Friday Feature & Giveaway: So Right by Darcy Burke

Title: So Right by Darcy Burke
Ribbon Ridge: Love on the Vine Series Book Two
Publisher: Darcy Burke
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 223 pages

Summary:

Kelsey McDade realizes that her love life is one and done. Her last—and only—relationship left her broken and afraid and more than ready to be alone for the long haul. But sexy-charming vineyard manager Luke Westcott pushes all of her buttons in the right way and makes her wonder if she ought to try again.

In nearly twenty-eight years, Luke’s most successful romance has been with the outdoors. Currently single, he’s happy to pour all of his energy into his new winery until Kelsey provokes feelings he didn’t know he was capable of. He can envision their future together—if she’ll let down her guard.

When the ghost of Kelsey’s past causes her to slam on the brakes, Luke is ready to fight for her, even if it means sacrificing himself in the process. Convinced she’s only made wrong choices in the past, Kelsey must decide if Luke—and their love—is worth the greatest risk of all.

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Excerpt

“I’m going to come stay with you for a few days. On one condition.”

Luke finished his beer. “Anything.”

“No hanky-panky.”

He laughed so hard, he snorted. “What year is this, 1953? Hanky-panky?”

Kelsey giggled. “What would you call it?”

He leaned back and huffed out a breath while he crossed his arms and adopted a pensive pose. “I don’t know. Monkey business?”

She sputtered out a laugh. “Monkey business?” The laugh grew to a guffaw until near-hysteria set in as he joined her. She fought to take a breath and pushed out the word, “Chicanery?”

He howled even louder, slapping his hand on the table. “How about fooling around?”

Tears spilled from her eyes and her face began to hurt from laughing so hard. It was one of those conversations that probably wouldn’t have been funny to anyone else, but in that moment, they were consumed by uncontainable hilarity. “We are firmly planted in 1953. There are apparently no words—none—to describe sexytimes in twenty-first century speak.”

“Sexytimes works.” He poured himself more beer and took a long drink. “God, I haven’t laughed like that in a long time. Okay, so no sexytimes. Does that include kissing? Because I’m kind of hoping I get to do that with you again soon.”

“Wouldn’t that be dangerous? I could see kissing leading to—let me borrow a word from 1953 again—petting, and petting leading to the afore-mentioned sexytimes. In fact, I would argue that kissing is sexytimes.”

He pouted. “Damn, your argument is sound.”

“So no sexytimes while I’m staying with you.”

“Wait, none at all? Or just none in the house?” He looked at her with such hope in his gaze, and he was so gorgeous with his stubble and that square jaw and those dark, hot-as-coals eyes.

“Let me think about that.”


Author Bio

Darcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, and three Bengal cats. Visit Darcy online at www.darcyburke.com and sign up for her newsletter, follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/darcyburke, or like her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/DarcyBurkeFans.

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Tour Stop & Excerpt: A Highland Ruby by Brenda K. Taylor

Title: A Highland Ruby by Brenda K. Taylor
Highland Treasures Series Book Two
Publisher: Bethabara Press
Genre: Historical, Romance
Length: 207 pages

Summary:

She must choose between a life of adventure with the man she loves or a settled, secure life with her betrothed. Flora Vass forced Gavin Munro out of her heart and mind until he returned to Scotland after an adventurous five years in the New World. Gavin leaves no doubt he returned to make the bonnie Flora his own and intends to fight for her. Flora’s betrothed, Iain MacKay, and Gavin’s brother, Chief Andrew Munro, have other plans. Andrew needs her to marry the MacKay and bring peace between the two clans. Iain MacKay desires an heir. War with England looms on the horizon, forcing Flora to make crucial decisions.

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Excerpt

He watched her through the grey mist, walking along the shore of Cromarty Firth. The hood of her arisaid covered her bonnie russet locks, but he imagined them bouncing with each step she took. She came every morn, sometimes with the wee curly-headed laddie in tow, but now, she walked alone. His heart beat a fast rhythm like a lad watching his first love. How foolish to be hiding behind a rock when he could speak to her, hold her hand, and look into her dark eyes.

Gavin gathered courage and stood to his full height when Flora walked past the rock where he hid. “Flora,” he said in a quiet voice. She continued to walk, not hearing him above the moaning wind.

Quickly, he took a place beside her, then grabbed her arm. She screamed as she turned to face him. Her eyes widened with fear, she tried to jerk her arm free, then beat his chest with the fist of the other hand, and kicked his shin with the toe of a pointed boot.

Gavin jumped from the boot’s path, but kept her arm secure. “Stop. ‘Tis I, Gavin.” She stopped kicking and the free hand went to her mouth while she studied his face. A small squeak emerged from between full red lips. He watched her lips for a moment, then bent to place a kiss on the inviting mouth. She became rigid with no response.

He released her arm then backed away. She continued to stare as though he were a stranger, and he very well may be to her now. After all, five years in the wilderness of the New World can change a man beyond recognition.

