Posted in 5 paws, Cozy, e-books, mystery, Review, Sale on October 30, 2014

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Synopsis

Organization expert Kate McKenzie is looking forward to her newest consignment: organize the cross-country move for a divorced father and his two children. But when a dead body turns up, Kate’s carefully organized plans are thrown into chaos. Was it an accident? Or murder? Kate aims to find out and ends up falling more emotionally involved than she’d expected when the victim’s teenaged daughter becomes the police’s lead suspect. As a mother herself, she just can’t let the girl not only lose a mother but possibly lose her freedom and future as well. While the police follow the chain of evidence, Kate follows her gut, leading her on a dangerous investigation that could result in more than one death if she doesn’t watch her step.

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Review

This is a great follow up to Ritter’s first book, Organized to Death. I think the first book the author was finding her footing, but this book exceeded my expectations.

I’m happy that I figured out whodoneit, but not because of any clues left behind by the author, but just by this feeling that I had while reading. There is no shortage of “bad” characters that I wouldn’t have mind being the killer just because I didn’t like them!

I love all the organizing tips at the beginning of each chapter, very useful and I hope to put some of them to good use!

I give this book 5 paws up.

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About This Author

Ritter Ames lives in a small town in the middle of America, but spends each day globe trotting the art world from her laptop, with her cat riding shotgun and Pandora blasting from the speakers. COUNTERFEIT CONSPIRACIES is her first full-length fiction. A second cozy mystery series, starting with ORGANIZED FOR MURDER was released by Gemma Halliday Publishing in January 2014. She tries to blog regularly at http://ritterames.wordpress.com/ and uses her Pinterest boards at http://www.pinterest.com/ritterames/ to capture great places and ideas she wants to use in both series.

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Posted in romance, Spotlight, women on October 30, 2014

Lydia Marshall needs to round up the last samples of an unpredictable “relationship enhancer” created by her employer, NuGenn Pharmaceuticals. The last batch of the so-called potion is in the hands of a test subject, Damone Reid. But when Lydia finally tracks him down she’s in for a shock. He is no longer the shy, awkward programmer she interviewed months before. Suddenly, she finds herself swept up in Damone’s potion-fueled quest to live life to the fullest. They go kite flying.  They go whale watching. They go dancing in the moonlight.

Even though Lydia tries to keep things professional the former nerd’s enthusiasm–and kisses–are infectious. As the tall, sexy adventurer takes her on a wild ride, Lydia finds herself falling for him. But is it the love potion that is igniting her feelings? And what will Damone do if he finds out her secret mission is to destroy the very thing that is changing his life? The discovery could destroy their blossoming romance.

 

Lydia asked to see Damone right away but Mrs. Benson shook her head.

“He’s gone.  Packed a bag this morning and told me he was going on a trip to have some fun. Didn’t know when he’d be back.  Whistling show tunes, he was, and said he meant to start at some place called Barrel-o-Thrills.  Took off before I could get another word out of him.”

Hastily, Lydia thanked Mrs. Benson and rushed out to her car.  A quick search on her cell phone found Barrel-o-Thrills out on the edge of the city. It was a club specializing in bungee jumping. The website announced: Give yourself the thrill of a lifetime.  Your molecules will never be the same.  

Lydia remembered the 50-foot railing and tore out of the driveway.  What if Damone came to real harm because of NuGenn!  What if he’d used too much of the potion and it had morphed into a thrill enhancer instead of a relationship enhancer!

Oh, the lawsuit!  Oh, the bad publicity!

By the time Lydia got to Barrel-o-Thrills, parked and paid admission, her heart was pounding. She raced over to bungee towers just in time to see a long, gangling body flying through the air, arms and legs wind-milling, yelling with delight.

When she finally got to where the crew were slipping the harness from Damone, she could see what his grandmother meant. He was grinning even though, wobbling and whooping, he could barely stand upright.

Could the potion have done this?

Lydia wondered again.

Or had he just discovered common recreational drugs?

Moving swiftly and decisively, she rushed over and grabbed Damone by the elbow.

“Let him go.  I’ll take care of him from here,” she told the crew chief.

Unclipping the last of the harness, the man shrugged and handed Damone over.  Reeling from the wild plunge, Damone staggered straight into Lydia.  Hanging on to stay upright, he blinked at her
in disoriented, astonished surprise.

“Volta…” he gasped.

The next second, he flung both his arms around Lydia and started kissing her with a passion that curled her toes and shocked her at the same time.

