Wednesday, November 22, 2017

New Release! - Ms. Demeanor by Danica Winters

 
 

Ms. Demeanor
by Danica Winters
Series: Mystery Christmas, #4
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Paperback Release Date: November 21, 2017
Digital Release Date: December 1, 2017




 
A cold-case Christmas in Mystery, Montana 

Yearning to be known as something other than Mystery's ultimate bad boy, rancher Rainier Fitzgerald isn't pleased when he stumbles upon the remains of a dead body. Especially when Officer Laura Blade catches him with a gun in his hand.

Spending Christmas chasing down a cold case with a man she's not supposed to fraternize with isn't granting any of Laura's holiday wishes, either. But could her favorite time of the year be working its magic on Laura's feelings? Or is Rainier truly transforming from a charismatic rogue to a hero worthy of her heart?







Book 1: Ms. Calculation

Book 2: Mr. Serious

Book 3: Mr. Taken





Danica Winters is a Nielsen BookScan and an Amazon bestselling author who has won multiple awards for writing books that grip readers with their ability to drive emotion through suspense and occasionally a touch of magic. Most recently, Danica was the winner of the Paranormal Romance Guild’s Paranormal Romantic Suspense Book of the Year Award and Chanticleer Media’s Paranormal Book of the Year for her novel Montana Mustangs.

When she’s not working, she can be found in the wilds of Montana testing her patience while she tries to understand the allure of various crafts (quilting, pottery, and painting are not her thing).  She always believes the cup is neither half full nor half empty, but it better be filled with wine.

Danica Winters is represented by Jill Marsal of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC.













Thursday, November 9, 2017

Chasing Christmas by Shanna Hatfield


Chasing Christmas
by Shanna Hatfield
Series: Rodeo Romance, #5
Genre: Sweet Holiday Western Romance
Release Date: November 9, 2017



He certainly didn't ask Santa for a bride. . .

Professional bull rider Chase Jarrett has the world on a string. The only blight in his idyllic existence is his nosy cousin’s nonstop nagging about his need for more publicity. Tired of listening to her suggestions, he gives her free rein when she hatches a plan to skyrocket his popularity. All he has to do is show up for a phony wedding in Las Vegas. Then Chase discovers the wedding was real, the surprise bride is beautiful, and his sponsors are demanding he remain married.

Shy and introverted, the last thing Jessie Pierce wants is to find herself in the spotlight. But thanks to a meddling so-called best friend, that’s exactly where she’s at. The promise of an all-expenses paid vacation to Las Vegas lures her on an adventure that ends with her unexpectedly married to a hunky bull rider who would draw her out of her shell if she’d let him.

A business proposal leaves the two of them committed to a year of marriage. How hard could it be to remain wed in name only?

Wrap yourself up in the joy of holidays and falling in love in this sweet, lighthearted romance from USA Today Bestselling author Shanna Hatfield.




“Explain this half-hatched scheme to me again,” he said, releasing a resigned sigh.

Ashley grinned and climbed up on the bumper, seating herself close to where Chase continued to lean on the tailgate. “It’s simple. We’ll run a contest from now until two weeks before the finals rodeo begins in December. Women will enter to become your bride. A winner will be selected and notified. We’ll have a mock ceremony with a limo and the whole works in Las Vegas.”

His gaze narrowed until his eyes looked like wary slits. “And the wedding wouldn’t be real. Just a fake ceremony?”

“That’s right. Just for fun. Women will go nuts to enter this contest. Even if it is only for a day, they’ll be beside themselves at the opportunity to be the bride of Chase Jarrett.” Ashley smiled at him in the way she had since they were kids, whenever she attempted to manipulate him into doing her bidding.
“And the winner would understand it is all pretend, that the whole bride thing would end before the rodeo started that evening. She would be clear on the point I’d most likely never see or speak to her again. Is that right?”

Ashley nodded. “Of course. I’ll personally vet the finalists so you don’t end up with a mentally unhinged stalker chick hunting you down.”

Chase ran a nervous hand across the back of his neck then removed his hat, giving the idea some thought before he looked to Ashley again. “You absolutely promise I will not have any grief, headaches, annoyances, or frustration from this? The winner will understand, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she gets one kiss at the phony ceremony and maybe one when we go our separate ways later. Nothing more. I don’t want some demented girl trying to rip my clothes off in the limo.”






Click below to go to Shanna's Amazon Page and "Read A Book, Help A Cowboy"


USA Today bestselling author Shanna Hatfield writes character-driven romances with relatable heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”

Convinced everyone deserves a happy ending, this hopeless romantic is out to make it happen, one story at a time. When she isn’t writing or indulging in chocolate (dark and decadent, please), Shanna hangs out with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.

Email:  shanna@shannahatfield.com

Enjoy reading advanced copies of books? Connecting with like-minded readers? Join Shanna’s Hopeless Romantics Street Team! We share recipes, crafty ideas, enjoy weekly giveaways, read ARC copies, and have fun!


