Sunday, July 31, 2016

Weekly Winners

Yesterday was the anniversary of shattering another glass ceiling for women.  On July 30, 1942, President Roosevelt signed into law the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), a unit of the U.S. Naval Reserve.  Hats off to the women who paved the way for our generation today!

We have winners at SOS Aloha:

RWA Recap - Pancakes with Susan Wiggs and Camaraderie with the RomVets
- Gretchen wins a book choice from my convention stash.

Aloha to Toby Devens and BAREFOOT BEACH - Guest post about beaches!
- Karen T. wins beach swag.


Washington Loves Readers - Spotlight on Tracee Lydia Garner
- KNYE wins a book choice from my convention stash.

From my travel blog, ALOHA ON MY MIND, Di S. wins a book choice from my convention stash.

Winners, please claim your prizes by sending your mailing address to


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

Lt. Harriet Ida Pickens and Ens. Frances Wills, first African-American women to be commissioned in the WAVES.  Image is Public Domain (link).

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Aloha to Margaret Mallory and CLAIMED BY A HIGHLANDER (The Douglas Legacy Book 2)


The Douglas sisters, beauties all, are valuable pawns in their family's bitter struggle to control the Scottish Crown. But when their enemies strike, each Douglas lass will find she’s been left to face them alone.

Lady Sybil Douglas’s fall from court favorite to royal enemy is swift after her brothers are charged with treason and flee Scotland. When a huge Highland warrior appears claiming they are bound by a marriage contract, she’s desperate enough to ride off with him. She’ll worry later about how to escape the wedding.

The last thing Rory MacKenzie needs is a pampered Lowlander wife. He traveled to Edinburgh in the hope of dissolving the ill-begotten marriage contract. But now that the Douglas men have abandoned his would-be bride, he’s honor-bound to protect her.

Sybil and Rory fight scorching passion on their perilous journey to the MacKenzie castle, where murder and intrigue await. When everything is at risk, will they rely on each other and claim their unexpected love before it’s too late?

MARGARET MALLORY surprised her friends & family by abandoning her legal career to write tales of romance & adventure. At long last, she can satisfy her passion for justice by punishing the bad & rewarding the worthy--in the pages of her novels.

Margaret lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband, goofy dog & crabby cat. With her two children off to college, Margaret spends most of her time working on her next Scottish historical romance. Visit her website,, for Book Group Discussion Questions, photos of Scotland, and more.  Margaret loves to hear from readers!

Margaret also posted pictures from Scotland related to CLAIMED BY A HIGHLANDER on Facebook at this link.

Caerlavercok Castle
Public Domain (link)

Margaret is giving away a signed copy of CAPTURED BY A LAIRD (Book 1) to one randomly selected commenter. To enter the giveaway,

1. What's your favorite castle in Scotland?  Here's a list at this link.  Mine is Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries.

2. Comments are open through Saturday, August 6, 10 pm in Baltimore.

3. I'll post the winner on Sunday, August 7.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City


Aloha to KC Dyer and FINDING FRASER - Book Review


Sometimes searching for true love can be a little...Outlandish.

I met Jamie Fraser when I was nineteen years old. He was tall, red-headed, and at our first meeting at least, a virgin. I fell in love hard, fast and completely. He knew how to ride a horse, wield a sword and stitch a wound. He was, in fact, the perfect man.

That he was fictional hardly entered into it.

At 29, Emma Sheridan's life is a disaster and she's tired of waiting for the perfect boyfriend to step from the pages of her favorite book. There's only one place to look, and it means selling everything and leaving her world behind. With an unexpected collection of allies along the way, can Emma face down a naked fishmonger, a randy gnome, a perfidious thief, and even her own abdominal muscles on the journey to find her Fraser?

I'm William Wallace, and the rest of you will be spared. Go back to England and tell them ... Scotland is free! - William Wallace

Dear KC,

I met you at the Berkley signing during the RWA Annual Conference. You signed FINDING FRASER and commented that it is a romantic comedy.  You asked me to let you know how I liked the book.  

I liked the book.

Note that I have not read OUTLANDER (gasp!) but I adore Scotland. I have toured Alba twice and felt its spirit in Hawaii. Check out this post, Spam to Scotland, at this link. Hubby and I also enjoy the Scottish "pipes and drum" band Albannach at this link.  

FINDING FRASER is spot on with its vivid descriptions of the Scottish landscapes, the endearing soul of Alba's people, and the mystique of the standing stones dotting the countryside which become the portal for Claire to travel back in time in OUTLANDER.

I enjoyed following Emma's quest to find her own Jamie Fraser, especially the blog she created to share her adventures with an unknown public. As she travels by bus to Philadelphia, the hop across the pond, and then by bus to Nairn in the Highlands, Emma attracts an online following of fellow OUTLANDER fans, including readers in Japan.

However, Emma seems to fall into a personality trap - confident online but naive in reality. Although she clearly researched her travel itinerary to follow Claire in OUTLANDER, Emma tends to get off course, both emotionally and physically, when she encounters road bumps. Granted, a few of the road bumps were significant issues, but Emma never seemed to rise to the level of emotional maternity I would expect from six months on her own in Scotland. That being said, Emma cherished the Scots ... and learned to cherish herself.  

I also found some of Emma's adventures over the top ala Monty Python. But you clearly captured the wide appeal of OUTLANDER. You also gave readers a glimpse of Alba outside the burly men wearing kilts.  You gave Alba a heart.

I recommend FINDING FRASER to those who enjoy reading about Alba - past or present, fact or fiction.   

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

1. In FINDING FRASER, Emma is an expert barista - do you drink coffee?  How do you like it?  I don't drink coffee but I certainly enjoy hot chocolate from coffee shops.

2. Comments are open through Saturday, August 6, 10 pm in Baltimore.

3. I'll post the winner on Sunday, August 7.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

Learn more about KC Dyer and her books at

Friday, July 29, 2016

Aloha to M.L. Buchman and HEART STRIKE (Delta Force Book 2)


SERGEANT RICHIE “Q” GOLDMAN: The smartest soldier on any team

SERGEANT MELISSA “THE CAT” MOORE: Newest on the team, determined to be the best

Rescued from an icy mountaintop by a Delta operative, Melissa Moore has never met a challenge she can’t conquer. Not only she will make Delta Force, she will be the best female warrior in The Unit, and woe to anyone who says otherwise. Technical wizard Richie Goldman is Bond’s “Q” turned warrior. A genius about everything except women, he takes point on the team’s most dangerous mission yet. When the Delta Force team goes undercover in the depths of the Colombian jungle, surviving attacks from every side requires that Richie and Melissa strike right at the heart of the matter…and come out with their own hearts intact.

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The first book in my new Delta Force #1, Target Engaged was called “His best yet” by Booklist and was also named a finalist for RWA’s prestigious RITA award.

