NEW RELEASE EXCERPT & GIVEAWAY: It Takes Two To Tumble (Seducing the Sedgwicks Series) by Cat Sebastian

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:
Helping his poor parishioners
Baby animals
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:
His ship
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.  

About the Book

It Takes Two to Tumble
by Cat Sebastian

Series
Seducing the Sedgwicks

Genre
Adult
Historical Romance
LGBTQ Romance

Publisher
Avon Impulse

Publication Date
December 12, 2017

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Excerpt

After the fact, Phillip thought he might have handled the situation a bit more gracefully if the children hadn’t been in a tree. But he was not at his best, having walked the distance from the coaching inn to the house, with each step growing more disoriented by the sheer familiarity of the terrain. Surely the place ought to have changed. But every rock and tree aligned precisely with memories Phillip hadn’t even realized he still had.

Despite having sent a messenger ahead with the approximate time of his arrival, the children were not waiting in the hall to greet him. Of course they wouldn’t be, he told himself. That had been Caroline’s doing, and she was gone. Their failure to appear was just further proof of how badly Phillip’s intervention was needed. He needed to get to work turning them into well-behaved, competent midshipmen. Children, he corrected himself. Yes, children.

The servant who opened the door told Phillip he’d find the children in the orchard with the vicar. Phillip found this surprising, as nothing in Ernestine’s final letter had indicated religiosity as part of the children’s reign of terror. But instead of discovering the children at work in prayer or singing hymns, he found them high up in a cherry tree.

The plain fact of the matter was that children did not belong in trees, at least not when they ought to be in the hall awaiting their father’s return. Nor did vicars belong in trees at any time whatsoever. He might not have much experience with either, and thank God for it, but he knew trees were not the natural habitat of either class of person. He had expected to see his children for the first time in two years in a setting that was slightly less arboreal. Somewhere he could properly see them and they could properly see him and they could all say whatever the hell they were supposed to say in this situation without Caroline to manage things. Instead all he got was a glimpse of booted feet vanishing higher into the branches accompanied by the sound of stifled laughter.

The vicar spotted him first, and promptly swung down from the tree to land at Phillip’s feet. At least, Phillip assumed it was the vicar, and not some stray stable hand who had taken to capering about the orchard. But didn’t vicars wear uniforms of some sort? Special hats or black coats? The chaplain on the ship always had. This fellow was in his shirtsleeves, and if that weren’t bad enough, his sleeves were rolled up. The chaplain had never done that. The chaplain had been about sixty. And bald. This fellow had wheat-colored hair that needed a cut and freckles all over his face. He was nothing like the chaplain. Unacceptable.

“Oh damn,” the vicar said. Phillip gritted his teeth. Swearing was another thing the chaplain had never done. “I mean drat,” the man said, his freckled face going pink. “Bother. You must be Mr. Dacre.”

“Captain Dacre,” Phillip said frostily. This fellow had to go. No discipline. No sense of decorum. No wonder the children ran amok if they spent time in this man’s company. “You have the advantage of me,” he said, not bothering to conceal his frown. He never did.

“Ben Sedgwick,” the vicar said, smiling in a lopsided, bashful way. He stuck his hand out, and Phillip had no choice but to take it. The vicar’s hand was warm and his grip was firm, and Phillip’s gaze automatically drifted down to the man’s exposed forearm, sun-burnished and dusted with light hair.

“Thank you, Mr. Sedgwick,” Phillip said. “You may take yourself off.” His effort to dismiss this careless young vicar was interrupted by a rustle of leaves and the thud of a child landing at his feet.

The child was tall, lanky, and excessively rumpled. “Edward,” Phillip said, briefly startled by the changes a lapse of two years wrought in children. Phillip had last seen his older son as a coltish child of eleven. Now Phillip could discern two things—one, that he looked very much like Caroline, and two, that he was not best pleased to see his father. For an instant, Phillip could hardly blame him. Phillip had never much enjoyed seeing his own father either. When the navy had taken his own father away for years at a time, Phillip had rather thought they had all been the better for it.

He held out his hand and noticed the barest hesitation before his son took it. “You look so much like—”

“I know I look like Mama,” Edward said coolly, dropping his father’s hand. “I have a looking glass.” His scowl was so intent that Phillip opened his mouth to scold the boy. “Mr. Sedgwick,” Edward said, turning to the vicar, “I’m going to finish my history lesson.” Without waiting for a response from Sedgwick or so much as a by-your-leave from Phillip himself, the child dashed off towards the house.

While Phillip had always striven to keep order on his ship in less brutal ways, some captains wouldn’t have hesitated to have boys flogged for even less blatant insubordination. Phillip swallowed his anger and turned his attention to the tree, where he could see two pairs of dangling feet.

“Margaret,” Phillip called up into the tree. “James.”

“Oh, they won’t come down,” Sedgwick said cheerfully. “Not a chance.”

