Tag Archives: Review

Welcome Back, Jack – Gritty, Gutsy, Good!

jack bannerREVIEW:

Welcome Back, Jack starts as a slow moving police procedural that subtly wraps around you like a constrictor, keeping you snug and comfortable with the story and characters. . . until it starts to squeeze. By then it’s too late because you’re morbidly fascinated by this psychological thriller bordering on a horror novel.   You can’t put the damn book down.

I admit, my love affair with Welcome Back, Jack did not start on the first page . . . or even the first chapter. While I usually enjoy attention to details, I felt the story stalled a bit as author Sweeny set the stage. Granted, there is a gruesome murder with graphic descriptions of the mutilated bodies. No one is going to sleep walk through that! But the initial investigation and introduction to the many characters seemed to take a long time and did not reel me in as quickly as I like.

However, once you get past the slough, this is an intriguing tale with some darned good twists. The story starts off like a gumshoe detective novel but soon gets in your head and stays there until the final page. Jack is a gruff detective who smokes too many cigarettes and keeps his emotions under lock and key. His wife, Mary might be the only one who truly understands him since she hails from a family of cops, but even that is debatable at times. As the investigation unfolds, clues reveal something even more terrifying – the killer is tied to Jack’s own biological parent’s murders from years earlier.  Things go from murky to dark, spiraling to a conclusion that will leave you breathless.

Fans of police procedural, crime or horror/thriller novels will want to put Welcome Back, Jack on their must read list, as well as anyone who likes dark psychological whodunits. It’s a good read.

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REVIEW & GIVEAWAY: Time For Love by Emma Kaye

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TIME FOR LOVE

Emma Kaye

time for loveGenre: Time travel romance

Publisher:The Wild Rose Press

Date of Publication: December 2013

ISBN 978-1-62830-072-7

ISBN 978-1-62830-073-4

Number of pages: 354

Word Count: 92,194

Cover Artist: Debbie Taylor

Amazon    Wild Rose Publishing

Book Description:        

Alexandra Turner will do anything to save her twin sister. Even when she’s transported back in time to Regency England. Rescuing her sister and finding her way back to her own time will take all her concentration. Falling in love is not an option.

With the death of his brother, Nicholas Somerville became the ninth Marquess of Oakleigh and must return to England to take his place in society. Part of his responsibility will be to find a wife. It never occurs to him he might actually discover a woman he could love–until he meets Alex on his voyage home.

Can Alex and Nicholas find a way to bridge the gap of time and circumstance? Can they overcome their fears to realize that true love transcends time? Or will a dark secret from Alex’s past rear up to separate them forever?

Review: 

I love time travel romance. The blend of contemporary and historical is always fun because someone is always out of their element – which creates some great conflict.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to write such a story. The author must be adept at understanding the nuances of both genres and keep their characters true to both eras. Not an easy feat.

I’m delighted to say Emma Kay has mastered time travel romance, evidenced by her debut release, Time For Love.

The story has an interesting premise. Saucy heroine, Alexandra (Alex) Turner, agrees to go back in time through a secret portal to rescue her twin sister, Charlotte. Historical newspapers indicate Charlotte will die within two months if Alex fails. Her task is a serious one so the initial meeting of darkly handsome Nicholas Somerville adds the spice I was waiting for. Since Alex is dressed as a boy of that era, Nicholas has no idea of the effect he has on her.

Of course, Nicholas has issues of his own to resolve. He must leave his wayfaring lifestyle as ship’s captain behind to take over as ninth Marquess of Oakleigh. To make matters worse, he now must find a suitable wife.

The two embark on a series of adventures which threaten their lives and new found love.

It’s a cute story filled with passion and beautiful descriptions that put the reader right in the heart of the tale. If you enjoy time travel romance, regency historicals and/or feisty heroines, you should definitely read Time For Love.

Excerpt:

Her gaze drifted to his mouth as he spoke, fascinated by the way the scar pulled slightly at the corner. She felt a strong urge to kiss that corner, to run her tongue along the seam and dip between his lips, along his teeth.

He turned away, and she blinked herself back to reality. She couldn’t believe the thoughts that kept popping into her head when she looked at him.

And she was going to be stuck on a ship with him for almost a month.

Dressed like a boy.

Wonderful.

He set off, and she rushed after him, thankful he couldn’t see the blush heating her cheeks. It was going to be a long month.

She caught up, practically jogging to keep pace with his long strides.

He looked her briefly up and down in an assessing manner that strained Alex’s nerves. “You don’t look like much of a sailor, and you’re too young to have any skill as a carpenter.”

She was surprised he hadn’t already uncovered her disguise. Her instincts warned her he wouldn’t be easy to fool, and she would be smart to keep her distance, even if distance was the last thing she wanted right now. Of course, it wouldn’t be a problem if he decided she wasn’t qualified to work on his ship.

“You’re wondering what possessed him to hire me. Perhaps he took pity on me, or maybe I’m better qualified than I look,” she replied haughtily, and immediately wished she could take the last part back. Now he might think she had some sailing skill.

He snorted, and she got the feeling amusement had replaced his annoyance, though his expression hadn’t changed.

“My guess would be pity. He sometimes has more heart than sense.” He sighed. “Despite some of his more—emotional—decisions, he’s a good first mate and has served me well. We’ll have to see how you fare.” He gave her a slightly puzzled look. “There’s something about you though. I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

Alex breathed a sigh of relief when they arrived at the tavern where she’d met the Adonis the night before. This time of the morning everything was quiet, and they had to wait a few moments before anyone came to see what they wanted.

A sour-faced woman entered the room, muttering about the hour and cursing under her breath. But after a quick glance at Nicholas’s face, she quieted and listened to his request. She told them which room the first mate was in then quickly disappeared through the door by which she had entered.

“Follow me.” Nicholas climbed the stairs and knocked loudly on the appropriate door. He didn’t wait for an answer before pushing it open.

The Adonis slept soundly in the middle of the large bed that dominated the room. A blanket draped around his hips didn’t disguise the fact he was naked.

Alex had a difficult time deciding where to look. On his left, the pretty waitress from the night before was hastily pulling the covers up to her chin, while another woman on his right merely reached over to try to waken her bed partner, as though the appearance of two people at the door was hardly cause to cover up.

“I can see why he didn’t show,” Alex muttered under her breath. She hadn’t meant to be heard, but apparently Nicholas had good hearing and laughed.

“Quite understandable,” he said, still chuckling.

Meanwhile, the first mate opened his eyes and looked up at the captain. “Bloody hell. Am I late?”


About the Author:        

Emma Kaye is married to her high school sweetheart and has two beautiful kids that she spends an insane amount of time driving around central New Jersey. Before ballet classes and soccer entered her life, she decided to try writing one of those romances she loved to read and discovered a new passion. She has been writing ever since. Add in a playful puppy and an extremely patient cat and she’s living her own happily ever after while making her characters work hard to reach theirs

www.emma-kaye.com

www.Facebook.com/emmakayewrites

www.Twitter.com/emmakayewrites

www.Goodreads.com/emma-kaye

 

 

 

Review: In Love With A Wicked Man by Liz Carlyle

Win a PRINT copy of In Love With A Wicked Man by NY Times Best Selling Author, Liz Carlyle, compliments of Avon Books!

This is NOT a Rafflecopter entry. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this blog post telling me what you enjoy most about Historical Romance. The winner will be announced on Monday, November 11th.

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In Love With A Wicked Man

Liz Carlyle

Wicked Man coverGenre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Avon Books
Date of Publication: 10/29/2013
ISBN: 9780062100290

Harper Collins   Amazon
 

Review:

Liz Carlyle has once again proven why she’s ranked on the New York Time’s Bestselling Author list with her recent release, In Love With A Wicked Man.

It all begins when Lord Edward Quartermaine, a “wicked” man who owns a successful gaming establishment in London, is on his way to inspect a property he recently purchased in the Somerset countryside. All is well and good until Kate/Lady d’Allenay’s horse jumps a fence, nearly colliding with the handsome stranger. An ensuing fall  leaves Edward with a bout of amnesia. Feeling quite guilty about causing his injury, Kate insists the poor man recuperate at her estate.

