Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Big Bad Cowboy by Carly Bloom

Title: Big Bad Cowboy
Author: Carly Bloom
My Rating: A

Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Series: Once Upon a Time in Texas #1
Main Characters: Travis and Maggie
Release Date: October 2018
Publisher: Forever
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
In the New York Times tradition of Lori Wilde and Carolyn Brown comes the first book in a new western romance series from Forever debut author Carly Bloom about a no-strings cowboy fling with a fairy tale twist.

Who's afraid of the big, bad cowboy? 

After one too many heartbreaks, Travis Blake hung up his cowboy hat and put Big Verde, Texas, behind him. But when he gets the call that his young nephew needs him, he knows he has to return home. His plan is to sell the family ranch and hightail it back to Austin, but there's a small problem: the one person who stands in his way is the one person he can't resist.

Maggie is pretty sure she hates Travis Blake. He's irritating, he's destroying her business, and . . . and he's just so frickin' attractive. But when they're forced to work together, Maggie discovers that the Most Annoying Man in the World is more than he seems. He's sweet with his nephew, he helps out in the community, and he makes her heart flutter. Maggie doesn't want to risk everything on a man who wants to leave, but what if she can convince this wayward cowboy to stay?

My Review:
Ooh, this book was good. I never know when I go into reading a book from a new to me author about how big of a gamble I'm taking, but this one was a HUGE, happy surprise, because I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of reading this book. It was entertaining and engrossing and I absolutely fell in love with both Travis and Maggie.

Maggie is a landscape architect. Travis has just come home to the small town where he grew up with his niece in tow. He just got out of the military and is simply trying to find his footing. The first step in that is getting his lawn business up and running. Unfortunately, that puts him in direct competition with his neighbor, Maggie. 

There was a lot happening in this story. The original masquerade ball where Travis was the Big Bad Wolf and Maggie was Little Red Riding Hood. For most of the book, she has no idea that wolf was Travis. It made for a great build-up. But there's also the conflict between them over their businesses and joint job and the cows from Travis' ranch that keep wandering onto Maggie's land. There was a ton of action and plenty of buzzing HOT chemistry. 

Overall, it was purely a fun and entertaining read. I'm so excited to read more from this author. Bring on Claire's story!

I received a copy of this book as a gift from the publisher with no obligation to review. The choice to review the book was my own

Be With Me by Jules Bennett

Title: Be With Me
Author: Jules Bennett
My Rating: B+

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Return to Haven #2
Main Characters: Tanner and Melanie
Release Date: October 2018
Publisher: Random House
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: spicy

Story Overview:
Three best friends are starting over in the cozy town of Haven, Georgia, where revamping the local airport brings dreams of love and family within reach . . .
Since moving to Haven to help out her closest friends, Melanie Ramsey has begun to reclaim her strength after a difficult divorce. Through Mel’s Motivational Blog, she’s inspiring other women too. Then a wild, one-night fling with Haven’s gorgeous deputy leaves her shaken, stirred—and pregnant.  But Melanie’s not giving up her newfound independence for another powerful man. Not even one as upstanding and intriguing as 
Tanner Roark . . .
What matters most to Tanner: defending the weak, seeking justice, and protecting his heart after a tragic loss. Random hookups have been working out just fine until he and Melanie collide. Despite her domineering ex’s best efforts to rattle her, she’s still kind and resilient. Not to mention witty, straight-talking, and sexy as hell. Chemistry is easy. Trust, not so much. But when you find the one who sends your heart soaring, what can you do except buckle up and hold on tight? . . .

My Review:
Overall, I really LOVED this book. Before the book starts, Tanner and Mel had a one-night stand. The book starts when the repercussions of that night make themselves known...that's right, a positive line on a tiny, little stick. The thing is Tanner is a confirmed bachelor and Mel is coming off a horrific divorce. She has NO DESIRE for anything lasting...like a baby, but surprises happen.

