Plain Jane’s Man

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Book coverSometimes I think I need to stop reading old Harlequins I get from the 3 for $1 shelf at my local used bookstore. These twenty-year-old books won’t help me become familiar with the current product trends. But they’re 3 for $1! If I drop them in the tub (where I love to soak and read), it’s no loss, they are even easier on the budget than the 99 cents eBooks, and it supports the store. And some of the authors are still at work.

Kristine Rolofson, author of Plain Jane’s Man, wrote it in 1994. At that point she’d been writing for Harlequin for eight years, and her most recent publication is a contribution to Winter Wedding Bells in 2015. Her Harlequin bio contains plot elements fit for a romance (married at 18 to her high-school teacher, started writing when the Mount St. Helen’s explosion closed the road to her gift shop) as well as reminders about the work of writing: She spent five years studying over 200 romances before she was able to sell one.

Plain Jane’s Man is from the Temptation line (1984-2005). This line featured relatively ordinary people, in relatively ordinary relationships, including sex. The slightly hotter version of these, Blaze, eventually replaced Temptation. I like the heat level here – attraction, a period of sexual tension, and eventually sex as a comfortable part of the relationship.

Comfortable describes the whole story. It starts with an organic meet cute, and the couple date for a several weeks. She lives in an idyllic small town, and he’s there on business. That business involves her, and her eventual reaction to learning about it is the only significant complication, but it’s enough to drive the plot as the intensity of their relationship and his business increase. Rolofson cheats a little in developing and resolving that complication, but only enough that one feels amused (and faintly touched), not robbed.

Jane is not particularly plain, but she’s divorced and reluctant to get into another relationship. She works hard, and while not wealthy, she doesn’t need rescuing or saving. I like the independence, but she lacks any goals for herself. Neither she nor Peter have to give anything up to be together – which is comfortable, if unrealistic.

The stakes are low, and the passion is quiet, while nothing about this story particularly excited me, nothing annoyed me either. There was enough passion to make this a comfortable read for a few tub soaks.

Vampires, Saints, and Lovers

jpsmithVampires, Saints, and Lovers is a 2014 self-published novel by Julia Phillips Smith. It was previously published under the title Saint Sanguinus in 2011, and is the first of a trilogy, referred to as the Dark Ages Vampire trilogy or the Brotherhood of Blood Trilogy. If this sounds like a work in progress, that’s because it is. Book two has not been released yet – and I’m eagerly awaiting it.

I have mixed feelings about the vampire genre. I love Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for its structure and strong undercurrent of sexuality. Unfortunately, many other interpretations of vampire mythology dwell more on the aspects of horror, or, as in the case of Twilight, manage to miss both the horror and the sexuality (it’s supposed to be dangerous, not safe). Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire left me cold. The structure, a weary vampire telling his life story, weakens the passion. Vampires turn up in paranormal romances, such as Kiss Me Deadly, but few paranormals are willing to go deeply into the implications of vampires. Smith is willing to go there.

In dark ages Wales, Peredur is dying on the battlefield. Full of regret for losing his lover Tanwen, he curses God, and that act summons a demon, who offers another life. Peredur accepts, and finds himself a vampire of sorts, in a brotherhood dedicated to stopping those they consider true vampires. The brotherhood feed on people, like the true vampires, but otherwise lead an ascetic and devout life, serving a saint. One night Peredur visits Tanwen, desperate to see her again, yet also driven to tell her that she must find another, as “I am no longer fit to be the lover of a woman who deserves to be loved.”

Tanwen, dealing with family pressure to be married off, flees to a man she thinks can help re-unite her with her lover: Cavan, the unpopular son of the village wise woman. Cavan has the power to help her, and the desire, but his solution is not exactly what she expected. By the mid-point of the book, we have a love triangle of vampires in warring groups, and while Tanwen fully enjoys the unbridled sexuality of her new life, she still yearns for Peredur. Smith has just the right amount of detail to create a fabulous erotic tone in some scenes, and manages to portray Tanwen as both devoted and sexually indulgent.

