2020 Book #60 – Here to Stay by Adriana Herrera

Title: Here to Stay
Author: Adriana Herrera
Date finished: 8/28/20
Genre: Contemporary romance
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Pages in book: 393
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Where I got the book from: NetGalley
NOTE: I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

Starting over is more about who you’re with than where you live…

Julia del Mar Ortiz is not having the best year.

She moved to Dallas with her boyfriend, who ended up ditching her and running back to New York after only a few weeks. Left with a massive—by NYC standards, anyway—apartment and a car lease in the scorching Texas heat, Julia is struggling…except that’s not completely true. Running the charitable foundation of one of the most iconic high fashion department stores in the world is serious #lifegoals.

It’s more than enough to make her want to stick it out down South.

The only monkey wrench in Julia’s plans is the blue-eyed, smart-mouthed consultant the store hired to take them public. Fellow New Yorker Rocco Quinn’s first order of business? Putting Julia’s job on the chopping block.

When Julia is tasked with making sure Rocco sees how valuable the programs she runs are, she’s caught between a rock and a very hard set of abs. Because Rocco Quinn is almost impossible to hate—and even harder to resist.

My rating:  3.75 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.

I haven’t read anything by this author before, but I’ve heard a lot about her books on a couple of the podcasts I listen to and I’ve been wanting lately to read one. I liked the description on this book a lot and was excited to read it. I liked it a good amount. The hero and heroine were so passionate and lively and it really made for an interesting read. I can see why her books are so popular because even beyond the normal romance plot line there were some important issues that this book dealt with: immigration and emotional abuse being the major ones. I loved hearing about the after-school programs Julia had organized and all the information about her background and her education. She was fiercely successful and it was so great to see such a strong female character in a romance novel. Julia and Rocco also had just the most adorable nicknames and it made me melt. Some of the plot was a tad off-putting for me because the main conflict was somewhat the result of communication issues – which isn’t my favorite. Other than that though it was a really enjoyable read and I’d recommend it!

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

Here to Stay BLOG TOUR!!

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Here to Stay was released today!! (August 25th), and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! I’m still finishing up my read but so far I am really loving this book! See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt:

SUMMARY

Starting over is more about who you’re with than where you live…

Julia del Mar Ortiz is not having the best year. 

She moved to Dallas with her boyfriend, who ended up ditching her and running back to New York after only a few weeks. Left with a massive—by NYC standards, anyway—apartment and a car lease in the scorching Texas heat, Julia is struggling…except that’s not completely true. Running the charitable foundation of one of the most iconic high fashion department stores in the world is serious #lifegoals. 

It’s more than enough to make her want to stick it out down South. 

The only monkey wrench in Julia’s plans is the blue-eyed, smart-mouthed consultant the store hired to take them public. Fellow New Yorker Rocco Quinn’s first order of business? Putting Julia’s job on the chopping block. 

When Julia is tasked with making sure Rocco sees how valuable the programs she runs are, she’s caught between a rock and a very hard set of abs. Because Rocco Quinn is almost impossible to hate—and even harder to resist.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

4-AuthorPhoto_AdrianaHerrera

Adriana was born and raised in the Caribbean, but for the last fifteen years has let her job (and her spouse) take her all over the world. She loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people, getting unapologetic happy endings.

When she’s not dreaming up love stories, planning logistically complex vacations with her family or hunting for discount Broadway tickets, she’s a trauma therapist in New York City, working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Her Dreamers series has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and has been featured in The TODAY Show on NBC, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Library Journal and The Washington Post. Her debut, American Dreamer, was selected as one of Booklist’s ‘Best Romance Debuts of 2019’, and one of the ‘Top 10 Romances of 2019’ by Entertainment Weekly. Her third novel, American Love Story, was one of the winners in the first annual Ripped Bodice Award for Excellence in Romantic Fiction. Adriana is an outspoken advocate for diversity in romance and has written for Remezcla and Bustle about Own Voices in the genre. She’s one of the co-creators of the Queer Romance PoC Collective. Represented by Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary.

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EXCERPT

Julia

I stepped into the elevator and shoved my phone into the pocket of my dress, took a moment to send a prayer to the employee discount that let me buy bomb clothes on a nonprofit worker budget, and did some mental math of what could be going on.

Was the program really in trouble? Could we actually get shut down?

Nope, I would not go there. I would not think about what it would be like to get on a plane back to New York dumped and unemployed. Not happening.

A distraction. That’s what I needed. Just as the door to the elevator was about to close, someone got in. The fact that I was eye level with the base of his throat was a good clue as to who it was, but when he opened his mouth and the now familiar knee-weakening baritone echoed off the walls of the elevator, I got my confirmation.

“Morning, Ms. Ortiz.” That voice could be used for interrogation tactics. Every muscle in my body loosened at the same time whenever I heard it.

I squeaked out a “Morning” and took my time lifting my head all the way up to look at the last person in the world I wanted overhearing my conversation with my mother.

Him.

Rocco Fucking Quinn, otherwise known as the “Team Leader” for the consulting firm looking to bag my job. The guy with the New York City-est name on the planet. I hadn’t exactly gotten personal with Mr. Quinn, but I picked up on that accent the first time we met.

“What’s good?” I really tried to sound polite, but my Queens jumped out in situations like this. I did not gulp, because I could not let this fucker see me sweat. I managed not to cut my eyes at him, but it was a close call.

I took him in, ramrod straight, every hair in its place, not a wrinkle in sight, and decided he could not be the proprietor of the laugh-choke from before. The man seemed to be completely lacking a sense of humor. I knew he must have teeth but I’d never seen them.

Yeah, definitely not him. That fact rallied my spirits a little bit as I stood close enough to pick up on how he smelled. Like the ocean and something woodsy. That was not helpful information.

Without saying another word, I ran my eyes over him. It struck me that he was not wearing something bespoke like pretty much everyone here. Don’t get me wrong, he still looked good enough to eat, but he was clearly on a budget. And at a place where everyone looked like they were heading to a New York Fashion Week photo shoot, it was sort of jarring. Still, the suit fit him well. And there was no question, this guy could wear the fuck out of a suit. I held back a whimper when I envisioned him in a Brioni or a Zegna. They’d have to put out a heat advisory for the building if that ever happened.

“I thought I could detect a familiar accent when I was coming down the hall.” His perfectly blue eyes twinkled at what I was certain was an expression of utter mortification on my face. He sounded pleasant enough, but he was also alluding to the fact that I was yapping on my phone. This wasn’t the first time he tried to be cute. Rocco Quinn seemed to like fucking with me. And it was only a matter of time before he stepped on my last nerve and I reamed him out.

