Friday, November 28, 2014

All For You by Jessica Scott


 
 
 
 



Can a battle-scarred warrior . . .
Stay sober. Get deployed. Lead his platoon. Those are the only things that matter to Sergeant First Class Reza Iaconelli. What he wants is for everyone to stay out of his way; what he gets is Captain Emily Lindberg telling him how to deal with his men. Fort Hood's newest shrink is smart as a whip and sexy as hell. She's also full of questions-about the army, its soldiers, and the agony etched on Reza's body and soul.
 
. . . open his heart to love?


Emily has devoted her life to giving soldiers the care they need-and deserve. Little does she know that means facing down the fierce wall of muscle that is Sergeant Iaconelli like it's just another day at the office. When Reza agrees to help her understand what makes a soldier tick, she's thrilled. Too bad it doesn't help her unravel the sexy warrior in front of her who stokes her desire and touches a part of her she thought long dead. He's the man who thinks combat is the only escape from the demons that haunt him. The man who needs her most of all . . .

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All for You was one of the most poignant romances that I’ve read thus far.

 

Sergeant First Class Reza Iaconelli is an alcoholic trying to stay sober, get deployed, and lead his men. Yet he is a man troubled by his past, the war, and the suicide rate of soldiers returning home. When he encounters Fort Hood shrink Captain Emily Lindburg he discovers she’s sexy, smart, and full of questions he’s not sure if he wants to answer. Although with Emily, he feels safe yet it isn’t enough to keep him sober.

 

Even though their first encounter started off as a screaming match, Emily finds herself drawn to Reza. When he agrees to help her understand the soldiers she’s treating, she can’t help but to grow closer to him. Yet she has figured out how to peel the layers from Reza and discover the man beneath the hurt.

 

Goodness this was an intense romance novel. But it was also a realistic novel that showed the hardships our soldiers face when returning from combat.

 

While I found the first three and a half chapters a little slow, I found that once Emily and Reza started sharing more page time the pace picked up and the book caught my attention.

 

Reza is one of the most damaged and tormented heroes that I’ve read.  I was rooting for him to finally get sober and gain control over his demons.

 

He’s an alcoholic, but he’s a functional—which I think made it worse, since it never really forced him to stop until he finally hit a brick wall. He’s an independent man with no one to look after him who relies on the bottle.

 

Emily lived a sheltered life until she caught her best friend giving her finance a blowjob and decided to join the army as a shrink. While she has heard about the effects of war, she never truly experienced it or had personal contact with it until she met Reza.

 

I didn’t feel as though I got to know Emily as well as I did Reza, but I still liked the fact that she’s a strong heroine who knew when to final say enough is enough. Although I will say, given that she had a feeling Reza was an alcoholic, I truly wanted to slap her for drinking with him. It was kind of one of those chuck-the-book-against-the –wall-WTH moments.

 

Overall, I found I was drawn into this book. A gritty, heartbreaking, humanistic, and redeeming romance will say with me long after I put the book down.







Book Details
Title: All For You
Author: Jessica Scott
Publisher: Forever Romance
ISBN:
Release Date: 11/25/2014
Format: Mass Market & Ebook
$8.00
Source: Mass Market ARC from Publisher
Rating: 3.5
 
 
 
 

 

1. Tell us something about yourself, so that we can get to know you a bit better…

I’m pretty introverted despite how it might appear online and in limited appearances. I definitely need to have me time to recalibrate myself.

 

2. Your romance novel, All for You, is out now—congrats! Could you tell us about it?

I love All for You and I’m so grateful for my editor taking a chance on this story. It’s about an alcoholic struggling to stay sober and an army doc who can’t seem to get him out of her mind. They’re a pretty amazing couple for a lot of reasons but I also think they’re my favorite.

 

3. Do you do anything special to get into the right frame of mind for writing?

Deadlines, lol! In all honesty, I like to have a good earworm. A good song stuck in my head and I can be super productive.

 

4. What can readers expect next?
I’ve got an anthology out with JoAnn Ross this month called Home for Christmas: A Holiday Duet which features a new novella in her Shelter Bay series and a Coming Home novella. After that, I’m working on more stories set at Fort Hood that will be out some (hopefully) early next year.
 

About the author:
USA Today bestselling author Jessica Scott is a career army officer;
mother of two daughters, three cats and three dogs; wife to a career NCO and wrangler of all things stuffed and fluffy. She is a terrible cook and even worse housekeeper, but she's a pretty good shot with her assigned weapon.  She's currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology in her spare time and most recently, she's been featured as one of Esquire Magazine's Americans of the Year for 2012. 