“Excuse me?”

“I wouldn’t even bother calling them. They’ll stay up there until the sun sets or until the spirit moves them otherwise.” He seemed utterly undisturbed by this. His eyes were actually sparkling, for God’s sake.

“And you permit this?”

Sedgwick’s brow furrowed. This was the first lapse in the blithe and idiotic good cheer he had displayed since Phillip’s arrival. “Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do about it. Rope them like a couple of stray sheep? They’re safer up there than they are getting into whatever devilry they might seek out elsewhere. Really,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning close in a way that made Phillip instinctively mirror the pose until he realized what he was doing and straightened up. Proximity was the last thing he needed with this man. “The tree’s been a godsend. They haven’t been capering about the rooftops even once since they discovered how climbable the cherry trees are.”

Phillip blinked. “What I meant,” he said slowly, “was that perhaps you would like to tell them to come down.”

“Tell them?” the vicar repeated, as if Phillip had suggested a satanic ritual. “Won’t do a blessed thing other than inspire them to more mischief, I’m afraid. No, no, leave them safely up there, and when they’re hungry they’ll come inside.”

“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” Phillip said in precisely the tone he’d use towards a sailor about to be assigned morning watch for the foreseeable future. “But now that I’ve returned I’ll see to engaging a proper tutor.”

The man had the nerve to look hurt. Really, what had he expected? If Phillip had wanted his children to run about like South Sea pirates, he could have stayed on his ship where he belonged, thank you very much. But instead he would hire a tutor for the boys and a governess for Margaret. And when they were ready, he’d send them off to school, where they belonged.

“About that,” the vicar said slowly. “I’m not sure you’ll find a tutor. They’ve run through a good half dozen and I fear that well has run quite dry.”

“A half dozen!” Ernestine hadn’t mentioned that in her last letter. Or at least he was fairly certain she hadn’t. He knew there had been some trouble engaging suitable help, but quite possibly she had obscured the details. Well, it was a good thing he was here, then. He would see to it that his household was as it ought to be, that his children were on a safe course, and then he’d go back to sea. Two months. He had turned far more insalubrious characters into perfectly disciplined first-rate sailors in less time than that, hadn’t he? He was used to commanding dozens of men in clockwork precision. Surely he could make a couple of children—his own children, at that—fall in line.

“Never mind that,” he said. “I have everything in hand. Good day,” he added when the vicar didn’t seem inclined to take the hint and leave.

“Good luck,” the vicar said, gathering his discarded outer garments and carelessly dropping his hat onto his head.

Phillip thought he heard the man laugh as he made his way towards the house.

Ben gave it fifteen minutes before Captain Dacre came begging for help. Half an hour at the outside.

Likely as not, the captain would be tied to a burning post before Ben had his valise packed.

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of IT TAKES TWO TO TUMBLE, we’re giving away one paperback copy of THE RUIN OF A RAKE by Cat Sebastian.

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 12/22/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

 

About Cat Sebastian

Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.

 

 

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RELEASE DAY EXCERPT & GIVEAWAY: Head Coach by Lia Riley

Neve Angel’s life is all work and no play, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.  One of Denver’s top sports reporters, she’s fought hard to make it in a male-dominated world, and she won’t back down from a fight with anyone–not even the Hellions’ gruff head coach, Tor Gunnar. Her hostile relationship with the icy Scandinavian is the stuff of local legend.

Tor Gunnar hates dealing with the media; at best, they are a nuisance and at worst, a distraction. And no one distracts him more than the scrappy, sexy reporter who gets him hot under the collar. When he wins a not-so-friendly bet with Neve, he decides it’s high time they either kiss or kill each other, and invites her as a date to an out-of-town wedding.

But what happens when enemies become lovers? Will they be able to smother their sizzling attraction, or is it time to start playing for keeps?

About the Book

Head Coach
by Lia Riley

Series
Hellions Angels

Genre
Adult
Contemporary Romance

Publisher
Avon Impulse

Publication Date
November 21, 2017

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Excerpt

Chapter One

Stuck in a Rut?

The billboard’s tacky font splashed across the image of a blonde woman dressed in a corset, high-waist underpants and garter belt. Neve Angel scowled through her windshield at the rest of the tagline.

Shimmy into a Whole New You!

BEGINNER Burlesque Classes at The Twirling Tassels

“Humph.” Neve tucked an escaped strand of hair back into her bun. Ms. Blondie could pop an egg in her perfect pout and suck it. Since quitting figure skating at the age of eighteen, she had developed an allergy to glitz and glamor, favoring low-key personal grooming.

Fake lashes were out.

Foundation contouring? Negative.

Waxing? Please. She wasn’t a masochist.

