New Release – Batter of Wits by Karla Sorensen

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“Heartfelt, hilarious, with a dash of angst…Karla Sorensen shines with the perfect feel-good read!” –Author Catherine Cowles

Batter of Wits, an all-new funny and heartwarming romance from Karla Sorensen, is now available in Kindle Unlimited!

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Hate at first sight couldn’t possibly exist, right?

That’s what Grace Buchanan thought, before her useless car stranded her on the side of a deserted road just inside the Green Valley city limits.

When Tucker Haywood—tall and handsome and full of southern charm— shows up to help, her reaction to him is the strongest thing she’s ever felt in her life, and it makes no freaking sense.

It doesn’t make much sense to Tucker either. Not why she hates him, or why he finds her so intriguing. He knows well enough that Grace is moving to Green Valley for a fresh start, not to distract him when he’s got no room for something like her in his life.

The complications between them are endless, but that doesn’t stop her definitely not love-at-first-sight feelings from changing into something else entirely.

Grace and Tucker are about to learn the hard way that in Green Valley, hating someone has never tasted so sweet.

‘Batter of Wits’ is a full-length contemporary romance, can be read as a standalone, and is book #5 in the Donner Bakery series, Green Valley World, Penny Reid Book Universe.

 

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Excerpt from Batter of Wits

When I looked down, her hands were fisted on the countertop, shaking from the effort of keeping them still.

“I’d take a picture of that,” I told her, voice low and charged.

She tilted her chin up toward me. “Of what?”

In the low light of the apartment, her eyes glowed like melted gold.

“Your hands.” I licked my suddenly dry lips. “I feel like they’re telling me something that I can’t figure out.”

Grace peered down at the fists she was making, and her fingers relaxed, the skin no longer white around her knuckles.

“What are they telling me, Grace?” I begged.

She ducked under my arm and I exhaled heavily. Without the heat from her body against mine, I took a second to get myself under control. When I turned, she was handing me her camera.

“Go ahead,” she said.

I tilted my head. “You want me to take your picture?”

Grace studied the camera, carefully removing the lens cap and pulling it up to her eyes. She aimed it at my face, and I wondered what she saw. If I looked like I was one thread away from snapping, because that’s how I felt.

I’d never felt like I was one quick step away from freedom, but here, I was. One nudge over the edge of the cliff, and she’d have me free falling without a parachute. I’d never, ever wanted it so badly.

When I heard the click of the shutter, I rubbed the back of my neck. “Can I see?”

She ignored me, pulling the camera away so she could look at the digital image on the back. Her lips curved in a secret little smile.

“What do you see?” I asked.

Her chest expanded on an inhale. “Frustration.” Her eyes met mine. “Want.”

Words lodged in my chest, and I couldn’t tear them loose.

I held my hand out and she passed the camera to me. With a rough swallow, I squinted at the tiny viewfinder once it was at eye-level. Grace came into my eye line, holding my gaze with such directness that I fought the urge not to throw the camera across the room simply because it was between us.

It was her turn to ask. “What do you see?”

My finger pushed the slick button on top of the camera, and her mouth curled in surprise that I took a shot.

I pushed the button again as she took a step closer.

“You’re not answering me,” she said lightly.

“Because I can hardly think straight when you’re looking at me like that.” My admission was rough and hard, out before I could stop it.

She took another step, within reach now, and one of her hands slid up my forearm.

One more picture, the sound of the shutter snapping between us like a shot.

Somehow, I set it down on the counter without smashing it.

“You can’t lie to a camera,” Grace said quietly, watching her hand on my arm before the other landed on my heaving chest. “It captures things as are they are, good or bad or ugly or beautiful.”

I slid an arm around her waist and tightened my grip until she was flush against me. My other hand pushed up the back of her neck and into her hair.

“This is insane,” she breathed, dropping her forehead onto my chest.

“No, it’s not.”

Grace lifted her head and pinned me in place. “Tucker, seventy-two hours ago, I hated you. You can’t tell me this doesn’t feel a little nuts.”

I couldn’t stop my smile. “You didn’t hate me. Not really.”

One eyebrow lifted. “Wanna bet?”

About The Author

Karla Sorensen has been an avid reader her entire life, preferring stories with a happily-ever-after over just about any other kind. And considering she has an entire line item in her budget for books, she realized it might just be cheaper to write her own stories. It doesn’t take much to keep her happy…a book, a really big glass of wine, and at least thirty minutes of complete silence every day. She still keeps her toes in the world of health care marketing, where she made her living pre-babies. Now she stays home, writing and mommy-ing full time (this translates to almost every day being a ‘pajama day’ at the Sorensen household…don’t judge). She lives in West Michigan with her husband, two exceptionally adorable sons and big, shaggy rescue dog.

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Review – The Treble With Men by Piper Sheldon

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The Treble With Men, an all-new secret identity romantic standalone from Piper Sheldon, is now available in Kindle Unlimited!

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As far as Green Valley is concerned, Kim Dae disappeared into the Wraiths a decade ago. They were sort of right. Kim has spent her life since Jethro fighting her curious nature and trying to blend into the background. Unfortunately for her, a mysterious Maestro comes to town and takes quick notice of her for reasons unknown to anybody.

The masked conductor, known simply as Devlin, was already a source of much gossip thanks to his reputation for getting fired. Now, his sudden interest in the quiet fourth chair cellist has added fuel to the rumor fire. The new conductor of the symphony needs to learn to control his temper and finish his latest musical masterpiece and only the reluctant star of his symphony can help him do that. If Devlin can’t convince Kim to help to finish his latest composition he’ll lose everything.

Can Devlin and Kim compose without losing composure?

‘The Treble with Men’ is a full-length contemporary romance, can be read as a standalone, and is book #2 in the Scorned Women’s Society series, Green Valley World, Penny Reid Book Universe.

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Download your copy today or read FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

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BFF K’s Review of The Treble with Men

The Beauty and the Beast trope takes a musical, sexy, turn and Piper Sheldon delivers another fantastic story in the Scorned Woman Series.

There’s no doubt that Devlin is more than a little devlish….he’s cranky, intolerant, demanding, intriguing, beautiful and misunderstood! And, Christine/Kim is both drawn to him and a little terrified of him. The push and pull creates a puzzling and captivating storyline that you just can’t stop reading.

The book is full of surprises and grounded in unique settings. You’ll be drawn to the characters and their circumstances. I couldn’t wait to find out which mysteries I solved and which ones still surprised me! The story and characters are so appealing that you’ll race to the end to ensure that there is an HEA! Add this enchanting story to your TBR today!

 

An advance copy of this book was received. Receipt of this copy did not impact the content or independence of this review.

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt from The Treble with Men

“Let’s play through. I want to hear if you’re qualified,” Devlin said.

“Yes, Maestro.”

Around me, the symphony moved into the ready position. Devlin didn’t pick up his baton.

“You’ll need to move,” he said coolly, as his gaze flicked to the empty first chair.

Amazingly, my legs supported me despite how badly my knees tingled. The neck of my cello was tightly gripped in my fist like it was the only thing keeping me from spinning off the earth.

“We will start from the Andante movement,” he called out as I got situated.

Next to me Barry gave me a brief nod of encouragement. I managed a small smile back. Playing alone at night was a heck of a lot different than feeling an entire symphony watch you. I wiped my palms on my dress pants before straightening my spine.

My nerves were shredded. I did this for a living and yet I couldn’t get my bow to stop wobbling where it hovered just above the strings. My heart sputtered and cranked to a manic tempo. Carla should be here. What if something happened to her? The world began to tune out around me. Tears pricked behind my eyes. How ridiculous was that? I played with these people every day, but if I tried to speak or breathe or move, I’d start to cry.

“Hey.” Devlin’s voice was so soft I hardly noticed it at first. His biker boots appeared in front of my blurring vision. “Christine?”

I lifted my chin to find him standing in front of me with a furrowed brow. “Is she okay?” The question just slipped out, but I needed to know.

He dropped into a crouch to better hear me, causing me to pick up soft hints of cologne, fabric softener, and motorcycle exhaust. “What?”

I asked again a little louder but likely only Barry would be able to hear, if that.

His face was impassive like he was processing what I said. “Who? Carla?”

I nodded stiffly.

“Family emergency. She’ll be back on Monday,” he spoke softly.