Well, my answer to that is Heart Strike, releasing August 3rd, 2016. But it got me thinking. What are my favorite sequels? For a change-up, I focused on the action side rather than the romance, and here’s what I came up with.

5. The Color of Money

Paul Newman and a very young Tom Cruise in The Color of Money. The original Jackie Gleason and a very young Paul Newman The Hustler was a master work of a tight psychological drama. They upped the stakes and made it utterly captivating in the highly energetic sequel.

4. Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne #2 & #3 didn’t disappoint…for a single second. They sustained the tension, remained true to the character (an essential), and found ways to ratchet the tension higher in each successive one. Number 4? Not so much.

3. The Wrath of Khan

The Wrath of Khan notoriously took one of the most disappointing movie launches ever, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and created a massive and incredible franchise that has continued ever since. Khan is still one of the great, over-the-top, out-of-control villains.

2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Sometimes a great sequel comes third rather than second. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade pitted Harrison Ford against Sean Connery in gloriously foolish father-son mayhem that completely honored the first film.

1. The Dark Knight Rises

This choice surprises me. I like the Dark Knight reboot, but I’m not a big fan of the comic book heroes in general and frequently skip them. It took me a couple of years to catch up with this one and what I love about it isn’t the acting (which was wonderful), or the action (which was dramatic). It was the story. The writer and director completely set us up to thinking this story was going one direction…then in the last half hour it went another way entirely. AND that twist was perfectly in character, just wholly unexpected.

Now, I write romantic suspense, so the ending is fairly predictable, but I certainly hope that you enjoy the journey of my latest Delta Force novel, number 2, Heart Strike!

M. L. Buchman has over 35 novels and an ever-expanding flock of short stories in print. His military romantic suspense books have been named Barnes & Noble and NPR “Top 5 of the year,” Booklist “Top 10 of the Year,” and RT “Top 10 Romantic Suspense of the Year.” In addition to romantic suspense, he also writes contemporaries, thrillers, and fantasy and science fiction.

In among his career as a corporate project manager he has: rebuilt and single-handed a fifty-foot sailboat, both flown and jumped out of airplanes, designed and built two houses, and bicycled solo around the world.

He is now a full-time writer, living on the Oregon Coast with his beloved wife. He is constantly amazed at what you can do with a degree in Geophysics. You may keep up with his writing at

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Sourcebooks offers an excerpt from HEART STRIKE ... 

Action sequels, even romantic suspense ones, only have a short moment of introduction before it’s time to get everyone moving…and moving fast! Delta Force #2, Heart Strike,opens with the team from Delta #1, Target Engaged, mapping coca fields in Boliva. They’re targeting them for massive defoliant drops from the CIA’s 747 tanker plane.

Trouble comes when command issues an order for the team to pull out ahead of schedule to pick up a new team member and a new assignment.

Thankfully, no one anywhere adapts faster to a changing situation than a team of Delta Force operators.

Sunrise was less than an hour off when Chad jostled his shoulder.

Richie hadn’t been asleep and barely managed to suppress an oath as Chad shook him hard enough to wake the dead—his idea of humor. Richie noticed that he was a little more cautious with Duane who often woke with his knife half-drawn. Kyle and Carla were already at the hut’s entrance.

Kyle had taken one look at the order and, in minutes, outlined a plan of how they were going to exit the farm with hopefully minimal exposure and risk. The guards they were anticipating would be off duty and the patrol timing would be wrong, but Kyle’s plan was as solid as they could get with what they knew.

No way would Richie be missing this place. Dirt floor, woven grass mat, and a thatched roof that could really use some thatch before the next rainstorm but wasn’t going to get it.

He felt sorry for the laborers. Some of the farmers were about to have an even worse season than the last one. At a big site like this, they were little better than slaves. Once the coca was gone, they’d be free, but with no assets and no working farm crop. In the coca business, locals just weren’t part of the profit equation.

Rolando and the drug lord’s other armed guards Richie liked well enough, but had less sympathy for.

The Delta team slipped out into the darkness, just a hint of the blue in the sky that was already washing out the fainter stars. They passed the farmers’ huts and were almost to the road leading out of the camp.

“Where are you going, amigos?” Rolando, his AK-47 no longer over his shoulder but now in his hands.

“Hey, buddy.” Chad started forward, but stopped and tried to look stupid when Rolando flicked off the safety.

Carla stepped forward with an easy sway of her hips. Her dirty blue work shirt unbuttoned far enough to reveal that her assets weren’t all that much less impressive than the fabled Mayra’s.

Rolando’s eyes dropped to her cleavage.

She moved a hand up to his chest. With a little flick of her wrist, she revealed the long KA-BAR military knife she was holding and rammed it up under his chin and into his brain.

Rolando twitched once.

“That’s for trying to ram it up my backside without asking.”

“He what?” Kyle snarled, but Carla didn’t waste any time answering. If there was ever a woman able to defend herself, Richie knew it was Carla Anderson.

Then Rolando collapsed to the ground and his finger must have snagged on the trigger. A single 7.62mm round gave a loud crack and zinged off into the trees.

“Shit!” the whole team said pretty much in unison.

With their clandestine departure blown, Chad swept up the AK-47 and fired a security round into Rolando’s forehead.

In seconds, they were fifty meters away and moving fast. Kyle had Rolando’s sidearm and Carla had a subcompact Glock 27 that she’d produced from somewhere—where was one of the questions Richie suspected he’d be better off not asking. Still, it was an interesting problem because they’d all been checked on arrival as being unarmed. Richie had pre-buried his GPS and satellite gear in the jungle, carefully crossing then recrossing the mined perimeter before they’d come into the camp so that he could retrieve them once the team had been accepted.

The two guards at the main gate were half-awake when they stumbled to their feet. They went back down fast and Richie and Duane now had AK-47s as well. Chad stripped them of a pair of Makarov handguns, tossing one to Richie that he caught midair.

There was an old Jeep parked by the gate, but neither of the guards had a key. It was probably back in the open, on Rolando’s body. Chad started hot-wiring it while the rest of them stood watch.

Then Richie heard it. Distant at first, but building fast. The four-engine gut-thumping roar of a loaded 747.

“Come on, Chad,” Carla pleaded. “Get us out of here.”

The Jeep’s engine roared to life and they piled in.

Duane tossed his AK-47 to Chad and dove into the driver’s seat—he was the best driver they had. He’d been working up the sprint-car circuit toward NASCAR when he’d taken his detour into the military.

Kyle and Richie dropped two more armed guards who came rushing from the huts, half-dressed and scared awake.

Duane raced the Jeep out of camp along the road, praying for no booby traps.

Then the largest tanker plane in the world descended and began its run.

The 747, converted for firefighting, had been put into deep storage in the Tucson desert when its owners went out of business. The CIA had found another use for the massive plane, which now began its dump of twenty thousand gallons—over eighty tons—of defoliant across the exact coordinates that Richie had sent to them just six hours ago.