Tanner is such a good guy (despite his reputation) and as his backstory comes out, it's heartbreaking. But he proves over and over that he's simply one of the good guys. He's there for Mel in every single way. He's supportive and realizes that she's been through a lot, so is willing to give her the space that she needs. He just hopes in the end that she chooses him. 

I really liked it. I liked the relationships between the six friends (and am seriously intrigued by Cash and Jade...they're going to have a great story). I like the premise of the airport. I need to go back and read book #1 to fully understand how all that came to be, but the glimpses I saw of that story in this of that book definitely intrigued me. (But don't worry, even though this is book #2, you can easily read it and not miss the first. I never had a moment of confusion.)

But I truly think my favorite thing about the book were the tiny tidbits at the beginning of each chapter from Mel's inspirational blog. I love that she turned her life around by focusing on positivity and inspiring others. THAT'S inspirational. I loved it.

Note: this book would have been a 5-star read for me, but in the end there was a moment that the heroine had a serious too-stupid-to-live moment. I get the need for a climatic, black moment, but I think it could have been done in a better way so that Mel didn't look like an inane imbecile when she made a single, really rotten decision that made zero sense with her history. She's so strong and smart throughout the entire book...I just wanted her to stay that way. But overall, the rest of the book did make up for that bad moment.

I liked the book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest and voluntary review.

The Memory of You by Jamie Beck

Title: The Memory of You
Author: Jamie Beck
My Rating: A

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Sanctuary Sound #1
Main Characters: Stefanie and Ryan
Release Date: October 2018
Publisher: Montlake
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
Stefanie Lockwood can repair anything, except her heart—that’s still recovering.
After a brutal assault leaves Steffi with puzzling memory lapses, she returns to her coastal Connecticut hometown to rebuild her life the best way she knows how: with her hands. But starting a remodeling business with one longtime friend puts her in the middle of a rift with another. Worse, being hired by her ex-boyfriend’s mother forces her to confront old regrets.
Public defender Ryan Quinn wasn’t shocked when his wife left him, but he was floored when she abandoned their daughter. With his finances up in the air, the newly single dad returns to his childhood home in Sanctuary Sound. The last person he expects, or wants, to see working on his family house is Steffi Lockwood—his first love who shattered his heart.
Although Steffi and Ryan are different people now, dormant feelings rekindle. But when Ryan’s concern for Steffi’s mental health prompts him to dig into her past for answers, will what he learns bring them together or tear them apart for good?
My Review:
Ryan has had to face up to the fact that he couldn't be everything he needed to be for his wife, but the person to blame for that is Steffi, his first love who broke his heart and shattered his trust. He will never be able to trust her again. Right now, he can't even think about forgiving her so that they can even be in the same room and not fight. 

Flat out, Steffi got scared when they were younger, but then she was devastated when not only did Ryan let her go, but almost immediately fell in love with someone else. Steffi knows she did him wrong, but she just wants to move past that and maybe become something close to friends. She never expects anything more. 

I really liked the setup of this story, although I have to admit, I was really confused at first trying to understand how Steffi's injury might tie into her friend, Claire's. Because they made a big deal over the fact that Steffi has suffered from several concussions, I had it in my head that maybe she'd been part of the attack that happened to her friend Claire in high school and that was what she was repressing. It was really confusing...at first and it would have made much more sense to make that a bit clearer. Eventually, what happened to Steffi eventually came out.

I also really liked the aspect of Steffi's new job being an all around contractor and handyman. It was interesting to see a heroine in that kind of job. I liked it...a lot. 

Overall the book was just really good. I love second chance at love stories and there was a lot of buried emotion still left over between Steffi and Ryan. That makes for such a great, emotional read. It left me a very satisfied reader. 

I liked it and definitely recommend it. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest and voluntary review.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Title: The Proposal
Author: Jasmine Guillory
My Rating: B+

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Main Characters: Nik and Carlos
Release Date: September 2018
Publisher: Berkley Books
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: spicy

Story Overview:
The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn't turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own...

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn't come as a surprise--or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn't the hard part--they've only been dating for five months, and he can't even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans...