Shanna will be hosting a giveaway as part of her 4th Annual Cowboys and Christmas Event with a $50 Amazon Gift Card prize.



Join the Facebook Party for the 4th annual celebration to raise funds and awareness for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund! Party includes a new release from USA Today Bestselling Author Shanna Hatfield, giveaways, games, free books, guest authors and more!






Sunday, October 29, 2017

Destiny's Secret - New Release by Raine English

 
 


DESTINY’S SECRET
RAINE ENGLISH

ON SALE NOW

Just in time for Halloween! If you’re looking for a spooky read this weekend, be sure to pick up my latest novella, Destiny’s Secret. This paranormal romance is rated PG and is on sale for just 99 cents for a limited time!

Can love destroy an evil force out for revenge?
When Eden Wright purchases a run-down Savannah mansion, she gets much more than she bargained for: a not so friendly ghost. Terrified, she enlists the help of Deek Hayes, a hunky paranormal investigator whose agenda includes seducing her. But as things heat up between them, so do the entity’s attacks. Will Deek be able to save her or wind up putting her in more danger? And maybe break her heart in the process.
Be sure to get your copy today!!
 
 
 
 
www.raineenglish.com/
 
 

 
 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Home For Christmas - A new release by Magdalena Scott!

Home For Christmas
Magdalena Scott
 
On Pre-Order Now
Release Date - November 9th












www.magdalenascott.com


Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Portuguese Christmas by Josie Riviera - on Pre-order Now!


A Portuguese Christmas
Josie Riviera
 
 
Take an armchair trip to sunny Portugal for the holidays.
Love can come softly, like holiday snow. Or sweep you away like a riptide.






A Portuguese Christmas will soon be published as a single title in eBook, paperback and audiobook on November 7th.

Pre-order this sweet holiday romance now.
 
Amazon
 
 
http://josieriviera.com/
 
 
 
 

Monday, October 16, 2017

THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE SHOP by Ginny Baird - $0.99 - For a Limited Time!





On sale for a limited time! Ginny Baird’s THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE SHOP (Christmas Town Book 1) $0.99. Grab it while this deal lasts!

Come home this Christmas to...

CHRISTMAS TOWN, TENNESSEE

Where everyday dreams come true!

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Ginny Baird brings you the start of a brand new holiday series...

THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE SHOP
(Christmas Town, Book 1)

Hannah Winchester is down on her luck and disillusioned with love, but her fortunes are about to change. When Hannah inherits a defunct bakery in East Tennessee, her first thought is to sell it and settle her substantial debt. Then the townsfolk welcome her warmly and she's taken with the joyful spirit of the place, where stores employ holiday themes and residents have surnames like Christmas and Claus. After a handsome lawman comes to her aid dressed as Santa, Hannah learns he's more than a hot guy in a red suit and shiny black boots. Sheriff Carter Livingston has joined in the cause of rejuvenating the town, and he's encouraging her to do her part. Hannah's great-grandmother, Lena, sold special holiday cookies that brought hope and renewal to the people of Christmas Town. Yet Hannah has plans elsewhere and isn't looking to stay. Can she possibly reopen the shop known for kindling romance--without sacrificing her heart?

AMAZON
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01JSTBE2Q/?tag=httpginnybaco-20

B& N
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-christmas-…/1124277151…

iBOOKS
https://itunes.apple.com/…/the-christmas-cook…/id1141489207…

KOBO
https://store.kobobooks.com/…/ebo…/the-christmas-cookie-shop

 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Fall into Romance Sale with Donna Fasano!




Donna Fasano is offering ROMANCE BEACH BUNDLE 2 for $0.99. That's a $7 savings off the regular cover price. Available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Google. Find out more information here: http://donnafasan o.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 - Sweet Romance


Sweet Christmas Kisses 4
Genre: Sweet Romance
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR




Usher in the holiday season with 14 heartwarming all-new, stand-alone stories from New York Times, USA Today, national bestselling, and award-winning authors. Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 takes you from the Pocono Mountains to sunny Florida, and as far away as Portugal.

Curl up with your favorite hot beverage and enjoy this sweet romance boxed set that’s sure to put you in the mood for Christmas.

Mona Risk, In Time for Christmas

Dr. Sylvia Reynolds promised to be at her parents’, in time for Christmas dinner, but her priorities change after she meets a motherless baby and her gorgeous uncle.

Beate Boeker, Unique Christmas

Chiara hopes to spend a solitary Christmas all by herself. But when a man jumps through her office window to save her from an accident, things spin away—beyond her wildest dreams.

 Christine Bush, Christmas with the Cat Lady

Carly is happy living alone in her mountain house with her cats. Can the handsome author who rents a room over the Christmas holidays change her mind?