His Delta team had been to twelve coca farms in the last six months. And the 747 tanker had visited each in turn. Twelve farms that wouldn’t produce a single leaf of coca anytime soon.

“Down,” Chad shouted.

They all ducked and hung on as Duane rammed the heavy wooden outer barrier at thirty miles an hour. It blew apart. A four-by-four shattered the windshield and Carla knocked the remains of the glass clear with the butt of a Chinese QBB machine gun she’d acquired somewhere along the way before turning it around to shoot a guard who’d been standing well clear of the gate.

Richie kept an eye out to the rear, but no one was following. If they were, they’d have a long way to go. The team had been pulled out of Bolivia. They were being tasked to a new assignment.

That was fine.

After six months training together and another six in the field, it was the last line of the message that had worried them all.

Proceed to Maracaibo, Venezuela. Acquire new team member.

Book 1 in the series ...

Aloha to Kelly Bowen and A DUKE TO REMEMBER (Season for Scandal Book 2)

Love takes the stage . . . 

Elise deVries is not what she seems. By night, the actress captivates London theatergoers with her chameleon-like ability to slip inside her characters. By day, she uses her mastery of disguise to work undercover for Chegarre & Associates, an elite agency known for its discreet handling of indelicate scandals. But when Elise is tasked with locating the missing Duke of Ashland, she finds herself center stage in a real-life drama.

Noah Ellery left the glamour of the London aristocracy to pursue a simpler life in the country. He's managed to avoid any complications or entanglements-that is, until he lays eyes on Elise and realizes there's more to this beautiful woman than meets the eye. But when Elise reveals her real identity-and her true feelings for him-the runaway duke must confront the past he left behind . . . to keep the woman he loves forever.

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Kelly Bowen grew up in Manitoba, Canada. She attended the University of Manitoba and earned a Master of Science degree in veterinary physiology and endocrinology. But it was Kelly's infatuation with history and a weakness for a good love story that led her down the path of historical romance. When she is not writing, she seizes every opportunity to explore ruins and battlefields. Currently, Kelly lives in Winnipeg with her husband and two boys, all of whom are wonderfully patient with the writing process. Except, that is, when they need a goalie for street hockey.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads



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Kelly offers an excerpt from A DUKE TO REMEMBER ... 

“You’re not going to die on me, are you?” The voice came from lower, almost directly in front of her this time, and Elise opened her eyes, staring up at a collection of clouds scudding across the blue sky.

“Not yet, I think.” She struggled to sit, her tired muscles still refusing to obey.

A warm hand caught hers and pulled her forward, and Elise was suddenly presented with the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen.

They were smoky green, the color of pine wreathed in mist, the color of still waters that hid great depths. They were ringed with blond lashes, set in a strong, rugged face that spoke of hours spent outdoors. Pale blond hair fell around his ears in careless waves, the ends damp where they brushed his bare shoulders. Incredible shoulders, wide and powerful, droplets of water sliding over the ridges of muscle to disappear down the front of his chest.

Her mouth went dry, and whatever breath she thought she had caught deserted her once again.

He was crouched before her, a look of concern tempered with a half-smile stamped across his striking features. “Hmmm. Well, if you die, can I have your horse?” he asked. “As fine an animal as I’ve seen in a long time.”

“My horse?” she repeated. Good Lord. Her wits had completely scattered under that smoky gaze.

He glanced over her head up in the direction of the road. “One of the boys brought it off the bridge for you.”

Elise struggled to draw a normal breath and formulate a thought. The man was trying to put her at ease. It wasn’t his fault that he looked as he did. It wasn’t his fault her body was threatening to make an utter fool of her because of it.

But clearly, it had been too long since she had invited a man to share her bed because she was shamelessly staring at the way his body moved as he shifted. Subtle shadows carved their way across his torso, created by lean muscle rippling under golden skin. A scattering of dark blond hair covered his chest and trailed down past his navel. Her eyes dropped further south, and she let her gaze wander over the sharp ridges of muscle that formed a V over his hips before disappearing into the front of his breeches. His free hand rested on a powerful thigh, long, capable-looking fingers spread out over the top of his knee. She imagined what those fingers would feel like against her bare skin. Because she already knew what his arms had felt like beneath her, the hard strength of his body against hers.

When he was pulling you from the water like a drowned river rat, you fool, not drawing you into a lover’s embrace.

A terrible realization struck her with the completion of that thought. Without needing to check, she knew her cap was gone. Her braid had come unpinned, and she could feel the heavy weight of her sodden hair on her back. A glance at her water-logged clothes plastered to her body confirmed her worst suspicions. When she’d bound her breasts tightly beneath her loose, baggy shirt, they were unnoticeable, but there was nothing unnoticeable about them now. The bindings had come loose and slid down to bunch at her waist. Worse, the threadbare fabric of her worn shirt was almost transparent, and stuck to her skin as it was, she may as well have been wearing nothing. The curves of her breasts were clearly visible, as were the dark areolas of her peaked nipples.

The man’s eyes were still on her face and not on her chest, which Elise was choosing to interpret as a testament to his chivalry, but no one in their right mind would mistake her for anything other than what she truly was. A woman dressed as a boy.

“No, you can’t have my horse,” she muttered, attempting to peel her shirt away from her breasts with her free hand. “I need it to flee a lot of awkward questions.”

The man was watching her again. “They are going to want to know who you are,” he said quietly, jerking his chin in the direction of the voices beyond them. The understanding she saw in those incredible eyes made her blink.

She managed a weak smile. “Do you suppose anyone will notice if I just swim back to where I came from?” She was trying to make her mind work, but like her muscles, it seemed lethargic, her usual ingenuity depleted. “You can tell them that I was a mermaid.”

Book 1 in the series ...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Aloha to Megan Frampton and WHY DO DUKES FALL IN LOVE?


Why do dukes fall in love?

Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, has the liberty of enjoying an indiscretion . . . or several. But when it comes time for him to take a proper bride, he ultimately realizes he wants only one woman: Edwina Cheltam. He’d hired her as his secretary, only to quickly discover she was sensuous and intelligent.

They embark on a passionate affair, and when she breaks it off, he accepts her decision as the logical one . . . but only at first. Then he decides to pursue her.

Michael is brilliant, single-minded, and utterly indifferent to being the talk of the ton. It’s even said his only true friend is his dog. Edwina had begged him to marry someone appropriate–—someone aristocratic . . . someone high-born . . . someone else. But the only thing more persuasive than a duke intent on seduction is one who has fallen irrevocably in love.


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Megan Frampton writes historical romance under her own name and romantic women’s fiction as Megan Caldwell. She likes the color black, gin, dark-haired British men, and huge earrings, not in that order. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son. You can visit her website at She tweets as @meganf, and is at

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Megan offers an excerpt from WHY DO DUKES FALL IN LOVE?