Flora’s hand raised for an instant then came across his face with a stinging blow. He rubbed at the burning cheek. “How dare you,” she screamed above the wind. “You left me. You left me.” She hit his chest with both fists now.

Gavin grabbed her wrists, bringing her close. “Stop. I only want to see you, be near you once more. May I walk with you? Just a short distance?”

Flora stared. Her brown eyes larger now with surprise or mayhap shock. She stopped struggling and rested her head on his chest. A seagull called overhead and waves lapped against the shore of the firth. Gavin pushed the hood of her arisaid back, stroking her hair while wrapping an arm around her slender waist. The russet locks felt soft to his fingers. They smelled with the sweet fragrance of heather and salt air, just as he remembered and dreamed. The mist had damped one small curl so that it clung to her neck. He touched the softness of her skin where the curl lay. They stood for a long time. Flora now seemed reluctant to move and Gavin did not wish to spoil the moment.

Finally, she stepped back and looked into his eyes. A line creased her fair brow. “Why did you come back? I made a life without you.”

“I wanted to see you and the lad. Andrew sent a message while I was still in Barcelona waiting for a ship to the New World.”

Flora searched Gavin’s face. “You look older, tanned, hardened.”

“Aye. I’ve been living in a wilderness, defending myself from the wild natives and animals. Searching for gold while starving for food. Takes a lot out of a mon.”

“I am betrothed to a fine mon. One who loves and wants me and my bairns. I wanna have you back, Gavin. You left me carrying your bairn. I wanna have you back.” She beat his chest once more. Tears spilled over to her cheeks.

He grabbed her wrist. “I understand, Flora. I understand. I’ll leave you alone, I will. But I do want to see my son.” He kissed each tear-filled eyelid, then her cheeks, and not being able to resist the temptation, her tempting lips.

Flora didn’t resist and, when the kiss grew more passionate, responded. Her arms went around his neck, her body melted into his so her warmth reached his very soul.

She pushed away. “Why did you go without a word?”

“I dinna ken. I canna explain why.” He lied, not exactly an untruth, but an exaggerated one.

“Well, I ken. You fancied yourself to be in love with your brother’s wife. Now what are you gonna do about that? They’re happily married with a bairn of their own and another on the way.” Flora’s eyes flashed then she turned away, watching a crab crawl away on the sand.

Gavin grabbed her hand so she faced him. “I was wrong. I dinna love Maidie, ‘twas you I carried in my heart. I ken that now.”

Flora snatched her hand away. “I must go. My bairns are waiting. Phillip is readying for work in the fields and Ishbel is attending Gavy. Aye, I named him for his da, but call him Gavy.”

“I’m keen to see him.” Gavin didn’t want to beg, but he would if necessary.

“I live in Leslie Manor no’ far from Fàrdach Castle. Laird Andrew provides well for your son. He pays me a good wage as nanny for his bairns.”

“What of Phillip?”

Flora smiled with the mention of her oldest child. “Phillip is growing like a weed and favors his da so much I hurt to look at him. He helps with the land and sheep on the estate and trains with Laird Andrew’s slaugh.”

“A fine lad, indeed.” Gavin hesitated. “And what of my brother, the Laird of Fàrdach Castle?” An image of his brother popped into mind. Would Andrew welcome him back to Fàrdach Castle after all these years? Gavin doubted he would receive a warm welcome.

“The Laird of Fàrdach Castle grieved for his lost brother and tanist, but he’s happily married and in good health.” Flora gazed into his eyes. “I must go. You’re welcome to visit Gavy, but only visit, naught more.”

Gavin returned her gaze. “Aye, I’ll visit, naught more.”

With a nod of her head, Flora replaced the hood of the arisaid, turned, and walked in the direction of the house, not far from where they stood. Gavin watched until she took a path from the shore to the manor, his heart heavy with rejection. He didn’t expect, but hoped for more. Maybe she would turn back and accept him into her life once again. He watched, but she didn’t look back. Now the task of facing his brother, Sir Andrew Dubh Munro, Laird of Fàrdach Castle.

 

***

 

Flora ducked behind a grass-covered dune to hide from Gavin’s view. She peeped over the grassy slope to gaze in the direction of the beach. He still stood, watching her. She turned quickly toward the house and didn’t look back. Her stomach churned and thoughts of him swirled in her head. He still raised a passion within the depths of her being she could not deny. Why did he come back? He should have stayed in the savage New World and never returned to Ferindonald. Life was complicated enough without the luring charm of Gavin Munro. He would certainly be around often to visit his son. What will Iain think?

The large manor house sat far enough away from the firth that high tides did not intrude upon the land, but close enough for a good walk along the shore when one’s heart ached and needed solitude. Flora often walked the shore of Cromarty Firth looking for dolphins, listening to the water lapping over rocks, and tasting the salt air on her tongue. She bathed in the firth on warm summer days, feeling the refreshing water on her skin.

She often took the bairns on an outing. They enjoyed wading and chasing the sea gulls. Sometimes they found pretty shells she took home, cleaned, and added to their collection. Other times she walked with Iain, while they made plans for a life together. Her life, if not the exciting one she knew with Gavin, had taken a quiet, peaceful turn with promise of a secure future. Now, he had returned and her insides felt like the firth during a storm with crashing, violent waves smashing against the rocks.

