Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday
Flashback Friday

The Western Star

The Western Star
The Western Star by Craig Johnson

Monday, October 17, 2016

You Had Me at Christmas by Karina Bliss, Stephanie Doyle, Laura Florand,Jennifer Lohmann, featuring M. O'Keefe- Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:

What’s better than a little romance at Christmas?

Five romances at Christmas!

Snowbound friends become lovers. Enemies discover they mean far more to each other than they ever dreamed. A marriage in trouble is saved, and strangers find connection in delicious encounters... It’s Christmas, and everything is possible.

A gift to you. Five beloved Contemporary Romance authors bring feel-good magic to the holidays in this specially-priced box set.

PLAY by Karina Bliss
a Rock Solid romance

Rock star Jared Walker is within reach of career glory...but his marriage is in the pits. Determined to save it, he talks his wife into holiday dates with only one rule: they must pretend they are strangers.
But when he discovers what Kayla really wants for Christmas, will he be able to give it to her?


ONE NAUGHTY LITTLE CHRISTMAS by Stephanie Doyle

Workaholic Kate never expected to find herself looking for love online on Christmas night. Then John appeared on her screen and her whim to escape loneliness turned into the hottest sex of her life - even if it was via text. John knew Kate was too classy for his ex-con ass, but he was about to learn that Kate knew how to fight for what she wanted. And she wanted more of him.

TWELVE KISSES UNTIL CHRISTMAS by Jennifer Lohmann

Escaping her abusive father and small hometown to follow her dreams takes money Selina Lumina doesn't have. After a millionaire software developer offers her a ride out of town, she has to decide whether to follow her aspirations or take a chance at love. Could a snowbound night on the road turn into a Christmas miracle?

SNOW-KISSED by Laura Florand
(previously published as part of the Snow Queen Series)

After the utter destruction of her marriage and her happiness, Kai knew it was better to shut herself away from the world than to hurt and be hurt.

Holed up in her mountain cabin, Kai plans to spend her Christmas alone. Until her not-quite-ex-husband shows up as the first flakes start to fall. Now should she send him back out into the cold? Or can she be brave enough to let this winter snow bind them back together?

CHRISTMAS EVE: A LOVE STORY by Molly O’Keefe
(previously published in the Sweet Dreams Anthology benefiting Diabetes research)

Growing up in the mountains of Wyoming Trina and Dean had been childhood friends until the bitter feud between their families drove them apart. When the magic of Christmas Eve tips the star-crossed lovers together year after year, will they be able to make sure this holiday is not their last?






EXCERPT:




Stephanie Doyle:
One Naughty Christmas Night


Kate stared at the glass of wine in front of her. Deep red, a robust flavor. She’d paid too much money for it, but hey, it was Christmas.
She looked at her phone and wondered if she was really going to do this. Then she
glanced over at the clock on the wall. Eight-oh-three. Hours until she could go to bed. Hours until it would be tomorrow. The harmless, meaningless twenty-sixth of December.
She took another sip of wine and reached for the phone.
The other day, her assistant had downloaded a dating app specifically for people over forty. A more serious, more mature group of single people looking to find each other.
“You’re hot, you own a company and you’re a total catch,” Sally had said. “You just need to get out there, and this is how you do it in 2016. Welcome to the new world of romance.”
It was the perfect distraction from her thoughts—and a way to kill the night without having to watch It’s a Wonderful Life for the thousandth time.
Tentatively, like it might bite her, Kate tapped the screen.
“Green for yes, you like his picture, red for you’re not worthy of me and I never want to see you again,” Sally had laughed as she showed Kate how to play.
So ridiculous, Kate thought. As if you could just look at a picture and know that you were interested in him without knowing anything about him. Of course, she imagined it wasn’t much different than going to a bar and making eye contact.
Attraction. It was the first step in the dance, really.
Keeping an open mind, Kate opened the app and waited a second before a picture popped up on her phone.
It was as simple as that. She was to look at the picture and make an instant judgment. Was she attracted to him or wasn’t she?
No.
Kate tapped the red button and tried not to feel guilty for rejecting someone for a completely superficial reason. The truth was, she thought he didn’t look very well-kept in his picture. She thought someone trying to make a first impression should have tried a little harder. The next man had a nice face, and she instantly went to green. The app told her that he had also seen her picture and liked it.
Awesome. Someone in the world found her attractive. See, Kate told herself, forty was the new thirty.
Now she had a choice. Keep playing or send him a message. Not really having any idea what to say, she chose to keep playing.
Five pictures later, two no’s and three yeses, and suddenly there was a blinking orb on her screen which, when she tapped, told her that someone had sent her a message.
Geesh. That was fast,” Kate said to the empty room as she took another sip of wine. It was clearly best to play this game a little tipsy. She read the message.
Yum, me likee.
“Not exactly poetry,” Kate chuckled, and instantly swiped on the picture in order to delete it from her view.
While deleting someone over one sentence seemed harsh, Kate was very sure that if a man walked up to her in a bar and said such a ridiculous thing, she would have turned her back to him. The equivalent of delete.
Kate played on, acknowledging that the satisfaction she got when she got a hit was way better than wallowing in self-pity on Christmas night.
Then his picture came up. She had no idea why it struck her, but it seemed to go right through to her very core. Nothing like the pictures of men with their cars, or their dogs, or their kids. Or her least favorite: standing in the bathroom with the toilet seat in the background, trying to take a picture in front of what must be the only mirror in the house.
No, this wasn’t a selfie. This was a picture someone had taken of this man, who was looking at something in the distance. Something that made him profoundly sad. Or maybe it wasn’t what he was looking at that made him sad, maybe it was just how he’d been feeling at the time.
Sad. Or lonely.
Kate couldn’t help herself. She imagined a million stories that made up the lines in this man’s face. Around his eyes, his mouth. His actual age wasn’t listed. It didn’t matter. He could have been older than her, or younger than her, but either way she realized he’d lived more in the years he’d been on this planet. That’s what his face said. She had this crazy idea maybe he could show her how to do that.
How to really live.
Kate hit the green button and held her breath.

