Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Unexpected Gift Excerpt - Countdown to Christmas Pets and Kisses

Unexpected Gift - Chantel Rhondeau
Aspiring decorator Cali Johnson moves to New York City—lonely, afraid, and far from home during the holidays. When she finds a lost cat in her apartment building, she strikes up an odd friendship with his reclusive owner, Marcus Ritz. If only she knew what he was hiding.
Excerpt

Cali Johnson covered her nose, trying to block the putrid smell of rotting garbage and body odor as she navigated the dirty linoleum flooring in the hallway of her apartment building. Four more doors and she’d reach her tiny place. Knowing she had a safe haven of cleanliness and cheer at the end of the hall was the only thing that kept her walking through it.
She couldn’t believe the way her neighbors treated their home. In her small hometown of Idaho City, no one would ever think about leaving rotting trash in another person’s way. Her new fifth story apartment off Bedford Park in the Bronx was an entirely different matter. Cali usually tried to see the good in everyone, but her new neighbors left a lot to be desired. She wondered how many of them were drug dealers or killers.
“But I’m living my dream,” she muttered under her breath, gagging when she walked by a bag at the apartment next to hers with something stinky inside.
The doorway across from her apartment opened and a tall, muscular man stepped out. His well-built arms made Cali gulp with fear and the scowl on his face didn’t invite friendly conversation.
She gripped the pepper spray canister attached to her key ring as she walked toward him, knowing she had to be ready if he came after her. She’d already learned that lesson on the subway last week. A thug overtook her while she rested and stole her purse, which would cause her aggravation for some time to come. People were different in New York than they were back home.
Just as the man was about to pass, a low hissing sound traveled through the hallway, making Cali jump and fumble her key chain protection to the floor.
“Again?” the man roared and pounded his fist against the wall with a short jab. “I’m sick of this crap!”
Cali pressed herself flat against the opposite hallway wall, not daring to bend over for her keys and be more vulnerable to the stranger. She turned her head briefly toward the hissing, noting a large ginger and white cat emerging from a garbage bag. The cat was a minor threat, however, and Cali fixed her attention on her neighbor.
“Don’t worry, miss,” the man said. “He probably won’t hurt you. It’s me he wants a piece of. I hate that cat.”
Swallowing quickly, Cali struggled to moisten her tight throat so she could speak. It seemed the man had misunderstood her fear. He must not be planning to attack if he assumed her fear wasn’t directed toward his scowling face and bulging biceps. “I thought cats weren’t allowed in this building,” she managed to say. “You’ve seen him before?”
The man rolled his eyes, clearly frustrated. “Yeah. That’s Jasper. He’s a service animal for the weirdo who lives in the apartment above yours.” He stuck his hand out. “I’m Clint, by the way. Been meaning to introduce myself since you moved in last week, but I work nights so it’s tough to sync up schedules with daytime folks.”
As he gave her a reassuring grin, Cali’s fear began to melt away. This was the first person in the building to offer her their name or a friendly word. Cali didn’t know anyone in this city and was awfully lonesome. Maybe Clint wasn’t so bad. She shook his hand. “I’m Cali. Just moved here to work as an assistant for an interior decorator down in Manhattan.”
Jasper stopped hissing and walked toward Cali and Clint. Even though the cat’s eyes stayed trained on Clint, he came up to Cali and rubbed against her leg in a friendly enough fashion.
“Of course he would like you,” Clint grumped. “Damn thing bit me last time he got out and I tried to take him home. No one can control him, but the woman who lived in your apartment before you managed to handle him.” He glared down at the cat. “You’re pure evil, Jasper.”
“Do you have a number for his owner?” Cali asked. “We really should get him home.” She wrinkled her nose, thinking about what Jasper might be rubbing against her work slacks. “He’s going to need a bath after digging through that garbage bag.”
“If our neighbors gave a sh—” He paused. “Sorry, Cali, I meant a crap. If they gave a crap about where we lived, Jasper wouldn’t have rotting garbage to dig through.”
She nodded her agreement. “It’s definitely a lot different than where I come from. Unfortunately, The Bronx is the only place in New York City I can afford. At least the subway ride down to my job in Manhattan isn’t too bad.” If she didn’t include getting robbed last week, of course.
“Yeah, it’s cheap but we’re basically living in the slums. Our slumlord doesn’t give a crap about this place. I’ve never seen the owner show his face around here, of course. All he cares about is our money. I used to try and clean up, but it’s pointless.”
She couldn’t worry about that. The hallway wasn’t her problem. Then again, she had a furry, orange problem still rubbing her leg. “So, about the cat’s owner...?”
“I don’t know his number, but he lives upstairs right above you. Apartment seven.” Clint narrowed his eyes. “Be careful around him. I wasn’t kidding when I called him a weirdo.”
Gulping, Cali twisted her hands together. “What do you mean? Is he dangerous?” Maybe she’d just mind her own business and let Jasper roam the halls until his owner came to find him.
“Not dangerous,” Clint reassured her. “But definitely not normal. Don’t expect to see him. He never comes out of his apartment.”
“Then how can I give him the cat?”
Clint’s black bushy eyebrows scrunched down and then he shrugged. “There used to be a cat carrier up there to put him in. This little jerk gets out at least a few times a month. I wish he’d get some bad garbage and we could get rid of him for good.”
Cali widened her eyes in shock. Maybe Clint wasn’t the good guy she thought. Who could wish death on a poor cat?
She glanced down, finding that Jasper had sat next to her foot with his tail curled around the back of her high-heeled shoe. He purred loudly, licking whatever he’d gotten into off his paw.
“I’ll take him home,” Cali decided. His owner had to be a good person if he liked animals. Weird was a relatively broad term in this strange town as far as Cali was concerned. The owner couldn’t be any worse than some of the people she’d already come across. “It was nice to meet you, Clint. I’m glad to know someone in the building finally.” After all, it wouldn’t do her any good to be rude to him, even if he wasn’t as kind as she’d hoped.
Clint bent down, snagging her keys off the ground. Jasper hissed again and took a swipe at his face, but Clint was too fast. He handed them to her. “Probably won’t see much of me, due to the opposite schedules, but if you ever need anything, let me know. Pretty, young girl like you living all alone in a place like this?” He shook his head, expressing his disapproval. “Don’t let any of the weirdos bug you, okay? I’m gone from ten at night until ten in the morning, but I’m normally here sleeping other than that. Holler if you need me.”