Flora saw the eye of her small son pressed against a crack in the large iron-studded oak door. When he saw his mother, Gavy opened the door wide and ran out to meet her, grabbing her long wool skirt then hanging on. She bent down to rub the small head full of russet curls.

“Mam, Mam, you left without me,” he whined.

“You slept and I dinna wish to wake you.” Flora removed his hands from the cloth and picked him up. He was heavier than she wanted to carry, and immediately put his feet back on the ground, taking his hand instead.

Gavy looked around Flora’s skirt, “I see Phillip.”

Flora turned. Her oldest son ran toward them with something awry from the looks of him. He barely nodded in her direction then ran into the house. She followed, dragging Gavy along by the hand. Phillip’s footsteps clicked on the plank flooring and then ascended the spiral staircase to his room on the second story. She released Gavy’s small hand once inside and gave it to Ishbel, the housemaid, who dropped the bundle of heather she carried. Flora followed Phillip to his room. The heavy door stood ajar, so she entered without knocking.

Her son, in the process of belting his father’s claymore over his young shoulders barely acknowledged her when she approached him. “What are you doing, Phillip? You have nae business with your da’s sword.”

Phillip jerked away and continued securing the large leather scabbard over his shoulder. When he insisted, she had let the young lad keep the claymore in his bedchamber, but he had solemnly promised not to use it except to practice with the slaugh.

Flora grabbed for the claymore again. “What are you doing?

“MacIntosh reivers burned a haystack. While we were trying to douse the fire, they stole ten head of cattle. I’m going with the chief to find them and get the cattle back.”

“Och, I give nae permission for you to go with the slaugh.” Flora held to the billowy sleeve of his léine.

“I dinna need your permission. I am of age, thirteen years.” Phillip’s dark head shook. His cheeks, already ruddy from exertion, reddened even more while bright brown eyes flashed.

Flora could only stare at her son. Thirteen summers and he thought himself a man. The heaviness of his father’s sword weighed down upon his shoulder. He practiced with the Munro cateran, but only with small dirks and bows, not with large claymores or the deadly falchion.

“I forbid you to go. You’re too young to take on such a task. The chief wanna allow it.” She grasped at Phillip’s sleeve when he brushed past her, but to no avail. Her son rushed through the open door. She followed calling to him, “Phillip you’re too young. The chief will forbid you to go.”

Flora watched Phillip’s back as he descended the spiral staircase, rushed through the great hall, and out of the door. Gavy whimpered when his brother strode by without acknowledging him. Phillip fancied his wee brother, and delighted in teasing the lad, rumpling his hair, and telling him stories of ghosts and fairies. Flora rushed to the yard as Phillip entered the stables. She could say or do naught to stop him, so she stood, waiting until he galloped by on a garron. They owned no war horse, and would never own one if she had her way.

She would not give her son up to fighting. Maidie, her friend and wife of the Munro chief, Laird Andrew, insisted her son, Sven, study the law. He would train as a barrister and live in a burgh. Sven would never see battle and fighting. Flora wanted the same for Phillip. Her sons were as good as Maidie’s. They should have the same opportunities.

Flora dashed back into the house and found Ishbel. “I’m going to the castle. Look after the bairn.” Crying, Gavy reached for her. Flora pressed a kiss on the plump pink cheek, then turned to leave. Mayhap if she could get to Fàrdach before Andrew left with his cateran, she could stop Phillip.

 

**

 

Gavin turned away and started toward the castle. His heart felt heavy like a rock in Cromarty Firth. Flora spurned him. She was promised to another, betrothed to another man. He came back to Ferindonald to see her, but she no longer loved him. Although she would not have him, he must see his son at all cost.

Fàrdach castle loomed before him. A large band of Munro warriors, some mounted and others on foot, were assembled on the grassy meadow outside of  the castle wall. Calls and war whoops rose from the horde. Those ahorse rode away to the west in a cloud of dust. The warriors afoot followed closely behind. Reivers must be about, with Andrew leading his slaugh to fight.

Hopefully, he would not have to face his brother this day. He could gauge the mood of the castle servants and occupants then decided if he should stay or go before meeting Andrew. Gavin fell in with some of the tenants making their way to the castle with their quarterly rents. One woman who had a chicken under her arm gave him a suspicious eye. The woman looked familiar. She may have been a neighbor of Flora’s in the village of Drumainn. The chicken squawked when Gavin walked by. The woman turned her gaze toward him and searched his face.

“Sir Gavin, is that you?” she asked in amazement.

“Madam.” He touched his forehead in a salute, then walked on quickly.

The woman walked faster as if to follow him, so he quickened his gait. He could hear her calling to others. “Sir Gavin’s home. Sir Gavin’s home.”