The story-telling is superb in other respects. The setting is accurately and appropriately rendered, and rooted in historical figures and situations. The structure is also impressive. Initially the chapters alternate between the separate paths of Peredur and Tanwen. Once the characters and circumstances are well established, Cavan’s point of view is also brought in, flashbacks deepen our understanding of the two men, and the pace of the story increases towards the anticipated confrontation where individual and group loyalties will be tested.

As this is book one of a trilogy, the conclusion resolves some issues, but leaves others open, and raises new questions. I’m looking forward to reading more of this story.

#amwriting update

Two weeks ago I promised to work on my Romance One story for at least an hour a week.

So far, so good. The second week was easy. This past week was a little harder, thanks to work and other writing projects. Today was the deadline, and this evening I just did not feel like writing. However, I’m happy to say that I forced myself into it, eventually picked up steam, and made some progress. A relatively dull conversation over tea has been partly written, and, more importantly, livened up.

One writing project I have not completed this week is a review, but I have two books ready to write about. One was okay, and one was amazing. Maybe next week – but the hour of writing takes priority.

cat

Some days you just want to sit in the tub.

 

Fantasies and the Future

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leeFantasies & the Future, by Miranda Lee, would make a great Regency romance. Ava is part of the Whitmore family, wealthy merchants of opals, but her family is entwined with the ruthless Campbell family, also jewel merchants. Ava lives with her much older brother, is a virgin at thirty, hopeless at running the household and dealing with the staff, worries about her weight, and hides in a studio, painting works she lacks the confidence to finish.

Her most recent household disaster involved firing the landscaper, and now the grounds are a mess. She hires a new landscaper sight unseen, knowing only his name (Italian), and then fantasizes about his visit. Her tentative exploration of her body, above the waist, is apparently her first recognition of sexuality, perhaps stimulated by the shocking suggestion that her widowed brother may be bedding the woman he is dating.

The landscaper, Vince, arrives. He is the virile Italian stallion of her fantasies, but he’s cool to her. We later learn he’s weary of being invited in to service the rich ladies of the homes he visits. His becomes more attentive when Ava manages to slip and fall on the patio. He carries her in, rips off his shirt to stem the bleeding, and makes sure she is okay. In the process he learns about her paintings, admires them, and arranges for an art dealer he knows to see them.

Vince returns a few days later to purchase one of her paintings, overhears her invitation to a family party, and offers to escort her. Ava finds his attentions and the praise of the art dealer so confidence inspiring that she loses weight over the week, and is noticeably thinner at the party. When Vince arrives to pick her up, they go to bed first, where Vince declares that this is just an affair, she’s his property, and now he knows why virgins are so prized. Ava is pleased with all of these declarations.

Then it’s round two in the shower, the party, and back to Vince’s place for more sex. Vince’s place turns out to be a luxury penthouse apartment. Vince is not really a landscaper, he’s an engineer who owns a construction company. The landscaping business belongs to his brother. So she gets to And he loves Ava so much he wants to marry her, even if spending more time with here and less on his business means he’ll be a millionaire instead of a multimillionaire. Never mind what he said last night about this just being an affair.

This is story four of six in the Hearts of Fire series, and the overall story arc concerns Ava’s relative Gemma, who is suffering through an unhappy marriage to a possibly cheating and definitely sexually abusive husband, though she does find his brutality arousing. She’s also searching for the secret of her real origins….

As I said, this would make a great Regency romance. However, it’s a contemporary, from 1994. Yes, that was twenty years ago, but it’s not just my memory that tells me this is odd. I’ve read romances from the 1980s with strong, capable, and sexually active women. Perhaps I need to chose my lines more carefully.