Thankfully, just as I was scrambling to respond to his comment, the elevator got to my floor. I was planning to just leave him hanging and run off, but he was hot on my heels.

Dammit.

“Sounds like your mom misses you.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Why did he have to act all fake nice?

I nodded without looking at him. “She does. Listen, Mr. Quinn—”

“You can call me Rocco.”

Nope, that was not happening. I was not letting this sexy bastard talk me into getting all chummy with him. I was already on thin ice as it was. He could keep his pheromones and his slick-as-fuck expressions to his damn self. I came to a dead stop a few feet away from the conference room door where my boss—and whatever shitty news she was about to give me—was waiting.

When I turned around, Rocco was looking down at me with an expectant smile. God he was handsome, that jet-black hair so dark it almost had a tinge of blue and those eyes, piercing. And I guess he had teeth after all, and of course they were perfect. Asshole. I shook my head hard when my traitorous brain started wondering what Pantone color his eyes would be.

Get your head in the game, Julia del Mar.

I straightened my back, determined to fight off the debilitating effects of those gleaming teeth and perfectly pink lips. I had to remember this niceness was probably his way of getting us to let our guard down. He was here to find ways to cut jobs. I was not about to mouth off and get myself fired, but I needed to get some things clear.

“Look.” I was proud of myself for not rolling my neck or pointing at his face. “I know you’re trying to be nice, but you make me nervous.” I pulled on the hem of my blue polka-dot dress and smoothed my yellow cardigan, avoiding eye contact at all costs.

“Why do I make you nervous?”

Uh, maybe because you’re here to close down as much of the foundation as you can.

I refrained from actually saying that because I had not been raised by a Puerto Rican man and Dominican woman just so I could act like I had no home training with the guy who could get me fired. But it was a close call.

“I’m sorry for saying that. You don’t make me nervous.”

Lies.

Rocco Quinn didn’t just make me nervous. He made me want to run my hands all over that big-ass body and moon over his almost but not quite curly hair and blue eyes, in spite of the fact that I knew he was out here gunning for my entire program. And yet, I still wanted to kiss the hell out of him while I climbed him like a sequoia.

Copyright © 2020 by Adriana Herrera

Incognito Ex BLOG TOUR!!

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Harlequin is featuring their category romance in an August 2020 series blog tour! Incognito Ex will be released August 1, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! I recently read this novel and while the plot didn’t appeal to me personally there was a lot to like about this novel and it is still a great example of a Harlequin series novel! See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt: 

Image_blog tour banner_August 2020 Summer Reads Blog Tour

SUMMARY

When she is targeted by a vicious mobster, a past love is her only hope.

When a Russian gangster targets Coral Staufer, she is desperate for help. Coral stumbles across an undercover agent none other than the man she loved and lost, Trevor Stone. Trevor will risk anything to stop her from becoming a mob casualty…even risk his career to protect Coral. But when their past love reignites, their entire mission—and very lives—are at stake.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author photo_Geri Krotow

Geri Krotow is a Naval Academy graduate and Navy veteran. She has traveled to and lived in many places abroad, including South America, Italy and Russia. Her family has finally settled down in Central Pennsylvannia but Geri still writes about all the places she’s been. An awardwinning author, Geri writes the Silver Valley PD for Harlequin Romantic Suspense

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EXCERPT

3D cover_INCOGNITO EX by Geri KrotowTrevor Stone never took his eye off the ball while undercover. Never. But as he fought to keep these thugs from harming Coral while processing the fact that he still had to get her out of here, he was distracted. The last several days, working alongside ROC gang members, he’d felt her nearby, as if the invisible thread that connected them had come alive again.

He’d known she lived here, knew this was the farm she’d inherited. He knew what one rogue ROC member had done to the barn last January and hadn’t been able to fight his protective instincts toward his ex, years after they split. He’d volunteered for the mission, stupidly thinking that he’d be able to ensure her safety while not coming into direct contact with her.

What he could never have predicted was how he’d react when face-to-face with Coral again.

His hands clenched painfully tight, and all he wanted was to throw Coral over his shoulder and run for the Appalachian Mountains that surrounded Silver Valley. Take her far from this night, to a place where ROC couldn’t touch her. And yes, away from seeing him again, especially like this.

The raw fact that she was about to be assassinated by one of the two lower-level ROC crooks was all that kept him focused. The complication that she’d just blown his cover, carefully cultivated over the past two years, was a sideshow. One he’d have to address, but later, after he got her out of here alive. When he was far from her, and knew she was safe.

“What did she call you? Who is Trevor?” Disbelief, suspicion, anger snaked across the ground as the two other men cried out, and he figured he had about two seconds to act.

“Stupid girl took a hit to her head.” He spoke as Grisha, the undercover identity he’d adopted to help the Trail Hikers, the secret government agency that he worked for, and his sole focus was to break up the ROC’s hold on the East Coast.

“I’m not a girl, and my head isn’t that messed up. It is you, isn’t it?” At least she’d lowered her voice. It wouldn’t be a surprise to her to know he was still doing undercover work. How could she forget? It had been the death knell of their marriage.

Coral’s initial appearance of frailty after the conk on her head had morphed into righteous anger. He didn’t blame her, but he couldn’t keep looking at her. Three long years without one glance at her, without her eyes on him, without the sound of her voice, threatened to destroy any focus he had left.

He gave himself a quick mental shake. If she didn’t get them killed with her words, he was going to blow it with his inability to block out the distraction that was Coral.

“We have to get out of here.” He addressed the other two men, both young and not the brightest, working for Ivanov, the ROC head honcho. “The cops are com-ing. You two take off. I’ll meet up later. I’ll take care of her, trust me.” He nodded at the road, and the two men craned their necks to verify his claim. The sirens screamed in the night, and he saw the flashing lights move down the highway in the distance. He took the opportunity to lift Coral from her bent position and pulled her up against him, his arm raised as if he was going to strike her.

“Don’t talk. Follow my lead. And don’t say my name again.” He murmured into her ear, his lips against her skin out of necessity. He couldn’t risk the others hearing him. “Now yell when I move my arm, like I’ve hit you.”

Coral’s strangled gasp nearly threw him out of his reality as an undercover agent posing as a working ROC stiff. Her voice tried to drag his mind back to hazy, hot California days when they’d spent all day in bed, getting up only to eat. It wasn’t fair that a single sound from her still did this to him. That the sur-real connection they shared hadn’t perished with their marriage.

“Kill her now, Grish.” Adam was pissed, in pain from the gunshot wound, and wanted Trevor to prove he wasn’t Trevor, that Coral really was suffering from a severe head trauma. ROC agents weren’t high on trust, and Trevor, as Grisha, was new to their local group.

