I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A tragic loss and desire for a better life leads a woman down a dark and dangerous path into the past and future in author Karen Hamilton’s psychological thriller, “The Last Wife”.
In Karen Hamilton’s shocking thriller, THE LAST WIFE (Graydon House, July 7, $17.99) Marie Langham is distraught when her childhood friend, Nina, is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Before Nina passes away, she asks Marie to look out for her family—her son, daughter, and husband, Stuart. Marie would do anything for Nina, so of course, she agrees.
Following Nina’s death, Marie gradually finds herself drawn into her friend’s life—her family, her large house in the countryside. But when Camilla, a mutual friend from their old art-college days, suddenly reappears, Marie begins to suspect that she has a hidden agenda. Then, Marie discovers that Nina had long suppressed secrets about a holiday in Ibiza the women took ten years previously when Marie’s then-boyfriend went missing after a tragic accident and was later found dead.
Marie used to envy Nina’s beautiful life, but now the cards are up in the air and she begins to realize that nothing is what it seemed. As long-buried secrets start surfacing, Marie must figure out what’s true and who she can trust before the consequences of Nina’s dark secrets destroy her.
The author does an excellent job of ramping up the suspense early on in the story. At first glance, the mystery of the promises Marie made to Nina seems harmless, but they are anything but. The edgy nature of the thriller lends itself well to the cast of characters and their hidden natures.
The author’s focus on character development really shines through in this thriller. The mark of a good mystery shows in this narrative, as the characters all show evidence of both good and nefarious intentions, marking them as well-rounded and complex characters that are both relatable and engaging to readers.
An edge-of-your-seat thriller, author Karen Hamilton’s “The Last Wife” is a must-read summer mystery that is reminiscent of the shocking and electrifying mystery surrounding Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”. The characters steal the show as by book’s end those you thought you could trust suddenly are not, and readers are left shocked as the book comes to a close. Be sure to grab your copy today!
Karen Hamilton spent her childhood in Angola, Zimbabwe, Belgium and Italy and worked as a flight attendant for many years. Karen is a recent graduate of the Faber Academy and, having now put down roots in Hampshire to raise her young family with her husband, she satisfies her wanderlust by exploring the world through her writing. She is also the author of the international bestseller The Perfect Girlfriend.
Now Here is an Excerpt From “The Last Wife” by Karen Hamilton
Clients trust me because I blend in. It’s a natural skill—my gift, if you like. I focus my lens and capture stories, like the ones unfolding tonight: natural and guarded expressions, self-conscious poses, joyous smiles, reluctant ones from a teenage bridesmaid, swathed in silver and bloodred. The groom is an old friend, yet I’ve only met his now-wife twice. She seems reserved, hard to get to know, but in their wedding album she’ll glow. The camera does lie. My role is to take these lies and spin them into the perfect story.
I take a glass of champagne from a passing server. I needn’t be totally on the ball during the latter half of the evening because by then, people naturally loosen up. I find that the purest details are revealed in the discreet pictures I snatch during the final hours, however innocuously an event starts. And besides, it seems this event is winding down.
The one downside of my job is the mixed bag of emotions evoked. I rarely take family photos anymore, so normally, I’m fine, but today, watching the wedding festivities, the longing for what I don’t have has crept up on me. People think that envy is a bad thing, but in my opinion, envy is a positive emotion. It has always been the best indicator for me to realize what’s wrong with my life. People say, “Follow your dreams,” yet I’d say, “Follow what makes you sick with envy.”
It’s how I knew that I must stop deceiving myself and face up to how desperately I wanted to have a child. Delayed gratification is overrated.
I place my camera on a table as the tempo eases and sit down on a satin-draped chair. As I watch the bride sweep across the dance floor with her new husband, I think of Nina, and an overwhelming tide of grief floods through me. I picture her haunted expression when she elicited three final promises from me: two are easy to keep, one is not. Nonetheless, a vow is a vow. I will be creative and fulfill it. I have a bad—yet tempting—idea which occasionally beckons me toward a slippery slope.
I must do my best to avoid it because when Nina passed the baton to me, she thought I was someone she could trust. However, as my yearning grows, the crushing disappointment increases every month and the future I crave remains elusive. And she didn’t know that I’d do anything to get what I want. Anything.
Ben isn’t at home. I used to panic when that happened, assume that he was unconscious in a burning building, his oxygen tank depleted, his colleagues unable to reach him. All this, despite his assurance that they have safety checks in place to keep an eye out for each other. He’s been stressed lately, blames it on work. He loves his job as a firefighter, but nearly lost one of his closest colleagues in a fire on the fourth floor of a block of flats recently when a load of wiring fell down and threatened to ensnare him.
No, the reality is that he is punishing me. He doesn’t have a shift today. I understand his hurt, but it’s hard to explain why I did what I did. For a start, I didn’t think that people actually sent out printed wedding invitations anymore. If I’d known that the innocuous piece of silver card smothered in horseshoes and church bells would be the ignition for the worst argument we’d ever had, I wouldn’t have opened it in his presence.
Marie Langham plus guest…
I don’t know what annoyed Ben more, the fact that he wasn’t deemed important enough to be named or that I said I was going alone.
“I’m working,” I tried to explain. “The invitation is obviously a kind formality, a politeness.”
“All this is easily rectifiable,” he said. “If you wanted me there, you wouldn’t have kept me in the dark. The date was blocked off as work months ago in our calendar.”
True. But I couldn’t admit it. He wouldn’t appreciate being called a distraction.
Now, I have to make it up to him because it’s the right time of the month. He hates what he refers to as enforced sex (too much pressure), and any obvious scene-setting like oyster-and-champagne dinners, new lingerie, an invitation to join me in the shower or even a simple suggestion that we just shag, all the standard methods annoy him. It’s hard to believe that other couples have this problem, it makes me feel inadequate.
One of our cats bursts through the flap and aims for her bowl. I observe her munching, oblivious to my return home until this month’s strategy presents itself to me: nonchalance. A part of Ben’s stress is that he thinks I’m obsessed with having a baby. I told him to look up the true meaning of the word: an unhealthy interest in something. It’s not an obsession to desire something perfectly normal.
I unpack, then luxuriate in a steaming bath filled with bubbles. I’m a real sucker for the sales promises: relax and unwind and revitalize. I hear the muffled sound of a key in the lock. It’s Ben—who else would it be—yet I jump out and wrap a towel around me. He’s not alone. I hear the voices of our neighbors, Rob and Mike. He’s brought in reinforcements to maintain the barrier between us. There are two ways for me to play this and if you can’t beat them…
I dress in jeans and a T-shirt, twist my hair up and grip it with a hair clip, wipe mascara smudges from beneath my eyes and head downstairs.
“You’re back,” says Ben by way of a greeting. “The guys have come over for a curry.”
“Sounds perfect,” I say, kissing him before hugging our friends hello.
I feel smug at the wrong-footed expression on Ben’s face. He thought I’d be unable to hide my annoyance, that I’d pull him to one side and whisper, “It’s orange,” (the color my fertility app suggests is the perfect time) or suggest that I cook instead so I can ensure he eats as organically as possible.
“Who’s up for margaritas?” I say with an I’m game for a big night smile.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A small-town woman takes a chance and finds adventure and possibly herself in Paris in author Rebecca Raisin’s novel “The Little Bookshop on the Seine”.
Le Vie En Rose
Bookshop owner Sarah Smith has been offered the opportunity to exchange bookshops with her new Parisian friend for 6 months! And saying yes is a no-brainer – after all, what kind of a romantic would turn down a trip to Paris? Even if it does mean leaving the irresistible Ridge Warner behind, Sarah’s sure she’s in for the holiday of a lifetime – complete with all the books she can read!
Picturing days wandering around Shakespeare & Co, munching on croissants, sipping café au laits and people-watching on the Champs-Elysees Sarah boards the plane. But will her dream of a Parisian Happily-Ever-After come true? Or will Sarah realise that the dream isn’t quite as rosy in reality…
A charming and inviting story for any book lover and reader out there, author Rebecca Raisin has created a beautiful story that immediately brings the reader deeper and deeper into the narrative. The characters are relatable and the author does a marvelous job of showcasing a steady evolution of the protagonist throughout the story as Sarah attempts to find her voice and who she truly is along the way.
What really stands out however is the imagery used throughout the novel. The city of Paris has never felt more alive, from the iconic landmark of the Eifel Tower to the steps of Notre Dame and beyond. It is a well written and eloquently told story that readers will not be able to put down.
A must read women’s fiction and holiday romance tale, author Rebecca Raisin’s “The Little Bookshop on the Seine” is a phenomenal read that is evenly paced and engaging throughout the entirety of the narrative. If you haven’t yet, grab your copies today!
About the Author
Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, and at www.rebeccaraisin.com
Q: Have you ever been to Paris? If so, what are some of your favorite Parisian things?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to go Paris four times and do a bit of exploring for the books. It’s my favourite city in the world and if I could up and move I’d do it! I love the bookshops of Paris, particularly the secondhand shops that are dusty and musty and disorderly. You never know what you’ll find and that makes it magical. If you’re in Paris find the Abbey Bookshop, it’s full to bursting with English books and it’s a treasure trove if you have time to hunt! I also love French food – who doesn’t?! My favourite place to eat is the Christian Constant bistros. He has one for every budget and they’re all glorious. If you splurge once, I highly recommend it’s there.
The Ritz is also a must-see, from Bar Hemingway to Salon Proust, it’s an experience like no other walking in the footsteps of those literary greats. Buly 1803 is the most beautiful perfume shop in all the world, it’s like stepping back in time. My favourite is the rose oil… ooh la la. And holding a special place in my heart is Point Zero Paris, the exact centre of the city and a place where magic happens – you’ll have to read the book to find out more…
Q: What authors were/are a huge influence on you as you began writing? Or Now?
A: I have always loved Maeve Binchy and Joanne Harris and the style in which they write. I love Maeve’s ability to write everyday relatable characters, and I love Joanne’s sense of whimsy. I love writing foodie books set in exotic locations and I think I probably fell in love with France through Joanne’s books, they managed to transport me fully and I must’ve reread them a hundred times by now.
Q: What’s some of your favorite novels? What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?
A: I loved Me Before You. I cried ugly, ugly tears at that. I must be a sucker for punishment because my all time favourite is The Fault in Our Stars. And also Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Three books that you need to read in the privacy of your own home with some cucumber slices to apply after for puffy eyes! I’m currently reading the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley, so a nice change of pace from sobbing my heart out. I love how different each sister is and how you still find common ground with them.
Q: What inspired you to write your The Little Bookshop on the Siene?
A: My love of Paris and its bookshops! And truthfully, I wangled the family there so I could do some ‘research’ which included eating my body weight in macarons and walking until I couldn’t feel my feet anymore and feeling that I was a little bit French on the inside if only the locals could see that!
Q: What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
A: I hope you do something reckless, something that scares you, jump out of that comfort zone and do that thing you’ve always dreamed of! What’s stopping you – fear, money, work, life? You can make it happen if only you take the plunge! Open yourself to new experiences and people and don’t take the taxi, walk until your feet are numb and find those lost laneways and hidden alleys and see what you find!
Q: What drew you into this particular genre?
A: I love love, but Little Bookshop is also about another kind of love, the love of a place, or a feeling…writing this genre leaves it open to interpretation and anything goes as long you tie it all up at the end in a satisfying way!
Q: If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
A: I’d sit down with bookworm Sarah and ask her what she really thought of Luiz… I am still conflicted about that thread and what I could have done but didn’t!
Q: What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
A: They’ve all been good in different ways but I’d say Facebook is my favourite. I have a great group of people who follow me there and really interact. It’s a nice place to stop and chat and they’re all really lovely. Instagram is good too. I love how creative book bloggers are with their photos, they’re very inspiring to me.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
A: I’ve said this before and it’s really this simple. Write every day. I think it was Stephen King who said writing is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets and it’s true! Carve out a time and stick to it.
Q: What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
A: I’m currently editing Aria’s Travelling Bookshop, which is about a Van Lifer who sells her wares as she explores France! (Are you detecting a pattern here!?) It’s the follow up to Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop, which was released last March. Both books are about a different way of living, about having less but gaining more as you go. I’ve loved writing Rosie and Aria!
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A medical examiner new to the San Francisco area finds herself embroiled in a harrowing case involving a murder to cover up the actions of a ruthless drug lord in authors Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell’s “First Cut”.
Wife and husband duo Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell first enthralled the book world with their runaway bestselling memoir Working Stiff—a fearless account of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner. This winter, Dr. Melinek, now a prominent forensic pathologist in the Bay Area, once again joins forces with writer T.J. Mitchell to take their first stab at fiction.
The result: FIRST CUT (Hanover Square Press; Hardcover; January 7, 2020; $26.99)—a gritty and compelling crime debut about a hard-nosed San Francisco medical examiner who uncovers a dangerous conspiracy connecting the seedy underbelly of the city’s nefarious opioid traffickers and its ever-shifting terrain of tech startups.
Dr. Jessie Teska has made a chilling discovery. A suspected overdose case contains hints of something more sinister: a drug lord’s attempt at a murderous cover up. As more bodies land on her autopsy table, Jessie uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate network of powerful criminals—on both sides of the law—that will do anything to keep things buried. But autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she’s seen it all—even if it means the next corpse on the slab could be her own.
A brilliant read, this novel perfectly blends the expertise and gritty reality of forensic work and the work of the medical examiners office with the harrowing and heart-pounding action that comes with a good thriller.
The story cuts into the complex web of lies uncovered by Jessie Teska, from drug kingpins and dirty lawyers to collegues she thought she could trust and beyond. Haunted by a painful past, Jessie finds herself fighting to uncover the truth behind a horrific crime, with only her brilliant mind and determination to aid her in her fight against politics, criminal empires and more.