The story is more wish fulfillment than growth. Vince makes a financial sacrifice, I suppose, but that’s so soon after we learn he’s rich that it doesn’t resonate. Ava does acquire confidence, which is good, but it comes from being desired. Granted, that can do a lot for your confidence, but we all know you need to believe in yourself before others can believe in you. In the context of the series story arc, with failing and failed marriages in both families, it bodes ill for Ava’s future happiness that she relies external validation. Her successful effort to lose weight is also unsettling. Again, good for her, and Vince makes it clear that he was attracted to her before she lost weight, but the emphasis on her appearance seems shallow. I would have preferred more about how she used her newfound confidence to complete her paintings.

Then there’s the speed of the romance: Sex and marriage proposal on the first date, after meeting twice and two phone calls. And of course my pet peeve – people who start off with fantastic sex, especially virgins.

The six novels in the Hearts of Fire series were written in nine months, and very early in Lee’s career, though she certainly paid her dues. It took ten years of drafting for her first novel to be accepted. She’s continued to be a prolific writer, with ninety-three Harlequins published to date. Her most recent is The Playboy’s Ruthless Pursuit:

When you’re as handsome, dynamic and wealthy as British tycoon Jeremy Barker-Whittle, there’s no shortage of stunning women willing to share your bed. So when Alice Waterhouse says no, it’s a challenge the jaded playboy can’t refuse.

But discovering Alice’s carefully guarded innocence brings an end to Jeremy’s thoughts of briefly stolen passion. The cynical CEO must put aside this delicate beauty…until Alice shocks him by asking him to take her virginity!

As Jeremy toys with the temptation to be the first man to show Alice pleasure, he’s unaware that she could be the first woman to tame him…

I’m not seeing much change in theme, after twenty-two years, so this must be a formula that works for Lee and her fans. I may even read this – just to see what has changed, if anything.

#amwriting

Typewriter with CatAs the tagline says, this site is about writing romance, as well as reading and reviewing it. However, I don’t often mention the writing. Looking back, I see it’s been about a year and a half since I’ve posted anything about my writing. So here’s an update, and a promise.

I started drafting a romance several years ago, under the working title Romance 1. During a Nanowrimo, I wrote more than 20,000 words, but the story wandered off in a pointless direction, and since then I’ve reworked the outline to improve the characters and the plot. Meanwhile, to explore other ideas, I’ve written several more outlines or drafts, under the working titles Romance 2 through Romance 5. One of these was another Nanowrimo effort, and two were Three Day Novel entries.

My dictionary of proverbs tells me “Well begun is half done” (and that Horace said that), and “Half a loaf is better than none” (from 1546), but one wishes to finish – and “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” (from 1628). It’s not as if I haven’t been writing, but I have not spent much time working on the romances, apart from drafting them. Romance 5 is the most complete, however it’s been submitted for the Three Day Novel contest, and waiting for the response is my rationalization for not working on it. Romance 1 is the second most complete, and the one in which I’ve invested the most time.

Last summer I submitted Romance 1 to a Harlequin competition, So You Think You Can Write – Ooooh…Canada! blitz. The benefit of submitting to the competition, as opposed to through ordinary channels, was that it encouraged me to submit by a deadline, and some feedback was promised. Submitting it also gave me a (weak) rationalization for not working on it. The feedback, received about a month ago, was encouraging, though they “decided not to pursue this project.” Among the suggestions was that my characters need to have a greater emotional conflict.

My understanding is that when Harlequin says no, it’s final. They apparently maintain a database of submissions, and a re-submission gets a prompt rejection. I mulled over whether to abandon this story, and focus on one of the others, or revise this one for eventual submission somewhere else. On re-reading my synopsis after several months, I decided I like the story, setting, and characters too much to let it go. I’ve decided to revise it, and earlier today spent an hour working on the outline, to raise the stakes for my characters. Before, they were both single and open to meeting someone. Now one’s engaged, and the other is completely opposed to a relationship. Previously, she was short of cash – now she’s about the lose the farm to a crooked financing company.