The attraction between the characters explodes quickly . . . which I thoroughly enjoyed! But alas, as with any good romance, there must be some conflict. Just as Kate and Edward are generating enough steam to run a river boat down the Thames, enter her mother and ex-boyfriend – a man determined to win Kate back. Of course, Edward soon regains his memory further complicating the road to romance. The rest is a tangled but entertaining journey of two people discovering true love.

Sigh. This is not a mocking sigh, by any means. It’s a sigh of contentment because I’ve just read a wonderful book which satisfied my penchant for romance but was not so predictable that I lost interest. If you enjoy historical romance . . . or romance of any genre . . . you must read In Love With A Wicked Man. Or better yet, leave a comment and perhaps you can win your very own PRINT copy!!!

 

Book Description:

New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle has created a breathtaking new romance about a man without scruples and the lady who brings him to his knees.

What does it matter if Kate, Lady d’Allenay, has absolutely no marriage prospects?

She has a castle to tend, an estate to run, and a sister to watch over, which means she is never, ever reckless. Until an accident brings a handsome, virile stranger to Bellecombe Castle, and Kate finds herself tempted to surrender to her houseguest’s wicked kisses.

Disowned by his aristocratic family, Lord Edward Quartermaine has turned his gifted mind to ruthless survival. Feared and vilified as proprietor of London’s most notorious gaming salon, he now struggles to regain his memory, certain of only one thing: he wants all Kate is offering—and more.

But when Edward’s memory returns, he and Kate realize how much they have wagered on a scandalous passion that could be her ruin, but perhaps his salvation.
 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

In Which Lady d’Allenay

Plans a House Party

1850

Somerset

 

Family lore had long held that when the ancient Barons d’Allenay were no more, the Kingdom of Great Britain would crumble. For better than five hundred years, an unbroken if often tangled line of these noble gentlemen had held control of the vast Somerset estates collectively known as Bellecombe, which had been the seat of the Barons d’Allenay since the time of Henry V.

But at long last, after the fortunes of the barony had waxed and waned a dozen times, there finally came the day when there was no Lord d’Allenay.

No one was less pleased by this unfortunate turn than Kate, Lady d’Allenay. But the kingdom did not, after all, crumble.

And the fortune? Regrettably, that was definitely on the wane—and all of Bellecombe with it. But Lady d’Allenay had never been without pragmatism. Indeed, from the earliest years of her girlhood, her grandfather, the thirteenth Baron d’Allenay, had been wont to pat her on the head and declare her the sensible one.

Indeed, she could hardly have been the beautiful one. That honorific had fallen to her late brother, Stephen. Certainly she was not the charming one, for her little sister, Nancy, had half the county’s male population eating from the palm of her hand. So all that was left to Lady d’Allenay, it seemed, was pragmatism. And from the age of eight, when she had realized that her frivolous parents were not to be relied upon, she’d striven to cultivate that dull virtue.

“—and do it pillowslip by bloody damned pillowslip!” she added through clenched teeth.

“Beg pardon, m’lady?” enquired a voice behind her.

“Never mind, Peppie,” Lady d’Allenay called back to her housekeeper. Then, with a clever twist, the baroness extracted herself from the depths of a massive linen press and presented Mrs. Peppin with a stack of fresh pillowslips. “New!” she declared triumphantly.

“Why, so they are!” Mrs. Peppin’s eyes widened.

“I had a dozen put back,” Lady d’Allenay confessed, “in anticipation of just such an emergency. The old ones we’ll mend. Remind the maids to set them darning side down when they make up all the guest rooms.”

“You always were such a sensible girl, miss,” said Mrs. Peppin, gazing lovingly upon the crisp fabric.

“And full of pragmatism,” added Lady d’Allenay rather too cheerfully.

But not beauty. Or wit. Or red-gold ringlets. Her housekeeper, however, had not seen new linen in a decade, and was awed into silence by its magnificence.

“Well, that’s sorted.” With a businesslike flip of her chatelaine, Lady d’Allenay checked the time on her watch. “I’m off to the new rectory shortly to inspect the construction.”

But Mrs. Peppin pointed through a nearby window. “There be a gurt black sky out, my lady.”

“Well, drat.” Kate glanced at the gathering storm. “Nancy’s taking tea at the rectory. Which means we can expect Mr. Burnham and his mother for dinner. He’ll doubtless drive Nancy home.”

“Oh, aye,” Mrs. Peppin said dryly. “An act of pure Christian charity, that.”

“Just warn Cook.” Kate turned to lock the press. “I’ll get busy mending for Mother’s visit. Oh, and do remind Fendershot to inventory the cellars. Aurélie’s friends do drink quite a shocking amount of wine.”

“A body can scarce count the bottles flying,” muttered the housekeeper.

“I do hope we don’t have to order more champagne,” Kate fretted, setting off down the passageway. “It’s so frightfully expensive—but Aurélie declares she cannot abide Italian vintages.”

“Oh, la, la, her delicate French blood!” Mrs. Peppin was not a devotee of Lady d’Allenay’s mother—or her friends.

“Per’aps you ought to tell Mrs. Wentworth we can ill afford to have them?”

“I did do last year, you’ll recall,” said Kate as they started down the sweeping staircase, “but this year . . . well, the thing is, Peppie, she’s found out about the glebe land.”

“My word! How?”

“Nancy probably wrote.” Kate shrugged. “And I’m sure Aurélie has concluded that if we’re building a new rectory and giving the Church acreage, Bellecombe must be a little flush.”

“I wish, miss, you didn’t have to call your own mother by her Christian name.”

Kate sighed. “But Mamma makes her feel old, Peppie. You know Aurélie requires pampering. It seems a small indulgence.”

Mrs. Peppin sighed. “How many is Mrs. Wentworth bringing for shooting season?”

“Just her usual.” Kate mentally counted. “There will be the Comte de Macey again, I daresay—”

“—if the French pox hasn’t carried him off,” muttered the housekeeper.

“Really, Peppie, you’re uncharitable,” said Kate smoothly. “Besides, the two of them are just old friends now. Aurélie’s current lover is a merchant banker, I believe.”

“And a rich one, too, I don’t doubt.”

Kate paused on the landing. “Yes, but if one must love, is it not better to love someone rich? That’s what I keep telling Nancy.”

“Little good that’s done,” said Mrs. Peppin. “Who else, then?”

“Her bosom beau Lady Julia. And—oh, yes!—a young gentleman. Sir Francis something-or-

other. I collect she thought he might flirt and sigh over Nancy, and thereby distract her.”

“Your mother’s wicked gentlemen friends generally expect a bit more of a lady than flirting and sighing.”

“Mrs. Peppin, you quite shock my virginal sensibilities.” Kate turned the next landing, and set off in a different direction from the housekeeper. “Well, I’m off to the parlor with this pile of tatty linen.”

“Hmm,” said the housekeeper. “Perhaps you ought to be off to tea with a handsome young man like your sister?”

But Kate marched on down the passageway, and pretended she didn’t hear.

About The Author:

Liz_CarlyleA lifelong Anglophile, Liz Carlyle started reading Gothic novels under the bed covers by flashlight. She is the author of sixteen historical romances, including several New York Times bestsellers. Liz travels incessantly, ever in search of the perfect setting for her next book. Along with her genuine romance-hero husband and four very fine felines, she makes her home in North Carolina.

Website: http://www.lizcarlyle.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/liz.carlyle

Twitter: @lizcarlyle

Giveaway, Review & Excerpt: No Shelter From Darkness

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Tour Wide GIveaway

5 ebook copies of  No Shelter From Darkness by Mark D. Evans
5 print copies of  No Shelter From Darkness by Mark D. Evans

No Shelter From Darkness

The Cruentus Saga – Book One

Mark D. Evans 

No shelter coverGenre: Paranormal, Horror

Publisher: Booktrope

ISBN: 978-1620151396

ASIN: B00D5C9IJ4

Number of pages: 304

Cover Artist: Greg Simanson

Amazon    BN  iTunes

Book Description:

“Her hands began to shake as she looked down wide-eyed at the blood-soaked cotton that covered her.”