As Cali accepted her keys, she realized her over-simple method of judging good and bad might not work for her in such a diverse area of people. Clint might not be a saint, but he wasn’t all bad. “That’s very nice of you. Thank you so much.”
Grinning, Clint took off down the hallway, continuing to wherever he’d planned to go before running into her.
Cali looked down at the cat and sighed. Speaking of weirdos in the building, she needed to go meet one now. “Come on, Jasper. Let’s take you home.”
She bent down, holding her hand out for the cat to sniff. After he’d thoroughly inspected her hand and began purring again, she lifted him from the floor and cradled him to her chest.
The rotting smell became stronger with the cat so close to her nose, and Cali hoped she didn’t have many problems returning him to his owner. She definitely needed a shower.
***
Stepping onto the top floor of the apartment building was like walking into a different world. The walls and linoleum flooring were spotless and not a single garbage bag graced the hallway. A crisp, clean scent of pine pervaded the area.
Cali scratched behind Jasper’s ears. “Why would you ever run away from this place to dig through trash?”
Jasper only purred louder in response. For Clint’s claims of the cat being such a vicious beast, Jasper hadn’t offered to bite her once on the way up the stairwell. He continued to be docile and sweet while they moved toward his home. If only he didn’t stink so badly, Cali might enjoy holding him.
She’d never been allowed to have a cat growing up, though she’d spent a lot of time trying to make friends with the feral cats that lived on nearby farms. She’d always wanted one, and Jasper was just the loving sort of furry friend she wished to have. She wondered what type of weirdo a person had to be in order to get a cat as a service animal. She’d love to have one if she qualified—after all, no one could really claim to be ‘normal.’
With growing trepidation, she reached apartment number seven. There wasn’t a cat carrier by the door, so Cali hoped Clint had exaggerated when he said the person living inside never came out.
“Here goes nothing, Jasper.” Cali raised her hand and knocked, holding her breath as she waited for a response.
After several moments, her heart continued to hammer away with nerves but no one came to the door. She knocked again, longer and harder.
“Go away!” yelled a deep voice from inside.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” Cali yelled near the crack in the door. “I have Jasper. He was digging through garbage downstairs.”
“So put him inside the door and leave.”
The man definitely wasn’t friendly, but it seemed Cali could at least drop the cat off.
She tried the knob and it turned easily in her hand. A small part of her worried whether the man would be on the other side, ready to jump her and steal her new purse, but Clint said he wasn’t dangerous, just weird.
What awaited her on the other side of the door was a surprise. It was a small room with another closed door. Logically, she’d expected the apartment to be set up like hers. She never figured someone would have a pointless room inside their entryway.
More nervous than before, she walked into the room and tried the knob on the second door. That knob didn’t turn in her grasp. “Sir? The door is locked.”
“Set Jasper down out there and shut him in. I’ll get him after you leave.”
Something was certainly different about this situation, but at least Jasper could get home. Then again, Cali worried about the man living here. Clint said he never came out of his house. Why would that be? She knew how lonely she was living in this city and not knowing anyone. Purposely avoiding everyone was the strangest thing Cali had ever heard. This man definitely needed Jasper, just so he had some companionship and wasn’t completely alone. How sad that seemed.
“Look, sir, I’m new here,” she said through the door. “My name is Cali Johnson and I live in the apartment right below you.” She hesitated, wondering if that was too much information to give to a stranger. She wasn’t used to watching what she said or worrying about stranger danger. Strangers were an unusual occurrence in her small hometown except when tourists came through, and Cali never worried much about them.
Deciding she wanted to help this man even if he was a stranger, she forged on. “How about I give you my phone number in case Jasper gets out again? I’ll keep an eye on him for you. My neighbor said he gets out a few times a month, and he seems to have a problem with Jasper. I’d hate for you to lose your cat because no one brings him home.”
A loud snort came from the other side of the doorway. “Why would you do that? You don’t even know me.”
“Isn’t that what people do?” she asked, sincerely shocked. “It’s the holidays. Christmas is just around the corner. Isn’t this a time to be kind to other people?”
“Great,” the man said. “One of those bleeding heart types. You all want to help others until it’s an inconvenience to you and you stop helping.”
He certainly wasn’t grateful, but Cali reminded herself that she shouldn’t do nice things in the hopes of getting recognition for it. Being kind was reward enough.
Awkwardly, because of Jasper’s heavy weight in her arm, Cali sifted through her new purse and found a receipt from lunch. Not daring to shut herself inside the small room in case the door didn’t open back up and the ‘weirdo’ trapped her, she couldn’t put Jasper down. Carefully, she managed to write out a shaky message with her name and phone number. “I hope someone would help me if I were in the same situation, sir. I’m leaving my phone number. Call if you need anything at all. I just moved to the city and don’t know many people, so I’m home a lot besides going to work. Jasper seems like a good boy. I’ll keep an eye out for him.”
“If I could keep the damn cat inside the house, it wouldn’t be a problem. He’s tricky. Always sneaking out when the groceries get delivered. He hides in that room until the door gets opened again.”
Even his groceries were delivered? The man must have quite a bit of money, despite living in a rough neighborhood and a rundown building. It explained why the hallway up here smelled good and was free from trash. He must pay to have it cleaned so his delivery people wouldn’t have issues making it to his door. Not that money mattered if he were trapped inside his home.
“I’ll help out,” Cali promised. “Jasper seems like a good boy. Oh, I didn’t catch your name.”
“I didn’t throw it,” the growly voice replied.
She sighed. “Well then, have a good evening, sir. I’ll leave Jasper and go now.”
Setting the slip of paper with her phone number on the ground, Cali stroked Jasper’s chin and kissed his head despite the smell. “Be good, boy.”
Carefully she backed from the room, set Jasper on the floor, and shut the door.

