Head to the Mountains for Romance by @DonnaFaz

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My husband and I share a love of the outdoors. Early in our marriage, we enjoyed renting a cabin at Herrington Manor State Park and spent vacations in the mountains during different seasons of the year. Although cabin 18 (our favorite!) was rustic, it did have the necessary amenities—an indoor bathroom and kitchen. And there was mountain laurel everywhere!

Some of our favorite activities were picnicking on the edge of the lake and hiking up to the top of the mountain. One day, we happened upon an old grave site. Shafts of sunlight trickled through the high, leafy tree tops and silence permeated the air, giving the spot a truly seraphic feel. Most of all, we enjoyed nightfall, when we would head out to the meadow, spread out a blanket and lie on our backs to take in the glorious show. The stars of the Milky Way are a stunning sight to behold. Especially so, far away from the city lights.

The time I spent in the park left an indelible mark on me. It was here that the idea for MOUNTAIN LAUREL was born. Michael Walker is a rugged forest ranger (of course!). And Laurel Morgan is a young woman who, well, is doing the best she can. Here’s more about the story:

So what if Laurel Morgan hasn’t had a date in years? Her dysfunctional family makes creating a private life next to impossible. But if all it will take to convince her teenage sister to turn her life around is to go on a few dates and have some fun, it’s a bet she can beat. And before she can change her mind, rugged forest ranger Michael Walker agrees to play the part of her ardent admirer.

Laurel is stunned by Michael’s convincing acting abilities. Whenever her sister’s watching, Laurel finds herself wrapped in a heady embrace with a passionate kiss on the way. Her captivating cohort promises a performance that will win her the wager, but when the curtain closes, will she lose the only man she will ever love?

MOUNTAIN LAUREL is on sale for 99¢ through May 23rd. Save $3 through May 23rd!

“…perfect, page-turning romance.” ~eBookLuver

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Donna Fasano is a USA Today bestselling, award-winning author whose books have sold over 4 million copies worldwide. She’s the recipient of a Cataromance Reviewer’s Choice Award as well as a three-time winner of the coveted HOLT Medallion. If you enjoy the writing styles of Robyn Carr, Debbie Macomber, Barbara Freethy, and RaeAnne Thayne, you will enjoy Donna Fasano’s upbeat and romantic stories.

Mountain Laurel takes place in the hills of Western Maryland.

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Grandmother on Mother’s Day

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While browsing through my old blog posts I came across the following one that brought tears to my eyes. It was published on my own blog in May 2008:

Today I celebrated Mother’s Day as a daughter, mother and grandmother. My son-in-lay invited four generations of women to lunch: my mother and me, my daughter and her two little daughters, 4 and 2, and my son’s daughter, 3.

Lunch was lovely. We ignored the spilled glass of orange juice, the I-don’t-like-it whining and the crumbles forming a hidden mess under the table.

It took fifteen minutes to sit the ladies for the picture of the century. Moving my mother and her walker to a strategic place, and then having her hold on the rail of the restaurant’s entrance stairs wasn’t too difficult, but gathering three laughing, squealing and squirming little girls and having them stand still for two seconds was an enormous challenge. But the effort was worth the pain. The children are growing too fast and we don’t know how long we will be blessed with my mother’s presence.

Sometimes Mother’s Day is a difficult time. I know it is extremely difficult for my cousin who lost her mother a week ago. For her and her family, Mother’s Day consisted in a trip to the cemetery to deposit flowers on a new grave.

 Enjoy your mothers and enjoy your day as a mother.

My mother left us two years later.

To honor her I wrote a contemporary romance called MOTHER’S DAY BABIES, a novel full of emotion and humor. I dedicated the book to “the Mother we celebrate on Mother’s Day and those we remember with love.”

I had two great models for my middle-aged heroine, my mother and mother-in-law. Both spoke their minds and distributed good advice whether you were ready to listen or not.

My mother told us to always ‘look your best’. She professed that being nicely dressed, combed and jeweled helped her forget she was a very sick person and she practiced what she preached. The assisted living residents complimented her and tried to follow her example. The staff admired her positive attitude.