A fantastic thriller for anyone who enjoys a heavy mix of medical forensics and suspense, authors Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell have created a masterful story that will give readers a protagonist to root for, a story to engage with and a brilliant race to the finish that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. If you haven’t yet, grab your copy of Final Cut today!
About the Authors
Judy Melinek was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner. T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.
The dead woman on my table had pale blue eyes, long lashes, no mascara. She wore a thin rim of black liner on her lower lids but none on the upper. I inserted the twelve gauge needle just far enough that I could see its beveled tip through the pupil, then pulled the syringe plunger to aspirate a sample of vitreous fluid. That was the first intrusion I made on her corpse during Mary Catherine Walsh’s perfectly ordinary autopsy.
The external examination had been unremarkable. The decedent appeared to be in her midthirties, blond hair with dun roots, five foot four, 144 pounds. After checking her over and noting identifying marks (monochromatic professional tattoo of a Celtic knot on lower left flank, appendectomy scar on abdomen, well-healed stellate scar on right knee), I picked up a scalpel and sliced from each shoulder to the breastbone, and then all the way down her belly. I peeled back the layers of skin and fat on her torso—an ordinary amount, maybe a little on the chubby side—and opened the woman’s chest like a book.
I had made similar Y-incisions on 256 other bodies during my ten months as a forensic pathologist at the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office, and this one was easy. No sign of trauma. Normal liver. Healthy lungs. There was nothing wrong with her heart. The only significant finding was the white, granular material of the gastric contents. In her stomach was a mass of semidigested pills.
When I opened her uterus, I found she’d been pregnant. I measured the fetus’s foot length and estimated its age at twelve weeks. The fetus appeared to have been viable. It was too young to determine sex.
I deposited the organs one by one at the end of the stainless-steel table. I had just cut into her scalp to start on the skull when Matt, the forensic investigator who had collected the body the day before, came in.
“Clean scene,” he reported, depositing the paperwork on my station. “Suicide.”
I asked him where he was going for lunch. Yogurt and a damn salad at his desk, he told me: bad cholesterol and a worried wife. I extended my condolences as he headed back out of the autopsy suite.
I scanned through Matt’s handwriting on the intake sheet and learned that the body had been found, stiff and cold, in a locked and secure room at the Los Angeles Omni hotel. The cleaning staff called the police. The ID came from the name on the credit card used to pay for the room, and was confirmed by fingerprint comparison with her driver’s license thumbprint. A handwritten note lay on the bed stand, a pill bottle in the trash. Nothing else. Matt was right: There was no mystery to the way Mary Walsh had died.
I hit the dictaphone’s toe trigger and pointed my mouth toward the microphone dangling over the table. “The body is identified by a Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s tag attached to the right great toe, inscribed LACD-03226, Walsh, Mary Catherine…”
I broke the seal on the plastic evidence bag and pulled out the pill bottle. It was labeled OxyContin, a powerful painkiller, and it was empty.
“Accompanying the body is a sealed plastic bag with an empty prescription medication bottle. The name on the prescription label…”
I read the name but didn’t speak it. The hair started standing up on my neck. I looked down at my morning’s work—the splayed body, flecked with gore, the dissected womb tossed on a heap of other organs.
That can’t be, I told myself. It can’t.
On the clipboard underneath the case intake sheet I found a piece of hotel stationery sealed in another evidence bag. It was the suicide note, written in blue ink with a steady feminine hand. I skimmed it—then stopped, and went back.
I read it again.
I heard the clipboard land at my feet. I gripped the raised lip of my autopsy table. I held tight while the floor fell away.
Q&A with Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
Q: Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?
A:The idea for First Cut was prompted by some of Judy’s actual cases when she worked as a San Francisco medical examiner. She has real experience performing autopsy death investigation, and she also has the imagination to apply that experience to a fictional framework for our forensic detective, Dr. Jessie Teska. Judy invented the story, and together we worked it up as an outline. Then T.J. sat in a room wrestling with words all day—which he loves to do—to produce the first complete manuscript. That’s our inspiration plus perspiration dynamic as co-authors.
Q: What does the act of writing mean to you?
A: It is, and has always been, something we can do together, an important part of our marriage. We’ve collaborated as a creative team since we were in college together many years ago, producing and directing student theater. We’ve also spent twenty years raising our four children, and have always approached parenting as a partnership. We find it easy to work together because we write like we parent: relying on one another, each of us playing to our strengths. It helps that, in our writing process, we have no overlapping skill set!
Q: Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?
A: Oh, yes! That’s our heroine, Dr. Jessie Teska. She has elements of Judy in her, and elements of T.J., but Jessie is a distinct individual and a strong-willed one. We’re often surprised and even shocked by the ways she reacts to the situations we put her in. There are times we’ll be writing what we thought was a carefully laid-out scene, and Jessie will take us sideways. She’s coming off T.J.’s fingertips on the the keyboard, both of us watching with mouths agape, saying, “What the hell is she up to?”
Q: Which one of First Cut’s characters was the hardest to write and why?
A: Tommy Teska, Jessie’s brother. He’s a minor character to the book’s plot, but the most important person in Jessie’s life, and he’s a reticent man, downright miserly with his dialogue. Tommy carries such great emotional weight, but it was hard to draw it out of him, especially because so much of his bond to our heroine is in the backstory of First Cut, not in the immediate narrative that lands on the page. We’re now working on the sequel, Cross Cut, and finding that Tommy has more occasion to open up in that story.
Q: Which character in any of your books (First Cut or otherwise) is dearest to you and why?
A: The late Dr. Charles Sidney Hirsch, from our first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner. Dr. Hirsch is not just a character: He was a real person, Judy’s mentor and a towering figure in the world of forensic pathology. Dr. Hirsch trained Dr. Melinek in her specific field of medicine and imbued in her his passion for it. He was a remarkable man, a great teacher and physician and public servant—a person of uncompromising integrity coupled with great emotional intelligence.
Q: What did you want to be as a child? Was it an author?
A: Judy’s father was a physician, and though she never wanted to follow in his immediate footsteps—he was a psychiatrist—she has always wanted to be another Dr. Melinek. T.J. has always been a writer, but also has theater training and worked in the film industry. As much as we enjoyed authoring the memoir Working Stiff, and as happy as we have been with its success, we are even more thrilled to be detective novelists.
Q: What does a day in the life of Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell look like?
A: Judy is a morning person and T.J.’s a night owl, so we split parenting responsibilities. Judy gets the kids off to school and then heads to the morgue, where she performs autopsies in the morning and works with police, district attorneys, and defense lawyers in the afternoon. T.J. takes care of the household and after-school duties. If we work together during the day, it’s usually by email in the late afternoon. T.J. cooks dinner, Judy goes to bed early, and he’s up late—at his most productive writing from nine to midnight or later.
Q: What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?
A: We go for a long walk together. Our far corner of San Francisco overlooks the Pacific Ocean, bracketed by cypress trees and blown over with fog, and serves as an inspiring landscape. We explore the edge of the continent and talk out where our characters have been and where they need to get, tossing ideas back and forth until a solution, what to do next on the page, emerges. Getting away for a stroll with our imaginary friends is always a fruitful exercise!
Q: What book would you take with you to a desert island?
A: T.J. would take the Riverside Shakespeare, and Judy would take Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians, Illustrated.
Q: Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?
A: Always! We are inspired by Dr. Melinek’s real-life work, both in the morgue and at crime scenes, in police interrogation rooms, and in courtrooms. Our stories are fiction—genre fiction structured in the noir-detective tradition—but the forensic methods our detective employs and the scientific findings she comes to are drawn from real death investigations.
Q: What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?
A: The hardest thing is juggling our work schedules to find uninterrupted time together to write. The most fun is meeting and talking to our readers at book events, especially those who have been inspired to go into the field of forensic pathology after reading our work.
Q: What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?
A: It’s all about connectivity. Linking up with other writers, readers, editors, and research experts is a crucial way to get your work accomplished, and to get it out to your audience. Yes, ultimately it’s just you and the keyboard, but in the course of writing your story, you can and should tap into the hive mind, online and in person, for inspiration and help.
Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: Judy last read The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, and T.J. last read The Witch Elm by Tana French.
Q: Your top five authors?
A: Judy’s are Atul Gawande, Henry James, Kathy Reichs, Mary Roach, and Oliver Sacks. T.J.’s are Margaret Atwood, Joseph Heller, Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Q: Book you’ve bought just for the cover?
A: T.J.: Canary by Duane Swierczynski. Judy: Mütter Museum Historical Medical Photographs.
Q: Tell us about what you’re working on now.
A: First Cut is the debut novel in a detective series, and we’ve recently finished the rough draft of Cross Cut, its sequel. We are in the revision phase now, killing our darlings and tightening our tale, working to get the further adventures of Dr. Jessie Teska onto bookshelves next year!
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A young woman trying to save her brother’s life discovers a dark secret in author Wendy Heard’s The Kill Club.
Jazz will stop at nothing to save her brother.
Their foster mother, Carol, has always been fanatical, but with Jazz grown up and out of the house, Carol takes a dangerous turn that threatens thirteen-year-old Joaquin’s life. Over and over, child services fails to intervene, and Joaquin is running out of time.
Then Jazz gets a blocked call from someone offering a solution. There are others like her—people the law has failed. They’ve formed an underground network of “helpers,” each agreeing to eliminate the abuser of another. They’re taking back their power and leaving a trail of bodies throughout Los Angeles—dubbed the Blackbird Killings. If Jazz joins them, they’ll take care of Carol for good.
All she has to do is kill a stranger.
The tension and action that makes a great thriller is present from the first page, jumping out at the reader and introducing this new world that truly tests a person’s morality. The question of whether taking a life to save another is justified really comes to life as the reader dives further and further into this world.
The character development and relationships are what really make this novel so great, highlighting the tough reality of the law being unable to prove the harmful acts people inflict on one another, and those who take the law into their own hands as a result. The desperation to save those individuals that people love from harmful individuals can drive them to do the most chilling things, and is showcased throughout the entirety of this novel.
A must read thriller during this holiday season, The Kill Club by Wendy Heard is filled with suspense, fantastic character arcs and a shocking twist that will change the nature of the novel moving forward, leaving fans on the edge of their seats. Be sure to grab your copies today!
About the Author
Wendy Heard, author of Hunting Annabelle, was born in San Francisco and has lived most of her life in Los Angeles. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores.
• Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?
I plan them for a long time before I start writing them, and I’m constantly revising my outline, but the plot and characters do develop quite a bit along the way.
• What does the act of writing mean to you?
It means everything to me! I have been writing for a really long time, since childhood. Words and story have always been the way I’ve made sense of things. I’m constantly making up narratives for people and events around me.
• Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?
Jazz held THE KILL CLUB hostage for months because I couldn’t get her to talk to me! She just kept crossing her arms across her chest and glaring at me. She did NOT want a book written about her, and I really needed her inner monologue for that first person POV! Eventually I started mentally arguing with her, and then in fighting with her and hearing her side, I started to get ALL of her IM. It was an interesting experience, trying to engage with a character in different ways until they cracked open.
• Which one of The Kill Club characters was the hardest to write and why?
Sofia. Her story is so much like so many others I’ve known. It’s quietly and invisibly tragic, her pain at the loss of her child so sharp.
• Which character in any of your books (The Kill Club or otherwise) is dearest to you and why?
Jazz! By far, Jazz is my favorite character. In my mind, she’s kind of the spirit of Los Angeles. She’s been through so much, and her sense of humor and lack of entitlement gets her through it all. She just continuously makes the best of every hand she’s dealt, moves forward, and doesn’t engage in self-pity.
• Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?
Let me get out my banjo. YES. I have so many. I have a YA that’s waiting to be written after I finish this current work in progress, which I’ve stopped and started a bunch of times, really honing the concept to get it just where I want it. But I’m constantly coming up with book ideas and having to tell them “not right now, darlings!”
• What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?
Publishing is not for the faint of heart. For me, the beast is always self-doubt, and in a business that is full of rejection, that can really eat at you. It’s so easy to get out of balance and give our creative projects the power to define us. It’s important for anyone selling their art to remember to nurture a healthy life away from it, because art is a fickle master. It will come and go over your lifetime, and it won’t always be kind. You have to accept the rules of the game, but you don’t have to let the game play you.
• What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?
You’ll hear this a thousand times, and you won’t believe it, but: the most important thing is writing a good book, and more than that, the right book. If you let the market and external forces tell you what to create, you’ll resent and blame them when it doesn’t go well. That said, keep an eye on the market, find a way to love something you think can sell, and then put your personal spin on it. No one can tell your story but you. Prerequisite skills for publishing: The ability to revise without having a tantrum; an interest in book marketing and publicity; professional written communication; the ability to hold your freakout moments and vent them far away from a public or professional setting; an addiction to caffeine. And for God’s sake, if you’ve been working on something for years and it hasn’t sold and you’ve revised it forty times, write a new book.
• What was the last thing you read?
All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban. It’s a 2020 book and has a fascinating timeline craft thing that you’re going to love.
• Your top five authors?
This is not fair because I have at least seven thousand favorite authors! How about this–here are some crime fiction authors doing some innovative things in the genre. Kellye Garrett, who’s doing sharp-witted, LA-based mysteries and winning a ton of awards. John Vercher, who talks about social issues while keeping it gritty and plotty. Rachel Howzell Hall, an LA native who does these rad investigative mysteries. Tori Eldridge has a recent and very feminist take on the action thriller with her recent The Ninja Daughter, which I highly recommend. Gabino Iglesias’ award-winning Coyote Songs is this incredible genre mashup, part folklore, part horror, all commentary, and I can’t recommend it enough. One more one more. Carmen Machado’s recent In the Dream House. It’s memoir told in all different genres, it’s chilling, engrossing, dense, and fascinating. Did you read Her Body and Other Parties? Just wow.
• Book you’ve bought just for the cover?
Wilder Girls. Because holy crap.