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik's rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He's even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik's social media blows up--in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can't be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes...

My Review:
I haven't read The Wedding and although I could see hints of that book's story in this one (this is a followup, although they are not sold as a series), I didn't feel like I was missing out at all. I feel like this one stands up on its own.

Overall, this was a pretty enjoyable read. It's a steady flowing story with a really cute setup with Nik's horrific proposal during a Dodger's game on national TV. She never saw it coming. In her mind, she and her boyfriend just had a fun, easy relationship...nothing deeper. Certainly not marriage potential. But it's a very public break up and scene and Carlos is sitting a couple of rows behind her to witness it all. So, he also sees it when things are about to get out of control and swoops in to save her. 

They develop an instant friendship that had a whole lot of underlying chemistry. But Nik just had a very public, very nasty breakup, and Carlos is dealing with all kinds of issues with his family. Neither one is anywhere close to ready for a relationship. But what's the harm with exploring chemistry with no strings if they both agree to it?

Like I said, this was a cute story and I enjoyed reading it. I LOVED all the representation in the story. The characters run the spectrum and that made for a great read. It was entertaining and fun. I liked it and would definitely read this author again.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest and voluntary review.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Art of Hero Worship by Mia Kerick

Title: The Art of Hero Worship
Author: Mia Kerick
My Rating: A-

Genre: Contemporary Romance (m/m)
Main Characters: Liam and Jase
Release Date: October 2018
Publisher: NineStar Press
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
College junior Liam Norcross is a hero. He willingly, even eagerly, risks his life to save a stranger as a murderous, deranged shooter moves methodically through the darkened theater on the Batcheldor College campus, randomly killing innocent men, women, and children.

The stranger he saves is college freshman Jason Tripp. Jase loses everything in the shooting: his girlfriend, who dies on the floor beside him, and his grip on emotional security. He struggles to regain a sense of safety in the world, finally leaving college to seek refuge in his hometown.

An inexplicable bond forms between the two men in the chaos and horror of the theater, and Liam fights to bring Jase back to the world he ran away from. When Jase returns to school, they’re drawn together as soulmates, and soon Liam and Jase fall into a turbulent romantic relationship. However, the rocky path to love cannot be smoothed until Jase rescues his hero in return by delving into his shady past and solving the mystery of Liam’s compulsion to be everybody’s savior.
My Review:
Question...Can an extremely traumatic situation create a situation where someone can develop feelings for someone who they otherwise wouldn't even notice? I think...YES. And that's why this book worked for me on so many levels. 

Liam and Jase went through the most horrific event a person can imagine...a mass shooting where they were lucky to make it out alive and then were hunted down by the killer. They were both heavily traumatized and turned to one another for consolation. No one else in their lives understood and that brought them to an intimacy that they otherwise probably wouldn't have ever experienced, especially since before this event, they both identified as straight.

Yes, this is a gay for you, but for me, it was an extremely believable gfy just because of the events that led them to this place. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. There was a TON of action and suspense and the book grabbed me from the very first sentence and didn't let go. I loved these two guys and how Liam especially accepted what's happening between them. 

I liked it and definitely recommend it. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest and voluntary review.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Trust with a Chaser by Annabeth Alberts (audiobook)

Title:  Trust with a Chaser
Author: Annabeth Albert
My Rating: A-
Narrator: Marc Bachmann and Iggy Toma

Genre: Contemporary Romance (m/m)
Series: Rainbow Cove #1
Main Characters: Mason and Nash
Release Date: February 2018 (audiobook)
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
One hot cop. One bar owner out for redemption. One smoking-hot summer fling destined to leave scorch marks…

Mason Hanks has returned to Rainbow Cove, Oregon with one goal in mind: turn the struggling coastal community into a thriving LGBTQ tourism destination. Step one is transforming an old bar and grill into a gay-friendly eatery. Step two? Don’t piss off Nash Flint, the very hot, very stern chief of police who’s not so sure he’s on board with Mason’s big plans. 