 Lyn Cote, Loving Winter

At her cousin’s wedding, Winter Woodard, owner of her family’s garden center, isn’t expecting to meet her match in local football coach, Clay Dixon, (she isn’t IN to sports!) but he stands by her through a holiday season fraught with unexpected setbacks.

 Denise Devine, Once Upon a Christmas

Small town girl returns home to find love and success, but can she outlast the mistakes of her past?

 Raine English, Christmas in Walnut Creek

Will a Christmas blizzard reunite a couple and give them a second chance at love?

Jean C. Gordon, A Team Macachek Christmas

Sparks fly from a Christmastime reunion of motocross racer Jesse Brewster and his ex-girlfriend Lauren Cooper. But is it the wrong time for their love?

Shanna Hatfield, Saving Mistletoe

A stubborn cop, a hotshot attorney, and a little girl determined to spend Christmas with her father need a miracle to make this holiday season jolly and bright.

 Milou Koenings, The Gift of Yesterday

When Bailey returns to Green Pines to open a pastry shop, Joe Hudson sees all his Christmas wishes coming true—if only he can convince her to risk her heart again.

 Josie Riviera, A Portuguese Christmas

The holidays—like love—can sneak up on you. And sweep you away like a riptide.

 Roxanne Rustand, A Christmas in Montana

Kristen Weatherby goes to Montana to get her late grandmother's house ready to sell, but finds much more than she bargained for: a house she can't let go, a charming mountain town, and a handsome veterinarian who just might steal her heart.

 Magdalena Scott, A Cowboy for Christmas

Hannah Kincaid is in love with Jacob Hollingsworth, and will overcome her fear of horses and his bossy brother Michael to get a Christmas happily-ever-after with the cowboy of her dreams.

 Kristin Wallace, Loving You at Christmas

Annaliese Matheson is convinced she’ll never love again. This Christmas will become the opening act for her holiday happily ever after.

 Merrillee Whren, Puppy Love and Mistletoe

Can a little girl and a fluffy black dog bring a reluctant couple together in a Christmas miracle?


And don’t forget to connect with the Authors at Sweet Romance Reads:
Website/Blog: http://SweetRomanceReads.com
Facebook:
http://facebook.com/SweetRomanceReads
Twitter:
http://twitter.com/SweetRomanceRds
Pinterest:
http://www.pinterest.com/donnafaz/sweet-romance-reads/

Buy Links:
Amazon:
http://amzn.to/2hszNcj
Nook:
http://bit.ly/2g8xyO8
Kobo:
http://bit.ly/2xgU0sG
Google:
http://bit.ly/2viH7g4

~*~
Author Bios:
Mona Risk
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Mona Risk, received an Outstanding Achiever Award from Affaire de Coeur Magazine. She's a two time winner of Best Contemporary Romance of the Year from Readers Favorite; a winner of Best Romance Novel of the Year from Preditors & Editors Readers Poll; and an EPIC Award finalist. Her books have garnered: Top Pick, Outstanding Read, Sweetheart of the Week, and Best Book of the Week from various reviewers, and received two mentions in Publisher's Weekly.

Mona lives in South Florida and has traveled to more than eighty countries on business or vacation. She writes contemporary romances, medical romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal fantasy. Sprinkled with a good dose of humor, her stories are set in the fascinating places she visited or more simply at home.

Beate Boeker
Beate Boeker is a USA Today bestselling author with a passion for books that brim over with mischief & humor. She writes sweet sophisticated romantic fiction and cozy mysteries, many of them set in beautiful Italy.

While 'Boeker' means 'books' in a German dialect, her first name Beate can be translated as ‘Happy’ . . . and with a name that reads ‘Happy Books’, what else could she do but write novels with happy endings?

Christine Bush
Christine Bush has been a storyteller all of her life. Always a lover of romance, mystery, and happy endings, it is no surprise that her novels have a lively mix of all three ingredients! Christine is a women's advocate, and believes with all her heart that women can face the problems in their lives with courage, creativity (and often humor) and make a difference in the world.

Lyn Cote
USA Today bestselling author, Lyn Cote has written over 45 books. A Romance Writers of America RITA finalist and an American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award winner, Lyn writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and historical novels. No matter which kind of story, her brand “Strong Women, Brave Stories” comes through. Her most recent achievement is being added to Romance Writers of America’s Honor Roll for bestselling authors.

Denise Devine
Denise Devine is a USA TODAY bestselling author who has had a passion for books since the second grade when she discovered Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote her first book, a mystery, at age thirteen and has been writing ever since.

Raine English
USA Today bestselling author Raine English always wanted to be a writer. She began her career as a journalist, but writing romance novels was her passion. Her books have won many awards, including finalling in the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart and winning the Daphne du Maurier Award.  When not behind her computer, you can usually find her reading. She lives in New England with her family and two French bulldogs, Bailey and Dolly.