In fact, Lydia was so shocked that she just stood there while Damone tightened his embrace even more.  His mouth feasted on hers with such total delight, and such complete abandon that the sensation swept away any resistance Lydia tried to muster.  The fellow was kissing her as though he hadn’t kissed a woman in ages–kissing as though he meant to claim every delicious pleasure he had missed living like a hermit in a basement.   Lydia could actually feel the determination rushing through him.

Gail Hamilton has been creating novels since the great romance boom of the eighties, writing for Harlequin and other publishers. She has been a farm hand, English teacher, ad copywriter, and once rode a British Bedford truck across the Sahara and back to see Timbuktu. All of it is fodder for her fiction. She is drawn to action, romance, adventure and characters with a distinctly odd twist. These show up in her many romance novels and her fast-moving historical novel, The Tomorrow Country.
After trying urban life in Europe and Toronto, Gail returned to live on the family farm where she grew up. In this rural corner hugging the north shore of Lake Ontario, Gail digs into the rich, raucous local history. She cherishes a secret passion for animated movies and loves snapping photos of nature all around her, reading the constant changes like a newspaper every morning. What better place to hatch brand new tales for everyone’s enjoyment.

Website

Posted in 4 paws, excerpt, Review, Romantic Comedy on October 29, 2014

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Her Ghost Wears Kilts 2

 

Title: Her Ghost Wears Kilts
Author: Kathleen Shaputis
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Pages: 240
Genre: Romantic Comedy Paranormal
Format: Paperback/Kindle

 

Synopsis

Something’s not right at Baillie’s popular used bookstore in rain-soaked western Washington and frigid, heart-stopping air is her first clue. When the cat refuses to enter the shop and Baillie hears faint bagpipes in the travel book section, her nerves are rubbed raw.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the heir of a local castle falls to a suspicious death. An evil banker claims ownership of the castle, leaving the staff to ponder their fate.

How are these events connected? The answer lies in a Ghost and Mrs. Muir tale 21st century style that flips the table with a ghostly twenty-seven-year-old hunk, Lord Kai, and fifty-something bachelorette Baillie. Her gay best friend Gillian Nation and his girls dash to Scotland to Baillie’s rescue when the combination of alcohol, villainous banker, DNA, and good old-fashioned jealousy throw Baillie into the fight of her life. Will she choose to reclaim her normal Northwest existence or grab onto an unorthodox love that makes life magical and breath-taking?

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Excerpt

The cat flattened itself to the carpet near the front bookcase, ears lost against its orange-striped head, frozen in fear. A terrified hiss leaked through his open mouth and, slinking backward, the cat spun and ran toward the back of the store.

Catching a brief flash of orange out of the corner of her eye, Baillie shook her head. “Now what’s gotten into Sebastian? Must be a mouse.” She fanned her painted fingernails along the spines of books stacked on the shelf beside her. Listening to the hushed clicking sounds of her nails against the bindings as she walked down the aisle, she inhaled the intoxicating aroma of paper and leather around her. She loved opening her bookshop every morning, where antique classics, used and new volumes of various sizes filled the shelves around her. Framed paintings by local artists dotted the walls between the bookcases.

“Morning,” Baillie called to the previously owned hardbacks without the slightest apprehension of appearing insane. She talked to inanimate objects all the time—great audience, no heckling. Besides, I’m alone in here unless you count the cat, and you can’t count on that spoiled feline for anything. Where did he dash off to just now in such a hurry?

A thin volume of poems lay exposed on a shelf. “You don’t belong here,” Baillie said, sweeping it up to reshelve. She hesitated; the book cover felt cold in her hand, the worn leather chilling her fingers, sucking the warmth from her fingertips in seconds. She quickly shook her head to keep her thoughts from running amok. Of course the book was cold; in the Northwest, things always seemed cold.

“I swear someone helps themselves around here at night. The least they could do is put the books back where they belong when they’re done.” She turned and pushed a ceramic bookend aside and placed the wayward book next to the others as a quick chill shivered down her spine.

“Hey, Einstein, ol’ buddy.” Baillie grabbed an ornate feather duster from a brass umbrella stand nearby and took a few housekeeping swipes against the framed lithograph hanging on the wall. “Dang, I’m looking more like you every day.” She checked her reflection in the glass. “Tell me, did you see who moved Robert Burns’ book of poems last night? Maybe I need to borrow your glasses—going blind in my old age and missed putting it away after closing.”

Baillie turned, whistling the theme song from Fame, at the end of the aisle. She missed seeing the slow, deliberate movement as the same book silently shifted out from the shelf. The dark brown edition slid away from the other poetry books, hanging suspended for a moment, then lay back on the empty surface of the shelf. The ceramic bookend moved, closing the empty gap.