Nash Flint just wants to keep his community safe and enjoy the occasional burger in peace. He’s not big on change nor is he a fan of Mason’s troublemaking family, especially his rowdy older brothers. But Mason slowly wins him over with fantastic cooking and the sort of friendship Nash has been starving for.

When their unlikely friendship takes a turn for the sexy, both men try to steer clear of trouble. Nash believes he’s too set in his ways for Mason, and Mason worries that his family’s reputation will ruin any future with Nash. Burning up the sheets in secret is a surefire way to crash and burn, and discovery forces a heart-wrenching decision—is love worth the risk of losing everything?

Trust with a Chaser is a 75,000 word stand-alone gay romance with a May/December theme, a hot law-enforcement hero, opposites attract, plenty of sexy times, and one hard-fought, guaranteed happy ending with no cliffhangers.

Listening Length: 8 hours and 30 minutes
My Review:
Overall: 4.25
Performance: 4.0
Story: 4.25

I really enjoyed this book. I haven't heard much about this series, but was anxious to get started. Yay...it was a great choice. 

Nash is a deeply in the closet sheriff. He's grown up in Rainbow Cove where his dad was also the sheriff. As such, there have always been expectations for how he'll act...most especially...heterosexual. Nash doesn't think his life will survive ever coming out, so he plans to stay in the closet his entire life and get sex only on a very rare occasion. 

Mason also grew up in Rainbow Cove, but his reputation as part of the Hanks clan is VERY different from Nash's. His family is always skirting the edge of what is legal and everyone condemns him purely by his familial ties. But Mason isn't like the rest of his family. In fact, he's a really nice, law-abiding guy. He figures if he keeps acting that way eventually someone will believe him...most especially Sheriff Sexy who doesn't trust Mason one inch.

This is a slow build romance simply because Nash is so far in the closet and he doesn't know who Mason really is as a person. They slowly become friends and then things progress from there. 

And it's a sweet story. I really enjoyed it. It wasn't just the romance that drew me to the book, either. I liked the backstories and plots happening in the background of it all. Mason has his family drama, the difficulties of running a new restaurant, and convincing the locals that a gay bar isn't a bad thing for their small communities tourist trade. Nash is dealing with the difficulties of a mother who wants him to maintain the facade he's always had as well as dealing with Mason's trouble-making family and all the other demands of being the sheriff. 

It was simply a good book. So good that I immediately downloaded book #2 before I finished. I hope there's a lot more to come in Rainbow Cove.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Regret Me Not by Amy Lane

Title: Regret Me Not
Author: Amy Lane
My Rating: A-

Genre: Holiday Romance (m/m)
Main Characters: Hal and Pierce
Release Date: December 2018
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
Pierce Atwater used to think he was a knight in shining armor, but then his life fell to crap. Now he has no job, no wife, no life—and is so full of self-pity he can’t even be decent to the one family member he’s still speaking to. He heads for Florida, where he’s got a month to pull his head out of his ass before he ruins his little sister’s Christmas.

Harold Justice Lombard the Fifth is at his own crossroads—he can keep being Hal, massage therapist in training, flamboyant and irrepressible to the bones, or he can let his parents rule his life. Hal takes one look at Pierce and decides they’re fellow unicorns out to make the world a better place. Pierce can’t reject Hal’s overtures of friendship, in spite of his misgivings about being too old and too pissed off to make a good friend.

As they experience everything from existential Looney Tunes to eternal trips to Target, Pierce becomes more dependent on Hal’s optimism to get him through the day. When Hal starts getting him through the nights too, Pierce must look inside for the knight he used to be—before Christmas becomes a doomsday deadline of heartbreak instead of a celebration of love.
My Review:
What a sweet story. I really enjoyed this one. 

Pierce is in Florida taking a month at his friend's condo to recover from a horrific car accident. He's just in his mid-thirties, but his broken body is making him feel much older than he really is. While he's making an attempt at some water workouts, he meets Hal, an aspiring massage therapist who's also using the condos as an escape. 