Lauran Florand
Snow-Kissed: Excerpt from Chapter 1
Laura Florand, © 2013
The snow fell over the black granite counter in a soft hush of white. Kai focused on the sieve she shook as she brought a winter of sugar to the dark world, letting the powder slide across her thoughts the way snow on a falling night would…
She hadn’t yet managed to say a word to him. When she had opened the door, she had meant to. It shouldn’t have been so hard. Hello, Kurt. She could say that, right? After practicing it over and over in her head on the way to the door. But the instant their eyes met, his hazel gaze had struck her mute. As the moment drew out, his hand had clenched around his duffle until his knuckles showed white, and his whole body leaned just an inch forward, as it had so many, many times in their lives, when she greeted him after a long day or a trip and he leaned in to kiss her.
She had flinched back so hard that her elbows had rapped the foyer wall with a resounding smack, and he had looked away from her and walked quickly into the cabin without speaking, disappearing to find a room for his things. It had been at least twenty minutes before he reappeared, his hands in his pockets, to set himself at that post by the window and watch the road. Probably sending out a desperate mental call to his mother: Hurry up, God damn it. Where the hell are you?
But the cars hadn’t come, and now he watched her. She could feel his gaze trying to penetrate her concentration on the snow. But she had to get that powdered sugar snow just right. She had to. Even if she had to play at snow for all eternity.
“Kai,” he said and she shivered. Her name. Her name in his voice. “Can you still not even look at me?”
The weariness in his voice was like a hook dragging her gaze to him, and she did get her head up, just for a second, because he deserved so much better from her than what she had managed to give him. But he was so beautiful and so distant there against the window that it broke her heart, and her heart was so, so tired of being broken. It gave up quickly and let her look down at her sugar-snow again.
“Do you want me to go?” he asked.
Oh, God, yes. Oh, God, no. Oh, God, she didn’t know. It’s snowing, she wanted to protest, but her lips felt stiff and frozen. Besides, it was snowing more on her counter than it was outside. He could get away still, if he wanted.
“Kai.” He sounded as exhausted as her heart. But—firm against that exhaustion. Determined to go on through it. He was that way.
She concentrated as hard as she could.
“It was the cruelest thing you ever did to me,” he told her evenly. “When you cut me off like this. And you never even told me why.”

