A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg- Feature and Review

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Janet Evanovich, author of the blockbuster Stephanie Plum novels, and Lee Goldberg, writer for the Monk television show, team up once again in their rollicking, New York Times bestselling Fox and O’Hare series!Nicolas Fox, international con man, thief, and one of the top ten fugitives on the FBI’s most-wanted list, has been kidnapped from a beachfront retreat in Hawaii. What the kidnapper doesn’t know is that Nick Fox has been secretly working for the FBI. It isn’t long before Nick’s covert partner, Special Agent Kate O’Hare, is in hot pursuit of the crook who stole her con man.

The trail leads to Belgium, France, and Italy, and pits Nick and Kate against their deadliest adversary yet: Dragan Kovic, an ex–Serbian military officer. He’s plotting a crime that will net him billions . . . and cost thousands of American lives.

Nick and Kate have to mount the most daring, risky, and audacious con they’ve ever attempted to save a major U.S. city from a catastrophe of epic proportions. Luckily they have the help of an eccentric out-of-work actor, a bandit who does his best work in the sewers, and Kate’s dad, Jake. The pressure’s on for Nick and Kate to make this work—even if they have to lay their lives on the line.



The Pursuit (Fox and O'Hare, #5)The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg is a 2016 Bantam publication.

I knew I was going to love this series right from the start, but I didn’t know I would like it this much! My only complaint is that the last book left poor Nick in limbo and it seems as though I’ve had to cool my heels awaiting word on his fate for entirely too long… nearly a year, in fact!! GAW!

But, the wait is finally over, and thankfully, my favorite, sexy, con artist, is alive, but has jumped from the fire into the frying pan.

Nick is enlisted by ex-Serbian military officer, Dragon Kovic to pull off a smash and grab diamond heist, but is then double crossed, leaving Kate with the task of helping him escape the authorities. They learn that Kovic has not only stolen diamonds, but something much more dangerous, something he intends to make billions of dollars from while taking great delight in killing Americans in the process.

So, once more Kate and Nick must put their heads together to device a con that will fool Kovic, retrieve his delicate cargo, and stay alive. While all the jobs they have worked together on have been dangerous, this case is one for the record books.

There are capers and cons which are entertaining with art or diamonds at stake, along with big money, but when the threat is terroristic in nature, the fun and games are over and Nick suddenly finds himself in a position of saving lives other than his own, which is a sobering thought!

This story took me on quite a globe-trotting adventure, and it was one wild ride! As always, the characters are zany, and the plot has that madcap, screwball feel to it, but is quite ingenious. Nick and Kate are really finding a groove as a team, as Kate steps over into the dark side a little more with each installment. Nick, is still Nick, but I did see a little glimpse of a more serious side of him this time around.

Overall, I enjoyed this book from start to finish, and frankly, I need books like this one from time to time. I stepped into Nick and Kate’s world and all the stress and depressing news of the world went away for a while. It was nearly cathartic. I got a few belly laughs, spent time with the charming Nick Fox, and enjoyed the crafty ‘ by seat of your pants’ con game competition, and the chillingly high stakes they were playing for.

Overall, this is another solid, entertaining addition to the series. I hope we don’t have to wait quite so long for the next installment!!





Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Trouble Maker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, as well as the Fox and O'Hare series with co-author Lee Goldberg.

New York Times Bestselling author Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar Award and two-time Shamus Award nominee whose many TV writing and/or producing credits include "Martial Law," "SeaQuest," "Diagnosis Murder,""Hunter," "Spenser: For Hire," "Nero Wolfe," "Missing." "Monk" and "The Glades." He's also the author of the Fox & O'Hare series with Janet Evanovich (The Heist, The Chase, The Job), "The Walk," "Watch Me Die," "King City," the "Dead Man" series, as well as the "Diagnosis Murder" and "Monk" series of original mystery novels.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Portrait of Rage- The Marcel Experience- by Cynthia H. Wise- Book Blast + Giveaway

Introduces real-world horrors into the universe of the supernatural.

The Marcel Experience #1
Cynthia H. Wise
Released October 31, 2015

“The air became frigid and the lights flickered as they both watched a shimmering veil of mist rise from the hardwood floor. As it floated toward Kelly, the dim shape of an adolescent came to life in its veiling center. The little girl’s body grew more defined in its advance, until every detail of the portrait at Kelly’s back focused and came alive before them.”

Soon after Thomas Shear buys a house for his art gallery, the spirits of a killer’s child victims haunt his dreams. Believing they were conjured by stress and a vivid imagination, Tom hopes to vanquish the nightmares that leave him shaking and sweat soaked by creating a series of life-sized portraits portraying the suffering of each little girl.

When news of his portrait series spreads, Tom is confronted by the lead investigator for the missing children, Detective Mark Winward. Realizing he has become involved in something more sinister than he could ever have imagined, and becoming the detective’s number one suspect, Tom races to find the real killer before he is framed and someone Tom loves becomes the killer’s next victim.

Portrait of Rage sets the stage for The Marcel Experience, giving readers a glimpse into what is to come. Both horror and romance, real and fantastic, Portrait of Rage introduces real-world horrors into the universe of the supernatural.

Amazon | B & N | iTunes | Kobo

Cynthia H. Wise lives with her husband in Marietta, Georgia, where her series, The Marcel Experience, is centered. When she is not writing novels about the supernatural and the fantastic, Cynthia can be found with her husband, Cliff, their two dogs, Jake and Sadie, and their cockatiel, Sam.
In Cynthia H. Wise’s paranormal mystery series, The Marcel Experience, readers will find themselves thrown into haunted houses, avenging ghosts and wandering spirits, and even, possibly, falling in love with a handsome shapeshifter. In the next novel in the series, Eyes of Autumn, releasing this October, a dangerous enemy from Marcus’s past is threatening to destroy everything he holds sacred, including the only woman he’s ever loved—a woman who doesn’t remember him.

For more information and updates on new books, giveaways, and other news, visit her website or follow her on twitter.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stormswept by Sabrina Jeffries- Feature and Review


New York Times bestseller Sabrina Jeffries reignites a daring love affair in this intriguing tale of desire and deception—originally written as Deborah Martin and newly revised for today’s audience.

The first wedding night that Lady Juliana St. Albans spent with the dark and daring Rhys Vaughan was intoxicating, the heady culmination of her new husband’s driving hunger and her own awakened sensuality. When he mysteriously disappeared the next morning, she waited for him in hope and desperation. And when he was finally proclaimed dead in a shipwreck, she bitterly mourned the loss of her love.

The second wedding night that Juliana spent with Rhys Vaughan was six years later, after he returned to claim her just as she was about to wed another. This Rhys was different—bolder, harder, and convinced that she’d betrayed him. Only their blazing passion remains from their years apart. But is it enough to light their way through the maze of mystery, menace, and mistrust—to the love they once shared and would have to find again?