Jean C. Gordon
For sweet romance author Jean C. Gordon, writing is a natural extension of her love of reading. From that day in first grade when she realized t-h-e was the word “the,” she’s been reading everything she can put her hands on. A professional financial planner and financial writer, Jean is as at home writing retirement- and investment-planning advice as she is writing romance novels, but finds novels a lot more fun.

Shanna Hatfield
After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky heroes.

When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

Milou Koenings
Milou Koenings is an award-winning USA Today bestselling author who writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with happy endings bring joy to the world and so make it a better place. The Gift of Yesterday is the fifth book in the Green Pines Romance series.

Josie Riviera
Josie Riviera is a USA TODAY Bestselling Author of contemporary, inspirational, and historical sweet romances that read like Hallmark movies. She lives in the Charlotte, NC, area with her wonderfully supportive husband. They share their home with an adorable Shih Tzu who constantly needs grooming and an old house forever needing renovations.

Roxanne Rustand
USA Today best-selling author Roxanne Rustand has written over thirty-five novels. She writes inspirational romantic suspense and inspirational romance For Love Inspired, and also writes sweet romance for the indie market. She lives in the country with her family, plus a menagerie of pets that sometimes find their way into her books.

Magdalena Scott
USA Today bestselling author Magdalena Scott writes sweet romance and women's fiction with small town settings.

Kristin Wallace
Kristin is a USA Today Bestselling author of inspirational and sweet contemporary romance filled with “love, laughter and a leap of faith”. Growing up she devoured books like bags of Dove Dark Chocolate. Her first Golden Book led to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, C.S. Lewis and the Sweet Valley High series. Later, she discovered romance novels and fell in love all over again. It’s no surprise that Kristin would one day try her hand at writing them. She is the author of two bestselling series, Covington Falls Chronicles (inspirational romance) and Shellwater Key Tales (contemporary romance).

Merrillee Whren
Merrillee Whren is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author who writes inspirational romance. She is the winner of the 2003 Golden Heart Award for best inspirational romance manuscript presented by Romance Writers of America. She has also been the recipient of the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award and the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. She is married to her own personal hero, her husband of forty- plus years, and has two grown daughters. She has lived in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Chicago and Florida but now makes her home in the Arizona desert. She spends her free time playing tennis or walking while she does the plotting for her novels.




 

 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Wedding Planner's Son by Donna Fasano on sale NOW



Tawny McNealy is a driven, high-achiever who fully expects to someday take over and run the family accounting firm. But when an attempt is made to use her as a pawn, Tawny flees to the only place she’s ever felt truly free and happy—the beach.

Jack Barclay spends his summer days creating romantic seaside weddings for lovers. His laid-back attitude has served him well over the years. He feels stressing out about work only causes a person to miss the best parts of life.

Jack and Tawny are as different as sea and sky, but the fascination they find in each other’s company can’t be denied. Can they withstand the crazy twists that fate tosses their way?

99¢ Sale! Limited Time! The Wedding Planner’s Son

Ocean City Boardwalk Series, Bk 6

Kindle: http://amzn.to/2tT78VT (US Only)

Nook: http://ow.ly/smgg30dsESo (US Only)

iBooks: http://ow.ly/mrFw30dsJiG (worldwide)

Kobo: http://ow.ly/aQDo30dsIAx (worldwide)


*   ~   *   ~   *


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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sneak Peek! First Chapter of "Once Upon a Christmas" by Denise Devine




Chapter 1
 
October 14th

Ashton Wyatt stepped through the front door of the Ramblin’ Rose Tavern and flipped on the lights, grimacing at the sticky cobwebs covering her fingers. She wiped them on her jeans as she stared at what used to be West Loon Bay’s most popular honky-tonk. In its heyday, locals and tourists had crammed into the town’s oldest saloon every night. Now, the place echoed an eerie silence, with no trace of its former glory in the plastic cups, empty beer bottles and discarded pull-tab tickets littering the grimy, carpeted floor. Faded posters and old neon beer signs hung askew on smoky, windowless walls. Battered, mismatched chairs and tables were scattered aimlessly about the room.

A sudden scratchiness creeped up the back of her throat, making Ashton violently cough. She covered her face with a tissue while waving away a cloud of dust motes floating through the musty air. “Everything smells like mold, old grease and stale beer,” she said to her sister and dabbed at her nose with the tissue. “My allergies are already kicking up a fuss.” She raised her water bottle to her lips and drank, but it didn’t help much. “It would take a miracle to revive this place.”

Ashton’s younger sister, Grace, made a slow, 360-degree turn. The corners of her mouth curved with an enthusiastic smile as her large brown eyes took in every detail of the room. “No, it wouldn’t,” she replied cheerfully. “All it needs is a good scrubbing with disinfectant and some paint. I think we should go for it.”

“Are you crazy?” Ashton sniffled and looked up, gazing at the dust-covered pendant lights hanging over the billiard table. Half weren’t working and she wondered whether they needed new bulbs or new wiring. “It would probably cost a small fortune just to bring the building up to code. Never mind the cost of redecorating.” She coughed again. “Can we go now? My eyes are starting to burn.”