Chapter 1
The Quality Employment Agency, London

“He left you with nothing?”

Edwina glanced to the side of the room, a tactic she knew full well wouldn’t disguise the moisture in her eyes, especially not from Carolyn, her oldest and dearest friend. They’d met when Edwina’s late husband had wanted to find a respectable, but inexpensive, maidservant, and Carolyn’s agency had found the perfect person. And Edwina had finally found a friend she could actually talk to.

The room was as familiar to her as her own lodgings—and definitely more welcoming. A kettle was heating up water on the small stove, the tea things—the chipped blue cup for Carolyn, the cup with the handle that was always too hot for her—waiting until the water boiled.

Cozy, comfortable, and everything else she was not.

“No.” She spoke plainly, unable and unwilling to disguise the truth of it.

Eight years of marriage to one of the most boring men of her acquaintance, and he didn’t even have the decency to leave her financially comfortable when he died.

“I can help you, you know,” Carolyn said in a soft voice. She got up as the kettle began to whistle and started preparing the tea.

Edwina’s throat tightened. “I won’t take your money.” Fine words for a pauper—they both knew that if the choice came between accepting charity and letting her daughter starve, Edwina would take the money. Gertrude sat on the floor, playing with her dolls. Was she already getting thinner? Edwina’s heart hurt at the thought, and she had to bite the inside of her cheek not to start fretting aloud. That would do nothing but worry her daughter, who wasn’t old enough to understand.

Edwina wasn’t entirely certain she was old enough to understand, either.

“I wasn’t offering to give you any money,” Carolyn replied in a dry tone of voice, glancing over her shoulder as she spoke.

Edwina’s gaze met Carolyn’s.

“Well, what then?” she asked in an unsteady voice.

“Employment,” Carolyn replied, returning to her task.

“Employment?” Edwina echoed, an uneasy feeling settling somewhere in her gut. The gut that was remarkably close to her stomach, which hadn’t eaten today, and had only had some porridge and some hard cheese yesterday.

So the uneasy feeling would have to ease.

“You do know I run an employment agency.” Carolyn gestured to the room they sat in. “Since you have used my services.”

“Yes, back when I could afford them,” Edwina replied in a tone that was both wry and pained.

She took a deep breath, and looked around her. It was undeniably pleasant, if modest. The cozy, comfortable room of the Quality Employment Agency, filled with books, papers, mismatched chairs, and an enormous battered desk, where Carolyn normally sat, welcomed her, made her feel safe in a way her new lodgings did not.

“Yes, but—” and then Edwina felt both foolish and snobby, since the answer was obvious, and yet had not occurred to her because of who she was. Who she had been.

“But what?” Carolyn picked up the teacups, wincing as she felt the heat from the offending handle. She brought them over to where Edwina was seated, placing them on the desk and sitting back down in her usual spot. “You need a job, Edwina. No matter who you are. Even ladies—especially ladies, judging from my experience—need to have enough money to eat and to live. Even if their husbands were so disappointing as to leave them bereft of anything but their good name.”

“And even that was sullied, thanks to George’s entrusting of the accounts to his brother as soon as it seemed the businesses were getting profitable, and worthy of notice,” Edwina remarked in a bitter tone. She kept her tone low, so her daughter couldn’t hear. “I told him I could handle them, that I had gotten them to the state they were in, not to mention I told him how untrustworthy his brother was—and yet he said he’d never ‘let a female deal with important things,’ ” she said in an imitation of her late husband.

“More fool he,” Carolyn remarked. “If he had allowed you to continue to oversee the finances you wouldn’t be in this situation now, would you?”

It was a well-worn discussion, but one that still made Edwina angry. George had been so blind to her attributes he hadn’t seen she was skilled at maths, far better than anyone in his own family, especially his debt-beleaguered younger brother. He had been fine when she oversaw the accounts when they weren’t important—but ironically, as soon as her skill had yielded results, he took them away from her and handed them to a man. Simply because he was a man, and his brother, and not a woman, and his wife.

And now she and little Gertrude were being made to suffer for it. George’s brother hadn’t done more than shrug when Edwina had told him how George had left her. He already had a wife, he said, and he couldn’t afford to take her in, although he had offered a place to his niece.

But Edwina couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from her daughter; she was the only thing keeping Edwina from stepping in front of an oxcart one day. That she and Gertrude might starve to death was not something she wanted to contemplate—what reasonable person would?—even though she had to.

Which brought her back to why she was currently sitting with her closest friend in said closest friend’s employment agency, realizing that perhaps she had to consider employment herself.

“What can I do?” she said at last, hating how pathetic and needy she sounded. Better pathetic and needy than dead, a voice said inside her head.

Carolyn chuckled, taking a sip of her tea. “What can’t you do? You can balance accounts, drive hard bargains with tradesmen, oversee skittish maids, sort out the temperamental discord among upper-class servants, and keep an older husband relatively comfortable in illness. Not to mention you are extremely well-read—there are benefits to having a neglectful husband—and your parents ensured you had all the education you’d need to be an adept wife, whether you married a politician, a solicitor, or even a lord.”

“Or a businessman with lofty pretensions,” Edwina added. “They thought they had taken care of me. I wish they were still here.” She shook her head. “I do not wish to be married again, if that is the employment you are suggesting.” Once was enough, and she would have said never would have been enough if it weren’t for Gertrude. And it is not as though she had any other family to resort to; her parents had both been only children, and she had no relatives that she knew of.

“I am not in a husband acquisition business, Edwina,” Carolyn replied in a mocking tone. “If

I were, don’t you think I could afford a better office?”

They both glanced around at the tidy but shabby room. “Excellent point,” Edwina replied with a grin, picking up the cup with the still-hot handle and taking a welcome sip of tea. “So what do you have in mind?”


Aloha to Gwyn Cready and EVERY TIME WITH A HIGHLANDER (Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands Book 3)

Third in the Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands series from Gwyn Cready, the “master of time travel romance” (Booklist)

She can work her magic on any man

In a quest to bring peace to her beloved Scottish borderlands, fortune-teller and spy Undine Douglas agrees to marry a savage English colonel. Desperate to delay the wedding long enough to undermine the army’s plans, Undine casts a spell to summon help and unexpectedly finds herself under the imperious gaze of the handsome and talented Michael Kent, twenty-first century British theater director.

But in this production, he commands the action

Though he abandoned acting years ago, Michael will play whatever part it takes to guard Undine’s safety—he’s used to managing London’s egocentric actors and high-handed patrons, after all. But not even Shakespeare could have foreseen the sparks that fly when the colonel’s plans force Undine and Michael into the roles of their lifetimes.