StormsweptStormswept by Deborah Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stormswept by Sabrina Jeffries (writing as Deborah Martin) is a 2016 Pocket Books publication. I was provided a copy of this book as an XOXOpert, the official street team of XOXO After Dark.

I like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable about authors, but time and again, I discover I don’t know much at all. I never knew Sabrina Jeffries wrote historical romance novels under the pseudonym of ‘Deborah Martin.’

Originally published back in 1995, this novel has been re-issued by Pocket Books, and I am so happy I had the chance to discover ‘Deborah Martin’ and her backlisted titles.

Lady Juliana St. Albans and Rhys Vaughn fall in love, in this ‘Romeo and Juliet’ meets “The Count of Monte Cristo” setup.

Swept up in their ardor and passion for each other, forbidden lovers run away and get married, but are separated in a diabolical plot, that will keep them separated for six long years, and has Rhys convinced his beloved wife betrayed him.

Now, he has returned to reclaim Julianna and the property she manages, which is now his, by rights, preventing Juliana from finally remarrying.

But, the marriage appears to be doomed as Rhys refuses to listen to Juliana’s protestations that she took no part in the plan to ‘impress’ him, that left him scarred and angry. While the fiery passion that ignited between them all those years ago is still burning as hot as ever, the severed trust between them has left them both feeling frustrated and heartbroken.

Will the truth ever be revealed? Will Juliana ever regain Rhys’ trust so that their marriage can be real and happy?

For those accustomed Sabrina Jeffries regency romances, this one may feel heavier, with a slightly darker tint than you are used to. But, for a person so burned out on regency romance, this one was right up my alley, and very welcome change of pace.

'And though in the desert night
I've wandered many a year
And often had to drink
Of the bitter cup, despair
The yoke I suffered was my gain
And not for nothing came that pain'
William Williams Pantycelyn
'Fair Weather"

I loved the political Welch backdrop, which is something different, for a change, and I’m a sucker for forbidden romance and all the intrigue that implies. While Rhys finds it hard to let go of his lust for revenge and all his hate and bitterness, he eventually comes to see how it will poison his life forever, and ruin all he has worked to gain, if he doesn’t learn to trust his wife.

Juliana plays her hand well, and is a strong female protagonist, with a big heart, I couldn’t help but cheer for.

I really liked this story, and would love to see more of these backlisted titles reissued!


Sabrina Jeffries is the NYT bestselling author of over 50 novels and works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas). Whatever time not spent writing in a coffee-fueled haze of dreams and madness is spent traveling with her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions—jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and music. With over 8 million books in print in 20 different languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction, and hopes that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world.

She always dreams big.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nacho Figueras Presents: Ride Free by Jessica Whitman- Blog Tour+ Review


NACHO FIGURERAS PRESENTS: RIDE FREE by Jessica Whitman (July 26, 2016; Forever Trade Paperback, Mass Market, eBook; The Polo Season Series #3)
World-renowned polo player and global face of Ralph Lauren, Nacho Figueras dives into the world of scandal and seduction with a new fiction series set in the glamorous, treacherous world of high-stakes polo competition.
Antonia Black has always known her place with the Del Campo family-a bastard daughter. And it will take a lot more than her skill with horses to truly belong within the wealthy polo dynasty. In fact, she's been shuttled around so much in her life, she doesn't even know what "home" means. Until one man shows her exactly how it feels to be safe, to be free, to be loved.
Enzo Rivas knows Noni is way out of his league. After all, he's the stablemaster, and she's the boss's sister. But he can't see the hurt in her eyes and not want to protect her. And he can no longer deny the electric tension jumping between them. Yet just when he's ready to risk it all and change their relationship forever, a secret from her past makes him question everything he thought he knew about her…


When Sunny started crow-hopping, Enzo Rivas didn’t worry. The big mare had always been hot, and it wasn’t out of character for her to occasionally get a little bored and try to test her rider.

But when Sunny started to buck, Enzo knew something was seriously wrong.

The pony threw her head down, kicked out her legs, and whinnied fearfully, almost sending Enzo out of the saddle. He pressed his knees against the saddle, grabbed the reins, and battled to pull her head back up. She fought him, flinging her head down again and heaving her back legs into the air.

For a moment, he thought he was going to be thrown, and his body automatically tensed, preparing to hit the ground, hard.

It wouldn’t have been the first time Enzo lost his seat to an unruly horse. It was part of his job, after all. Nobody trained horses and didn’t occasionally get thrown. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t fight it.

Sunny came back down onto all four legs again, and Enzo, sensing a split second of opportunity, yanked the reins sharply to the right, forcing the pony’s head so far over that her nose touched his knee. She screamed in outrage and spun in a circle, but she was powerless to kick her hind legs from this position.

Enzo kept her in that stance, letting her spin as many times as she wanted, speaking to her softly in Spanish, until he could feel her temper start to ebb and her muscles soften, one by one, under him.

He relaxed the reins and let the pony’s head back up. As they cantered forward, he noticed a large, bald-faced hornet floating away from them.

“Ah. Poor girl,” he said, “you got stung.”

Sunny snorted complacently as if in agreement, then reared up, threw Enzo backward into the grass, and bolted, riderless, down the pitch.

Enzo lay there for a moment, the breath knocked out of him, staring at the cloudless Florida sky. It had not been a bad fall, as falls went, and he knew that once he could breathe again, he’d be fine. But he was also pissed, and he knew it would be better to get his temper under control before he chased down the errant horse. It never helped to be mad when dealing with ponies.

“Rivas?” came a distant voice that made him close his eyes and smile ruefully. Of course she would find him like this.

“Enzo, are you okay?”

She was closer.

He struggled to a sitting position, still a little winded but determined not to be on his back when she reached him.

“I’m fine,” he said, and then almost fell over again, he was so dizzy. Damn that horse. He bent his head to his knees and closed his eyes.

“You don’t look fine. You look like you got knocked on your ass.”

He slowly turned his gaze up toward Antonia Black and felt his heart speed up in a way that had nothing to do with his fall.

It was getting worse. He could hardly look at her anymore without being filled with an almost paralyzing ache of attraction.

She reached out her hand, her dark eyes twinkling with amusement, and after a beat of hesitation, he took it and let her help him to his feet.

For a moment after he stood, he let his hand linger in hers, allowing himself the luxury of feeling the tingling heat that seemed to generate from her skin into his. But then he dropped it, remembering the runaway horse.

“Did you see where Sunny went?” he asked.

She laughed. “She pranced right into the barn. I’m sure one of the grooms has her by now.”

He nodded and winced, already sore from the fall. “She got stung,” he said.

“Oh,” said Noni, “I know. I saw the whole thing.”

He smiled and rubbed his neck. “Hot horse,” he said ruefully.

She smiled back. He felt his chest squeeze in response. “Hot horse,” she agreed. She looked him over. “You sure you’re all right?”

He nodded. “I’ll probably be sore, but nothing is broken.”

“Good,” she said.

They gazed at each other for a moment.

“Are you going to Hendy’s party tonight?” he finally said, needing to break the tension.