The front door of the shop opened with a tinkling of metal chimes. “It’s just me,” yelled a female voice as she came in.

“I’m in the north quarter, Sally. Would you turn on the computer?” Baillie responded from somewhere behind the walls of books. “Time to open up, I guess.”

“No problem, boss.” Sally dropped her purse under the counter.

Baillie knew her assistant’s routine by heart: She’d click the black toggle switch on the power strip with the toe of her shoe, sending juice to all the electronics at the same time. Baillie heard the calculator, printer and credit card unit each create its own hum as Sally pressed the power button.

“How are the hot flashes this morning?” Sally asked.

“Midlife under control, thank you very much young whiner.” Baillie dusted another shelf with a few fast swishes. “You can kick the personal heater on for a while.”

“Just a little damp for June this year, you know. Some of us don’t have the benefit of hormonal heaters,” she taunted.

“I heard that!” Baillie continued up and down the aisles, swishing the duster back and forth. Suddenly, a bitter cold swept around her, sending a blinding chill through her body. She gasped from the icy shock. Baillie couldn’t catch her breath as the splash of numbing cold flowed into her heart and out again, pounding inside her chest. The reddish blond hairs on the back of her exposed neck stood on end. Her teeth chattered against the chill, like Lucy Ricardo locked in the meat freezer.

“What the …?” She leaned against the shelving for support. “Whoa.” Baillie blinked rapidly and focused on her right hand, more specifically the beige metal shelf under her crimson-painted fingernails. The metal felt warm, warmer than her soul at the moment. Goose bumps traveled up her bare arms and under her short-sleeved blouse. Titles describing Scotland and its clans stood in military straight rows in front of her.

As quickly as it had struck, the air around her trembling body returned to normal temperatures. She took a shaky breath, mentally searching for some logical explanation for the bone-chilling cold. “Who turned the air conditioner on?” she whispered to herself with mock confidence. Looking around the cramped quarters of bookshelves as she moved away, the store seemed peaceful. She dropped the feather duster into a stand with a soft thud.

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Review

This is an interesting twist of genres – romance, comedy, paranormal and even a little bit of mystery.

Baillie is being haunted by a ghost from Scotland but doesn’t know why or that it is even a ghost until she goes to a renaissance faire and meets a fortune teller. Who knew that it would turn out to be an ancestor?!

I don’t want to give away too much but this was a fun book to read and you never knew exactly where the story was going…you might thing down one path and then the author would make that sharp left and you were going down another path in the story. It kept me intrigued throughout and there were even a few heart stopping moments for me near the end.

The cast of characters was interesting since it included several drag queens (that impersonated Beyawncee and Jaello) and Baillie’s good friend Gillian who is gay but a whiz at all things electronic.

Other reviewers pointed out that there were some errors when describing some aspects of London and Scotland.  Since I don’t live in England or Scotland I wouldn’t have necessarily caught the errors and therefore didn’t detract from the story.

This was a fun read and will be checking out what other books this author has written.

We give this 4 paws up!

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About the Author

Kathleen Shaputis, author/ghostwriter, lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Bob, and a variety of four-footed loves. Curling up with an icy Diet Coke, writing romantic comedies is her ultimate paradise when not at her day job or invaded by grandchildren.

 

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Posted in Romantic Suspense, Spotlight, women on October 29, 2014

drowning

 

Synopsis

Sensuous but stifled New York City photographer Erin Mitchell thinks going to South Africa on assignment will be the perfect getaway. But when a flash flood washes away Erin’s vehicle and she is stranded at a luxury safari lodge, Erin’s romantic working vacation takes an interesting turn. She awakens from her near-drowning and meets her rescuer, Nicholas–hot and brilliant, successful and caring– not at all like her abusive husband. At Leopard Rock in the steamy South African heat, Erin faces the toughest choices of her life.

Nicholas is ripped, he’s smart and he’s “no strings attached.” To give in, or not to give in drowns Erin’s senses as she struggles with two impossible goals: ignore the exquisite physical charms of her host, and conceal every last detail whenever her controlling husband calls.  On the other side, Nicholas faces impossible choices of his own, as the bon-vivant playboy may just possibly collide with feelings more powerful than lust.

Erotic. Exotic. Wild. Drowning sizzles in the African heat as one woman is stretched to the breaking point by the strength of her vows and the intensity of her seething primal desires.