After an hour today, I need to keep at it. This is the first week of the new year, and I’m resolving to spend one hour each week working on this story. That’s not much time, but it’s more than I have done in the past year, and I like to keep my resolutions easy and achievable. I considered doing word count instead of time, but with much of the work being editing and revising, time is probably a better measure of progress. I’ll be “slow, but sure” (1562), and, since I am making this public promise, I’ll also let you know how it’s going.

A Mistress For the Taking

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Cover - A Mistress for the TakingA Mistress for the Taking is Annie West‘s debut Harlequin. It was published in 2006, and she’s written two or three a year since then. The titles suggest she consistently works with a similar theme: Wealthy man needs woman for some scheme, and what starts as an a business arrangement turns to love.

In A Mistress for the Taking, millionaire businessman Ronan has professional and personal reasons for defeating a business rival, Charles. Marina is also unhappy with Charles. Thanks to a recent unfair deal Charles made with her brother, she is faced with losing her home and her family’s trucking business. When Ronan sees Marina go after Charles at a public function, Ronan suggests she pose as his mistress. His somewhat convoluted plan is that Charles will be so distracted trying to seduce her away from Ronan that he won’t notice a poisonous deal Ronan is setting up. In exchange, Ronan will make sure she gets her home and business back.

On the plus side, West does a great job of building passion and sexual tension between her characters, and creates great tension during sex scenes. Marina is introduced as an independent and successful business woman, and Ronan respects her ability in her area. However, in Ronan’s plan to bring down Charles, she is a pawn, required only to be attractive bait. Ronan tells her nothing of the plan, leading to a needless climactic confrontation, and Ronan also withholds his true feelings from her, leading her to suspect her attraction is not reciprocated. His justification is that he does not want to take advantage of her, which I’ll admit could be read as respect. West makes a point of showing how decent a man Ronan is, by things such as his taking the time to thank a valet parking driver by name.

It annoyed me that Marina was a virgin, or rather that she was a virgin with almost no explanation. I have no trouble accepting the notion of a 24-year-old virgin, but in the context of this story it undercuts the equality and confidence of Marina. My pet peeve of characters who have mind-blowing sex on their first encounter, which happens here, doubles when there’s a virgin or two in the scene. In the stories I am working on, the characters’ sexual relationship grows as their emotional one does. It takes time to get to know another person, both mentally and physically.

There are several issues in this story that I’m not sure how to interpret. For example, on the one hand, Marina undergoes the plain Jane to fabulous babe transformation, thanks to Ronan’s money, and his wish that she look as hot as possible to be bait for Charles. The notion that Marina needed a makeover is disturbing. On the other hand, Ronan was attracted to her from the first time he saw her, despite her shapeless suit and wrong hair style. Is Ronan shallow for his opinion of her appearance, or is he true for being attracted to her before her makeover? Then there’s the matter of her work. We are told she works, and is good at her job, yet in the story we never actually see her working. On the one hand, scenes of her at work would not advance the story. On the other hand, with so little attention paid to it, her job seems unimportant, which undercuts her desire to seek revenge on Charles for taking over her company.

This is one for the guilty pleasure category. I wish Marina had played a more active role in the plot to defeat Charles, and generally been a more powerful person. I’m a little uneasy with the story of rich man rescues working class girl from bad man, and when they meet he literally sweeps her off her feet as she faints. But it’s hard to object to being rescued by someone as decent as Ronan, he does have some vulnerabilities, and the sexual tension was delicious.

A Family of Her Own

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A Family of Her Own - Original Cover

Original Cover

There must be a rule that Harlequin’s have generic titles. A Family of Her Own is a title that could apply to any number of romances, and it’s unfortunate that Brenda Novak’s lively story is saddled with a bland title. And the latest cover is more generic than the original. A Family of Her Own is a 2004 book in the SuperRomance line. These are defined by their longer than standard romance length, around 80,000 words, and the more complex plots, characterization, and additional characters the length permits.