Her mood suddenly changed. She frowned, and a red flush touched the creamy skin of her cheeks and chest. “Yeah, I guess,” she said in an abrupt tone. “Anyway, if you’re really okay, I’m going to head on home.” She quickly turned to go. “I’ll see you at the party.”

He watched Antonia walk away, heading for her truck. He had the impulse to call out, stop her, ask her what was wrong. But before he could act, Noni swung up into her truck, her platinum blond hair streaming behind her, slammed the door with a bang, and was gone in a cloud of dust.

He clenched and unclenched his fist, reminding himself that every time she slipped away, it was better for both of them. Less complicated, safer.

Nothing good, he reminded himself sternly for the ten millionth time as he started back toward the barn, could come from anything happening between us.

She is my boss’s sister. She is a Del Campo. I would only end up hurting her.

The words were his litany, but lately they were starting to lose their power.

He shook his head. Being stern with himself wasn’t working anymore. He could feel that he was starting to weaken. Being around her at work, being her friend and confidant, without ever hinting at his real feelings, had begun to exhaust him.

It was a part he knew he could not play much longer. All his good reasons for keeping his distance, all the rules of the barn and vows to himself that he had clung to over the years had started to feel weightless compared to his growing feelings for this woman. The many times he had repeated to himself that it was unprofessional, that he wasn’t fit to be in a relationship, that he didn’t deserve her, that she was too fragile… it was all beginning to feel as insubstantial as a fairy story. A cautionary tale he’d heard as a child, meant to keep him away from gingerbread houses and wolves in the woods.

Because she was different these days. She was stronger and happier and more stable. And her happiness made her all the more irresistible.

And maybe, he thought, I’m different, too…

He turned back around at the barn door, watching the lingering trail of dust that her old blue truck had left behind. He thought of a moment in the barn earlier that day, when he had held the head of a pony for her while she bent over its hind leg, hammering in a new shoe. For just the quickest second, she had looked up and met his eyes, and a devilish smile had danced over her mouth. It had been the kind of carefree grin he would never have imagined on her face when he had first come to know her. It seemed to prove that she was finally mended. Certainly, she was a changed woman from the one he’d met all those years ago.

Nacho Figueras Presents: Ride FreeNacho Figueras Presents: Ride Free by Jessica Whitman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ride Free by Jessica Whitman is a 2016 Forever Romance publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This final book is the Polo Season trilogy, presented by the famous Polo star, Nacho Figueras, pulls out all the stops with a heart pounding and emotional conclusion.

Antonia Black is the illegitimate daughter of the Del Campo patriarch. After her father’s death, Noni’s half-brother found her in Berlin, and brought her back to Florida. But, no matter how welcoming her brothers had been, she feels she is still an outcast. If she could learn the game of Polo, she believes they will accept her more fully.

To that end, she wishes to enlist the help of her best friend, and stablemaster, Enzo Rivas, but the chemistry brewing between them suddenly erupts, despite the risk to their friendship. But, just as the couple finally gives in to their desires, Noni’s past comes barging in, threatening to destroy her future.

Can Enzo understand Noni’s complicated past, or compete for her affections against a former lover?

While I enjoyed the first two books in the series, and found the world of Polo to be quite fascinating, the stories were pretty much standard contemporary romances with a sports related theme. But, this addition to the series, has a slightly darker tone and deals with some heavier issues.

Noni is a woman that has endured much pain and hardship in her life, and did not enjoy the comforts of wealth while growing up the way her brothers did. She is a part of the family, yet I could feel her standing apart from them too, as though she is on the outside looking in.

To complicate matters, Noni’s mother arrives and brings with her a ghost from Noni’s past, a man she once loved. Now she is torn between the past and present, confused by her feelings, which is understandable, especially in light of the special circumstances.

I understood the position Enzo was in, especially when his feelings were mixed to begin with, but I did wish he had been a little more aggressive at times. But, when the plot took an unexpected turn, Enzo shows real mettle.

The last quarter of the book sets the stage for a big finale, with a showdown I never saw coming. While this part is perhaps a little overdramatic, and the whys and wherefores are a little thin, it made the conclusion tense and exciting.

Enzo is a passionate hero, a little conflicted in the beginning, but his character solidifies nicely and he showed Noni the stuff was made of, which is always really sexy.

Noni, too, will grow and find peace in her life, knowing she is loved by everyone, a lot more than she ever thought.

The epilogue is super sweet, and puts a nice cherry on the cake, bringing everyone together for a very special family event.

Overall, I enjoyed this trilogy, and am glad I had the opportunity to read it, and learn more about horses and the game of polo, as well as enjoy sweet and sexy love stories. Of the three books, I would say this one was probably my favorite.

Buy the Book!
IndieBound: http://bit.ly/1rdbzoV

 About Nacho Figueras:

Argentine polo player Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras has become one of the most recognizable and talented polo players in the world.  He is currently the captain and co-owner of the Black Watch polo team.  In addition to playing polo, Nacho has been featured as a face of Ralph Lauren and its Black Watch clothing and watch collection since 2000. In June 2009, he was voted the second most handsome man in the world by the readers of Vanity Fair and has appeared on numerous television shows, such as Oprah and Chelsea Handler. Nacho currently splits his time between Miami and Argentina with his wife, Delfina and their four children, Hilario, Aurora, Artemio, and Alba.

Social Media Links:
Twitter @nachofigueras
Instagram @nachofigueras

Add Ride Free to your shelf on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/22PzatA

Blue Moon by Wendy Corsi Staub- Feature and Review

New York Times bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub returns to Mundy’s Landing—a small town where bygone bloodshed has become big business.
Hair neatly braided, hands serenely clasped, eyes closed, the young woman appeared to be sound asleep. But the peaceful tableau was a madman’s handiwork. Beneath the covers, her white nightgown was spattered with blood. At daybreak, a horrified family would discover her corpse tucked into their guest room. The cunning killer would strike again . . . and again . . . before vanishing into the mists of time.

A century ago, the Sleeping Beauty Murders terrified picturesque Mundy’s Landing. The victims, like the killer, were never identified. Now, on the hundredth anniversary, the Historical Society’s annual “Mundypalooza” offers a hefty reward for solving the notorious case.

Annabelle Bingham, living in one of the three Murder Houses, can’t escape the feeling that her family is being watched—and not just by news crews and amateur sleuths. She’s right. Having unearthed the startling truth behind the horrific crimes, a copycat killer is about to reenact them—beneath the mansard roof of Annabelle’s dream home . . .

Blue Moon (Mundy's Landing #2)Blue Moon by Wendy Corsi Staub
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blue Moon by Wendy Corsi Staub is a 2016 William Morrow publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

As the one- hundred- year anniversary of the “Sleeping Beauty Killer’ murders approaches, Mundy’s Landing is gearing up for the annual 'Mundypalooza', where amateur sleuths and crime enthusiast flood into the community determined to solve the cold case. If someone actually does solve the century old murder, there will be a nice cash prize awarded to them.