Most of my books include a grandmother among the characters. Depending on the setting of my stories, the children call her grandma, momom, abuelita, nonna, yaya, or baboushka, but the grandmothers in my various novels have a lot in common.

Like my mother and my mother-in-law, they adore their grandchildren, cook delicious meals, and often meddle in their children’s life —for the children’s good, of course. They are strong women who have encountered their shares of problems and learned life’s lessons from personal experience. They are also generous mothers who would go out of their ways for their families.

MOTHER’S DAY BABIES: http://tinyurl.com/cz3v5a8

This book is dedicated to the mothers we celebrate and those we remember with love.

MOTHER’S DAY BABIES

Widowed for seven years, Barbara Ramsay lives and breathes for her five grownup daughters and their babies. She’s also used to chatting over the phone with her good friend, Lou, and soothing his stress. But why has he invited her to come to Paris with his TV Network crew?

Powerful News Director, Lou Roland is certainly not marriage material, yet he has suddenly decided he wants Barbara in his arms. Not an easy task when his pretty confidante from Kentucky proves so difficult to date–unless he follows her rules. Can the over-fifty confirmed bachelor and the widow loyal to her husband’s memory find true love and share a future?

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The Birth of A #Hero #mgtab #Inspiration @jacqbiggar

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Readers often ask where do writers come up with ideas for their characters? In my case, the birth of a hero comes from a variety of sources. News reports, television programs, books I’ve read; all are great resources.

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But my favorite characters grow organically from stories I’ve already written. For my new release, Missing: The Lady Said No, the idea for my hero, Augustus Grant, came to me from a previous book where the main character was a mystery writer suffering from writer’s block.

Gus is the character my hero, Joel Carpenter, (in the holiday romance novel Silver Bells) was writing about. I fell in love with the bumbling detective and decided then and there he needed his own story!

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Gus is smart, irreverent, a little bit clumsy (okay, a LOT clumsy!) and still in love with the girl he let get away.

Rebecca Hayes.

Here’s a short excerpt. Gus is investigating a murder at a horse ranch and runs into the one person he never thought he’d see again.

Becky stood at the top of the grand staircase and felt the world give way.

Augustus.

It had been too long.

And not long enough.

She couldn’t believe he was here. Or maybe she could. It had always been his dream to become a detective. After all, that was the reason they had split up, wasn’t it? He’d craved the excitement, and she’d needed stability. Safety.

Well, it was too late now, on many levels. The best thing she could do would be to put on a brave face and escape with her pride.

“Hello, Augustus,” she called. Careful not to let him see her trembling, she gripped the banister and reluctantly went to join the man who had stolen her heart. He was every bit as tall as she remembered. Still just as handsome, too. A few more lines around the eyes and mouth maybe. She shied away from his lips, focusing instead on the crooked tie and wrinkled shirt. A wry smile touched her mouth.

“I see you still haven’t figured out the right side of an iron,” she murmured.

He glanced down and ran a strong, tanned hand down his chest. Something fluttered to life in hers.

He met her gaze with a grin that slowly faded away. “I looked for you,” he said.

Oh, God.

This wasn’t what she expected. After leaving Bourbonville and moving here, to Balmoral, she’d second-guessed her decision often, but never realized maybe he did too, just a little.

“You’re the cop. You could have found me if you tried.”

As you can see, there are a lot of unresolved feelings between these two. The question is, can Gus make it right? You’ll have to read on to find out. 🙂

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This is part of a branded series set around the running of the famous Kentucky Derby. I hope you’ll enjoy my story and give the other books in the Chandler County series a try!

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Valentine Wedding Hound – Chapter One (excerpt)

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Hey folks, Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and there’s a wedding in the wings for the Harts of San Francisco. You’d think a Valentine’s Day wedding would be all hearts and flowers and sweet as can be, but Jenna and Larry’s wedding is anything but …

Please read an excerpt to find out what happens when a wedding becomes a reality show.

“She wouldn’t dare!” Jenna Hart rose to her full height and towered over her baby sister, Melisa. “It’s my wedding, not a reality show.”