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About the Author

Jassy de Jong was inspired to write her first novel, Random Violence, after getting hijacked at gunpoint in her own driveway.  She has written several other thrillers including Stolen Lives and The Place for Fallen Horses. De Jong also edits a hair and beauty magazine.  She lives in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg with her partner Dion, two horses and two cats.

Posted in 5 paws, Giveaway, New Adult, Review, Young Adult on October 28, 2014

CINDER_ELLA_blog_tour

 

cinder ella

Synopsis

It’s been almost a year since eighteen-year-old Ella Rodriguez was in a car accident that left her crippled, scarred, and without a mother. After a very difficult recovery, she’s been uprooted across the country and forced into the custody of a father that abandoned her when she was a young child. If Ella wants to escape her father’s home and her awful new stepfamily, she must convince her doctors that she’s capable, both physically and emotionally, of living on her own. The problem is, she’s not ready yet. The only way she can think of to start healing is by reconnecting with the one person left in the world who’s ever meant anything to her—her anonymous Internet best friend, Cinder.

Hollywood sensation Brian Oliver has a reputation for being trouble. There’s major buzz around his performance in his upcoming film The Druid Prince, but his management team says he won’t make the transition from teen heartthrob to serious A-list actor unless he can prove he’s left his wild days behind and become a mature adult. In order to douse the flames on Brian’s bad-boy reputation, his management stages a fake engagement for him to his co-star Kaylee. Brian isn’t thrilled with the arrangement—or his fake fiancée—but decides he’ll suffer through it if it means he’ll get an Oscar nomination. Then a surprise email from an old Internet friend changes everything.

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Review

I LOVED this book! I have read a few others by Kelly and this book drew me in from the Prologue! What made me mad was that I read the prologue and had to go somewhere and after reading that short bit I wanted to keep reading…but I couldn’t. So I stayed up late and finished it the next morning and now I want more!

Ella and Cinder are best friends, but Cinder has a secret that he is keeping from Ella – he isn’t just any guy, he is an actor and a famous one at that. They have some ups and downs during the book and you wonder if there is hope for a relationship between them with everything Ella has gone through and what Cinder’s life is like at the moment.

I think my heart was in my throat several times just waiting to see what was going to happen next. I had many questions about Ella’s dad and where he was while she was growing up, and was very glad to see that answered later in the book.

If you have never read any of Kelly’s books, definitely pick this one up.

We give this 5 paws up

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About the Author

kelly oramKelly Oram wrote her first novel at age fifteen—a fan fiction about her favorite music group, The Backstreet Boys, for which her family and friends still tease her. She’s obsessed with reading, talks way too much, and likes to eat frosting by the spoonful. She lives outside of Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, four children, and her cat named Mr. Darcy.

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Posted in Book Blast, Cozy, mystery, Spotlight on October 27, 2014

I have to tell you about the newest book in the Miss Fortune Mystery series by author Jana Deleon.  I love her books and know that this is another winner so check out this and the rest of her books.

gator bait

 

Synopsis

Things are starting to look up for Fortune Redding. Even though her life was at stake, the CIA assassin had balked at taking on a new identity in Sinful, Louisiana. But instead of hating it like she’d thought she would, Fortune now has friends she cares about and just finished up an incredible first date with the sexiest deputy in the state. Sure, there’s been a murder or two that she’s gotten mixed up in since she arrived in town, but she’s hoping all of that is behind her.

But when someone almost kills Deputy Carter LeBlanc, Fortune tosses her dreams of peace and quiet into the muddy bayou and shifts back into being the deadly trained professional that she is. With the help of Ida Belle and Gertie, Fortune launches a manhunt, intending to find a killer before he tries again.

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Posted in fiction, Giveaway, Monday, mystery on October 27, 2014

Blue-Eyed Ruse - Book Jacket

 

Synopsis

“What a nightmare…” Jake says as one day bleeds into the next. Murders are happening all across the nation.. why”? Is this a series of freak isolated incidents or by design? Characters in this story cross paths… coincidence? Maybe or maybe not… this for the reader to determine…and decided whether to answer the S.O.S. call…

Brenda and Brad’s marriage had been dissolving over the years, but right before it completely evaporated the couple decided to give it one last shot. However, things took a turn for the worst when Brad committed suicide. Or was he murdered? Ginny explores the themes of money, marriage and murder in her new mystery novel, Blue-Eyed Ruse.

“[Brenda] sits there and wonders why all of this stuff is happening to her.  Why Brad?  Why now? They were just about to start the next part of their life together.”