Grace flipped her long, thick braid of dark hair behind her back. “What did you expect? It’s an old building,” she said, ignoring Ashton’s eagerness to escape. “Old buildings have dust.”

Ashton stepped over a smashed Styrofoam carton and approached the pool table. She leaned against the corner, noting the eight ball sitting next to a side pocket, ready to drop in at the slightest movement to the table. “Look, I don’t know the first thing about managing a bar and neither do you, Grace. I mean, you’re a pre-school teacher. I work in an office. Neither of us knows a single thing about operating a liquor lounge.”

“So what? We can learn,” Grace argued. “Aunt Rose didn’t know anything about operating the business, either, when she bought the building, but she made it a success for over twenty-five years. She told Mom that if we decided to reopen it, she’d mentor us and she also offered a startup loan to help us out.”

Ashton pushed herself away from the table. “That’s going to cost her a lot of money! Why is she willing to do this for us?”

Grace wandered around the room, smiling with too much enthusiasm for Ashton’s comfort. “I guess she wants to keep the business in the family,” Grace said. “Now that she’s getting married, she doesn’t have any interest in operating it anymore, but she doesn’t want to sell it, either.”

“Yeah, but how can she afford to shell out so much cash for her wedding and to us to start up the bar again?”

Grace rolled her eyes. “Come on, Ashton, it’s no secret that Rose is smart when it comes to making money. But, even if she didn’t have a dime, Alex would give her the funds if she asked him.”

Rose’s only child, Alexander Lang, had left town years ago with little cash and a scandal brewing, but had recently returned, now a world-famous rock star. He had more than enough money for himself and his mother.

“I don’t know.” Ashton sighed. “It’s such a long shot. Besides, I’d have to quit my job immediately and sell my townhouse to move back here.”

Grace countered with a wry laugh. “Ash, you’re constantly frustrated with your job! You should be happy that Rose has offered us this opportunity. Now you can quit and go to work for yourself. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?”

Yes, but...

Lately, Ashton had been giving a lot of thought to resigning from her executive position at Gepson Affordable Housing Corporation in Minneapolis. Over the last few months, she’d gradually become overwhelmed and emotionally drained by the constant demands of her job. Working for a non-profit housing developer wasn’t easy. The low pay and high turnover meant they were always short-staffed, but government bureaucracy and the constant pressure of finding new funding sources contributed the most to employee burnout on the executive level. She knew the time had come to make a job change, but not something this drastic. Granted, she’d always dreamed of one day starting her own business. Never in her wildest dreams, however, had she imagined taking over a small-town beer joint in northern Minnesota and certainly not one in such pathetic condition...

“Besides,” Grace continued quietly, interrupting her thoughts, “don’t you miss Mom and Dad? You hardly ever come home to visit.”

A pang of guilt pierced her heart. “Of course, I miss them. I just...”

Since high school, Ashton had struggled with her relationship with her parents. During her teenage years, she’d run with a bad crowd and frequently got into trouble, making things difficult for her father, an officer in the West Loon Bay Police Department. In the ten years since she’d graduated, Bob Wyatt had worked his way up to Chief of Police of Bergamot County. Ashton had moved one hundred-fifty miles away, determined to leave the fishbowl atmosphere of small-town life—and her strained relationship with her parents—behind. She still visited them, but only on major holidays and she never stayed overnight. In the last few years, however, a sense of loneliness and restlessness had begun to shroud her heart, fueling her desire to grow closer to them. Sadly, the gap between her and her parents had become so wide she didn’t know how to bridge it.

“Oh, my gosh!” Grace shrieked. “Did you see that mouse?” She scrambled upon the flat surface of a small, square table. “It ran over there!”

Ashton checked the corner where the mouse supposedly scurried to escape her sister’s screams, but didn’t see any threatening creatures lurking about. “It’s gone. You can come down now. Yes, I do miss Mom and Dad, but...”

“But what—what’s stopping you?”

Ashton glanced around the room. “I can’t just walk away from everything I’ve accomplished and completely start over on a whim; especially for this.”

“Hey!” Grace hopped off the table, her tennis shoes echoing a loud thud on the floor. Making a grand sweep of the room with her arm, she said, “This is being handed to us as a gift. Okay, it’s not pretty, but success is what you make of it. Are you going to play it safe and go back to that employer who doesn’t appreciate you, or are you going to take a chance and become a partner with me? Because I’m going to do it!”

“Not without me!”

Ashton and Grace spun around to find their cousin, Allyson Cramer, standing in the doorway. Allyson’s straight blonde hair glistened in the golden October sunshine, streaming across the floor. Her snug-fitting aqua Capri pants and matching print blouse showed off her slim curves. She’d lost weight since last Christmas when Ashton saw her at a family celebration.

