may live, and by whatever name that you may know him–Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Pere Noel or Sinter Klaas–you will never forget the true story of Santa Claus, as you read it every Christmas with your children, who will someday read it every Christmas with their children too.

Mele Kalikimaka to you and your family!


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Aloha to Sophie Barnes and THE SCANDAL IN KISSING AN HEIR


On this day in 1823, A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS was published anonymously.  This beloved American poem, later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, became a holiday classic.

I find it humorous that Americans accepted St. Nicholas' 
midnight ride while the Ton would consider it scandalous for any man, let alone a jolly one, to enter their home.   They would expect St. Nicholas to marry the daughter, especially if she is on the shelf.   Oh, the Regency Era revels in scandal!  

Today I welcome Sophie Barnes as she celebrates the upcoming release of THE SCANDAL IN KISSING AN HEIR, available December 31, 2013.  From her bio,

Born in Denmark, Sophie has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish and Romanian.

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, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading. She currently lives on the East Coast.

Kim:  We love international travel at SOS Aloha! Let me throw you a challenge - name a favorite sight in your travels. Favorite food. Favorite music. Favorite souvenir.

Sophie:  A few years ago, my family and I visited Mallorca. We drove up into the mountains to a rustic village with cobblestone streets, cafes and blossom trees. This and coming nose to nose with a Walrus on New Zealand’s south island stand out as memorable experiences. In terms of food…hmm…sushi and fondue come to mind. Interestingly enough, the best Sushi I’ve ever had was in Ghana at a South African restaurant there, and although fondue is a time-consuming process, there’s something really fun about sitting around a table with friends and family while cooking your own pieces of meat. As far as music, I once attended a Mozart concert at a castle in Innsbruck, Austria. It was at night and at candlelight – the setting was spectacular. My favorite souvenir is probably the silver ring my husband bought for me on Mallorca. He has a matching one, both with a gecko engraved on them =)

Kim:  Did something happen in Africa to prompt you to pursue your lifelong passion of writing?

Sophie:  I really just needed something to do other than attend coffee mornings with the other expat wives – something that would give me a sense of purpose. So I started writing before the kids were born, then took a break from it for a year or two until I discovered historical romance novels and got hooked. I never realized it was such a big genre, but after reading the first book or two, I knew I’d discovered the types of books I wanted to write. Being the determined sort, I began writing How Miss Rutherford Got Her Groove Back whenever the kids were napping or while I was waiting for them to fall asleep in the evenings. One page at a time, the book eventually came together.

Kim:  As a writer, do you see the hidden nuances in the romance comedies you watch?

Sophie:  I see everything differently now that I’m a writer. In movies, the dialogue stands out the most, and though it’s more of a subconscious effort than a deliberate one, I do focus on the ways in which emotion in particular can be delivered and on how one sentence can be phrased so it conveys a thought or a feeling with incredible precision. When it comes to comedies, my favorite are the ones with double entendres, which is why I’m so fond of Shakespeare – I think he was brilliant.

Kim:  Tell us about the Kingsborough Ball series and your new release, THE SCANDAL IN KISSING AN HEIR - what inspired it?

Sophie:  The Kingsborough Ball series consists of three books with storylines running in parallel. Each has its own plot, but there’s also a secondary plot revolving around the Kingsborough Ball shooting that links the three books together. The Trouble With Being A Duke is loosely inspired by Cinderella, so for The Scandal In Kissing An Heir, I looked to Rapunzel, even though it has very little to do with the fairytale in the end, except for Rebecca being trapped in a tower for the first part of the story. Other than that, I begin by establishing the characters, deciding what sort of problems I want them to face and then allowing them to develop the story for me.

Kim:  What's next for Sophie Barnes?

Sophie:  I have two proposals in the works for a couple of series that I’m really excited about. One will be another three part series centering around some of the secondary characters from the Summersby series while the other will be a completely new idea in seven parts and with a singular mansion serving as the backdrop.

To learn more about Sophie and her books, check out her website at sophiebarnes.com.

Mahalo, Sophie, for sharing your travels and your stories with us!   Avon Romance is sponsoring a scandalous giveaway ...


Aloha to Brenda Jackson and A MADARIS BRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS


It is my distinct honor to celebrate with Brenda Jackson her 100th novel - A MADARIS BRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS:

IN HER 100TH BOOK, NEW YORK TIMES AND USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR blends heated sensuality and drama into a dazzling new novel featuring one of her most unforgettable Madaris heroes yet…

One by one, Madaris men have surrendered to the matchmaking schemes of Felicia Laverne Madaris, matriarch of the family. But Lee Madaris isn't letting anyone else control his destiny. He'll bring a bride of his own choosing to the family's holiday gathering—if his hotel's gorgeous new chef will agree to a marriage of convenience.