Of course, shooting the messenger never worked, but it sure felt good.

“Contract’s already signed.” Melisa made a dour face and slapped a pink manila folder on Jenna’s ironing board. “I’m sorry, but you made a deal and you have to play.”

Last December, both Jenna and Melisa had encouraged their eldest sister, Cait, to take her husband’s surname and start a business. In returned, they had agreed to be her first clients. Hence, Cait Wonder and her business, Cait’s Wonderful Weddings, was born.

Melisa had had a New Year’s Eve extravaganza, which was another story on its own, but now, it was time for Jenna to pay the piper.

“Cait’s gone over the top, completely.” Jenna swept the folder onto the floor, scattering the contents.

Melisa, who usually sympathized with her concerning Cait’s screwball plans, shrugged and twisted her lips. “This will promote your design firm. Think of the visibility you’ll get.”

“I can’t do it! It’s going to be a zoo.” Jenna threw up her hands and paced around the small design studio. She was an independent fashion designer and owned Hart in SF Designs based in San Francisco.

She was also one of a few designers not headquartered in New York, London, Milan, or Paris, and she needed the publicity. At the same time, it was her wedding, and maybe behind the glamour and glitz of the fashion business, Jenna was still an old-fashioned girl who wanted a quiet church wedding—not the media extravaganza her sisters seemed to believe she really, truly wanted and needed.

Melisa calmly picked up the folder and showed Jenna the spec sheet. “You already agreed to the fashion show, right? You also agreed to the assortment of pets each groomsman would escort. You even agreed to the pet adoption after the reception.”

“Yes, yes, and yes!” Jenna tapped her finger on the terms and conditions. “But I didn’t agree to the reality show, especially one where I have to take on-camera dares.”

The popular reality show, She Wouldn’t Dare, was based on goading celebrities to accept challenges during important events—in this case, Jenna’s wedding to her fireman hero, Larry Davison.

They’d met a year ago when the mascot for her Valentine’s Day fashion show, a sweet and gassy basset hound puppy named Harley, was lost and then found by Larry.

A runway show, bachelor auction, and a house fire later, Jenna and Larry fell in love and decided to marry. At the time, it seemed fitting to have the wedding on Valentine’s Day. Romance, hearts, flowers, chocolates, and wedding vows went well with Cupid’s arrows.

But now, after Melisa’s raucous and highly publicized New Year’s Eve wedding, Jenna was tempted to take Larry and their dog, Harley, and elope.

“You’ll have to speak to Cait about the contract,” Melisa said. “I’m afraid you gave her power of attorney …”

“She wouldn’t dare.”

Melisa flipped to the signature page. “She already did. I don’t think you can afford the cancellation clause.”

She definitely couldn’t, and it might be a good idea to do the show. In fact, the exposure could get her name recognition and be a boost to her brand. Hadn’t a marketing guru once told her that all publicity, bad or good, was good publicity?

“When do they start shooting?” Jenna’s eyes darted wildly around her studio, currently in a deep state of chaos with half-finished dresses and material tossed everywhere.

“Camera crews are outside with Cait.” Melisa turned to the double doors and flung them wide open. “Come on in, Jenna Hart is ready to rock and roll.”

Jenna watched in horror as her older sister, Cait, led the camera and sound crew into her tiny studio, followed by the host of She Wouldn’t Dare, actress Amy Suzuki, who’d starred on the now defunct Romancing the Racer reality show a few years back. The show was a flop and cancelled when the motorcycle racer crashed and ended up in the hospital due to being distracted over her and the drama she’d caused.

“Welcome to this episode of She Wouldn’t Dare, featuring up and coming San Francisco fashion designer, Jenna Hart.” The Asian-American beauty spoke to the camera as she positioned herself beside Jenna. “We’re in Jenna’s design studio where she is busy putting together her bridal collection. How are you feeling today? Is the pressure ramping up?”

Jenna was sweaty, her hair was a mess, and she hadn’t put on makeup. She glared at her two sisters and felt every sharp pain of the knives stabbing and twisting in her back.