These days the word pragmatic carried far more value for her than pretty, thanks very much. Flicking on the radio, she relaxed her shoulders as a familiar guitar riff filled her ’78 wood-paneled Jeep Wagoneer. She had an unabashed love for classic cars and classic rock, and Tom Cochrane was a guy who knew his stuff. Life was a highway, except forget the part about driving it “all night long.”

Or driving anywhere for that matter. Satan would ice-skate through hell before this insane gridlock budged.

A silver Prius inched forward until it practically dry-humped her bumper.

Meep! The driver leaned on a wimpy-sounding horn.

Honking under these conditions was a ballsy move, akin to sitting in the last row of an airplane and standing when the cabin crew disarmed the doors—a good way to tempt ordinary citizens to commit murder.

The driver beeped again.

“Use your eyes. There’s nowhere for me to go!” Neve glanced to the rearview mirror and gazed at the distinctive red cursive on the Prius’s license plate.

A California driver. Surprise, surprise. She’d bet the loose change in the bottom of her purse that this chick was a Bay Area transplant, relocating her traffic problems to Denver along with skyrocketing home prices. The whole West was getting Californicated, from Nevada to Montana, Texas to Colorado.

The horn beeped a third time. She fisted her insulated travel mug and then took a careful sip. Madam Prius better thank her astrological chart that Neve had hot coffee within arm’s reach because otherwise things could get ugly.

A minute passed.

Two.

Blessed silence reigned.

After blowing up her bangs, she pulled an everything bagel from the flimsy paper bag on the dashboard, cramming it into her mouth. In a parallel universe, Alter-Neve woke with ample time to prepare a nutritious breakfast, perhaps an acai bowl topped by sliced bananas and kiwi fruit or Greek yogurt and granola, Instagram-worthy concoctions bursting with enough omegas and fiber to make any Prius driver water their home herb garden with organic tears.

But in this world, Einstein Bros. and a dark roast had to do the job.

She brushed stray poppy seeds and flecks of dried garlic off her charcoal pants with a muffled sigh. Charcoal, i.e., dark grey . . . not black. Her somber closet palette might be as cheerful as a funeral home, but it never required expending mental energy at seven a.m. trying to coordinate funky colors or mix and match patterns.

From her roadside perch, the burlesque model appeared amused, as if she knew Neve ate the same humdrum breakfast day in, day out and dressed in the same humdrum wardrobe. Or that while she might have an impressive LinkedIn profile, that didn’t translate to a social life worth posting over.

Neve poked out her tongue at the model’s image. This low-maintenance duckling had grown up to be . . . if not a preening swan, a confident duck.

She had a good—scratch that, great—career as a sports columnist for the Denver Age covering the hockey beat, and her life was too consumed by deadlines to bother with extra fuss. Work was the priority, and as for her biological clock . . . well, it could keep right on ticking. She had another baby to grow, her side hustle, a podcast—Sports Heaven—that kept climbing iTunes rankings; she had even been featured in their New and Noteworthy section last month.

Rut-shmut. By any measure, Neve was doing great in her career and living her best life. Except her smirk faded as she glanced to the console clock. She’d risk missing the puck drop if traffic didn’t improve soon.

Hopefully, the Hellions would get a much-needed win tonight. After their recent back-to-back championships, it appeared the team’s days in the sun had fallen into one serious shadow. The roster had been shaken ever since the unexpected retirement of captain Jed West last summer. This season had started as a big disappointment for Denver fans, and worse, whispers of NHL labor disputes were gaining traction. For the past few weeks, trusted sources had even uttered the dreaded term lockout—a word that kept her up at night restless and fretting.

Fingers—and toes—crossed that the powers that be would navigate through the negotiations and get the league back on track. During the 04–05 lockout, the whole season was cancelled—the worst possible outcome. Stadiums sat empty. Fans grumbled. Refs and arena workers forwent paychecks.

She shuddered, mentally elbowing away the terrible idea. Hopefully this time around, cooler heads would prevail.

And as for the Hellions, there was another place where cooler heads needed to prevail. Maybe if their goalie would practice a little Zen meditation and quit getting players sent to the penalty box every damn ga—

Meep! Meeeeeeeeep! Madam Prius hit the horn as if she’d face-planted on the steering wheel and died.

Tension migrated from Neve’s neck, making the slow climb to her temples. The first throbs of a headache emerged. Between lockout worries and this racket, she might spontaneously combust. To release steam, she rolled down the window and flipped the Prius the bird before grabbing her phone off the passenger seat.

Ignoring the new—and so far unlistened-to—mindfulness podcast her friend Margot had recommended, she clicked on Byways, the popular navigation app that relied on community-sourced traffic updates to create the fastest routes. It needed to get her moving before she found herself arrested for disorderly conduct.

She plugged in the Hellions stadium address and an avatar of a pitchfork blinked from a quarter mile ahead. Her tummy performed a flawless triple-axel jump.

Rovhal30.