She's written for the New York Times At War Blog, PBS Point of View: Regarding War Blog, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She deployed to Iraq in 2009 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and has served as a company commander at Fort Hood, Texas.




Social Media Links:
 
 
 

        Reza felt Emily hesitate before she climbed the hill toward the MOUT site behind him. His gaze fell to his gloves on her hands, and an unexplained warmth spread somewhere in the vicinity of his belly as he watched her.

         He wasn’t entirely sure what the hell had happened to him. Not so long ago, he’d gone up one side of her and down the other for keeping information about a soldier from him. Not so long ago, he’d told her she did not belong in the army.

         Now she was out at the range with him, wanting to know about the world he lived in.

         A world he didn’t want her to know. The scars on his body were testament to the ragged ugliness of war.

         She’d watched movies about combat. He’d led men in combat. Bled with them.

         What on earth had possessed him to bring her out here?

         He knew what it was and it pissed him off. If she was going to deploy, maybe something she learned today would save her life later. He hated to think of her in a bunker with rockets landing all around. His stomach twisted hard. He wouldn’t be there to keep her safe.

         People like her simply didn’t recognize the world for what it was: a cruel, hard place that would crush the best of them. It was a world that required exactly what they were about to do: train.

         If he couldn’t protect her, he could train her. At least a little. A little was better than nothing.

         If she backed away from the shoot house, he wouldn’t let her go. She needed to do this, to see this in training where it was safe. No matter how much he wanted to protect her from the smoke and chaos of war—even a mock war like they were getting ready to wage today—the simple fact was she was going to deploy. Better to learn what she could here today rather than head to the desert with zero training. The threat of violence was a very real thing in his daily life and if she was going to deploy, she needed to understand that.

         He watched her as she approached, careful to keep his expression neutral.

         Part of him wanted her to run, to turn away from the violence of his life.

         But another part of him, the dark part, wanted her to join him in the muck and the mire. That darkness held a powerful lure, a quiet shame mixed with the pride: he was good at what he did.

She flexed her hands in those gloves and his guts clenched. Down, boy.

         “You ready for this?” he asked as she stopped next to him.

         She peered up at him intently through her army-issued protective glasses. They were at least three sizes too big. “Is one ever really ready for something like this?” She didn’t look nervous but he heard the stress in her voice.

         “Would it help you to know that I’m looking forward to this? This is the fun stuff I signed up for.” Not the killing parts. No, not those. But the force-on-force mock fights? That was the fun stuff.

         “Fun? Are you serious?”

         “Hey, Sarn’t Ike, check this out!” One of his old lieutenants, Miller, ran up from the entrance to one of the blown-up windowless buildings of the mock city. He lifted his shirt, showing a brilliant purple and red welt on his side.

         “That shit’s going to hurt like hell tomorrow,” Reza said with a low whistle. “Did the medics check you out?”

         “I’m not fu— Nah, I’m good,” Miller said, stopping himself once he realized there was an officer present. “Ma’am.” He saluted and Emily returned the courtesy.

         Reza almost shook his head at the sharp perfection of her salute. She obviously hadn’t learned the half-assed officer salute that so many officers passed off as real customs and courtesies. He watched her expression change from horror to pure curiosity.

         “Is that—”

         “Some of the guys were screwing around, Ma’am. Doesn’t hurt that bad.” Miller had turned about as red as the bruise on his side.

         “How did that happen?” she asked, peering closer.

         Miller glanced at Reza for permission and Reza nodded. Unless he was mistaken, that bruise had come from an epic case of fucking around and he didn’t mind Emily hearing that. She needed to see the fun side of the guys in addition to the fucked up stuff inside their heads. Maybe if he could get her to see them as people, she’d stop thinking of them as victims.

         “Couple of the guys cornered me. I let my guard down and well…there you have the results.”

         Reza grinned, feeling the warm comfort of familiarity slip around him as Miller ran back toward his boys. This, Reza knew. This was the only thing that kept him from crawling back into the bottle. A chance to lead his boys again.

         He wasn’t in charge today. No, that day was still a long way off. But he wanted—no, he needed—to be back with guys like Foster and Miller. With captains like Teague.

        “Just follow me and stay close. It might get a little loud.” Reza watched as she tried to get her bearings over the sounds and the movement and the noise.