London emerges from the Blitz, and every corner of the city bears the scars. In the East End—a corner fairing worse than most—thirteen year-old Beth Wade endures this new way of life with her adoptive family. She also suffers the prejudice against her appearance, an abiding loneliness and now the trials of adolescence. But with this new burden comes a persisting fatigue and an unquenchable thirst that ultimately steals her into unconsciousness . . .

What happens next is the start of something Beth will fear more than the war itself. She begins to change in ways that can’t be explained by her coming-of-age, none more frightening than her need to consume blood. The family who took her in and the former best friend who’s taken refuge in their house can never know. Aware of the danger she poses to everyone around her, Beth has never felt more alone. But someone else knows Beth’s secret . . . someone who understands just how different she really is. He alone can decrypt her past and explain her future. But he’s been sworn to destroy her kind, and as Beth grows ever more dangerous, he’s forced to take sides.

Can Beth keep all of the secrets? Can she trust a man sworn to kill her? And can she stop the vampire within from taking her humanity?

My Review:

I have to start by saying this book had everything going against it for me. I’m not a fan of World War II era novels, I’m so done with vampires, and this was a debut novel which usually means the author has a ways to go before evolving into someone I want to read again. And now I have to say . . . lesson learned. I will never let preconditioned prejudice dictate my reading preferences again.

Mark D. Evans has penned an extraordinary tale that grabbed me from the first few pages and kept my interest to the end. No Shelter From Darkness takes place in World War II London. Evans has done his research and created an entirely believable world with characters that come alive page after page. Yes, there are vampires but the story never stops reminding us of their emotional angst. This is especially true with the main character, Beth Wade, as she struggles with her transformation to vampire. Thirteen year old Beth must deal with the wartime London Blitz as well as an internal metamorphosis to something she doesn’t understand or want.

NSFD contains a few horror scenes, a great deal of suspense, the YA factor due to the character’s age, and enough vampire lore to satisfy paranormal fans. History buffs will revel in the detailed and accurate descriptions of WW II London and family saga readers will clamor to learn more about Beth’s familial relationships as she transforms into a blood lusting creature. So you see, there’s something for everyone in No Shelter From Darkness.  This is a five star book from a very talented author. I’m anxiously waiting his next book in the series.

Read on for an excerpt.

 Short Excerpt:

Beth breathed furiously. She was exhausted, but the air she breathed had a new scent to it. It stopped her short. Her insides jumped in excitement at the rusty metallic scent. Her jaw twitched and her body flinched. She spun her head around, toward the aroma. Oliver had felt his way back to the uneven wall and leant against it cradling his arm. He sobbed and whimpered, while looking aimlessly at it. Beth could see what he couldn’t: a jagged edge of bone poking out from his forearm. He was slightly sheltered under the broken floorboards above him, and the rain wasn’t washing away the blood that now oozed freely. Beth didn’t need to see everything. She could smell it.

Beautiful, delicious, unparalleled and unbeatable human blood.

Her head tipped forward. Her nose flared involuntarily and her lips snarled into a sadistic smile. She felt the four pointed canines being pushed out; unsheathed. The tip of her tongue curled under one of the two fangs that slid down. Her heart deafened the rain and the approaching bombers. Almost subconsciously, she lowered herself into a half-crouch, ready to pounce, and though her nails were trimmed short, her fingers curled into claws. She couldn’t even feel the hole in her palm any more. She felt nothing at all except raging bloodlust. Her brother leant there sobbing, oblivious to the bloodthirsty creature no more than a yard away that wanted nothing more than to cover everything with his precious life force. To swim in his blood.

Beth could almost taste it.

About the Author:London Boy

MARK D. EVANS was born near London, England. He graduated university with a degree in something not even remotely connected with writing and went on to become a successful consultant. Then he threw it all away to chase his dream of being an author, via a considerable amount of travelling. Today, his life largely resembles that of a nomad, and he can currently be found typing away in a tiny flat in north London, sustained by coffee.

He is the author of two short stories, one of which made it into a Kindle Top Ten.

His latest work is his debut novel, No Shelter from Darkness, which is the first book in his series, The Cruentus Saga.

Visit Mark online:

www.markdevans.com

www.markaeology.com

www.cruentus-saga.com

https://www.facebook.com/authormarkdevans

Twitter: @TheMarkDEvan

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/markdevans

“The Photo Traveler” – A Novel You’ll Read Time After Time

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Signed copy of The Photo Traveler and SWAG kit (US only)

10 Photo Traveler SWAG Bags – Pen, TShirts, Bookmarks  (US only)

15 EBook copies of The Photo Traveler (International)

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photo_traveler_blkREVIEW:

“The Photo Traveler” by Arthur J.Gonzalez takes a unique spin on time travel and wraps it up in a fast moving, action packed novel that hooks you from the first page.  

I was a little off put by a YA novel but then I thought, “look how many mature women read and fell in love with the Twilight series.” The premise of time travel by looking at a photo was intriguing enough for me to give it a try. I’m so glad I did. And I’m so glad this is Book One of a series because I’m primed and ready for Book Two!

Gonzalez sets the stage by introducing us to 17 year old Gaven Hillstone, a young man surviving an abusive foster home after his parents are suddenly killed. While the dialogue in the beginning seems a little short and disjointed, I quickly realized this is exactly how a teenager would think. It didn’t take long to morph from a critiquer into a fascinated reader and I stayed in that mode for the rest of the book.

There is so much action going on in the first few chapters that I found myself engrossed in the story line, turning pages as fast as i could read. As we learn more about Gavin, we discover that he’s not an orphan at all. His grandparents are alive and living in Washington D.C. Gavin hops a bus in search of his biological family. Once he arrives, he realizes they gave up rights after his parents were killed to protect him. Gavin comes from a long line of Photo Travelers and there are unsavory characters who believe he has something of importance. They’ll stop at nothing to get it. (I know it’s vague but I can’t bring myself to fill in too many details. This is a book you should read without knowing the plot. It will make it much more interesting.)

As Gavin hones his photo travelling skills, he meets his parents, visits different events throughout history and meets a girl he soon learns to care for.

Gonzalez nails the time periods with great research. Not just a gloss over, he provides intricate details that made me sure I was right there beside Gavin during the Great Depression and the Salem Witch trials. He applies the same care with developing his cast of characters, making them realistic and believable.

Gavin soon finds himself treading water in a new world that reminds me of the movie, “Jumper” but offers a much more intriguing tale. As he struggles to protect his new found family from “Peace Keepers”, two devious travelers who are determined to steal the family’s hidden crystal vials, Gavin sets out on a series of exciting and at times, heartbreaking adventures that sucked this reader in with each page.

This is truly a unique concept and wonderful story that blends many genres to provide something for everyone. Read it! I give it 5 stars.

The Photo Travler Button 300 x 225The Photo Traveler

The Photo Traveler Series

Book One

Arthur J. Gonzalez

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Publisher: Fahrenheit Publishing

Date of Publication: Feb 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-0988891630

ASIN: B00BI4KEQC

Number of pages: 420 pages

Word Count: 87K

Amazon Paperback  Amazon Kindle   Amazon UK 

BN  eBookpie.com  Kobo  Sony  Smashwords

Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone is resigned to being miserable for the rest of his life. Left alone in the world after his parents died in a fire when he was four, he was placed in foster care, which for him meant ending up in an abusive home with an alcoholic adoptive father. Gavin’s only escape is in taking and creating images. His camera is his refuge from the unending torture and isolation of daily life in his “family.” Until he learns by accident that he isn’t alone in the world after all. His father’s parents are still alive and living in Washington DC.

When he takes the plunge and travels 3,000 miles to find his grandparents, he learns that they—and he—are part of something much bigger, and more dangerous, than he could ever have imagined. Something that has always put his family at risk and that will now threaten his own life, while forever changing it. He learns that he is one of the last descendants of a small group of Photo Travelers—people who can travel through time and space through images.