She took a deep breath and issued herself a stern reminder. There had never been any official confirmation that Rovhal30 was even male, but in her mind, he was six feet of strapping sexiness, lounging behind the wheel of a black Subaru Outback—a ginger-haired Ewan McGregor doppelgänger. Not Trainspotting Ewan either. Not even Moulin Rouge! Ewan. No . . . straight-up Obi-Wan Kenobi Attack of the Clones Ewan, with the shaggy hair and delicious beard.

One thing was for certain, the pitchfork avatar meant that Rovhal30 was a Hellions hockey fan.

Or a devil worshiper who lives in his mom’s basement hand-feeding his pet bull pythons.

The pitchfork didn’t budge. Rovhal30 was stuck in this traffic too. She sucked in her lower lip, debating: To message or not to message? That was the question.

No point glancing to Burlesque Blondie for advice. The model would just shimmy her tassels in a “you go, guuuurl” affirmation.

Eenie, meanie, miny . . . ugh. Fine. She was doing this.

Tour Wide Giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Three winners will receive an ebook copy of Mister Hockey.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 12/1/2017 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

About Lia Riley

After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, Lia Riley scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments.

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NEW RELEASE SPOTLIGHT & EXCERPT: The Negotiator by HelenKay Dimon

Lauren Gallagher’s life changed almost three years ago. After her husband disappeared at sea, she was left with a failing pleasure boat company and more than a few secrets. Now, after years spent rebuilding the business and paying off the pile of debts, she finally feels in control. But when she finds her husband, actually dead, on the floor, she becomes the leading suspect in his murder investigation.

Garrett McGrath wants Lauren in his bed, not his heart. He doesn’t do emotions, but every time he sees her, holding himself back gets harder and harder. When Lauren comes under suspicion for killing her previously presumed-dead husband, he knows he has to help her, any way he can.

But as the danger becomes more intense and Garret and Lauren grow closer than either planned, they’re in danger of losing everything…including their hearts.

About the Book

The Negotiator
by HelenKay Dimon

Series
A Games People Play Christmas Novella

Genre
Adult
Contemporary Romance

Publisher
Avon Impulse

Publication Date
November 14, 2017

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Excerpt

Chapter One

He rose from the dead.

Lauren Gallagher couldn’t come up with any other explanation. Her once-dead husband was very much alive and standing on the other side of her front door . . . and she felt nothing but numbness spreading inside her.

For a man who supposedly washed overboard in the middle of a violent storm, he looked pretty healthy. Big smile. Bright white teeth. Khaki pants and deck shoes. She’d forgotten how much she hated the deck shoes.

The wattage on his supersmile dimmed a bit as he shifted his weight from foot to foot and rubbed his hands up and down his arms. “Aren’t you going to let me in?”

Her mind went blank. The world flipped sideways on her and her stomach rolled. The whole time she could hear him talking but the words didn’t make sense. None of this made sense. She opened her mouth but nothing came out but a tiny gasping sound. That’s all she could muster as she blinked, trying to process what she was seeing.

“Lauren? Why are you just standing there? Open this door.”

An order. The sharp smack in his voice sounded far too familiar. That quickly it brought her crashing back to reality.

She really wanted to say no to his command. Not that she hadn’t mourned him. Even with the dysfunctional state of their faltering marriage at the time he disappeared, she had. She’d grieved for what could have been and the dreams that fizzled out early in their time together. She grieved for his loss as she would an old friend, not as a person she viewed as her soulmate, if there even was such a thing.

That was less than three years ago. The police had arrived and she’d dropped to her knees feeling sick and hollow at the idea of Carl gasping for breath as the water he loved so much overtook him.

Months had passed slowly after that. She’d been locked in a perpetual state of shock, topped off with a wallop of guilt because she’d visited a divorce attorney for the first time just before he disappeared. With him gone she’d found out about the lies. His hidden debts and how he’d taken their business to the brink of bankruptcy, all while showing her fake bank statements he’d manufactured. He’d gone to a lot of trouble to carry on the ruse of pretending their finances were fine.

And then things had gotten even worse. All those whispers about Maryanne, the girlfriend who seemed to be an open secret to everyone except Lauren. The one who, unlike Lauren, did not have any debts or an unpaid mortgage or a business on the verge of bankruptcy. Maryanne Lightwood, the same woman who’d mysteriously walked out on her rent and left town right as Carl’s boat disappeared.

Lauren prided herself on being practical. She was skeptical of coincidences and not stupid, so confusion had turned to fury in record time. As the cool December wind blew in the front door of the small cottage now, she realized the fury still simmered inside her.

She lived far enough from the water that the breeze wasn’t frigid, but it carried a bite. For the past few years early winter in Annapolis, Maryland, had meant an unwelcome amount of snow. This year had been mild. As someone who ran a pleasure boat and fishing tour business and depended on tourists, she thought she might get lucky this year and only have to survive a short off-season.