“Oh.” A weight lifted from my shoulders.

My chest rose as I took a deep breath in. I released it slowly. Surely the entire room was waiting to see what my deal was.

“I appreciate you stepping in for her.” He lifted his chin to get me to look into his eyes. “I’m sure she would appreciate it too.”

I doubted that, but at least I wasn’t taking the performance from her. I was helping the orchestra out. I could absolutely do this. My thoughts had me worrying my bottom lip.

His focus lowered to my lips then quickly to where my hand gripped the shoulder of my cello. He cleared his throat. “Are you ready?”

I swallowed down my irrational fears. Carla was fine. It was just one show. I could do this. I got into position in answer to his question. Those dark eyes flitted around my face as though checking to see if I really was ready.

“All you need to do is watch me.” When he spoke his mask hardly moved; nobody would know he’d spoken at all. My gaze was locked on his as it smoldered with intensity. “It’s you and me.”

As though I could look anywhere else. When he gave me his focus, the rest of the room faded away. The rest of the world.

“Ready?” he asked.

I forced my shoulders down. He got back onto the podium and I lifted my bow to wait for my solo entrance as he counted the rest of the orchestra in. The notes on the page transformed into a foreign language. The music quieted, signifying my entrance. I drew my bow along the string, but my tense arm caused a noticeable wobble. A wave of heat burned up my neck, a flush likely giving me away. Just when I thought I might lose total control, I remembered his directions. I looked to him.

His arm conducted the rest of the orchestra smoothly as they played their soft accompaniment, but his head was turned to me. He was willing me to look at him. His eyes narrowed when mine finally met his. He nodded his chin subtly. I didn’t need to read the music. I knew this solo in my sleep. Instead, I kept my focus on him. I played. Everything else blurred into the background. The music came then. It flowed through me.

It was just us and the beautiful music.

About The Author

Piper Sheldon writes Contemporary Romance and Magical Realism books that hope to be New York Times bestsellers when they grow up. For now, she works as a technical writer during the day and writes about love the rest of the time. Of course she also makes room for her husband, toddler, and two needy dogs at home in the Desert Southwest.

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New Release – Cherish Her by Andrea Johnston

Title: Cherish Her
Series: Military Men of Lexington
Author: Andrea Johnston
Genre: Contemporary Romance; Small Town Romance; Single Mom Romance; Ex-military Romance

 

My life was perfect . . .

Until fate took it all away.

Heartache and broken bones left me searching for solace in the darkest of places.

It wasn’t pretty, but with the support of my family, I persevered and I’m stronger for it. My daughters deserve nothing less.

Things were finally back on track, until I met Grant Ellison. Tall, dark, and handsome he sets my heart racing. If only the fear of loving again didn’t paralyze me.

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Nobody was as surprised as me when I left a long military career for a slower pace in life. After all, I’ve never been one to make decisions lightly or without a plan.

A new town means a fresh start. Although it’s a lonely existence, I don’t regret my decision. Especially when a beautiful woman catches my eye.

Dakota Jennings’ strength and ambition are for all to see but her heart is protected by the strongest of walls. My new mission is to show her how precious she is and how great we can be together.

 

**The Military Men of Lexington is a series of interconnected, standalone, small town romances.**

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Excerpt from Cherish Her

“Do you have one of those pod coffee makers at your house?”

His random question pulls me from my thoughts and I actually do a double take before looking at him quickly before returning my eyes to the road.

“Huh?”

Very articulate, Dakota.

“You didn’t get your cup of coffee. I don’t know about you but if I don’t get my fill each morning, I’m only functioning at half rate. If you don’t have one of those pod things, maybe we should stop in town for a cup to go.”

Oh my goodness. Someone who gets my caffeine needs. If he tells me he wears glasses while he reads in bed I might combust. What is wrong with me? I’ve never been so scattered in my thoughts when it comes to a man. Even Jeff, bless him, never brought out this awkwardness and unbridled attraction. Of course, I never went without when Jeff was alive. It’s been years since I’ve been with a man. And, while the thought of dating has only recently come to the forefront of my mind, thanks to the man to my right, I’m a little overwhelmed.

“Oh . . uh . . . umm . . . yeah, I do. Sorry. I guess I’m a little off kilter now that I smell like I bathed in dark French roast with hazelnut creamer.”

“A dark roast kind of gal, huh? I was thinking of you as more of a flavored brew.”

“No way. I like my coffee to serve its purpose. Bold is the only way to go.”

Feeling his eyes on me, I glance his way. Slowly, he smiles before turning his attention back out his window.

“This is a nice neighborhood,” he comments as I approach a stop sign and signal to turn left.

“It’s been perfect for us. The houses are small, and while the lots are on the smaller side, it’s made maintenance easier.”

“Low maintenance is good.”

Turning into my driveway, I click the button to engage the garage door before cutting the engine. Opening the door, I look to Grant who is now on his phone.

“You weren’t serious about staying out here were you?” I’m sure he was but that’s silly.

“Of course. You shouldn’t invite strangers into your home, Dakota.”

“You’re hardly a stranger, Grant. Come on in and make yourself at home. Fair warning, two little girls live here. It’s likely there’s some sort of doll or glittery fairy lying around.”

Laughing, he exits the car and follows me into the house. “Help yourself to something to drink. I’m going to clean up and change. Be back out shortly.”

Meet the Military Men of Lexington
a series of interconnected, standalone, small town romances

Promise Her
Read for FREE with KindleUnlimited
Amazon US | Amazon Worldwide

Cherish Her
Read for FREE with KindleUnlimited
Amazon US | Amazon Worldwide

Love Her
Pre-Order Today! Releases July 23
Read for FREE with KindleUnlimited
Amazon US | Amazon Worldwide

 

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About the Author

Andrea Johnston spent her childhood with her nose in a book and a pen to paper.

An avid people watcher, her mind is full of stories that yearn to be told.

A fan of angsty romance with a happy ending, super sexy erotica and a good mystery, Andrea can always be found with her Kindle nearby fully charged.

Andrea lives in Idaho with her family and two dogs. When she isn’t spending time with her partner in crime aka her husband, she can be found binge watching all things Bravo and enjoying a cocktail. Nothing makes her happier than the laughter of her children, a good book, her feet in the water, and cocktail in hand all at the same time.

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Review – Outmatched by Kristen Callihan & Samantha Young

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Outmatched by Kristen Callihan and Samantha Young

Release Date: November 19, 2019

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Outmatched, an all-new standalone contemporary romance by New York Times bestselling authors Kristen Callihan and Samantha Young.

What happens when a boxer finds chemistry with a geek?

Parker Brown can’t believe she needs to hire a fake boyfriend. When she landed her dream job in renewable energy, she thought she’d be entering a world at the forefront of progressive thinking. But the head boss prefers to promote employees who are “settled.” Thankfully, she’s found the perfect candidate, a fellow intellectual looking for some quick cash. What Parker gets is his protective big brother—Rhys Morgan. The tall, muscled ex-boxer with a foul mouth shows up just as her boss does, and now she’s stuck with the manipulative jerk.

Responsibility weighs heavily on Rhys. Now permanently out of the ring, he’s trying to hold together his late father’s gym and keep his younger brother, Dean, on the straight and narrow. To save Dean from himself, Rhys takes his place, ready to give this society girl a piece of his mind. Instead, he finds an opportunity. Even though they can hardly stand each other, posing as Parker’s boyfriend is a win-win deal. She gets to keep her job, and he’ll charm her star-struck boss into sponsoring his gym.

Problem is, they can barely keep their hands off each other. And what started as an easy deal isn’t so easy anymore. Because what future can a rough ex-boxer, afraid to open his heart, and a polished society geek, who has sworn off real relationships, possibly have?

They say opposites attract. These opposites are about to combust on impact.

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Download your copy today!

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BFF K’s Review of Outmatched

When I first saw that this duo was releasing a co-written book, I was super excited. Then the cover and the blurb were both SO cute! I think the anticipation built it up too much. The reality was unfortunately not quite what I had hoped for. In fact, I almost DNF’d at about 30%. I just had a really had time getting into it. Thankfully a friend had already read it and told me to stick it out. In the end, I’m glad that I read Outmatched.

What I liked: the enemies to lovers storyline is spot-on! I thought that Rhys was a strong character. I liked him a lot and I wanted him to find happiness. The banter and text conversations were fun and lively.