The protagonist uncovers painful information about her late husband’s double life that make her feel as if she never really knew him at all. With the help of close friends, her faith and the motivation of her children, she finds the strength to continue her life despite her pain and feelings of betrayal. Through the novel, Ginny encourages her readers to remain hopeful no matter the circumstance and to find their inner strength during hard times.

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About the Author

Ginny Frings writing beside St. Louis ArchOn June 15, 2000, Ginny Frings survived a head-on car collision, when another driver was driving the wrong direction on the interstate evading police.  Her 13-month old twins were in the back seat. This experience inspired her to encourage others experiencing tough times. Her clients refer to her as the “Transformational Speaker” because she teaches her audiences how to learn from challenges and transform them into victories. Ginny is the author of the recently published Blue-Eyed Ruse. It is an inspirational book written about the pains and triumphs of a newly widowed mother, who discovers her late husband was not the man he said he was.

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Giveaway

The author is kindly giving away a print copy of her book, Blue Eyed Ruse.  Open to US residents only please

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Posted in 3 1/2 paws, Christian, fiction, Giveaway on October 25, 2014

greenebrier

 

Synopsis

Death, discovery, and dilemma set the tone in the first three chapters of this fiction novel set in South Chicago, 1977–1979. The Williams family moves to Chicago due to a job transfer. Seth is a commercial airline pilot with a wife and two sons.

Bribes, greed, jealously, infidelity, and intrigue challenge this Christian family, who find out at closing that their house is in a homeowner’s association with rules which must be followed. The accidental death of a neighbor’s child and the murder of a volunteer board member keep Sally Williams busy after she becomes a board member and then president, by default.

Many homeowners do not know this neighborhood is built over one of many former garbage dumps from Chicago’s trash in the 1950s and ’60s. Follow this family through two years of mishaps, mayhem, and murder as they try to live a normal family life filled with school, sports, and home-ownership problems. Not all neighbors live a life with Christian morals–some of them leading sad and shocking lifestyles which create a challenging environment.

This novel is the first of a series.

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Review

This is a nice clean book about a housing community and the lives of several families in the community. To top it off, the community was built on top of a garbage dump that had been closed.  It is supposed to be a Christian book, but there aren’t a lot of religious mentions in the book.  There are a few that reference bible verses, but nothing too heavy.  The characters are very realistic and since the book is set in the 1970’s, the author did a good job of setting the scene for that era.  The characters are likeable and while I have never lived in a community with a homeowner’s association, I felt like the author showed what a HOA can be like and the problems that can arise.

There were some interesting twists – long lost loves, murder and blackmail. I was surprised at a few of the twists and how the book ended but I felt like it didn’t really tie everything up, so perhaps that means a follow up book?  It does say that this is the first of a series so I guess time will tell!

I give this 3 1/2 paws.

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About the Author

Sandee Martin Drake is a retired French and Spanish high school teacher. She received a BA in French from Florida State University and an EdM in education from Weber State University. She has four different stories published in four different books. The latest of these are Heavenly Company: Entertaining Angels Unaware by Cecil Murphy and Twila Beck and Northern Arizona Authors Association Collected Works: Volume 2.

Giveaway

I am giving away the print copy of this book that the author sent me.  Open to US residents only

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Posted in Blog tour, fiction, Giveaway, women on October 24, 2014

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Title: Sifting Through Mud
Author: Demetria Foster Gray
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Pages: 276
Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Format: Paperback/Kindle

The death of Nyla’s husband comes as a shock to everyone except Nyla. What’s shocking to Nyla is her inability to grieve his death like a typical loving wife should grieve. But Nyla isn’t a typical loving wife. She’s a woman in desperate need to breathe. The oxygen in her life has long gone, and the astonishing thing she feels from her husband’s death is relief, not grief.

Even more astonishing is the rare and unexpected friendship which develops between Nyla and her dead husband’s mistress. However, Nyla isn’t aware her new best friend is a former mistress. And as their friendship deepens into an unshakable bond, Nyla is forced to face secrets her husband took with him to his grave. This means she has to sift through mud to unravel the truth. A truth that’s better off dead.

Yet through it all, the one thing which makes Nyla violently breathless, is the exact same thing that causes her to finally breathe.

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D GrayDemetria Foster Gray is a novelist, freelance writer, and communications consultant. She earned a degree in Marketing Communications and spent the bulk of her career writing for the corporate world. Creating fictional characters and building stories has always been her first love. A native of the Chicago, IL area, Demetria now lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.