“It’d be stupid to do it here. She’s easier to move while she can still walk. Let me take care of her, then I’ll come back for you both. Stay low, don’t use your flashlights. The police will stop at the farmhouse first. We’ve got time.” He wrapped his arm around Coral’s waist—she was thinner, but still steely strong—and half dragged, half ran with her to where he’d seen her car earlier in the day, when he’d made his own excursion out here.

Self-recrimination threatened to stop him in his tracks as he knew he should have made doubly sure she wouldn’t be on the property when ROC came looking for Markova’s treasure. But he’d run out of time to verify his source who’d told him she’d be out tonight. Even with her being here, he’d never have expected she’d catch them—usually his ROC associates were somewhat competent. Unlike these two.

Thank God for inept thugs.

When they were what he estimated was halfway to her car, he pulled out his pistol and held her tight with his other arm. “Hang on. I’m going to shoot at the ground, to let them think it’s you.” He quickly fired two shots at the dirt, making sure the bullets had nothing to bounce off, making it sound like he’d just eliminated a witness.

The sirens were close, and he saw the patrols turn into the long drive leading to the barn area.

“What are you doing here, Trevor?” Her voice shook, but he couldn’t tell if it was shock or anger. Probably both.

“I’ll explain later. Right now we can’t be seen by anyone.”

“But that’s the police—I called them.”

“I can’t be spotted, and for now you’re with me.” He had no way of knowing which officers were re-porting, and he couldn’t risk being taken into custody. Only two SVPD officers were cut in on his deep undercover work.

Now the woman on his arm was one more added to the list of people in the know. The woman he’d never forgotten, whom he’d still go through hell and damnation for. His ex-wife, Coral.

 

 

 

 

 

A Royal Kiss and Tell BLOG TOUR!!

A Royal Kiss and Tell was released last Tuesday (May 19th), and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! You can also see my review of the book here. See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt: 

SUMMARY

Every prince has his secrets. And she’s determined to unravel his…

Every young man in London’s ton is vying for Lady Caroline Hawke’s hand—except one. Handsome roué Prince Leopold of Alucia can’t quite remember Caroline’s name, and the insult is not to be tolerated. So Caroline does what any clever, resourceful lady of means would do to make sure Leo never again forgets: sees that scandalous morsels about his reputation are printed in a ladies’ gossip gazette…all while secretly setting her cap for the rakish royal.

Someone has been painting Leo as a blackguard, but who? Socially, it is ruining him. More important, it jeopardizes his investigation into a contemptible scheme that reaches the highest levels of British government. Leo needs Lady Caroline’s help to regain access to society. But this charming prince is about to discover that enlisting the deceptively sweet and sexy Lady Caroline might just cost him his heart, his soul and both their reputations…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janna MacGregor_Photo credit Hilary Hope Photography

Julia London is a NYT, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of historical and contemporary romance. She is a six-time finalist for the RITA Award of excellence in romantic fiction, and the recipient of RT Bookclub’s Best Historical Novel.

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EXCERPT

Since the day of Eliza’s betrothal to Prince Sebastian, Caroline had also assumed, quite incorrectly, that she would be the principal bridesmaid. After all, she and Eliza and Hollis had been entwined in one another’s lives since they were very little girls.

“I am content with flower girls, honestly,” Eliza said. “I’d be content with a very simple affair. I was content with the civil ceremony. But Queen Daria prefers otherwise.”

“Naturally, she does. This is the wedding where you will be seen by all the people you will rule one day.”

Eliza snorted. “I will not rule, Caroline. I’ll be fortunate if I can find my husband in this massive place.” She’d gestured to the decorative walls around them. It was not an exaggeration—Constantine Palace appeared to be bigger than even Buckingham.

“Let me be the maid of honor,” Caroline had begged her. “I am much better equipped to see to your train than Hollis is.”

“I beg your pardon! I am her sister,” Hollis reminded Caroline.

“The train is thirty feet, Hollis. How will you ever manage? You’ve scarcely managed your own train since we’ve been in Alucia. And my gown should be seen. I spared no expense for it.”

Eliza and Hollis looked at Caroline.

“I mean, of course, after your gown is seen.”

The sisters continued to stare at her. Caroline shrugged a very tiny bit. “Obviously,” she added.

“I rather thought that’s what you meant,” Eliza said charitably. The three of them had gleefully adopted the Alucian style of dress since arriving a month ago in Helenamar. The English style of dress—full skirts, high necks and long sleeves—was hot and heavy. They’d admired the beautiful Alucian gowns that fit the curves of a woman’s body, with the long flowing sleeves, and, most of all, the elaborately embroidered trains…until they discovered that the unusually long trains were a bit of a bother to wear.

“I will manage,” Hollis had insisted. “No one has come to this wedding to see your gown, Caro.”

“Well, obviously, Hollis, they haven’t. But they will be delighted all the same, won’t they? And by the bye, there’s no law that says the attendant of honor must be one’s sister.”

“There is no law, but she is my sister and she will be the attendant of honor,” Eliza said. “And besides, if you were to stand with me, I’d fret the entire ceremony that you were too enthralled with Leo to even notice my train.” She’d arched a golden brow directly at Caroline.

As if Caroline had done something wrong.

She most certainly had not. “Leo? Is that what we’re calling him now?” she drawled. Leo was Prince Sebastian’s younger brother. His Royal Highness Prince Leopold.

Prince Leopold, as everyone knew, had spent the last several years in England, “attending” Cambridge, which meant, in reality, that he spent more time at soirees and gentlemen’s clubs and hunting lodges than studying. Caroline had encountered him last summer in Chichester at a country house party. They’d engaged in a charming little exchange that Caroline recalled perfectly, word for word. Prince Leopold, on the other hand, remembered it not at all. Worse, he didn’t seem to remember her.

The archbishop’s voice suddenly rose into a chant of some sort, drawing Caroline’s attention back to the ceremony. Oh dear, she was thinking about Prince Leopold again when she should be watching her best friend marry a prince. At that moment, Eliza slipped her hand into Prince Sebastian’s hand and held on tightly as the archbishop asked her to repeat after him in English. To love, to honor, to protect and defend.

So romantic.

Caroline glanced to her right. She was seated next to her brother, the baron Beckett Hawke. He was older than her by half a dozen years and had been her guardian since she was eight and he was fourteen. She leaned against him.

“Isn’t she lovely?” she whispered.

Ssh.”

“I think she is lovelier than even Queen Victoria on her wedding day,” Caroline whispered. “Her gown is beautiful. It was my idea to use the gold and silver thread on the train.”