It's not just the chance to work at the Strip's hottest hotel that brought Carly Briggs to Vegas. Witnessing a crime in Miami may have made her a mob target. Though she's reluctant to complicate their working relationship, Lee's tempting offer is so hard to resist. And soon, desire is clouding their no-strings arrangement.

The danger that made Carly flee Miami is about to land at their door. So Carly and Lee must decide who to trust, when to let go—and whether a love they never anticipated is strong enough to pass the ultimate test.

Publisher: Harlequin Kimani Arabesque
Publication date: October 29, 2013
Page Count: 320
ISBN: 9780373091430 (market paperback)

Amazon (link)

Barnes and Noble (link)

Indiebound (link)

Booksamillion (link)

Walmart (link)

I met Brenda at RT/2008 when she participated in a "legends" discussion with Robyn Carr, Elizabeth Hoyt, and Cathy Maxwell.   Brenda is an incredible lady, writer, and entrepreneur:

A New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling and award-winning author of more than seventy-five romance titles, Brenda is a recent retiree who divides her time between family, writing and traveling with her husband. 

Website: brendajackson.net
Facebook:  link

Brenda Jackson (middle) with Christina Skye and Robyn Carr
at RT/2010 in LA.

Harlequin is giving away two print copies of A MADARIS BRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS.  To enter the giveaway,

1.  Leave a comment about what you know about Miami.  I grew up in Coral Gables - a suburb of Miami.   Most of the street names in Coral Gables are named after Spanish cities. In fact, I lived on Sorolla Avenue.

2.  Harlequin's giveaway is open to readers in the US and Canada.

3.  Comments are open through Saturday, December 27, 10 pm in Baltimore.   I'll post the winner on Sunday, December 28.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

Harlequin offers an excerpt from A MADARIS BRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS:

Lee Madaris glanced at the clock on his wall before rubbing away the tension forming in the back of his neck. Although it was nearing midnight, he was still in his office working. It was imperative that he do so.

Five potential investors would be arriving tomorrow and spending four days at the Grand MD Vegas hotel. He would be catering to them at a level that was unprecedented. The five men had enough cumulative capital to balance the national budget, if they'd chosen to do so. However, balancing the national budget wasn't Lee's goal. His objective was to get them to invest in his next hotel—the Grand MD Paris.

After the success of the Grand MD Dubai, as well as all the attention the hotel in Vegas had received since opening its doors four months ago, a number of investors were ready to provide funds for his next venture. But he didn't want just anyone; he wanted men willing to take a chance on a hotel that would be astonishingly different from its two predecessors. It would be a hotel of the future.

Both Grand MD hotels had been Madaris-Di Meglio joint ventures—highly successful and breaking sales records. But the third hotel, the one planned for Paris, France, would use state-of-the-art technology while maintaining the rich architectural design Paris was known for.

Lee's cousin and the architect in the family, Slade Madaris, had designed the first two Grand MDs and would likewise design the one proposed for Paris. Slade's design was nothing short of a masterpiece and would be unveiled at one of the meetings this week. Slade's twin brother, Blade, would be the structural engineer. No two Grand MD hotels would look the same. Each would have its own unique architecture and appeal.

Pulling in a deep breath, Lee returned his attention to the documents in front of him—bios on the five men. The name that topped the list was that of his grand-uncle Jake Madaris. Lee didn't need to read his uncle's bio.

The man was a walking genius when it came to playing the stock market, and as far back as Lee could remember, Jake had been financial adviser to the entire Madaris family. If it hadn't been for his uncle's smart move of establishing a trust fund for all his nieces and nephews when they were still in high school, Lee would not have had the money to partner with his good friend DeAngelo Di Meglio to build their first two hotels.

Jake and another family friend, Mitch Farrell, had been the hotels' financial backers. Mitch—the second man on the list—and Jake had already confirmed they were on board for the Paris hotel since the last two hotels had been a successful venture for them.

However, the price tag for a Paris hotel was higher than the price of the other two combined, and Jake had suggested bringing in other investors. All were good friends of Jake's, but his uncle had warned Lee that convincing them to invest would be Lee's responsibility.

He was ready.

The third person on the list was Kyle Garwood, a multimillionaire who made his primary home in Atlanta. Kyle was married, the father of six. Lee liked Kyle and highly respected him.

The last two men were sheikhs from the Middle East. Sheikh Rasheed Valdemon of Mowaiti had such a close relationship with the Madaris family that he had been named an honorary family member and occasionally went by the name of Monty Madaris when he did business in the United States.