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Giveaway

$25 Amazon Gift Card and 1 Free Ebook copy of Sifting Through Mud

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • Two winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Amazon Gift Certificate and 1 ecopy of her book.
  • This giveaway begins October 6 and ends on November 1.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on Monday, November 3
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

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Tour Schedule

October 7

Interviewed at Review From Here

October 9

Book featured at PUYB Virtual Book Club

October 13

Book reviewed at Hanging Off the Wire

October 15

Book featured at Celticlady’s Reviews

October 17

Guest blogging at I’m Shelf-ish

October 20

Book reviewed and Guest blogging at Jersey Girl Book Reviews

October 22

Book featured at My Life. One Story at a Time

October 23

Interviewed at Read Your Writes

October 24

Book featured at Confessions of a Reader

Book featured at Storeybook Reviews

October 27

Guest blogging at Melina’s Book Blog

October 28

Book reviewed at All Things Romance

October 29

Book reviewed at The Phantom Paragrapher

October 30

Interviewed at Literal Exposure

Posted in excerpt, Giveaway, romance, Spotlight on October 23, 2014

RETURN TO DRAKE SPRINGS

A Next Door Category Romance ~ Drake Springs, Book One

Cheryl Norman

Lance George debates his decision to return to his hometown, but the price is right on the abandoned veterinary hospital he hopes to buy. He’s saved his money to open his practice by living frugally and purchasing wisely. There’s no room in his life for wasteful spending. His alcoholic mother squandered everything she had when he was growing up, leaving him with an obsessive motivation to achieve financial security.

Iris Porter is unaware that she broke Lance’s heart in high school. She’s too busy trying to earn a living in a tough economy. She hopes to reclaim her old job as a veterinary assistant when Lance reopens the town’s only animal clinic. Popular and friendly, Iris is known to be generous to a fault. When a friend’s baby is stricken with leukemia, she organizes fundraisers and enlists Lance’s help.

Lance’s feelings for Iris rekindle when he realizes how much she’s changed. The high school snob is at odds with the caring, sensitive woman who wants to help a family in need. But can he reconcile Iris’s generous spirit with his overpowering need for penny pinching?

 

 

Excerpt

Lance George cruised into town in a fog of black insects and misgivings. He’d had good reason to leave home years ago. Was returning a mistake? He’d debated during the entire three-hour drive from Tallahassee and still questioned his decision. But he was here now. The moving company had his packed belongings ready to deliver. Inhaling a breath for courage, he slowed at the Welcome to Drake Springs sign.

Searching familiar landmarks, he recognized the Hurricane Lantern, a rustic restaurant located on Highway 471. To his left stood the stately Wilson home, vacant and for sale. Five blocks past the city limits sign, Highway 471 became Main Street. He passed the First Foster Bank and Boyd’s Diner, both still in business. A left turn here would take him to the high school, but he’d skip that detour down bad-memory lane.

The stoplight at Main Street turned red and he applied his brakes. A flash of purple grabbed his attention. Was that—? No, it couldn’t be. What were the odds he’d return to Drake Springs and immediately see the girl of his adolescent dreams? In the flesh—and what beautiful flesh—Iris Porter stepped into the crosswalk walking a bicycle to the opposite side of Main Street. It may have been nine years since he’d seen her, but with her blond curls sticking out the edges of a bicycle helmet, she looked as adorable as ever.

She turned her head and met his gaze but kept walking. She wouldn’t recognize him, and even if she did, why would she acknowledge him? She had deemed herself too good for him. He’d been a bookworm. A nerd. His limited circle of friends didn’t include babes and jocks. No reason to hope her opinion had changed.

She continued toward the courthouse. She hadn’t lost that subtle but alluring sway of hip that drew the attention of every male student standing in the halls at Foster County High—especially him. Instead of mounting her bicycle and riding, she chain-locked it to an oak tree.

“What’s your story, dear Iris?” He eased forward with the morning traffic while keeping her purple shorts and T-shirt in his peripheral vision. She still had her cheerleader’s legs and slender shape. If anything, she was thinner now. She disappeared inside the Foster County Courthouse. “Doing a title search? Paying your taxes? Filing for divorce?”

Iris’s rejection in high school had driven him to succeed and improve himself, so maybe he should thank her for stomping all over his heart. He continued his drive through town, leaving behind Iris Porter and all conjecture about her.

When he reached Ortega Street, he turned left and pulled into the parking lot of his destination. A business property that once housed Hodges Animal Clinic faced Main. Behind sat a modular home included with the business property. The lot looked weedy, abandoned, and neglected. No wonder it had such an attractive price tag. The realtor must have taken the online photos in winter, before the spring foliage filled in the blackjack oaks. Now shade cast most of the lot in darkness, forming a thick barrier against the hot Florida sun.