Calls traveled down the line of tenants entering and leaving the castle. Soon a small crowd gathered, following Gavin through the castle gates and under the portcullis. The guard in the gate house called then waved. He recognized the man and returned the greeting. Those within the outer bailey stopped their work or activity to welcome him home. Some gathered around. Small children tugged on his great plaide until it sagged beneath the thick leather belt. He tugged back, trying to keep some semblance of order about his person. The crowd followed him through the bailey, over the drawbridge covering a deep moat, then into the quieter inner yard. Guards called from the catwalk on the curtain wall. He saluted and returned the greeting. The great iron-studded oak doors of the keep opened. The chief of Clan Munro stepped out.

Gavin pushed his way through the crowd, jerked his plaide from the hands of a small, dirty-faced boy, and approached his brother. Andrew looked the same, but older with deeper lines on his brow and around his grey eyes. His raven hair hung in the usual warrior braids to the broad shoulders. He had trouble keeping the wry strands out of his eyes if not braided. The chief’s lips pursed into a firm line, then turned up on the edges with a broad smile. Without a word, he moved forward to embrace Gavin who returned the embrace with relief.

Andrew pushed away and studied Gavin’s face. “Welcome home, Brother. I thought you lost to Ferindonald forever.”

“Andrew. Good to be home. To see you. I figured you led your warriors and wanna be here.”

“The business of chief sometimes keeps me at my desk and ledgers instead of chasing thieves with my men. I’d rather be out with them any day.”

Gavin returned his brother’s broad smile. “You seem to be unchanged except for deeper wrinkles, and do I spot a few grey hairs among the ebony?”

“Aye. More than a few grey, I’m afraid.” Andrew gave Gavin a pat on the shoulder. “I sent Alan with the slaugh. Only a small band of reivers pestered us. Alan was elected tanist when you left Fàrdach. Come inside to greet my family. The ruckus you caused has them all aroused and curious.” Andrew motioned for Gavin to go ahead.

Gavin stepped inside to the great hall of Fàrdach. Nothing much had changed. The same boar and stag heads looked down from around the claymores, broadswords, axes, lances, and targes. Maybe a few more weapons had been added. Andrew seemed ready for a mighty fight. Reivers must be plaguing Ferindonald with their stealing and looting. Servants spread bundles of dried heather across the flagstone floor, filling the hall with a sweet aroma. They stopped and nodded toward Gavin with broad smiles. Shafts of light streamed through the small keyhole windows, causing dust motes to dance on the air. A large grey, shaggy hound lumbered up to Andrew who reached down to scratch the dog behind the ear.

“’Tis no’ the same hound with all the pups the bairns played with?” Gavin asked, eyeing the huge dog that stood up to his brother’s waist. “Seems like I remember a brown and white dog.”

“Nae, the hound and all her pups went out to tenants who needed good rabbit dogs. This large, lumbering thing is a gift from Maidie for my birthday of thirty years.”

“How does Maidie fair? And Sven?” Gavin brought himself to ask.

“She fairs well, and gains in beauty within and without each day.” Andrew smiled, showing white teeth through his salt and pepper beard.

Gavin’s heart skipped a beat with the mention of Maidie’s beauty. Her memory still held a special place in his heart, although he gave her up to Andrew five years before. He felt self-conscious, covered with road dirt and unshaven. He bathed in a cold burn three days ago and scrapped his beard with a dirk, but now stubble covered his face. The men turned toward the stone spiral staircase to watch two women descend. One held the hand of a small dark-haired lassie. The other, wearing a gown of blue silk clinging to her comely form now large with child and a thick braid of golden hair hanging down her back, held the hand of a blonde curly-headed lassie. Andrew’s smile grew brighter. He walked toward the group, taking the younger blonde bairn in his arms.

“Come family and greet our brother who returned to us this verra day.” Andrew said, bringing the group to Gavin. “This bonnie lassie is my daughter, Andrina.”

Gavin stroked the small fair hand. The bairn smiled. Her blue eyes sparkled, and he saw Maidie’s bright eyes smiling at him, then she buried her pretty head on Andrew’s shoulder. Her father patted the small head with a gentle, loving touch. He reached for Maidie’s arm, drawing her forward. Gavin swallowed a large lump forming in his throat. She was more beautiful than he remembered. Married life and having bairns agreed with her. He bowed.

Her blue eyes glowed. “Hello, Gavin. Welcome home.” Then her eyes roamed over his dirty, disheveled clothing. “Seems you’ve journeyed long and hard.” She placed her hand upon his arm. A chill ran down his spine. “We’re so verra glad you returned home and hope your stay with us will be a long one. I’ll have your old chamber made ready with a bath.”

Gavin could only smile and nod his head at the lovely lady. His heart beat much too wildly to say more, so he turned to look at the other lassie and her maid. “Hello, Nellie. You look well. How is Briana?” He tried to take Briana’s hand, but she jerked back. Gavin looked at Andrew. His brother shrugged his shoulders.