         People who had never been to combat didn’t understand the chaos on the battlefield. It was oh so easy to second-guess the actions of the men and women on the ground when the videos captured everything, but in the thick of the fight? Yeah, it was never as easy as the video games and armchair quarterbacks made it seem. There was too much smoke, too much yelling, far too many people.

         One wrong choice and the squeeze of the trigger ended a life. It might be fun, what they did in the shoot house, but that fun ended the minute they rolled with real rounds in the chamber.

         “A little loud?” She was shouting. “I’m not sure it can get any louder.”

“If you’re still talking to me in a few months, I’ll take you out on an op in the tunnels. You want to talk about loud.”

         “Tunnels?”

         “We do tunnel training because we never know when we have to go below the cities, or literally in tunnels.”

         Her eyes widened slightly as though she was only just starting to grasp the variety of situations his boys faced. It was fascinating watching the scales fall from her eyes. She took everything in. Watched with a fascination that told him she wasn’t missing anything.

         Her brows drew down in a slight frown. “What?” he asked.

         “Nothing. You’re just…You’re different out here.” She tipped her chin at him. “More intense. You really do enjoy this stuff, don’t you?”

         The strange feeling in his belly unfurled completely, spreading warmth wide through his blood. “There is nothing better than leading men in combat,” he said over the noise.

         Nothing until he held that experience up next to the possibility of touching Emily again.

         What would he give up for a few more minutes alone? To touch her the way he wanted, to feel her soften beneath his mouth and his fingers.

         An explosion ripped through the noise and he ducked, more on instinct than anything else. When he looked over at her, her jaw had tightened in determination.

         And Reza fell a little harder.

 
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Favorite Things: The Au Lait Collection from The Scottish Fine Soaps Company


With the holidays right around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect time to share some of My Favorite Things. These are the things that I cannot live without and they would make perfect gifts to give {or to keep, we won’t tell!}.
 
One of My Favorite Things is actually a Collection of things from The Scottish Fine Soaps Company. I simply adore their Au Lait Collection. It blends the goodness of real milk with a touch of French chic to nourish and soften skin. And come in the cutest glass bottles.


The best-selling Au Lait Collection from The Scottish Fine Soaps Company blends the goodness of real milk with a touch of French chic to nourish and soften skin.
 
Au Lait Bathing Milk:  Enriched with almond oil and cocoa butter to moisturize your skin, leaving it butter-soft and beautifully hydrated.  Blending the natural goodness of real milk with a touch of French chic, you’ll luxuriate in a bath full of creamy, rejuvenating bubbles.
 
Au Lait Body Milk: Our velvet-smooth Body Milk is enriched with almond oil and cocoa butter for maximum hydration. With a fresh, delicate scent, Au Lait Body Milk restores your skin’s natural glow, and nourishes and softens your skin.
 
The Au Lait Body Milk is one of the smoothest, silkiest, lush lotions that I’ve used. It’s light-weight and non-greasy with a slight fragrance that’s not overwhelming. And it’s one of the best lotions that I’ve found to help with my psoriasis.
 
The Au Lait Bath Milk is just as luxurious as the Body Milk. As someone who has extremely sensitive skin, I have never had a problem with this creamy bath milk or any of the Au Lait products.
 
 
 

These make perfect hostess gifts. After spending the day in the kitchen (sometimes days, in the kitchen) then entertaining, I know the only thing I want to do is relax in a nice hot bath. 
 
Find a nice gift bag, or basket, add the Au Lait Bath Milk and the Au Lait Body Milk, a book, and a pair of aloe socks top with a ribbon and your good to go.
 
Trust me your hostess will thank you!
 
 
 
 
See what other lovelies The Scottish Fine Soaps Company has to offer by clicking on the logo below.


https://www.scottishfinesoaps.com/
 


Monday, November 24, 2014

Christmas With The Laird by Scarlet Wilson







It's official - for Juliette Connolly Christmas is a bust and she's definitely not in the Christmas spirit. She's been dumped by her boyfriend and replaced by a younger model. Then a clause in her contract means she and a mysterious colleague have to work over Christmas. But there's much more to Andrew Campbell than meets the eye. Especially when it turns out he's the Scottish Laird of the haunted house they're filming in.
 
And it seems like there's magic in the air in the remote snow-filled seting. The local village contains a cast of Christmas characters and even though the boiler in the drafty house is broken the temperature is definitely rising.
 