About the Author
Bestselling author Chantel Rhondeau once thought a great mystery or fantasy book with strong romantic themes was the highest level of reading bliss. After reading her first romantic suspense novel, she never looked back. Chantel is author of six romantic suspense novels, a Christmas novella, and the new McCallister’s Paradise series with many more in the works. She lives in the western United States, and when she's not writing she loves playing cards with her family, bowling on leagues, and snuggling with her lazy kitties.
Unexpected Gift is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Unexpected Gift by Chantel Rhondeau
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c

Monday, August 31, 2015

Countdown to Christmas Pets and Kisses! Excerpt!

Minty's Kiss - P. C. Zick
When newly divorced Molly retreats to a family cabin with Gracie, her ten-year-old daughter, she's surprised to find her childhood crush, Nick, still living in the area. Can a small kitty named Minty help Gracie accept the love developing between Nick and Molly in time for her first Christmas in the mountains of North Carolina?
Excerpt

Prologue

The bundle of black fur became Molly’s trusted companion the year she turned ten. It was her consolation prize for being the child of two people who hated one another so much they ended their marriage right before Christmas. Molly’s father brought the kitty over on Christmas Eve, and left it in a box with holes in the top under the Christmas tree. When Molly and her mother returned from midnight Mass, she heard squeaks coming from a box laden with a large red ribbon, sitting beneath the tree.
“A kitty!” she screamed when she tore open the top. She pulled the furry creature out of the box. The squeaking stopped only to be replaced by a loud purr.
“That purr is bigger than it is,” her mother said as she knelt down on the carpet next to Molly. “Your father finally got one thing right this Christmas.”
Molly ignored her mother as she buried her nose in his fur. “We need food, Mommy. Everything’s closed.”
“Go look in the kitchen.”
She carried her present with her and found cans of food and a box filled with litter on the floor by the sink.
“Just point it to the box, and everything should be fine.”
“Is it a girl or a boy?” Molly asked as she carried the fur ball to the litter box.
“It’s going to be hard to tell with all that fur. Knowing your father, he got you a male cat.”
“I think I’ll name him Harold. I think he’s a boy.”
“Harold? Why?”
“It fits. I like it.”
“It’s not very cat-like, but I suppose you’ll do what you want no matter what I say. Just like your father.”
Harold helped Molly ignore her mother and her bitterness over the divorce. He became her constant companion and confidant during the dark days of the winter, holed up in the mountain cabin in North Carolina. Her father’s family owned it, but her mother decided she would start her new life as a single mom in the Smoky Mountains, even though she never liked the cabin. Marilyn Irving enjoyed going to the theater and shopping at the mall. When the family did come to the cabin for vacations, Marilyn complained about the backwardness of Murphy, the closest town, and the rural area surrounding them. Her decision to move to the cabin came as an effort at revenge because Molly’s father enjoyed escaping to the mountains, and he loved the cabin. Since he initiated the divorce, he wasn’t in a position to deny his daughter and ex-wife much of anything.
“Molly, Nick is here.” The announcement came on Christmas afternoon as Molly sat on the kitchen floor playing with Harold. Nick was one of the only reasons she hadn’t protested too much when her mother made the surprising announcement about moving to Murphy.
“I see Santa was very good to you.” He knelt down next to her and gave Harold a rub on the head.
“Meet Harold. Harold, this is my friend Nick.”
Nick, two years older than Molly, reached for the kitty and rolled him over on his back in his arms. “People don’t think cats like their undersides rubbed like dogs do, but if you scratch right here on the chest between the front paws, most of them love it.” He scratched Harold in that spot and instantly his eyes closed and his purring machine started working.
“He loves it.” She looked at Nick with his blonde hair falling down into his eyes. He still wore his down jacket, but had pulled off his knit cap.
“How’s it going, Molly?” Nick looked at her with his bright blue eyes, and she lost herself in his gaze.
“It’s better now that you and Harold are here,” she said.
“My mom said you’ve moved here for good.”
“That’s what she says.” Molly nodded her head toward the living room where her mother sat reading a novel. “I hate her. She’s so mean.”
“It’s tough, isn’t it?” Nick reached for her brown hair and rubbed her head. “You just come find me anytime you need a friend, you hear?”
Molly nodded, and right there, on the kitchen floor, she vowed that one day she would marry Nick.
About the Author
P.C. Zick describes herself as "a storyteller no matter what I write." And she writes in a variety of genres, including romance, contemporary fiction, and nonfiction. Her female characters are strong and sexy and her male heroes are easy to love. She's won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction. When she’s not at the computer, she’s boating, kayaking, golfing, and just generally enjoying life with her husband—a lost love from her youth who resurfaced six years ago. Talk about a romantic story!
Minty's Kiss is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Minty's Kiss by P.C. Zick
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Who loves collies? Check out this excerpt from Aubrey Wynne!