But his initial excitement turns to fear, when he soon discovers that he and his grandparents are being pursued by the fierce remnants of a radical European Photo Traveler cult, the Peace Hunters. What Gavin has, they want! His adventure will take him to past eras, like The Great Depression and the Salem Witch Trials.

Gavin will have to discover who he really is and must make choices that spell the difference between life and death for himself, for the relatives he now knows and loves, and for the girl he will come to love. For Gavin, life will never be the same.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE:

The walk home is brutal. I was hoping that the sun would have begun its descent by now, but it’s still as blazing hot as ever. I remember them saying on the news that this was going to be one of the hottest summers ever. Though I feel like they’ve been saying that for the past five years. Global warming or something.

I know that nothing good is going to be waiting for me when I get to the house. For sure, Mel’s already gotten back and is showing Jet what I did to the car and batting her lashes and blaming it all on me. Equipped with her fake tears, she’s probably made up a lie about how I “blew up” on her and refused to go back with her even though she “begged” me to get in. It wouldn’t be the first time her lies have gotten me into trouble. And no doubt he’s now in a violent rage and shouting about how I’m going to “get my ass kicked” and how “useless” I am.

I trudge along trying to prepare myself for the tempest that’s going to hit me when I finally get back. I don’t even need to close my eyes to envision the fury in his bloodshot eyes and smell his liquor breath and see his large, flaring nostrils.

If only Leyla were still alive. God, I miss her. Because of her, Jet actually used to be a decent father. He always had a short fuse, but he wasn’t the angry, pathetic drunk he turned into after she died and he got serious about drinking. Looking at him today, with his beer belly lapping over his belt and the patches of thinning hair on his scalp, I find it hard to remember that he actually used to be a handsome, well-groomed guy. And not a bad foster father, either. I remember him getting home early from the construction site with a smile and he’d sometimes even have a toy for me. Things really do change, I guess.

I was four when my real parents died in a house fire while I was at daycare. I ended up in foster care because I had no other relatives to claim me.

I’ve never quite known how Leyla and Jet took me on, but after a year of fostering they legally adopted me. And until I was about eight, I was a generally happy kid even though Mel and I never really got along. I think she always felt threatened by me, and my guess is that she was jealous because Leyla and Jet had brought this random kid into her home and she had to share their attention with me.

I guess it would’ve bothered me, too, if I’d been in her place. But it’s not like it was my fault. I wasn’t intentionally trying to steal them from her or something. I would never do that.

That day, Leyla took me and Mel to the convenience store two blocks from our place. I was whining nonstop because I wanted sour bear gummies, and I wasn’t going to let up until I had them. But while I was happily grabbing my bag of candy, two masked men with guns barged in and ordered the clerk to hand over all the cash in the register.

I had no idea what was happening, but I was so scared that I started crying. One of the guys pointed his gun at me and shouted, “Shut up, kid!” That made me cry even louder and harder.

“I said shut up!” he repeated, and took a step toward me.

“Leave him alone!” Leyla shouted. She grabbed me and put me behind her, shielding me with her body. Mel was crouched in a corner near the Slurpee cooler with tears running down her cheeks.

“Hey!” the guy said. “Whaddya got in that purse?” He made a grab for it. She backed away from him, but he grabbed her and threw her to the filthy, sawdust-covered floor. His buddy ran over, held her down, grabbed her purse, and tore it open.

“You can’t take our money!” I yelled. I ran over and kicked him in the shin to try to get him away from her. He swung the gun around at me and Leyla sprang up from the floor and lunged in front of me as the gun went off.

It hit her in the neck, and seconds later she was gone.

Before I could even process what had happened, the gunmen ran out of the store. I’ll never forget leaning over Leyla’s body and staring at the pool of blood spreading over the floor. Her jungle-green eyes—Mel’s exact eye color—were wide open, but I somehow knew that she couldn’t see me even though her tears never seemed to stop.

“MOM!” I screamed. “Mom! Mom! Mom, I’m sorry!”

I kept calling her name over and over and over even though I knew she would never answer me again. Finally I knelt down in all the blood and laid my head on her stomach until Mariela, the Mexican clerk who’d been working at the store ever since I could remember, hurried over and peeled me away from Leyla’s body.

“Dios Mio! Mijito!” she sobbed, “Ven conmigo.” And as I started to hear the police sirens in the distance but getting louder every second, she led me into the stockroom so I wouldn’t see any more. Then she went back out to Mel, who was still huddled on the floor rocking back and forth in shock. She didn’t talk for almost a month. I’ve never eaten sour bears again.

Even worse, the next day Jet told us that Leyla was pregnant and that they’d been planning to surprise us with the news that night at dinner. So I’d been the cause of two deaths. A double loss. Go me.

Jet never stopped holding it against me. And Mel’s jealousy turned into outright hatred.

I’m not sure either of them hated me more than I hated myself.

Jet turned to alcohol. He spent his days binge-drinking on the couch that he and Leyla had chosen together. He stopped taking construction jobs and finally took a temporary leave of absence that somehow turned into a permanent one. Two years later he married Dina, who not only puts up with his brutal attacks and constant verbal assaults, but for some unknown reason actually defends him.

She’s as pathetic as he is, and that bothers me because she’s actually a sweet woman. It’s like she’s under some kind of spell. What kind of woman puts up with a man who bruises her constantly and hurls hateful remarks? Last night he called her a “filthy pig”. And he’s always calling her a “fat ass”, which I don’t understand because she’s not even pudgy in the least! And trust me—I know chunky. I was a size Hefty for most of my childhood.

In all honesty, I think she feels she has no choice. She doesn’t have enough education to get a good-paying job, so Jet supports her—although I’ve always wondered how, since he hasn’t really worked for years now. I figure that Leyla had some sort of insurance policy.

On top of everything else, Dina was Leyla’s best friend. Maybe she feels guilty about marrying Leyla’s husband and inheriting her family. I don’t know. From my understanding, Jet and Dina became each other’s “support” after Leyla died, and eventually the feelings “just happened”.

I call BS on the whole thing. I think they just found it convenient and used all the other stuff as excuses.

In any case, all three of them hold me accountable. It’s been almost ten years and they’re still holding it against me. They never let it rest. Not a week goes by that Jet doesn’t snarl at me. Usually while he’s beating me. “Adopting you was my biggest mistake! If it wasn’t for you, she’d still be alive!” The hate in his words when he says it…I know he means it every time.

The worst part is, I accept everything he says because I’m still pretty much blaming myself too. I know that if they hadn’t taken me in, Leyla probably would still be alive. And so would their second kid, the little brother or sister who never got a chance to be born.

That hurts to think about, because Leyla was a great mom. If more people had a mom like her, there’d probably be less crazies in the world. She read to me every morning. Sang to me every night. I can still hear her humming lullabies to me whenever I had nightmares about the fire. I remember drifting off to sleep with my fingers wrapped around a strand of her curly blonde hair. I loved her curls.

“Mom, they’re just like Slinkies!” I used to tell her. I would tug at them to straighten them out and then let them go to spring back into curls. Slinkies were my favorite childhood toy. Now I can’t stand the sight of them. Especially the neon-green ones, because they remind me of the one she brought me one day as a joke.

At night when I have trouble sleeping I can still hear her sweet voice reaching out to me and crooning, “Let the night take all your fear… Let my voice be all you hear…”

 About the Author:16 small

THE PHOTO TRAVELER is young adult author Arthur J. Gonzalez’s first novel. Arthur was born and raised in Miami surrounded by his loud Cuban family. He graduated from the University of Florida, where he acquired his coffee obsession and his chocolate hoarding antics. He’s the proud father of one baby girl, Sookie–his miniature schnoodle dog. Arthur is a self-professed goofball who spends 98% of his life laughing. He’s now working on his second novel.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17254840-the-photo-traveler

Review: “Just Like Heaven” – Heaven Sent for Romance Lovers

COVER_just_like_heaven_(2)Romance. It used to be readers knew exactly what to expect when they picked up a title in the romance genre. A man. A woman. External conflict. Internal conflict. Resolution. Happily Ever After.