Maybe Andrew and Juliette are about to be sprinkled with a little Christmas fairy dust?

http://simplyangelarenee.blogspot.com/search/label/Christmas%20romance



Christmas with the Laird was one of the most unique Christmas romances that I’ve read…and I love it!
 
After an accident forces an episode of Haunted Ever After (a program that features supposedly haunted places) to be canceled, Juliette Connolly and Andrew Campbell are forced, due to contractual obligations, to film a new episode during the Christmas break.
 
When Andrew says he knows of the perfect place to film at, Juliette never expected Garnock Hall to be Laird Andrew’s familial, and abandoned, family estate. And she soon discovers that Andrew is haunted by the past.
 
As the pair grows closers, Andrew must choose whether to let Juliette in or keep her at arm’s length.
 
I’ve found another amazing Christmas romance to add to my collection.  While ghosts are occasionally associated with Christmas stories, this novella tinges, slightly, on the gothic side making it uniquely entertaining.
 
Andrew is broody. He has a huge secret that’s eating away at him while acting as a roadblock in his life. Although by bringing Juliette home with him, he seems to understand it’s finally time to face the ghosts that haunts Garnock’s halls.
 
Juliette’s boyfriend decided to chuck her for a newer model. She had intended to spend to Christmas at home but she is now forced to share Christmas with Andrew in his old drafty castle (who could turn down that offer?). Although she’s growing closer to Andrew, she’s apprehensive because she was recently dumped.
 
The chemistry between Andrew and Juliette was nicely done. And I loved the way the author built the romance as the plot progressed.
 
Overall, Scarlet Wilson has painted the perfect picture of two people overcoming the past while trying to manage a Christmas dinner for the first time set against the snowy Scottish landscape.
 
Christmas with the Laird is a truly brilliant Christmas romance that I happily devoured in one sitting. A heartwarming novella that should be on everyone’s TBR list.

I would love to see this made into a movie!



 


Book Details
Title: Christmas With The Laird
Series: Christmas Around The World Novella #3
Publisher: Tule Publishing
ISBN: 9781942240150
Release Date: 10/30/2014
Format: Ebook
$2.99
Source: eARC via Netgalley
Rating: 5 Cups


Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Last Goodbye by J.A. Jance


 

 
 
 
Find out where fan favorite Ali Reynolds’ new adventure takes her in A Last Goodbye as New York Times bestselling author J.A. Jance brings her trademark breakneck pace to this fun and exciting e-novella, in which Ali Reynolds takes on double responsibilities as both sleuth and bride.
 
Ali Reynolds is finally getting married to her longtime love B. Simpson. They wanted a simple Christmas Eve wedding, but nothing is ever simple with Ali. Even as a motley crew of her friends—Leland Brooks, Sister Anselm, and others—descend on Vegas, the bride-to-be finds herself juggling last-minute wedding plans and a mystery in the form of a stray miniature dachshund. Ali’s grandson rescues the little dog, but Ali’s not in the market for a new pet right before her honeymoon, and leaves no stone unturned in hunting for the dog’s owner. But what she finds is more than just a shaggy dog story…Bella’s elderly owner has vanished, and her son seems to be behind it. So it’s Ali and B. to the rescue—and still making it to the church on time!

http://simplyangelarenee.blogspot.com/search/label/Christmas%20romance


Ali Reynolds believes that a Vegas wedding will be quick and simple with no fuss. But when her husband-to-be brings home a miniature dachshund that someone tossed out of a car, Ali finds herself as bride and sleuth as she tries to track down the dog’s owner and spend her honeymoon with her new husband.
 
A Last Goodbye was such a sweet and moving novella.
 
While I was new to the Ali Reynolds series, I found that I was able to jump into this novella and get an amazing sense of the characters.
 
Ali wants a quick and simple Christmas Eve wedding. Things quickly change when her grandson rescues a dog and her husband-to-be, B., brings it back to the hotel. Even though Ali insists that the dog must go, she’s quickly embroiled in the hunt to find its owner and is slowly growing attached to Bella.
 
The way the hunt for Bella’s owner unfolded and the outcome was very touching and it made me stop and think about what happens to pets when their elderly owner is no longer able to care for them.
 
Overall, this was a quick and touching novella.  Dog lovers will truly enjoy this novella.
 