• What did you want to be as a child? Was it an author?
I was torn between the visual arts and writing, and I always vacillated between them. I have a degree in art, and I wrote a book, then did my painting degree, then wrote some nonfiction, then got my art teaching credential. I was trying things on for size. I do wish I still had time for painting. I never intended to abandon it completely in favor of writing books, but there are only so many hours in the day. I hope to come back to it in a future existence in which I have some spare time. In the meantime, I try to write about artists and art as a means of hanging onto it.
• What does a day in the life of Wendy Heard look like?
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Just kidding. I wake up at five, do publishing stuff, go to work at my day job, get my kid, come home, arm-wrestle her into doing homework, go to the gym, etc. On the weekends I wake up at five (yes I’m serious), write for a few hours, maybe record or edit an episode of the Unlikeable Female Characters Podcast, and then, you know, parenting and life stuff. Whenever my daughter is on a playdate or doing something away from me, I’m writing.
• What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?
I dive into the DMs and torture some writing friends, make them brainstorm with me until I feel better and I have a plan. Or I just step away for awhile. I actually have come to trust writer’s block. If I can’t move forward, I need to stop and consider. There’s something wrong, and my brain is trying to get me to stop and gather up the threads. We’re so obsessed with productivity and daily word count, but I actually find I finish books faster when I don’t force myself to write things I know are wrong and waste weeks undoing things.
• What book would you take with you to a desert island?
I have a massive volume that contains all the Sherlock Holmes stories in one. I’d take one of those collection type of books. See, it’s technically ONE book.
• Favorite quote?
“If you work hard enough, you don’t need luck.” Hell yeah.
• Coffee or tea?
• Best TV or Movie adaptation of a book?
The Neverending Story.
• Tell us about what you’re working on now.
I’m doing a final round of revisions on my 2021 YA thriller, She’s Too Pretty to Burn. It’s loosely based off Dorian Gray and is about a teen photographer who takes a life-altering picture of her introverted girlfriend, sending them into a spiral of fame and danger in an underground San Diego art scene. It has a character who’s basically a fine art Banksy and lots of art crimes.
Excerpt From “The Kill Club”
THE CEILING ABOVE the crowd sparkles with strings of golden lights. They twinkle just bright enough to illuminate the faces. I adjust a microscopic issue with my toms and run my fingers through my bangs, straightening them over my eyes. The guys are tuning up, creating a clatter of discordant notes in the monitors. When they’re done, they approach my kit for our usual last-minute debate about the set list. Dao humps his bass in his ready-to-play dance, black hair swishing around his shoulders. “Dude, stop,” Matt groans and readjusts the cable that connects his Telecaster to his pedal board.
“Your mom loves my dancing,” Dao says.
“You dance like Napoleon Dynamite,” Matt retorts.
“Your mom dances like Napoleon Dynamite.”
Andre raises his hands. “Y’all both dance like Napoleon Dynamite, and so do both your moms, so let’s just—”
I wave a stick at them. “Guys. Focus. The sound guy is watching. We’re three minutes behind.” I have no patience for this shit tonight. This all feels extra and stupid. I should be doing something to help Joaquin. His dwindling supply of insulin sits at the front of my brain like a ticking clock.
The guys get into their spots, the distance between them set by muscle memory. Andre leans forward into the mic and drawls, “Arright DTLA, lez get a little dirty in here.” His New Orleans accent trickles off his tongue like honey.
The room inhales, anticipates, a sphere of silence.
“Two three four,” I yell. I clack my sticks together and we let loose, four on the floor and loud as hell. I’m hitting hard tonight. It feels great. I need to hit things. My heart beats in tempo. My arms fly through the air, the impact of the drums sharp in my joints, in my muscles, the kick drum a pulse keeping the audience alive. This is what I love about drumming, this forcing of myself into the crowd, making their hearts pound in time to my beat.
Dao fucks up the bridge of “Down With Me” and Andre gives him some vicious side-eye. The crowd is pressed tight up against the stage. A pair of hipsters in cowboy hats grabs a corresponding pair of girls and starts dancing with them. I cast Dao an eye-rolling look referring to the cowboy hats and he wiggles his eyebrows at me. I stomp my kick drum harder, pretending it’s Carol’s face.
The crowd surges back. Arms fly. A guy in the front staggers, falls. A pair of hands grips the stage, and a girl tries to pull herself up onto it.
Matt and Dao stop playing. The music screeches to a halt.
“What’s going on?” I yell.
“Something in the pit,” Dao calls back.
Andre drops his mic and hops down into the crowd. Dao and Matt cast their instruments aside and close the distance to the edge of the stage. I get up and join them. Together, we look down into the pit.
A clearing has formed around a brown-haired guy lying on the floor. Andre and the bouncer squat by him as he squirms and thrashes, his arms and legs a tangle of movement. Andre’s got his phone pressed to his ear and is talking into it urgently. The bouncer is trying to hold the flailing man still, but the man’s body is rigid, shuddering out of the bouncer’s grip. He flops onto his back, and I get a good look at his face.
Oh, shit, I know this guy. He’s a regular at our shows. He whines and pants, muffled words gargling from his throat. Some of the bystanders have their phones out and are recording this. Assholes.
The man shrieks like a bird of prey. The crowd sucks its whispers back into itself, and the air hangs heavy and hushed under the ceiling twinkle lights.
Andre is still talking into his phone. The bouncer lifts helpless hands over the seizing man, obviously not sure what to do.
I should see if Andre wants help. I hop down off the stage and push through the crowd. “Excuse me. Can you let me through? Can you stop recording this and let me through?”
I’m suddenly face-to-face with a man who is trying to get out of the crowd as hard as I’m trying to get into it. His face is red and sweaty, his eyes wild. “Move,” he orders me.
Dick. “You fucking move.”
“Bitch, move.” He slams me with his shoulder, knocking me into a pair of girls who cry out in protest. I spin, full of rage, and reverse direction to follow him.
“Hey, fucker,” I scream. He casts a glance over his shoulder. “Yeah, you! Get the fuck back here!”
He escalates his mission to get out of the crowd, elbowing people out of his way twice as fast. I’m smaller and faster, and I slip through the opening he leaves in his wake. Just before he makes it to the side exit, I grab his flannel shirt and give him a hard yank backward. “Get the fuck back here!” I’m loose, all the rage and pain from earlier channeling into my hatred for this entitled, pompous asshole.
I know I should rein it in, but he spins to face me and says, “What is your problem, bitch?” And that’s it. I haul back and punch him full in the jaw.
He stumbles, trips over someone’s foot and lands on his ass on the cement floor. His phone goes clattering out of his hand, skidding to a stop by someone’s foot. “The hell!”
“Oh, shit,” cries a nearby guy in a delighted voice.
“Fucking bitch,” the guy says, and this is the last time he’s calling me a bitch. I go down on top of him, a knee in his chest. I swing wild, hit him in the jaw, the forehead, the neck. He throws an elbow; it catches me in the boob and I flop back off him with a grunt of pain. He sits up, a hand on his face, and opens his mouth to say something, but I launch myself off the ground again, half-conscious of a chorus of whoops and howls around us. I throw a solid punch. His nose cracks. Satisfaction. I almost smile. Blood streams down his face.
“That’s what you get,” I pant. He crab-shuffles back, pushes off the ground and sprints for the exit. I let him go.
My chest is heaving, and I have the guy’s blood on my hand, which is already starting to ache and swell. I wipe my knuckles on my jeans.
His phone lights up and starts buzzing on the floor. I pick it up and turn it over in my hand. It’s an old flip phone, the kind I haven’t seen in years. The bright green display says Blocked.
Back in the pit, the man having a seizure shrieks again, and then his screams gurgle to a stop. I put the phone in my pocket and push through the onlookers. I watch as his back convulses like he’s going to throw up, and then he goes limp. A thin river of blood snakes out of his open mouth and trails along the cement floor.
The room echoes with silence where the screams had been. A trio of girls stands motionless, eyes huge, hands pressed to mouths.
The flip phone in my pocket buzzes. I pull it out, snap it open and press it to my ear. “Hello?”
“Hello?” I repeat.
A click. The line goes dead.
A set of paramedics slams the stage door open, stretcher between them. “Coming through!” They kneel down and start prodding at the man curled up on the concrete. His head flops back. His eyes are stretched wide and unseeing, focused on some point far beyond the twinkling ceiling lights.
Next to him on the concrete lies something… What is it? It’s rectangular and has red and—
I am honored to be sharing with everyone today six amazing holiday reads from six amazing authors. Thank you to Harlequin Press for giving me time to share these amazing reads with everyone. Be sure to check out these amazing books, along with their excerpts and promotional posts.
Author Bio:USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.
This funny, charming and heartwarming new Christmas novel is USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan at her festive best!
In the snowy perfection of Aspen, the White family gathers for youngest daughter Rosie’s whirlwind Christmas wedding. First to arrive are the bride’s parents, Maggie and Nick. Their daughter’s marriage is a milestone they are determined to celebrate wholeheartedly, but they are hiding a huge secret of their own: they are on the brink of divorce. After living apart for the last six months, the last thing they need is to be trapped together in an irresistibly romantic winter wonderland.
Rosie’s older sister, Katie, is also dreading the wedding. Worried that impulsive, sweet-hearted Rosie is making a mistake, Katie is determined to save her sister from herself! If only the irritatingly good-looking best man, Jordan, would stop interfering with her plans…
Bride-to-be Rosie loves her fiancé but is having serious second thoughts. Except everyone has arrived—how can she tell them she’s not sure? As the big day gets closer, and emotions run even higher, this is one White family Christmas none of them will ever forget!
From Chapter One
When her phone rang at three in the morning, ripping her from a desperately needed sleep, Maggie’s first thought was bad news.
Her mind raced through the possibilities, starting with the worst-case scenario. Death, or at least life-changing injury. Police. Ambulances.
Heart pounding, brain foggy, she grabbed her phone from the summit of her teetering pile of books. The name on the screen offered no reassurance.
Trouble stalked her youngest daughter.
“Rosie?” She fumbled for the light and sat up. The book she’d fallen asleep reading thudded to the floor, scattering the pile of Christmas cards she’d started to write the night before. She’d chosen a winter scene of snow-laden trees. They hadn’t had a flake of snow in the village on Christmas Day for close to a decade. They often joked that it was a good thing their last name was White because it was the only way they were ever going to have a White Christmas.
She snuggled under the blanket with the phone. “Has something happened?” The physical distance between her and Rosie made her feel frustrated and helpless.
Everyone said global travel made the world smaller, but it didn’t seem smaller to Maggie. Why couldn’t her daughter have continued her studies closer to home? Oxford, with its famous spires and ancient colleges, was only a few miles away. Rosie had done her undergraduate degree there, followed by a master’s. Maggie had loved having her close by. They’d taken sunlit strolls along cobbled streets, past ancient honey-colored buildings and through Christchurch Meadows, golden with daffodils. They’d followed the slow meander of the river and cheered on the rowing crews. Maggie had hoped, privately, that her daughter might stay close by, but after Rosie had graduated she’d been offered a place in a US doctoral program, complete with full funding.
Can you believe it, Mum? The day she’d had the news she’d danced across the living room, hair flying around her face, twirling until she was dizzy and Maggie was dizzy watching her. Are you proud of me?
Maggie had been proud and dismayed in equal measure, although she’d hidden the dismayed part of course. That was what you did when you were a parent.
Even she could see it was too good an opportunity to turn down, but still a small part of her had wished Rosie had turned it down. That transatlantic flight from the nest left Maggie with email, Skype and social media, none of which felt entirely satisfactory. Even less so in the middle of the night. Had Rosie only been gone for four months? It felt like a lifetime since they’d delivered her to the airport on that sweltering summer’s day.
“Is it your asthma? Are you in hospital?” What could she do if Rosie was in the hospital? Nothing. Anxiety was a constant companion, never more so than now.
If it had been her eldest daughter, Katie, who had moved to a different country she might have felt more relaxed. Katie was reliable and sensible, but Rosie? Rosie had always been impulsive and adventurous.
“I’m not in hospital. Don’t fuss!”
Only now did Maggie hear the noise in the background. Cheering, whooping.
“Do you have your inhaler with you? You sound breathless.” The sound woke the memories. Rosie, eyes bulging, lips stained blue. The whistling sound as air struggled to squeeze through narrowed airways. Maggie making emergency calls with hands that shook almost too hard to hold the phone, the terror raw and brutal although she kept that hidden from her child. Calm, she’d learned, was important even if it was faked.
Even when Rosie had moved from child to adult there had been no reprieve.
Some children grew out of asthma. Not Rosie.
There had been a couple of occasions when Rosie was in college when she’d gone to parties without her inhaler. A few hours of dancing later and she’d been rushed to the emergency department. That had been a 3:00 a.m. phone call, too, and Maggie had raced through the night to be by her side. Those were the episodes Maggie knew about. She was sure there were plenty more that Rosie had kept to herself.
“I’m breathless because I’m excited. I’m twenty-two, Mum. When are you going to stop worrying?”
“That would be never. Your child is always your child, no matter how many candles are on the birthday cake. Where are you?”
“I’m with Dan’s family in Aspen for Thanksgiving, and I have news.” She broke off and Maggie heard the clink of glasses and Rosie’s infectious laugh. It was impossible to hear that laugh and not want to smile, too. The sound contrasted with the silence of Maggie’s bedroom.
A waft of cold air chilled her skin and she stood up and grabbed her robe from the back of the chair. Honeysuckle Cottage looked idyllic from the outside, but it was impossibly drafty. The ventilation was a relief in August but froze you to the bone in November. She really needed to do something about the insulation before she even thought about selling the place. Historic charm, climbing roses and a view of the village green couldn’t compensate for frostbite.
Or maybe it wasn’t the house that was cold. Maybe it was her.