For locals, this annual event is a pain, but for Annabelle Bingham it is especially annoying. She and her family live in one of the houses where the 'SBK' deposited one of his victims, all those years ago, which means her home has been dubbed ‘a murder house’. It also means all those SBK fanatics have been circling by her home and gawking. But, on a couple of occasions she has sensed someone lurking on the property, and she's not convinced it is one of the SBK crime solvers.

If that weren’t bad enough, Annabelle is dealing with everyday stress, such as serious money problems, DIY home renovations, and a son with a severe anxiety disorder.

However, when Annabelle makes an interesting discovery in her home, one that could actually be a clue to solving the SBK mystery, she is cautiously optimistic, hoping she could solve the case and help her family’s dire financial situation in the process.

But, what she doesn’t know, is that there is a killer lurking in Mundy’s landing who is also very interested in the SBK murders and in her house specifically, and she could be his next victim.

I really liked the first book in this series- “Blood Red”, and couldn't wait to dive into this second installment.

But, things got off to such a slow start, I was afraid this book might be suffering from 'second book syndrome”. However, my patience paid off as the story finally found its groove and turned out to be a pretty solid mystery/ thriller, after all.

The killer keeps a 'case file' and the reader is able to access his thoughts and actions, but we are left totally in the dark about his identity. The reader is also able to read excerpts from the SBK's journal, which coincide with the current kidnapping and murder spree. These musings are very disturbing and really creepy.

The best part for me was learning more about the 'Sleeping Beauty Killer” and the lurid details of that ancient crime, but this information is not revealed until quite late in the story, but was very absorbing and quite shocking.

The present day crime spree is a bit of a sleeper, and the pacing was just a little bit off kilter this time around, and the suspense was muted in comparison to the first book, at least in the beginning, but at the end of the day, the conclusion more than made up for any imbalances, and I was thrilled by the unlikely hero of the story, which made my day!






From New York Times bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub comes the first in a terrifying new series set in a small town with a sinister secret

The razor's gleaming blade slices effortlessly through skin and tendon, and he relishes the final anguished moments of his prey. There's only one thing he prizes more: their long, silken strands of red hair. But these women are merely stand-ins . . . a prelude to his ultimate victim.

Nestled in New York's Hudson Valley, Mundy's Landing is famous for its picturesque setting—and for a century-old string of gruesome unsolved murders. Rowan returned to her hometown years ago, fleeing a momentary mistake that could have destroyed her family. Life is good here. Peaceful. Until an anonymous gift brings Rowan's fears to life again.

The town's violent history was just the beginning. Soon everyone in Mundy's Landing will know that the past cannot be forgotten or forgiven—not until every sin has been paid for, in blood.


Blood Red (Mundy's Landing, #1)Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub is a 2015 William Morrow publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Blood Red gets the new 'Mundy’s Landing' series off to a great start with a psychological toned thriller that kept me glued to the pages from the first chapter to the last.

Mundy’s Landing is known by many as the setting for one the most puzzling unsolved mysteries of all time… The Sleeping Beauty Murders. There is even a museum of sorts, and every year amateur sleuths and crime buffs descend upon the town hoping to solve the mystery.

Otherwise Mundy’s Landing is a picturesque and peaceful place to live… until now.

Fourteen years ago, when her husband, Jake, was often working away from home, Rowan became close to her neighbor, Rick, a stay at home dad. One fateful day, the friendship nearly became a lot more, but Rowan was saved from making a monumental mistake by a batch of burning cookies and a smoke alarm.

Crisis averted, Rowan puts Rick out of her mind, and over the years learned she had adult ADHD, after her third child was diagnosed with the disorder. Now taking medication to control her impulsiveness, Rowan has settled into a normal, healthy life, teaching fourth grade and raising her children.

But, when a strange package arrives, with fourteen burned cookies inside, wrapped in a newspaper dated fourteen years ago, to the very day she and Rick nearly went too far, Rowan’s peaceful, mundane life is turned upside down.

There are several threads working at once here and all three are tense and upsetting. There is someone out there taunting Rowan, and that same person may be kidnapping and murdering other women, while Rowan struggles with trying to find out who is taunting her and why. We also follow Rowan’s son, who has a crush on a girl that could become the killer’s next victim.

I got so caught up in Rowan’s guilt, regret, and fear of discovery, that I sometimes forgot the real danger that lurked under the surface. Rowan was a potential victim, and in grave danger, but I occasionally lost sight of that due to her extreme distress over being found out and having her whole life upended.

But, I was also very curious about who was sending her these little packages and why it took them fourteen years to make a move. Was it Rick? Or one of the few people Rowan had confided in? Or someone Rick told? Or… Jake?

The reader has access to the killer’s inner thoughts, but we don’t know how he is connected to the players involved in this cat and mouse game, but we do know he has an affinity for redheads. In addition, we know before anyone else what he’s planning, but must sit by helplessly, as events unfold.

This is a crafty thriller, with outstanding pacing, bringing all the elements together, with a huge crescendo, that left me feeling like I had survived a harrowing situation myself.

While this story is most assuredly taut with suspense and mystery, it’s also a bit of a cautionary tale. Secrets and lies usually refuse to stay buried and will eventually find you out and the consequences could be deadly…
Overall, if this book is any indication, this series will be one to watch for.





New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub is the award-winning author of more than seventy-five published novels and has sold more than four million books worldwide. Under her own name, Wendy achieved New York Times bestselling status with her single title psychological suspense novels. Those novels and the women's fiction she writes under the pseudonym Wendy Markham also frequently appeared on the USA Today, Barnes and Noble Top Ten, and Bookscan bestseller lists.

Wendy’s latest suspense novels for HarperCollins are linked by the theme of the predatory dangers of social media and include THE GOOD SISTER (October 2013), which has been optioned for television, as well as the prequel novella, COLD HEARTED, for the USA TODAY bestseller, THE PERFECT STRANGER (July 2014) and her current release, THE BLACK WIDOW (March 2015). Later in 2015, Wendy will release the first book of two new series: BLOOD RED, from the MUNDY'S LANDING trilogy (September 2015/HarperCollins) and NINE LIVES: A LILY DALE MYSTERY from Crooked Lane Books (October 2015).

In 2013, she concluded a bestselling, award-winning trilogy that was launched by HarperCollins in September 2012 with NIGHTWATCHER, which won the 2013 Westchester Library Association Washington Irving Prize for Fiction. It was followed in October by the New York Times bestselling SLEEPWALKER, which went on to become a finalist for the prestigious Simon and Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award presented at the Mystery Writers of America Edgars Symposium in April 2013. The trilogy’s final title, SHADOWKILLER, was released in February 2013.

Wendy’s thriller LIVE TO TELL (Avon Books, March 2010) received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was also a finalist at the 2011 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. The sequel, SCARED TO DEATH, (Avon Books, January 2011) was honored with the WLA Washington Irving Prize for Fiction and the trilogy concluded with the bestseller HELL TO PAY (Avon Books, October 2011).