Katie is heading back to town after two years in the big city, broke, five months pregnant and fleeing a failed relationship. Her car breaks down, and of course it’s raining. The first person to come along is Booker, ex-con, and ex-boyfriend. She dumped him before leaving town, because she wanted a stable, reliable man. He gives her a ride to her parents’ house, but they tell her that she needs to sleep in the bed she made, and refuse to let her in. (I thought you had to lie in the bed you made, and my Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs agrees. I’m not sure if this variation is supposed to tell us that the parents are country or confused, or if this is just the version the author knows). Booker and Katie are reluctant to spend time together, but he’s a gentleman with a spare room, she’s a damsel in distress, and desperate times call for desperate measures. (The Dictionary of Proverbs notes this is actually ‘Desperate diseases must have desperate remedies,’ but acknowledges, in this case, that there are many variations.)

Katie does not want charity, from Booker, or from her old crush Mike, who offers her a place to live and sinecure at his resort. Instead, she proposes to earn her keep by doing housework for Booker. Since she left town, he has taken over his late grandmother’s farmhouse and acreage, purchased a garage, and become a more-or-less respectable citizen, though a few in town refuse to give him their business. Booker has also taken in Delbert, a developmentally disabled man who had nowhere to go when his father died, and Delbert works with him at the garage. Booker repairs Katie’s car, and at her request, arranges to sell it from the garage. Her plan is to use the money to purchase a computer and software, and earn money creating websites.

A Family of Her Own - Current Cover

Current Cover

Booker is eager to help, and when no one is interested in buying the car, he hides it on his property, pretends it has sold, and gives her the money. You just know this is going to be a problem later. It is, but not because he’s lied to her. She doesn’t seem to mind that, and the problem caused by the car is easily solved. Unfortunately, the many problems that come up are all easily solved. Katie quickly learns she was wrong to reject Booker, so her main obstacle is not her learning that he is a good man (which would allow her some character growth), but her failure to tell him she has changed her mind about him. Her reticence to express her feelings leads to him trying a one-night stand, which creates trust issues for her, but as other characters note, she hasn’t given him any reason to think they are getting back together. Mike is interested in her, but since her feelings for Booker are firm, there’s no suspense there.

Towards the end, as crisis piled upon crisis, my reactions bounced between “Oh no! What else could possibly go wrong?” and, “Well, that wasn’t anything to worry about.”  Of course there’s going to be a happy ending, but the SuperRomance format has enough subplots and secondary characters that at least one rejected suitor could have been less gracious, or one issue remained unresolved. After everything that happened, the ending seemed too neat.

I must acknowledge the strength of Katie. Yes, she’s the literal damsel in distress at the beginning, but she rallies, and helps Booker at times. Her online work is not just successful, but is eventually a significant contribution to Booker’s business. I also need to acknowledge a few unexpected plot twists, which are always appreciated.

This is one of several books set in the same town, with overlapping characters, and it appears that Novak wrote some of these in the early 2000s, then returned to the location a few years ago. There are now eight stories, none involving siblings, which suggests the town requires a police force larger than the mere three mentioned here. There’s also a variety in the types of stories, so I’m keen to read more. Despite a few quibbles and disappointments, overall this is a pleasant read. If only it had a better title.

Game Over

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keatingTaylor Keating’s Game Over is a paranormal romance from TOR books, but if it didn’t have a female heroine it would probably be called an action-adventure or a fantasy story. Don’t be misled by the beefcake cover – this story is first and foremost about staying alive. A synopsis is tricky…

River Weston is half fae and half guardian, and the result of a forbidden relationship. Orphaned at birth, she has no idea she’s anything other than human. Then, in her early twenties, she meets a guardian. He tells her what she is, what she needs to do, and finds himself drawn to her – a forbidden relationship.

River Weston is a video game designer, and so eager to solve the bugs in a complex virtual reality game she remarks that she’d be willing to sell her soul. That gets the attention of a dark lord. He’s imprisoned in a virtual reality of his own, but gains limited access to hers, and traps her in her own game. She finds an ally in a game  character who is no longer a game character, but an imprisoned soul. Together, they might be able to win the game. Their survival depends on it.