Okay, so it was formula based but the stories hooked us and romance readers worldwide drove the genre to the top of publisher’s “money makers” list.

These days, readers must examine the sub-genre because a “romance” can include an assortment of couplings, heat content and might only allude to an HEA ending. The chick lit that no one wants to mention anymore has merged with romance (and often other sub-genres) to create a sometimes indefinable content – leaving readers conflicted about how to classify the book.

“Just Like Heaven” is a romance. It might also appeal to Chick Lit  and contemporary romance readers. It addresses real people (i.e. not a famous celebrity or a tough on the outside, soft on the inside detective) with real problems. And it still manages to deliver a charming, endearing story that will elicit a sigh or two at the end.

I liked it. But be warned, I have a sweet tooth and “Just Like Heaven” is a sweet story about an Episcopalian priest . . . yes, you heard me right . . . and a heart attack patient.  Kate and Mark are uncommon characters in Barbara Bretton’s tale of love – being over 40 is just one of the unique traits that attracted and held my attention. Yeah, yeah . . . I’m a baby boomer. Boomers know first hand that love doesn’t always happen when you’re twenty something and in perfect form.

At times, it feels as though the character’s intense attraction balances on a narrow path, with heaven on one side and hell on the other. At others, it’s almost lyrical and old fashioned with it’s delivery. Add a healthy dash of humor, a reality that feels “real”, and “Just Like Heaven” is an interesting, well written story that will keep you turning pages to the end.

Just Like Heaven Button 300 x 225

Just Like Heaven

Barbara Bretton

Genre: Contemporary romance/women’s fiction

Publisher: Free Spirit Press (previously published in print by Berkley)

ISBN: 9781301177493

ASIN: B00BH8FZVI

Number of pages: 320

Word Count: Approximately 90K

Book Description:

Because love can happen anywhere . . .

Even in New Jersey!

A beautiful morning in early spring. What could possibly go wrong?

Just returned from a buying trip in England, Kate French was jet-lagged and exhausted and running on fumes. She was already running late for an appointment but a wave of dizziness forced her to pull into the shopping mall parking lot in search of a quick fix of caffeine and protein.

When the pain first hit, she ignored it and continued racing across the parking lot toward the food court. But within moments she realized something was terribly wrong as her wobbly legs gave out and she dropped to the ground. The last thing she remembered as she started to fade away was the guy in the Grateful Dead T-shirt who held her in his arms and promised he’d never let her go.

Mark Kerry didn’t think of himself as a hero but the story of a Good Samaritan who had saved a woman’s life in the parking lot of the Princeton Promenade was attaining the status of suburban legend. Determined to return a stack of documents that had been left behind when the ambulance swept her away, he called in some favors and tracked her down at home one week later.

The moment Kate saw him again, the world and everyone in it disappeared. She knew his voice, the smell of his skin, the way his hands felt against her skin, the taste of his mouth, everything that mattered. All the things she would ever need to know about him.

And then she took another look . . .

PRAISE FOR JUST LIKE HEAVEN

*TOP PICK!* Bretton’s lyrical writing enthralls from the first page as she immerses readers in a tale of romance and new beginnings. –Romantic Times

Bretton has few peers among contemporary romance novelists when it comes to combining escapist romance with everyday, messy reality. She’ll make you believe that love can happen anywhere – or make you grateful that you’ve been fortunate enough to find it.  –Susan Scribner, The Romance Reader

This one will keep you reading past your bedtime. –Elizabeth Darrach, BellaOnline

*STARRED REVIEW* Very few romance writers create characters as well developed and realistic as Bretton’s. Her books pull you in and don’t let you leave until the last word is read.  –Shelley Mosley, Booklist

Excerpt:

Coburn, New Jersey – 9:30 a.m.

Kate French shifted the phone from her left shoulder to her right and plunged her hand deeper into her lingerie drawer.

“Mom!” Her daughter Gwynn was no longer a teenager, but you would never know it from her tone of voice. “Are you listening to me?”

“I heard every syllable.” Kate pulled out an orphaned hand-knit sock and a silky pink camisole carbon-dated from the Disco Era and tossed them on the bed behind her.

“So what should I do?”

Unfortunately Kate had shifted into maternal auto-pilot five minutes into the conversation and had lost track. Was Gwynn still debating her roommate Laura’s excessive devotion to the New York Giants or had she segued into an old favorite of all the French women: a dissection of Kate’s non-existent love life.

She bent down and peered deeper into the perfumed recesses. One pair of plain cotton panties. Was that too much to ask for? “Run it by me again, honey.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Gwynn said. “You’re answering emails while I’m pouring out my heart to you. I really wish you wouldn’t do that.”

“Gwynnie, I’m not on the computer.”

“I can hear the keys clicking.”

“What you hear is the sound of your mother searching her lingerie drawer for a pair of —”

“Hold on! I have another call.”

The distance between the thirteen-year-old girl her daughter used to be and the twenty-three year old woman she was hadn’t turned out to be quite as wide as Kate had hoped. She glanced over at the clock on her nightstand. Come on, Gwynnie. I have things to do.

“That was Andrew.” Gwynn the daughter had been replaced by Gwynn the girlfriend. She sounded almost giddy with delight. The sound hit Kate’s ears like fingernails on a chalkboard. “He called from the boat! Isn’t that the—”

“I’m going to hang up now,” Kate said. “I have an appointment down in Princeton and I’m running late. We can pick this up another time, can’t we, honey?”

“But, Mom, I still haven’t—”

“I know, I know, but this can’t be helped. I want to hear everything you have to say, honey, but not right this minute.”

“You’re going to Princeton?”

“Yes, but not if I don’t get out of here in the next ten minutes.”

“If I leave now I could meet you for lunch at the Mexican place and I can tell you my news in person.”

“I thought you were working lunch shift at O’Malley’s during the week.”

“Mondays are slow. They won’t miss me.”

“You can’t just not show up, Gwynn. That’s how you lost your last job.” And when you do show up, you’re always late. That’s not how you get ahead.

“You always do that to me.”

“Do what?” She glanced at her watch. Was she the only one in the family who believed in punctuality?

“Keep score. Why can’t you just accept that my career path isn’t like yours and let me live my life my own way?”

“Gwynnie, do we need to have this conversation right now?” She was still on London time and not up for a discussion of individual rights and freedoms with an independent young woman who still expected mommy to foot the bill for her car insurance.

“You sound pissed.”

“What I sound is jetlagged.” She waited for the appropriate response from her only child but none was forthcoming. “Did you forget I’ve been in England for almost ten days? I got home very late last night and I’m still on London time.” Does any of this ring a bell, Gwynn? She liked to believe most daughters would notice when their mothers were out of the country.

“You’ve been gone forever. That’s why I have so much to talk to you about.”

“Honey, this can’t be helped. I really have to go.”

“Are you okay?” Gwynn asked. “You’re not acting like yourself.”

“We’ll talk later, honey,” she said and then disconnected.

Normally Kate would have felt guilty for cutting her daughter short but today she only felt relieved. She loved Gwynn more than life itself but her daughter’s melodramatic outbursts had a way of sucking the oxygen right out of her lungs.

“Okay,” she said as she tossed the cell onto the bed. “Let’s get down to business.”

There had to be something wearable in the house. A ten-day trip to the U.K. shouldn’t deplete a woman’s reserves. She pulled out the second drawer of her lingerie chest and dumped the contents in a pile. T-shirts from various island paradises. A garter belt with tiny roses embroidered across the handmade lace, remains of a long ago Valentine’s Day celebration. More bras than any one 34B woman needed in three lifetimes. A puka shell necklace. The black lace mantilla she had found in a shop in Seville during her last married vacation. Ticket stubs, a McCarter playbill, a deflated balloon dachshund, and what was easily the worst birthday present her mother had ever given her: the infamous red lace thong.