Apparently, her luck had just run out.

“Lauren, honey?” Carl pulled on the handle of the screen door. When it didn’t immediately open, he shook it, rattling it in the door frame. Still, it didn’t move.

She’d never been so grateful for her lock-the-door paranoia. He should be happy, too, because the thin screen might be all that was saving his sorry lying ass right now.

Under the numbness and shock lurked a layer of bubbling resentment and rage. She’d kept up the outward farce of being fine for so long that she’d started to believe it. Now the mask slipped. She wanted to throw open the door and pound on his chest and make him apologize for every wrong.

But Carl had never taken responsibility for anything in his life. Even now he had the nerve to stand there with a stupid look on his stupid face, as if she were the unreasonable one for not welcoming him home with a big hug. So, yeah, the door stayed closed for his protection because she knew once she unleashed her temper she would not stop.

“Hey, what is this?” Carl’s hand dropped to his side as he frowned at her through the mesh screen. “Honey, I’m back.”

Honey? What kind of man checked out of his life for almost three years and expected to step right back into it, no questions asked? It was as if he were empty inside, without a conscience. And he was so close to getting a kick in his junk.

“Yeah, I can see that.” She tried to swallow but couldn’t choke down the lump of anger racing up her throat. “Tell me, where have you’ve been?”

“Lauren, Jesus. It’s freezing out here. Let me in.” He pulled on the handle again as if he expected a different result than last time. The door made a thumping sound as it hit the frame. “What’s wrong with you? Snap out of it.”

He kept up that tone. Short, dismissive, demanding. The only time he hadn’t been obnoxious was during the years when she thought he was dead. Even then . . .

That’s all it took. Something inside her snapped and wave after wave of uncontrolled, boiling-hot rage raced through her. He wasn’t the only one who could throw his attitude and his I’m-done tone around. “Where the hell have you been, Carl? You don’t contact me at all and then you just stroll up to my door. You ripped my life, my work—my everything—apart and now act as if you’ve only been gone for an afternoon. What is wrong with you? What happened?”

“I was left for dead.” His surfer-boy good looks faded a bit as his eyes narrowed. “Thanks in part to you.” Wherever he’d been he must have forgotten how locks worked because he rattled the door one more time. “Now open this.”

He was blaming her. Of course he was. She was likely at fault for the fact his hair wasn’t the same sunny blond it once was and for the few wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. He was forty-one, having celebrated two birthdays while he was gone. She doubted he was taking the transition out of his thirties all that well.

She’d been thirty-three and inching very close to thirty-four when he went missing and even back then he’d mentioned “hip spread” more than once. Hers, of course. Not his. She’d expected him to battle aging as fiercely as he’d fought to be the only one in charge of handling the bills. Now she knew why . . . because he hadn’t bothered to actually pay any debt with her name on it.

“You disappeared.” Right there, in that moment, she kind of wished he’d do it again and had to push back the wave of guilt that came with that realization. She’d had no idea how much hate had festered inside her until he popped up again. The frowning, his ridiculous summer shoes in winter, that voice—it all worked on her nerves and it had been less than ten minutes.

“A wave hit the boat. It tipped and I went overboard.” He shrugged. “Are you satisfied now?”

Not even close. A hundred questions filled her head. “Who could be satisfied with that? What’s the rest of the story?”

His body language and easy dismissal of how his terrible choices impacted her life only made her more determined to understand what his days looked like during the last few years. Then maybe she’d let him in, but probably not.

He waved her off. “None of that matters now.”

“It does to me.” His short nonanswers ticked her off even more, and she wouldn’t have said that was possible. “I deserve an explanation. A real one. All of the facts, not just pieces.”

He leaned in closer as his jaw tightened. “I said later.”

Wariness surged through her. She wasn’t afraid. No, scared wasn’t the right word. Carl had never been violent, never raised a hand or threatened her. But near the end he’d been distant and that had turned into flashes of meanness. Snide comments about how he’d married a woman but got stuck with a fisherman. Sudden outbursts of blaming her for the fact that they weren’t making more money in the boating business.

So much confusion swirled around him and his stories and all that deception. She’d convinced herself he ran off with his girlfriend. Not that she ever admitted that to anyone or said the words out loud. No, there had been too much at risk.

To save her house and business she’d needed the life insurance and a final judgment from the court about Carl’s fate. A confirmation that he was legally dead. She had to pretend to believe it. It had taken her almost two years to persuade the court and wrestle the business and house away from the legal no-man’s-land it had wound up in when he disappeared. The life insurance company had refused to pay on the claim. That meant she’d had to salvage what she could with him gone.

Now he was back, and as much as she hated it, they needed to talk. She tried, even as her brain screamed for her to slam the door. “I think we should—”

“I can’t believe you’re being a pain in the ass.”

Her head snapped back at the fury lacing his voice. “Me?”