Knocked flat by a wave of sadness and she struggled to right herself.
“What’s happening? What news? It sounds like you’re having a party.”
“Dan proposed. Literally out of the blue. We were taking it in turns to say what we’re thankful for and when it was his turn he gave me a funny look and then he got down on one knee and—Mum, we’re getting married.”
Maggie sat down hard on the edge of the bed, the freezing air forgotten. “Married? But you and Dan have only been together for a few weeks—”
“Eleven weeks, four days, six hours and fifteen minutes—oh wait, now it’s sixteen, I mean seventeen—” She was laughing, and Maggie tried to laugh with her.
How should she handle this? “That’s not very long, sweetheart.” But completely in character for Rosie, who bounced from one impulse to another, powered by enthusiasm.
“It feels so right, I can’t even tell you. And you’ll understand because it was like that for you and Dad.”
Maggie stared at the damp patch on the wall.
Tell her the truth.
Her mouth moved but she couldn’t push the words out. This was the wrong time. She should have done it months ago, but she’d been too much of a coward.
And now it was too late. She didn’t want to be the slayer of happy moments.
She couldn’t even say you’re too young, because she’d been the same age when she’d had Katie. Which basically made her a hypocrite. Or did it make her someone with experience?
“You just started your postgrad—”
“I’m not giving it up. I can be married and study. Plenty do it.”
Maggie couldn’t argue with that. “I’m happy for you.” Did she sound happy? She tried harder. “Woohoo!”
She’d thought she’d white-knuckled her way through all the toughest parts of parenting, but it turned out there were still some surprises waiting for her. Rosie wasn’t a child anymore. She had to be allowed to make her own decisions. And her own mistakes.
Rosie was talking again. “I know it’s all a bit fast, but you’re going to love Dan as much as I do. You said you thought he was great when you spoke to him.”
But speaking to someone on a video call wasn’t the same as meeting them in person, was it?
Maggie swallowed down all the words of warning that rose up inside her. She was not going to turn into her own mother and send clouds to darken every bright moment. “He seemed charming, and I’m thrilled for you. If I don’t sound it, it’s because it’s the middle of the night here, and you know what I’m like when I’ve just woken up. When I saw your name pop up on the screen, I was worried it was your asthma.”
“Haven’t had an attack in ages. I’m sorry I woke you, but I wanted to share my news.”
“I’m glad you woke me. Tell me everything.” She closed her eyes and tried to pretend her daughter was in the room with her, and not thousands of miles away.
There was no reason to panic. It was an engagement, that was all. There was plenty of time for them to decide if this was the right thing for them. “We’ll have a big celebration when you and your sister are here for Christmas. Would Dan like to join us? I can’t wait to meet him. Maybe we’ll throw a party. Invite the Baxters, and all your friends from college and school.” Planning lifted Maggie’s mood. Christmas was her favorite time of year, the one occasion the whole family gathered together. Even Katie, with her busy life as a doctor, usually managed to beg and barter a few days at Christmas in exchange for covering the busy New Year shift. Maggie was looking forward to spending time with her. She had a niggling suspicion her eldest daughter was avoiding her. Every time Maggie suggested meeting up, Katie made an excuse, which was unlike her because she rarely refused a free lunch.
Christmas would give her a chance to dig a little deeper.
In her opinion, Oxford was the perfect place to spend the festive season. True, there was unlikely to be snow, but what was better than a postlunch walk listening to the peal of bells on a crisp, cold winter’s day?
It promised to be perfect, apart from one complication.
Maggie still hadn’t figured out how she was going to handle that side of things.
Maybe an engagement was exactly what they needed to shift the focus of attention.
“Christmas is one of the things I need to talk to you about.” Rosie sounded hesitant. “I planned to come home, but since Dan proposed—well, we don’t see the point in waiting. We’ve chosen the day. We’re getting married on Christmas Eve.”
Maggie frowned. “You mean next year?”
“No, this year.”
She counted the days and her brain almost exploded. “You want to get married in less than four weeks? To a man you barely know?” Rosie had always been impulsive, but this wasn’t a soft toy that would be abandoned after a few days, or a dress that would turn out to be not quite the right color. Marriage wasn’t something that could be rectified with a refund. There was no reason for haste, unless—“Sweetie—”
“I know what you’re thinking, and it isn’t that. I’m not pregnant! We’re getting married because we’re in love. I adore him. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”
You barely know him.
Maggie shifted, uncomfortably aware that knowing someone well didn’t inoculate you against problems.
“I’m excited for you!” Turned out she could fake excitement as convincingly as she could fake calm.
Author Bio: Jennifer Snow lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her husband and four year old son. She is a member of the RWA, the Alberta Writers Guild, Canadian Authors Association and SheWrites.org. Her first Brookhollow book was a finalist in the Heart of Denver Aspen Gold contest and the Golden Quill Award. More information can be found at http://www.jennifersnowauthor.com.
In Alaska, it’s always a white Christmas—but the sparks flying between two reunited friends could turn it red-hot…
If there’s one gift Erika Sheraton does not want for Christmas, it’s a vacation. Ordered to take time off, the workaholic surgeon reluctantly trades in her scrubs for a ski suit and heads to Wild River, Alaska. Her friend Cassie owns a tour company that offers adventures to fit every visitor. But nothing compares to the adrenaline rush Erika feels on being reunited with Cassie’s brother, Reed Reynolds.
Gone is the buttoned-up girl Reed remembers. His sister’s best friend has blossomed into a strong, skilled, confident woman. She’s exactly what his search-and-rescue team needs—and everything he didn’t know he craved. The gulf between his life in Wild River and her big-city career is wide. But it’s no match for a desire powerful enough to melt two stubborn hearts…
Her arms full of patient files, Dr. Erika Sheraton tipped her head back as Darren, her premed intern, poured a double shot of espresso down her throat. The hot liquid delivered the instant adrenaline boost she needed to get through the rest of her fourteen-hour shift.
Dinner? A quick glance at the clock on the wall above the nurses’ triage station revealed it was almost nine. A late dinner.
“How are you not vibrating? That’s your third in two hours.” Darren crumpled the paper cup and tossed it into a recycle bin as they walked.
“Caffeine stopped affecting me a long time ago. Now’s it’s about the taste,” she said, only half kidding. Double course loads and all-nighters in college and then med school had prepared her for the long hours she put in now as a general surgeon and caffeine had been her best friend.
The twentysomething looked like he could use a cup himself, as he stifled a yawn. His sandy blond hair poked up in the back as though he’d crawled out of bed at the last possible minute and his hazel eyes were bloodshot. If he was tired now after only eight hours on shift, he’d be reconsidering this particular profession by midnight. The staff at Alaska General Hospital never rested. The revolving doors at emergency constantly rotated with broken bones, heart attacks and bleeding patients filing in. No day was ever the same. Unpredictability kept Erika alert and on her toes.
“After these rounds, I’m going to need you to check in on Mr. Franklin—he’s in recovery. His family is wondering when they can see him.” The man’s entire extended family was camped out in the surgical ward waiting room—fifteen or sixteen of them at least. They couldn’t see the man, but they all refused to leave. Each one took turns driving the nurses on duty crazy. “Make sure they know only immediate family can go in. He needs his rest.”
Darren nodded, but a look of hesitation appeared behind his dark-rimmed glasses.
“What?” She checked her watch.
“I just… Well, shouldn’t you talk to them? I know his wife wanted to thank you…”
Erika shook her head. “Keeping him on the low-cholesterol, low-sodium diet I’ve prescribed—and off my operating table—will be thanks enough,” she said, scanning the top folder on her stack.
She shot him a look.
“No problem. I’ll check in on him.”
“Thank you.” She continued down the hall toward the next high-priority patient.
“Don’t forget, your dad still wants to see you,” Darren said, struggling to keep up to her half sprint.
“I know.” And she could do without the hourly reminders. Her father rarely requested her presence during her rounds, so whatever it was wouldn’t be good. If she put him off long enough, maybe he’d forget.
“Top chart—Mr. Grayson. He’s scheduled for an appendectomy in a few hours,” she said, approaching the man’s hospital room.
Darren nodded as he smiled. “This old guy is hilarious. Did you know he was a stunt motorcycle driver in the circus in the ’80s?”
“No.” She knew he had an inflamed appendix and had waited far too long to come in. She knew his vitals and that in an hour, they’d be prepping him for surgery. Knowing personal details of a patient’s life didn’t make her job any easier or guarantee a better outcome. She juggled the files on one arm as she reached into her pocket for a new set of sterile gloves.
“Hey, before we go in there, can I talk to you?” Darren asked, stopping her outside the room. He stared at the checked patterned floor tiles.
Damn. “You’re requesting a transfer to a different physician.” He wasn’t the first medical student who’d gotten reassigned. She’d made it a month with Darren—a new record.
Another intern bites the dust.
He nodded, obviously relieved that he hadn’t had to vocalize it himself. “You’re amazing, Dr. Sheraton, and I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to work with you, but you’re also very busy and unavailable…”
The sharp sting of the words was familiar. She’d heard the same speech from interns and boyfriends alike. She’d successfully eliminated the problem in one group right after her first year of residency…interns were hospital assigned and therefore out of her control.
“I mean I just need all the training I can get and between patients and your research work…”
She didn’t need an explanation. She was busy. Too busy to have someone following her around in fact. This was totally fine with her. “I understand.”
“You’re not upset?”
“Only about having to get my own coffee from now on,” she said.
The joke missed its mark and the intern’s eyes widened. “I can still do that…”
Wow, was she really that scary? She was demanding and expected the students to put in the hours she did. She may not be the friendliest doctor on staff, socializing after work and remembering birthdays and such, but she gave these interns a real picture of their future in medicine. Wasn’t that what they were there for? “I was kidding, Darren.”
“Dr. Sheraton, please report to emergency. Stat.”
The call over the hospital intercom had her handing Darren the stack of folders. “Please take his heart rate and blood pressure,” she said, practically running to the elevators. “And don’t forget Mr. Franklin.”
“Got it,” he called after her.
The quiet twenty-six-second elevator ride to the first floor was the closest thing she got to a spa day. It was the only time she was forced to slow to a pace other than her own usual breakneck speed. But even that half a minute was too long. It gave her time to think. Think about her previous surgeries and replay the details—what went right, what went wrong, what she could do better next time. Constantly reevaluating herself made her a better surgeon, but too often it left her feeling like she was coming up slightly short of her potential. Her type A personality left little room for failure or complacency.
Checking her phone in her lab coat pocket, she scanned her schedule for the rest of the evening, evaluating what she could push back if this emergency demanded her immediate attention. The number of things marked urgent made her will the elevator to move quicker. She’d be lucky to get out of there by 2:00 a.m.
A text popped up from Darren.
If you change your mind about Mrs. Franklin…
She wouldn’t. She ignored the text from her intern—former intern—and put the phone away.
As the elevator stopped, she took a deep breath, expecting to see a flurry of organized chaos as the doors opened. Stretchers, ambulance lights flashing and sirens wailing outside, paramedics and nurses… Instead, she ran square into her father.
No emergency, just his six-foot-three frame and his usual neutral expression. It was impossible to read her father, as his face gave nothing away. His emotions were never too high or too low, just infuriatingly balanced no matter the circumstance. His calm presence and rational thinking made him fantastic at his profession, but sometimes he was irritating as shit as a father.
“Hi. I was just coming to see you.” Eventually.
“Walk with me,” he said, turning on his heel and nodding.
Her jaw clenched so tight her teeth might snap. This was so like him—assuming she could drop everything at his command. He may run the hospital, but he often had no idea how hectic her schedule was. “Can we talk as I do my rounds, Darren is…”
“More than capable,” he said, leading the way to his first-floor corner office. “And requesting to be transferred, I see.”
His tone made her palms sweat. He should be happy that she was pushing these interns to their limits. What awaited them once they graduated wasn’t for the faint of heart. Better to get used to grueling days and nights now, performing on little to no sleep, living on caffeine and leftover Halloween chocolate bars, than to realize they couldn’t cut it when lives were in their hands.
Unfortunately, he didn’t always agree with her beliefs . He wanted the interns to feel at home at Alaska General so they’d apply here once they graduated. The hospital was short staffed and more doctors would benefit everyone, but Erika preferred to work alongside the best.
Her father had an open-door policy—literally—so when he closed the office door behind her, she knew the head of General Surgery hadn’t called her in to discuss Thanksgiving dinner plans.
She glanced at his wall calendar as she sat. Especially since Thanksgiving was a week ago.
“Dad, this intern thing is just ridiculous…”
He held up a hand. “This isn’t about your inability to effectively manage others.”
Kick to the gut delivered and received. She clamped her lips together.
He opened his desk drawer and handed her a letter as he sat in the plush, leather chair behind his oversize mahogany desk.
Her eyes widened, seeing the Hospital Foundation logo on the top of the page. “Is this the final approval from the board for the clinical trials?” They’d submitted the application six months ago to start trials on a new antirejection drug after years of research, and they were waiting on the formal go-ahead to start with a test group.
Would Darren reconsider staying with her if he knew he could be part of a medical breakthrough? He’d been a lot of help in the past month.
“Just read it,” her father said.
She scanned the letter from the board of directors, feeling her excitement fade and anxiety rise with each word. “Recommended vacation? What is this?”
“I don’t like it either, but the board is reviewing policies and making sure we are following them,” he said, the edge indicating he’d been outvoted in this decision. He certainly didn’t believe in time off and had never encouraged her to take any. Her life was her career, just like him.
“But any day now we will be starting clinical trials on the new drug.” It had taken her father and his team almost three years to get the experimental antirejection product approved for testing on organ transplant patients and they’d finally gotten it. They’d worked around the clock for a year to make sure they did. Subjects were undergoing assessment right now to be ready for the trials.
Now was not the time to take a break.
Her father looked as though he’d made the same argument to the hospital board. “The team will have to handle it.”