River Weston is a video game designer in a post apocalyptic world, where werewolves stalk the empty streets. When a game malfunction leaves her apparently trapped in virtual reality, her co-worker and occasional bed partner Nick must protect her as best he can in both the real world and her virtual one. Meanwhile, the police suspect River in the brutal slayings of her other co-workers, and the government agency funding the team is looking for results – and anything that indicates River is unusual.

There’s a lot going on here – almost too much to keep track of. The various plot arcs mean there is no shortage of internal and external threats to our couple, and the pace is brisk, but that’s at the expense of deep investment in any one aspect of the story. The ending is abrupt and leaves many questions unanswered. However, this is part one of the three-part Guardian series. Typically, in a romance series, there several stories with the same setting, or overlapping characters, but each story tells of a different couple. That’s what I expected here, but the Guardian series is different. Each story furthers the relationship of River and Chase, as they encounter new obstacles, so Game Over is largely setting things up.

The core of this story is a couple who do not know or trust each other, forced to work together to survive. Although Guardians are supposed to protect fae, both characters are strong, complex, and protect each other, which I appreciate. There’s also the rare and much appreciated fact that our heroine was sexually active before meeting her partner.  I’m leery of stories where a character learns that a) they are special, and b) they are preordained to save the world, because in clumsy hands the symbolism of this type of story is forgotten while the superficial details remain (sometimes a problem in the fantasy genre). Based on part one, the story, character development, and fantasy aspects of Game Over all work well. I’m curious to see where they go from here. Mind Games is part two, and Fair Game is part three. They also have beefcake covers, but I’ll just ignore that.

Love Potion #9: 14 Paranormal Romances

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Love Potion #9 cover imageLove Potion #9: 14 Paranormal Romances is an e-book anthology. Like Mischief Under the Mistletoe, it offers a pile of stories at an incredible price – currently just $2.99. However, it has an even greater variety of storylines and heat levels. Lengths vary, from short stories to novellas to complete novels – another source of variety.

The only common thread is some paranormal aspect to the story. Paranormal means different things to different people, and these stories show some of the many possibilities. There are werewolves and witches, and people chosen to save humanity from otherworldly monsters, but there are also ordinary people just trying to get by, with the help of an occasional magic potion. As might be expected, many of these stories have grim elements, but there are also lighter moments and humour. I enjoyed some of these more than others, but I truly appreciated having these on my phone, and not just because of poor bus service. If you like paranormals, you’ll like at least some of these, and if you are not sure, this is a great way to test the waters.

Descriptions from Amazon:

Love’s Long Shadow by Ciara Knight
Sammy Lorre was cast from Heaven for conduct unbecoming an angel. Living in a demon-infested small town with no memory of her previous life, she faces never-ending purgatory until Boon saunters into her life with a promise of angelic love. But is he an angel from Heaven or a minion from the underworld preying on her human emotions? To discover his true identity, she must risk eternal damnation and her heart.

The Owl and the Pussycat by Nancy Segovia
Cats and birds cannot mate everyone knows that. However, Ophelia and Caesar prove them wrong, and the only question that remains is which will come first the kitten or the egg?

Moon Dance by Athena Grayson
Two outcasts defy the traditions of the Otherworld to find an unlikely love in the tumultuous early 1970’s amid second-wave feminism and the rebellious rock music club scene.

Sometimes Thorns are all Black by Danielle DeVor
A new re-telling of Sleeping Beauty with a splash of vampires, magic, and a hint of terror. Will the princess be saved? Will the bat brooch save the day?

Dark Warrior by Denna Holm
Jada is a lifelong avid bow hunter. Hunting takes on a whole new meaning when she becomes the hunted!