 
Book Details
Title: A Last Goodbye
An Ali Renynolds E-Novella
Author: J.A. Jance
Publisher: Pocket  Star EBooks
EBook ISBN: 97815011043698
Release Date: November 24, 2014
Format: Ebook only
$0.99
Source: Printed Arc from Publisher
Rating: 4 Cups


Ali Reynolds leaned her head back against the pillow in the soaking tub and closed her eyes. With the help of the pummeling water jets, she let the rush of the past few days recede into the background.  She and B. had made it. They were finally in Las Vegas. The rest of the wedding party was there, too.  Back in November, when she and B. Simpson had first settled on a Christmas Eve wedding at the Four Seasons, it seemed entirely doable—a piece of cake. After all, how hard could it be?
 
Because Ali and B. had chosen to be married in a hotel, much of the planning was done by simply cruising through the wedding planning pages on the Four Seasons website. Arranging the time, date, flowers, type of ceremony—including their preferred verbiage in the vows—was just a matter of making a few mouse clicks on her computer. Ditto for the menus. One was for what they were calling the rehearsal dinner despite the fact that there would be no rehearsal until the morning of the wedding. She also used the website to choose separate menus for both the reception and the post-ceremony supper. Ali stepped away from her computer, thinking that she had most everything handled. Unfortunately, she had failed to take her mother’s reaction into consideration.
 
Preparations for Ali’s previous weddings had been well beyond Edie Larson’s geographic reach—Chicago for the first ceremony and Los Angeles for the second. Caught up in running the family business, the Sugarloaf CafĂ© in Sedona, Arizona, 363 days a year, all Ali’s parents had been able to do on the two previous occasions was arrive in time for the rehearsal dinners and depart immediately after the nuptials.
 
This time around, Ali wasn’t so lucky. Her parents, Bob and Edie Larson, were both retired now, having sold the restaurant. Bob had found plenty to do in retirement, but Edie, left with too much time on her hands, had hit the wedding planner ground at a dead run, a reaction for which Ali herself had been totally unprepared.
 
In the past, Ali had found the term “bridezilla” mildly amusing, but when it came to dealing with an Edie who had suddenly morphed into what could only be called the bride’s “momzilla”? That wasn’t amusing in the least. To Ali’s surprise, Edie had whipped out her long-unused Singer sewing machine and set about stitching up a storm. In keeping with the season, Edie’s mother-of-the-bride dress was a deep-green velvet and probably the most sophisticated attire Ali had ever seen in her mother’s wardrobe.
 
With her own dress safely in hand, Edie had gone on to tackle outfits for the twins, Ali’s grandchildren, Colleen and Colin, who would serve as flower girl and ring bearer respectively. Colleen’s dress was a ruby-red taffeta, and Colin’s tux, also homemade, came complete with a matching rubyred taffeta cummerbund. Once that was finished, Edie took it upon herself to sew identical cummerbunds for all the men in the wedding party.
 
Ali’s father, Bob, was not an official member because Ali’s son, Chris, would do the honor of walking her down the aisle. Even so, Edie had gone so far as to bully her husband into actually buying a tux as opposed to renting one so Bob would have one to wear to formal dinner nights on their next cruise. Edie had been in despair about Ali’s ever finding a suitable wedding dress, and her sense of dread deepened when her daughter abruptly removed herself from the wedding planning equation. For the better part of two weeks in early December, Ali avoided all the frenetic pre-wedding activity by, as Edie put it, “larking off” to England.
 
That’s what Ali and B. had both expected her trip to Bournemouth would be—a lark. She went along for the ride when her longtime majordomo, Leland Brooks, returned home to the British Isles after living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the better part of sixty years. The trip was actually a thank-you from B. and Ali for Leland’s years of loyal service, including his having saved Ali’s life a month earlier in a nighttime desert confrontation with a kidnapper.
 
Ali had expected that her responsibilities would entail providing backup in case any of Leland’s long-lost relatives decided to go off the rails. She was also there as the designated driver, since most
car rental agencies didn’t allow octogenarians to rent vehicles.
 
In a role-reversal variation on Driving Miss Daisy, Ali had taken the wheel of their “hired” Range Rover and driven Leland through the snowy English countryside from London to Bournemouth, Leland’s hometown, on the south coast of England. Together they even took a sentimental side trip to one of Leland’s favorite childhood haunts: Stonehenge.
 
In a small fashion boutique in Bournemouth, Leland had helped Ali find the perfect dress for her third and, as she put it, hopefully last wedding. Even now, her lovely lace-adorned ivory silk knee-length sheath was hanging in its original clear plastic wrap in the closet here at the Four Seasons. Needless to say, Edie was greatly relieved to know that the wedding dress issue had at last been handled even if she hadn’t been allowed to make it or choose it.