Hal is twenty-three and is at a crossroads in his life. His parents are unhappy with his life choices and are on the verge of cutting him off. He's at the family condo so that he won't be an embarrassment to them over the holidays. Yeah, they're real gems. 

The story is so sweet just in that both these guys are missing so much in their lives that they don't even realize until they start to become friends. There is an eleven year difference in their ages and a lifetime of differences in their life experiences, but they truly are so really good together. I enjoyed watching their friendship evolve and slowly develop into more. 

I really liked this one and definitely recommend it for a fun, quick, holiday read.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

It's release day for CRAZY LOVE by Sarah Nego and Christi Snow

It's time for some Bookstore Love...

In the next month, Sarah Nego and I are releasing the Bookstore Love duology. These two standalone series books take place in the bookstore, Em-Dash. The heroine for book #1, Crazy Love, is Kali, the owner of the bookstore. The heroine of book #2, Tasty Love, is Val the owner of the bakery in the back of the bookstore.

It's no secret that bookstores have a special place in my heart, but WOW...I adore these two books so much.

They feature two of my favorite tropes...Crazy Love is a enemies to lovers story, while Tasty Love is a second chance at love story. I hope you all love them as much as I do!

She has secrets that need to stay hidden. He’s digging into her life and her heart. Now they have to work together to organize the Aspenridge masquerade ball. It’s going to be a disaster.

When Kaliope Winters opened Em-Dash, the local bookstore, she did it because of a pure love of books...and the need to stay under the radar. But the vlog hottie stealing her wifi keeps making her blow her cool, which isn’t good, because she doesn’t need to draw his attention. He’s too gorgeous, too charming, and way too nosy.

When Tennyson Helms started his YouTube channel, he planned it to be temporary, not his forever career. Now Ten is trying to prove he’s got the chops to make it as an investigative journalist and thinks Kali will be his next big story. She’s acting way too suspicious. Unfortunately, he can’t decide if he wants to investigate her or kiss her.

Enemies-to-lovers takes a whole new meaning when the masks are dropped...
The Bookstore Love duology...
  1. Crazy Love
  2. Tasty Love (coming November, 2018)
Buy Now...HERE!


Chapter One

I settled into the deep-red velvet club chair with a relieved sigh. Quiet . . . finally. The tension in my shoulders released. I’d been carrying that since I’d stormed out of my house.
Closing my eyes, I inhaled the distinctive scent of books, paper, and words. This right here was a perfect moment. If only she would walk through. I eyed the closed door to her office.
She hated me, but since discovering her, I’d realized I had a masochistic side.
I liked pissing her off.
When her eyes began to flash, my blood started to flow to all the right places.
I should be thanking my clueless roommate, who had driven me here, instead of cursing him.
If I had to go hide out some place in Aspenridge, there were a lot worse places than this tiny corner in Em-Dash, the local bookstore. Here in this corner, under the gilt wood sign identifying this part of the store as Platform 9¾, I’d found my escape, my secret place to work, my place to create, my place to fantasize about the sexy owner who’d otherwise never give me the time of day. Although she liked to give me a hard time.
She never failed to let me know how much I annoyed her, but if annoying her was what it took to get her to lay those beautiful eyes on me, then I was just the guy for the job. I could be obnoxious with the best of them. It was my secret superpower that had kept me labeled as the class clown instead of the nerdy dweeb who got beat up and stuffed into a locker. And for the last few years, I’d managed to make that pay off because it had brought me my YouTube following.
So, yeah. I was basically dipping the tips of her pigtails in ink to get the girl to notice me, but if it worked . . . I shrugged. I could be okay with looking the role of the fool.
Luckily for me, the store was almost always deserted, although that didn’t bode well for the long-term security of my newly claimed workspace.
How did this store stay open and stocked? They always had the newest titles on the shelves but few, if any, customers. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the owner had to be channeling some of the Harry-Potter witchcraft that she was so obsessed with to produce profit. But since that wasn’t the way the real world worked, there had to be something else at play.
The entire store was decorated with the HP theme . . . lots of black-stained wood, gilt letters, and the distinctive touches that signified the various houses from the popular series. It should have seemed childish, but instead it came across as elegant and even kind of cozy.
It was the perfect place for me to escape and write. I opened up my iPad to a new doc and began typing.
Ten with Tennyson – Episode 87
Top Ten Reasons to Live Alone
(Intro sequence)
Beginning: Hello, my minions. Today we’re going to talk about something almost every person out there has to deal with at some point in time. Roommates. The scourge of adulting everywhere. If you are one of those who has never had to deal with this life-blow, consider yourself a lucky bastard—and note (side-eye the camera)—I hate you even while I wish I was you.