Gritting her teeth, she forced a smile for the camera. “Everything’s going great. I have these two bridesmaid’s dresses on the forms, and my two wonderfully adoring sisters just happen to be here for a fitting.”

There, that’ll get back at them and give them on camera time. See how they like not having their hair sprayed and their clothes ironed before going on camera.

“Awesome,” Amy chirped. “I see the two dresses are different in terms of cut and style. Why is that?”

“My two sisters are very different animals.” Jenna kept herself from growling. “Cait, the eldest, is efficient and very bossy. She favors clean lines and bold statements. She also has a figure which presents many design challenges.”

“How so?” Amy shifted her glance from Jenna to Cait’s waistline.

“I have to be careful with balance and form. For example, drawing the eye away from problem areas to provide the illusion of a slender femininity.”

“Rawrrr …” Amy made a catty noise as she place the mic in front of Cait. “We all know how difficult bridesmaid dresses are. Do you have confidence Jenna can tackle all of the problem areas, as she puts it, and make you a truly memorable dress?”

“I have no doubt. My sister is capable of anything.”

“Do you like your dress?” Amy asked. “After what Jenna said about her design goals?”

“Yes, I do.” Cait crossed her arms. “She captured my personality and style fabulously.”

“That’s why she’s the star.” Amy focused on the form holding together the pieces of Melisa’s dress, a lacey, frilly concoction of tulle and soft curves. “Tell me about your younger sister, Melisa.”

“She’s always been a sweetheart,” Jenna said. “Until now.”

“Oh, do tell. Is that why her dress is so juvenile?”

Jenna couldn’t help smirking at the frown which flickered across Melisa’s face. “She’s the baby of the family, almost, and she follows Cait around like a little duck.”

“I do not.” Melisa put her hands on her hips and stamped her foot. “I may be nice, but I’m no pushover.”

“Do you like the dress she designed for you?” Amy ran her fingers from the beaded lace bodice down to the poufy tulle skirt.

“No, it’s too fairy tale.” Melisa wrinkled her brow. “The problem with Jenna is she underestimates me. I don’t believe this dress reflects who I am.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Amy said. “If Jenna had time for a do over, would you want her to make you another dress?”

“Of course.” Melisa jutted her chin at her designer sister. “I’m no longer that dreamy little girl she thinks I am.”

“Cait, Melisa, tell me something.” Amy chuckled in an annoyingly saccharine voice. “Is there anything Jenna wouldn’t dare?”

“Nothing whatsoever.” Cait bobbed her head as if she were an expert on Jenna, having bossed her around since she came home from the hospital. “Jenna has no circuit breakers. She’ll try and do anything.”

“Jenna’s brave. She always did her own thing,” Melisa said. “I looked up to her, and I still do.”

“Wonderful.” Amy turned to the camera. Her assistant handed her a pair of scissors. “Jenna Hart, you are five weeks away from your wedding. For your first dare on the She Wouldn’t Dare: Wedding Edition show, I dare you to cut up Cait’s dress, the one she likes, and replace it with one that isn’t so businesslike.”

“Can I cut up Melisa’s dress instead?” Jenna’s heart took a flying leap. There was no way she could redo both Melisa and Cait’s dress.

“No, the dare is to cut up Cait’s dress. She’s going to be in a wedding, not a presidential cabinet meeting. Up for grabs is a home remodel worth fifty thousand dollars.” Amy put the scissors in Jenna’s hand as the countdown clock began to tick.

“Does it have to be a remodel or does new construction qualify?” Jenna’s parents’ house had burned down earlier in the year, and they were having a new one built.

“New construction is okay as long as it’s within the budget. Do you take the dare? You have ten seconds left.” Amy turned to the camera and said, “She wouldn’t dare, or would she?”

Jenna swallowed and bit her lips, computing time and material estimates in her head. She owed her sister-in-law, Nadine, a dress, and her mother’s dress needed alterations. As for her own gown, she had a bad case of designer’s block, and it was still on the drawing board.

“Four, three, two,” Amy counted down.

“I’ll do it.” Jenna slashed the scissors across the satin lapel of Cait’s dress and ripped in the bodice.