AUTHOR:
J.A. Jance is the New York Times bestselling author of the Ali Reynolds series, the J.P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, as well as four interrelated Southwestern thrillers featuring the Walker family. Born in South Dakota and brought up in Brisbee, Arizona, Jance and her husband live in Seattle, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona. Please visit Please visit http://www.jajance.com/.


Happy Holidays from Pocket Books!
Whether you've been feeling naughty or nice, Pocket Star has a festive holiday ebook for you!
Click on the Christmas Cards to find one that’s a perfect fit and download for holiday cheer!
Don't forget to send some holiday cheer to a friend!
http://pages.simonandschuster.com/pocket-star-holiday/


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Perfect Gift by Dani-Lyn Alexander






’Tis the night before Christmas… and businessman and single father Jason is scrambling to find the dollhouse of the season for his seven-year-old daughter Emily. But when he finally strikes gold at an obscure toy store, he’s met with resistance—literally, as a beautiful woman named Leah is grabbing onto the dollhouse box from the other side of the aisle, determined to get the same Christmas present for her own daughter.
 
Desperate not to let the other win, Jason and Leah forge a pact: stay together until they find the same dollhouse at a different toy store. It sounds simple, but ten stores and many hours later, they still come up empty. They might not be finding another dollhouse, but they sure are finding a lot to talk about and, as their mutual attraction grows, the unlikely pair finds the greatest holiday gift of all—love.





Single father Jason is on the hunt for the Little Family Dollhouse, the only gift his seven-year-old daughter Emily has asked for for Christmas. When he finally finds one at a toy store, he finds he’s not the only one wanting the dollhouse.
 
Leah, also a single parent, has finally saved up enough money to buy the only gift her daughter Allison has asked for: the Little Family Dollhouse. Now that she’s found one, she determined not to let the handsome man holding onto the other side of the box have it.
 
Jason and Leah are both single parents who put their children first, and if the gift would have been for anyone but their daughters they would have let the other one have it. Therefore, they make a pact: each pay half and search for another dollhouse. Although, ten stores later, they finally realize they are not going to find another dollhouse, but they have found that their attraction to each other has grown.
 
This novella was one of the sweetest little Christmas stories that I’ve read. It was the perfect book to curl up with by the fire whilst drinking a cup of hot chocolate.
 
While it was short, the printed arc was only 67 pages, I felt I got an amazing sense of who Jason and Emily were and I was rooting for them not only to find another dollhouse but to find each other.
 
The plot was brilliantly paced and pulled me in. I wanted to know what would happen with these characters. And I was pleased with the ending.
 
Overall, I loved The Perfect Gift. It was an amazing little holiday romance laced with bits of humor that left me feeling all warm and fuzzy.
 
It’s definitely one novella that you should go forth and buy. And trust me, you’ll enjoy The Perfect Gift for many Christmases to come.  
 
This was my first time reading Dani-Lyn Alexander and I look forward to reading more from her.


 

Book Details
Title: The Perfect Gift
Author: Dani-Lyn Alexander
ISBN for E-book: 9781476773339
Publisher: Pocket Star EBooks
$.99
Publication Date: November 17, 2014
Source: Printed Arc from Publisher
Rating: 5 Cups




 Ten minutes. Jason had ten minutes to make the twenty-minute trip across town. He’d never be on time for his meeting. He stared at his watch as if it would tell him something different this time. Acid rolled in his stomach. Well, they’d just have to wait. Christmas Eve was tomorrow and he had to take care of getting Emily’s present. Truthfully, he should have gotten it already, but between working, looking after the house, and taking care of Emily, he had little time left over for anything else.
 
The only thing Emily had asked for this year was the Little Family Dollhouse. She’d get other gifts, too, of course, but he had to be sure to have that one. A coworker he’d spoken to before he left the office had told him how popular the house was with girls Emily’s age. Every little girl she knew either had one or had put it at the top of her list for Santa. Apparently now it was almost impossible to find. She’d suggested this small, out-of-the-way toy store that specialized in hard-to-find items. So here he was, sitting in a traffic jam, hoping it wasn’t too late to get what he needed. Impatience threatened to strangle him. He glanced again at the clock on the dashboard.
 