Beck pretended not to have heard a word.

“Do you know, I think I could have made that train.” Her brother put his hand on Caroline’s knee and squeezed as he turned his pale green eyes to hers. He frowned darkly.

Caroline pushed his hand away and glanced around her. It was massive, this Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Painted ceilings soared overhead with visions of angels and other godly images. All the fixtures were gold plated, particularly the pulpit, which looked more like a monument than a stand for the Bible. There was so much stained glass that the morning light fractured across Eliza’s long train, turning it into a moving rainbow as sunlight shimmered through the panes.

Every seat in the massive cathedral was taken, filled with beautiful people of varying skin tones and colorful costumes and glittering jewels. They had come far and wide, Caroline understood, from countries she’d never even heard of.

In a cove above the altar, a choir of young men and boys sang the hymns that had accompanied Eliza down the center aisle to meet her prince. It had sounded as if the heavens had parted and the angels were singing for this bride.

The ceremony, almost an hour of it now, was filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance. Caroline wasn’t entirely certain what was happening, as the ceremony was conducted in Latin and Alucian and, for the parts Eliza had to say, in English. It seemed to her that Eliza and Sebastian were up and down quite a lot, one minute on their knees with their heads bowed, and standing the next, staring starry-eyed at each other. There was a somber moment when Eliza was directed down onto her knees alone. It looked as if she were knighted or anointed in some way, and when it was done, the archbishop put his hand to her head, the king and queen stood, and then Prince Sebastian lifted her up and pinned a gorgeous sapphire-and-gold brooch to her breast.

“She’s a real princess now,” Caroline whispered to Beck. Predictably, he ignored her.

Eliza looked like a princess, too, and Caroline wished Eliza’s father, Justice Tricklebank, could be here. Alas, his advanced age and blindness had made it impossible for him to attend. There had been a smaller, private ceremony in England—the first civil union—before Sebastian had returned to Alucia. That ceremony, which her father had attended, had been necessitated by the fact that Eliza and Sebastian could not seem to keep their hands from each other for as much as a few hours.

There was another civil union once Eliza had arrived in Alucia so there would be no question of impropriety, as the heat between Eliza and her prince had only grown. It was embarrassing, really.

But neither ceremony had been anything like this. This was a pageant, a feast for the eyes and hearts of romantics everywhere.

Caroline’s mind drifted, and she wondered if all these people would be at the ball tonight. She hoped so. She had a beautiful blue Alucian gown trimmed in gold that was astoundingly beautiful. She’d made the train herself. The ball would be her moment to shine…next to Eliza, of course.

Yesterday, Eliza had nervously counted out the heads of state that would attend the wedding and the ball and had turned a bit pale as the number mounted. Caroline’s pulse had leapt with delight.

“I can’t bear it!” Eliza had exclaimed, unnerved by the number of dignitaries, of the many kings and queens. “What if I say something wrong? You know how I am. Have you any idea how many gifts we’ve received? Am I to remember them all? I’ve never seen so many gold chalices and silver platters and fine porcelain in all my life! What if I trip? What if I spill something on my gown?”

“My advice, darling, is not to fill your plate to overflowing,” Hollis had said absently. She was bent over her paper, making notes for the periodical she published, the Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies. The twice-monthly gazette covered such topics as the latest fashions, domesticity and health advice, and—the most interesting part—the most tantalizing on-dits swirling about London’s high society.

Hollis could hardly keep up with the ravenous demand for society news now. She was planning to publish a gazette that would be twice the length of her normal offering with all the news of the royal wedding the moment she returned to London. She’d been busily dispatching letters to her manservant, Donovan, for safekeeping throughout the month they’d been in Alucia.

She was so preoccupied that her advice, while offered freely, was not offered with much thought, and Eliza took exception. “I beg your pardon! I’ve hardly eaten a thing since I’ve arrived in Alucia. At every meal the queen looks at me as if she disapproves of everything I do! I’m afraid to do anything, much less eat,” Eliza complained. “They’ll all be looking at me. They’ll be waiting for me to do something wrong, or speculating if I’m already carrying the heir. You cannot imagine how much interest there is in my ability to bear an heir.”

“Well, of course!” Caroline said cheerfully. “You’ll have to be a broodmare, darling, but after you’ve given them what they want, you may live in conjugal bliss for the rest of your days surrounded by wealth and privilege and many, many servants.”

“They won’t all be looking at you, Eliza. At least half the room will be looking at your handsome husband,” Hollis had said with a wink.

Caroline was once again jolted back into the present when the archbishop lifted a heavy jeweled chalice above the heads of Eliza and Prince Sebastian. Surely that meant they were nearly done? Prince Sebastian took Eliza’s hand, and they turned away from the archbishop, facing the guests with ridiculously happy grins on their faces. They were married!

Hollis turned, too, and even from where Caroline sat, she could see Hollis’s dark blue eyes shining with tears of joy. The guests rose to their feet as the prince and his bride began their procession away from the altar. Rose petals rained down on the couple and their guests from above. The little flower girls fluttered around behind Eliza like butterflies, flanking her train as they followed the couple down the aisle. Prince Leopold offered his arm to Hollis, and she beamed up at him. Caroline felt left out. Hollis and Eliza were near and dear to her heart, the closest thing to sisters she’d ever had, and she longed to be with them now.

Eliza and Prince Sebastian floated past Caroline and Beck without any acknowledgment of them. That was to be expected—the two of them looked absolutely besotted. They were so enthralled with each other, in fact, that Caroline fretted they’d walk into any one of the marble columns that lined their path.

Oh, but she was envious, filled to the very brim with envy. In England, she rarely gave marriage any thought except on those occasions Beck complained she ought to settle on someone, anyone, and relieve him of his duty. But he didn’t really mind his duty, his protestations notwithstanding. Caroline rather suspected he liked having her underfoot. So she flitted from one party to the next, happy to enjoy the attentions of the many gentlemen who crossed her path, happy with her freedom to do as she pleased.

But looking at Eliza, Caroline realized that she did indeed want one day to be in love with a man who would be as devoted to her as Prince Sebastian was to his bride. She wanted to feel everything Eliza was feeling, to understand just how that sort of love changed a person.

Prince Leopold and Hollis passed by Caroline and Beck. Hollis’s face was streaked with happy tears. Prince Leopold happened to look to the guests as they passed, a polite smile on his face. His gaze locked on Caroline’s—well, not locked, really, as much as it skimmed over her—but nevertheless, she smiled broadly. She began to lift a hand but was suddenly jostled with an elbow to her ribs. She jerked a wide-eyed gaze to her brother.