Finally, there was Rasheed's brother-in-law, Sheikh Jamal Ari Yasir of Tahran. Lee had never met Sheikh Yasir but had heard he was a shrewd businessman, always looking for a good investment. He was married to an American woman, the former Delaney Westmoreland.

Lee would be wining and dining the five men in the Grand MD style. Everything was in place and would be set in motion as soon as they arrived tomorrow morning.

Their visit had been strategically planned down to the last detail. They would be given a tour of the hotel before they were served lunch. Since tomorrow was a traveling day, no meetings had been planned. However, early the following day, Lee's skilled marketing team would kick things off with several video presentations and meetings. Around three, the men and their wives would be given the chance to rest and relax before a dinner fit for royalty.

Afterward, they would enjoy the nightlife Vegas was famous for—from right inside the Grand MD. The casinos, live shows, state-of-the-art IMAX theater and the exquisite mall on the fifth floor that offered twenty-four-hour shopping all guaranteed that the Grand MD would gain a reputation as the hotel that never closed.

A winning hotel had to have a winning staff. He and Angelo had handpicked all of his executives and managers. Each had hotel experience and had come with sterling resumes and excellent recommendations. He and Angelo were pleased with every staff member, and those who didn't deliver were quickly replaced. Second-best was not an option at the Grand MD.

Lee moved away from his desk, intending to walk around and get his blood flowing, but the moment he stepped into the executive suite's lobby he stopped to stare at the huge picture hanging on the wall. It was a portrait of his great-grandmother Felicia Laverne Madaris the First, whom they fondly called Mama Laverne.

She was the matriarch of the Madaris family. Having borne seven sons, his grandfather Lee being one of them, Mama Laverne had raised her sons by herself after her husband, Milton, had died. All her sons were still alive except for Robert, who had been killed in the Vietnam War. Lee's grand-uncle Jake was Laverne's baby boy.

Mama Laverne had insisted that Lee hang this particular picture of her right there on that wall. She'd given the same directive to his other cousins. They all had the same framed photograph hanging in the offices of their various businesses. She was dressed in her Sunday best, with a huge dressy hat on her head, and she appeared to be looking directly at the viewer with those shrewd eyes and an all-knowing smile. At least she was smiling. A Mama Laverne frown could make him quake in his boots. She definitely liked giving orders, and she expected them to be carried out.

Lee chuckled. He wished he could say she was getting bossy in her old age, but as far back as he could remember, she'd always been bossy. Besides that, she was a notorious busybody when it came to meddling in the lives of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even at ninetysomething, he figured she would still be around to meddle with the great-great-grands' lives as well.

He didn't want to think of a time when she would no longer be in their midst. Their love for her was the main reason why he and his still-single brothers and cousins overlooked a lot of her shenanigans, especially her determination to marry off each of them.

Closing the door behind him, he walked along the spacious lobby hallway, noting the elegance, style and sophistication that were such integral parts of his Vegas hotel. Besides being the tallest building on the Strip, with seventy-five floors, it had an amusement park on one of its lower levels, making it an ideal place to stay for both adults and families. From the carpeting on the floor to the paintings on the wall, from the furnishings to the hotel's special amenities, anyone would agree that the hotel deserved the seven-star rating reviewers were giving it.

Sliding back huge glass doors, he stepped out onto the terrace of the executive suite. Normally, he wasn't one who took the time to appreciate a lot of greenery, but with the quality of the hotel on his mind, he couldn't help doing so. Various plants had been flown in just for this terrace.

Lee inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of the plants mixed with the September air. He looked beyond the Vegas view to study the looming desert. The rain had lessened the heat and now a sultry breeze stirred the air. The sky overhead looked dark and dreary. There didn't seem to be a single star. A part of him longed to be back in Houston, gazing up into a Texas night.

Lee shook off the longing. He had too much work to do to be melancholy. He hadn't been home since last Christmas and another one would be coming up soon, but opening the two Grand MDs had taken up all his time, personally and professionally. Now luring investors for a third hotel would make him even busier.

Just as he turned to go back inside, his gaze landed on a woman standing on the balcony a couple of levels below. His breath was snatched from his lungs. A low groan passed from his lips as a jolt of sexual energy rocked him to the bone.

She was beautiful. Sensually stunning. Picture-perfect.

She stood leaning against the balcony rail, wearing a sexy green dress and chocolate-colored stilettos, her hair blowing in the breeze. From her expression, as she stared down below, he could tell she was fascinated by the bright lights of the Strip.

Was she a guest at the hotel? He scanned the balcony connected to a tri-level observation deck. It appeared she was alone. Something about her pulled at him. She looked happy, peaceful, but lonely.