“Briana is leery of strangers these days. Of a sudden she’s become shy, and clings to Nellie. I can hardly touch her, myself.” Andrew made a sign with his hands to the lassie. She shook her head then hid her face in Nellie’s dress. “Briana is learning to speak with her hands. She learns quickly, but wanna speak around strangers. We are all learning to talk to her with our hands. Sven is teaching the family and anyone who wants to learn. He studied a book I brought from Edinburgh.”

Gavin turned to Maidie. “You must be proud of Sven.” She smiled and nodded. He spoke to Andrew. “You have a lovely family, M’Laird.”

Andrew placed his free arm around Maidie’s shoulders. “Aye. These dear ones are the light of my life.” He gave Andrina to her mother then planted a lingering kiss on Maidie’s lips. Gavin wondered if his brother did that for his sake. Probably. Like a hound marking his territory. “Come, let’s go to the tiltyard before Maidie gets you into the bath. Several of the luchd-taighe that dinna go with the slaugh are practicing. They’ll want to bid you welcome.” Andrew took Gavin’s arm, turning him toward the door.

He turned back. “Thank you, M’Lady for being so kind. I shall look forward to a comfortable bed and hot bath. Both have been few and far between these past five years.” Her lips, now rosy from his brother’s kiss, parted in a smile.

The two men made their way out of the keep and walked through a heavy door in the curtain wall of the inner bailey that led to a broad meadow beyond. The large wolfhound followed at Andrew’s heels. Several warriors dressed only in a great plaide held secure by a broad leather belt practiced with claymores, broadswords, and bows. One rode a horse toward a target and threw a spear at the center. The spear met its mark with a thud. Two men wrestled within the center of a small group who cheered for one or the other. Gavin smiled, remembering the many days he practiced with the warriors. This sparring field felt more like home than any other place in the castle or the whole of Ferindonald, except maybe the small box bed in Flora’s black house in Drumainn Village. Ah, remembering the reason he left seemed harder with each passing day.

Andrew’s voice broke through Gavin’s revelry. “Have you seen your son?”

His brother’s unexpected words took him aback. “Aye. That I have, Brother—from a distance is all.”

“You ken Flora is betrothed. He is Iain MacKay, and a finer fellow you’ll be hard pressed to find.”

Gavin turned to stare at Andrew. Did he think Flora would never love again? “So ‘tis Iain who won her heart. I remember the first son of the MacKay being wild and rambunctious, always looking for a way out of duty.”

“Iain’s gained in maturity these past five years, and being the first-born will inherit his father’s title and land. Flora could do nae better.”

“Did you arrange the marriage, thinking I may never return to lay claim to my son?” Gavin felt a tinge of ire rising around the idea of his brother arranging the marriage of his love to another.

“We dinna ken whether you lived or died at the hand of savages. When nae word came from you year after year, I began looking for a suitable mate for Flora and a da for your son.” The light in Andrew’s grey eyes faded. A deeper line formed between his heavy brows. “What would you have me do, Gavin? Keep Flora unwed and your son with nae da to see to his raising? Phillip needs a father also.”

Of course the chief was right in his decision. He had obligations to the members of his clan—to take care of their welfare and keep them safe. Andrew made the only choice left to him in Gavin’s absence. He found Flora a suitable mate and a father for Phillip and Gavy. Flora’s and Iain’s love for each other did not matter, they could make a good life together.

Gavin started to walk away, but Andrew put a hand on his arm. “Brother, I expect you to abide by the betrothal contract and leave Flora be. Make nae trouble for Iain.”

“What about my son? Will I be allowed to see him?”

“Aye, with restraint. You gave up rights to the boy when you left his mither.” The eyes of the two men met. Andrew didn’t blink. Gavin knew his chances with Flora were nil.


Author Bio
The desire to write historical fiction has long been a passion with Brenda B. Taylor. Since elementary school, she has written stories in her spare time. Brenda earned three degrees: a BSE from Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas; a MEd from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas; and an EdD from Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas; then worked as a teacher and administrator in the Texas Public School system. Only after retirement could she fulfill the dream of publication.

Brenda and her husband make their home in beautiful East Texas where they enjoy spending time with family and friends, traveling, and working in Bethabara Faith Ministry, Inc. She crafts stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people in her favorite place overlooking bird feeders, bird houses, and a variety of blooming trees and flowers. She sincerely thanks all who purchase and read her books. Her desire is that the message in each book will touch the heart of the reader as it did hers in the writing.

Her latest book is the historical romance, A Highland Ruby.

Author Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads

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Review: Ashes by Steven Manchester

Title: Ashes by Steven Manchester
Publisher: Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life – and death – has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other’s company. It’s either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he’s left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.

At turns humorous, biting, poignant, and surprisingly tender, ASHES puts a new spin on family and dysfunction with a story that is at once fresh and timelessly universal.

Review:

In Ashes by Steven Manchester, two brothers heal the rift between them on a cross-country road trip to spread their father’s ashes.

Corrections Officer Jason Prendergast and his college professor brother Tom have been estranged for the past fifteen years when they learn their abusive father has died.  In order to fulfill the terms of his will, they must embark on a cross country trip to spread his ashes in Washington state.  While neither of the brothers is overly enthusiastic about the request, they agree to follow through with his wishes. Their journey is fraught with tension as they disagree about everything from the route to take to the restaurants they choose but they also bond over shared memories from their dysfunctional childhood.  Will Tom and Jason make peace with their fractured past by the journey’s end?