“Stop gawking,” he whispered. “You’ll snap your neck, craning it like that.”

Caroline haughtily touched a curl at her neck.

Beck turned his attention to the procession. The king and queen were passing them now. Beck leaned toward her and whispered, “He’s a prince, Caro, and you are just an English girl. You’re indulging in fairy tales again. I can see it plainly on your face.”

Just an English girl? She very much would have liked to kick Beck like she used to do when she was just a wee English girl. “Better to dream in fairy tales than not dream at all.”

Beck rolled his eyes. He stood dispassionately as the archbishop and his altar boys followed the king and queen.

Just an English girl, indeed.

Wild, Wild Rake BLOG TOUR!!

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Wild,Wild Rake was released last Tuesday (February 25th), and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! I’m hoping to have my review up soon, I’ve been reading it and have been really enjoying it! See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt: 

SUMMARY

Wild, Wild Rake, the next sweeping, emotional, witty, and sharp romance in the Cavensham Heiresses series from beloved author Janna MacGregor.

Her first marriage was an epic fail.

Lady Avalon Warwyk never did love her husband. Arrogant, selfish, and cruel, it’s a blessing when she’s widowed and left to raise her son all by herself. Finally, Avalon can live freely and do the work she loves: helping fallen women become businesswomen. She’s lived these past ten years with no desire to remarry—that is, until Mr. Devan Farris comes to town.

Can he convince her to take another chance at happily ever after?

Devan Farris—charming vicar, reputed rake, and the brother of Avalon’s son’s guardian—is reluctantly sent to town to keep tabs on Avalon and her son. Devan wishes he didn’t have to meddle in her affairs; he’s not one to trod on a woman’s independent nature and keen sense of convictions. But she’ll have nothing to do with a vicar with a wild reputation—even though he’s never given his heart and body to another. If only he could find a way to show Avalon who he really is on the inside—a good, true soul looking for its other half. But how can prove that he wants to love and care for her. . .until death do they part?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janna MacGregor_Photo credit Hilary Hope PhotographyJanna MacGregor was born and raised in the bootheel of Missouri. She is the author of the Cavensham Heiresses series, which begins with The Bad Luck Bride. Janna credits her darling mom for introducing her to the happily-ever-after world of romance novels. Janna writes stories where compelling and powerful heroines meet and fall in love with their equally matched heroes. She is the mother of triplets and lives in Kansas City with her very own dashing rogue, and two smug, but not surprisingly, perfect pugs.

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EXCERPT

Wild, Wild Rake_coverAvalon read the first line in the letter from her son’s guardian, Gavin Farris, the Earl of Larkton. By all appearances the words resembled something innocuous, purely designed to lull a person into thinking it contained real concern with a touch of whimsical affection.

My dearest lady, I do hope this finds you and your intrepid son well.

“Avalon, did you hear the news?” Seventeen, on the cusp of eighteen years of age, Avalon’s sister, Lady Sophia Cavensham, looked up from her embroidery and smiled. Her gaze darted to her friend Miss Penelope Rowley, the one and only niece of the wealthiest gentry landowner in the shire. Though she was two years older than Sophia, Penelope had become somewhat of a fixture at Warwyk Hall over the last six months since she’d moved to her aunt and uncle’s home. The two women were inseparable.

Penelope let out a dramatic sigh then collapsed in a swoon across the pink-and-gold brocade sofa. In the process, she kneed the table, upsetting the delicate pink china cup and saucer. “Oww.”

Avalon tried to ignore their chatter. The Earl of Larkton’s correspondence had increased in frequency over the last several months. The weekly letters were turning into biweekly posts. Each one wanted more and more control over the Warwyk estate and more decision-making control over her ten-year-old son, Thane Pearce, the Marquess of Warwyk. She doubled her concentration on the letter as she read the entire first paragraph.

The purpose of my correspondence is to inform you that I’ve appointed a new vicar for the village of Thistledown. The man comes with impeccable standing and experience. In addition, his educational training is second to none. He’s a protégé of Lord Bishop Marlowe.

“He’s extraordinary.” Sophia’s dreamlike whisper floated through the air like a dandelion seed.

“He’s . . . simply exquisite.” Penelope’s voice joined Sophia’s in a chorus of dazzled fascination.

My dear Marchioness, it’s my pleasure to announce that my brother—

Avalon swallowed the sudden onrush of bile that marched up her throat. It couldn’t be. Fate was not that hateful.

“Mr. Devan—” Sophia sighed.

“Farris.” Penelope finished the sentence and slowly drew her hand against her forehead as if saying his name caused her to faint.

“No. Not him.” Avalon murmured the words aloud. The sanctimonious prig had arrived to make her life a living hell. Avalon grimaced to keep from casting her accounts. Now she was just exaggerating like the girls. She wasn’t really physically sick, but the news could make a person ill. “When did he arrive in the village?”

Clueless as to how the news affected her older sister, Sophia scooted to the edge of the crimson-and-white striped club chair that sat adjacent to Avalon’s matching one. “Two days ago. Penelope and I just happened to be walking in front of the vicarage when we saw the Earl of Larkton’s coach arrive. The new vicar followed behind on horseback.”

Penelope nodded vigorously as if Sophia’s story needed affirmation.

Avalon wanted to roll her eyes. The two women “never just happen” to do anything. They orchestrated and connived everything from shopping to men. God save anyone who crossed their paths. If one of the girls took a shine to any of the ton’s marriageable men, then London’s finest would soon understand what it meant to be hunted.

As the girls continued their chatter, Avalon devoted her full attention to the rest of the letter. Better to finish the horrid task, then take a long walk through her gardens. Though it was January and bitterly cold outside, a brisk hour of exercise would help Avalon clear some of her unease at the news that Mr. Devan Farris had invaded her village.

I’ve considered your request that the young marquess continue his studies at home, but at the age of ten, his interests would best be served by attending Eton sooner rather than later. That’s where boys turn into men. Your suggestion that he attend Harrow won’t do. His father had insisted that I promise he attend Eton. However, since his Latin skills are somewhat lacking, I’ve decided to hire my brother, Mr. Farris, to tutor him in the subject.

Her blood simmered at the words. The earl’s declaration was nothing more than gilding the lily. Everyone within fifty miles of London knew that Devan Farris sought to marry an heiress. Until he found one, the fortune-hunting vicar thought to use her son’s marquisate to pay double for his services. Since her son’s estate paid for the vicar’s wages, Mr. Farris would receive another wage from the coffers for tutoring lessons.

But what really brought her blood to boil was that the smug vicar would be nosing into her business, and that wouldn’t do at all. She and only she ruled the parish with a fair and impartial hand. No one, including Devan Farris, would upset her world.