Ashton’s jaw dropped as she admired Allyson’s stunning new look, but that didn’t change the fact that they rarely got along. Their stubbornness and competitiveness made them too much alike. “What are you doing here? How did you know that Aunt Rose wanted us to reopen the bar?”

Allyson strutted into the room, her silver stilettos padding softly on the carpet. “She told me first! That’s how Grace found out. I asked Grace if she wanted to go into business with me.” Allyson’s blue eyes twinkled as she smiled mischievously, revealing a sexy little gap between her whitened front teeth. “So, if you want to be part of the team, you’ll have to ask me nice.”

Ashton’s ire rose as she cut a glance at Grace to catch her sister’s reaction. As kids, she and Allyson had always been rivals. “You look terrific, Allyson. It’s too bad you never thought to lose the attitude as well.”

Allyson dropped her designer shoulder purse on a table and laughed. “Oh, come on, Ashton. Get over yourself, I’m just kidding!”

Grace joined in the laughter, but she sounded nervous, as though she worried that Ashton thought she and Allyson were scheming behind her back. Grace didn’t have a scheming bone in her body. Allyson, on the other hand...

Ashton cleared her worsening throat and took another swig of her water. “So, why did Aunt Rose tell you first?”

“Because I’m her favorite niece,” Allyson said matter-of-factly. Her mother, Ruth and Aunt Rose were identical twins. Allyson resembled them so much that most people joked they were actually triplets. She turned to Grace. “Did you tell Ashton about the startup money?”

Grace nodded.

Ashton still found it impossible to believe. “Why is Aunt Rose being so generous?”

“No one offered her a helping hand back in the day when she desperately needed one,” Allyson said as she wandered over to the mahogany bar. “Everyone turned against her and gossiped about her behind her back because she wouldn’t say who had fathered Alex.” Allyson ran one manicured finger across the counter and examined the dust on it. “People treated Aunt Rose like an outcast. She told me it only made her more resolute to succeed.” Allyson smacked her palms together, shaking the dust off them. “I’m pretty sure she’s offering it to us instead of selling it because she’s determined to keep her property from ever falling into the hands of anyone who mistreated her.”

“I can understand that,” Ashton said, remembering the humiliation she’d experienced back in her senior year of high school. Malicious and hurtful gossip had spread about her after her boyfriend, Cole Jacobson, had cheated on her with her best friend on prom night. She’d moved away that summer to go to college and never looked back.

Except that lately she had been looking back and wondering if she’d done the right thing. At the time, running away from all of her problems had seemed like the easiest thing to do. Looking at it now, she realized she’d simply created new ones.

Grace sighed with frustration. “If the three of us are going to join forces and start up this business, we must agree—today—that we’re going to do everything in our power to get along with each other. Otherwise, it’s not going to work.”

“I haven’t agreed to anything yet,” Ashton quipped, seriously questioning her ability to see eye-to-eye on running a business with Allyson. “I’m not convinced this is a smart career move.”

“Suit yourself.” Folding her arms, Allyson rested her back against the bar. “Grace and I will carry on without you.”

“I never said I wouldn’t do it,” Ashton blurted, worried about her younger sister jumping into the fray alone. “I said I wasn’t convinced I should.”

“Then we’re going to sit down and talk this over!” Grace pulled out two chairs and motioned for both girls to occupy them.

Allyson pulled a couple tissues from her purse and began to wipe the wooden tabletop as Grace dusted off the seats of the chairs.

 Once they sat down, Grace smacked her hand in the center of the table. “The conversation can’t begin until we all pledge to work together,” she snapped, glaring first at Ashton, then at Allyson. “You guys have never gotten along, but you’re adults now, so it’s high time you did.”

Allyson shrugged. “I have no problem with that.”

Grace’s dark eyes zeroed in on Ashton. “What about you?”

“Okay!” Ashton held up her palms. “I can do it if she can.”

Grace splayed her fingers on the table. “Then let’s do it!”

Ashton placed her hand on top of Grace’s, followed by Allyson’s hand on top of hers.

“Agreed!” they chanted in unison.

Ashton had no idea what to do next as they pulled their hands away and stared at each other in silence.

Then they all started talking at once.

“The carpet has to go,” Grace said, wrinkling her nose. “It’s gross.”

“I think we should paint the walls creamy white,” Ashton added. “About three coats to cover the rancid cigarette smell and to brighten up the place.”

“Yeah,” Allyson said, nodding in agreement, “and we should hire someone to install a few windows, too. Bring some natural light in here.” She pursed her lips in annoyance. “This place is as dark as a tomb.”

Ashton pointed toward the ceiling. “Speaking of lights, we need new fixtures. Half of these don’t work.”

“Remodel the bathrooms. They’re probably...” Allyson made a face and shuddered.

They all burst out laughing.