So recommended actually meant forced. “Why now? I’m fine. I don’t need a break.” At twenty-nine, she was eager to prove herself as one of the top general surgeons in the state. Between her surgical success record and the research time she’d invested in this new drug, she was close. Helping her father get one step closer to winning the Lister Medal was high on her priority list. “Come on, Dad, you know I’m good. My last two operations were impossible surgeries…”
Erika clamped her lips together again, forcing her argument to stay put. It wouldn’t do any good. Three years working alongside her father and she’d yet to prove herself. Despite two back-to-back improbable surgeries that she’d performed successfully, he still doubted her abilities. His micromanagement over her research team had driven her insane, but he’d reluctantly agreed to let her run her own set of clinical trials on the antirejection drug, and she’d foolishly believed she was making progress with him.
Now she was being forced into taking a break.
What the hell was a break? She hadn’t had one since starting university. She’d graduated with her bachelor’s in three years instead of four by doubling up on courses and then had applied directly to med school. She’d interned at Alaska General and secured a position there shortly after graduation. She couldn’t remember the last day she had off, let alone…she glanced at the letter. Two weeks?
What the hell would she do with all that free time?
BIO: Brenda Novak, a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, has penned over sixty novels. She is a six-time nominee for the RITA Award and has won the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Bookbuyer’s Best, and many other awards. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit http://www.brendanovak.com.
Come home to Silver Springs for the holidays, where broken hearts learn to love again…together.
So much for forever. When Elle Devlin’s rockstar husband ditches her on his way to the top, she takes her two daughters to her sister’s place in Silver Springs for the holidays, hoping family can heal her broken heart. But comfort comes in unexpected packages when she crosses paths with Tobias Richardson.
The moment Tobias spots Elle, he recognizes a sadness he knows all too well. After spending thirteen years in prison paying for his regretful past, Tobias is ready to make amends, and maybe helping Elle is the way to do it. But offering her a shoulder to cry on ignites a powerful attraction, and a desire neither saw coming.
Fearing her reaction, Tobias doesn’t divulge his ex-con status, let alone the shameful details. So when Elle’s ex shows up in Silver Springs and reveals the truth in a bid to win her back, Tobias is sure he’s lost her for good. But, just maybe, this Christmas he’ll receive the forgiveness—and the love—he deserves.
Tobias Richardson couldn’t help noticing the petite blonde sitting at the old-fashioned counter of the diner—and not just because she was pretty. He was sure he’d never seen her before. With a population of seven thousand, Silver Springs wasn’t small enough that he’d recognize everybody, especially because he’d only been living here for five months. The town seemed to have gotten a lot smaller since the weather turned, though. It didn’t snow in this part of California, but it was the rainy season and the region was experiencing colder than normal temperatures. Tourists weren’t interested in visiting when it was chill and damp, and the same went for the many residents of LA, ninety minutes to the southeast, who had vacation homes here. This month, and probably for the next two or three, he guessed Silver Springs would be limited to the locals.
He blew on his hands, trying to warm them while waiting for the coffee he’d ordered when he first sat down. He’d managed to squeeze in a hike after work. He didn’t care that it was dark and wet by the time he was on his way back. He had a
headlight to guide him to the trailhead and was willing to put up with the rain. But he was chilled to the bone. After such an arduous hike, he was starving, too, and craving a hot shower.
Again, he glanced toward the counter. He didn’t want the woman to catch him staring, but something about her—besides her looks—drew his attention.
She didn’t seem happy…
“Here you go.” Willow Sanhurst, the barely eighteen-year-old girl who worked evenings at the Eatery, stepped between him and the woman who intrigued him, smiled broadly and put his cup on the table with a flourish. “Warming up yet?”
“I can’t believe you’ve been out hiking. It’s December!”
“Little bit of rain never hurt anybody.”
He’d traded out his muddy hiking books for a pair of clean shoes before coming into the restaurant. Other than that, he was only a little damp, so he wasn’t sure why she was making such a big deal of it.
“You must really like the outdoors.”
“I do,” he said.
“So do I.”
He got the impression he was supposed to follow that up with an invitation to go hiking with him sometime, but he didn’t.
Even though they’d already discussed his hike when he’d sat down and she’d brought him water, and the diner was full of people waiting for a chance to order, she didn’t move away as most waitresses would.
Before bringing the coffee to his lips, he looked up to see if there was something she needed.
As soon as their eyes met, she blushed a deep red, wiped her hands on her ruffled white apron and mumbled some remark about being careful not to burn himself—that the coffee was hot—before hurrying away.
Damn it. She had a crush on him. She’d clearly wanted to say something but hadn’t been able to gather the nerve, and that made him distinctly uncomfortable. After being released from prison in July he was committed to making better choices, to building a productive life. He couldn’t have some high school girl staring at him with the longing he saw shining in her eyes. If she started seriously pursuing him, he was afraid he’d end up in a bad situation just because he was so damn lonely.
With a sigh, he took a tentative sip of his coffee. This was his favorite place to eat—the comfort food and Norman Rockwell vibe reminded him of the wholesome existence he’d always secretly admired. But he’d have to quit coming here. He wouldn’t allow himself to be tempted. His brother, Maddox, said over and over that his first year out of prison would be the hardest, and although Tobias acted as though he was doing fine, that he had his life under control, his journey was not as sure-footed as he let on. Sometimes, especially late at night, he felt as though he’d been cast adrift on a vast ocean and might never find safe harbor. And that sense of being so small and insignificant made him crave the substances that had gotten him into trouble in the first place.
Willow kept looking over at him, obviously hoping to catch his eye. While he poured a dash of cream into his coffee, he considered canceling his meal. He could eat somewhere else—grab something to go and head home to shower. But just as he was about to slide out of the booth, his phone dinged with a text from Maddox, asking if he’d like to come over for dinner.
Already ate. Enjoy your night. See you at work tomorrow, he wrote back.
He knew his brother worried about him, was trying to help him adjust to life outside prison and didn’t want him to backslide and become like their mother. But Maddox had recently married the girl he’d loved since high school. He deserved to be alone with Jada, his new wife, who was now pregnant, and Maya, their daughter. The last thing Tobias wanted to do was get in the way of their relationship—again. It was because of him they hadn’t gotten together the first time around, and that had cost Maddox the first twelve years of Maya’s life.
As he slid his phone in his coat pocket, he saw that it was too late to cancel his food. Willow was once again coming toward him, this time carrying a plate.
“You texting your girlfriend?” she asked, flirting with him as she put down his meat loaf and mashed potatoes.
He allowed himself another glance at the blonde sitting at the counter. Her meal had come, too, and yet she held her fork, turning it over and over in one hand, staring at her food without taking a bite.
“Did you hear me?” Willow asked.
Putting his napkin in his lap, he picked up his fork. “I’m sorry. What’d you say?”
She looked over her shoulder in the direction he’d been looking and lowered her voice. “I see you’ve noticed Harper.”
“Harper?” he repeated.
“Yeah, Harper Devlin—Axel Devlin’s wife. She’s been in here before.”
“Who’s Axel Devlin?”
“Are you kidding me? He’s the lead singer of Pulse. They’re, like…the biggest band on the planet!”
He’d heard of Pulse, was familiar with their music and liked it. He’d also heard the name of the band’s lead singer many times. He’d just never dreamed Willow could be referring to that Axel Devlin—although there was no good reason why she couldn’t be. A lot of celebrities came to artsy, spiritually focused Silver Springs. Quite a few, especially movie people, retired here. And he often interacted with Hudson King, a professional football player, at New Horizons Boys Ranch, where he worked doing grounds and building maintenance. Hudson did a lot to help the troubled teens who attended the boarding school—both the boys’ side and the recently built girls’ school on the same property. He’d donated the money to buy an ice-skating rink both sides could use. “Do they live in the area?”
“No. She and her two kids are staying with her sister for the holidays. I overheard her talking to the owner.”
“She looks a little…” When he let his words trail off, Willow jumped in to finish the sentence.
“I was going to say ‘lost.’”
“Probably is. I watched an interview with Axel a few months ago. He said they were splitting up. Maybe that’s why.”
It was none of his business, but Tobias couldn’t help asking, “Did he give a reason?”
She seemed to like that they’d found something to talk about that wasn’t so strained and awkward for her. “Blamed it on the travel. He has to be gone too much. Yada, yada. What else is he going to say? That he’s cheating with a different girl every night?” she added with a laugh.
Tobias felt bad for Harper. It couldn’t be easy to be married to a rock star. She wasn’t that old, likely hadn’t been prepared for that kind of life. If Tobias remembered correctly, Axel was from a small town in Idaho, and he and his band had become famous almost overnight. Now he was sitting on top of the world.
But where did that leave her?
“You said they have kids?” he asked.
“Yeah. Two little girls. I don’t remember their ages—maybe eight and six? Something like that.”
So Harper had married Axel before he’d become a big success, and they’d started a family. That indicated she’d married for love. “Where are the kids?”
“With her sister, I guess.” Willow lowered her voice. “It would suck to be her, right? I mean, she has to see his name and his face everywhere, can’t escape the constant reminder.”
Now that he wasn’t paying as much attention to Willow’s hopeful smiles and nervousness when she was around him, Tobias could see others in the restaurant nudging their companions and pointing to Harper. Apparently a lot of people knew who she was—or word was spreading fast.
Poor thing. He understood what it was like to be the talk of the town. He’d been only seventeen when he’d been prosecuted as an adult and jailed for thirteen years. Returning to Silver Springs after his release this past summer had been like being put under a microscope. Suffering privately was one thing. Suffering publicly was something else entirely. That took what she was going through to a whole new level.
“Shouldn’t be too hard for her to find someone else.” He said it as though he wasn’t particularly invested, but Harper had caught his eye, hadn’t she?
“Are you kidding me?” Willow responded again. “How will anyone else ever compare?”
She had a point. It would be tough for a regular guy to match Axel, financially and otherwise. “True.”
“You’re not interested in her, are you?” Willow looked slightly crestfallen.
Apparently he hadn’t been as careful to hide his feelings as he’d thought. But he was an ex-con, making a modest wage working for a correctional school. He’d never known his father, and his mother was a meth addict, constantly in and out of rehab. He knew when he was out of his league. “No.”
“Good.” A relieved smile curved her lips. “Because I’ve been watching you for a while and…well… I hope there’s someone else in this restaurant you might be interested in.” She finished in a rush, couldn’t quite look at him and then hurried away—only to return with a slip of paper that had her number on it when she brought the check.
Harper shoved her garlic mashed potatoes from one side of her plate to the other as she listened to the hum of voices in the diner. Although surrounded by people, she’d never felt so alone.
“I’ve got a number five,” the cook barked out for the waitresses.
Harper checked the menu, which she’d left open at her elbow so she’d have something to look at. It was difficult to go out in public right now. After the documentary she did with Axel last year, trying to remove the stigma of depression and using a therapist when necessary, people often recognized her, so she had little privacy.
A number five was a chicken breast with lemon-dill sauce, steamed vegetables and a gluten-free corn muffin. She’d ordered a number seven—peppercorn steak, garlic mashed potatoes and green beans, which had sounded good at first, but the only thing she’d been able to make herself eat was part of the dinner roll. She doubted it was gluten-free. Axel had made a big deal about staying away from gluten, but he was allergic to it, not her. And although she thought it was probably wise to avoid it, she didn’t care about her diet right now. She didn’t care about much of anything since her marriage had unraveled. It’d been all she could do just to hold herself together for the sake of her kids, and now Christmas would be here in only three weeks. It would be her and the girls’ first Christmas without Axel. He was touring Europe and wouldn’t be back until after the first of the year, since his last big concert was scheduled for New Year’s Eve.
Now that everything had changed between them, they wouldn’t have spent the holidays as they had in the past, anyway.
He might’ve asked to take the girls, however.
She could only imagine how lonely she would have felt with them gone, and yet…she sort of wished he had taken them. She didn’t feel capable of holding up her end, of putting on a brave face and telling their children that everything was going to be okay when it felt as though the ground had given way beneath her feet. She had no interest in decorating, putting up a tree or buying presents, which was why her sister had insisted she come
for an extended visit, even if it meant having the girls transfer schools for a couple of months. Piper and Everly were at a church Christmas party tonight with their cousins—twin girls who were older than Everly by four years. But Harper needed to be ready to face them with a smile when they came home.
Her phone vibrated in her pocket, but she didn’t bother to get it out. No doubt it was her sister. They’d had an argument before Harper stormed out of the house. Karoline had grown angry when Harper told her how little she was getting for child support. According to her sister, she was letting Axel off far too easy.
He was making a fortune, but Harper didn’t want to fight. She was still in love with him. As soon as he’d made it clear that he didn’t want to be married to her anymore, that he was no longer willing to try to work through their differences, she’d settled for the first figure his lawyer had thrown out. Otherwise, she was afraid the media would start to claim they were going through a “bitter” divorce. As she’d told Karoline, she’d make it on her own somehow, even though she hadn’t worked in an official capacity since the first three years of her marriage, when Axel was trying so hard to get a start in show business and he’d needed her to cover their basic living expenses.
Maybe she was a fool to be so accommodating. But she couldn’t imagine Axel would consider keeping the family together if she turned into a bitch. Besides, she didn’t even know who he was anymore, he’d changed so much. She couldn’t decide what she had a right to demand. Had she let Axel down? Or had he let her down? He’d always suffered from anxiety and depression. Maybe she hadn’t done enough to help him—
“Is everything okay?”
She forced herself to look up. The waitress working the counter had paused in front of her, obviously wondering if there was something wrong with the food.
“Fine,” Harper mumbled. She hadn’t really come to eat. She just needed some time alone, couldn’t face going back to her
sister’s quite yet. As nice as it was of Karoline to provide a refuge during this difficult month, being with her only sibling wasn’t much easier than being alone, because now she had to constantly explain and justify her actions. And with her emotions zinging all over the place, she wasn’t being consistent, couldn’t be consistent. Most of the time, she wasn’t even making a whole lot of sense.
Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” came on the sound system as the waitress moved on to her other customers.
Harper took a sip of her coffee and braved a quick glance around. Although she liked this restaurant, she didn’t feel she belonged in Silver Springs. Why wasn’t she in Denver, where she and Axel had lived after their college days at Boise State?
Because as much as she and Axel had once believed that they’d be the exception to the rule, that nothing could come between them, they’d been wrong. Slowly but surely, Axel had lost all perspective and started caring more about his work than he did his family. Fame had destroyed their relationship like so many celebrities before them.
With a sigh, she took the bill the waitress had put near her plate and paid at the register. She owed her sister more respect than to make her worry. She had to go back and face Karoline whether she wanted to or not.
Harper hadn’t put on makeup for weeks, hadn’t done anything with her hair, either, other than to pile it in a messy bun on her head, so it didn’t bother her that it was raining. She was cold, though; couldn’t seem to get warm. Tightening her oversize coat—a castoff of Axel’s from the good old days when they were first married—she pushed out of the warm café into the bad weather.
Putting her head down, she stared at her feet, bracing against the gusts of wind that whipped at her hair and clothes while stepping over two or three puddles to reach the Range Rover
Axel had let her keep when they split. If she got desperate, she supposed she could sell it. It had cost a pretty penny.
She was opening the driver’s door when she noticed a tall, lanky man with longish dark hair crossing the lot toward her.
“Don’t be frightened,” he said, lifting one hand in a gesture intended to show he wasn’t being aggressive. “I just… I saw you inside and…”
Prepared to rebuff him, she set her jaw. She was not in the mood to be hit on. But when she met his eyes, something about his expression told her that wasn’t what this was about. Taking a long-stemmed white rose from inside his coat, he stepped forward to give it to her.
“Hang in there. It’ll get easier,” he said. Then he walked off before she could even ask for his name.
Christmas from the Heart
On Sale Date: September 24, 2019
$16.99 USD, $21.99 CAD
Fiction / Romance / Contemporary
USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts takes readers to a small, snowbound town, where a young woman fights to save her family’s charity that brings Christmas to families in need, and a stranded millionaire loses his heart and finds the true meaning of Christmas.
Sometimes you need to look beyond the big picture to see what really matters
Olivia Berg’s charity, Christmas from the Heart, has helped generations of families in need in Pine River, Washington, but this year might be the end of the road. Hightower Enterprises, one of their biggest donors since way back when Olivia’s grandmother ran the charity, has been taken over by Ebenezer Scrooge the Second, aka CFO Guy Hightower, and he’s declared there will be no more money coming to Christmas from the Heart.
Guy is simply being practical. Hightower Enterprises needs to tighten its belt, and when you don’t have money to spare, you don’t have money to share. You’d think even the pushy Olivia Berg could understand that.
With charitable donations dwindling, Olivia’s Christmas budget depends on Hightower’s contribution. She’s focused her whole life on helping this small town, even putting her love life on hold to support her mission.
When Guy’s Maserati breaks down at the edge of the Cascade foothills, he’s relieved to be rescued by a pretty young woman who drives him to the nearby town of Pine River. Until he realizes his rescuer is none other than Olivia Berg. What’s a Scrooge to do? Plug his nose and eat fruitcake and hope she doesn’t learn his true identity before he can get out of town. What could go wrong?
Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have been published in several languages. Her book, Angel Lane, was an Amazon Top Ten Romance pick for 2009. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her novel, The Nine Lives of Christmas, was made into a movie for Hallmark . You can visit Sheila on Twitter and Facebook or at her website (http://www.sheilasplace.com).
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Dear Ms. Thompson,
Happy Valentine’s Day to you! I’m following up our January newsletter with a special greeting as this is, of course, the month for love. Love for our sweethearts, our family and friends, and for those in need. As you could see from the newsletter, we put the money our loyal supporters donated to us to good use. So many families benefited from your generous donation to Christmas from the Heart last year and I just wanted to remind you that, even though the holidays seem far away they will be here before we know it. I hope we can count on Hightower Enterprises again this year. We have such a history together. Let’s keep up the good work!
To: Ms. Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Subject: Holiday Joy
Dear Ms. Berg,
Thanks for reaching out. Our fiscal year is just ending and I haven’t yet received word as to how our charitable donations will be dispersed this year. I will keep you apprised.
Best, Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Thank you so much. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Happy May Day!
Dear Ms. Thompson, just wanted to wish you a happy May Day. The flowers here in Pine River are now in full bloom, and our organization has been busy helping people make their dreams bloom, as well. As you know, while our focus is primarily the holidays, Christmas from the Heart tries to help people all year round when needs arise. Of course, Christmas is our big thrust, and as there is no other organization working in this area, we are much needed. As are your kind contributions. I still haven’t heard and I do hope we can count on you.
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
Reaching out again in case my last email went astray. I’m wondering if you have any news for me regarding Hightower’s involvement with our cause for this coming year.
Ms. Berg, sorry I haven’t been able to get back to you sooner. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. It appears that the company is going to be scaling back on their charitable giving this year and funds have already been budgeted for other causes. I’m aware of the fact that in the past we’ve donated to your organization and I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you. I do wish you all the best in your search for other funding.
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
There must be some sort of misunderstanding! Hightower has always donated to Christmas from the Heart. The company’s founder, Elias Hightower, was my great-grandmother’s first contributor, and he promised her that Hightower would always be there for this organization. This is a company tradition! Please speak to your director.
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Guy Hightower, CFO, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Please reconsider
Dear Mr. Hightower, I understand from your corporate social resources director that Hightower isn’t planning on making any donation to Christmas from the Heart this year. There must be some mistake! Surely you’re aware of the long-standing relationship between your company and our organization. I’m sure I can count on you for some small amount.
Best, Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference
Guy Hightower frowned when he saw the email from Olivia Berg in his in-box. Marla Thompson had been forwarding her emails to him, keeping him abreast of Olivia Berg’s varied begging tactics, and had finally even come into his office, trying to dump the load of guilt the woman had laid on her from her shoulders to his.
“Don’t open it,” he told himself. He opened it anyway. Then he read it and swore.
Actually, he’d been swearing ever since meeting with his brothers to discuss the budget back in December. If either of them had listened to him three years ago, they wouldn’t be having to pull the company belt so tight now. This was the problem with being the youngest. It didn’t matter how many degrees you had, how smart you were or what your job title was. Big brothers never listened.
Hard to listen when you were going through your third divorce.
That was Mike’s excuse. What was Bryan’s? Oh yeah. He was a wuss. He always agreed with Mike, no matter what. And Mike hadn’t wanted to change directions. Never mind that the company was struggling, keep on doing the same thing. The definition of insanity.
Sorry, Little Miss Christmas. Times were tough all over. Hightower had kept its commitment to the more visible causes and turned the little fish loose. And that was how it worked in the corporate world.
He typed his reply.
Dear Ms. Berg, I regret that Hightower can’t help you this year. We’ve had to reassess our commitments to various causes. I’m sure you’ll understand.
Then he signed off with the time-honored adios: Respectfully, Guy Hightower.
And if she didn’t understand, well, not his problem. He had his hands full trying to keep the family company afloat. Maybe now Mike would be ready to take his advice and diversify.
Olivia Berg—Livi to her family and friends—read the email from Guy Hightower a second time. Yes, the message was the same. Really? Really? Who was this man, Ebenezer Scrooge the Second?
She plowed her fingers through her hair, the birthstone ring Morris had given her for her birthday catching in the curls. She was so angry she barely noticed.
With a snarl, she began to type.
You should be ashamed. Your great-grandfather is probably turning in his grave right now. What’s the matter with you, anyway, you selfish bastard?
She pulled her fingers off the keyboard with a gasp. What was she thinking? Was this any way to get someone to contribute to her cause? And what kind of language was this? Her great-grandmother would be turning in her grave right now, along with Elias. Adelaide Brimwell had been a lady through and through. So had Livi’s grandmother, Olivia, as well as Livi’s mom.
The thought of her mother made her tear up. How she wished Mom was still around to advise her. They’d always planned that Livi would take over running the organization one day, but neither had dreamed that day would come so soon. Her mother’s heart attack had struck like lightning. Livi’s brother had left town, moving to Seattle, which was just far enough south to keep the memories at bay. Livi had stayed put, holding on to every single one, weaving them together into a lifeline to cling to as she kept Christmas from the Heart afloat.
Oh, Mom. What should I do?
Try again came the answer.
Yes, her mother never gave up. She’d chased one potential donor for two years before he finally came through. Livi still remembered the day her mom left the house, clad in a Mrs. Santa costume she’d created—requisite white wig along with a frilly white blouse and a red skirt topped with a red-striped apron. She’d taken with her a batch of home-baked cookies nestled in a red basket and returned home with a check for five hundred dollars. The man had been a loyal contributor ever since. Livi still took him cookies every year.
“Persistence pays,” she told herself as she deleted what she’d typed.
She started over.
I’m asking you to reconsider. Your company is our major donor, and without you so many people will have little joy this Christmas. Any amount you can give will be greatly appreciated.
There. He’d have to be a heartless monster not to respond to that.
Guy trashed the guilt-inflicting email. What was he, Santa Claus? He had his hands full keeping his company solvent.
But then, people like Olivia Berg never considered the fact that a company might have needs of its own. What made them feel so entitled to sit at the edge of the salt mine while a man slaved away and then greet him with their hands out when he emerged broken and bruised? Maybe some of those people always begging for money should get out there and actually earn a living. Let them work their tails off, putting in seventy-hour weeks. Sheesh.
Anyway, the company had already met their good deed quota for the year. The only cause Guy was interested in now was Hightower Enterprises.
By the end of the workday, Guy Hightower still hadn’t responded to Livi’s last email. “You are a heartless monster,” she grumbled, glaring at her empty email in-box.
“No word yet?” her part-time assistant, Bettina Thomas, asked as she shut down her computer.
Livi sighed and shook her head.
“That is so wrong,” Bettina said in disgust.
It sure was. “They’ve been our major donor ever since my great-grandmother founded Christmas from the Heart. Without their contribution how will we put on the Christmas dinner at the community center? How many families won’t have presents under the tree or Christmas stockings or a Christmas turkey?” There was no Salvation Army in Pine River, no Toys for Tots— none of the usual organizations serviced this area. There had been no need. Christmas from the Heart had it under control.
“We’ve had to reassess our commitments,” Livi quoted. The words left a bad taste in her mouth and she frowned. “It sounds like something your boyfriend says when he’s dumping you.”
“They are dumping us,” Bettina pointed out. “But don’t worry. We have time. We’ll find someone else to come through.”
“Not like Hightower. There must be something I can do,” Livi mused.
“There is. Go home and eat chocolate.”
And try not to think bad thoughts about Guy Hightower.
In all fairness, he probably didn’t grasp the situation. She’d call him the next day and invite him to come to Pine River for a visit so she could let him see the need, show him a little of what Christmas from the Heart did for the community. She could take him to lunch, introduce him to some of the people in town, put a face—or better yet, several—to Christmas from the Heart. She’d top it all off by following in her mother’s footsteps and baking him cookies. Then how could he help but catch the vision his great-grandfather and her great-grandmother had shared?
Yes, that would do it. Sometimes you had to be a little patient, give people a second chance.
Author Bio:New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit.
As snowflakes fall in Gold Valley, Oregon, will this rugged cowboy finally win the woman of his dreams?
Cowboy Caleb Dalton has loved single mom Ellie Bell, and her little daughter, Amelia, for years. But since Ellie is his best friend’s widow, Caleb’s head knows Ellie will always be strictly off-limits. If only his heart got the memo. So when Caleb discovers that Ellie has a Christmas wish list—and hopes for a kiss under the mistletoe—he’s throwing his cowboy hat into the ring. If anyone’s going to be kissing Ellie and sharing this magical time with her and her daughter, it’s him.
Ellie has dreaded the holidays since losing her husband. But this year, she’s finally ready to make some changes. She never expects the biggest change to be the heart-stopping kiss she shares with Caleb. For almost five years, Caleb has been her best friend, her rock, her salvation. This Christmas, can Caleb prove he’s also the missing puzzle piece of Ellie’s and Amelia’s hearts?
From Chapter Two
Caleb Dalton hadn’t had much to smile about for a long time. It had been a bear of a few years, since his best friend’s death, and while time might ease a wound, it wouldn’t ever bring Clint back.
But that permanence made space for movement, around the grief, around the pain. And finally toward a future he’d been planning for a long time.
Clint had been, honest to God, one of the best men on earth. The hole he’d left behind had been huge, and Caleb had dedicated himself to caring for his friend’s widow and child in his absence.
That had been his life, his whole life, for nearly five years. And it was fair, because it had been Ellie’s life, too.
He cared for Ellie. A hell of a lot. He’d met her because of Clint, but she’d been in his life now for more than ten years.
His feelings for Ellie were complicated. Had been from the beginning. But she’d been with Clint. And there was no doubt Clint was the better man. More than that, Clint was his brother. Maybe not in blood, but in every way that counted.
Caleb had never claimed to be a perfect friend. Clint was one of those people who’d drawn everyone right to him. He was easy to like. Caleb’s own parents had been bowled over by Clint from the time they were kids.
And Caleb’s jealousy had gotten the better of him once when they’d been younger. Something that made him burn with shame even now.
He hadn’t let it happen when they’d been adults. No matter how tempting it had been. No matter how much he’d…
A muscle in his jaw ticked.
He gave thanks that there was a space in front of the Gold Valley Saloon, and he whipped his truck there up against the curb, ignoring the honk that came from behind him.
He turned around and saw Trevor Sanderson in his Chevy, giving Caleb the death glare.