(Harlequin series) Her Homecoming Wish BLOG TOUR!!

Harlequin Series Spine Showcase

Harlequin is featuring their category romance in a February 2020 series blog tour! Her Homecoming Wish was released last week, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! I am hoping to have my review up later tonight or maybe tomorrow! See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt: 

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SUMMARY

“You’re all about following the rules now? Pity.”

Mackenzie Wallace hopes there’s still some bad boy lurking beneath single father Danny Adams’s upright exterior. Being the proverbial good girl left her brokenhearted and alone in the past. Now she’s back in town and wants excitement with her high school crush—not love. Dan knows their connection runs deep, despite Mackenzie’s protests. But will their new personas work together—especially when Dan’s secret is exposed?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

author photo_Jo McNally

Jo McNally lives in upstate New York with 100 pounds of dog and 200 pounds of husband – her slice of the bed is very small. When she’s not writing or reading romance novels (or clinging to the edge of the bed…), she can often be found on the back porch sipping wine with friends, listening to an eclectic playlist. If the weather is perfect, she might join her husband on the golf course, where she always feels far more competitive than her actual skill-level would suggest.

BUY IT HERE!

EXCERPT

518ELDuLjeLDan returned, thankfully ending the conversation. He handed her a glass, but it wasn’t beer.

“I thought you might want some water to hydrate yourself from all your…uh…activity.”

“In other words, you agree I’ve had enough beer tonight? You’re right—this is not a typical Friday night for me.” Remembering she was here to start a more fun-loving life, she lifted her chin. “At least it wasn’t before tonight.”

Owen leaned forward to make himself heard over the music. “Hey, Dan, you bike, right? A bunch of us are going to do the loop around the lake Sunday. Wanna join us?”

Mack’s eyes went wide. “Dan, you still have your motorcycle? I used to love the way that thing rumbled…”

Kiara’s eyebrows rose, and Mack realized she sounded gushy. But she hadn’t thought of Dan pulling up behind the liquor store on that dark red Harley of his in a long time. He’d been every teenage girl’s bad-boy dream—handsome, reckless and restless. She used to run to the back window when she heard him coming, just to watch him pull that helmet off and run his fingers through his hair, wearing those tight jeans.

Was it hot in here, or was it her memories that were heating her up right now? She gulped down the cold water, nearly emptying the glass in one pull. Dan was saying something. Oh, damn. Dan was talking and she wasn’t even listening…

“…think Owen’s referring to bicycles, not motorcycles.” He nodded toward Owen. “I’ve got Chloe this weekend, so I’ll have to pass.” His mouth slanted into a half grin as he turned back to Mack. “But yes, I still have the old Harley. It’s been in mothballs for a few years, but I can’t seem to part with that last vestige of my misspent youth.”

That bad boy might still be in there…

“You know, I’ve never been on a motorcycle. You should give me a ride sometime…”

Dan coughed and the others laughed. That wasn’t the kind of ride she’d meant, of course. Or was it? Rather than apologize, she just met his gaze and shrugged.

There was a spark of something in his eyes. Interest? He closed them and shook his head, as if chasing away whatever thoughts she’d put there.

 

2020 Book #9 – Witness Protection Widow by Debra Webb

51SmVhNgeJLTitle: Witness Protection Widow
Author: Debra Webb
Date finished: 2/1/20
Genre: Romantic suspense
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue
Publication Date: February 1, 2020
Pages in book: 256
Stand alone or series: Winchester, Tennessee Thriller book #5
Where I got the book from: Publisher
NOTE: I received this book for free from Harlequin in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

Can the witness protection program keep her identity secret?

After Allison James finally escapes her marriage to a monster, she becomes the star witness in the case against her deceased husband’s powerful crime family. Now it’s up to US Marshal Jaxson Stevens, Ali’s ex-boyfriend, to keep the WITSEC widow safe. But as the danger escalates and sparks fly, will Jax be able to help Ali escape her ruthless in-laws?

My rating:  3.25 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.

I’m reading this book in connection with Harlequin’s February blog tour series to highlight releases of their category romances. I used to read these category series romances a lot and I was glad to be able to read some more recent releases. Category romances are a great place to find a quick read and are true to the category they’re published in. Looking for some thrills? Read an Intrigue! And for an Intrigue this one was really good! Ali and Jax were both interesting and endearing characters. I especially liked Ali’s dog Bob, he was great! The ending was a little anti-climactic only because I kept thinking that something more awful was going to happen. Other than that it was a pretty good book – I was interested in the story line throughout and I wanted to find out what was going to happen.

Link to author’s website

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

(Harlequin series) Witness Protection Widow BLOG TOUR!!

Harlequin Series Spine ShowcaseHarlequin is featuring their category romance in a February 2020 series blog tour! Witness Protection Widow was released TODAY, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! I enjoyed the book – my review should follow shortly after this post! See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt: 

Intrigue_Banner_970x300

SUMMARY

Can the witness protection program keep her identity secret?

After Allison James finally escapes her marriage to a monster, she becomes the star witness in the case against her deceased husband’s powerful crime family. Now it’s up to US Marshal Jaxson Stevens, Ali’s ex-boyfriend, to keep the WITSEC widow safe. But as the danger escalates and sparks fly, will Jax be able to help Ali escape her ruthless in-laws?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

author photo_Debra WebbDEBRA WEBB is the award winning, USA Today bestselling author of more than 150 novels, including reader favorites the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency, and the Shades of Death series. With more than four million books sold in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to her childhood on a farm in Alabama. Visit Debra at www.DebraWebb.com

BUY IT HERE!

EXCERPT

51SmVhNgeJLShe shivered. The fire had gone out. She kept on her jacket while she added logs to the fireplace and kindling to get it started. Within a couple of minutes, the fire was going. She’d had a fireplace as a kid, so relearning her way around this one hadn’t been so bad. She went back to the kitchen and turned on the kettle for tea.

Bob growled low in his throat and stared toward the front door.

She froze. Her phone was in her hip pocket. Her gun was still in her waistband at the small of her back. This was something else Marshal Holloway had in­sisted upon. He’d taught her how to use a handgun. They’d held many target practices right behind this cabin.

A creak beyond the front door warned that some­one was on the porch. She eased across the room and went to the special peephole that had been installed. There was one on each side of the cabin, allowing for views all the way around. A man stood on the porch. He was the typical local cowboy. Jeans and boots. Hat in his hands. Big truck in the drive. Just like Marshal Holloway.

But she did not know this man.