Lee didn't know the woman yet he felt as if he could read her perfectly. He stood and watched her, totally mesmerized. A slow heat flowed through him and pooled in his groin—she was arousing him in a way no other woman had. What was there about her that made every muscle in his stomach tie into knots? Made full awareness of her fill his every pore?

Granted, he hadn't dated in a while because of his stringent work schedule, but still, there was something about this particular woman that had lust rushing through his veins.

Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. He checked his watch. It was getting late, but he had to meet that woman and find out why he found her so captivating.

Anticipation filled him as he made his way off the terrace and toward the elevator bank.

She simply loved it here, Carly thought. Bright lights lit the Strip and each hotel seemed to compete to shine the brightest.

It was hard to believe she had gotten the job of pastry chef at the Grand MD's Peyton's Place restaurant a little more than a month ago. The hotel had been gracious enough to give her time to resign from her job in Miami and remain in Florida long enough to pack up her things and attend Heather's wedding.

Initially, she had missed South Beach and wondered if she would ever get acclimated to Vegas's dry summer heat. But she had discovered that in addition to being a fun city with its infamous Strip, Vegas was also a nice place to live.

Her house was in a residential area of town not far from shopping. Because she had everything she needed right at her fingertips she rarely came into town on her days off.

Except for today.

Today was her twenty-eighth birthday, and she had decided to celebrate with a night on the town. She had even treated herself to a night at the Grand MD. It had to be the most beautiful hotel she had ever seen. Her room on the fiftieth floor was to die for and the service was excellent.

Carly had stumbled across this particular balcony a few weeks ago while on break. She loved the view, and it had become her favorite. There had been several other couples here earlier, enjoying the view as well, but they had departed, leaving her alone. She didn't mind. It was the story of her life.

Carly forced the depressing thought from her mind.

After all, it was her birthday and she intended to have fun. So far it had been a beautiful day. Before leaving home this morning she'd gotten calls from Aunt Ruthie and Heather. They had remembered, and they were the only two people in her life that counted.

There was a party going on in one of the ballrooms upstairs. She could hear the music playing, a Marvin Gaye classic. She felt like dancing. What the heck. It was her birthday and she had every right to be silly if she wanted to.

Turning from the rail, she waltzed across the floor. She closed her eyes and pretended she was at a party, celebrating her birthday in style, dancing around a ballroom filled with tall, dark, handsome men. One would come forward, claim her hand and ask—

"May I have this dance?"

At the sound of the deep, husky voice, Carly's eyes flew open and she stared into the most gorgeous pair of dark eyes she'd ever seen. And there was a very handsome face to go along with those eyes. Where on earth had he come from? She blinked, wondering if she was still clutched in the throes of her fantasy. She had to be.

"Are you real?" she asked, making sure she hadn't conjured him up in her mind.

He smiled and the sight of the dimple in his chin nearly brought her to her knees. It definitely caused every hormone in her body to sizzle.

"Yes, I'm real. Now, how about that dance," he said, taking her hand in his. A different song was playing now, this one by Luther Vandross.

Carly nodded her consent and he pulled her into his arms. The man was a total stranger. Had it not been her birthday, she would not have allowed him to hold her. But she had already decided that it was okay for her to act silly today. And it wasn't every day that such a good-looking man asked her to dance. Not only was he handsome, but he smelled good too. And to top it off, they danced well together. The way their bodies swayed and moved against each other had her fighting a desire she hadn't felt in close to four years.

A desire that had never been this strong.

She was reminded how it felt to be held by a man, in powerful arms. Every part of her body tuned in to the solid hardness of his. It was staggering; she was mindful of his every movement, the steady sound of his breathing, the way his arms encircled her waist.

Carly looked up at him to find him staring down at her. His predatory look made her insides simmer. Swallowing deeply, she said softly, "Where did you come from?"

He smiled again and she felt a tingling sensation in the pit of her stomach. "From my terrace."

She nodded. He was a guest at the hotel.

"What about you? Are you a guest here?" he asked.

"Yes." She wasn't lying. She had checked into the hotel that day. There was no need to tell him she also worked here. "It's a beautiful hotel."

"I think so too. I'm Lee, by the way."

"I'm Carly."

His smile widened. "Nice meeting you, Carly. Is there a reason you were dancing alone?"

Her face warmed as she wondered if he thought she'd looked ridiculous. "It's my birthday and—"

"Happy birthday," he said.

She smiled up at him. "Thanks. I was having my own private party of one."

He tilted his head. "That's no fun. A beautiful woman should never party alone."

He was smooth, she thought. As smooth as he was handsome. And she'd noticed he wasn't wearing a ring. She knew some men didn't cherish the sanctity of marriage vows, but she did.

"For me that's no problem. I'm a loner anyway," she said.