Dante's Gift - Aubrey Wynne
Seventy years ago, a collie mix brought two hearts together in war torn Italy. Will their story help their grandson find his own Christmas love?
Excerpt
~ Anne Landers
Chapter One
The piles of discarded clothes resembled the glorious Chicago skyline at dusk. The deep sunset colors cluttered the floor and the bed as Katie James systematically emptied out the huge walk-in closet. She shook her head in frustration each time she gazed at the mirror in a new outfit.
This was the night. The night Dominic would pull a dazzling ring from his pocket and ask her to become his wife. He had been like a kid with a big secret for the past three weeks: distracted, smiling for no apparent reason, and cracking stale jokes. All sure signs that he plotted with the “happy gods.” Several times when she’d texted or called, he told her he was Christmas shopping. Ha! No man bought holiday gifts in October. He said to dress up because he had something special planned. There could be only one explanation—a proposal.
Looking out the window from her Lake Point Tower condo, she watched the sailboats bob in Lake Michigan and played out the evening in her mind. Dominic would be dressed in a tailored suit that hugged his wide shoulders. His long fingers would betray his nervousness as they combed through his thick, dark wavy hair. She would shiver delicately when those smoky eyes caressed her face. He would reach for her hand—
Good grief, get a hold of yourself. This is real life not some sappy chick flick.
A loud buzzing announced company had arrived. She waded through the sea of outfits and pushed the intercom.
“Jazzy? Is that you?”
“No, it’s Cinderella. Hurry up and let me in. The creepy doorman is staring again.”
Katie pushed the button with a laugh. Her best friend had a love-hate relationship with Thomas. He would smile at her, she would call him a lecherous old man, and he would respond with a wink. If he didn’t smile at her, Jasmine rushed to check her make-up. He must not have flashed a grin because she made it up to the forty-fourth floor in record time and pounded on the door.
“Come in, it’s open.” She watched the slim blonde rush to the hall mirror for a quick self-inspection. “You look fine. He does it on purpose, you know.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. He’s lucky he’s not bad-looking for an older guy or I’d have slapped him by now.” Jasmine plopped onto the couch. “What are you wearing tonight? I came to give my approval. I have a better sense of romance than you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her friend snorted. “You’re a CPA. Accountants are efficient not romantic.”
“I’m a tax consultant but I could use another opinion. My room looks like a tornado hit it. I’ll pour you a glass of Merlot and put on a fashion show.”
An hour later, both women stood in front of the full-length mirror with huge grins. Katie turned from side to side, watching the vibrant jade dress sway under the black silk jacket. A hint of cleavage peeked out from the scooped neckline. “You are brilliant. I would have never put this together.”
“That’s why I design clothes and you add numbers. See how the darker colors showcase that deep auburn hair?” Jazzy said as she arranged the mass of waves into a loose chignon, leaving long curls to frame her oval face. “I wish you would show more leg, but this is subtly sexy. Now where are the green topaz earrings and pendant your parents bought you last Christmas? They’re the exact color of your eyes.”
An hour later, after a professional make-up session, she gave her friend a hug. “Good luck tonight. I hope it’s everything you have dreamed of since we were girls.”
Katie laughed. “No, you hope it’s everything you have dreamed of since we were young. ”
“Same thing. I admit I always thought I’d find my soul mate first, though.”
She rolled her eyes. “You know I don’t believe in that. Love, yes. True love, love at first sight, fate? No. Compatibility, similar backgrounds and interests, friendship—those are the things that determine lasting love.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you can’t tell me your stomach never flips when he looks at you a certain way, or your legs get wobbly during a particularly passionate kiss.” Jazzy waggled her finger and ignored the second roll of eyes. “Now remember to get at least a little teary-eyed when he pops the question. Pinch yourself if you have to but let him know how much this means to you. We both know you’re lousy at saying what you feel.”
“You make me sound like a cold fish,” she said with frown. “I don’t ooze emotion but I can show affection. Besides, I didn’t have much practice in my family.”
“When was the last time you gave me a hug?”
“Just now.” Katie bit her lip, knowing what was next.
“No, I hugged you. There’s a difference. I’ll get off my soapbox if you promise to try to make tonight as special for Dom as he is making it for you. Throw sensibility to the wind and kiss him in public.” She headed for door. “And for god’s sake, don’t forget to tell him you love him. He should not have to take it for granted when he puts a ring on your finger.”
“Time out! I promise to wear my heart on my sleeve and follow all the rules of Miss Jasmine’s School of Romance, if you promise to leave now,” she agreed and pushed her friend toward the door. “Go pretend you hate Thomas and leave me in peace. I’ll call you first thing in the morning.”
“Call me from the bathroom afterwards. I want to know all the details.”
Katie shut the door. From the other side came a muffled, “And text me a picture of the ring.”
She chuckled as she heard the ding of the elevator and pictured her friend adjusting her hair and taking a quick peek in the mirror before the door opened. The handsome doorman would give her a sly smile. Jazzy would glide past as if she hadn’t noticed, but Thomas would know better from the exaggerated sway of her hips.
Checking her makeup for the umpteenth time, she thought about what her friend had said. Overt affection had never been part of her upbringing. It’s not that they didn’t care for one another. Her parents just didn’t talk about it or physically show it. A nanny had raised her until she turned thirteen. Katie had thrown a tantrum at the mention of a boarding school. She finally won the public education battle and met her best friend the first day of math class.