What I struggled with: there was just too much going on! There was her job-in jeopardy with an uber creepy boss, her family (which didn’t end up making any sense as a conflict point), his gym, why he quit boxing, his brother, her college friends….there was just sooo much. I needed about 4 fewer sub-points or to flush a couple of them out a little more. I felt like overall it needed some more judicious editing.

Once the two main characters decided to become a real couple, I thought everything made more sense. I wish that would have happened sooner. The book was a slow burn that came too close to smoldering out a few too many times. I think the story had so much potential and there were things I loved about it. All in all, I am still glad that I read the story. I think it’s the loss of a great opportunity for an incredible story that disappointed me the most.

An advance copy of this book was received. Receipt of this copy did not impact the content or independence of this review.

Excerpt

AngryTink: Hey. This is Parker. Parker Brown.

My phone dinged loudly. I fumbled around my bed, finally finding the damn thing under a pillow. Wiping the sleep off my face, I rolled onto my back and read the text that had pulled me out of a pleasant sleep. I smiled. It was just so … Parker. Settling in, I answered her.

RhysThis: Don’t have to tell me who you are. Your number is programmed on my phone. What do you want?

AngryTink: Well, good morning to you too, Happy Pants.

My smile turned into an evil grin. The girl was always going to punch back and make it count.

RhysThis: That’s Mr. Happy Pants. Though, TBH, my pants aren’t too happy at the moment. Want to help me out with that?

AngryTink: Tempting. Truly. But, no.

RhysThis: RU sure? ‘Cuz Happy Pants Rhys is much more agreeable than Sad That He Had to Self-Satisfy Rhys.

AngryTink: Would you please behave?

RhysThis: I’m not the one who mentioned the emotional state of my pants.

AngryTink: ARGH!

A chuckle rumbled in my chest as my thumbs tapped out a response I knew would piss her off more.

RhysThis: Was that even English? Honestly, Ms. Brown, I thought you were educated.

She took a moment to answer. I could picture her, phone in hand, grinding her teeth.

AngryTink: You’re deliberately trying to annoy me, aren’t you?

RhysThis: You’re quick. I’ll give you that.

AngryTink: Mr. Morgan, I’m about ten seconds away from finding an alternate fake boyfriend. A goat on a rope would be a better candidate at this point.

It was cute she thought that was threatening.

RhysThis: Yeah, probably. But the goat doesn’t have a signed contract. I do, Tinker Bell.

AngryTink: ARGH@!!

RhysThis: You’re kind of cute when you talk pirate.

About the Authors

About Kristen:

Kristen Callihan is an author because there is nothing else she’d rather be. She is a RITA winner and three-time nominee and winner of two RT Reviewer’s Choice awards. Her novels have garnered starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and the Library Journal, as well as being awarded top picks by many reviewers. Her debut book FIRELIGHT received RT Magazine’s Seal of Excellence, was named a best book of the year by Library Journal, best book of Spring 2012 by Publisher’s Weekly, and was named the best romance book of 2012 by ALA RUSA. When she is not writing, she is reading.


Connect with Kristen:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/KristenCallihan/

Twitter – Kris10Callihan

Website – http://www.kristencallihan.com/

Amazon – https://amzn.to/2zrf3Lo

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/Kristen_Callihan

About Samantha:

Samantha Young is a New York Times and #1 International bestselling author from Stirlingshire, Scotland. On Dublin Street was Samantha’s first adult contemporary romance series and has sold in thirty countries. She has since published over thirteen romance titles including the New York Times Bestsellers Into the Deep, Hero, and her most recent contemporary romance Play On. When writing Adult Paranormal romance she writes under the pen name S. Young.

Connect with Samantha:

Social media links:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSamanthaYoung/

Website – http://authorsamanthayoung.com

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Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/samyoungauthor/

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Bookbub – http://bit.ly/2D241eO

Review – Beard Necessities by Penny Reid

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Billy Winston’s family is going to see him happy and in love if it’s the last thing they do.

Beard Necessities, the final standalone in the bestselling romantic comedy Winston Brothers series from New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Penny Reid, is available now!

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No one deserves a happily-ever-after quite as much as the second oldest Winston brother and his lady love, Claire McClure (aka Scarlet St. Claire). Cruelty and circumstance tore them apart almost twenty years ago. Secrecy and bitterness kept them separated.

But you know who’s tired of their separation and stubbornness? Everyone. Especially Billy Winston’s family. And now they’re going to do something about it.

Well-meaning interference means the star-crossed lovers can’t stop tripping over each other in the hills of Tuscany, the catacombs of Rome, and the waterways of Venice. Billy and Claire find themselves thrown together and at the mercy of the Winston siblings’ shenanigans.

But will their forced proximity bring them together? Or push them even further apart?

This second-chance romance brings back the entire Winston gang, playing cupid in one last story of love, hi-jinks, and family collusion.

BEARD NECESSITIES is a full-length contemporary romantic comedy, and can be read as a stand-alone, but it’s probably best read after books 0.5, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of the Winston Brothers series.

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Download your copy today!

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BFF K Review Beard Necessities

I hate to start a review by paraphrasing the synopsis but….”No one deserves a happily-ever-after quite as much as Billy Winston and Claire!” I’ve read every book in this series as soon as they released and I don’t think I’ve ever been as anxious for a story. I also found myself torn…I wanted desperately to devour it and I also wanted to slow down and savor every word!

If you’ve ever loved a series and felt deeply connected to its’ characters, you understand the thrill and sadness of realizing you’ve reached the end of their literary journey. And, I had been waiting for Billy’s story. The entire Winston Brother’s Series alluded to a dramatic history between Billy and Claire/Scarlet. And, it was a doozy. So much unrequited love and personal sacrifice create a really really lovely love story.

The entire Winston family comes together to make sure that Billy and Scarlet will finally get over themselves, forgive each other, forgive themselves and find their happily ever after. And, anything having to do with Cletus and the rest of the Winstons, is never simple, almost always hilarious and thoroughly full of love and heart!

I would say that you don’t need to read the Winston Brother’s Series to enjoy Beard Necessities, but I’m not going to give anyone a pass. If you read romance, this series is perfection. I love Jethro (and Sienna), Billy (and Claire), Cletus (and Jen), Ashley (and Drew), Beau (and Shelly), Duane (and Jessica), and Roscoe (and Simone) and you will too!

*For those that have read the the Winston Brothers, the Smartypants Romance books will give us glimpses into Green Valley and the characters we love! And so far, every book I’ve read has been fantastic!

**An advance copy of this book was received. Receipt of this copy did not impact the content or independence of this review.

 

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Excerpt from Beard Necessities

Strolling to the desk, I set down the milk and cookies, crossed my arms and turned to face my brother. “You’re pointing out that Scarlet and I will see each other during various family functions.”

“Correct.”

“And, therefore,” I continued reasonably, “I need to be nice to her.” I knew that already, and tonight—after watching her face crumple and feeling a part of my soul shrivel at the sight—I’d finally accepted it. I would be nice. I would be so damn nice. I’d be a saint.

But then Cletus said, “No, Billy. Not nice. Nice is for tea parties and doctor’s visits. You need to woo her.”

I blinked once. “Woo her.”

“That’s right. You need to woo the pants off her, hopefully literally, and then make that woman yours. Permanently. Once and for all. Put a ring on it. Woo is where it’s at. Jenn still has the centerpieces from our wedding if you’d like to borrow them.” During this enlightening monologue, he’d moseyed over and picked up the glass of milk and a cookie, dunked the cookie into the milk, and then took a bite just as he’d finished his listings of delusions.

“That’s never going to happen.”

“Why not? Those centerpieces are lovely. You don’t know your color scheme yet. Ask Scarlet before you decide.”

I ground my teeth. “Scarlet and I are never going to happen, Cletus.”

He shook his head firmly. “I’m disappointed in your lack of ambition, Billy. I thought we’d be on the same page. But I see now, I’m going to have to take a tough love approach.”

“Cletus—”

“I’m going to give you one chance,” he said, then pushed the rest of the cookie in his mouth and spoke around it as he continued, “One more chance is all you get. I’ve waited long enough for this and you know my feelings on delayed gratification.”

“Pardon?”

“It’s overrated.” He took a gulp of milk and picked up another cookie.