Gwyn Cready is a writer of contemporary, Scottish, and time travel romance. She’s been called “the master of time travel romance” and is the winner of the RITA Award, the most prestigious award given in romance writing. She has been profiled in Real Simple and USA Today, among others. Before becoming a novelist, she spent 25 years in brand management. She has two grown children and lives with her husband on a hill overlooking the magical kingdom of Pittsburgh.

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Top Five Time Travel Romance Movies according to Gwyn Cready ....

Okay, brace yourself. This list does not include Somewhere in Time. Hurl your spitballs if you must, but it doesn’t make the top five time travel romance movies—at least not my top five. Now, let’s pick the fragments out of our hair from that bombshell and move on to the qualities a good time travel romance movie must possess in my world. First, time “travel” is a little too precise. I’m just as happy with a movie that fiddles around with time. Second, one or both protagonists have to undergo a transition in order to be worthy of love. Third, the protagonists have to work to overcome what time has done to them, not just be battered around by it. I want my protagonists to be fighters. And fourth, there has to be love and lots of it.

5. Time Traveler’s Wife (Robert Schwentke, 2009.) This movie probably shouldn’t have made this list for two reasons important reasons. First, the movie is so-so, but the book is so, so great, the movie gets to draft behind it into fifth place here. Second, the ending isn’t exactly happy. To be fair, it’s not exactly unhappy either. But the story is one of the finest examples of the power of love to overcome all obstacles, even the most capricious involuntary time travel forced on Henry De Tamble, the friend, lover, and eventual husband of Clare Abshire, that I have ever experienced. Henry has been tossed into almost every part of his past and future life by a tendency for time travel he can’t control. My favorite part is when Clare, who has met his traveling self before though he doesn’t remember it, tricks him into taking her virginity.

4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993.) Not your classic time travel romance, for sure. The screenwriter plays with time, and, in this case, that’s even better. Phil Connors is a Pittsburgh weatherman. His worst assignment ever turns into a never-ending loop of small town inanity. But does Phil let that get him down? Well, at first, yes. He seduces women, gets drunk, gets arrested, and even dies trying to free himself from the hell he’s stuck in. But he always wakes up at the start of the same awful day—and what’s worse, nothing he does gets him any closer to his producer, the beautiful and smart Rita Hanson, who hates her self-centered co-worker. It isn’t until Phil gives up trying to use his special circumstances in selfish ways and instead commits himself to becoming a better person, He learns to play the piano and speak French, and he even saves lives. And for his hard work—Harold Ramis estimated that Phil lived through enough Groundhog days to make up ten calendar years—Phil is finally rewarded with Rita’s love. A better version of desire for a good woman making a bad man worthy has never been written.

3. About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013.) Another time Spirograph, and this one hits all my time buttons. It’s funny, sweet, veers into heartbreaking, and then just as quickly gives us the happy ending we’ve been waiting for. And it’s populated with some of my favorite British Isle actors—Domhnall Gleason, Bill Nighy, and Tom Hollander. Gangly, sweet Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleason) is an attorney who is told by his father on his twenty-first birthday that all men in their family line can time travel back in time to an earlier point in their lives whenever they’d like. Tim uses his new-found talent to fix problems for his friends and to set himself up with a beautiful American woman (Rachel McAdams). Eventually, he discovers what his father did with his own time travel abilities—pack a box of Kleenex. But in the end, Tim realizes that living life as well as one can in each day one is given, rather than savoring it again by living it over, is the best way to appreciate it.

2. The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi, 2011.) David Norris is meant for good things. He’s running for the senate but falls in love with Elise, a beautiful, vivacious dancer. The mysterious people who plot out our lives—the Adjustment Bureau—can’t have David derailed from his intended career path. They move Elise out of his reach. But David catches on to the game, and begins to try to outmaneuver them in order to find her again. But when the men from the Adjustment Bureau tell him Elise is meant for better things too—things she’ll never achieve if she stays with David, he has to decide if love rules our lives or fate.

1. 13 Going on 30 (Gary Winick, 2004.) A dark horse for #1, I’ll admit it, but I can't pass up the story of 13-year-old Jenna Rink, played by Jennifer Garner, who is transported into her future and discovers a great job and a closet full of shoes isn't enough to make up for losing Matt, the boy who was her best friend. The über-fun acted-out dance numbers from "Thriller" and "Love is a Battlefield" made this 80s gal's squeal with delight. I cry every time grown-up Jenna tracks down grown-up Matt, the one person she knows she can trust with her story, and he says, “Jenna, we’re not friends anymore.” The movie makes us ask ourselves, “What do we lose when we take the people closest to us for granted?” Fortunately, the answer for Jenna is not Matt, at least not forever. Happy sigh.

In Every Time with a Highlander, Michael Kent is the handsome, talented director of Britain's national theater who longs to leave the self-centered actors and imperious patrons behind, and be sipping a dry Rioja on a beach somewhere in Spain. Unfortunately for him, Undine, a fiery fortune teller, spellcaster, and spy in eighteenth century Scotland, has a different plan for him, a fact he discovers when her spell pulls him right out of a production of Romeo and Juliet, where he's filling in for a sick Friar Laurance. Undine is trying to undermine the battle plans of the violent head of England's northern armies--a man who also happens to be her fiancé. She needs a partner who's a versatile actor. And the first role the man must play is a priest who will stop her fiance's plan to marry her as soon as possible.

Gwyn offers an excerpt from EVERY TIME WITH A HIGHLANDER ...

The blinding lights were on, he thought, blinking, but he was no longer sure how long he’d been onstage. Seconds? The set had changed—he’d have to speak to Eve, though he felt rather woozy, as if he’d left her a few hours ago and been drinking ever since. What was the stained glass doing in the back? Who’d authorized such an expense?

Someone cleared his throat, and Michael wheeled around, searching for his line.

But it wasn’t Paris nor Romeo nor even Juliet or Eve. It was an actor in a tawny frock coat with a waterfall of lace at his neck—he must speak to the costume manager as well—and the theater was empty.

Well, another theater perhaps, not the National Rose. One with hand-carved pews and an enormous painting of Henry VIII beyond its door.

The spiking adrenaline of missed cues and forgotten lines had nothing on finding oneself sucked out of a play into an unknown room with an unknown man. Sweat began to form on Michael’s back, and his mouth moved in an incoherent attempt to speak.

“I beg your pardon,” the man said, mildly incensed. “I asked you where Bishop Rothwell went.”

“I told you, John,” said a woman Michael hadn’t noticed. “He was called away.”

She stood apart from the man, arms crossed, in a gown of ethereal pink. Her words had been accompanied by a laser look at Michael that would have reduced the Greenland ice cap to a large cup of steaming tea.

Why were these people dressed for Shakespeare—or Congreve, really—yet nothing from their mouths rung of any play he’d ever seen? His gut began to tighten.

“Called away?” the man she’d called John said. “For what?”