Maeve had come of age at the start of the turbulent 60s and she believed in shaking up the status quo whenever she had the chance. How better to ignite some passion in her forty-year-old daughter’s life than to present her with outrageously sexy underwear in front of friends, colleagues, relatives, and a half-dozen prospective boyfriends. Unfortunately the passion Maeve ignited in her daughter had nothing to do with romance and everything to do with embarrassment. Kate had tried to be a good sport about it but it had taken every ounce of self-control at her command to keep from throttling her own mother.

She held up the thong. It wouldn’t cover a Barbie doll, much less a full-size woman. What on earth had Maeve been thinking?

She considered making a quick run to Target for a three-pack of Jockey for Women but the clock was ticking and Professor Armitage wasn’t known for his patience. And there was the fact that she was way beyond exhausted. Jet lag rarely bothered her, but today she was having trouble keeping her eyes open long enough to finish getting dressed.

She cringed her way into the scrap of lace and elastic then peered at herself in the mirror opposite the bed. That was better than a jolt of caffeine. The thong should have come with a warning sticker. This much reality so early in the morning was hard to take.

She looked closer. That couldn’t possibly be right. The human body wasn’t supposed to have quite so many indentations. Maybe they should add an instruction label too for the lingerie-impaired. She slipped off the thong, spun it around, then tried again.

A forty-one year old woman with a red lace wedgie was a sight to behold.

Thank God it was a sight nobody else on the planet would likely ever see.

Rocky Hill, New Jersey – 9:45 a.m.

“Congratulations,” the realtor said as Mark Kerry handed her four signed copies of the contract. “It’s now official: your house is sold.”

It was also officially the point of no return. “Now what?” he asked, wishing he felt more enthusiastic about the sale.

Bev the realtor scanned the signature pages then slipped them into a large folder. “We have a tentative closing six weeks from today. I’ll arrange for the appraisal, the home inspection, radon testing, smoke alarms, yadda yadda yadda. All you have to do is pack for your move,” she said with a cheery smile.

“And dig up the township permits for the new roof.”

“See?” Bev rolled her eyes. “I’d forget my head if it wasn’t attached. We’ll need the roof permits, the signed lead paint disclosure, and your attorney’s name. You can fax copies to me and I’ll pick up the originals.”

“So far it’s been almost painless.”

“Five days from listing to contract,” Bev said, clearly pleased, “and we managed to get top dollar. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

She gave him a contact sheet with pertinent phone numbers and a metaphorical pat on the back.

“You look shell-shocked,” she said as he walked her down the gravel driveway to her car. “I promise you the hard part is over.”

Easy for her to say. When Memorial Day weekend rolled around he would be on his way back up to New Hampshire to find out if you really could go home again.

Where was home anyway? This small stone cottage in New Jersey didn’t have much going for it but somehow over the last two years it had become home. Or as close to it as he was likely to get.

Two postage-stamp bedrooms. Small kitchen. No dining room. No family room. A basement with its own share of troubles. When he walked through the front door he knew he was where he was meant to be.

But nothing lasted forever.

The other contract he needed to sign was propped up against the toaster, along with a note from his old friend Maggy Boyle who was shepherding him through the process.

The funny thing was, he thought he would have more time. Bev the realtor had warned him to be patient. The New Jersey real estate market wasn’t as hot as it used to be and the whole thing might take a while.

It didn’t.

Kris and Al Wygren showed up on Sunday for the first Open House and fell head over heels in love with the place. They loved the wonky windows, the big stone fireplace, the squeaky floor boards, every single thing. He had pointed out all the flaws and they only loved it more.

The Wygrens were all of twenty-five or twenty-six. Newly married. Newly pregnant. Ready to build a nest of their own.

He and Suzanne had been just like them. Young and in love with their entire future spread out before them like a field of wildflowers. Not that he would have ever thought of the wildflowers simile. That was pure Suzanne. She had seen life through a prism of joy that even in memory still amazed him.

Her mother used to say that God had been feeling generous the day he made Suzanne. He had granted her beauty and wit, intelligence and a kind heart, a sense of humor that could still make Mark smile across the years.

But the one thing God hadn’t seen fit to grant her was the one thing that would have made all the difference: a long life.

When she looked at him, she saw a hero. The kind of man his father had been, the kind of man he wanted to be. But time hadn’t been on their side. She had been taken from him while he was still very much a work in progress.

At least Suzanne never saw him stumble and fall. She never saw him flat on his face on their front porch, stinking of cheap whiskey and pain. She hadn’t been there to see him try to outrun the memories of their past. The lost days, those dark nights, belonged to him alone and for that he was glad.

She never found out her hero was only a man.

Central New Jersey – around 10:30 a.m.

Kate was stopped in traffic near the Bedminster exit on Route 287 when a wave of something uncomfortably close to nausea swept over her. Jet lag on an empty stomach was bad enough but for sheer misery she would put her money on the thong.

Traffic eased up as she neared Bridgewater Commons Mall but the cell phone calls kept coming. Her assistant Sonia called twice. Clive phoned from England to tell her she had left a pair of sunglasses behind. Armitage’s secretary wanted to make sure she was on schedule. Jackie the furniture refinisher with another one of her minor emergencies designed to boost her going rate another ten percent.

They all called for different reasons but every call ended the same way. You sound exhausted . . . you need a vacation, not a buying trip . . . I’m worried about you . . .

Bless call waiting, the greatest exit strategy ever invented. What was wrong with everyone? Sure, she had noticed the dark circles under her eyes but that was genetic. Maeve had them and Maeve’s mother before her. And unless she missed her guess, Gwynn had something to look forward to. She wasn’t twenty any longer. Not even Estee Lauder could turn back the clock.

She shifted around in the driver’s seat, tugging at the elastic band pinching her hipbone. Her mother had promised her that the thong would release her inner goddess and turn her into a siren capable of luring men away from ESPN and repeats of Baywatch, but so far her inner goddess was missing in action.

Her cell burst into the William Tell Overture as she neared the Route 1 exit. Her mother’s theme song.

“What did you say to Gwynn? She called me, sobbing.”

“Hello to you too, Mom. I thought you were in New Mexico.”

“I am and our girl woke me up with her tale of woe. What is going on back there?” Maeve was on the other side of the country, touring for her latest self-help tome, but family drama transcended geography.

“It was Gwynn being Gwynn,” Kate said. “She wanted to talk, I needed to finish dressing and get on the road.”

“You hurt her feelings. She had some news she wanted to share with you.”

“I cut her short once in twenty-three years and it’s a major incident?” She took a series of deep breaths and tried to calm herself. “I haven’t slept in almost thirty-six hours, Maeve, and my body thinks it’s the middle of the afternoon.”

“You don’t sound like yourself,” Maeve observed. “What’s going on, sweetie? We’re worried about you.”

“Is Mercury retrograde again or something? There’s nothing wrong with me that a good night’s sleep won’t take care of. Why is everyone suddenly asking if I’m okay?” Jet lag was hardly a new concept.

“Maybe because it’s clear you’re not yourself. You’ve seemed a little depressed, forgetful–”

“Ma!” Kate practically shouted into the tiny cell phone. “I think your imagination is running away with you.”

“You might be entering perimenopause,” Maeve volunteered.

The morning was actually deteriorating. She wouldn’t have believed it possible but she had learned long ago to never underestimate her mother.

“So how did things go in London with Liam? Any sparks?” Maeve was nothing if not resilient.

“We had tea together my first day. That was it.”

“Sharon said he would be perfect for you. She’ll be so disappointed.”

“Next time why doesn’t Sharon fix you up with the Liams and Nigels of this world. I keep telling you I’m not looking for a man and I mean it.”

“You might not be looking but you wouldn’t turn down a good one if he popped up.”

“I’m not sure there are any good ones,” she said, “at least none that I’d be interested in.”

“That’s not normal, honey. You sound like you’ve given up.”

“Mom, this is old news. I’m perfectly happy being on my own, even if that seems to bug the living daylights out of everyone else in the world except me. Can’t we just leave it at that?”

“Sara Whittaker’s son is back in town. He’s been working in Tokyo the last few years, a graphic artist. I think you two might hit it off.”

“Mom, I have another call. We’ll have to pick this up later.”

“You don’t have to use the call-waiting excuse with me, sweetie. I know when you’ve had enough.”