She contributed a recipe to the March 2015 release of THE MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK as well as a short story, "My Father's Eyes," to the FIRST THRILLS anthology edited by Lee Child (Forge, June 2010).

As "Wendy Markham," her 2005 romance, HELLO, IT'S ME was made into a television movie by the Hallmark Channel and will air in September 2015.

Markham's most recent title, THE BEST GIFT, is a sequel to the acclaimed 2006 Christmas Time Travel romance, IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS (both from Signet)and available in both paperback and Kindle. IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS and THE BEST GIFT are now available as eBooks in the Amazon Kindle store. Other Wendy Markham titles include the innovative "SLIGHTLY" series from Red Dress Ink, as well as HELLO, IT'S ME; BRIDE MEETS GROOM; THE NINE MONTH PLAN; A THOROUGHLY MODERN PRINCESS; LOVE,SUBURBAN STYLE; and many others.

Wendy has also authored the beloved LILY DALE series for Young Adults with the individual titles of AWAKENING, BELIEVING, CONNECTING and DISCOVERING. She has also written a series about a group of teen angels for Middle Grade that will re-release soon as Ebooks.

Wendy won the 2008 RT Award for Career Achievement in Suspense and the 2007 RWA-NYC Golden Apple Award for Lifetime Achievement. A proud recipient of the RWA Rita award, she has also been honored five times with the Westchester Library Association's Washington Irving Prize for Fiction and was recognized as one of WLA's Millennial Authors in 2000.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Once a Rancher by Linda Lael Miller- Feature and Review


The Carsons of Mustang Creek: three men who embody the West and define what it means to be a rancher, a cowboy and a hero in this brand-new series from the queen of Western romance.


Slater Carson might be a businessman by trade, but he’s a cowboy at heart—and he knows the value of a hard day’s work under the hot Wyoming sun. So when he sees troubled teen Ryder heading down a dangerous path, he offers the boy a job on the ranch he shares with his two younger brothers. And since Ryder’s temporary guardian is the gorgeous new resort manager, Grace Emery, Slater figures it can’t hurt to keep a closer eye on her as well…


Grace Emery doesn’t have time for romance. Between settling in to her new job and caring for her ex-husband’s rebellious son, her attraction to larger-than-life Slater is a distraction she can’t afford. But when the past catches up to her in Mustang Creek, she’ll discover just how far Slater will go to protect what matters most—and that love is always worth fighting for.


              Slater Carson was bone-tired, as he was after every film wrapped, but it was the best kind of fatigue—part pride and satisfaction in a job well-done, part relief, part “bring it,” that anticipatory quiver in the pit of his stomach that would lead him to the next project, and the one after that.



This latest film had been set in a particularly remote area, emphasizing how the Homestead Act had impacted the development not only of the American West, but also the country as a whole. It had been his most ambitious effort to date. The sheer scope was truly epic, and as he watched the uncut footage on his computer monitor, he knew.



160 Acres was going to touch a nerve.



Yep, this one would definitely hit home with the viewers, new and old.



His previous effort, a miniseries on the Lincoln County War in New Mexico, had won prizes and garnered great reviews, and he’d sold the rights to one of the media giants for a shitload of money. Like Lincoln County, 160 Acres was good, solid work. The researchers, camera operators and other professionals he worked with were the top people in the business, as committed to the film as he was.



And that was saying something.



No doubt about it, the team had done a stellar job the last time around, but this—well, this was the best yet. A virtual work of art, if he did say so himself.






Slater leaned back in his desk chair and clicked the pause button. “Hey, Nate.” He greeted his friend and personal assistant.


“What do you need?”



Like Slater, Nate Wheaton had just gotten back from the film site, where he’d taken care of a thousand details, and it was a safe bet that the man was every bit as tired as he looked. Short, blond, energetic and not more than twenty years old, Nate was a dynamo; the production had come together almost seamlessly, in large part because of his talent, persistence and steel-trap brain.



“Um,” Nate murmured, visibly unplugging, shifting gears. He was moving into off-duty mode, and God knew he’d earned it.


“There’s someone to see you.” He inclined his head in the direction of the outer office, rubbed the back of his neck and let out an exasperated sigh. “The lady insists she needs to talk to you and only you. I tried to get her to make an appointment, but she says it has to be now.”



Slater suppressed a sigh of his own. “It’s ten o’clock at night.”



“I’ve actually pointed that out,” Nate said, briefly consulting his phone. “It’s five after, to be exact.” Like Slater himself, Nate believed in exactness, which was at once a blessing and a curse. “She claims it can’t possibly wait until morning, whatever it is. But if I hadn’t been walking into the kitchen I wouldn’t have heard the knock.”



“How’d she even find me?” The crew had flown in late, driven out to the vineyard/ranch, and Slater had figured that no one, other than his family, knew he was in town. Or out of town. Whatever qualified as far as the ranch was concerned.



Nate looked glumly resigned. “I have no idea. She refused to say. I’m going to bed. If you need anything else, come and wake me, but bring a sledgehammer, because I’d probably sleep through anything less.” A pause, another sigh, deeper and wearier than the last. “That was quite the shoot.”



The understatement of the day.



Slater drew on the last dregs of his energy, shoved a hand through his hair and said, “Well, point her in this direction, if you don’t mind, and then get yourself some shut-eye.”



He supposed he sounded normal, but on the inside, he was drained. He’d given everything he had to 160, and then some, and there was no hope of charging his batteries. He’d blown through the last of his physical resources hours ago.



Resentment at the intrusion sent a tremor though his famous equanimity; he was used to dealing with problems on the job—ranging from pesky all the way to apocalyptic—but at home, damn it, he expected to be left alone. He needed rest, downtime, a chance to regroup, and the home place was where he did those things.



One of his younger brothers ran the Carson ranch, and the other managed the vineyard and winery. The arrangement worked out pretty well. Everyone had his own role to play, and the sprawling mansion was big enough, even for three competitive males to live in relative peace. Especially since he, Slater, was gone half the time, anyway.



“Will do.” Nate left the study, and a few minutes later the door opened.



Before Slater could make the mental leap from one moment to the next, a woman—qu8ite possibly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen—stormed across the threshold, dragging a teenage boy by the arm.



She was a redhead, with the kind of body that would resurrect a dead man, never mind a tired one.



And Slater had a fondness for redheads; he’d dated a lot of them over the years. This one was all sizzle, and her riot of coppery curls, bouncing around her straight indignant shoulders, seemed to blaze in the dim light.



It took him a moment, but he finally recovered and clambered to his feet. “I’m Slater Carson. Can I help you?”



This visitor, whoever she was, had his full attention.






The redhead poked the kid, who was taller than she was by at least six inches, and she did it none too gently. The boy flinched; he was lanky, clad in a Seahawks T-shirt, baggy jeans and half-laced shoes. He looked bewildered, ready to bolt.