It wasn’t until her teens that she began to build a genuine relationship with her mom. Her father often absent, she began to accompany her mother to some of the local charity events and volunteer activities. Her mother’s popularity surprised her. She watched Eleanor use her gracious manner and good looks to charm the most tightfisted businessmen to open their checkbooks. Her fund-raising abilities were legendary; she gathered the most prominent guests and always met or exceeded the goal.
Her parents exposed her to the arts and entertainment provided in Chicago, adding a sophistication beyond her years. She could spot a rare painting out of a collection of copies, identify any classical piece of music, and knew an excellent wine from a mediocre vintage by the time she turned twenty-one. She also knew right from wrong, grey from black and white, and that everyone must give back in some way. Her business education began on her sixteenth birthday with extensive travel that led to internships with foreign finance companies. She would soon be ready to take her place as CEO at James’ Financial Services.
But was she ready to share her heart and her bed with a man? Dominic Lawrence checked off all the must-haves on her list. He had a thriving organic food business that provided fresh produce to the best restaurants in the city and suburbs. Successful, check. Her family approved of his background; he had a similar upbringing and the same values. Shared ethics, check. They loved the cultural activities Chicago offered: plays, opera, museums, and festivals. Both physically active, they enjoyed biking and running along the lake, hiking and skiing in the winter. Compatibility, check.
His Italian descent gave him the tall, dark good looks she’d always preferred. Handsome, check. He was devoted to a grandmother in Italy and wanted children but did not insist on having them right away. Family man, check. There would be no issues with in-laws and holidays since his parents had died in a car crash ten years earlier, and he was an only child. Not that it was a plus, but she had heard horror stories from her friends about their monster-in-laws fighting over which side had more time with the grandchildren.
On the other hand, they were complete opposites in so many ways, which she considered a plus and minus. He appreciated comedy and musicals and tolerated her docudramas and incessant reading. Adds variety, check. She liked to have a plan for everything but enjoyed his spontaneity. Flexible, check. He believed in being frugal throughout the week but letting loose on vacation. She balanced a checkbook to the penny and weighed the importance of every expenditure. Minor flaw #1. She considered punctuality a virtue, while he considered time an approximation. Minor flaw #2.
In general, they complemented one another. He softened her black and white outlook; she gave some edge to his grey areas. Katie found herself enjoying his unexpected surprises. His love of people drew her into unexpected and delightful conversations with perfect strangers. Dominic ticked each box. He wasn’t perfect but his flaws defined him as much as his strengths.
No, she didn’t throw her arms around him in a passionate hug each time he walked through the door. No, she didn’t gush, “I love you” every time he made her heart skip a beat. But he did make her heart skip a beat, and her body responded each time he wrapped his arms around her in a passionate hug. His huge heart and Italian affection had been overwhelming at first but thought she had come a long way in the past year. Dominic called her “a work in progress.”  
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played on her cell phone. “Dom” appeared in bright letters and she quickly swiped the screen. “Hey there. Not cancelling on me, are you?”
“Not a chance. Finished up the week’s orders and cleared some days on next month’s calendar.” He paused then continued in a low, caressing tone, “I miss you, Kathleen James. It’s been a week since I’ve held you in my arms. No more extended business trips if you want me to remain a gentleman.”
Her pulse raced as his deep voice flowed through her like a rich cup of coffee. “Don’t threaten me, Mr. Lawrence. You’re the one working twelve-hour days. Besides,” she added, getting into the spirit of the game, “maybe I like an old-fashioned rogue once a in awhile.”
The moan on the other end made her chuckle. “Are you still picking me up at seven?”
“What time is it now?”
“Grrr. It’s six-fifty.” She tapped her foot on the hard wood floor. “You’re late again, aren’t you?”
“Is that your toe making a staccato beat? I-am-ir-ri-ta-ted. Why-can’t-he-be-on-time.” She could hear the grin in his tone. Sense of humor, check.
“You took the words right out of my—” A knock at the door. “Hang on a minute, okay?”
Not expecting anyone, she looked through the peephole. A charcoal-grey eye stared back at her. She quickly opened the door.
“Boo!” He held out a bouquet of white and pink flowers.
The aroma of white roses and star lily gazers filled the room. Thoughtful, check. Then he pulled her close, nibbling at her lips as her arms went around his neck. When the kiss deepened, the flowers fell to the floor. Katie leaned into him, allowing his strong hands to hold her up.
Strong and sexy. Check.
About the Author
Award-winning author Aubrey Wynne resides in the Midwest with her husband, dogs, horses, mule and barn cats. She is an elementary teacher by trade, champion of children and animals by conscience, and author by night. Obsessions include history, travel, trail riding and all things Christmas. Her debut story, Merry Christmas, Henry, received Best Short Romance in the Preditors & Editors Reader’s Choice of 2013 and her humorous shorts include Pete’s Mighty Purty Privies, also Best Short in P &E 2014 and Top 100 Laugh Out Loud List on Goodreads. Aubrey’s first love is historical romance and the medieval fantasy Rolf’s Quest, will be released in 2016.
Dante's Gift is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Dante's Gift by Aubrey Wynne
Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Goodreads
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c
Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Goodreads