“An emergency in the bishopric.” The “-pric” lingered on the woman’s tongue a second longer than necessary, though this time the look that accompanied it was for her companion.

She was beautiful—stunning, really—with hair like wet gold and eyes that shone an emerald green, but everything about her carriage and voice carried the expectation of being obeyed. In the instant Michael could spare to process the players rather than his own uncertain circumstances, he could see John might be an overbearing prig but the woman was flat-out trouble.

“And this…cleric?” John looked at Michael’s habit with poorly concealed distaste.

“The bishop’s colleague,” she said. “An ascetic, it seems.”

The two clearly weren’t actors—though they were nearly as irritating—and this wasn’t a set. Somehow, between stepping onstage and the lights going up, Michael had lost the National Rose. What had happened? The closest he’d ever gotten to feeling what he felt now was playing Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest, when the actor playing Algernon jumped twenty-seven pages ahead, leaving Michael thrust unexpectedly into Act Three’s happy engagement to Gwendolen with all the play’s loose ends resolved, hoping in earnest for the curtain. At least Michael had known what theater he’d been in then—and what play.

“Is he capable of marrying us?” John asked, dubious.

“I should think so,” she said. “It’s woven into the burlap.”

In a remote place in his head, at a distance from the panic that had seized control of his cerebellum, the amusement in her words cut him. He may not be the most rehearsed Friar Laurence who ever walked the stage, but that was certainly no reason to impugn the character’s inner nobility.

“Then let him do it.” John’s exasperation was growing. “You’re still willing, aren’t you, my love? Even without a proper bishop?”

“Most willing.” She smiled sweetly, but Michael saw the falsehood even if her fiancé did not. “Are we not in need of witnesses, though?” she added.

John growled. “They were behind me a moment ago. Let me find them. I’ll be but a moment.” He strode out.

Perhaps this was a dream—a dream conflating all the Shakespeare and Farquhar and Marlowe that Michael had ever done—with a generous helping of Wicked thrown in for good measure. Then it came to him. The potion.

He willed his fingers open and looked at his quaking palm.

A hand snatched the empty bottle away.

“Wake up,” the woman said in a razor-sharp whisper, and now he realized the voice he’d heard had been hers. “Listen carefully. I called you here for one reason. Keep that blackguard from marrying me or I shall shrivel your man parts like dates in the Barbary sun.” She stashed the bottle in her bodice and turned, smiling, to greet her fiancé as he returned with two footmen straight out of Molière.

Michael felt as if a blast furnace had scorched him from brows to sandals. He also felt his indignation grow. No one threatened Michael’s man parts, certainly not in a theater—even if this wasn’t exactly a theater or a play…or even a space he remotely recognized.

“Are you ready?” John said.

Michael held up a finger. “Actually, I’m not.”

He felt rather than heard the woman’s exhale of relief.

“Your fiancée was just telling me how truly eager she is to begin life as your wife,” Michael said. “However, she has made me aware of a few, well, shall we say blemishes upon her conscience, and I know she wishes to unburden herself before the happy marriage is consummated.”

John blinked. “Undine…my fiancée…wishes to confess?”

Undine, was it? Like the water fairy in Giraudoux’s play? More like Ursula in The Little Mermaid.

“I most certainly do not,” she said, eyes flashing.

“No?” Michael shrugged. “Well then, let us proceed apace with the ceremony. Good sir, do you have the Book of Common Prayer?”

“Wait,” Undine said.

Michael turned, triumphant. “Aye?”

“I might have something to confess after all,” she said with an iron glare.

“Ahh,” Michael said, hand over his heart, “the heart wishes to forget, but the soul demands its redemption. Aye, let us retreat to a private place, where you can unburden yourself of everything—everything—that I and the Lord need to know.”

24805439Just in Time for a Highlander (Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands, #1)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Washington Loves Readers - Spotlight on Tracee Lydia Garner

The Washington Romance Writers (WRW) are hosting their annual Reader Luncheon (link) on Saturday, October 8, 2016. I look forward to meeting Tracee Garner:

Tracee Lydia Garner is a a speaker, private writing coach and author of five books. Born and raised in Northern Virginia, she holds a degree in Communications from Old Dominion University. She tremendously enjoys the written and spoken word and prior to entertaining full length novels, was a contributor to her alma mater's campus literary magazine.

Writing her first novel at 23, Tracee submitted it to contest hosted by BET Books, then the largest publisher of African-American fiction where, her story entitled Family Affairs, beat out hundreds of other contenders, winning the grand prize, a monetary advance and publication. She signed a book deal for two more titles. Tracee has been writing since she was in elementary school. She teaches Romance Novel Writing and How to Write the Novel at the college level and has done so for ten years. She also enjoys marketing, reading, writing and is a certified shopaholic.

Learn more about Tracee and her books at

Update:  Tracee is unable to attend the lucheon as scheduled .... so I will seek her out to see that brilliant smile in person!

I love the cover of ANCHORED HEARTS ...

Despite her prestigious professional role, Allontis Baxter’s private life is in shambles. She’s just broken up with her no-good boyfriend, her adopted mother figure is dying in the hospital and now she’s been turned down in an attempt to adopt a child of her own. Plus, Allontis’s old flame Cole Parker has returned to their hometown from New York City, causing her dilemmas to multiply as old feelings are rekindled. What’s a successful and motivated nonprofit career woman to do?

When a series of chance encounters at work fling her into the middle of a mysterious scandal, Allontis realizes she’s caught up in a dangerous game that could send her chaotic life up in flames. Struggling to keep the pieces of her own life together while protecting those she loves, Allontis is forced to confront the true meaning of family and to face some demons of her own.


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

1. Leave a comment about Washington, D.C. - what do you know about our nation's capital? 

2. Comments are open through Saturday, July 30, 10 pm in Baltimore.

3. I'll post the winner on Sunday, July 31.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

Aloha to Lindsay McKenna and SECRET DREAM (Delos Novella)

Reminder - I have a special giveaway for July at this link.

Ex-Navy SEAL Cav Jordan faces danger daily in his job as a security expert. He even faced down a gang of South American drug dealers to protect his fiancée, Lia Cassidy. So why is he terrified of meeting her parents? Having lived through his own horrible childhood Cav can’t understand the situation is he is walking into. Lia just wants him to meet her parents. Why does this feel like the fight of his life?

Novella: The continued story of Cav and Lia from NOWHERE TO HIDE, Book 1 of the Delos Series. 

Buy Links: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo 


Lindsay McKenna lives her life as a risk taker, and it shines through the books she loves to write: romance, adventure and suspense. She started writing at age thirteen and continues to hone her writing skills to this day. She sold her first romance novel in 1981. The rest is history.

Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

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Lindsay offers an excerpt from SECRET DREAM ... 