“No!” Cait lunged to the form and put her arms around it, almost getting cut. “I love this dress. I love it, I love it.”

[End of Excerpt]

To read more, please PRE-ORDER Valentine Wedding Hound for a special pre-order price of 99c! Be sure to check out the other Have A Hart stories including:

Christmas Lovebirds, #1

Valentine Hound Dog, #2 [when Jenna and Larry meet]

Spring Fling Kitty, #3

Blue Chow Christmas, #4

I hope your Valentine’s Day is all hearts and flowers and everything sweet! Kisses, Rachelle

 

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Easy Cheesy Baked Rigatoni by Denise Devine

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easy-cheesy-baked-rigatoni1 box (16 oz) rigatoni
1 jar spaghetti sauce (any of the cheese-added variety)
½ ring of sausage (such as Hillshire, etc.)
1 can cheddar cheese soup
1 soup can of milk
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheese (parmesan or mozzarella)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cook rigatoni in a large saucepan, drain and pour immediately into a lasagna pan.

Pour spaghetti sauce, soup, milk and sour cream into large saucepan and heat, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, thinly slice sausage and add to mixture. When sauce is smooth and bubbly, pour over rigatoni noodles, top with shredded cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and pan is bubbling.

Let sit for 10 minutes then serve.

As always, any recipe can be modified to your tastes. Feel free to experiment!

Note:  This recipe makes a lot of sauce, but trust me, it’s not too much. Rigatoni absorbs a lot of moisture when baked and this casserole (or hot dish, as we call it in Minnesota) will come out of the oven very creamy, but that is what makes it so good. As it begins to cool, it will thicken.

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Holiday Preparations by Mona Risk

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I think we have officially started the holiday season. I saw Christmas trees in several malls and Christmas articles are already flooding the stores. Thanksgiving is next week, immediately followed by Black Friday and its incredible sales. And then we prepare for Christmas–or Hanukah– and New Year.

Personally I am very busy cooking, baking, buying presents, and publishing a new Christmas story: On Christmas Eve

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Available at Amazon

And I am also very busy promoting books.

An Unusual Christmas is free on 11-17-2016 and 11-18-2016

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40 reviews 4.8/5 stars average

Running away from Christmas celebrations and the demons of her past, Dr. Jillian has dedicated her life to saving third-world children. In a faraway country, a handsome doctor may teach her the true meaning of Christmas, with the help of a baby girl and four little boys . As Jillian and Fyodor work together for six months in his hospital, their fascination with one another shocks them both. Can attraction and love overcome guilt, duty, and a clash of cultures?

A NIGHT OWL REVIEWS BOOK REVIEW:

Mona Risk is one of my favorite authors for several reasons. She knows how to pull a reader into the minds of her well-crafted characters and she also makes you want the best for them. Her work also takes me on a journey be it local or overseas. She does all of this again as she took me into Russia in her latest medical inspired romance.
Have you started your holidays’ preparations?
Are you busier now than you were last month?
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A “Love, Christmas” novella – Holly Jolly Christmas by Mona Risk #mgtab

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The joyful Christmas carol lent its title to my newest novella and contribution to the LOVE, CHRISTMAS Anthology.

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After writing six stories for the Holiday Babies Series, all sweet romance for four of the five Ramsay sisters, their mother Barbara, and stepsister Monica, I realized that I ignored the sister number three, Heather, who was already married in the back-story.

lg-holidaybabies-n-y-tWhile the other Ramsay girls received a solid education and built successful careers as doctors, reporters or architect, Heather is a farmer’s wife and a stay-at-home mom with four boys. By her own choice. Helping her husband build their farm into a prosperous business and raising her four sons was Heather’s choice. Not an easy choice at the beginning.

Like her sisters, Heather had her share of problems and her romance with Jeff, her high-school sweetheart, was complicated by a pregnancy at the age of eighteen when she had to start college and her father is struggling with cancer and wished he could have one last Holly Jolly Christmas.

I couldn’t let Heather’s story continue to linger in the background of my six novels when it was nagging me to come to the front row. So it popped out in HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS with more conflict, more drama, and a bittersweet  ending.