Thursday, August 27, 2015

An adorable kitten saves this Christmas Romance!


Mavy's Christmas Miracle - Sharon Coady
Anne Hurd returns to the Pocono's to help her elderly grandfather. Six years earlier Kyle Shafer disappeared from her life. She rescues a kitten, takes her to a vet who turns out to be Kyle. Kyle can’t believe Anne walked back into his life. Will he scare her away, or will she give him another chance? Kyle decides to take a chance and try for the love he gave up on.

Excerpt
Anne couldn’t believe this was happening. She knelt down and sobbed as the tiny gray kitten tried to raise his head. His body was shaking and foam spilled from his mouth along with a diminutive meow.
“Oh poor baby, why would someone do this to you? I’ll be right back.” She ran into her grandparents’ cabin.
  “Pop, one of the kittens is hurt. I think someone poisoned him. He can’t move and foam is coming from his mouth.”
  “Let’s go take a look.” He reached over and took her arm to steady himself as she helped him down the three wooden steps and off the porch. At ninety years old, he was still independent, but smart enough to know his step was no longer steady.
  Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked down at the kitten. “Poor little fellow.” He glanced at Anne. “Looks like you were right. Go get my gun, girl. The Smith and Wesson twenty-two. We don’t want him suffering any longer.”
  Anne ran back into the house, sadness for the kitten engulfing her. She had fallen in love with him the first time he had come out from under the house and stared at her with his dark green eyes. It had taken her almost three weeks to coax him into letting her get close enough to pet him. The kittens were about eight weeks old now and she had hoped to convince her grandfather to adopt the one of them.
Grabbing Pop’s gun carefully, she hurried back outside and waited patiently as he asked her to steady him while he put the kitten down. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the trigger. The bang resonated loudly and echoed in the silence that followed. Pop sighed, shook his head and wiped a tear away from his deeply wrinkled cheek.
“I’ll never understand how some people can be so cruel to little animals. Can you bury him, girl?”
“Yes, but I’ll take you back inside first.” She took his arm and helped him back to the porch, not trying to hide the tears streaming down her cheeks. She glanced at his face as she helped him up the steps and saw how tired he was. He stumbled a bit on the last step and she put her arm around him and gave him a hug.
“Things happen and people are mean sometimes. See if you can find any of the others after you bury him.”
“I will.”
He shuffled over to his cabinet and laid the pistol down. He stood for a moment, shaking his head and mumbling under his breath. His shoulders bent as he put his hands in his pockets.
“I’m going now. I’ll let you know if I see any of the others.” She pulled on her old wool coat and zipped it up, not looking forward to the task at hand.
After she took care of the kitten, she put the shovel back in place and made her way to the porch. It made her sad to see the cracked and peeling paint covering the cabin. She closed her eyes and brought to mind the images of the place she remembered from her childhood: Gram’s lovingly tended gardens full of different types of flowers in front of the small, enclosed porch. The white paint covering the wood siding of the cabin, making it neat and tidy. Her favorite image was of Gram looking out the kitchen window while she washed her dishes, smiling as Anne picked the blackberries off the bush.
Kneeling down, she tried to see underneath the porch, hoping to spot the other kittens. Her heart sank when she saw no movement. I hate to tell him the other ones are gone. I can’t do it. She stood up and made her way slowly into the house.
When she walked in, he glanced at her. “Did you see the rest of them?” His steel-blue eyes searched her face.
“It was too dark. I’ll have to look again tomorrow. I’m going to start dinner now.” She prayed he wouldn’t see the sadness on her face.
“Do you need me to peel potatoes? I always did for your grandmother.”
“That would be wonderful. I’ll bring them to you.” She grabbed four potatoes, the old green Tupperware strainer and his favorite peeler. “Here you go.” She stooped down and kissed the top of his bald head. “Love you,” she whispered.
“Love you too, girl.” He set to work peeling the potatoes.
She wondered if her resemblance to Gram bothered him. Everyone told her she looked just like a younger version of her grandmother. Anne had the same cinnamon colored hair and slight build, but her grandmother’s eyes had been a deep hazel color while hers were green.
Pop interrupted her thoughts. “So, you’ll look for the other kittens?”
“Sure. I’ll go out first thing in the morning and look around.” She glanced over to see his brows drawn down, and his lips pressed together. “Hopefully, they’re okay.”

Reviewer's Comment
"Sometimes, Christmas miracles come in small packages -- a sweet and heartwarming story." - Rachelle Ayala

About the Author
Sharon Coady lives in Florida with her husband, three of their daughters and five of their eleven grandchildren. She wrote two books before discovering Romance novels. She has now written a romantic suspense, a romance novella and is currently writing a Christmas novella. She has two published novels. When not working as a nurse for the Veterans Administration or writing she enjoys spending time with her family and riding behind her husband on their Harley. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sharon-Coady-Author/320824178053345?ref=hl  Twitter: https://twitter.com/srcoady

Mavy's Christmas Miracle is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Mavy's Christmas Miracle by Sharon Coady today!
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Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Exclusive Excerpts - The Christmas Wish - Holiday Romance


The Christmas Wish - Michele Shriver
Ashley McLaughlin is struggling to move on from her husband's infidelity. Brennan wants to make amends for his transgression. Their young daughter, Hayley, has only one wish for Christmas- for her family to be together again. When Hayley suffers a head injury after a fall from her horse, will it help her get her wish? Or do the wounds from Brennan's betrayal run too deep for Ashley to forgive?