“Steve Cassidy. Welcome, Mr. Jordan., We owe you a lot.” He gripped Cav’s hand, and choked out, “You saved Lia’s life. Thank you…”

For a moment, Cav was stunned by the sudden kindness emanating from the farmer’s expression who was thin, wiry, sunburned and physically sinewy from the daily work he did. Gripping the farmer’s calloused roughened hand, he said, “Nice to meet you, sir. And I was just doing my job. Call me Cav?”

“Call me Steve.” He clapped him heartily on the back, still clasping his other hand. “And you’re a hero to us, son. Nothing less.” Steve released him, keeping his hand on Cav’s broad shoulder, watching Lia clinging to he mother, both of them in a tight, loving embrace with one another.

Embarrassed by such a show of emotions, Cav murmured, “Thank you, sir.”

Steve gave him an assessing look. “Just Steve will do.”

“Yes, sir….I mean, okay,” Cav stumbled. It was very different meeting people who were strangers, but this was Lia’s parents and he didn’t want to fuck this up for her. Awkwardly, he stood there, watching tears roll down Susan’s face. He wasn’t sure that Lia wasn’t crying too, such was the tight bond they shared. Obliquely, his mind leaped backward. Cav remembered the times his mother had cried. But they were tears of pain. Tears mingled with blood from her nose, a split lip or both after his father got done beating her up. How many times had Cav cried alone in his room wishing she would run away with him from his monster father?

Steve clapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s us guys go find your luggage, huh?” and he smiled a little.

Good idea! “Yes, sir—“

Steve laughed and patted him warmly on the back. “You’re staying a week with us, Cav. I’ll work that military side you out of you by then. Come on, let’s hunt up that luggage for our you and our Lia, eh?”

There was a male gruffness mingled with warmth to Steve that made Cav want to open up to the man. He had a deeply weathered face, his blue eyes the same color as Lia’s. The woman he loved had her mother’s same color of hair, her father’s sparkling, mischievous looking eyes and her smile. There was benevolence to Steve Cassidy and Cav automatically found himself wanting to be close to this man who exuded a male gentleness he rarely found in any man. “Thanks for coming to pick us up,” Cav said, noting that the baggage from their flight would be spit out by Carousel Two.

“We’ve been looking forward to seeing you two,” Steve said, standing with his hands on his hips, watching the luggage starting to be dropped off the conveyor belt. “Did you have a good flight?”

“Yes. It was quiet. That’s all I ask.”

“We don’t travel much,” he said. “With a farm, you can’t walk away from it, so I’m glad you came for a visit.”

Cav felt Steve’s genuine sincerity. He hooked a look over his shoulder, seeing Lia and her mother talking animatedly with one another as they walked toward them. Susan had given Lia her smile and her beauty, no question. He liked that the mother had hooked her arm around Lia’s waist and they walked closely, their affection for everyone to see. He knew Lia’s affection himself and already, he could see how happy she was at being home with her parents once more. They breathed even more life into her, if that was possible. Compared to the ghost of a person she was in Costa Rica months earlier, Cav was stunned at Lia’s natural radiance. She was sunshine to his darkened soul who craved her.

“Uh oh,” Steve murmured, grinning as he turned. “I’m about to get attacked.”

For a moment, the word put Cav on instant guard. But as he turned, he saw Steve opening his arms as Lia flew into them, her arms wide open, joy radiant on her face as she clung to her father. A lump formed in his throat as he watched Lia being swallowed up by the big man who kissed her hair, kissed that cheek that had that deep scar on it, his eyes only for his beaming daughter in his arms. His gaze flicked to Susan, who stood a few feet away, teary eyed, smiling, her lower lip trembling as she watched Lia with her doting father. It hurt to swallow and Cav turned away, remembering too much of the twisted and distorted family he’d somehow managed to survive. He’d never known a moment of affection from his father. Only his fist. His hatred. His anger always aimed at him.


More books in the Delos series ...

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Aloha to Piper J. Drake and ULTIMATE COURAGE (True Heroes Book 2)


Reminder - I have a special giveaway for July at this link.


Retired Navy SEAL Alex Rojas is putting his life back together, one piece at a time. Being a single dad to his young daughter and working at Hope's Crossing Kennels to help rehab a former guard dog, he struggles every day to control his PTSD. But when Elisa Hall shows up, on the run and way too cautious, she unleashes his every protective instinct.

Elisa's past never stays in her rearview mirror for long, and she refuses to put anyone else in danger. But with Alex guarding her so fiercely yet looking at her so tenderly, she's never felt safer . . . or more terrified that the secrets she keeps could put countless people in grave peril. The only way for both to fully escape their demons will take the ultimate act of courage: letting go and learning to trust each other.


Extreme Honor, #1
Ultimate Courage, #2
Absolute Trust, #3

Series Page on Goodreads


Barnes & Noble
Google Play

Piper J. Drake (or "PJ") spent her childhood pretending to study for the SATs by reading every interesting novel she could find at the library. After being introduced to the wonderful world of romance by her best friend, she dove into the genre.

PJ began her writing career as PJ Schnyder, writing sci-fi & paranormal romance and steampunk, for which she won the FF&P PRISM award as well as the NJRW Golden Leaf award and Parsec award.

PJ's romantic suspense novels incorporate her interests in mixed martial arts and the military. The True Heroes series is inspired by her experience rescuing, owning and training a variety of retired working dogs, including Kaiser, a former guard dog, and Mozart, who was trained to detect explosives.




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Forever Romance offers an excerpt from ULTIMATE COURAGE ...

You’ve got to be insane.”

Elisa Hall took a prudent step—or two—back as she observed the standoff brewing in front of her. A tall man stood between her and the emergency room reception desk, glaring at the woman in scrubs behind it. He stood at an angle to Elisa, so he could see the reception desk to his right and the entirety of the waiting area in front of him.

He clenched his fists.

Elisa retreated farther back toward the entrance, releasing her throbbing rist and letting her hands fall to her sides. Harmless. Nothing to see here.

“I’m sorry, sir, but ambulances take precedence over walk-ins,” the nurse repeated. She was braver than Elisa would’ve been in the face of rage on a level with the man’s at the counter.

He was dressed in loose fitness shorts and a close-fitting black tee. His hands were wrapped in some cross between tape and fabric.

“Fighter” might as well have been printed across his very broad, muscular shoulders.

Actually, now that she was looking, his tee said Revolution Mixed Martial Arts Academy.

Well, then. Maybe she should just take more ibuprofen and forget about seeing a doctor for her swollen wrist after all. Getting her injury examined wasn’t worth staying anywhere near this guy.

The nurse glanced quickly at Elisa then returned her attention to the man, her expression softening with sympathy. “As soon as an examination room opens up, we’ll get you in to see the doctor. Please, wait right here and fill out these forms while I help this young lady.”

Wait, what? The man’s face, and his focus, turned toward her. Oh, great.