Karina Bliss
Play by Karina Bliss

The cocktail waitress arrived, leggy and blond, with a professional smile that got real when she looked at Jared Walker. Her gaze darted to Kayla, assessing and then dismissive in an unconscious gesture that would have been insulting if Kayla hadn’t become so used to it.
A pretty woman carrying some baby weight was a six, at best, in Hollywood, where even the waitresses—many of them would-be models or actresses—were often eights.
“Welcome to Joy,” The blond angled her body toward Jared. “May I take your order?”
“Your call, Betty.” Jared used the psuedonom Kayla had suggested for their “meeting as strangers” date. Stayor go?”
She shrugged off her coat. Her husband was good at buying clothes but the dress was tighter than she’d worn since having kids, with a deep cleavage she had to stop herself adjusting. “Let’s have a drink, and see what happens.”
His eyes were hot as he glanced down her dress, and a shiver of anticipation quickened Kayla’s blood. A heady sense of power.
She looked at the waitress, who was clearly revising her grade. “Mulled wine, please.”
“Sure. And for you, sir?”
“Another beer for me, thank you.” The slow curve of his smile was still there as he looked up. The blond sucked in a breath.
“I see you chose one of our craft beers, let me tell you about the others.” As the waitress launched into serious flirt mode, Kayla surreptitiously checked her cell in case the sitter was having trouble settling the kids.
A masculine hand covered the screen. “Remember the rules—cells only for emergencies.” Jared confiscated it. “And give me your wedding ring.”
The waitress blinked.
Kayla tugged it off. “I see you’ve already removed yours,” she commented. The wedding band of cheap, shiny gold—all they could afford then—gleamed as she dropped it into “Bob's” outstretched palm.
“No ties, no responsibilities and no guilt,” he reminded her. “This evening we’re all aboutpleasure.” His pause left no doubt as to what that pleasure entailed. Tangled sheets and tangled bodies.
“I’ll get your drinks,” the waitress murmured.
“Was that wise?” Kayla said, when she’d left. “Your face has been everywhere the past couple of months.”
“I could tell she didn’t recognize me. You look gorgeous,” he added. “I got the size perfectly.”
And wasn’t that like a man. Tight is good, tighter is better. God bless their sexual myopia. “So, Bob.” Channeling a throaty-voiced temptress, Kayla sat back. “Is this the part where you tell me your wife doesn’t understand you?”
“And you tell me your husband takes you for granted.” His tone was wry, and their eyes met in rueful acknowledgment of his earlier slip.
She took pity on him. “Or we can skip that part,” she suggested.
“Let’s skip that part.”
“You’re going to have your work cut out for you, persuading me into an affair, Bob.” She crossed one smooth leg over the other, watching him watch. The light caught the sparkle on her red stilettos—the shoes he’d bought for her when he’d been accepted into Rage. “I’m a happily married woman.”
“Yeah?” He caught the stiletto as it slipped off her dangling foot. “How’s the sex been lately?”

Jennifer Lohmann
Twelve Kisses until Christmas Excerpt - Jennifer Lohmann

“Wait,” he called to her back. “What should I get?”
When she turned around to look at him, her face had softened and there was the hint of a smile on her lips, giving him a glimpse of the woman she might be underneath her fatigue. When he and Curtis had been spending days and nights building their app, he’d had times when no amount of coffee would help to keep his eyelids open. And here she was, even managing a smile. It was impressive. And intriguing.
 “Get the Elk Chips. Roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs, peppers, sausage, and cheese all in one big pile, topped with sour cream and salsa. It’s basically everything you could want in a breakfast.”
“And what if I’m a sweet guy?” he asked, attempting an easy, flirtatious tone, something he’d never had much success with. However, now that he’d seen her smile, he didn’t want her to leave the table and he was going to give it everything he had.
She mustered another small smile. “Huckleberry pancakes. Babe picks the berries herself—at patches she won’t tell anyone else about. If you’ve never had real huckleberries, you should get those. Babe makes the huckleberry syrup, too.”
“I’ll have that, then. I want you to remember my sweetness.” God, he’d meant that sincerely, but even he could hear that he sounded like an ass covered in slime.
Her smile disappeared, replaced by raised eyebrows and suspiciously narrowed eyes. “Was that supposed to be a pickup line?”
He shrugged, chagrined. “I’m just trying to make your day better, not worse.”
Her eyebrows remained up. “So pickup line or not?”
Smooth, he wasn’t. She probably heard cracks like that all the time from random men who walked into Babe’s Diner and wanted to see a smile on her face.
“Somewhere in between,” he offered, trying to verbally back away without fully retreating.
She continued to look unimpressed. “You know, pickup lines are almost never successful with women, and especially not when delivered halfheartedly.”
He laughed at the truth of the matter. The town sign had said the population was 692. On his way to the diner he’d seen a vet’s office, a bar, a hardware store, and a steakhouse, but no McDonald’s. So it wasn’t that she was sick of all the strangers coming in and hitting on her, he realized. It was that he’d tried, struck out, and then was being a coward about it.
“You’re right,” he said, shaking his head at himself. “Well, here’s the honest truth. I suck at being smooth. If I’d wanted to impress you, I should have talked nerdy to you. I’m good at that.”
To his surprise—and apparently to hers, too—she laughed. Her entire face brightened. For a brief moment, the dark circles were gone from under her eyes and the little Christmas bells hanging from her ears jingled. Pleasure filled his chest. He was as proud as if he’d just dragged an enormous dead animal to the cave of the woman he was trying to impress. At least he knew enough not to bang on his chest.
“That was better,” she said with a smile and a shake of her holly-tipped pen. “Huckleberry pancakes it is. Comes with bacon or sausage.”
“Bacon, please.”
She nodded, a hint of a smile still present on her lips. “It’ll go with your sweetness.”