“No, Cletus. One chance on what?”

“I’m giving you one chance. One.” He pointed the cookie at me. “Tomorrow, you’re going to go find her, apologize to her for whatever that kerflufflefuck was I walked in on. Tell her you were suffering from temporary insanity, hopped up on illicit drugs, abducted by asshole probing aliens, whatever. I’m giving you one chance to make this right, and if you don’t take it, you are not going to like what happens next.”

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Enter the giveaway for a signed paperback set of the entire Winston Brothers Series!

http://bit.ly/2Y4LKcN

 

Meet the Author

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Penny Reid is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Best Selling Author of the Winston Brothers, Knitting in the City, Rugby, and Hypothesis series. She used to spend her days writing federal grant proposals as a biomedical researcher, but now she just writes books. She’s also a full time mom to three diminutive adults, wife, daughter, knitter, crocheter, sewer, general crafter, and thought ninja.

Connect with Penny

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PennyReidWriter/

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2lakzsD

Twitter: @ReidRomance

Mailing List: http://pennyreid.ninja/newsletter/

www.pennyreid.ninja

 

 

Review – Stud Muffin by Jiffy Kate

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It’s hard to get revenge without getting a rap sheet.

Stud Muffin, an all-new friends-to-lovers standalone romance from Jiffy Kate, is available now!

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After Tempest Cassidy walks in on her husband banging her high school nemesis, her whole world gets turned upside down. She goes from being known as the Duchess of Muffins to the town crazy. Her new MO: revenge. Eventually, Tempest grows weary being arrested. Yet what choice does she have? If she’s not angry, then she’s simply . . . sad.

Just as she decides to get her life back on track, in walks Cage Erickson, the new bouncer at the local strip club. He’s scary-handsome and the polar opposite of her ex. She’s attracted to him, but she’s not looking for a rebound. He’s attracted to her, but he’s not looking for a serious relationship. So, they agree to be friends.

But when lines get blurred in the friend zone, will they both get burned? Or will it be a TKO?

‘Stud Muffin’ is a full-length contemporary romantic comedy, can be read as a standalone, and is book#2 in the Donner Bakery series, Green Valley World, Penny Reid Book Universe.

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Download your copy today!

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BFF K Review of Stud Muffin

A girlfriend called me tonight and asked, “what do you think of this Smartypants Romance thing?” I am pretty sure I went on for about 7 solid minutes listing all of the things that I love about this world and the incredible authors bringing more of the spaces and characters to life! Stud Muffin is one of my favorite books in the Smartypants world so far; and this delightful rom-com is a standout and one of my favorite books in 2019!

Tempest is fabulous! She’s clever and sweet, smart and talented. She’s a little naive, but not in a way that gets annoying, in a way that makes her charming and endearing. She doesn’t deserve the horrible way that her husband has treated her and it’s easy to see why she loses her mind for a bit. In fact, I think her slightly unhinged personality is super easy to relate to! 😉

Cage….Cage is just everything. When you picture a viking, cage fighter with a heart of gold…you get Cage. He’s strong, protective, patient, kind, loyal and everything Tempest needs and deserves. He’s a really swoony, dreamy, fantastic hero!

Like the rest of the Smartpants books, it’s wonderful to see what these talented authors have created inside Penny Reid’s world. You don’t need to be a Penny Reid fan to enjoy this book, but it sure makes it that much sweeter if you are a Penny-fangirl! I did a combo read and listen on Author’s Direct. The narrators made this story come alive and were really wonderful.

If you’re looking for a rom-com that that you can absolutely devour, Stud Muffin definitely hits the sweet spot!

An advance copy of this book was received. The reviewer purchased the audiobook copy. Receipt of the advance copy did not impact the content or independence of this review.

 

Excerpt from Stud Muffin

As Mindy gets closer, she begins rubbing her hand over her belly, ensuring I know she’s with spawn, I mean, child. How far along is she anyway? The picnic wasn’t that long ago and she didn’t look pregnant then, did she? Maybe she did, but I was too shocked by the ring on her finger to notice? My mother would’ve said something to me when she broke the news about Mindy and Asher being married, so she must not have noticed either.

Maybe she just carries big… and early. Maybe she’s pregnant with multiples. That would be rich—I can’t even get pregnant with one, but Mindy Mitchell, husband stealer extraordinaire, can have my husband and all the babies.

All I know is that I have to stop gawking because Mindy is enjoying this way too much.

“Hey, Tempest. Soup for one, I presume?” Her smile is wide and condescending as she glances at the contents of my shopping cart.

Bitch.

“You know, I’ve been so busy lately that canned soup is all I have time for some nights. It’s not always the healthiest option, with all that sodium, but I’m fortunate to not retain water, like you obviously do.”

Really, Tempest? Is that the best put-down you can think of?

“I’m not bloated, silly.” She laughs, swatting the air in front of her face. “I’m pregnant! Of course, I don’t expect you to notice the difference.”

It’s illegal to hit a pregnant lady, Tempest.

She’s not worth the jail time.

Deep, cleansing breaths.

You don’t look good in orange.

“How far along are you?” I ask, willing myself to stay calm. “Elephants are pregnant, for what, two years?” I know I’m being immature, but I’m using my words and not my fists, so I’m calling it a win.

“Gah, you’re such a bitch. No wonder Asher wanted to leave you. At least I was able to give him what he wanted,” she brags, rubbing her belly even faster than before.

Maybe if she rubs a little more, a fucking genie will pop out, and I can at least get three wishes out of this deal. Wish one: Asher and Mindy disappear off the face of the planet.

“And,” she continues, “because I know it’s driving you crazy, I’ll let you in on the secret. I’m in my third trimester.” She smiles and squeals, like we’re BFFs and she just told me the best news. “Just a couple more months to go and this precious bundle of joy will be in the world… Asher is going to be such a great daddy.”

The blood drains from my face as I do the math in my head. Asher and I have been divorced for almost two months. I found them in bed together three months before that. Two plus three does not equal the amount of months it takes to be in the third trimester. I know my pregnancy facts.

Mindy just answered one of my many burning questions: that sack of shit was cheating on me months before I busted him.

And now, he’s having a baby with someone else.

Honestly, I don’t know how to feel right now… numb, blind-sided, furious, hurt?

All I know is I’m trying my damnedest not to lose my shit.

Deep breaths.

“Believe me,” Mindy says, breaking through the haze I’m in. “I tried and tried to get Asher to leave you before you found out about us on your own, but he didn’t listen.” She sighs, like she’s disappointed for me… like she’s on my side and she was trying to do me a favor. “Oh, well, life goes on, right?”

We enter into a bit of a staring competition for a brief moment, her bright, smiling eyes against my crazy, sadistic glare. I feel the crazy oozing out of me. When she finally starts to back her buggy up to make a U-turn in the aisle, she has the audacity to smile… and wink at me.

She’s the incarnation of Satan.

Asher and Mindy aren’t going to have a bouncing bundle of joy, they’re going to have a devil love child. I should alert the media. This has a horror movie written all over it.

“See you around, Tempest,” she says over her shoulder, before stopping and turning. “Oh, I guess I’ll see you at the reunion, if not before… and you’re bringing a date, right?”

Deep breaths, Tempest.

I don’t answer her with words, only with my glare, hoping it burns a hole in her skull.

You can do this.

Don’t let that cow win.

After she makes a turn onto another aisle, I take a few more deep breaths, willing my nerves to calm, and when that doesn’t work, I close my eyes and try harder. With my hands on my knees, I suck in air like it’s going extinct. My breathing becomes routine and I automatically start swaying my body in preparation for the Tai Chi moves that come next.

Cage has been teaching me a little bit of Tai Chi to further help channel my anger and anxiety and I have to admit, I love it. Completely forgetting where I am, I begin to perform my favorite combination of steps. If people see me, I don’t care. I’d rather them talk about me doing Tai Chi in the canned goods aisle than losing my shit at the Piggly Wiggly.

I’m finally feeling relaxed and in control of my emotions, so to celebrate my victory, I decide to throw a few punches into the air, similar to what Rocky Balboa did after running up all those stairs in the movie.

I am Tempest Cassidy, master of my emotions.

Thoroughly enjoying myself, I decide to end my impromptu workout with a killer roundhouse kick… right into a tower of Pork N Beans.