Now that they had formed a team, ideas began to flow fast and furious. Grace pulled a pen and a notebook from her purse to jot it all down and by the time she finished, they had a “To Do” list of remodeling ideas four pages long.

Grace frowned at her notebook. “Where are we going to get the money to tackle all of this?”

Allyson sat back, her golden brows knit together as she thought for a moment. “I know someone who does excellent work. I’ll strike a deal with him to complete the priority items and make him agree to wait for payment until after we open for business.”

Ashton did a double take at the notion of delaying payment to a contractor. What kind of idiot would give them instant, long term credit simply on Allyson’s word? “Are you sure he’ll go for that without any strings attached?”

“Of course.” Allyson grinned. “He owes me a more than a few favors.”

Everyone went silent again, absorbing the monumental task they were about to tackle.

Ashton gripped the edges of her chair as the stark reality of the situation took hold. Forming this partnership meant she’d have to sell her townhouse, quit her position at work and move back to West Loon Bay. In other words, give up every shred of stability and security in her life to launch out into the unknown. Could she do it? Did she really want to do it? But then...

If I don’t, will I spend the rest of my life regretting that I passed up the chance to do something risky and exciting?

She looked at Grace for inspiration. Grace smiled back, seemingly unconcerned about the consequences of failure and embarrassment for themselves and their parents if their business went belly-up.

She stared at Allyson, hoping her cousin would give her some assurance that they were making the right decision. Allyson’s cool blue eyes didn’t show any emotion, but the rigidity in her spine and her silence implied that she, too, had doubts about turning this broken-down relic into the thriving business it used to be. The thought of trying to successfully “fill Aunt Rose’s shoes” twisted her stomach into knots.

Grace stood. “So, we’re going ahead with it. All of us.”

“All of us,” Allyson replied, though the uncharacteristic monotone in her answer made her sound uncertain.

Grace stared at Ashton, waiting for her answer.

Ashton swallowed hard. “All of us.”

I can’t believe I’m actually going through with this. What am I getting myself into?

Only time would tell.

****

“Hey there.”

Sawyer Daniels looked up from framing a small storage barn in the lot behind his workshop to see Allyson Cramer sauntering toward him.

They had been good friends for most of their lives, but right now, she was the last person he wanted to see...

“Hey, yourself,” he said gruffly. “How’s bankruptcy court coming along?”

Her smiling face clouded at the mention of her ill-fated interior design business. “I don’t want to talk about that right now. I came to ask you for a favor.”

He laughed wryly at her boldness, but it really didn’t faze him. Allyson’s directness and honesty happened to be what he’d always admired the most about her. Lately, however, her ability to look him in the eye and not feel any remorse had become the aspect he least admired about her. “Well, it’s at the top of my conversational list. I still haven’t received payment for the last two jobs I did for you and Janeen.”

She stepped over a couple of 2”x4” planks, her black patent leather stilettos clicking on the blacktop. “Neither have I—but Janeen owes me a lot more than that. I had no idea how much money she was stealing from the company until our checks started bouncing. I wish I’d never gone into business with her.”

For someone who didn’t have two nickels to rub together, Allyson sure didn’t show it. Her black satin slacks and silky white top looked new and very expensive. So did that fancy designer handbag with the initials LV printed all over it. He wondered if she’d given herself a last-minute bonus before throwing in the towel or if she’d maxed out one of her credit cards. He had a feeling she possessed a lot of maxed-out cards.

Lucy, his five-year-old black Labrador mix, ran toward Allyson, wagging her tail.

“Stop!” Allyson stretched out her hands. “You’ll get dirt on my pants.”

“Lucy, get down!” Sawyer quickly wedged himself between them before Lucy could put her paws on Allyson’s pretty clothes. “Sit!”

Lucy obeyed, looking confused as she whined and thumped her tail.

He stepped over to a faded red Coleman cooler, flipped open the lid and pulled out two chilled bottles of water. “I’ll save you some time. The answer is no.”

She frowned, her lower lip protruding in that cute “pouting” expression she always used whenever she had something up her sleeve. “You don’t even know what I want yet.”

He handed her a bottle of water. “Doesn’t matter; I’m pretty sure you either need something built or your car fixed, but I’m not doing any more favors for you until I get paid the ten thousand you already owe me.”

She took the bottle and examined the label, raising her brows at the Walmart logo. “That’s what I’ve come to talk to you about. I’m going to settle up with you.”

Sawyer twisted off the cap of his bottle. “But...” he retorted, purposely making it sound more like a statement than a question. He lifted the container to his lips and took a swig, never taking his gaze off her as he waited for her to fill in the rest of the sentence.

She displayed a disarming smile. “But you have to do another job for me to get it.”

“You’ve got nerve, you know that? I told you—” He barely got the words out before he began to choke on his water.

She moved close and smacked him between the shoulder blades. “I mean it, Sawyer. I’m going to pay you back, but you have to help me out or I won’t be able to get the money. You want to get paid, don’t you?”