Molly O’Keefe
Christmas Eve: A Love Story by Molly O’Keefe

December 24, 2011
6:43 AM


For a minute, before opening her eyes, Trina Crawford allowed herself to believe she was in her own bed.
But there was someone else in this one.
And there had not been a someone else in her bed for a very long time.
Oh no, what have I done?
Trina turned her head on the pillow and nearly bumped noses with Dean.
Dean McKenzie. I did Dean McKenzie.
She clapped a hand over her mouth, squelching a delighted squeak.
Maybe this is a dream… just some strange stress-and-coming-back-to-Dusk-Falls-induced dream.
But when she squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, Dean was still there. So was the headache pounding behind her eyeballs.
I slept with Dean.
His long, angular face was relaxed in sleep, his black hair like great sweeps of ink across the white pillowcase. His mouth, those wide lips—she curled her fingers against the urge to touch them, trace their edges—they’d been soft, softer even than she’d dreamt.
And she’d dreamt about Dean McKenzie’s lips a lot.
The second half of her senior year, after that night on her porch. Her first year of college. After breaking up with Trevor after the party, she’d spent several long months counting every opportunity she’d missed with her once-best friend.
That all ended last night.
Needing a shot of courage before facing her future—which, oddly enough, looked a lot like her past—she’d stopped at Holly’s on the edge of town, and there was Dean, sitting alone, nursing a beer. Blinking Christmas lights from the mirror over the bar had been reflected in his dark hair.
Like a Christmas sex fantasy come true.
After that, all of it—every moment, every breath and touch—had seemed inevitable.
As if, since their birth, they’d been working their way to this.
I blame Christmas. And our fathers. I blame Christmas and fathers for everything. Romeo and Juliet have nothing on us.

You Had Me at ChristmasYou Had Me at Christmas by Karina Bliss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You Had me at Christmas: an anthology featuring: Karina Bliss, Stephanie Doyle, Laura Florand, Jennifer Lohmann, and Molly O’Keefe is a 2016 publication. I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Christmas anthologies are a lot of fun because it is an opportunity to touch base with some of your favorite authors, and perhaps sample a story by some you are not as familiar with, which is the main reason I chose this one.

So, for the sake of time I have decided to review a book from an author I had not read before and one from one of my favorite contemporary authors.

PLAY - by Karina Bliss is a short story from the Rock Solid Romance series.

Jared Walker became an overnight sensation, but his harried wife, Kayla is having trouble adjusting to his fame. After a disastrous attempt to take Kayla and their children on the road, Jared realizes something is going to have to give, or his marriage was doomed.

Kayla is proud that Jared has achieved success, but she misses the nice, quiet, shy guy she married. Living in the public eye, finding it hard to find alone time, and coping with her husband blossoming into a popular, outgoing person is more than Kayla bargained for, causing some issues her husband feels responsible for.

Can Kayla and Jared grow together, or will they grow apart?


I loved the idea of featuring a married couple with children coping with the changes every marriage will encounter, although maybe not quite on that magnitude.

The idea the couple comes up with to add a little spice and help them work through their issues was sexy and fun, and the holiday season helps create a little extra magic to the story.

CHRISTMAS EVE: A Love Story by Molly O’Keefe
I’ve read many stories by Molly O’Keefe and her name on the roster is what clinched my decision to give this collection a try.

Christmas Eve tells the story of Trina and Dean, who were childhood friends until a feud developed between their parents, causing them to grow apart, except for a serendipitous meeting every Christmas Eve.
This story is definitely magical as the spirit of Christmas is most certainly determined to give these two star crossed lovers a shot at happily ever after. But, it’s not an easy task, as their family relationships always interferes, because of the fight over a piece of land.
Someone is going to have to take a stand, make a huge move or the standoff is never going to end. But, the grand gesture that finally seals the deal was so spectacular and sweet, I thought my heart would melt.

This is a great story to close out the anthology and will leave your heart full of hope and holiday magic.

All the stories here are solid and any fan of contemporary romance will enjoy this holiday anthology.


GET YOUR COPY HERE:


https://www.amazon.com/You-Had-Me-Christmas-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01LX6BR5I/


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Molly O'Keefe has always known she wanted to be a writer (except when she wanted to be a florist or a chef and the brief period of time when she considered being a cowgirl). And once she got her hands on some romances, she knew exactly what she wanted to write.

She published her first Harlequin romance at age 25 and hasn't looked back. She loves exploring every character's road towards happily ever after.

Originally from a small town outside of Chicago, she went to university in St. Louis where she met and fell in love with the editor of her school newspaper. They followed each other around the world for several years and finally got married and settled down in Toronto, Ontario. They welcomed their son into their family in 2006, and their daughter in 2008. When she's not at the park or cleaning up the toy room, Molly is working hard on her next novel, trying to exercise, stalking Tina Fey on the internet and dreaming of the day she can finish a cup of coffee without interruption.
 




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