“Jake warned me you’d gone from grieving to stone cold in a matter of months.” Carl shook his head. “I didn’t believe it. Not after everything we’d been through.”

She lost the thread of the conversation as soon as Carl mentioned his brother. “Jake?”

“That’s where I’ll be. At his house.” Carl started to shift away from the door. “But get your act together and do it fast, Lauren. I plan on being in this house and back at work by Christmas.”

“That’s two weeks away.”

“I’ll be back tomorrow.” He made a face that suggested he was sick of her again already. “Be over your shock and ready to talk by then.”

Lauren watched Carl walk back down the path to the car parked on the street. She recognized the dark sedan. It belonged to Carl’s brother, which meant Carl had gone there first.

Her mind spun with questions about where he’d been and why he was back. She had no idea how he planned to explain and argue his way out of this . . . or why he thought he could walk back into her life now without any real explanation or sign of remorse.

A gust of cold air got her moving. She slammed the front door closed and rested her palm on it. Tried to breathe in, to think.

Her usual calm detachment abandoned her. Jumbled thoughts crashed into her brain. Panic rose in her chest, threatening to swamp her. Finding a lost husband should be a good thing. For her, it amounted to a nightmare. Everything was upside down and all she wanted was to right it again.

Help. She never asked anyone for help. Not ever. She’d learned long ago that needing someone, depending on them, led to heartache and disappointment. But Garrett McGrath’s face kept flashing in her mind. Sarcastic, charming, sinfully handsome Garrett. They’d met in the summer and he’d asked her out for two months. Hanging around, texting, insisting he’d wait for her to be ready to date again.

The guy had honed his tall-dark-and-smoldering look and for some reason he’d decided to aim it full force at her. Probably had something to do with the thrill of the chase. That was the only answer she could come up with. Because once he knew her, really knew her, he’d back off. Any sane person would.

But right now, as the walls closed in and she struggled to hold on to a coherent thought, all she could do was think of his face. The dark brown hair and those big green eyes. That firm chin . . . and his uncanny ability to solve complex problems while making a joke and without breaking a sweat.

She glanced around her cottage. It had a beachy vibe with weathered white beadboard walls and overstuffed blue furniture. It consisted of two small bedrooms, a bathroom and a joint living and eating area. Her refuge. The place she’d rented when she lost everything else. The same place Carl for some reason thought he had a right to live in.

She grabbed her cell off the couch and dialed the number Garrett had put in there when they first met. The phone rang and his deep voice came on the line. Voice mail.

She waited a few moments. Gave herself a bit of a pep talk and mentally insisted she could handle this, just like she handled everything else.

Instead of leaving a message she texted him. She tried to think of the right thing to say. She went with the only words that made sense to her . . . You were right. Carl is not dead.

 

 

Garrett stared at the text message. It had come in a half hour ago. He’d missed it while he was parking his car in the airport lot. His flight to San Francisco left in an hour. He would have enough time to maneuver his way through security, grab a coffee and get to the gate, and even that was pushing it. Now this.

He’d been trying to win Lauren’s trust for months. With Christmas coming and her refusing to commit to seeing him, Garrett had booked a last-minute flight to visit with the only family he had left. His aunt and cousin, Lotti. The goal was to see his aunt before she left on a cruise then annoy Lotti for a few days before taking off on his own. That was about all the family time he could muster for this holiday.

His parents had died in a car crash exactly one month after he turned nineteen. Christmas Eve almost twelve years ago. He’d been in college and orphaned in a matter of minutes. Too much alcohol had accompanied what many suspected was a fight that had started at his dad’s work party and continued into the car . . . and then they were gone.

The devastation had lingered for so much longer than Garrett had expected. He was an adult when it happened, or almost. He knew he’d grieve but he’d thought that would end and then he’d move on. Being alone wouldn’t matter because he wasn’t a kid. He would be fine. But his aunt had known better and explained that type of mourning was a forever process. She’d wrapped him in a blanket of love and given him an extended family, and his cousin had become the little sister he never had.

They were expecting him. He’d promised to come out for a week before the holidays and maybe again after. They didn’t want him to be alone on the anniversary of his parents’ death, but he’d long ago learned that he operated better on his own that day. Quiet and still, wondering what could have been if his father had just called a cab.

For once December had rolled around and he wasn’t thinking only of his parents. He hadn’t buried himself in work to battle back the memories. That had been the plan, but now he had Lauren’s text.

You were right. Carl is not dead.

The clipped sentences fit Lauren. She wasn’t the flowery type. She was practical and beautiful and smart. She never volunteered information, except to insist their more than five-year age difference mattered. When he refused to accept that as an excuse for not going out with him because it was ridiculous, she informed him that she was a mess and that he could do better.

If she’d said she wasn’t interested, he would have walked away disappointed, but he would have gone. Not having dinner because of some perceived failing she had about herself? That part he couldn’t agree to.