Straightening, he screwed the cap on his bottle and set it in a holder on the lid of the cooler. “Of course, I do, but if you don’t have any money now, how are you going to pay me when I finish the next job?”

“Because I’m going to get the money very soon.” She pulled a couple of webbed lawn chairs into the shade and motioned for him to join her. Brushing off the seat of the nearest one, she gingerly sat down, looking as though she expected the chair to fall apart underneath her. “I’m reopening The Ramblin’ Rose.”

He burst out laughing. “I expected your idea to be off the wall, but this is—”

“Don’t laugh!” She gave him a stubborn look. “I used to tend bar in college. Besides, my Aunt Rose is giving me a loan.”

Lucy trotted over to Sawyer’s chair and sat next to him, resting her chin on his knee.

“Is that so?” He patted Lucy on the head. “I hope she’s lending you enough to pay me back, too.”

Allyson set her unopened water bottle on the ground beside her chair. “I have to make some changes to the building. That’s where you come in.” She reached into her handbag and pulled out a handwritten list. “The items in red are the initial modifications I want you to make. The rest will come later as I can afford it. You’ll get compensated incrementally as you complete the project. Once I’m open for business, I’ll start paying off the old debt.”

Renovating that old structure seemed like a waste of time, but he unfolded the paper and scanned the list anyway.

“Meet me at the bar tomorrow for a walk-through and we’ll go over the specifics.”

He’d grown up in West Loon Bay but rarely went back there, even though he lived only ten miles south in Summerville. In his misspent youth, he’d done his share of partying at The Ramblin’ Rose and giving the local cops a hard time, but when he left town, he’d also abandoned his old life—and his drinking buddies. Instead, he’d adopted a homeless dog, started a business and bought a house in an effort to make some sense out of his life. Working at The Ramblin’ Rose increased his chances of running into some of his former crowd. He had no interest in renewing old acquaintances, especially Cole Jacobson, the best friend-turned-traitor who’d stolen his girlfriend right from under his nose—on prom night no less. It hadn’t taken him long to get over Brenda Miller, but even after all these years, he still lived with the temptation to punch out Cole’s lights for double-crossing him.

Let it go... You’re not that person anymore. What happened turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Sawyer refolded the page and handed it back to her. “I’m too busy at the moment. I’ve got my own customers to keep happy.”

She groaned loudly in disappointment. “When can you start then?”

“I’ve got orders for storage barns and a custom fish house to finish. I’m busy until Thanksgiving,” he said, hoping she’d be in a hurry and decide to hire someone else.

Instead of backing off, Allyson leaned toward him and gripped his arm. “Sawyer, I planned to open by Thanksgiving. I need you on the job now.”

Gently, but firmly he pulled his arm away. “I can’t. I have commitments.”

“In two weeks, then.” She glared at him, her jaw stubbornly set. “By that time, I’ll have a crew on-site working on the cleanup.” When he didn’t answer, she began to blink back tears. “Come on, Sawyer. You’ve got to help me. Best friends always stick together. Didn’t I help you back when you were starting your business?”

Even though he had no doubt she’d deliberately manufactured the waterworks for his benefit, it still made him uncomfortable. He had a soft spot for Allyson, and knew he always would. Bringing up their friendship, and how her interior design company had given him jobs when he first went into business for himself, seared his conscience. He couldn’t say no.

And she knew it.

He expelled a deep sigh of resignation. “All right, I’ll meet you at the bar tomorrow morning at ten o’clock, but I can’t start the job until the first of November. I want half of the money down in cash and the rest upon completion. Is that understood?”

Smiling, she grabbed her handbag and sprung from her chair, all traces of her former tears gone. “I’m going to see Aunt Rose right now and tell her I’ve hired you. I think it would be a good idea if she attended the meeting as well.” She kissed him on the cheek. “You’re the greatest, Sawyer. Gotta go. Tons of things to do!” She left him wiping her peach lipstick from the rough surface of his jaw with the back of his hand. “I’ll call you!” she yelled over her shoulder as she hurried to her car, her long blonde hair billowing behind her. How she could run in those ridiculous shoes was anybody’s guess.

Lucy smacked his knee with her paw, reminding him of her presence. “Don’t worry, sweetie,” he said, chuckling softly as he rubbed her ears, “you’re still my number one girl.”

Sawyer watched Allyson drive away, wondering if he’d ever meet the right girl for him. He knew all of the women in the area. He’d attended school with most of them and dated many, but no one had ever captured his heart; no one had ever given him the emotional rush he’d experienced with Brenda Miller. Had he missed his chance for happiness, or had being in love with her simply given him a taste of the real thing?

He truly hoped someday he’d find out.
 
*   ~   *   ~  *
 
This story is part of the Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 boxed set on sale for 99 cents on September 26, 2017.
 
 
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Once Upon a Christmas will be on sale individually in October. Stay tuned for the date!