“Alice Stewart, if you’re in there, it’s okay for you to open the door. I’m Sheriff Colt Tanner. Branch sent me.”

Her heart thudding, she held perfectly still. Branch would never send someone to her without letting her know first. If for some reason he couldn’t tell her in advance, they had a protocol for these situations.

She reached back, fingers curled about the butt of her weapon. Bob moved stealthily toward the door.

“I know you’re concerned about opening the door to a stranger, but you need to trust me. Branch has been in an accident, and he’s in the hospital undergoing surgery right now. No matter that his injuries were serious, he refused to go into surgery until he spoke to me and I assured him I would look after you, ma’am.”

Worry joined the mixture of fear and dread churn­ing inside her. She hoped Branch wasn’t hurt too badly. He had a wife and a daughter.

She opened her mouth to ask about his condition, but then she snapped it shut. The man at her door had not said the code word.

2019 Book #77 – The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

41TLd3ldCPLTitle: The Widow of Rose House
Author: Diana Biller
Date finished: 10/13/19
Genre: Historical romance
Publisher: St. Martins’ Griffin
Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Pages in book: 346
Stand alone or series: This is actually Biller’s debut novel! We’ll have to wait to see if there will be a series
Where I got the book from: NetGalley
NOTE: I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

Blurb from the cover:

** A “MOST ANTICIPATED ROMANCE” of 2019 (BookPage) **

A young widow restores a dilapidated mansion with the assistance of a charming, eccentric genius, only to find the house is full of dangerous secrets in this effervescent Gilded Age romantic comedy debut

It’s 1875, and Alva Webster has perfected her stiff upper lip after three years of being pilloried in the presses of two continents over fleeing her abusive husband. Now his sudden death allows her to return to New York to make a fresh start, restoring Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion, and hopefully her reputation at the same time.

However, fresh starts aren’t as easy as they seem, as Alva discovers when stories of a haunting at Liefdehuis begin to reach her. But Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. So when the eccentric and brilliant professor Samuel Moore appears and informs her that he can get to the bottom of the mystery that surrounds Liefdehuis, she turns him down flat. She doesn’t need any more complications in her life—especially not a handsome, convention-flouting, scandal-raising one like Sam. Unfortunately, though Alva is loath to admit it, Sam, a pioneer in electric lighting and a member of the nationally-adored Moore family of scientists, is the only one who can help. Together, the two delve into the tragic secrets wreathing Alva’s new home while Sam attempts to unlock Alva’s history—and her heart.

Set during the Gilded Age in New York City, The Widow of Rose House is a gorgeous debut by Diana Biller, with a darkly Victorian Gothic flair and an intrepid and resilient American heroine guaranteed to delight readers.

My rating:  3.75 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. Also I’m reading this book as part of my October Bookish Bingo Reading Challenge, checking of the “set in a haunted house” box because (obviously) much of the book takes place in and centers around the haunted house.

I had read a sample of this book in the Buzz Books Romance collection and liked it. I also really love the cover, though the key that’s featured on it plays an important but much shorter role than I expected. I really enjoyed the book though – mostly because of Sam and his family. Sam was perfectly quirky, funny, and devoted to Alva. He was enchanting and every sort of endearing and I just loved his character. And his interactions with his equally quirky and endearing family were hilarious. Alva’s character was alright but some pieces of it just didn’t work for me personally for a couple reasons. The ghost story was pretty good in this book, I was sufficiently engaged in finding out the ending for it, but I did find that the romance side of the plot wasn’t as well developed as I thought the ghost side of the plot was. Overall though I really liked the book and I can’t wait to read more books by this author!

Link to author’s website

Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

The Widow of Rose House BLOG TOUR!!

41TLd3ldCPLThe Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller was released this past Tuesday, and to celebrate I am participating in a Blog Tour for the book! I’m hoping to have my review up tomorrow, I’ve been reading it for most of the day today and have been really enjoying it! See below for more information about the book, a short author bio, and an excerpt: 

SUMMARY

** A “MOST ANTICIPATED ROMANCE” of 2019 (BookPage) **

A young widow restores a dilapidated mansion with the assistance of a charming, eccentric genius, only to find the house is full of dangerous secrets in this effervescent Gilded Age romantic comedy debut

It’s 1875, and Alva Webster has perfected her stiff upper lip after three years of being pilloried in the presses of two continents over fleeing her abusive husband. Now his sudden death allows her to return to New York to make a fresh start, restoring Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion, and hopefully her reputation at the same time.

However, fresh starts aren’t as easy as they seem, as Alva discovers when stories of a haunting at Liefdehuis begin to reach her. But Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. So when the eccentric and brilliant professor Samuel Moore appears and informs her that he can get to the bottom of the mystery that surrounds Liefdehuis, she turns him down flat. She doesn’t need any more complications in her life—especially not a handsome, convention-flouting, scandal-raising one like Sam. Unfortunately, though Alva is loath to admit it, Sam, a pioneer in electric lighting and a member of the nationally-adored Moore family of scientists, is the only one who can help. Together, the two delve into the tragic secrets wreathing Alva’s new home while Sam attempts to unlock Alva’s history—and her heart.

Set during the Gilded Age in New York City, The Widow of Rose House is a gorgeous debut by Diana Biller, with a darkly Victorian Gothic flair and an intrepid and resilient American heroine guaranteed to delight readers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DIANA BILLER lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their very good dog. THE WIDOW OF ROSE HOUSE is her debut novel.

BUY IT HERE!

EXCERPT

New York City, February 1, 1875

Alva stood on the city sidewalk and sucked in a deep, triumphant gulp of air. The clock had just struck ten—the middle of the eve­ ning by New York City standards—and she was surrounded by elegantly dressed men escorting women dripping diamonds and rolled up tightly in furs. A few feet from her, the street was busy with carriages. She could smell the city: The damp fog, the sharp tang of refuse, the high floral notes of perfumed women. Horse dung.

Had she missed it? She wasn’t sure, although she knew she missed the steep, tangled streets of Montmartre already. But it was America that held her future now, even as it held her past. For a second her triumph was tempered by the remembrance of the thin envelope in her pocket, a few brief lines from her mother’s secretary, thanking her for her interest in visiting and regretting that Mrs. Rensselaer would be unable to see her. Alva knew her mother, likely even now sitting down to a stiff dinner with her husband and twelve of their closest friends fifty blocks away, did indeed feel regret. She just suspected it was about giv­ ing birth to her at all.

The restaurant door opened behind her, and, recalled to the moment, she signaled to the boy hailing cabs to find her one.

“Excuse me,” a deep voice said. “Mrs. Webster?”