Excerpt

Prologue

Hayley
“That stupid horse,” I hear my mother say. “You had to go and get her that stupid horse, as if that might somehow assuage your guilt, and now here we are. Watching our daughter lay unconscious in the hospital.”
Assuage. I don’t know what that word means, but it doesn’t matter. I can tell my mom is angry at my dad, like she always seems to be these days, and now she’s blaming him for buying me Thunder. And even worse, blaming Thunder for me being here, just because I fell off of him and hurt my head.
I’m not sure what my dad’s supposed to feel guilty about, either. Maybe moving out and leaving my mom and me alone? I miss the way things were when we used to be a family, the three of us. We were happy, and I thought we were the perfect family. I even asked my parents for a baby brother or sister for Christmas last year. I didn’t get my wish. Instead, my mom got mad at my dad and my dad moved to an apartment in the city, where I only seem once a week. And I got Thunder.
Yeah, I’ve always wanted a horse and I love Thunder. I think he’s the best horse ever, and the prettiest, even after what happened today. But I’d trade him in a minute to have things back to the way they used to be.
I don’t even care about a baby brother or sister anymore. I only have one wish for Christmas. I want my dad to come home. I want my family to be together again.
“Sheesh, Ashley, can you let it rest for even a minute?” my dad wants to know. “Does everything always have to be a fight with you?”
It never used to be like that. She used to smile. She used to be happy. Then she started crying a lot, and my dad left, and she cried even more. Now she doesn’t cry as much, but she always seems angry, especially with my dad.
“I don’t know, Brennan, you tell me,” she snaps. “After all, you’re the reason we’re here.”
“Yes, I know. It’s always my fault.” He gives that sigh that I’m so used to hearing, like he’s just tired and frustrated. “Everything’s my fault, and I’m sick of it. That counseling you’re getting sure doesn’t seem to be helping much. You’re still hostile all the time.”
“And gee, why might that be?”
“Just stop it, okay?” he says. “You hate me, I get that. I messed up, and I’m sorry. But that shouldn’t matter right now. What matters is Hayley, and her getting better.”
I’m glad he says that, that he seems to be thinking about me. Sometimes, since he left, I’ve wondered if he’s mad at me, or if he just doesn’t care about me as much. I worry he’ll find a new family and forget about me. That happened to a friend of mine from school. Her parents got divorced, and now her father has a new family that he sees every day, and she only sees him every two weeks.
I don’t want that to happen to me, and I don’t want them to fight anymore. I’m so sick of them fighting. They used to love each other. Why are they so angry now?
“Stop it, both of you!” I say as I snap my eyes open. “Why do you always have to yell at each other? Why can’t you ever be nice anymore?”
“Hayley, honey, you’re awake,” my mother says as she turns around and rushes to the bed. “Oh my God, Brennan. She’s awake!” 