Unfortunately, roommates are a fact of most of our lives. But you don’t have to live in this hell-on-Earth forever. Today I’m here to share with you why it’s so important that you rectify this heinous situation as quickly as humanly possible. In other words, find yourself a sugar-daddy/momma, or make sure you’re setting yourself up in a job that makes more than minimum wage.

Reason Number One.
If you don’t come up with another circumstance, you could be condemning yourself to twenty years to life living with a roommate, although this one will call you his bitch. Roommates tempt a person to murder, and that’s never a good solution. Prison means a roommate for life. (Shudder)

Reason Number Two.
Every guy out there likes porn. Admit it guys, you may tell your girl or guy otherwise, but we all know it’s the truth. But it’s just plain creepy when it’s live-action inside your house. Getting horny from your roommate's girl’s orgasmic noises is guaranteed to make breakfast awkward. Trust me on this. (Grimace with distaste)

I shifted uncomfortably as that particular memory reared its head.
Aiden, my roommate, wasn’t that bad. In fact, I really liked him. That was why I still lived with him. There were just times when he got on my nerves, like when he was having loud, awkward sex on our couch when I walked in the front door. It was better to vent my frustrations through making fun of the situation on my show than confronting him and causing a big fight.
Overall, I liked to keep the peace, be the nice guy. Here in her bookstore was the only place where I let my other side out to play, the one who wanted to push her buttons, actually encourage a fight.
Where was the little diva/vixen?
I glanced around the empty bookstore, and the cover of a book on rock climbing caught my eye. What would it be like to be doing that as a career rather than making my life as a YouTube vlogger? Hell, I could get one of those GoPro cameras and do vlogs about my adventures on the edge of a rock face. That had to be more exciting than my current job of making up inane top-ten lists.
Maybe if I broke that story on . . .
“Hey, Ten.”
I looked up into Val’s open, smiling expression. The baker at Em-Dash had girl-next-door good looks with red hair; a bronzed Latina, porcelain-smooth complexion; and dark eyes.
Unlike the owner of the store, who haunted my every dream, Val was actually the nice one in the duo. It would be so much easier if I could crush on her. Hell, Val would probably say yes to a date. If I dared to ask Kali, the odds were good that I’d lose some fingers.
But it wasn’t Val’s open smile that caught my attention. No, my attention focused on the delectable aroma coming from the muffin she held on a plate in her hands. Immediately my mouth watered.
“Tell me that’s for me?” I was already reaching for it, not even waiting for her answer.
She laughed. “Yes. I need you to be my guinea pig. I made this new raspberry cheesecake mocha chip muffin for the girls in the book club, but I’m not sure it works. Will you taste test it?”
I had it shoved halfway into my mouth before her words computed. “Book club? Today?” I asked the question around the delicious muffin melting in my mouth. I moaned at the burst of sugary goodness. “Oh, my god, this is so good.”
My heart rate leapt. The one black blight—albeit a gorgeous one—on my utopian existence in this small corner of the bookstore stalked out of the back room, shooting daggers at the innocent baker.
I rose, ready to step in front of Val to protect her from the wrath of Kaliope DeWinters—chaos in every sense of the word and the owner of Em-Dash.
Her mother had named her correctly as the Queen of Chaos. Kali was dark to Val’s light, wrath to Val’s open smiles, a goddess of vengeance circling the edges of the room, ready to smite any unwanted visitor to her store.
God, she was sexy as hell.
She glared at me even while she lectured Val. “If you feed the wildlife, they come back. I’ve warned you about that.”
Yeah, she didn’t like me much. Her silvery eyes flashed when she was in a temper, and I liked getting under her skin, especially when the result made her even more beautiful. I definitely had a masochistic streak.
She presented herself to the whole of Aspenridge as a normal, respectable shop owner, but I’d seen glimpses of other that made my investigative brain stand up and take notice.