My novels are sweet contemporary stories encompassing problems that could happen to you, or your daughters or nieces—problems that could devastate a young woman, problems that require a generous heart, a solid head, and family support to be solved. In the Holiday Babies Series ‘no man is an island’ and ‘it takes a village’ and true love to reach a Happily Ever After.

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You’ll love this heartwarming collection of 20 all-new Christmas stories from NY Times, USA Today, and national best-selling authors. Every title in the set is from a well-known Christmas carol and we hope while reading these delightful stories, they will put a song in your heart.

 

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Chapter One – 2016 Love Christmas Collection – So This is Christmas – by Denise Devine #mgtab

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So This is Christmas_Denise Devine

Chapter 1

Monday, December 10th

Winter in Minnesota didn’t rate high on my list of seasons, but I couldn’t imagine spending Christmas anywhere else. The pristine snow, the crisp, fresh air and the rainbow-colored lights decorating snow-covered roofs reminded me of a Hallmark movie. I loved shopping at the Mall of America for gifts and watching the Holidazzle electric light parade in downtown Minneapolis, but my favorite event always happened on the second weekend in December. That’s when I met up with my best friends for three days of good wine, more food than we could ever eat and lots and lots of laughter. We’d grown up in the same northeast Minneapolis neighborhood—Ellie, Jeanette, Ginny, Sarah and me—and through the years, were inseparable until our careers took us in different directions. Now that we’d hit our mid-thirties, it had become more difficult than ever to schedule a “girls only” weekend, but we’d made it a priority.

We always spent the weekend at Ellie Stone’s family cabin in Breezy Point, Minnesota. Frankly, I didn’t know why they called it a cabin. The multi-level monstrosity had six bedrooms, four baths, a den, two kitchens and two living rooms. In the lower kitchen, the Stone family cooked all their meals. The upper kitchen, the one with the beautiful view of Gull Lake, they used to stock all their booze.

I decided to drive up to Breezy Point a few days early this year. Ellie’s family had always considered me “one of the bunch” and had no problem with my coming up ahead of time. I needed to take a break from my photography business, something I hadn’t allowed myself to do for a long time. Lately, though, I’d begun to question the price of success. I had a thriving business, but the toll it placed on my life was slowly burning me out. The thought of spending four days alone in that big house with nothing to do but sip wine in front of a crackling fire would be good for me; it would also force me to give some serious thought to the dismal state of my love life.

I arrived at the house around noon. Driving up the snow-covered alley, I pulled into the back and parked in the driveway in front of the tuck-under garage. Thankfully, someone had cleared away the snow and shoveled the sidewalks. I slid out of the car and drew in a deep breath of fresh air, taking a much-needed stretch from the two-hour drive from Minneapolis. Even though the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky, the temperature hovered around twenty degrees. Anxious to get out of the cold, I grabbed my bag and the tote containing my four-week-old kitten and bounded up the cement stairway. The Stone family always hid a spare key under the planter next to the back door. I let myself in through the screen porch to the lower level kitchen and living room.

The tote with my sleeping kitten fit on the seat of the rocking chair. The rest of my gear landed on the sofa in front of the fireplace before I dumped my coat and made my way to the bathroom. I turned on the water in the tub and stripped down to my undergarments. A nice hot bath sounded like the perfect way to kick off my vacation.

Suddenly, a loud thumping noise echoed from inside a room across the hallway. My heart slammed into overdrive as a frightening thought raced through my head.

Is there someone else in this house?

No time to get dressed—I grabbed the fuzzy robe hanging on the back of the door and wrapped it around myself then peeked through a narrow crack in the opening. I didn’t see anyone in the living room but finding the immediate area empty didn’t bolster my courage. I needed to call 9-1-1 and my phone lay tucked in my purse across the room.

Now what do I do? No way can I lock myself in here and hope the intruder just goes away.

My brilliant, lightning fast mind said, “Get the phone. Run. Now.”

Slowly, I opened the door and crept out, hoping the rushing water from the bathtub faucet made enough noise to mask my footsteps. I scurried over to my purse and snatched the phone then made a beeline back to the bathroom. Got the door open and almost made it inside when a large hand gripped my shoulder.