“Start talking, Buster,” the redhead ordered, glowering up at the kid. “And no excuses.” She shook her head. “I’m being nice here,” she said when the teenager didn’t speak. “Your father would kick you into the next county.”



Just his luck, Slater thought, with a strange, nostalgic detachment. She was married.



While he waited for the next development, he let his eyes trail over the goddess, over a sundress with thin straps on shapely shoulders, a mid-thigh skirt and silky pale skin. She was one of the rare Titian-types who didn’t have freckles, although Slater wouldn’t be opposed to finding out if there might be a few tucked away out of sight. White sandals with a small heel finished off the ensemble, and all that glorious hair was loose and flowing down her back.



The kid, probably around fourteen, cleared his throat. He stepped forward and laid one of the magnetic panels from the company’s production truck on the desk.



Slater, caught up in the unfolding drama, hadn’t noticed the sign until then.






“I’m sorry,” the boy gulped, clearly miserable and, at the same time, a little defiant. “I took this.” He looked sidelong at the woman beside him, visibly considered giving her some lip and just as visibly reconsidered. Smart kid. “I thought it was pretty cool,” he explained, all knees and elbows and youthful angst. Color climbed his neck and burned in his face. “I know it was wrong, okay? Stealing is stealing, and my stepmother’s ready to cuff me and haul me off to jail, so if that’s what you want, too, Mister, go for it.”






Slater was still rather dazed, as though he’d stepped off a wild carnival ride before it was finished with its whole slew of loop-do-loops.



“His father and I are divorced.” She said it curtly, evidently reading Slater’s expression.



Well, Slater reflected, that was cause for encouragement. She did look young to be the kid’s mother. And now that he thought about it, the boy didn’t resemble her in the slightest, with his dark hair and eyes.



Finally catching up, he raised his brows, feeling a flicker of something he couldn’t quite identify, along with a flash of sympathy for the boy. He guessed the redhead was in her early thirties. While she seemed to be in charge of the situation,


Slater suspected she might be in over her head. Clearly, the kid was a handful.



It was time, Slater decided, still distanced from himself, to speak up.



“I appreciate your bringing it back,” he managed, holding the boy’s gaze but well aware of the woman on the periphery of his vision. “These aren’t cheap.”



Some of the ­f-you drained out of the kid’s expression. “Like I said, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it.”



“You made a mistake,” Slater agreed quietly. “We’ve all done things we shouldn’t have, at some point in our lives. But you did what you could to make it right.” He paused. “Life’s all about the choices we make, son. Next time, try to do better.” He felt a grin lurking at one corner of his mouth. “I would’ve been really ticked off if I had to replace this.”



The boy looked confused. “Why? You’re rich.”



Slater had encountered that reasoning before—over the entire course of his life, actually. His family was wealthy, and had been for well over a century. They ran cattle, owned vast stretches of Wyoming grassland and now, thanks to his mother’s roots in the Napa Valley, there was the winery, with acres of vineyards to support the enterprise.



“Beside the point,” Slater said. He worked for a living, and he worked hard, but he felt no particular need to explain that to this kid or anybody else. “What’s your name?”



“Ryder,” the boy answered, after a moment’s hesitation.



“Where do you go to school, Ryder?”



“The same lame place everyone around here goes in the eighth grade. Mustang Creek Middle School.”



Slater lifted one hand. “I can do without the attitude,” he said.



Ryder recovered quickly. “Sorry,” he muttered.



Slater had never been married, but he understood children; he had a daughter, and he’d grown up with two kid brothers, born a year apart and still a riot looking for a place to happen, even in their thirties. He’d broken up more fights than a bouncer at Bad Billie’s Biker Bar and Burger Palace on a Saturday night.



“I went to the same school,” he said, mostly to keep the conversation going. He was in no hurry for the redhead to call it a night, especially since he didn’t know her name yet. “Not a bad deal. Does Mr. Perkins still teach shop?”



Ryder laughed. “Oh, yeah. We call him the The Relic.”



Slater let the remark pass; it was flippant, but not mean-spirited. “You couldn’t meet a nicer guy, though. Right?”



The kid’s expression was suitably sheepish. “True,” he admitted.



The stepmother regarded Slater with some measure of approval, although she still seemed riled.



Slater looked back for the pure pleasure of it. She’d be a whole new experience, this one, and he’d never been afraid of a challenge.



She’d said she was divorced, which raised the question: What damn fool had let her get away?



As if she’d guessed what he was thinking—anybody with her looks had to be used to male attention—the redhead narrowed her eyes. Still, Slater thought he saw a glimmer of amusement in them. She’d calmed down considerably, but she wasn’t missing a trick.



He grinned slightly. “Cuffs?” he inquired mildly, remembering Ryder’s statement a few minutes earlier.



She didn’t smile, but that spark was still in her eyes. “That was a reference to my former career,” she replied, all business. “I’m an ex-cop.” She put out her hand, the motion almost abrupt, and finally introduced herself. “Grace Emery,” she said. “These days I run the Bliss River Resort and Spa.”



“Ah,” Slater said, a propos of nothing in particular. An ex-cop? Hot damn, she could handcuff him anytime. “You must be fairly new around here.” If she hadn’t been, he would’ve made her acquaintance before now, or at least heard about her.

 Grace nodded. Full of piss-and-vinegar moments before, she looked tired now, and that did something to Slater, although he couldn’t have said exactly what that something was. “It’s a beautiful place,” she said. “Quite a change from Seattle.” She stopped, looking uncomfortable, maybe thinking she’d said too much.



Slater wanted to ask about the ex-husband, but the time obviously wasn’t right. He waited, sensing that she might say more, despite the misgivings she’d just revealed by clamming up.



Sure enough, she went on. “I’m afraid it’s been quite a change for Ryder, too.” Another pause. “His dad’s military, and he’s overseas. It’s been hard on him—Ryder, I mean.”



Slater sympathized. The kid’s father was out of the country, he’d moved from a big city in one state to a small town in another, and on top of that, he was fourteen, which was rough in and of itself. When Slater was that age, he’d grown eight inches in a single summer and simultaneously developed a consuming interest in girls, without having a clue what to say to them. Oh, yeah.


He remembered awkward.



He realized Grace’s hand was still in his. He let go, albeit reluctantly.



Then, suddenly, he felt as tongue-tied as he ever had at fourteen. “My family’s been on this ranch for generations,” he heard himself say. “So I can’t say I know what it would be like having to start over someplace new.” Shut up, man. He couldn’t seem to follow his own advice. “I travel a lot, and I’m always glad to get back to Mustang Creek.”



Grace turned to Ryder, sighed, then looked back at Slater. “We’ve taken up enough of your time, Mr. Carson.”



Mr. Carson?



“I’ll walk you out,” he said, still flustered and still trying to shake it off. Ordinarily, he was the proverbial man of few words, but tonight, in the presence of this woman, he was a babbling idiot. “This place is like a maze. I took over my father’s office because of the view, but it’s clear at the back of the house and—“



Had the woman asked for any of this information?






What the hell was the matter with him, anyway?