At first, it’s only a few cans. I lurch out, containing them in a lunge, looking around to see who might’ve witnessed my performance. Only a lady down at the other end of the aisle seems to be in the know. I breathe out a sigh of relief, feeling uncharacteristically lucky as I try to balance the cans and myself.

Just as I decide it’s safe to stand up, I lose my balance and the cans in my hands take a tumble… and then the entire end cap begins to fall.

Cans.

Cans of Pork N Beans are rolling everywhere.

When everything finally comes to a rest, I’m sprawled out on the glossy tile of the Piggly Wiggly in aisle six, using my body as a dam to stop them from getting too far. I’m afraid to move… afraid to breathe…

 

 

About the Authors

Jiffy Kate is the joint pen name for Jiff Simpson and Jenny Kate Altman. They’re co-writing besties who share a brain. They also share a love of cute boys, stiff drinks, and fun times.

Together, they’ve written over twenty stories. Their first published book, Finding Focus, was released in November 2015. Since then, they’ve continued to write what they know–southern settings full of swoony heroes and strong heroines.

Connect with Jiffy Kate

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Website: http://www.jiffykate.com/

Connect with Smartypants Romance

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Website: https://smartypantsromance.com/

 

 

Review – Beard with Me by Penny Reid

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“This is Penny Reid at her finest.” — L.B. Dunbar, author

Beard With Me, an epic and breathtaking story from New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Penny Reid, is available now!

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No one is better at surviving than Scarlet St. Claire and making the best out of circumstances beyond her control is Scarlet’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, she’d be the last person on earth, hermitting like a pro, singing along to her CD Walkman, and dancing like no one is watching.

Scarlet is clever, Scarlet is careful, and Scarlet is smart . . . except when it comes to Billy Winston.

No one is better at fighting than Billy Winston and raging against his circumstances—because nothing is beyond his control—is Billy’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, he’d be the first person on earth to lead others to safety, overcome catastrophe, or die trying.

Billy is fearless, Billy is disciplined, and Billy is honorable . . . except when it comes to Scarlet St. Claire.

‘Beard With Me’ is the origin story of Billy Winston and Scarlet St. Claire (aka Claire McClure) and is just the beginning of their epic love story.

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Download your copy today!

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Enter the giveaway for a signed paperback set of The Winston Brothers Series!

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BFF K’s Review of Beard with Me

I don’t mean to skip ahead but….Beard Necessities is the title of the next (and final) book in the Winston Brothers Series. And, I don’t think there’s ever been a more appropriate title. After reading Beard with Me, I’m in desperate need of the next book. Now! Stat! Please put me out of my heart-broken misery!!! 💔

I’ve been waiting the entire series to know and understand Billy Winston. And, the backstory is even more endearing and tragic than I imagined. Billy and Scarlet are star-crossed lovers for sure. Beard with Me is the beginning of their relationship and explains all the ins and outs of their broken journey.

Bill Winston has always struck me as being wiser than his years and carrying more responsibility than someone his age and all of his siblings. I had NO idea. My intuition didn’t even scratch the surface of what was really happening in his life, his heart and his brain. And, if Billy is an old soul, then he’s a perfect match for Scarlet. This book is a tale of young love, misunderstanding, and sacrifice that exceeds maturity.

This story was at times hard to read due to the gut-wrenching challenges and vulnerabilities that the characters displayed, but it was such a glimpse into what circumstances built the Winston family. And, it was the perfect story I didn’t know I needed in the series.

All of the praise for this angst-filled, tear-jerker aside, I don’t remember the last time I was this anxious to end a cliffhanger and put a beautiful bow on the Winston Brothers Series!

 

 

 

An advance copy of this book was received. The reviewer purchased the audiobook copy. Receipt of the advance copy did not impact the content or independence of this review.

Excerpt from Beard with Me

*Scarlet*

“Do you want me to leave?”

Yes. That would be best, a wise voice said between my ears.

So of course I inhaled deeply and said as calmly as I could manage, “I thought we were going to go get firewood.”

“Okay. Good.”

“But then,” I blurted, flustered and irritated with myself for not speaking wisdom, “You should go. You can’t tell me carting firewood back and forth between your house and here is how you want to spend the last of your Thanksgiving weekend.”

“I didn’t say it was.” He began making his way up the incline.

“But you just said—”

“How about we make a deal.” Billy dropped the kindling next to my little woodpile, dusting his hands off on his pants. “I’ll cart the firewood, and you sing.”

“You want me to serenade you while we carry firewood?”

He smiled, slow and easy as he walked to me and reached out his hand. On autopilot, I accepted it and allowed him to help me up.

As soon as I was standing, his gaze moved from my hairline down to my nose, lips, and then chin, saying quietly, “I’ll take a serenade from you anytime.”

Thunk ka-thunk. That was my heart. It had been doing the thunk ka-thunk quite a lot around him. I ignored it, because what else could I do?

“And you’re not carrying the wood.” He tugged on my hand, pulling me out of my daze and past my tent.

“I will too carry wood.” Struggling to find my bearings, I stumbled after him. “I can carry logs just fine.”

“You’ll carry a log.” Billy fit his fingers between mine, pressing our palms together and grinning at me like he was waiting for me to argue and he couldn’t wait.

Snapping my mouth shut, I glared at him.

“Nothing to say?”

Maintaining my glare, I walked next to him. I wasn’t being led anywhere I didn’t wish to go. Not anymore. He wasn’t talking me into anything else.

“That’s an awfully mean look, Scarlet.” His grin grew, his brutally attractive eyes glowing happily as he peered down at me.

“Well, you deserve it. Always trying to tell me what I can and can’t do. I’m not arguing with you about this. I’m carrying as much wood as I want and you can take your stupid, chauvinistic opinions and shove them up your pretty-boy ass.”

Goodness. Where had that come from?

Billy’s steps faltered and his mouth fell open, his eyebrows rising high on his forehead. He stared at me, looking shocked as hell. And then in the next moment, he threw his head back and laughed. But he did not let go of me, instead bringing my knuckles to his chest as his deep, rumbly laughter filled the empty spaces between the trees, surrounding us.

Crushing me.

Yes. I was well and truly crushed as I could only watch Billy Winston laugh, desperately basking in the image of him so delighted and relaxed. I had the odd sense that his laughter also filled the empty spaces inside of me, the neglected, vacant rooms, and even a few places that felt brand-new, like he’d created them.

All that noble honesty he carried around like a boulder abruptly lifted, revealing him. Just him. Carefree and young and happy. Someone he might’ve been if his burdens hadn’t been so heavy, his responsibilities so broad.

It lasted only a minute, maybe two, maybe less, but I had the sense of being caught afterward. Billy’s laughter had receded, but he’d spun a web while I’d been staring at him, holding his hand.

His grin became smaller and he bit his bottom lip, his gaze dropped to my mouth. “You think I’m pretty?”

“You know you’re pretty,” I said, bizarrely out of breath, rattled, needing to anchor my focus to a tree beyond him and waging war against the heat climbing up my neck to my cheeks. Oddly, my eyes stung. I blinked.

His attention was still on me. I felt it, but I didn’t dare look at him. I couldn’t handle one of Billy Winston’s intense stares right now. He’d probably use my scattered wits to his advantage, talk me into something I shouldn’t want to do, and then I’d be kicking myself later.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice deep with concern, all trace of his earlier humor gone.

I huffed, trying half-heartedly to steal my hand back from him. He didn’t let it go, instead taking my tugging as a signal to step closer, filling my vision.

“Scarlet—”

“Are you ever going to teach me how to play the guitar?” I closed my eyes.

He didn’t answer right away, and I felt him hesitate, his mind work before he muttered, “It’s only been a week.”

A quality to his voice made me think he wasn’t answering the question I’d asked, but rather he was reminding himself that it had only been a week since we’d struck the deal.

Was that only last week? Why does it feel like so much has changed?

Then he said, “Don’t be angry.”

“I’m not angry.” I was muddled, my head and heart hurt, I was incredibly confused, but I wasn’t angry.

The air shifted and I felt him move closer. A second later, the fingers of his free hand were at my ear, tucking my hair behind it, his fingertips lingering at my neck, sending wave after wave of goose bumps every which way. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t think. Every nerve in my body strained toward him and I didn’t understand it. What is happening?

“Have you ever been kissed, Scarlet?”