Tom and Jason are complete opposites and their differences become even more obvious during their trip.  Tom is controlled with plenty of self-discipline and he is quite health conscious.   Jason, on the hand, is overweight and enjoys nothing more than a grease-laden meal and a couple beers at the end of a long day.  Tom enjoys the finer things in life whereas Jason is more comfortable in a local diner. Despite these differences, both men have similar parenting styles  and they have relatively good relationships with their children.

As they squabble their way across the United States, Jason and Tom are caught up in memories of both the good and bad things from their abusive childhood.  They also catch up on the paths their lives have taken and they are surprised to discover they do have a few things in common.  Both brothers are taken aback when their preconceived perceptions of one another are sometimes proven wrong.  While some of their discussions do not end well, other conversations result in useful observations that are unexpectedly helpful.  By the end of their journey, both Jason and Tom have made life-altering decisions that are a direct result of their time together.  When they part ways, Jason and Tom have achieved a fragile peace between them but will this be the beginning or end of their relationship?

Ashes by Steven Manchester is an interesting journey of healing and forgiveness for both Tom and Jason.  Some their interactions occasionally devolve into immature schoolboy shenanigans, but for the most part, their conversations are deep and meaningful.  All in all, a remarkable story that will resonate with anyone who has experienced a rocky relationship with any of their siblings.

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Filed under Ashes, Contemporary, Fiction, Rated B, Review, Steven Manchester, The Story Plant

Review: Roman by Sawyer Bennett

Title: Roman by Sawyer Bennett
Cold Fury Hockey Series Book Seven
Publisher: Loveswept
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 216 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

New York Times bestselling author Sawyer Bennett steams up the ice all over again as the Carolina Cold Fury hockey team’s hottest bad boy gets his first taste of something good.

In a league full of troublemakers, Cold Fury defenseman Roman Sýkora stands out—at least when it comes to negative publicity. When he’s not chilling in the penalty box, the sizzling Czech skate demon is racking up tabloid headlines for his scandalous behavior with the ladies. But now Roman’s feeling the burn from management to clean up his act, or else. Luckily he’s got an enticing distraction: a fun-loving barista who plays the ukulele and brings out a side of Roman he didn’t know he had.

Lexi Robertson came to Raleigh, North Carolina, to finally meet her father, Brian Brannon, and her half sister, Gray, both of whom work in the Cold Fury’s front office. That’s where she first meets sexy, intimidating Roman—who’s really a big softie at heart. As one relationship takes off, another begins: Brian seems to be clicking with Lexi’s boss at the coffee shop. But when the friction between Roman and her new family heats up, Lexi wonders whether she’s a pawn in their game. Feeling hurt and foolish, Lexi’s ready to quit while she’s ahead. Trouble is, Roman’s not ready to quit on her.

Review:

Roman is the seventh installment in Sawyer Bennett’s Cold Fury Hockey series and features two very sweet romances.  This latest release can be read as a standalone but I recommend the previous books as well.

Roman Sýkora is Cold Fury’s resident bad boy both on and off the ice.  An aggressive defenseman who has racked up an impressive amount of penalties and suspensions, he is not all happy with general manager Gray Brannon’s edict to clean up his act both professionally and personally.  With a reputation as a player, Roman’s love life is often fodder for the gossip pages, so it is no surprise that Gray is not exactly pleased when he begins dating her newly discovered sister Lexi Robertson.

Lexi had no idea who her father was until about ten months ago and she is finally ready to meet Brian Brannon face to face.  Much to her surprise, he welcomes her with open arms but half-sister Gray is a lot more cautious about welcoming her to the family.  Throw in Gray’s antipathy toward Roman and Lexi’s new relationships with both Roman and Gray are somewhat precarious.  Despite being caught in the middle, Lexi continues dating Roman but will her sister and boyfriend’s inability to make peace with each other undermine their romance?

Roman and Lexi are surprisingly well matched despite the fact that they are complete opposites.  Lexi is laidback and carefree but quite family oriented.  Roman is intense and focused with very few close ties to his teammates or his family.  Roman is a no commitment kind of guy and he has no idea how to woo a woman. Fortunately for him, Lexi is low maintenance and easy to please and their romance is off to a strong start with little internal conflict. However, the problems between Roman and Gray are becoming a huge frustration for Lexi and she is fast running out of patience with both of them.

The secondary romance between Brian and Lexi’s boss and close friend Georgia Mack is an enjoyable addition to the storyline.  Brian is long widowed and he has not dated anyone seriously since his wife passed away. He has a few reservations about becoming involved with Georgia but their attraction is so strong they are soon dating.  It is wonderful to see an older couple get the opportunity to fall in love and their relationship is delightfully free from drama or angst.