Grace didn’t comment. The boy was already on the move, and she simply followed, which shot holes in Slater’s theory about their ability to find their way to an exit without his guidance. He gave an internal shrug and walked behind Grace, enjoying the gentle sway of her hips.



For some reason he wasn’t a damn bit tired anymore.




          Having been a police officer, Grace had plenty of experience dealing with men. In law enforcement, still a male-dominated field even though women were finally making inroads, overexposure to testosterone was inevitable. She’d come to terms with the effect her appearance had on the male gender, not out of vanity, but because she was practical to the bone.

 She wouldn’t have described herself as beautiful; she got an instant update on her imperfections every time she consulted a mirror. She knew her mouth was a shade too wide. Her nose tilted up just a little, giving her an air of perkiness that was wholly unfounded, and she couldn’t have gotten a tan in the middle of a desert. Her eyes were an almost startling shade of blue—she’d been accused of wearing colored contacts—and she didn’t even want to discuss the hair. Just call her Carrot-Top.



It was ridiculously curly unless she wore it long, and the stuff could go clown-crazy if the humidity was high. Thankfully, Wyoming was drier than Seattle, so she didn’t have to fight it quite as much now. The color was impossible to change, although she’d tried highlights and different treatments, but nature won out every time, so now she let it go its own way.



Slater Carson hadn’t been turned off.



Quite the opposite, in fact.



Grace wasn’t sure how she felt about her own reaction. Yes, she was jaded about men, but something was different this time.


She was—okay, she could admit it—sort of flattered.



Recalling the slow, gliding assessment of those sexy blue eyes as they moved over her, she got a definite buzz. And Slater Carson wasn’t hard to look at, either, with all that dark, wavy hair, a day’s beard growing in and a lean, wiry build that said cowboy. He moved like one, too, with long, slow strides, and when he smiled at her as he held the back door open to a starry Wyoming night, there was an easy curve to his mouth, the hint of a grin, not in the least boyish, but confident, amusing, knowing.



The message had been clear; he wouldn’t mind if they met again.



Well, Grace thought, Mustang Creek was a small town, where everybody seemed to know everybody else, so they were bound to run into each other at some point.



If he expected more than a polite nod and a “howdy,” though, he’d be disappointed.



Grace distrusted men like Slater—too good-looking, too privileged, too used to getting whatever and whoever they wanted.


Yep, the illustrious Mr. Carson reminded her a little too much of her ex-husband, exuding confidence the way he did, certain of his success, of his place in the world.



No, thanks, Grace had been down that road before, and after all the excitement and the heady passion and the dazzle, she’d run smack into a dead end. In some ways, she was still reeling from the impact.



Feeling resolute, she got into her vehicle, which she’d parked in the well-lit driveway alongside the Carson mansion, and slammed her door, waiting for Ryder to stop dawdling and plunk himself down in the passenger seat.



This wasn’t how she’d planned to spend her evening. Her vision had included downloading a movie, munching popcorn, generally vegging out on the couch with her bare feet propped up, wearing shorty pajamas and face cream.



Grace had had a long day at the resort; she’d dealt with a faulty air-conditioning unit and repairmen who couldn’t seem to agree on what was wrong, a chronically late employee who was wonderful when he actually got there, by which time the rest of the staff was thoroughly and justifiably annoyed, plus guest complaints about the lap pool that ranged from too hot to too cool. Among other things.



Coming home to find Ryder about to nail a newly acquired and obviously expensive metal sign to one wall of his bedroom had immediately thrown her evening plans for a loop. Immediately suspicious, Grace had questioned the boy.



Never a good liar, he’d confessed.



Grace had figuratively grabbed the kid by one ear and dragged him to the Carson house.



Now he hauled open the door on his side and got in.



“I’m sorry,” Ryder said. He didn’t really sound sorry, and he didn’t look at her, but sat staring out the windshield instead. His tone was stubborn, and the set of his mouth underscored his attitude.



Grace sighed inwardly.



Ryder was a good kid, and Slater Carson had been right earlier, when he’d said everybody made bad decisions now and then.


“You know better.”



“It just—“



She raised a hand to indicate she wanted him to stop. Now. “There’s no excuse I care to hear. You stole something and we returned it.”



Grace started the car, flipped on the headlights and turned around to head back down the driveway.



Ryder was quiet for a few minutes. They reached the county highway, which was practically deserted at that time of night, and since both the ranch and the resort were well outside town, they didn’t pass many cars.



Eventually, Ryder said, “He liked you.”



Fourteen and he’d picked up on that, Grace reflected with rueful amusement, but he still couldn’t pick up his underwear.



He liked you.



There was liking a woman, and there was wanting to go to bed with her. Grace was not inclined to explain the difference to a fourteen-year-old.



So she said briskly, “He doesn’t know me.”



“He thought you were pretty.”



There were times when she wished Ryder would talk to her more, and times, like now, when she wished he wouldn’t. “I think it’s just possible that he’s prettier than I am.”



That made Ryder crack up. “At least he tried to be subtle. He didn’t, like, stare at your—“



He stopped abruptly, and Grace figured he’d be blushing right about now over what he’d almost said, so she cut the kid a break and kept her gaze on the road. “Mr. Carson was very polite,” she conceded. “How’s the science project coming along?”



Ryder jumped on the sudden change of subject, even if school wasn’t one of his favorites. “Okay, actually. Turns out my partner isn’t as geeky as he looks.” He was quiet for a moment, then he went on. “I was wondering if he might come over to our place and hang out sometime. That okay?”



Grace felt a rush of relief. She’d been waiting for Ryder to stop rebelling against the move to Mustang Creek and make some friends, hoping and praying he would.



She was in over her head with this parenting thing.



And she didn’t seem to be getting any better at it.



A few months back Grace’s former father-in-law had called her one day, out of the blue. Haltingly, he’d explained that with his wife so ill, they couldn’t handle their grandson on their own. They hated to ask, but since Hank was overseas and all, they didn’t have anyone else to turn to.



Hank, Grace’s ex and Ryder’s father, made a career of being unavailable, in her opinion, but of course she didn’t say that.



She’d had no idea what to say, under the circumstances. Ryder’s mother was remarried, with a whole new family, and for reasons Grace still didn’t understand, the woman had never shown much interest in her firstborn, anyway. When she and Hank were divorced, she’d handed Ryder over without a quibble, not even asking for visitation rights.



The woman couldn’t be bothered to send her son a birthday card, never mind calling to see how he was doing or firing off the occasional text to keep in touch.



The whole scenario made Grace furious on Ryder’s behalf, and it didn’t help that Hank was so emotionally distant, absolutely caught up in his military career



In that respect, she and Ryder had been adrift in the same boat, but Grace had had options at least. She could divorce Hank—which she had—and move on. His son didn’t have that choice.



So she’d said yes, Ryder could stay with her until Hank’s current deployment ended, and here they were in Mustang Creek, Wyoming, stuck with each other, both of them struggling to adjust to major changes.