“Hold your damn horses, Trevor,” he muttered as he put his truck in Park.
He should have been quicker.
Hell, that was life in a nutshell. Sometimes, you were just too late. For parking spots, and for women.
He’d tried to get that image out of his head. More times than he could count over the past decade. Had tried to erase that first time he’d seen Ellie.
It was at his parents’ barbecue. Late one summer afternoon.
He’d been talking and laughing with his brothers, and he’d lifted a beer to his lips and looked out away from the party. Then he’d frozen.
It was like the world had slowed down, all of it centering on the beautiful blonde walking toward him. The golden light from the sun illuminated her hair like a halo, and her smile seemed to light him up from the inside out.
As she’d gotten closer, he’d taken in every last detail. The way the left side of her cheek dimpled with that grin; her eyes, a mix of green and blue and a punch in the gut. Her lips were glossy pink, and he wondered if it was that stuff that women wore that smelled and tasted like cherries. He couldn’t decide if he hoped that it was or not.
Twenty years old, more experienced with women than he probably should be, and ready right then and there to drop down to his knees and propose marriage to the one walking in his direction.
It took him a full minute to realize that the beautiful blonde was holding hands with someone.
And that that someone was Caleb’s best friend on earth.
It was a surreal moment. It had been a sea change in his soul. When his feelings for Ellie had tipped over from nothing to everything.
A revelation he hadn’t been looking for, and one he sure as hell hadn’t enjoyed.
It was like the whole world had turned, then bucked, like a particularly nasty-ass bull, and left him sprawled out on the ground.
It had been the beginning of a thorny, painful set of years. As he’d gotten to know Ellie, as his feelings for her had become knit deep into his heart, into his soul. She’d become more than his friend’s woman, and more than a woman he’d desired. She’d become a friend to him.
In many ways he was thankful for the depth of the feeling, because it was the reason he’d been able to put aside the lust. The idea that he’d fallen in love with her at first sight.
When Clint had first started dating her, she’d been in school, so she hadn’t been around all the time. But during the summers, and on breaks, she came around with Clint.
Went to the lake with them. Went fishing. Came to Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The summers at the lake, though, that had been a particular kind of torture. All of them swimming out in the water, her and her swimsuit. A tiny bikini that had left little to the imagination.
And he had been so very interested in imagining all the things that it did conceal.
And he’d felt like the biggest, most perverse asshole.
Then there had been the time that Clint had asked him to take her out riding.
Just the two of them.
Because Clint trusted him. Of course he did. Why wouldn’t he trust his best friend? So he’d done it.
Had taken her out on the trails that wound behind the Dalton family property, up to the top of a mountain. And he looked over at the view with her, watched the sunset. And everything in him had wanted to lean over and kiss her on the mouth. To act on the feelings that were rioting through his chest.
For just a breath she’d looked back at him, met his eyes. And he’d thought maybe she’d wanted it, too.
Yeah, it would have exploded his relationship with Clint, but for a minute it seemed like it might be worth it.
Then she’d looked away. And then he’d come back to himself.
Clint was his brother. In every way but blood.
And he couldn’t betray his friend like that.
Anyway, Ellie loved Clint.
She didn’t love Caleb.
And no matter how much he might not want to, he had to respect that.
So he hadn’t kissed her. They had ridden back down that mountain, and nothing happened between them. But late at night, Caleb had taken himself in hand and fantasized that it had.
Two days later Clint and Ellie had been engaged.
Caleb had agreed to be the best man.
She’d married Clint. And while his feelings for her had remained, they’d shifted. As they’d had to.
He wasn’t perfect. He’d never touched Ellie. Not like a man touched a woman, though that hadn’t stopped him from going over the accidental brush of fingertips, of their elbows touching, over and over in his mind if it had happened on accident.
It hadn’t stopped him from keeping and cherishing secrets with her, even when he knew he shouldn’t. Hadn’t stopped him from pushing some boundaries that not even Ellie had realized he’d been pushing at.
Ellie was the one who’d realized, for the first time, that he was dyslexic. And he’d sworn her to secrecy. And in that secrecy had come secret reading lessons.
And he’d…well, he’d lost control of his own feelings again. And once he’d recognized that, he’d cut them off. Cut her off.
But then Clint had died, just a month later. And everything changed again.
Since then, his relationship with Ellie was about their coming together to try and fill the gap Clint had left behind. His helping where she needed it.
Helping with the house, with her grief, with Amelia.
Author Bio:New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.
Hearts are lighter and wishes burn a little brighter at Christmas…
Elizabeth Hamilton has been lost. Trapped in a tangle of postpartum depression and grief after the death of her beloved parents, she couldn’t quite see the way back to her husband and their two beautiful kids…until a car accident stole away her memories and changed her life. And when she finally remembered the sound of little Cassie’s laugh, the baby powder smell of Bridger and the feel of her husband’s hand in hers, Elizabeth worried that they’d moved on without her. That she’d missed too much. That perhaps she wasn’t the right mother for her kids or wife for Luke, no matter how much she loved them.
But now, seven years later, Luke finds her in a nearby town and brings Elizabeth back home to the family she loves, just in time for Christmas. And being reunited with Luke and her children is better than anything Elizabeth could have imagined. As they all trim the tree and bake cookies, making new holiday memories, Elizabeth and Luke are drawn ever closer. Can the hurt of the past seven years be healed over the course of one Christmas season and bring the Hamiltons the gift of a new beginning?
This was it.
Luke Hamilton waited outside the big, rambling Victorian house in a little coastal town in Oregon, hands shoved into the pockets of his coat against the wet slap of air and nerves churning through him.
Elizabeth was here. After all the years when he had been certain she was dead—that she had wandered into the mountains somewhere that cold day seven years earlier or she had somehow walked into the deep, unforgiving waters of Lake Haven—he was going to see her again.
Though he had been given months to wrap his head around the idea that his wife wasn’t dead, that she was indeed living under another name in this town by the sea, it still didn’t seem real.
How was he supposed to feel in this moment? He had no idea. He only knew he was filled with a crazy mix of anticipation, fear and the low fury that had been simmering inside
him for months, since the moment FBI agent Elliot Bailey had produced a piece of paper with a name and an address.
Luke still couldn’t quite believe she was in there, the wife he had not seen in seven years. The wife who had disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving plenty of people to speculate that he had somehow hurt her, even killed her.
For all those days and months and years, he had lived with the ghost of Elizabeth Sinclair and the love they had once shared.
He was never nervous, damn it. So why did his skin itch and his stomach seethe and his hands grip the cold metal of the porch railing as if his suddenly weak knees would give way and make him topple over if he let go?
A moment later, he sensed movement inside the foyer of the house. The woman he had spoken with when he had first pulled up to this address, the woman who had been hanging Christmas lights around the big, charming home and who had looked at him with such suspicion and had not invited him to wait inside, opened the door. One hand was thrust into her coat pocket around a questionable-looking bulge.
She was either concealing a handgun or a Taser or pepper spray. Since he had never met the woman before, Luke couldn’t begin to guess which. Her features had lost none of that alert wariness that told him she would do whatever necessary to protect Elizabeth.
He wanted to tell her he would never hurt his wife, but it was a refrain he had grown tired of repeating. Over the years, he had become inured to people’s opinions on the matter. Let them think what the hell they wanted. He knew the truth.
“Where is she?” he demanded.
There was a long pause, like some tension-filled moment just before the gunfight in Old West movies. He wouldn’t have been surprised if tumbleweeds suddenly blew down the street.
Then, from behind the first woman, another figure stepped out onto the porch, slim and blonde and…shockingly familiar.
He stared, stunned to his bones. It was her. Not Elizabeth. Her. He had seen this woman around his small Idaho town of Haven Point several times over the last few years, fleeting glimpses only out of the corner of his gaze at a baseball game or a school program.
The mystery woman.
He assumed she had been there to watch one of the other children. Maybe an aunt from out of town, someone he didn’t know.
Luke had noticed her…and had hated the tiny little glow of attraction that had sparked to life.
He hadn’t wanted to be aware of any other woman. What was the point? For years, he thought his heart had died when Elizabeth walked away. He figured everything good and right inside him had shriveled up and he had nothing left to give another woman.
Despite his anger at himself for the unwilling attraction to a woman he could never have, he had come to look forward to those random glimpses of the beautiful mystery woman who wore sunglasses and floppy hats, whose hair was a similar color to his wife’s but whose features were very different.
For the first time since he had pulled up to Brambleberry House, he began to wonder if he had been wrong. If Elliot had been wrong, if his investigation had somehow gone horribly off track.
What if this wasn’t Elizabeth? What if it was all some terrible mistake?
He didn’t know what to say, suddenly. Did he tell them both he had erred, make some excuse and disappear? He was about to do just that when he saw her eyes, a clear, startling blue with a dark, almost black, ring around the irises.
He knew those eyes. It was her.
There was nervousness in them, yes, but no surprise, almost as if she had been expecting him.
She flinched a little at the name. “No one has…called me that in a very long time.”
Her voice was the second confirmation, the same husky alto that had haunted his dreams every single night for seven years.
The other woman stared at her. “Sonia. What is going on? Who is this man? Why is he calling you Elizabeth?”
“It is…a really long story, Rosa.”
“He says he is your husband.”
“He was. A long time ago.”
The anger simmered hotter, flaring up like a controlled burn that was trying to jump the ditch. He did his best to tamp it down. He would not become his father, no matter the provocation.
“I’m still your husband. Nothing has changed. Until we divorce or you are declared dead, we are very much still married in the eyes of the law.”
Her mouth opened again, eyes shocked as if she had never considered the possibility. Maybe as far as she was concerned, her act of walking away without a word had terminated their marriage.
It had in every way except the official one.
“I…guess that’s probably true.”
“That’s why I’m here. I need you to come back to Haven Point so we can end this thing once and for all.” He was unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “It shouldn’t be that hard for you. You know the way. Apparently you’ve been back to town plenty of times. You just never bothered to stop and say hello to me or your two children.”
Her skin, already pale in the weak December afternoon light, seemed to turn ashen, and Luke was immediately ashamed at his cruelty. He tried to be better than that, to take the higher ground in most situations. He was uncomfortably aware that this unwanted reunion with his long-missing wife would likely bring out the worst in him.
The other woman looked shocked. “You have children? I don’t understand any of this, Sonia.”
She winced. “It’s so complicated, Rosa. I don’t know…where to start. I… My name isn’t Sonia, as you’ve obviously…figured out. He is right. It is Elizabeth Hamilton, and this…this is my husband, Lucas.”
The other woman was slow to absorb the information, but after a shocked moment, her gaze narrowed and she moved imperceptibly in front of Elizabeth, as if her slight frame could protect her friend.
It was a familiar motion, one that intensified his shame. How many times had he done the same thing, throwing his body in front of his mother and then his stepmother? By the time he was big enough and tough enough to make a difference, his father was dead and no longer a threat.
“Are you afraid of this man?” Rosa demanded. “Has he hurt you? I can call Chief Townsend. He would be here in a moment.”
Elizabeth put a hand on the other woman’s arm. It was clear they were close friends. The wild pendulum of Luke’s emotions right now swung back to anger. Somehow she had managed to form friendships with other people, to completely move on with her life, while he had been suffocating for seven years under the weight of rumor and suspicion.
“It is fine, Rosa. Thank you. Please don’t worry about me. I…I need to speak with…with my husband. We have…much to discuss. Go on inside. I’ll talk to you later and…and try to explain.”
Rosa was clearly reluctant to leave. She hovered on the porch, sending him mistrustful looks. He wanted to tell her not to waste her energy. He’d spent years developing a thick skin when it came to people suspecting him of being a monster.
“I’m here,” she said firmly. “I’ll wait inside. You only have to call out. And Melissa is in her apartment as well. We won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Nothing is going to happen to me,” Elizabeth assured her. “Luke won’t hurt me.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” he muttered, though it was a lie. Some might think him a monster but he suspected Elizabeth knew he could never lay a hand on her.
First of all, it wasn’t in his nature. Second, he had spent his entire life working toward self-mastery and iron control—doing whatever necessary to avoid becoming his father.
After another moment, Rosa turned around and slipped through the carved front door, reluctance apparent in every line of her body. On some level, Luke supposed he should be grateful Elizabeth had people willing to stand up and protect her.
“How did you…? How did you find me?”
He still didn’t know everything Elliot had gone through to locate her. He knew the FBI agent had spent long hours tracking down leads after a truck driver came forward years later to say that on the night Elizabeth disappeared, the trucker thought she gave a woman resembling Elizabeth’s description a ride to a truck stop in central Oregon.
Somehow from that slim piece of information, Elliot had undergone an impressive investigation on his own time and managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together. If not for Elliot, Luke wouldn’t be here in front of this big oceanfront Victorian in Cannon Beach and this familiar but not familiar woman.
Thinking about Elliot Bailey always left him conflicted, too. He was grateful to the man but still found it weird to think of his former best friend with Megan, Luke’s younger sister. After several months, he was almost used to the idea of them being together.
“I didn’t.” He jerked his attention back to the moment. “Elliot Bailey did. That’s not really important, is it? The point is, now I know where you are. But then, I guess you were never really lost, were you? We only thought you were. You’ve certainly been back to Haven Point in your little disguise plenty of times over the years.”
It burned him, knowing he hadn’t recognized his own wife. When he looked closer now, knowing what he did, he could see more hints of the woman he had loved. The brows were the same, arched and delicate, and her lips were still full and lush. But her face was more narrow, her nose completely different and her cheekbones higher and more defined.
Why had she undergone so much plastic surgery? It was one more mystery amid dozens.
“What do you want, Luke?”
“I told you. I need you to come home. At this moment, the Lake Haven County district attorney’s office is preparing to file charges against me related to your disappearance and apparent murder.”