A middle-aged, heavyset woman stood in the gravel parking lot. He parked his Transit Connect beside her late model Buick. He’d recently purchased the economical business van in preparation for his new practice. It was small enough to serve as his personal vehicle, too. Unlike his mother, Lance did his research and made practical choices. Impulse buying got people in trouble.

“Doctor George?” The woman approached him with outstretched hand even before he’d fully exited his van. “I’m Barbara Sinclair.”

“Thank you for meeting me.” He shook her delicate manicured hand.

Everything about the woman looked professional, from her perfectly groomed, chestnut hair to her business attire. A few years and a few pounds ago, she was probably a real babe.

“I feel as if we’ve already met, from your e-mails. I believe this property will suit your needs.”

“It looks less cheerful than in the online photos.”

She winced. “Weeds grow quickly in Florida. The reduced price should more than make up for the little TLC the place needs.”

“Right.” He’d reserve judgment until he inspected the buildings. He locked his van, an action that earned him a bemused smile from Ms. Sinclair. She probably thought it overkill for a small town like Drake Springs, but she refrained from commenting. “Could you show me the office first? If it doesn’t suit, there’s no need to tour the house.”

“Exactly my thought. Follow me.”

He fell in step beside her. “What happened to Otis Gibbons? I thought he was the listing agent.”

“You know Otis?”

“I’m originally from Drake Springs, hence my interest in opening a practice here.”

She opened the door, stepped aside, and motioned him in. The faint odor of antiseptic mingled with the woman’s cologne as she moved past him. She’d been a bit generous with her atomizer. “Otis sold me the business when he was elected county commissioner. He didn’t want any question of conflict of interest.”

“Right.” He shut the door against a swarm of love bugs. Those inescapable black insects that frustrated Floridians every May and September seemed especially thick this spring.

“It may be a bit warm. I turned up the air conditioning about thirty minutes ago when I opened the building.”

“Feels comfortable.”

“The air conditioner is fairly new. Four years old, I’d say.”

The office was a converted Florida Cracker style house, with porches and a breezeway. The reception area was in the former living room. A pass-through with added counter separated the public area from the office. A few animal carriers sat along one wall of the former dining room. “How many exam rooms?”

“Three. The hall gives access both from the reception area and the operating room. There’s also a bathroom.”

“Hmm.” The equipment was gone, probably sold by Doctor Hodges’s estate after her death. Stainless steel tables, gleaming as if recently polished, dominated each examination room. “How long did you say this had been vacant?”

“About three years, but Otis has kept the power connected. He also hired a cleaning service to make regular visits.”

Too bad Otis hadn’t arranged for lawn service as well. “That’s been costly for Otis.”

“Frankly, he expected the property to sell quickly. It’s an attractive location, and Drake Springs is growing. But even Florida wasn’t immune to an economic recession.”

She led him around to the operating room, at one time the house’s kitchen. A door led back to the dining room/office, where the receptionist’s desk and file cabinets now stood. The rear of the house had a utility room, still equipped with a clothes washer and dryer. One wall held stacked cages. A breezeway led to fenced pens outside. He would have preferred more kennel room, but this could work.

“Well, Doctor George, what do you think?” She closed the back door and walked down the steps. “Want to see the residence?”

“Yes, I do.” He followed her past the fenced pens to the back door of the doublewide mobile home. “Where do people take their animals for medical care since this clinic closed?”

“Right now they’re driving twenty-five or thirty miles, to Lake City or up to Georgia. Trust me, this town will welcome you with open arms.”

He was counting on it. He’d saved a tidy sum of money and had qualified for a loan, but he needed equipment, supplies, and utility deposits. He wanted to make this property work, because it’s all he could afford.

The blue painted metal roofing on the home matched the roofing on the clinic. He’d guess the modular home to be less than ten years old, although the roof made it look newer.

“Is the roof new?”

“About four years old.” She unlocked the back door of the residence and led him inside. “Doc Hodges made several improvements before opening her practice.”

Not a fan of modular housing, he examined each room with skepticism. The floor plan was surprisingly open and pleasant, with vaulted ceilings and plenty of windows. A large great room separated two bedrooms and a bath from the owner’s suite and kitchen. The walls were painted or paneled, rather than the patterned wallboard he’d seen on older mobile homes. “Doctor Hodges lived here?”

“Yes. It was convenient, especially for emergencies with animals staying overnight.” She opened the blinds, revealing two windows overlooking the front porch and the front yard’s large crepe myrtle tree, just beginning to bloom. “Her mother sold all the furniture but not the appliances. Of course, if you prefer to live elsewhere, you could rent it out.”