Emily was mature for seven, so he knew she’d accept that he couldn’t find the dollhouse. Still, he didn’t want her to be disappointed. Since Karen’s death, he’d raised her on his own, and so far it had proved to be the most challenging, most rewarding thing he’d ever done, and he desperately wanted to do it right.
 
The traffic light turned red, and Jason ground his back molars. Not one car had moved while the light was green. Not. One. Car. City traffic was the last thing he needed right now. He clutched the steering wheel tightly and dropped his head onto his clenched fists. This was ridiculous. Who would schedule a lunchtime meeting all the way across town on the day before Christmas Eve? His boss, that’s who. How could he possibly get all of this done? He rubbed his temples with the heels of his hands. Didn’t these people need to be at work or something? The motorist behind him hit the horn—again—and Jason couldn’t help but wonder what the man was beeping at. There was nowhere to go. No doubt he was just voicing his frustration. While Jason could certainly feel his pain, the constant honking was grating on his nerves.
 
Spotting a gap in the traffic, he darted to the right as soon as the light changed. He whipped around the next corner and slipped into a parking spot only two blocks from the toy store. Figuring he was lucky to get this close, he locked the car and jogged the two blocks. The freezing-cold drizzle not only soaked him but also coated the sidewalk with a thin sheet of ice. Since he was dressed for work in his suit and hard-soled dress shoes, the going wasn’t easy. Slipping when he turned to enter the store, he went down hard. His feet slid out from under him and he hit the wet sidewalk, scraping his chin on the step, tearing a hole in the knee of his pants, and soaking himself in the process.
 
Could this day get any worse? Even as the thought crossed his mind, things indeed got worse. As he pushed himself up, he caught a glimpse through the front door of the toy store. Although a few customers still browsed inside, the clerk was already putting the key into the lock. Oh, no! She can’t. Clutching the handrail tightly, he hurried up the two front steps to the door, grabbing hold of it before she could turn the key.
 
“I’m sorry, sir. We’re closing early today. I’m flying down to Florida to visit family for the holidays.”
 
Soaking wet, shivering in the cold, he could certainly appreciate her hurry to head south, but he had to get into that store. “Please. I just need one thing. It’s really important. I promise I’ll only be a minute.”
 
Apparently, the woman could tell he was having a rough day, because she gave him a sympathetic look as she held the door open and gestured for him to enter.
 
“Thank you so much.”
 
He looked around, quickly locating the girls’ section and headed straight for the aisle that held the dollhouses. The store was small but crowded with merchandise, and it took him several trips up and down the aisle to realize the dollhouse he needed wasn’t there. Great. Now what would he do? He hated disappointing Emily. Shoving his fingers through his hair in frustration, he turned to leave.
 
Unbelievable. He took a deep breath to ease the disappointment pressing like a weight against his chest. Just when he thought this day couldn’t get any worse, he spotted it. The Little Family Dollhouse. It sat on the end of the aisle, pushed against the back of the shelf, and there was only one left. Wary of his slippery shoes on the wet floor, he moved cautiously but quickly toward the shelf. Breathing a sigh of relief, he grabbed the box, turned to head for the register, and . . . met with resistance. Snapping back around, he pulled again. Once more the box was yanked away from him. He held tight to the dollhouse as he peered around the corner of the aisle at the other set of fingers holding onto his prize. A small, delicate hand had managed an incredibly tight grip on the box. His gaze slid up the arm and into the biggest, bluest, most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. The breath caught in his throat.
 
LEAH GRIPPED THE dollhouse as tightly as she could and stared into eyes that had to be made from melted chocolate. She’d never seen such amazing eyes, and her gaze held his.
 
“I’m sorry. I need to get this dollhouse.” He still hadn’t taken his eyes from hers.
 
She smiled her best smile. “I’m sorry, too, but I had it first.”
 
“Look,” he started, smiling back at her, the expression filling his eyes with even more warmth, and Leah’s heart melted a little bit. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I really need to have this dollhouse.”
 
His eyes might have melted her heart, but there was no way she was letting go of this box. Motherhood prevailed. She’d called all over the city looking for this dollhouse, and now that she’d found it, nothing could make her part with it, not even a pair of eyes she could easily lose herself in.
 
“This is the only thing my daughter asked for this year. I must have it.” Her grin faltered for just a second before she plastered it firmly back in place. Then she pulled her gaze away from his eyes, effectively removing any temptation she might have felt to release her hold on the box.
 