For the first time since he’d met Lauren, she needed him. He hated the idea of her being targeted by a con man ex, but he loved that he was the one she had on speed dial for anything.

Yeah, his family trip could wait. They’d understand because that’s what they did. They were bone-deep decent. They gave him room and reeled him in now and then when he failed to call often enough. Lotti would give him shit for picking a woman over them, so he decided to keep that information quiet for now. He’d call this a work problem. He could almost see Lotti rolling her eyes at that one.

He dialed his aunt as he turned around and headed back to his car. A shot of anxiety surged through him, making him speed up the pace with each step. He had the sudden need to race to Annapolis.

Carl Gallagher’s being alive made Garrett want to kill him.

About Helenkay Dimon

HelenKay Dimon spent the years before becoming a romance author as a…divorce attorney. Not the usual transition, she knows. Good news is she now writes full time and is much happier. She has sold over thirty novels, novellas and shorts to numerous publishers, including HarperCollins, Kensington, Harlequin, Penguin, Samhain and Carina Press. Her nationally bestselling and award-winning books have been showcased in numerous venues and her books have twice been named “Red-Hot Reads” and excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine. She is on the Board of Directors of the Romance Writers of America and teaches fiction writing at UC San Diego and MiraCosta College.

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NEW RELEASE SPOTLIGHT & EXCERPT: How to Woo a Wallflower by Christy Carlyle

An Unconventional Wallflower…

Clarissa Ruthven was born to be a proper lady, but she’s never wanted to live up to the expectations her late father set. Determined to use her inheritance to help the less fortunate women of London, she’s devastated to learn that she won’t be inheriting anything until she marries, a fate she has no interest in. Unwilling to let go of her plans, Clary works at Ruthven Publishing for Gabriel Adamson, a man who’s always hated her. She’s always returned the feeling, but as she begins to turn her family’s publishing company upside down, she finds herself unable to forget her handsome boss.

Never Follows the Rules…

Gabriel Adamson believes in order. He certainly doesn’t believe Clary should be sticking her nose in the publishing company, and she definitely has no business invading his every thought. But Gabe soon finds he can’t resist Clary’s sense of freedom or her passionate kisses and he starts to crave everything she’s willing to give him.

Especially When It Comes to Love…

When Gabe’s dark past comes back to haunt him, he’ll do anything to make sure that Clary isn’t hurt…even if it means giving up the only woman he’s ever loved.

About the Book

How To Woo A Wallflower
by Christy Carlyle

Series
n/a; standalone

Genre
Adult
Historical Romance

Publisher
Avon Impulse

Publication Date
November 14, 2017

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Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

 

“Don’t assume every young lady is in need of rescue. Some of us wish to be a heroine who fights her own battles.”

—Journal of Clary Ruthven

London, 1899

Whitechapel repulsed Gabriel Adamson.

Grime and smoke hung so thick in the air that he could taste grit on his tongue. Narrow lanes conspired to trap the neighborhood’s fetid stench, and its tenements loomed above his head as if they’d crush him under the weight of their cramped, miserable inhabitants.

Now that he could afford proper togs for the first time in his life, he took care selecting the finest fabrics for his tailored suits and shirts. Today, he feared every stitch he’d donned would reek from the East End’s noxious stew of ash and muck.

The rain had been on and off and on all morning, but the heavens showed no mercy in a place like this. The sky opened the moment he alighted from the hansom cab, fat drops pelting his hat like the clatter of horses’ hooves on cobblestones.

Tugging up his fur-lined collar, he lengthened his stride and ducked under the awning of a grimy-windowed shop. He stared across the lane at Number 12 Doncaster.

The building slouched toward the street, its wooden frame worn by time and eaten away by moisture. The brick buildings buttressing each side were smart and modern by comparison, though their red bricks had been smoked to an oily black too.

As he gazed up at the house, echoes rang in his head. Raging shouts and desperate cries. The thud of fists on flesh. Bone meeting bone.

Peg Delaney was a cruel woman, but she was nobody’s fool. Gabe doubted she’d still be eking out a living in the last place he’d seen her. This venture was a fool’s errand.

He drew in a ragged breath, biting back a curse.

At least he’d had the good sense not to tell Sara of his trip. He couldn’t bear to dash his sister’s hopes, nor could he stand watching her fret over their mother’s fate when she should be focusing on her future and finally securing a bit of long-delayed happiness.

When the rain slowed to a sparse patter, he dashed across the narrow lane and knocked at the door. No answer came, and he suspected the landlord was far in his cups by this hour. The man had always been a wastrel. Trying the latch, he found the door unlocked and stepped into the dark, musty vestibule, choking on memories and stale air.

A discordant strain of music—a bow scratching at violin strings—echoed from upstairs. Gabe started up the worn slats. The wood creaked under his weight.