 

About the Author

Penny Reid is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Best Selling Author of the Winston Brothers, Knitting in the City, Rugby, and Hypothesis series. She used to spend her days writing federal grant proposals as a biomedical researcher, but now she just writes books. She’s also a full time mom to three diminutive adults, wife, daughter, knitter, crocheter, sewer, general crafter, and thought ninja.

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Connect with Penny:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PennyReidWriter/

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2lakzsD

Twitter: @ReidRomance

Mailing List: http://pennyreid.ninja/newsletter/

www.pennyreid.ninja

 

Cover Reveal – Wylde Fire by Sarah Robinson

Today we have the cover reveal for Sarah Robinson’s WYLDE FIRE! Check it out and be sure to pre-order your copy today!

Title: Wylde Fire

Author: Sarah Robinson

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Release Day: September 17th

About Wylde Fire:

Sam Wylde is ready to prove he’s more than just the privileged son of a wealthy Southern dynasty.

Wyldefire Whiskey is poised to take Nashville by storm—and with any luck, overshadow the scandal of his cheating ex-girlfriend marrying his brother. The only problem? This gruff country boy has no idea how to throw a launch party that will get people talking.

The answer to everything might just be Holly Glen.
A party wrapped up in one tiny woman, Holly is tattooed, tempting, and exactly the event planner Sam needs to liven up his brand—and his life. He can give her what she needs, too.

All it will take is a ring on her finger.

Falling in real love with his fake wife was not part of the plan—but one shot of Holly isn’t going to be enough.

PREORDER TODAY
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Excerpt from Wylde Fire

“You cannot do this to me, Cassie,” Sam Wylde argued over the speakerphone attached to his truck’s dashboard. He cringed as his Southern drawl came out a little thicker than usual. Frustration did that to him, and right now it was taking everything in him to not start cussing.

With a deft twist of his wrist, he steered his truck into the parking lot next to Town Hall, cutting off another car with a halfhearted wave of acknowledgement. He needed to pick up several permits before the city offices closed, leaving no room for pleasantries.

Damn, for a Saturday, the lot sure is packed.

He sighed and forced his attention back to the phone call. “We’ve got a few months until the launch of the entire brand. Everything I’ve done the last two years is riding on this.”

“I’m really sorry,” Cassie, his event planner, said from the other end of the phone. Or former event planner, apparently. “But I can’t be in two places at once, and neither can my influencers and vendors. We’re booked for that day now.”

Teetering on the brink of exploding, Sam breathed in slowly. “But. You. Signed. With. Us. First.” He ground the words out slow and steady.

“Technically, I haven’t signed an actual contract. I was helping you out as a favor to Noah,” Cassie informed him. “And where I go…so do my connections.”

Read the First Three Chapters!

 

About the Author

Aside from being a Top 10 Barnes & Noble and Amazon Bestseller, Sarah Robinson is a native of the Washington, DC area and has both her Bachelors and Masters Degrees in criminal psychology. She works as a counselor by day and romance novelist by night. She owns a small zoo of furry pets and is actively involved in volunteering in her community.

 

Subscribe to her newsletter at www.subscribepage.com/sarahrobinsonnewsletter

 

Connect with Sarah:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest | Tumblr | Instagram

 

 

Chapter Reveal – Handle With Care by Helena Hunting

 

New York Times bestselling author of SHACKING UP and I FLIPPING LOVE YOU Helena Hunting mixes humor and heart in this scandal-filled romantic comedy.

HE WANTS TO LOSE CONTROL.
Between his parents’ messed up marriage and his narcissistic younger brother, Lincoln Moorehead has spent the majority of his life avoiding his family. After the death of his father, Lincoln finds himself in the middle of the drama. To top it all off, he’s been named CEO of Moorehead Media, much to his brother’s chagrin. But Lincoln’s bad attitude softens when he meets the no-nonsense, gorgeous woman who has been given the task of transforming him from the gruff, wilderness guy to a suave businessman

SHE’S TRYING TO HOLD IT TOGETHER.
Wren Sterling has been working double time to keep the indiscretions at Moorehead Media at bay, so when she’s presented with a new contract, with new responsibilities and additional incentives, she agrees. Working with the reclusive oldest son of a ridiculously entitled family is worth the hassle if it means she’s that much closer to pursuing her own dreams. What Wren doesn’t expect is to find herself attracted to him, or for it to be mutual. And she certainly doesn’t expect to fall for Lincoln. But when a shocking new Moorehead scandal comes to light, she’s forced to choose between her own family and the broody, cynical CEO.

 

Order Your Copy Today

 

Click on the link below for Chapter 1 of Handle with Care

Handle With Care Chapter 1 Reveal

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of PUCKED, Helena Hunting lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her incredibly tolerant family and two moderately intolerant cats. She’s writes contemporary romance ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.

Social Media Links:

 

 

Cover Reveal – Never Fall in Love with a Rockstar by Rachel Higginson

My name is Clover Calloway and I’ve lived two separate lives.

The first, I like to call “my past.” I never talk about it. I try not to think about it. My rockstar days of playing in one of the hottest bands on the planet are over. Along with the most volatile, beautiful, tragic love story of all time.

Over the past five years, I’ve settled into my second life. My “normal life.” The one where I work a normal job, hang out with normal people and fall in love with a normal, but wonderful guy. The life where I’m admittedly a little bored, but also safe.

My past wasn’t boring. But my past broke my heart into a million, unfixable pieces. So, I’m determined to keep it where it belongs—behind me.

And the man responsible for the shattering of me? Malachi Porter, lead singer and mastermind of Bright Tragedy, should stay there too. Far away from me and this idyllic life I’ve carved out for myself.

But what happens when my two lives collide?

When Malachi comes crashing into my perfectly normal world, he threatens to destroy it, promises to annihilate everything I’ve replaced him with.

He upends everything I thought I wanted and forces me to question the reasons I left Bright Tragedy all those years ago.

But I didn’t walk away five years ago, I ran. As fast as I could go. And while my heart is whispering that it’s different this time—that he’s different—my brain is screaming for me to run again.

Malachi Porter isn’t a normal guy. And he doesn’t belong in my “normal life.” But, nevertheless, he’s bound and determined to make a place for himself here.

I just hope my heart can survive him, that we don’t burn into another bright tragedy.

 

Pre-Order Never Fall in Love with a Rockstar Today

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Sneak Peek – Chapter 1 – Never Fall in Love with a Rockstar

Chapter One

My fingers flew over the keys. Up and down. Black and white. Sharp and natural and sharp, sharp, sharp. The damper pedal lifted with my momentum. I pressed down again, elongating the notes, pulling the best of the melody out of the song and letting it hang in the air, notes dancing and twirling and singing in the emotional symphony. Beethoven had never sounded so good.

I took a breath. Closing my eyes at the final, heart-stopping crescendo, I lifted my fingers and let the last notes resonate through the vaulted ceilings in perfect harmony.

When the sound died and the song drifted from the building, I couldn’t help but wait for applause. It was ingrained in my nature. My entire life I’d played to crowds much bigger than this one. And so, I sat there, my breath trapped inside my chest, my eyes closed in anticipation and… nothing.

There was no eruption of cheering and wild clapping. There was no demand for an encore. There was no stadium filled with rabid fans, blissed out at the end of the best show of their lives.

Only one person was clapping for this performance and it was Maya from the MAC makeup counter. And she only did it because she knew it made me happy. I grinned at her over my shoulder. She clapped louder, jumping up and down in a pure attempt to feed my ego.

A cluster of teenage girls moved between us, laughing and chatting, eyes glued on all the pretty things around them. I quickly turned away, ducking my head and focusing on the gorgeous grand piano that filled the center of the glistening lobby.

Nobody recognized me these days, but better safe than sorry.

When the shoppers had moved on, I gathered my music and slipped it inside a folder. Maya was still slow clapping by the time I reached the counter that was covered with tubes of lipstick.

“Woman, you were on fire today,” she cheered. “I was seriously moved by that last piece. Tears, Clover. Actual tears.” She pointed at the corner of her eye where her electric blue eyeliner was smudged.

“Moonlight Sonata.” I took a steadying breath, banishing the lingering emotions that clung to the edges of me. Beethoven’s masterful piece was one of my favorites too. And I rarely played it. But today I’d been in the mood for melancholy and memories. And that song, above all others, despite what the tabloids and bloggers said about me once upon a time, weighed the heaviest with my past. “It’s a good one.”