Having been so enthralled by his eyes, she’d somehow missed taking in the rest of him, and the sight that greeted her now left her momentarily speechless. He was a mess. His gray pin-striped business suit was soaking wet, dirty, and torn. Wet hair stuck up in thick, dark clumps along one side of his head. A large scrape marred his very sexy chin.
 
All right, don’t go there. Wow, he really was having a bad day.
 
He exhaled one of those annoyed male sighs she knew so well. “Look, let’s be reasonable here. I already had the box in my hand when you grabbed hold of it.”
 
“Actually, I had my hand on it first, and then you grabbed it.” Her smile wavered as she started to realize he might not release his hold.
 
“Okay, I’ll pay you the cost of the dollhouse if you’ll let me have this one.”
 
The dollhouse cost over a hundred dollars, and she had to admit the money would come in handy. Her job as a receptionist didn’t pay much. The only reason she hadn’t looked for the gift sooner was that she’d had to wait for her final paycheck before Christmas. Although she was tempted to accept his offer, she still held tight.
 
Allison hadn’t asked for anything else for Christmas. Leah had to have the dollhouse for her.
 
“I’m sorry. Even though your offer is very generous”—you jerk—“I’m afraid I can’t accept. My daughter is only seven, and this is the only thing she asked for this year. I have to have it for her. I’ve already been all over the city looking for it. I’m sure you can understand.”
 
She mentally kicked herself even as the words left her mouth. Maybe he hadn’t realized how impossible these things were to find. If Mr. Chocolate Eyes thought he’d be able to find another one, she might have a better chance of getting him to release his hold on the box. He forked his free hand through his hair. Good grief. No wonder it was so messy.
 
“Okay, let’s be reasonable.” He took another long breath, his wet clothes clinging to broad shoulders. “Only one of us can have the dollhouse. I understand your position. I have a seven-year-old as well. This dollhouse is the only thing she put on her list for Santa this year. She’d be so disappointed if it wasn’t under the tree. Please, is there any way I can talk you into letting me have it?”
 
“We’re obviously both in the same position. As adults, surely we can resolve this somehow.” She couldn’t help but wonder what he’d do if she just yanked the box out of his hand and ran. The only problem being she’d have to stop and pay for it. She couldn’t just run out of the store. Or could she? She glanced toward the front door and chewed on her bottom lip. She could always come back in later, after he’d gone, and pay for it. Of course, if the owner called the police and they caught her before she could come back, she’d spend Christmas in jail.
 
Definitely not an option. Allison didn’t have anyone but her mother and had never known her father. He’d taken off the day he found out Leah was pregnant. Right now Allison was with Leah’s parents in Ohio. She’d be home tomorrow, though, and Leah had to be at the airport to pick her up, not sitting in a jail cell for petty theft. No, she couldn’t run.
 
He was still staring at her, apparently thinking her silence meant she was contemplating his offer. “All right, maybe we could—”
 
“Excuse me.” The sales clerk didn’t appear to be the least bit amused. She stood with her arms folded across her chest, her foot tapping and a scowl on her face. “Sir, I let you in because you told me you just needed one thing. You said you’d only be a minute. I have to lock up now or I’m going to miss my flight.”
 
“We seem to have a misunderstanding here.”
 
At least he had the good grace to blush when he explained the situation.
 
“I don’t really care who gets the dollhouse. In one minute I’m locking that door and I won’t sell it to either of you.” She turned her back on them and walked away, effectively ending any argument
either of them could come up with.
 
When the Christmas music stopped and the lights flipped off a minute later, Leah panicked. “Come on. I really need to have this. Neither of us is going to get it if you don’t let go. Now.” Desperation nearly choked her. “Maybe we can find another one somewhere else, but we’re definitely not going to find two. Let me have this one and I’ll help you find another one.”
 
He appeared to be as surprised as she was by the offer, but he still didn’t let go.
 
“I’m leaving.” The clerk’s voice rang out, sounding completely annoyed.
 
“No,” they cried in unison.
 
“I’ll tell you what.” The man quickly glanced at the clerk and then back at her. “We’ll split the cost of this one and go together to look for another one. Then we’ll split the cost of that one, and we’ll each end up with a dollhouse.”
 
The rattle of keys made Leah’s decision. “Fine. You’re on.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dani-Lyn Alexander is a native New Yorker. She was born in Rome, New York, then moved to Rosedale, and finally to Long Island. She still lives on eastern Long Island with her husband and three children.  Please visit http://www.danilynalexander.com/.