Grace brought herself back to the present “I think it would be great if your friend came over sometime. I could order you guys a pizza, how’s that?”



Ryder nodded. “As long as it isn’t like the ones they have at the spa, with goat cheese and whatever those green things are. I tried to like the stuff, Grace, but no way.”



“Artichoke hearts,” she supplied helpfully. “How about plain old pepperoni?”



Ryder grinned. “That would be great,” he said.



“Okay, you’re on. I just need your word that you’ll stay out of trouble for five minutes.” She feigned a narrow glare. “I didn’t


like facing Mr. Carson with what you’d done any more than you did, buddy.”



Ryder’s grin broadened. “Maybe not,” he agreed, “but I think he sorta enjoyed it.”


Once a Rancher by Linda Lael Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once a Rancher by Linda Lael Miller is a 2016 HQN Books publication.

I love this author, but I am always incessantly behind with her series, so when I saw this one and noticed it was the first one in a new series, I didn’t hesitate.

The ‘Carsons of Mustang Creek’ is centered around the Carson brothers on their Wyoming ranch. The oldest brother, Slater, is a historical documentary filmmaker, with a young daughter, named Daisy. He’s single, not really looking for love, but when he meets Grace, he finds he is missing something in his life, and didn’t know it until now.

Grace is a former cop, now in the hospitality business, and raising her teenage stepson, Ryder, despite being divorced from his father. After the failure of her first marriage, Grace is not looking to make a repeat mistake. But, Slater Carson has her considering a second chance at love.

As with many ‘first in a series’ novels, I had a little trouble getting into the story at first. But, once all the characters were introduced, and the lay of the land was mapped out, the story picked up speed, which is a good thing, except it felt like we went from a slow trot to a full blown gallop, in nothing flat.

I did enjoy this story, though, and should explain that although this is pretty much a standard contemporary western romance, it also has some romantic suspense elements mixed in, as well.

When Grace catches an employee engaging in illegal activities, she must terminate him, but he's not leaving without a little payback, which awakens Slater's protective instincts.

I couldn’t help but laugh as poor Grace was literally swept off her feet, caught up a true whirlwind romance. Slater is a cool guy, not a game player, is honest, straightforward, and stable. He showed Grace how a real man behaves, and proved he is a good father, and will be a positive influence on Ryder, who really needed a steady male presence in his life.

Things do seem to happen very quickly between Slater and Grace, and although Grace fights against the inevitable, she runs out of steam pretty fast. It was so funny watching the Carsons help Slater wear her down, and put her fears to rest, too.

I loved the tight knit family atmosphere in this one and the way they all work together, and support each other. I really liked Slater, who is strong, has a dominant personality, but is not a jerk!! He may move at warp speed, but he treats Grace with respect and understands the challenges she faces and her reluctance to move too quickly, even though he hates cooling his heels or having to step back and let her handle things her way, in her own time.

By contrast, Grace is very special, especially towards Ryder. She doesn’t always like being nudged along by Slater or his family, but she grows to love them and accept them just the way they are, while still maintaining her strong independent personality.

Slater and Grace have a different approach to life’s curveballs, but, they complimented each other nicely.

Ryder’s story is sad, but he has found a nice landing spot, and is better off now than he ever could have thought possible, which really warmed my heart.

I think the Carson family series has gotten off to a pretty good start and Miller’s fans will probably like this one. I’m looking forward to Drake’s story in the upcoming ‘Always a Cowboy.”




He's the middle of the three Carson brothers and is as stubborn as they come—and he won't thank a beautiful stranger for getting in his way!

Drake Carson is the quintessential cowboy. In charge of the family ranch, he knows the realities of this life, its pleasures and heartbreaks. Lately, managing the wild stallions on his property is wearing him down. When an interfering so-called expert arrives and starts offering her opinion, Drake is wary, but he can't deny the longing—and the challenge—she stirs in him.

Luce Hale is researching how wild horses interact with ranch animals—and with ranchers. The Carson matriarch invites her to stay with the family, which guarantees frequent encounters with Drake, her ruggedly handsome and decidedly unwelcoming son. Luce and Drake are at odds from the very beginning, especially when it comes to the rogue stallion who's stealing the ranch mares. But when Drake believes Luce is in danger, that changes everything—for both of them.




 In January of 2006, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Linda Lael Miller left the Arizona horse property she's called home for the past five years and listened to the call of her heart. Packing up her work-in-progress for HQN Books; her dogs, Sadie and Bernice, and her four horses, the author of more than 70 novels bid farewell to her home in the desert and returned to the place of her birth, Spokane, Washington.
The daughter of a town marshal, Linda grew up in Northport, WA, a community of 500 on the Columbia River, 120 miles north of Spokane. Her childhood remembrances include riding horses and playing cowgirl on her grandparents' nearby farm. Her grandparents' spread was so rustic that in the early days it lacked electricity and running water.

As delightful as this childhood was, Linda longed to see the world. After graduating as valedictorian of her high school class, she left to pursue her dream. Because of the success of her author career, Linda was able to live part-time in London for several years, spend time in Italy and travel to such far-off destinations as Russia, Hong Kong and Israel. Now, Linda says, the wanderlust is (mostly) out of her blood, and she's come full circle, back to the people and the places she knows and loves.

Before Linda begins her writing day, she takes her first cup of coffee while enjoying the scenic view of the wooded draw behind her new home. The first morning there, a snowfall blanketed the pine trees, something she had missed in the desert outside Scottsdale. Still enamored with the people she came to love in Arizona, she says she will still set books in that starkly beautiful area, and, of course, in other stories the action will take place in Washington.

Devoted to helping others pursue their dreams, the author will launch her sixth round of Linda Lael Miller Scholarships for Women in May of this year. A talented speaker, she donates all her speaking honoraria to her scholarship fund. The stipends are awarded to women who seek to better their lot in life through education.

It's no wonder the protagonists in Miller's novels are women her readers admire for their honor, courage, trustworthiness, valor and determination to succeed, despite overwhelming odds. 'These qualities make them excellent role models for young women,' Miller explains. 'The male leads possess equally noble traits that today's woman would be delighted to find in her life's mate.'

The author traces the birth of her writing career to the day when a Northport teacher told her that the stories she was writing were good, that she just might have a future in writing. Later, when she decided to write novels, she endured her share of rejection before she made her first sale.

Although Linda has written successfully in other genres, she is best known for stories set in the West'stories like McKETTRICK'S CHOICE (HQN Books March 2006 paperback); THE MAN FROM STONE CREEK (HQN, June 2006 hardcover) and that very first novel, FLETCHER'S WOMAN, which is being reissued in 2006. Her stories, set in yesterday's world, and today's, are historical romances, romantic thrillers, and other contemporary tales. They consistently score on prestigious national bestseller lists.

Linda has come a long way since leaving her sheltered life in Northport at age 18 to experience the world. 'Growing up in that time and place, in a family grounded in Western values, served me well,' she allows. 'And I'm happy to be back home.'