She leaned forward on her elbows. “You’re stupid good, you know that?”

I tilted my head, letting my long, fiery red curls fall over my shoulder and partially hide my face. “What you really mean is I’m good for Macy’s standards, right?” I looked behind me as Walter arrived and started to set up for his three-hour block. Macy’s hired us for elegant entertainment. We were the background music for the high-end department stores evening and weekend shoppers. There was a rotating total of six pianists and each of us were happy for the work. It was a relatively easy way to make a hundred bucks.

This was all part of my new normal. Trying to live and eat and sleep off the grind of regular employment.

Once upon a time, my piano-playing skills made me lots and lots of money. Not that I put in fewer hours. But it seemed easier to make money as a headline band dropping platinum albums.

It seemed easier, I realized. But it hadn’t been.

I breathed deeply of this normal life I lived now and smiled at the simplicity of it. Sorrow and heartache tugged at the corners of my thoughts, desperate to get my attention and claim some space in this adjusted life of mine, but I refused to give them room.

They were banished, along with everything else that used to be.

“Girl, I mean you’re good period. Stop playin’.”

“You’re really sweet. Thank you.”

She winked at me. “You’re welcome.”

“What is all this?” I asked, picking up a random tube of lipstick and turning it over. Russian Red. “Wow, this is bright.”

“Restocking,” she sighed. “It’s a pain in the ass. But also, better than giving tweens makeovers all day.”

“What about former tweens? Do you have time for one of those?”

She laughed her deep, throaty laugh that always made me smile. Maya and I had gotten to know each other slowly over the last few years after I’d first started playing at Macy’s. She’d been one of my most favorite parts of slowing down and finding normal.

She was a real friend. And a real person. There was nothing shallow about her. She jumped right into a deep friendship and demanded raw honesty. There were still parts of my life I kept a secret from her, but that wasn’t because I didn’t want to tell her the whole sordid history of how I’d ended up in Kansas City, Missouri. It was for her safety. And mine. And to honor all those pesky nondisclosures I’d signed.

Her big brown eyes widened. “Oh, my gosh, is tonight the night? The big night?”

I nibbled my bottom lip and nodded. “Yes.” My stomach flipped with anticipation for the surprise that waited for me just hours from now.

She leaned forward, bouncing on her toes with shared excitement. “What do you think it is? Oh, my gosh, what if he proposes?”

I lifted a shoulder and felt my stomach drop to my toes. Equal parts dread and hope spiraled through me, chasing each other, racing to see which emotion would win. “I have no idea what it is. He’s so excited though. He can barely contain himself. Yesterday, he had outfits spread out on his bed like he was deciding which one to wear.”

“Oh my god, Clover! This has to be it.”

I shrugged again. “It could honestly be anything, but a proposal, Maya? For real, that would be crazy.”

“Would you say yes?”

I took too long to think about my answer. Maya wanted an easy, breezy yes. She wanted to know that my relationship with Adam Shepherd was a whirlwind romance that had totally and completely swept me off my feet. She wanted a real-life romantic comedy and epic love story wrapped in one. She wanted me to be happy. And it was so sweet of her. But it was also unrealistic.

I’d already had all of that. And it had ended in the worst kind of tragedy.

Her question was supposed to have an easy answer. Even if I wasn’t ready for the proposal now, I was supposed to want it sometime, right?

Meet a normal guy. Fall in love with a normal guy. Marry a normal guy. Live a very normal happily ever after.

Every girl’s dream. Except mine.

“We’ve only been dating for six months,” I told her, laughing, playing it off, shining light on her absolutely ridiculous idea. “He hasn’t even told me he loves me yet.” A sick feeling rolled through my stomach, my body wholly rejecting the idea of saying those words to anyone.

She blinked, her fake lashes fanning over high cheekbones. “Oh.” Maya was a romantic to her bones. She wanted everyone to fall in love. If a man so much as knelt to tie his shoe in front of the makeup counter, she assumed it was some elaborate proposal stunt. “Well, maybe tonight’s the night for I love yous!”

My heart thrummed with the idea, bossing my nerves back in line. This was an easier question to answer, although she hadn’t asked it. Would I tell Adam I loved him if he said the words first? Yes. Yes, I would.

At least, I hoped I would.

Sometimes my mouth had a mind of its own.

I bat my lashes at her. “Better make me look pretty just in case.”

She grinned and grabbed the tube of Russian Red. “The good news is, if he doesn’t love you yet, he will after I’m done with you!”

Jumping up onto one of the high back stools, I set my messenger bag full of sheet music at my feet and waited patiently for Maya to make me gorgeous. The woman was a magician when it came to makeup. Seriously, she could make anything look beautiful.

Not that she had to try very hard. She was truly one of the most stunning women I had ever seen. Her dark skin was absolute perfection. Her natural hair, wild and curly and edgy, so perfectly fitting to her larger than life personality. And her curves the kind that every woman wanted, dreamed of, spent hours in the gym to get. She was one of MAC’s bestsellers consistently because everybody wanted to look like her.

Hell, most women wanted to be her.

Also, because she could transform anyone from blah to banging with a few mystical strokes of her brushes.

Thirty minutes later, I barely recognized myself in the small circular mirror on the counter. She’d given me smoky eyes, highlighted cheekbones, and dang that Russian Red if it didn’t look amazing on my lips next to my natural red hair.

“No way,” I whispered as she grinned over my shoulder. She’d highlight the dusting of freckles over my nose and under my eyes and given me perfectly porcelain skin that seemed to have no blemishes. Although, I knew that to be a lie. I looked better than I ever had.

I looked even better than when I’d had an actual makeup team.

“You’re going home with this lipstick,” she ordered. “You need to own it and wear it every damn day.”

“It makes my hair look so red.” I groaned. My hair and I had been at odds since I could remember. There was a time I did anything to hide the crimson curls. I straightened, I tied it back and hid it under stocking caps and finally, when the PR team got involved, I colored it in crazy vibrant colors like neon pink or bold purple. I loved the fun shades, even if I looked like a Barbie.

But, I’d given all that up five years ago and went back to my natural shade. The curls were more manageable than trying to straighten this mess every day. Eventually, my new hair stylist had found the perfect red to match my roots. I didn’t even get it dyed anymore. This was just me. Clover Callaway, completely natural. Completely anonymous.

Nobody expected the red curls. They were my new signature. And I was slowly learning to love them.

Like I was slowly learning to love this life.

“You’re welcome,” Maya repeated, laughing. “Tell you what. If I had your hair, I would rock the shit out of it.”

Now that I believed. “M, if I had your hair, I would never worry about my hair again.”

She bugged her eyes out at me. “You think this is easy? You have no idea how long this takes me every day.”

“Same,” I sighed.

Shaking her head, she murmured, “I guess the grass is always greener.”

“Now isn’t that the truth.”

An older woman and a thirty-something younger version of her stepped up to the counter, pointing out eye shadows. “That’s my cue,” Maya whispered, totaling up the lipstick with her employee discount.

I gave her my credit card. Honestly, whenever she picked out makeup for me, I gave her my money. Maya knew best. “Thanks for this.”

She grinned at me. “Good luck! I want all the details tomorrow.”

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything as grand as I love yous. Adam and I had met at one of my other jobs—local photographer. He had been a groomsman at a wedding I helped shoot. We’d hit it off when he’d gotten socked in the face with a wayward basketball.

The groomsmen and groom, while waiting for the bride and her attendants to get ready, had been messing around in the church’s gym. My photographer friend, River, and I had been shooting fun photos of the pickup game in their tuxes when Adam had gotten distracted and taken a ball to the face. Blood had gushed everywhere, spurting out his swollen nose all over his tux.

His excuse? He’d been staring at me and hadn’t seen it coming. I’d rushed to his aid and helped nurse his poor nose back to semi-normal, so he wouldn’t look like a cartoon for the wedding pictures.

He’d asked me out before the night was over, and now we were dating.

Adam was one of those guys that always made things easy. He was laid-back, responsible, and adorable. The last six months had been a surprising whirlwind of romantic dates and constant butterflies. And tonight, he’d planned something epic for our six-month anniversary.