Usually she envied nurses their ability to sympathize with so many patients and make such a difference in their lives. Now was not one of those times.

Elisa squashed the urge to bolt. Never ended well when she tried it. Better to hold very still, wait until the anger in front of her burned itself out, and pull herself together afterward.

Instead, she fastened her gaze on the floor and tried to keep her body from tensing visibly. Silently, she sang herself an inane nursery rhyme to take her mind

off the weight of the man’s intense glare. Please, please, let him walk away. They were in public, and even though the emergency room waiting area wasn’t packed, it still had a dozen people scattered around the seats.

But the expected explosion, shouting, other things . . .never happened. Instead, the man had quieted. All of the frustrated aggression seemed to have been stuffed away, somewhere.

She swallowed hard. Relief eased her constricted throat, and she breathed slowly for the time being. Leaving remained the best idea she had at the moment.

But he stepped away from the counter and farther to her right, motioning with a wrapped hand for her to step forward. As she forced her feet to take herself closer to the reception desk—and past him—he gave her room.

Belatedly, she realized his movement also happened to block her escape route toward the doors. He couldn’t have done it on purpose, could he? But Elisa took a step up to the reception counter and away from him anyway.

“Yes, dear?” The nurse’s gentle prompt made Elisa jump.

Damn it. Elisa’s heart beat loud in her ears.

The nurse gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t mind him. He’s been here before. I’ve already asked another nurse to bring ice packs as fast as possible. I don’t

mind if he blows off some hot air in my direction in the meantime. I would be upset, too, considering today’s situation.”

Elisa bit her lip. She could still feel the man standing behind her, his presence looming at her back. He couldn’t possibly appreciate the nurse sharing some of

his private information. And he didn’t seem to need ice packs or any other medical attention. He appeared very able-bodied. “It’s none of my business.”

The nurse placed a clipboard on the counter and wrinkled her nose. “Oh, trust me, the entire waiting room knows what his concern is. Tell me what brought you here.”

This might be the most personable emergency room reception area Elisa had been to in years, not counting the extremely angry man standing behind her. They were either not very busy—not likely if all the examination rooms were full up—or extremely efficient.

Efficiency meant she could get in and out and decide what her next steps would be.

“My wrist.” Elisa held out her left arm, her wrist obviously swollen. “I thought it was just a bad sprain, but it’s been more than a few days and has only gotten worse. I can barely move it now.”

And if she could have avoided it, she definitely wouldn’t have stopped in to get it treated. An emergency room visit, even with the help of her soon-to-be nonexistent insurance, was still an expense she didn’t need. It’d been six months or so since her last significant paycheck, and she could not afford to extend her insurance much longer. Plus, it might be better not to. One less way to track her.

“Is that your dominant arm, dear?” The nurse held up a pen.

Elisa shook her head.

“Oh, good. Leave your ID and insurance card with me so I can make copies. Take a seat over there to fill out this form and bring it back to me.”

Okay, then. Elisa took the items and made her way toward the seating area, thankful the nurse hadn’t asked her to give her name and pertinent information verbally. It was always a risk to share those things out loud.

She’d learned over and over again. There was a chance a slip of information in the unlikeliest of places would find its way to exactly the person she didn’t want

to have it. No matter how careful she’d been over the last several months, it hadn’t been enough yet.

But it would be. This time. She was learning, and she was free. Every day was a new chance.

Nodding to herself, Elisa looked for a seat. It might not be crowded, but just about everyone in the room had decided to sit with at least a chair or two buffer between them and the next person. The buffer seats were all that were left, and most of the other people waiting to be seen were either men, or women sitting with men.

Then she caught sight of a young girl sitting with her legs crossed in the seat next to the big planter in the corner. Slender, but long limbed, the girl had a sweet face and the gangly look of a growing kid. Elisa guessed the girl was maybe eight or nine, could even be ten. Hard to pin down age when the kid had such an innocent look to her. The seat next to her was open, and she was waiting quietly, hugging a big, blue, plush . . . round thing. Whatever it was.

Elisa walked quickly over, and when the girl looked up at her with big, blue eyes, Elisa gave her the friendliest smile she could dig up. “Mind if I sit next

to you?”

The girl looked around, her gaze lingering on the reception area behind Elisa for a moment before saying, “Sure.”

Elisa took a seat.

After a few silent moments, the little girl stirred next to her. “Are you sick?”

Well, paperwork didn’t take much of her attention, and it’d been a while since Elisa had been outside of her own head in a lot of ways. Conversation would be

a welcome change and a good distraction from the constant worry running in the back of her mind. “Not sick so much as hurt. I won’t give you the plague.”

A soft, strained laugh. “Same here.”

Elisa took a harder look at the big, plush toy. It wasn’t for comfort as Elisa’d first assumed. It was supporting the girl’s slender left arm, which was bent at an impossible angle.

“Oh my god.” Why was she sitting here alone?

“Don’t worry.” The girl gave her a quick thumbs-up with her right hand. “The doctors are really good here, and I’m in all the time.”

Such a brave face. She had to be in an insane amount of pain. And here she was encouraging Elisa.

“Is there someone you should talk to about how often you get hurt?” Elisa struggled for the right tone. It was one she’d heard more than once when people had been concerned for her. Some places had safeguards in place for . . .

Blue eyes widened. “Oh, it’s not what you’re thinking. Trust me, people ask my dad. And it’s not like that at all. I study mixed martial arts. I get bruised and

bumped all the time, and usually it’s nothing, but Dad always makes me come in to get checked.”

It was hard not to believe in the earnest tone. But monsters were everywhere.

The girl gave her a rueful smile, still amazing considering how much pain she had to be in. “This time it wasn’t just a bump.”

“Which is why they’re going to see you as soon as they can, Boom.”

Elisa hadn’t heard the man approach. He was just there. He kneeled down in front of the girl then gently tucked an ice pack around her arm while moving it as

little as possible. For her part, the girl hissed in pain but otherwise held up with amazing fortitude.

Elisa would’ve been in tears. The forearm had to be broken. Both bones. It didn’t take a doctor to figure that out. No wonder the man had been mad earlier. She’d want this girl to be seen as soon as possible, too. She dropped her gaze, unable to watch.

“Here.” An ice pack appeared in her view. “Your wrist should be iced, too. Take down the swelling while you wait.”

Speechless, Elisa looked up.

The man’s words were gruff, awkward. His expression was blank. But his eyes—a softness around his eyes—and a . . . quiet in the way he watched her made her swallow and relax a fraction. Her heartbeat stuttered in a fluttery kind of way. A completely different reaction from what she should be experiencing if she were wise. She didn’t know this man and he was probably married. The girl had a mother somewhere. Where? Maybe on her way. This man was just being nice. Maybe.

Learn from your mistakes. You never know who a person really is.

Book 1