Kate had to laugh. “It’s a real call this time,” she said as her irritability lifted. “I’ll call you tonight. I promise.”

Paul Grantham, old friend and confidante, was next in queue.

“Took you long enough, French.”

“Thank God it’s you,” she said, adjusting the headset. “This thing hasn’t stopped ringing since I got off the plane.”

“So how was the big buying trip? Is there anything left on the other side of the pond?”

“Not much,” she admitted. “I may have struck gold.” She told him about the stack of Revolutionary War era letters she’d found in a tiny shop near Lincolnshire written to a colonel’s wife in New Jersey.

“When will you know if you found the mother lode?”

A truck, horn blaring, appeared out of nowhere in her blind spot. “Oh, damn! Sorry!” She veered back into her lane, heart pounding wildly. “What were you saying?”

“Are you okay?” he asked. “You sound a little out of breath.”

“I’m not out of breath. It must be the connection.” That and her surging adrenaline.

She held on while Paul answered an assistant’s question.

“Sorry,” he said. “Crazy morning. We’re still on for the Hospital Gala this week, aren’t we?”

“I take it Lisa’s no longer on the scene.”

“Lisa is looking for somebody who’s willing to go the distance,” he said, “and we both know I’m saving myself for you.”

It was an old joke between them, but lately she had the feeling there was more behind her old friend’s words than either one of them cared to acknowledge.

Paul was a partner in a prestigious Manhattan law firm, another one of the Coburn High School Class of 1982 who made good. He had been in her life for as long as she could remember, part of their crowd from kindergarten through high school. He had hung out with them at Rutgers where Kate had struggled unsuccessfully to combine marriage, motherhood, and college, and he had stayed a good friend even after their respective marriages fell to the divorce statistics. They had tried dating once early on but the absurdity of dressing up and staring at each other over candlelight and a bottle of Taittinger had pushed them both into helpless laughter which was pretty much where they had stayed.

Or so she had thought until recently.

“Oh my God,” she said through clenched teeth. “I almost rear-ended a cop.”

“You sure you’re okay?” he asked. “Maybe you should take the day off and catch up on your sleep.”

“That’s something you say to your aging aunt,” she snapped. “I’m not ready for the nursing home yet, Paul.”

“Tell you what,” he said. “How about if we’re not both hooked up by the time we hit retirement, we pool our social security checks and move in together.”

“Sweet talker.” She rolled to a stop. “No wonder Lisa’s not going to the Gala with you this weekend.”

“She’s twenty-eight. I don’t have time to wait for her check.”

She tried to think of something suitably witty to say in response but her mind was filled with nothing but air.

“Kate?” Paul’s voice poked through the fog. “Are you still there?”

“Sorry,” she said yet again. “I don’t know what my problem is today.”

“Did you eat anything? You’re probably hungry.”

“I grabbed a brownie and a Frappuccino at the airport while I was waiting for my bags to get through Customs.”

“And now you’re crashing. Pull into a McDonald’s and get an Egg McMuffin.”

He sounded uncharacteristically solicitous which made her wonder how bad she sounded.

“I don’t have time. Armitage expects me there in twenty.”

“Screw Armitage. Get something to eat. You’re running on fumes.”

Another wave of nausea gripped her. Maybe he was right. “I’m coming up on Princeton Promenade,” she said, easing over into the right hand lane. “They have a great food court.” She could grab some protein and a bottle of water and be on her way again with time to spare.

“Good thinking.”

“Oh, wait! I don’t have to stop. I have some nuts in the glove box.” She leaned across the passenger seat and popped open the glove box in search of smoked almonds, survivors of her last trip down the shore for the semi-annual Atlantique City extravaganza. The Atlantique City trade show was a must for New Jersey antique shop owners, and Kate was no exception. French Kiss maintained a prominent spot twice a year. She sifted through her insurance card, registration, owner’s manual and pushed aside a mall flashlight and an open packet of tissues. Where were the almonds?

She veered toward the fender of a white Escalade and quickly steered back into her own lane to a chorus of angry horns.

“What the hell is going on?” Paul asked. “It sounds like you’re at the roller derby.”

She caught sight of herself in the rear view mirror and the odd feeling in the pit of her stomach intensified. A single bead of sweat was making its way down her forehead toward her right eye. It was barely seventy degrees outside. Nobody broke into a sweat in seventy degree weather, least of all her.

“You’re right,” she said. Everybody was right. “I’m a menace. I should get off the road.”

“Want me to drive down there and get you?”

She turned on her blinker and made the right into the parking lot of Princeton Promenade. “Don’t be silly. You’re in Manhattan. I’ll be fine after I get something to eat.”

“I’ll send a car for you. We use services all over the tristate area.”

She zeroed in on a spot two lanes over and headed for it. “I’ll stop. I’ll eat. I’ll be fine.”

“I’m gonna hold you to it.”

She whipped around the head of the third lane from the entrance and zipped into the spot as a dented blue Honda angled itself behind her. “Uh oh,” she said.

“What’s going on?”

“Some guy in an old blue car is glaring at me. He seems to think I stole his spot.”

“Did you?”

“He didn’t have a turn signal on.” She hesitated, replaying the scene in her head. “I might have.”

“Where is he?”

“Stopped right behind me.”

“Blocking you in?”

She slunk down low in her seat. “I never do things like this. I’m the most polite driver on the planet.”

“Is he still there?”

“Yes.”

“Want me to call mall security? I can use another line.”

She hesitated. “Maybe you—oh, thank God! He’s driving away.” She watched through the rear view mirror. Good-looking men in her own age demographic had no business wearing Grateful Dead t-shirts.

Paul wanted to talk her into the mall and out again but her cell battery was running down. The only way he would let her go was if she promised to phone him after she saw Professor Armitage.

Normally she would have told him to back off, but so far nothing about the morning had been even remotely normal. It wasn’t like him to be so solicitous. The last time he had sounded that worried was when one of his daughters said she wanted to become a model.

A vague sense of dread wrapped itself around her chest and it wouldn’t let go.

“Okay,” she said out loud. “Don’t go getting crazy.”

The problem was so obvious that it was almost laughable: she needed food and water and she needed them right now. The food court was located near the multiplex at the south end of the Promenade. A huge round clock mounted to the left of the Sushi Palace sign offered up a reality check she didn’t need. Armitage expected her at his front door in exactly thirteen and one half minutes. Even if she ditched the search for protein she would never make it on time.

Why hadn’t she just cancelled out earlier this morning when she was trapped at the airport waiting for her boxes and bags? Why had she been so hell bent on squeezing as much from the day as was inhumanly possible?

She swallowed hard against a sudden, acrid burst of nausea at the back of her throat. The air was soft and sweet with spring promise and she swept huge gulps of it into her lungs in an attempt to clear away the discomfort but that didn’t help either.

She flipped open her phone and said, “Call Armitage,” then waited while it attempted the connection.

“Call Armitage,” she said again.

No luck this time either.

She would have to find a pay phone in the Food Court and –

And what?

Professor Armitage. That was it. Concentrate! The thought of facing the professor’s wrath wasn’t half as unnerving as this weird, disconnected feeling that seemed to be growing more intense. Unless Armitage wanted to assess the documents in the emergency room of the nearest hospital he would simply have to understand.

Understand what? She went blank for a second as scattered images flooded her brain. Professor Armitage’s wooly grey beard. His fierce little eyes. The cold slick feel of the metal box in her hands. The way that stupid thong pinched exactly where no sane person wanted to be pinched. The whooshing sound inside her head . . .

Don’t faint! she warned herself. She would die of embarrassment if the EMTs saw what she was wearing under her peach cotton twin set and pearls.

A shiver ran up her spine and she pushed the thought as far from her mind as she could. Clearly her imagination was as jet-lagged and out of whack as the rest of her, hopping without warning from one bizarre thought to the next.

She didn’t know the first thing about being sick. Her last hospital stay was twenty-three years ago when she gave birth to Gwynn. She was the one who visited patients and brought them flowers and candy and trashy magazines to while away the hours. She was always the one who got to go home when visiting hours were over.