He gave a noncommittal murmur, but he’d be nuts to live anywhere else. Living near the clinic made economic sense. He wouldn’t spend more than he needed to. The bedrooms were roomy enough, especially the owner’s suite with its own bathroom and walk-in closet.

“Cable and high-speed internet are available here, too.”

“Good.” He didn’t need television, but internet was vital to his business. “Immediate possession?” The sooner, the better, because he had no home. His mother had lost their house years ago, and Pops had no room to spare.

“Yes. Considering the amount of your down payment, you’ll have no trouble qualifying for the loan assumption. As soon as we can schedule the closing, you can hang out your open-for-business sign.”

“Well.” He chuckled. “It’s not that simple. I need equipment, for starters. And staff. You know any experienced veterinarian assistants?”

She led him into the kitchen. The appliances looked new. Doctor Hodges hadn’t been one to cook as far as he could tell. But Doc George enjoyed cooking. And he could make the most of this spacious, well-appointed kitchen.

“I know of one. She worked for Doc Hodges but lost her job, of course, when her boss died. She might welcome the opportunity to interview with you.”

“Thanks. First, let’s write the contract.” He followed her outside to the long front porch, additional construction to the original modular home, probably one of Doc Hodges’s improvements. It faced Ortega, a residential street with tidy, modest homes and mature shade trees. Empty except for a wooden swing, the porch could be a cozy retreat at the end of the day, assuming he wasn’t too busy to stop and relax.

Ms. Sinclair removed a ballpoint pen and business card from her purse. She wrote on the blank side of the card. “Here’s the name of the vet assistant when you get ready to hire your staff. You can probably find her at Miller’s IGA Market on Desoto, where she’s been working part time.”

He stuffed the card in his shirt pocket. “Thanks.”

They walked around to the front of the business via the sidewalk, which returned them to the gravel parking lot. “Let me get my brief case and I’ll meet you inside.”

Jittery with nerves, he went inside the building and paced the reception area. This was it. He was about to gamble—no, not gamble—invest his savings into his own practice. He’d have to start out conservatively, at least until he knew how many patients he’d have. One experienced assistant would be a good idea. He could hire more staff as his practice grew. He fished the business card from his pocket and flipped it over to read the name. His hand trembled. The card flew from his fingers.

He stooped to pick it up and read the name again. And smiled.

Iris Porter.

****

Cheryl Norman grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and earned a BA in English at Georgia State University in Atlanta. After a career in the telecommunications industry, she turned to fiction writing and won the 2003 EPPIE award for her contemporary romance, Last Resort.  Her debut with Medallion Press, Restore My Heart, led to a mention in Publisher’s Weekly as one of ten new romance authors to watch. Running Scared, a romantic suspense set in Jacksonville, Florida, and Washington D.C., received a Perfect 10 from Romance Reviews Today. Reviewer Harriet Klausner calls her writing “Mindful of Linda Howard.” She currently writes the Drake Springs series romance novels for Turquoise Morning Press.

Her passion for cooking and healthful eating led her to write four cookbooks and an award-winning blog, The Hasty Tasty Meals Kitchen (hastytastymeals.com). She also offers writers grammar help via her Grammar Cop blog, newsletter articles, and workshops.

In addition to writing fiction and cookbooks, Cheryl works with other breast cancer survivors to raise awareness about early detection and treatment of the disease.

Web site * Twitter * Facebook

Books by Cheryl Norman (Amazon)

RETURN TO DRAKE SPRINGS (Book 1: Drake Springs Next Door series from Turquoise Morning Press)

RUNNING OUT OF TIME (Turquoise Morning Press)

REBUILD MY WORLD (Turquoise Morning Press)

RECLAIM MY LIFE (Medallion Press)

RESTORE MY HEART (Medallion Press)

RUNNING SCARED (Medallion Press)

ROMANCE ON ROUTE 66 Anthology (Highland Press)

 

Short fiction by Cheryl Norman

Coming soon: Hometown Blessings (Highland Press’s Christmas Blessings anthology)

The Christmas Prayer (Highland Press’s The Heart of Christmas anthology)
Veiled Threat (Turquoise Morning Press’s The Wedding Day Collection)

Twilight Time (Highland Press-Romance on Route 66)

Bad Moon Rising (Highland Press-Romance on Route 66)

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signed copies of the original Drake Springs novels, RECLAIM MY LIFE and REBUILD MY WORLD.
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