Roman is a low-key addition to Sawyer Bennett’s Cold Fury Hockey series.  Roman and Lexi are endearing characters that are very easy to like and their romance is sweet yet deliciously sexy.  Fans of the series will be thrilled that Brian unexpectedly finds love with Georgia and of course, it is quite the treat to see more of Gray, Ryker and his always adorable daughters. Another lovely installment in an outstanding series that old and new fans will enjoy.

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Filed under Cold Fury Hockey Series, Contemporary, Loveswept, Rated B, Review, Roman, Romance, Sawyer Bennett

eBook Contest February 22

Here are the eBooks for this week’s Winning Wednesday contest:

Title: Nova by Rebecca Yarros
The Renegades Series Book Two
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Imprint: Embrace
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 385 pages

Summary:

He’s got one shot to make it right…

He’s Landon Rhodes.
The Renegade they call Nova.
Sinfully gorgeous, broody, tatted-up, professional snowboarder.

They say a girl broke him once–
That’s why he’s so reckless, so driven, so careless with his conquests.
But I’m that girl.
They can call me his curse all they want.
He and I both know the truth–
He’s the one who destroyed me,
And I’m too smart to let that happen again.


Title: Midtown Masters by Cara McKenna
Sins in the City Trilogy Book Three
Publisher: InterMix
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic, Romance
Length: 292 pages

Summary:

From the author of Downtown Devil and Crosstown Crush comes the final novel in the trilogy that gets you up close and personal with the thrill of ménage à trois.

Online, Suzy Park and Meyer Cohen are a hot, young couple willing to try anything their paying viewers desire. Their chemistry offline, though, is fizzling out. They’d call it quits if not for the high they get from captivating their audience with mind-blowing sex.

Lately, however, one of their clients has begun captivating Suzy. With requests for vanilla lovemaking that annoy Meyer to no end, Lindsay seems to be a lonely innocent needing an imitation of romance. Suzy and Lindsay discover a bond that only deepens once the camera stops rolling, but Lindsay has a secret—that “she” is really a he pretending to be a woman for research—and the cost of confessing could turn a simple arrangement into a hands-on education…


Title: Dating Ryan Alback by J.E. Birk
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Romance
Length: 255 pages/Word Count: 66,000

Summary:

Ryan Alback has almost everything he’s ever wanted: a successful acting career, a dog who adores him, great family and friends, and a life outside the closet. The only thing missing is a boyfriend—but Ryan’s been burned by Hollywood relationships before, and he’s not eager to try one again.

Jason Santos has almost everything he’s ever wanted: a fulfilling career teaching middle school, a house in a city he loves, and parents who support him in every way. Too bad he can’t seem to forget the ex-boyfriend who rejected his marriage proposal.

When a talk show host launches a dating contest to find Ryan a boyfriend and Jason accidentally wins, neither of them expect anything to come from it. Yet somewhere between a disastrous massage and a mud sinkhole, they both start to wonder if this date could be more than just a public relations stunt. But before they can move into the future, they’ll both have to learn to let go of the past.


Wednesday is contest day on Book Reviews and More by Kathy. Three lucky winners will win the eBook of their choice! Here’s how to enter:

You must Do TWO of the Following:

1. Sign up for e-mail updates (upper left corner). One email daily with the day’s posts.

OR:

2. Be or become a fan of Book Reviews & More by Kathy Facebook page

OR:

3. Follow me on Twitter (@BookReviewsMore)

Make sure you have filled out the contest entry form:

4. To be eligible to enter contests on Book Reviews and More by Kathy you MUST fill out the contest entry form (found HERE). This form only needs to be filled out ONCE. Your privacy is important to me, and I will not share your information.

And don’t forget to:

5. Fill out the form below by 5 PM Mountain Time Friday afternoon:

CONTEST OVER

*I am the only person who will have access to info that is submitted to me UNLESS a publisher or author has donated an eBook for the giveaway. For a prize donated by an author or publisher, I will forward your e-mail and format selection to the person responsible for distributing the eBook. In the event the contest form is not working, please leave your book selection in the comments below.*

It’s that easy! The winners will be selected using random.org. I will e-mail the winners the eBook of their choice in their preferred format. The winners will be posted HERE on Saturday.

***The eBooks in this giveaway have been purchased by Book Reviews & More by Kathy.***

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Tour Stop, Excerpt & Giveaway: Chameleon by Zoe Kalo

Title: Chameleon by Zoe Kalo
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural, Gothic
Length: 187 pages

Summary:

An isolated convent, a supernatural presence, a dark secret…

17-year-old Paloma only wanted to hold a séance to contact her dead father. She never thought she would be kicked out of school and end up in an isolated convent. Now, all she wants is to be left alone. But slowly, she develops a bond with a group of girls: kind-hearted Maria, insolent Silvy, pathological liar Adelita, and their charismatic leader Rubia.

When, yet again, Paloma holds a séance in the hope of contacting her father, she awakens an entity that has been dormant for years. And then, the body count begins. Someone doesn’t want the secret out…

Are the ghost and Paloma’s suspicions real—or only part of her growing paranoia and delusions?

Add to Goodreads.