Oh, for heavens sake. Couldn’t she stand outside for one min- ute without some intrepid lothario assuming she must be wait­ ing for him? In the less than seventy­two hours she’d been back in the States, she’d been propositioned eleven times. Twice by friends of her father’s.

She glanced over her shoulder at the man, receiving an in­ stant impression of big, though he stood mostly in the shadows. “I don’t know you,” she said, her voice flat. “Go home to your wife.”

“But I don’t have a wife,” the man said. He took a hesitant step towards her, leaving the shadows, and her eyebrows lifted. He looked more like a laborer than a man finishing a dinner at Delmonico’s, for all he was dressed in a suit and tie. Sort of dressed, she amended; the suit looked like it had been made for someone two inches shorter and two inches narrower across the shoulders. “Do I need a wife to talk to you? Is it a chaperone sort of thing? I have a mother, but she’s in Ohio.”

Alva blinked. “You’re not very good at this,” she observed. “I’m not a man, but I don’t think it’s standard behavior to invoke one’s mother at a time like this.”

They stared at each other in puzzlement. He was attrac­ tive in the sort of way she’d always imagined the heroes of west­ ern folktales to be: tall, broad shouldered, with a strong nose and a square jaw. He could stand to add barber to the list of people he needed to see, though, the one that started with tailor. Actually, looking at the way his dark blond hair fell into his eyes, she thought he’d better have it start with barber and go from there.

“There’s been a misunderstanding,” he said finally. “Perhaps if I introduce myself—my name is Professor Samuel Moore.”

He held out his hand. She looked at it, looked up at him, and did not extend her own. Bafflingly, he smiled at her, as though she’d done something rather clever.

Was he really a professor? He certainly didn’t look like one, not that it mattered, because she made it a policy, these days, never to talk to strange men—

“A professor of what?” she heard herself saying, although she was pleased it at least came out with a nice air of sarcasm and disbelief.

“This and that,” he said, still smiling. “Engineering, mostly.” She looked at his rumpled clothes. Yes, she could see that, one of those men who always had a tool in one hand and a grease can in the other. She didn’t know they were giving professorships out to men like that, but why not, after all? She was as apprecia­ tive of things like trains and working carriage wheels as the next person.

And now she’d gone and encouraged him. Stupid. “I see,” she said as coldly as she could manage. “Well, I’m not interested, so I’ll wish you good evening.”

“But how can you know if you’re not interested?” He shook his head in confusion, still smiling at her. The smile was . . . im­ pressive. “I haven’t even explained my proposition, yet.”

“I find that if you’ve heard one proposition, you’ve heard them all,” she replied. Stop talking to him, you idiot. “They’re not as unique as men would like to believe.”

“But—who else has approached you? Was it Langley, from Yale?” His tone turned plaintive. “How did he hear about this before me?”

“Langley—who?”

“Piers Langley,” he said. “No? I can’t think of anyone else reputable—look here, if you’ve been approached by anyone from that quack Santa Fe institute you should know they’re absolute frauds.”

“Institute?” Alva said faintly. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Your house, of course. I hadn’t realized I was so behind on the news.” His face fell—What must it be like to let all your emo- tions float freely on your face?—but he nodded gravely. “If it’s Langley, though, he’s an excellent researcher, and a decent human, too.”

“It’s not Lang—what do you want with my house?” It was her turn to sound plaintive.

“But that’s what—” He stared at her, his brows crunched to­ gether. “Oh god. I wasn’t—I wouldn’t—”

To her astonishment, a distinct touch of pink appeared in his cheeks. He cleared his throat.

“I beg your pardon, ma’am. Henry warned me—that is, I shouldn’t have; my proposition is not of an intimate nature.”

“I’m coming to understand that,” she said.

“You thought . . . do men . . . they must—good lord.

She began to feel in charity with this befuddled giant. “In­ deed,” she said. “I quite agree. But I must ask again—what is it you want with Liefdehuis?”

“To study it,” he said. “One of my personal interests is in metaphysical energies, you see, and from what I’ve heard, your house may prove a most interesting case. Your ghost story is so recent, you know. I hardly ever hear one claiming to be that new—”

He broke off as she shook her head. “You almost had me con­ vinced that you were unlike the majority of your sex,” she said. “And now I see you are. I’m just not sure insanity is much of an improvement.”

To her surprise, he smiled again. “You’re not the only one who thinks so,” he said. The embarrassment had left his face; he was quite relaxed once more. A man who apologizes for a propo- sition and grins at an insult, Alva thought. Where did you come from, Professor Moore?

“And I’ll admit there’s no conclusive evidence yet,” he con­ tinued, “but what I have collected looks extremely promising. Certainly promising enough to warrant extensive study.”

A hint of cold pierced her thoughts. Firmly, she banished it. “You’re talking about ghosts,” she said.

“Maybe,” he replied. “Or I could be studying some kind of alien intelligence that just happens to concentrate in areas cor­ responding to local folklore.”

“Alien intelligence.”

Invisible alien intelligence,” he clarified. “At least invisible to the naked human eye. But ‘ghost’ is probably the easiest term.”

“Really.”

“People tend to go a bit strange when you talk to them about invisible alien intelligences,” he confided. “Which is odd, when you think about it, because why are the shades of one’s dead an­ cestors any less unsettling?”

She found herself nodding before the rest of her wits caught up with her. “No,” she said, not because the word corresponded with any particular question, but because she had the feeling the only way to survive here was to stick to very black­and­white words. His nuances were both compelling and sticky. “I’m afraid I won’t give you access. I don’t believe in ghosts, and I’m about to start several months’ worth of building work.”

“Don’t decide yet,” he begged. “I’m willing to pay you for the privilege, and I promise I won’t be in the way . . . although there is rather a lot of equipment, so I suppose—”

The boy hailing cabs caught her eye and gestured as a han­ som pulled up beside him.

“That’s mine,” she said. “I’m sorry I can’t help you. Good evening.”

“Wait!” he said. “I’ll—I’ll send you a letter. Henry said that was the way to do it—I’ll write you and explain more.”

“It won’t help,” she said as the cab boy helped her into the carriage. “I’m sorry. Good­bye, Professor Moore.”

Finally, he sighed acceptance and raised his hand. “Good evening, Mrs. Webster.”

As the cab pulled away from the sidewalk, though, she looked back at him, to find him staring after her with his hands shoved in his pockets and that apparently irrepressible grin back in place. An uncomfortable lightness expanded in her chest as she watched him standing head­and­shoulders taller than the passersby around him, looking back at her as though he would be perfectly happy never to look at anything else ever again.

What couldn’t I get, if I could look at people like that? she thought, and settled grumpily back against her seat.