Under her cardigan sweaters, I’d seen little peeks of tattoos.
Even her bookstore, decorated in the benign Harry-Potter theme, gave me a sense that there was much more to Kali DeWinters than she wanted the world to know. It was like the Harry-Potter front was there to divert attention from the reality that she was so much more Slytherin than Hufflepuff.
I, for one, wanted to dig, find out all her secrets, find out what she hid under her layers of respectability and clothing. I was pretty positive that she had a serious wild-child underneath. That intrigued me.
“Oh, come on, Kali.” Val shook her head at her business partner. “Ten doesn’t hurt anything. If you keep driving off our customers, especially the good-looking ones . . .” She waved a hand toward me.
My face heated red. Val thought I was good looking? I studied Kali closer. Did she think so, too? But I couldn’t read anything like that from Kali. My stomach sank a little bit. She just continued to look annoyed . . . at me.
“The girls from the book club are going to start hanging out over at Outdoor Highs for their fireman fix,” Val continued.
Outdoor Highs was the clothing store on the other side of the street that catered to backpackers. The unfortunate result of its clientele, who were usually in the mountains without access to a shower, meant that it smelled much more like body odor and feet than the cinnamon and vanilla that wafted throughout Em-Dash. The women in town tended to avoid it.
I stopped their discussion. “Wait a minute. Book club is today? I thought that was on Thursdays.” And it was Monday. I sure as hell didn’t want to be subjected to the embarrassing comments from the book-club horde. Nothing made a guy feel more like he didn’t measure up than to hear a group of women drooling over the number of abs the local firefighters had on them. I tried to stay fit, but . . . damn.
In every other city in America, book club meant getting together to discuss the merits of one author’s style of writing over another, or hypothesizing about the symbolism the author meant to include in the text. Those were the kinds of book clubs I always imagined my mom attending with her lady friends.
This was not the case in Aspenridge. No, here, book club was a reason for the women of the village to gather and ogle the fire station studs as they washed their fire trucks. The meetings were legendary, and almost every guy in town resented—or hell, if we wanted to be really honest, envied—the guys they focused on for that lust. Although I’d heard rumblings from the married set that evenings on book-club days were the highlight of their week.
Information to be filed under facts you never wanted to know about your neighbors.
Val raised a mischievous, gleeful eyebrow. “Hawke found some rust on one of the new trucks, so now the boys have to wash twice a week.” She let out a lusty sigh. “I do love rust.” She cleared her throat and tried to fake an innocent expression. “And books. It’s always about the books.”
I snorted. “Yeah, you can keep lying to yourself all you want, but the fact is this entire town knows what book club is really about.” I was talking to Val, but I focused on Kali, letting the challenge show in my expression.
She narrowed her eyes at me and rested her hands on her hips, which pulled her sweater just enough that I got a tiny glimpse of black ink at her neckline.
My mouth went dry. I wanted to see more so bad I almost ached. I wanted to strip her clothes from her body. My dick began to thicken, and then she opened her mouth.
“Since you know all about it, you can leave.” She nodded her head toward the front of the store. “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.” She turned on her heel and marched back to the rear of the store.
She really didn’t like me much. To be honest, she really wasn’t very nice. She’d never win a Miss Congeniality title, but for some reason, that worked for me. God, I was an idiot, but an idiot who would jump at the chance to earn one of her rare smiles, learn what makes her tick, and get into her pants.
She was sexier than sin, and I wanted to sin. With her. And that was why I couldn’t stay away from her bookstore, no matter how much she insulted me.