“Elliot has tried to convince the woman you’re still very much alive. He hasn’t had much luck, especially considering he’s all but a member of the family and will be marrying my sister in a few months. The DA plans to move forward and arrest me in hopes of forcing me to tell them where I hid your body.”
“Wait—what? Elliot and Megan are together? When did that happen?”
He barely refrained from grinding his teeth. “Not really the point, is it? This has gone on long enough. I’m going to be arrested, Elizabeth. Before the holidays, if my sources are right. The district attorney is determined to send a message that men in her jurisdiction can’t get away with making their wives disappear. I’m going to go to jail, at least for a while. Our children have already spent enough Christmases without one parent. Do you want them to lose the other one?”
“Of course not.”
He didn’t know whether to believe her or not. How could he? He didn’t even know this woman, despite the fact that she had once been closer to him than anyone else on earth.
1.Is it more (or less) challenging to write your book with the holiday element? If so, what are those challenges?
Brenda Novak: For me, it’s more challenging. Themes of love conquering all and redemption appear in many of my books, which fit nicely at Christmas, so that part’s easy. Trying to weave in the celebration while the characters work through their individual conflicts is what can be tricky. I compare it to a juggler who adds just one more ball. 😉
Sheila Roberts: I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday. So I find it great fun writing a holiday tale.
Jennifer Snow: My favorite books are those set at Christmas time. If I could write all my romances with a holiday theme, I wouldJ I think the holiday element can make the book easier to write as it provides a timeline and sense of urgency to the story already and also adds a layer of stress to the main characters, whether they love the holiday season or are dreading it. However, it can be challenging to create new, fresh situations and scenes that readers haven’t read before.
RaeAnne Thayne: I adore writing Christmas books, mainly because I love reading them! There’s something so comforting and warm about settling in to read a good book set during the holidays. It’s the perfect way to relax and unwind during all the hustle and bustle. Setting books during this season of hope and joy fits so perfectly with the kind of books I love to write, about families, community, togetherness. It can be a challenge to bring a fresh new angle to Christmas, especially because I’ve written so many of them, but I find that my characters bring new traditions to each book.
2.Do you lean more toward humorous or poignant when you’re writing a holiday romance?
Brenda Novak: I definitely lean toward poignant. I’ve had a lot of my readers write me to say they teared up while reading CHRISTMAS IN SILVER SPRINGS. I think it might be a new reader favorite!
Sheila Roberts: I love humor, love to laugh, so somehow, something funny always sneaks into my stories. But because life is the way it is, I like to think I manage some poignant moments as well. Don’t we all love it when a character has a bittersweet moment or is touched by something special, learns an important lesson? I think a story, especially a Christmas story, should touch our hearts.
Jennifer Snow: I love humor and despite what my husband says, I’m actually very funny;) So, my books tend to be humorous, slightly on the snarky, sarcastic side, but I do like writing heartwarming scenes as well. Good banter between characters is my favorite part of the writing process.
RaeAnne Thayne: Both, I would have to say. My books are tender and emotional, usually about flawed characters trying to find their way to a happy ending but I definitely try to bring lighter moments into the story as well. Christmas is such a time of joy that I find those happy, bright times are easy to find.
3.What’s your favorite holiday cookie or dessert?
Brenda Novak: My mother’s homemade cheesecake with sour cream topping is absolutely divine! (You even have to crush graham crackers to make your own crust.) I’ll never forget the first time I tasted it. I was only about ten years old, and it’s been my favorite ever since.
Sheila Roberts: I have to pick a favorite? Oh, that’s cruel. How about I give you my top three? Red Velvet Cake, frosted sugar cookies and Andes mint cookies (the Andes mint serves as the frosting.) I think I gained five pounds just thinking about those goodies!
Jennifer Snow: Anything chocolate. Cold, hollow chocolate balls are my weakness.
RaeAnne Thayne: I love English toffee but have never found a great recipe for it that’s easy enough for someone like me. I also adore snickerdoodles and have used those in several books. I consider them the perfect Christmas cookie!
4. Tell us about your favorite Holiday tradition.
Brenda Novak: I have five children. Each year I enjoy trying to figure out which book I will buy each one–and whether I can get an autographed copy (I get very excited when I can). They get to open their new book on Christmas Eve, which puts it separate from their other gifts. I hope none of them will see this, but I’m all set for this year, and they are all signed! I got George R.R. Martin’s A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS, Malcolm Gladwell’s TALKING TO STRANGERS, Mitch Albom’s FINDING CHIKA, Lee Child’s BLUE MOON and Louise Penny’s A BETTER MAN.
Sheila Roberts: Gathering with my big, extended family for Christmas Eve. Been doing this since I was a child and it is really special – games carols, and, of course, a reading of the real Christmas story from the Bible. That used to be my oldest brother’s job but we lost him two years ago and now middle brother has taken over. Bittersweet.
Jennifer Snow: I have so many! Christmas is a really big deal for my family. We go all out and usually start decorating and celebrating mid-November. Growing up, it was always a very special time of year. We’ve had a lot of traditions change throughout the years as we’ve moved provinces, the family has grown and expanded, etc…But, my favorite tradition was always lunch and shopping with my mom on Christmas Eve. It would always be just the two of us. Now, we’ve switched things up a little to do lunch and an annual fashion show to support the local University Hospital Foundation but I still love that one on one time with her as we prepare for the holidays.
RaeAnne Thayne: My family has many cherished traditions. One of my favorites has gone by the wayside now that my kids are older but I still remember it with great delight. Each November I would wrap up 24 Christmas picture books collected over the years (or sometimes borrowed from the library!) and put them in a basket. My children would unwrap a new book each night as a way of counting down to Christmas and that’s the book we would read for bedtime. It was something we all looked forward to each day, finding out which book we would read that night.
5. What Holiday treat is on your must-make, or must-eat, December to-do list?
Brenda Novak: I’m huge on hot chocolate, and I love mint hot chocolate best. I also love peppermint ice cream! A friend makes a delicious baked Alaska with hot fudge and peppermint ice cream, and it’s amazing! These are all things on my must-have list!
Sheila Roberts: The cake and cookies I mentioned, of course. By the way, I’ve been making Red Velvet Cake for Christmas ever since my kids were little. We’d always light candles and sing happy birthday to Jesus. My kids are grown now, but still come home for Christmas. One year I thought it would be nice to try a different cake. Let me tell, you, that went over about as well as Santa not stopping by with presents. Both kids wanted to know where the Red Velvet Cake was. Some traditions you just can’t do away with.
Jennifer Snow: I can’t bake to save my life, though I am obsessed with holiday baking shows. Someday, I’ll learn.
RaeAnne Thayne: I guess it’s a holiday treat since I rarely make it any other time of year but my family loves my Make-Ahead French Toast recipe made with pecans and a delicious creamy brown sugar sauce. I always put it together Christmas Eve and then throw it in the oven on Christmas morning to bake while we’re opening presents.
6. What’s the most memorable Holiday gift you’ve ever received or given?
Brenda Novak: I just moved, so while I was sorting through boxes in the attic, I came across a box I’ve kept for most of my life. It contains a “Baby, Alive!” and some handmade clothes for the doll that my mother had someone sew–a gift I received from Santa when I was only six or seven. The clothes are so well made, and they came in the cutest little suitcase, which I also still have. That’s my most memorable Christmas, and I can’t wait until my granddaughter is old enough to inherit my most beloved baby doll, which is still in near perfect shape, despite the many hours I played with her.
Sheila Roberts:I still remember the Christmas when my husband and I were having some lean times. My parents, who weren’t exactly rolling in the green stuff either, gave us a Christmas ornament… wrapped in five ten dollar bills. It saved the day.
Jennifer Snow: My parents gave me an old fashioned typewriter that I’d been eyeing in an antique store. I love it!
RaeAnne Thayne: One year when times were very tough for us and we were emotionally and financially drained from medical bills for our special needs fragile baby, my amazing husband surprised me with a used laptop I knew we couldn’t afford. I wept when I discovered he had cashed out his hard-earned vacation for the next year so I could use it to write while taking our son to appointments or had to stay overnight at the hospital with him. It’s ancient and probably won’t turn on now but I’ll never part with it.
7. What are some of your favorite novels? What do you like the most when writing
Brenda Novak: I’m such an eclectic reader, and yet I don’t read Christmas books. I’m not sure why–except that writing one seems to fulfill that need. As far as favorite books, I absolutely devoured WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ and THE NIGHTINGALE, so I would name them as a few of my recent favs.
Sheila Roberts:If we’re talking Christmas, I must say the Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the best Christmas tale ever written. Brilliant. And such a great message. Wish I’d written it! 🙂
Jennifer Snow: My favorite novels are everything Debbie Macomber publishes lol. She was the first romance author I read and I adore her holiday themed stories. The thing I like most about writing Christmas themed books is the way I get to enjoy my favorite season all year round lol. With publishing schedules, I’m quite often writing Christmas stories in July lol, so it’s fun to be able to stay in that spirit outside of December.
RaeAnne Thayne: I have so many favorite books, it’s hard to choose! I adore historical romances set at Christmas. For some reason, they put me in the holiday spirit like nothing else. What I love most about writing Christmas-themed books is the chance it gives me to think about the things I love most about this time of year, that feeling of joy and hope and promise, and try to recreate that feeling for my readers.
8.What inspired you to start writing novels? What do you hope are some of the key takeaways from of your latest holiday novel?
Brenda Novak: I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup and Tylenol while I was working as a loan officer more than twenty years ago and was so freaked out I quit my job to stay home with them myself. But I needed to figure out a way to make a living. I was searching for something I could do from home when my sister sent me Jude Devereux’s KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, telling me I would love it. She was right. It also gave me the idea to become a novelist. I remember closing that book and thinking, “I wonder if I could do this.” I started the next day!
CHRISTMAS IN SILVER SPRINGS is a touching and poignant story about a man who’s recently been released from prison for a mistake he made just before he turned eighteen, so it’s definitely a redemption story. I would hope that readers take away the fact that love and understanding can change lives.
Sheila Roberts:I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I think story tellers just have to tell stories. That imagination muscle demands being used. I hope readers will enjoy Christmas from the Heart, and come away inspired to donate to their favorite worthy causes. There are so many organizations in need. If we all picked one and pitched in we could make a big difference in the world.
Jennifer Snow: I’ve been writing stories since I was five years old. At fifteen, I submitted my first YA romance manuscript to Harlequin and I think I tried to pitch them a new line lol. I had no idea how publishing worked, but I knew I wanted to be an author. Needless to say, that manuscript was rejected, but the letter from the editor was so wonderfully encouraging, it helped me stick with it through university and pregnancy and marriage and finally I got my ‘yes’ from Harlequin in 2012. It was a dream come true and I’m so happy that I get to do what I love for a living.
In my latest holiday novel, An Alaskan Christmas, the heroine is a work-aholic and she’s not sure how to balance her career and her love for the hero, so I’d love for readers to read it and watch the heroine struggle and overcome her own challenges in finding her happily ever after and be inspired by that. We can have it all if we are willing to work for it and be brave enough to follow our hearts.
RaeAnne Thayne: I’ve always been a voracious reader. When I was in high school while writing for my school newspaper, I discovered I loved telling stories too. I pursued a career in journalism and after graduating from college I started working for a daily newspaper. I loved the challenge of it but still dreamed of writing a romance novel one day, the kind of books I had been devouring since middle school. I finally started my first book when I was home on maternity leave with my first child and have been doing it ever since.
My latest book, COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, is a reunion story about two people who definitely deserve to find the joy of Christmas. Luke and Elizabeth Hamilton have been separated by circumstances beyond their control for more than seven years. It’s an emotional, tender story about courage, forgiveness and second chances. Their journey back to their happy ending is a difficult one but turned out to be one of the most rewarding books I’ve ever written.
9. When did you start writing Christmas/Holiday-themed stories? What was your inspiration for your latest holiday novel?
Brenda Novak: I’ve been doing them for a number of years now. My first was WHEN SNOW FALLS, which I think is still one of my best.
The inspiration for CHRISTMAS IN SILVER SPRINGS came from the book before it–UNFORGETTABLE YOU. In that book, the hero had a brother in prison. I wanted to explore what Tobias might be like after the life he’s lived so far. My fascination with Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons (I’m a huge fan!) supplied the rest of the inspiration, although the rock star in this book wasn’t portrayed in the most positive light, I have nothing but respect for Dan Reynolds, so I had to twist a few things to make a good story. 😉
Sheila Roberts: My first contemporary Christmas novel was On Strike for Christmas (inspired by my husband, who was being naughty). Ever since I’ve been writing a Christmas story almost every year. This year’s offering came about because I wanted to write a Scrooge story of my own, my nod to Mr. Dickens.
And I guess there’s no better way to end this interview, after saying thanks for allowing me to join you, than, to quote Mr. Dickens himself. “God bless us, every one!”
Jennifer Snow: My first novel was a Christmas themed story…and so were the next three after that lol. I’m obsessed with them and plan to write as many as Harlequin will let meJ
The inspiration for An Alaskan Christmas was meeting my local search and rescue and just being in awe of what they do, the challenges they face and how brave and selfless they are. And I’ve always loved Alaska, so I wanted to set a series there.
RaeAnne Thayne: My first Christmas book was THE COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE, set in my Cowboys of Cold Creek series. It was the only book I’ve ever written where the story came to me fully formed in a dream! I emailed my editor the next day with a blurb and she loved the idea and immediately offered me a contract. I wrote 15 books in the Cold Creek series and about 10 of those were holiday books!
The inspiration for my current book was really one of those throw-away plot points in a previous book. In my book SNOWFALL ON HAVEN POINT, the hero, a sheriff, was injured while investigating a mysterious tip on a long-cold case of a missing woman. I didn’t know any details about who the woman was, why she was missing or about the people she had left behind. All of that developed while I was writing subsequent books in Haven Point. COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS answers all those questions I first had more than four years ago.