Purchase Links: Amazon


Excerpt

Madre Estela remained standing by the door. “Get a bucket and fill it with water.”

Her hypercritical eyes sliced through my self-worth as I grabbed one of the metal buckets, lifted it into the sink, and turned on the faucet. I watched, transfixed, as the water gushed like a torrent spurting from an open artery. The cold spray raised goosebumps on my arms.

Madre Estela snapped her fingers. “Move.”

As I hauled the bucket to the door, some of the water slushed over the edge and splattered to the floor.

“Add the detergent,” she said stiffly, irritated by my clumsiness.

I chose a green bottle, twisted the cap, and poured. The acrid pine smell stung my nostrils.

“Get a sponge and a brush from there. Get going. We don’t have all evening—unless you want to work in the dark.”

I gritted my teeth, but pretended not to be bothered. I suspected that the one thing that this nun couldn’t stand was indifference.

Outside, it was almost dusk. In spite of the intense screeching of the coquíes, the drum of the waterfall hit my ears. It was louder now than the last time I’d been here. How was that possible?

I felt a drop of rain. Great.

Madre Estela put one hand out, palm up. “My, my. What’s this?” She looked chagrined, and I suddenly realized why. If it rained, I would have to go inside, ruining her plans. “What are you standing there for? Start scrubbing.”

I was tempted to throw the bucket of greenish water at her face. Instead, I prayed for rain as I walked across the rose garden. Once at the gate, I glanced back at her.

“You’ll work until I come for you, understood?” she said, hands on hips in her usual stance. She pointed to one of the second-floor windows. “I’ll be watching from there.”

And that was it. She was gone.

For a moment I just stood there. If only my friends could see me now. They would never believe it.

I opened the gate and walked into the graveyard. The statue of Gabriel greeted me, its face fiercer in the dusk. The temperature must have been in the low seventies. I was glad I had my cardigan.

Suddenly, the garden lamp post lit up. I turned, startled. I wasn’t sure if it had automatically switched on or if someone, maybe Madre Estela, had done it from indoors. I glanced up at the second-floor window, expecting to find her face. I had the chilling sensation of being watched. There was nothing. The windows glowed with yellow light, a multitude of feral eyes keeping guard.

However, behind one of the ground-floor windows on the right, a figure appeared. Tall, blurred. Madre Superiora? I was sure that was her office. Yet, something about the shape of the head and the shoulders made me think of…Rubia. What was she doing in Madre Superiora’s office?

Just as abruptly as it’d appeared, the figure vanished from view.

The incident left me strangely unsettled.

Focus.

I splashed some of the water on one of the tombstones and got to work. The sound of hard bristles against stone blocked the hum of the waterfall. Almost.

Go away, damn it. 

As I crouched to work on a second tombstone, doing my best not to get wet in the process, something shifted at the edge of my vision. I jumped to my feet, my heart thudding. Gabriel. Its wings had rippled with movement.

Dear God…what’s happening to me?

I rubbed my forehead and grimaced, my fingers shaking.

I felt another drop of rain. If it was going to rain, why didn’t it? The sky was playing with me, too. Mocking me.

I cursed the clouds and started scrubbing again.

I had another sensation of being watched and this time, yes, it was Madre Estela behind the window. I pretended I hadn’t seen her and tried to keep focused on the task at hand.  The water had turned blackish with grime.

I don’t know how long I scrubbed. I lost track of time. But it was dark. My back and shoulders were sore and my hands stung from the harsh detergent.

Madre Estela was long gone from the window.

Half panting, I sat down on the edge of the tombstone and tossed the brush aside in disgust. I looked at the statue again, but it was motionless. I turned to the windows again, my eyes slowly moving from one to the other.

From one to the other.

Expecting to see the face. Wanting to see it.

Nothing.

Yet, that weird sensation of being watched, again.

My gaze shifted to the woods, to the exact place where the cemetery ended and the forest started. There was a path there. Narrow, obscured by the trees. For a long moment I sat, mesmerized. Then I stood up and began to approach it. The breeze picked up as I got closer, carrying with it the cool, slightly pungent smell of the waterfall.

I stopped at the very edge, the darkness enveloping me, the dampness seeping through my clothes.

The wind sighed, rustling the leaves and fluttering my hair.

Icy breath, on the back of my neck.

I’m in here… a voice whispered from the shadows.

I spun around in terror.

Then I hit something hard.


Author Bio
A certified bookworm and ailurophile, Zoe Kalo has always been obsessed with books and reading. Reading led to writing—compulsively. No surprise that at 16, she wrote her first novel, which her classmates read and passed around secretly. The pleasure of writing and sharing her fantasy worlds has stayed with her, so now she wants to pass her stories to you with no secrecy—but with lots of mystery. She lives amongst cats and books in Belgium, and is the author of the Cult of the Cat young adult fantasy series and the Retribution novella series for adults.

Sign up for her newsletter at www.ZoeKalo.com and get her exclusive short story “Irkalla.”

Author Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads


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Filed under Blog Tour, Contest, Excerpt