I had never celebrated relationship anniversaries with anyone before, so my expectations were low. But I was also ridiculously excited. It made me feel special. I loved the idea of celebrating small milestones with this simmering anticipation for more to come.

And it just fit Adam in every way. Of course, he would make a sweet thing out of our six-month. Of course, he would make me feel cherished. Of course, he would make this about us. And not about himself.

I left Macy’s in my cool blue Mini Cooper, my favorite of all the cars in the world, and drove directly to his house. We lived across town from each other, so I didn’t have time to go all the way home after my shift before I was supposed to be at Adam’s house in Kansas City suburbia.

He was thirty-one with a stable job as an IT guy at a tech company, which seemed redundant to me. But he assured me even tech companies have tech problems.

His house was bigger than what he needed as a single guy. It seemed huge for him alone. When he’d first moved in, he’d shared it with three roommates. They’d all gotten married in the meantime and moved out. Over the last two years, he’d been slowly remodeling and updating. Making it his.

I didn’t know why I found that attractive, but I did. It showed me how stable he was. How reliable. How invested he was in his life.

And for those reasons, I loved his house. It was this symbol of responsible adulthood and trustworthiness.

It was an older one and a half story home with the master bedroom on the main floor and three bedrooms and an adorable terrace that looked out over his sprawling backyard. He’d let me plant a flower garden on the terrace last spring complete with pallet planters he’d built for me and hanging pots. It was my favorite place in the entire world.

The hot summer air stuck to my skin as I got out of my car and hurried toward his front door. I didn’t want to start sweating and ruin all of Maya’s hard work.

Pushing through the open door, I stepped inside, feeling a little extra ownership in Adam’s place. Six months was a milestone.

Six months meant something special.

“Hello?” I called out, feeling brave that I hadn’t even texted to let him know I was on my way.

I’d earned the right to show up unannounced, right?

He stepped out of his bedroom, tugging a t-shirt down at his waist. My eyes lingered on the smooth, stretch of skin across his midsection and I felt a burst of warmth bloom through me. This was going to be a fun night. It had to be.

“Hey,” he grinned at me. “You’re here.”

He was so happy to see me. It was written all over his handsome face. My heart swelled in my chest as I realized this was what a normal, healthy relationship felt like. This was what it felt like to be happy.

“Hey,” I repeated. “I’m here.”

We moved together across the living room, sidestepping furniture and the big, clunky coffee table he’d built himself on his first try at furniture making. Our arms wrapped around each other and he dipped me into a long, satisfying kiss. Butterflies buzzed beneath my skin at the sensation of his tongue tangling with mine. The scruff of his jaw wasn’t typical, and I shivered at the sensation.

Maybe we didn’t have plans tonight. Maybe we were going to hang out here instead and find other ways to celebrate six months.

“Are you ready for this?” he asked when he’d pulled away.

“Depends,” I laughed. “Are you ready to tell me what we’re doing?”

He took a step back, barely able to contain his excitement. No offense to my bedroom skills, but any hopes of staying in tonight were dashed in that one uncharacteristic skip in his step.

Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out printer paper with barcodes in black ink. “I have tickets to Bright Tragedy! They’re playing at the Uptown Theater tonight.”

His words were a bullet to my good mood, killing whatever happiness and anticipation had been inside me. My heart dropped like a stone to my stomach, calcifying and fossilizing and drying up all at once. “The Uptown Theater is too small for them,” I heard myself say, my brain relying on logistics to make this not true. To change what he’d said into something different, something that didn’t make me want to run away from his house, from this city… from this country.

“It’s a more intimate show,” he explained, his grin ticking wider. “This tour they’re doing is all about small shows and private meet and greets. I missed the tickets for the meet and greet, but I managed to grab the main event tonight.”

His grin stayed in place, waiting for my reaction. I did breathe a small sigh of relief that he’d missed the intimate photo op. God, I couldn’t even imagine the shit show that would have been.

You wouldn’t have gone, my brain whispered honestly. And it was true. If Adam had tried to drag me to a private event where I would have been forced to interact with the members of his and the entire world’s favorite rock band and take pictures with them and shake their hands… I would have run screaming from his house. That was the worst-case scenario for me.

But a concert was a different story. Not because I had any interest in watching Bright Tragedy live or seeing them in person ever again. But because I wanted to preserve what I had with Adam.

I refused to let Bright Tragedy steal any more of my happiness. I refused to let them take anything more from me than they already had.

But this wasn’t a celebration for me. This was one of the hardest things I would ever have to do.

And the worst part… I couldn’t even tell Adam why.

He didn’t need to know that I used to be a member of his favorite band. Or that I had grown up with the guys. Or that the lead singer, Malachi Porter, had been my first boyfriend. My first everything. My only everything until Adam. I had loved him with all that I had in me. I had thought we would get married. That our entire lives would be each other and our band.

And that Malachi, or Kai as his adoring fans knew him, had hurt me in the worst way possible—that he had let our love burn into the brightest tragedy and left me ashes and dust and wisps of nothing.

He’d left me barely breathing.

He’d left me hurting more than I knew was humanly possible.

With no other choice, I’d fled. I’d disappeared. I’d carved out my normal, safe, happy existence without him. And without the world-famous band I’d helped build.

But now, my wonderfully normal boyfriend was asking me to go back to that dark place and I didn’t know how to tell him no without exposing all my shadowy secrets. Secrets he would never forgive me for.

Secrets I could hardly explain fully or reconcile with the girl I was now.

“Are you okay?” he asked, concern drawing his eyebrows together. His strong hands landed on my shoulders, rubbing soothingly. “Do you not want to go?”

I tried to smile, but it wobbled. And then it died completely. “I’m sorry, I just don’t love their music like you do.” Panic seized hold of my heart, squeezing it in an iron fist.

His face fell, crumbling with disappointment. The grip on my heart tightened. “Oh, but it could still be fun? We’re in the balcony. We’ll get drinks…”

I couldn’t stomach the way he was looking at me. I couldn’t be responsible for ruining this for him. I knew I had to face this. I knew I had to go. It was the only way to save my past from totally screwing up my future.

If I told Adam the whole truth, he would never look at me the same. He would never treat me the same. He would never…  want me the same.

I would become an idol. And my past would become a badge of honor. And his feelings for me would become plastic.

But the band… if they saw me. If Malachi saw me…

They wouldn’t, I decided. They won’t. They can’t. How many fans did I recognize at any of our concerts? Zero. The stage lights were too bright. The crush of the crowd was too big. The adrenaline of the performance was too intense.

And besides, Malachi wouldn’t be in the right state of mind anyway. He wouldn’t even notice me.

I ignored the despair that colored everything inside me black. Death seeped inside my new life, turning everything cold and corpse-like. My bones grew stiff and my muscles weakened. My heartbeat slowed to a crawl. My lungs shook with the effort to draw breath.

“It’s fine,” I heard myself say, desperation to save this easy new life of mine setting in. I wanted to shake my limbs loose of the rigor mortis. “It will be fun.”

He squinted at me, trying to make sense of the hollow sound of my voice. “I promise, you’re going to love it. Love them,” he said, overly enthusiastic. “You’ll see why I think they’re amazing. You’ll be a super fan by the end of the night.”

I smiled, it was paper thin and fake, but it held. He was wrong. I had already been a super fan. I had been their biggest fan. I had wanted them to have the most success. To be the greatest thing that had ever graced the stage.

Now I knew better. I had loved a broken thing because I wanted to fix it. Instead, it had broken me too.

“Maybe,” I told Adam, knowing the truth would be the opposite.

His answering smile restored some of my faith in life. I wasn’t the same girl I was five years ago. I wasn’t a part of Bright Tragedy. And I wasn’t in love with Malachi Porter.

But I did like Adam. And I could support him this one night. I would slip inside the theater, be a good girlfriend and hang out on the balcony. And then we would leave at the end of the night and life would go on.

Malachi and the guys would move on to the next city.

And I would move on with my new normal.

Easy.

 

About the Author

Rachel Higginson is the best-selling author of The Opposite of You, The Five Stages of Falling in Love, Every Wrong Reason, Bet on Us and The Star-Crossed Series.

She was born and raised in Nebraska, and spent her college years traveling the world. She fell in love with Eastern Europe, Paris, Indian Food and the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka, but came back home to marry her high school sweetheart. Now she spends her days writing stories and raising five amazing kids.

 

 

 

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