Chapter One

For a moment, Ashley McLaughlin forgot her anger at her husband and hurried to their daughter’s bedside. Relief washed over her as she looked into Hayley’s eyes—eyes so much like Brennan’s—and tried to gauge any lasting effects from the fall. As if she’d know what to look for? She ran a collectibles boutique and tea room. Head injuries were far from her sphere of knowledge.
“I’ll go get her doctor,” Brennan said, before rushing out into the hallway.
Ashley squeezed her daughter’s hand. “Are you okay, honey?”
“My head hurts,” Hayley said.
“I’m sure. You took a hard fall.” And scared all of us to death in the process.  Ashley doubted she’d ever forget the fear she’d felt when she went outside to look for Hayley just in time to see her thrown from her horse. As scary as it was, though, she was thankful she had been there and able to respond right away. Maybe there was such a thing as a mother’s intuition that led her outside at that precise moment. “Didn’t I tell you to always wear a helmet when you ride?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Mommy.” Hayley’s voice came out in a whisper and cut through Ashley’s heart. She hadn’t meant to scold.
“It’s okay, honey. I’m not mad at you. I’ve just been worried about you. We all have.”
The door opened, and Brennan returned with the young ER doctor. “I hear our patient’s awake,” he said, moving toward the bed. “Hayley, I’m Dr. Radcliffe. Let’s see how you’re doing, okay?”
Ashley watched as the doctor conducted an examination of Hayley’s vision, hearing and reflexes. He nodded a few times, and she wondered if that might be an encouraging sign. “I’m going to ask you a few questions now. Can you tell me how old you are, Hayley?”
“Nine,” she answered.
“And what grade are you in?”
“Fourth.”
The questions went on, and Hayley seemed to answer them just fine. Dr. Radcliffe had a great bedside manner and seemed to be a natural with kids. Ashley wondered if he had any children of his own. She noticed he was wearing a wedding ring.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Dr. Radcliffe ashed Hayley.
“She fell off her horse,” Ashley supplied. Hadn’t they already been over all of that?
The doctor turned in Ashley’s direction and nodded. “Yes, but I want to hear it from Hayley. I want to see how much she remembers. It can give us an idea how her brain is functioning, especially her memory.”
It made sense, and even if the doctor’s words weren’t harsh, Ashley chastised herself for interfering. Just because she was stressed and angry right now, that was no reason to take it out on Hayley’s doctor. “Of course, I’m sorry,” she said, backing away.
“It was a nice day, and I know it’s going to get really cold soon, so I wanted to ride Thunder when I got home from school,” Hayley began. “Thunder’s my horse.”
Dr. Radcliffe smiled. “And what color is Thunder?”
“Dark gray, with some lighter gray marks.” Hayley answered. “Like the sky looks when it’s stormy outside. That’s how he got his name.”
“That’s clever. How long have you had Thunder?”
“A couple months. I got him for my birthday. Daddy gave him to me before he moved out.”
Ashley swallowed hard. Hearing the sadness in her daughter’s voice always cut her to the core. She stole a sideways glance at her estranged husband. Brennan leaned against the wall, hands jammed in his pockets, his expression stoic. What was he feeling now?
“I’ve been sad about Christmas coming and my family not being together,” Hayley said. “Riding Thunder makes me feel better, so I went out for a ride. Not far, just around our pasture at home. I think something must have spooked Thunder, and he threw me off.”
“We’re getting rid of the horse,” Ashley declared.
Brennan shot a look in her direction. “Whoa, don’t be so hasty, Ash. That hasn’t been decided yet. Didn’t you just hear her say she’s happier when she rides him?”
Probably because it makes her feel closer to her absentee father. Ashley kept the remark to herself. Her anger at her husband notwithstanding, she knew Hayley adored Brennan and missed him terribly since he’d moved out of their home. Her therapist cautioned her that it was important to preserve that relationship and not bring Hayley into their adult problems. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done sometimes.
Dr. Radcliffe talked with Hayley for a few more minutes before gesturing for Ashley and Brennan to join him out in the hall.
“How is she? Is she going to be okay?” Brennan wanted to know.
“She’s got a mild concussion, but there’s no reason to think she won’t recover fine with plenty of rest. She’s very lucky, really. It could have been a whole lot worse,” the doctor said. “We’d like to keep her overnight for observation, but if there aren’t any further problems, she should be able to go home tomorrow.” He talked with them for a few more minutes about how they could care for her when she came home, and Ashley tried to absorb it all. She was exhausted, though, and she wondered if she’d remember everything he said.
“Thank you, doctor,” Brennan said, shaking his hand. As usual, he was the calm one under pressure. Ashley remembered the time when he used to be her rock, when she could always count on him. Did he now fill that role for Bethany? The thought made Ashley sick to her stomach.
Brennan placed a hand on her shoulder. “How are you holding up?”
How did he think? “I’m exhausted and scared.”
“You heard the doctor. She’ll be fine. It’s just going to take a little time.”
Ashley nodded. “I know that. I do. But it’s still hard. It’s less than three weeks until Christmas, Brennan. You know how much Hayley loves Christmas.”
Brennan gave her a reassuring smile. “Yes, and the important thing is, she’ll be home to enjoy it, and probably feeling much better by then. We’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s her best Christmas ever.”
“We?” Ashey raised an eyebrow. Since when were they a ‘we’ anymore?
“Yes. We,” Brennan repeated, emphasizing the word. “I’m moving back home, at least until our daughter is better.”
“Brennan,” Ashley started to protest, and he held a hand up.
“No. No argument, Ash. You heard Hayley. She’s tired of the fighting. So am I. I’ll sleep in the guest room if you want, but I’m coming home.”
Ashley knew it was pointless to protest further, and she was too tired to fight right now, so she nodded her assent. It would be good for Hayley to have Brennan around more. Ashley would have to get used to it. She just hoped it didn’t add to her stress.
***
Brennan braced himself for a fight, because everything with Ash was a fight these days. He expected her to toss Bethany in his face, because she never seemed to miss an opportunity to do that. As if he didn’t have enough regret, as if he didn’t already hate himself for hurting her? Ashley wanted to blame him for Hayley’s fall, and that was fine. Even if it was a freak accident and not his fault, he’d shoulder the blame. After all, he was the reason their family was fractured.
“Fine,” Ashley said after a minute. “Whatever.” Her tone was tired, resigned. Definitely not enthusiastic. And ‘whatever’ was a word he’d come to despise. “You are sleeping in the guest room, though.”
Brennan expected as much. No way was Ashley ready to welcome him back into the room they’d once shared, into their bed. He still considered it their room and their bed, though. Until Ashley told him things were truly over, until she took that final step and filed for divorce, he’d continue to hope that she could someday forgive him and they could be a family again. Brennan knew that was Hayley’s wish, and it was his, too.
“I understand that. I told you I would,” he said. “I know you’re not ready.”
“I may never be ready,” she answered, as if he needed a reminder.
“I know that, too.” Brennan let out a sigh as he raked a hand through his short brown hair. He’d thought it was an encouraging sign when Ashley decided to see a counselor. It gave him hope. If she’d completely given up, why would she seek out counseling? That was several months ago, though, and things didn’t seem to be getting any better. “I’ll take what I can get.”
He pushed the door open and went back into Hayley’s room. “Hey, Pumpkin. How are you doing?”
“I want to go home,” his daughter answered, and Brennan smiled. If she was already asking to go home, then she must be feeling better.
He pulled a chair over by the bed and sat down. “I’m sure you do. The doctor wants you to stay here overnight, though, just to make sure you’re okay.”
She shook her head in protest. “I don’t want to.”
Brennan suppressed a smile. She was so much like her mother. “Of course you don’t, but it’s only for one night, then you get to go home. And guess what?”
“What?”
“I’m coming home, too,” he said. “I’ll be moving back into the house with you and your mom.”
“Really?” Hayley’s face broke out in a grin. “So you’ll be there for Christmas?”
It was two and a half weeks away. Brennan didn’t like to make promises he couldn’t keep. He’d already failed his family. But this seemed like a safe promise. Hayley would still be recovering when Christmas came around,  and he didn’t think Ashley would kick him out right before a holiday. “Yes, I will. I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Thank you, Daddy. I love you.”
“I love you too, Pumpkin.” A lump formed in his throat, and he swallowed. “I love you and your mom so much and I always will.” He cast a glance backward and saw Ashley standing in the doorway. As his eyes met hers, she reverted her gaze to the floor.

About the Author

Michele Shriver writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance. Her books feature flawed-but-likeable characters in real-life settings. She’s not afraid to break the rules, but never stops believing in happily ever after. Michele counts among her favorite things a good glass of wine, a hockey game, and a sweet and sexy book boyfriend, not necessarily in that order.

The Christmas Wish is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read The Christmas Wish by Michele Shriver

Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Goodreads
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c
Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Goodreads