The thong pinched when she took a step, then pinched harder when she stopped. What she wanted to do was duck between the parked cars and make a swift adjustment but wouldn’t you know it: the man she’d beat out for the parking spot was a few aisles over and looking right at her.

Bad enough she was wearing underwear ten years too young and two sizes two small for her. Imagine being caught fiddling with it in public by an angry man in a Grateful Dead t-shirt. They locked eyes for a second and she looked away. His look was disconcertingly direct but it wasn’t angry and that unnerved her. She had expected anger or irritation but she saw neither. His look wasn’t flirtatious but there was something there, something she couldn’t put her finger on. She couldn’t remember the last time a man’s gaze had unsettled her this way. The stupid thong was even affecting her judgment.

She shot him another quick glance. Tall, lean. Thick dark hair that caught the sunlight and held it. A deeply intelligent face alive with open curiosity aimed in her direction and a smile that–

Okay. Enough of that. The smile was for whoever was on the other end of his cell phone connection. Besides, the guy was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. What more was there to say?

A woman with three small children in tow raced past her in a cloud of baby powder and soap. Her stomach lurched at the sweet smell and for a second she thought she was about to faint. She tried to steady herself with another deep breath of spring-fresh air but suddenly her chest felt tight, like some unseen force was wrapping a band around her ribcage and pulling tighter and tighter and she knew she was going down.

Or was she down already? She wasn’t sure. The world had gone all soft-focus on her except for the sickening smells of pickled ginger, old Juicy Fruit, and motor oil.

I’m asleep, she thought. What other explanation could there be? This had nothing to do with real life. Open your eyes, Kate. You really don’t want to be having this dream.

The room smelled like a Dumpster. The mattress was hard as a rock and the covers were all tangled up around her legs and she felt like she was being —

She opened her eyes and screamed. Actually she tried to scream but she couldn’t draw down enough oxygen to manage more than a loud whisper.

The guy in the Grateful Dead t-shirt, the same guy she had beat out for the parking spot, was bent over her, tugging at the hem of her skirt.

“Glad you’re back with us,” he said, like they were chatting over cocktails at TGI Friday’s. “I was starting to worry.”

He tugged again and she tried to strike out at him but her arms seemed weighted with lead.

“Whoa!” He pretended to duck. “Take it easy. I’m on your side.”

She thought of a half dozen remarks she could make but none of them found their way to her lips. What was wrong with her? Usually she could deal out a smart remark at the speed of light. “Get your hands off me,” she managed. That’s the best you can do? Pathetic.

“You don’t want all of Princeton to see that red lace, do you?”

Oh God . . . the thong . . . just leave me here so I can die of embarrassment . . .

“So what happened? Did you trip? One second you were walking toward the Promenade and the next–” He made a falling gesture with his hand.

Couldn’t he see she wanted to roll under a car and disappear? Why was he trying to make conversation?

It wasn’t a hard question but she couldn’t seem to figure out the answer.

“Does this sort of thing happen a lot?”

“Never.” She cleared her throat. “Absolutely never.”

“I’m going to take your pulse again.”

Again?

“It was over a hundred when I checked your carotid artery. That’s not great.”

Not every Dead Head could use “carotid artery” in a sentence with such ease. Was it possible he actually knew what he was doing?

“No thanks.” But she wouldn’t mind an extra-strength Advil. Her shoulder. Her back. Her hand. Even her teeth hurt from the fall. Her left jaw was actually throbbing.

“I’m a licensed EMT.” He pulled some cards from his pocket and she pretended to examine them but the truth was she couldn’t focus on the text. “Fifteen years’ experience. New Hampshire and New Jersey.”

“This really isn’t necessary,” she said. Or at least that was what she tried to say. She was having trouble following the conversation and even more trouble synching her thoughts with her words.

“Do me a favor and lie down. You look like you’re going to pass out again.”

She wanted to protest but suddenly the thought of lying flat on her back in the middle of the Princeton Promenade parking lot sounded like the best idea she’d ever had. He opened a newspaper wide and spread it down on the ground beneath her head but the combined smells of pickled ginger, motor oil, and chewed-out bubble gum seeped through and made her retch.

He placed two fingers on the pulse point in her inner wrist and monitored the second hand on his watch. “One twenty. Any nausea?”

She nodded. You felt queasy in the car too. Maybe you should tell him that too.

“Any underlying medical conditions that might have some bearing on this?”

She was perfectly healthy. Why couldn’t he see that for himself?

“Are you on any medication?”

“Vitamins.”

“Are you in pain?” The man was relentless.

“Not–not exactly pain.”

“Discomfort?”

Oh God. Even through the fog swirling around her, she could see where this was going. “Yes.” Admit it, French: you’re in big trouble.

“Where?”

“My back.”

“Sharp pain?”

“Not sharp . . . pressure.” Three words and she was totally wiped out. What was happening to her?

“Okay. I’m not trying to worry you but we need to call 911.” He pulled a cell phone from his back pocket and punched in some numbers.

The band around her chest tightened and she broke into a sweat.

“. . . yes, I’ll stay here with her . . . thanks.” He jammed the phone back into his pocket. “You’re probably right. I’ll bet it’s nothing too but I know you’ll feel a lot better if you heard that from a doctor and not some guy in a Dead shirt.”

She wanted to laugh at his joke but all she could manage was a quick smile. She was sweating. How could that be? She wanted to say, “This isn’t really me,” but that required more energy than she could muster up. He wiped her forehead with the back of his hand and she almost wept from the gentleness of the action. “Heart attack?” she whispered.

“Yes,” he said. “There’s a good chance that’s what it is.”

“Lie to me,” she managed. “I don’t mind.” She tried to force another laugh but the iron band around her rib cage wouldn’t let her.

He didn’t pull his punches but the deep compassion in his eyes made her feel safe.

“It could be indigestion, a panic attack, a sprained muscle. But if it is your heart, we need to get help sooner rather than later.”

“Are you sure you’re not a –”

She was going to say “doctor” but the pain exploded and it blew everything else away. Deep crushing pain from the center of her body that stripped her of her identity, her memories, her future, stripped her of everything but bone-deep terror.

“Oh God . . . oh God . . . ” Was she saying it or just thinking it? She didn’t know. She felt like she was floating above the parking lot like a helium balloon on a very fragile string.

He leaned closer. She could feel his warm breath against her cheek. “What is it? Do you want to say a prayer? Is that what you’re saying?”

No . . . no . . . make it stop . . .

“Stay with me.” His voice flew at her on the loud rush of wind inside her head. “I’m not going to let you go.”

Don’t let go . . . don’t let me go . . . I’m scared . . . this is really happening . . . oh God . . . Gwynnie . . . I’ve got to see Gwynnie . . . I have to tell her I love her . . . I don’t even know your name and you’re the one who’ll have to tell my daughter . . .

“The ambulance is on its way . . . you’re going to be fine . . . just hold on a little longer . . . I’ll stay with you . . . ”

I can’t hold on . . . I want to but I can’t . . . don’t let me go . . . don’t let me go . . .

“Talk to me . . . come on . . . look at me . . .open your eyes and look at me . . . grab my hand and hang on . . . I’m not going to let you go . . . ”

Somewhere in some other universe he took her hand and held tight but it was too late. His words were the last ones she heard.

About the Author:

Barbara Bretton is the USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of more than 40 books. She currently has over ten million copies in print around the world. Her works have been translated into twelve languages in over twenty countries.

Barbara has been featured in articles in The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Romantic Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Herald News, Home News, Somerset Gazette,among others, and has been interviewed by Independent Network News Television, appeared on the Susan Stamberg Show on NPR, and been featured in an interview with Charles Osgood of WCBS, among others.

Her awards include both Reviewer’s Choice and Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times; Gold and Silver certificates from Affaire de Coeur; the RWA Region 1 Golden Leaf; and several sales awards from Bookrak. Ms. Bretton was included in a recent edition of Contemporary Authors.

Barbara loves to spend as much time as possible in Maine with her husband, walking the rocky beaches and dreaming up plots for upcoming books.

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