“A-h-h-h-h-h!” The shrill scream shot out of me so fast I hardly knew I’d opened my mouth. My body shuddered and the phone went flying as the strong hand pivoted me, bringing me face to face with my aggressor.

My breath caught in my throat as the fear gripping me transformed into jaw-clenching anger.

Christopher Stone! You scared me half to death! What are you doing sneaking around the house?”

I hadn’t spoken to him since twelfth grade, but the gap in time did nothing to cool my foaming-at-the-mouth resentment of the kid who’d spent the entirety of his youth teasing me.

Ellie’s twin brother stood before me wearing nothing but a pair of skin-tight jeans, barely zipped with the top snap gaping open. I’d seen him wearing less at the beach, but even his favorite chino shorts had never looked this good on him. Before I knew it, my gaze quickly traveled from his slim waist to the width of his broad shoulders and smooth, muscular chest. Embarrassed by my obvious curiosity, I looked away. This body did not match the scrawny kid I used to wrangle with growing up. When did all this happen? I mean, I knew most ball players worked out to gain strength and boost their power to hit a baseball for a living. I’d watched Chris on television and on the big screen at the ballpark, but I never imagined him looking this good up close…

He didn’t seem to care about his half-naked appearance as he yawned and ran a hand through his tousled dark hair. “I wasn’t sneaking around,” he said in a smooth, deep voice. “I was sleeping. You woke me up.”

I glared at him to mask the sudden flutter in my stomach. “Are you—are you alone?”

“W-h-a-a-a…of course, I’m alone.”

I stared boldly into his deep blue eyes. “What are you doing here?”

He shrugged. “What I always do when I need to get away from the crowds—I crash. What are you doing here?”

“This weekend is our annual Christmas get-together,” I said matter-of-factly and raised one brow to let him know he’d better crash somewhere else.

He frowned. “Aren’t you a little early? It’s only Monday.”

“No, I volunteered to do the housecleaning and put up the decorations so the place would look great when the girls arrive,” I said lying through my teeth. He didn’t need to know my real plans.

“Okay, great.” He sounded amused as he leaned over and picked up my phone. “I thought for a minute there you were trying to get rid of me.”

My patience wore thin. “Look, Chris, you’re going to be in the way. Don’t you have to get back to the cities to get ready for a hot date with your girlfriend or something?” Whoever she is this week…

He didn’t rise to the bait, but I noticed a muscle twitch in his cheek, as though the whole “date” situation didn’t set well with him. It didn’t surprise me considering the high-profile women he chased—Hollywood starlets, models and pop singers—Queen Bee Central. He changed girlfriends with the same frequency most men took their shirts to the laundry. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but just the same…

“Tell you what, I’ll stay in my room while you vacuum and do whatever it is you need to do.” His eyes flashed when I shook my head. “What’s your problem?”

“It’s not what, it’s who.” I took my phone from his hand. “I’m not in the mood to spend the next four days dodging a guy who likes to play practical jokes on me. You know, like throwing water balloons, unscrewing the top off the salt and pepper shakers, flipping my glass of soda upside down on the table, hiding a whoopee cushion under a blanket on my chair,” and his crowning achievement, “putting a live snake down my shirt?”

He burst out laughing. “Are you still mad about that? I did those things when we were kids.”

The fact that he still thought them funny still made me mad and I didn’t trust him one bit. “Yes,” I said in my snippiest voice, “and I’m soooo not in the mood for any of your antics this week.”

“I’ll be good.” He held up both hands. “I won’t cause an ounce of trouble. I promise.” His gaze suddenly dropped to the front of my body and his eyes widened. “Uh, but I can’t say the same for you.”

I looked down and found my robe gaping open, my pink with black polka dot Victoria’s Secret undies in full view. “A-h-h-h-h-h!” My scream this time had more to do with frustration than fright. I jerked my robe shut and stormed into the bathroom, determined not to give my childhood nemesis the satisfaction of seeing my face turn crimson like he had so often in the past.

His triumphant laughter propelled me all the way.

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