Secret Heart of Lacie Blade by Diane J Reed
What happens when an ex-con mom uses tactics she learned in prison to help the principal of a run-down school raise cash for the PTA? Pure magic—and a romance that breaks all the rules . . .

The Misplaced by Jody A Kessler
Crabby antisocial ghost hunter, Chris Abeyta has more ghosts than he can handle, an astral projecting witch and a possible love interest, and a smart-ass spirit guide. What could possibly go wrong?

Wolf at the Door by Melissa Robitille
Billionaire werewolf Manfred O’Malley and Nadia Yevenko – mermaid and realtor; separated by prison and lies, thrown together by their son. Will vengeance keep them separated forever?

The Long Sleep by Phil Hore
When a werewolf discovers an ancient Japanese demon murdering the staff of an estate, can he save himself and the soul of a mysterious girl trapped there? Set in LA just after WW2, it appears that some horrors from the war may have been brought home in this latest Amun Galeas & Sebastian Vulk supernatural/historical adventure!

The Exquisite & Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza by Rebecca Taylor

Through the Window Pain: Pleasure & Passion by Rosalie Redd
Despite her independent nature, when Celia’s biological clock strikes she must take a trip to The Windows to find a suitable male or risk losing her sanity. Mason has had his eye on the hardened Celia for quite some time, and when they are thrust together at The Windows, what he desires most is within his grasp if he can break down her defenses and show her the true passion in his heart.

Lunacy by Shawna Romkey
Detention, homework, werewolf slaying… what’s your Monday look like?

Only the Fallen by Tmonique Stephens
Banned from Heaven.
Escaped from Hell.
They are UnHallowed.

Embracing Darkness by Yelena Casale & Tina Moss
When fallen angels and demons collide, Zoey and Rafe must put their faith in each other, not by running from the night, but by embracing darkness.

Salvation in the Sheriff’s Kiss

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Salvation in the Sheriff's Kiss - coverI liked Kelly Boyce’s historical western Salvation in the Rancher’s Arms, and was looking forward to Salvation in the Sheriff’s Kiss (Harlequin, 2015). Happily, I was not disappointed.

This time the couple, Sheriff Hunter Donovan and Meredith Connolly, are former lovers. When her father was sent to jail for cattle rustling, Hunter dumped Meredith, telling her a dirt poor Connolly wasn’t good enough for a wealthy Donovan. She went to live with an aunt in Boston, and learned dressmaking.

Seven years later, Meredith is back. Her aunt died, leaving her with enough money to return to town in style, and open a dress shop. Her father has also died, and she wants to prove he was innocent. Hunter still regrets respecting Meredith’s father’s request to send her out of town. Meredith wants nothing to do with Hunter, but despite everything she’s still attracted to him. She needs to work with him to establish her father’s innocence, and she needs to be in town to find the helpful macguffin her father left for her.

The relationship problem could be resolved with a frank talk, but Boyce effectively distracts her couple and her readers with a hefty dose of suspense. Meredith is not the only recent arrival. A hard-drinking taciturn bounty hunter has brought in Bill, a man wanted in connection with the same crime that sent Meredith’s father to jail – and Bill came along willingly. A big city lawyer has arrived to defend Bill at the upcoming trial, but he won’t say who hired him – and Bill doesn’t want him. The curious Bancroft family is visiting, but they aren’t sure where they come from.

To complicate matters further, Hunter suspects that his hated father, and the late former Sheriff he admired, may have been connected to what was seemingly a simple crime. Several characters warn Hunter to let sleeping dogs lie, and to keep Meredith safely out of town. The tone verges into noir at times, with characters who have nursed grudges for decades, and a wide-reaching, powerful criminal conspiracy.

Meredith is a strong character from the start, and it’s largely her determination and fearlessness that resolves matters. Hunter even apologies for treating her like a damsel in distress. The story, and the couple’s relationship, are also enriched by the complex family histories of the characters. I miss the falling in love aspect of stories with former lovers, but the suspense plot and strong realistic characters make this a great read.