His mother’s door stood ajar, and nausea clawed its way up his throat when he caught a hint of her cheap perfume on the air. Bracing a gloved fist against the wood, he pushed inside and held his breath. Amid dried leaves and a cascade of cobwebs, the stench of rot turned his gut inside out.

Except for a single overturned chair, the room contained no furniture. Nothing hung on the walls. No personal effects decorated the space. She’d abandoned this place long ago, and no one had given a damn about the miserable lodging room since. Water ran down the walls, leaking from loose roof tiles.

Gabe strode to the back of the room and gripped a moldy edge of loosened wallpaper. Peeling back the paper revealed a gaping hole in the plaster. Reaching inside, he scraped his fingers around in the dust and dark until he felt a rounded shape. He tugged the object forward, grasping the tiny horse head in his hand.

Years ago, he’d found the knight chess piece in the gutter and had squirreled it away like a treasure. Even now, the chiseled quartz glinted in the weak light from the room’s single, cracked window.

“Wot you after?” A woman’s gruff bark sounded from the threshold, and Gabe turned, fists balled, muscles tensed.

“Mrs. Niven.” She’d been wrinkled and gray when Gabe was young. Now his old neighbor had the aspect of a wizened crone. If wizened crones wielded a violin bow in one hand and a revolver in the other.

Squinting until her eyelids were little more than creased slits, she shuffled forward. “Is it you?”

Gabe’s pulse slowed as he watched the old woman’s drooping mouth curl up in a toothless smile.

“Ragin’ Boy.” She drew close, reeking of smoke and soiled wool. “Never fought I’d see those eyes of yours lookin’ back at me again. ’Ow many years gone now, child? Five? Ten?”

Nine and a half years. He’d left Whitechapel at sixteen and never looked back. Never intended to step foot in the godforsaken place again either.

Tipping her chin, Mrs. Niven examined Gabe down the length of her bulbous nose. “Judgin’ by those fine togs you’re sportin’, I’d wager you’re not frowin’ punches for your supper these days, are ya boy?”

“Where is she?” He wasn’t here for small talk.

“Peg? ’Aven’t seen ’er in ages, boy.”

Gabe flexed his fingers. He fought the urge to throttle the old woman every time she called him boy. Mrs. Niven was thinking of another person. A child discarded long ago. An imp who woke angry every morning and spent his days fighting, striking out at anyone, anything that stood in his way. Bloodthirsty men had once had a use for him, betting on his skills in the ring. But he’d escaped. Taken a new name. Made a new life. Never looked back.

Until now.

“You’ve no idea where she’s gone?” He couldn’t lose sight of why he’d come. If he thought of anything else, the memories would break in, and he’d lose control. Control was how he survived. Imposing order on chaos had been his salvation.

“Not a clue.” Mrs. Niven choked before bursting into a racking, hollow cough. “Wot you need ’er for?”

“I don’t need ’er at all.” Neither did Sara. This ridiculous venture was what happened when he gave in to sentiment. He needed to stop making that mistake. Reaching into his coat pocket, he extracted a silver sixpence. The woman’s rheumy eyes widened, nearly bursting from their sockets, when Gabe deposited the coin in her grimy palm. “Don’t drink it all at once, Mrs. Niven.”

He started across the leaf-strewn floor, stopped, and turned back. After extracting a calling card from his waistcoat pocket, he offered the cream rectangle to her. “Send word if you hear anything of my mother.”

Mrs. Niven was decidedly less eager to claim the slip of paper than she’d been to take his money, but she finally hobbled forward and retrieved the card from his fingers.

Gabe didn’t look back as he descended the stairs and made his way onto the rain-drenched street.

Let his mother find them if she wished. Nothing would ever compel him to return to this godforsaken place.

The downpour had diminished to a drizzle as he started down the lane, heading for the busier cross street, praying for a stray cab rattling by in search of a fare. Strangely, this area of Whitechapel had begun to transform. Run-down buildings had been replaced by newer brick structures, and a few thriving shops lined the streets. Outside of a tea room, the pavement had been painted in whitewash, and chairs were arranged outside, awaiting diners and a drier, sunnier day. If he’d possessed no memory of these streets from a decade before, he could almost be lulled into believing the neighborhood a respectable one.

At the precise moment such hopeful nonsense teased at his thoughts, a screech rent the air. A rowdy brothel had once thrived around the corner, but the sound echoing in the narrow lane wasn’t one of pleasure. More like agony. A man’s bleat emerged again, high-pitched and pained.

Gabe’s body responded like a soldier’s on the eve of battle—muscles taut, instincts sharp, pulse throbbing in his ears.

“You bloody bitch!” the man squeaked.

Gabe rolled his shoulders and tugged off his gloves. Whoever the man was, he’d chosen to menace the fairer sex, and Gabe never had been able to stomach a bully. Too many times as a child, he’d watched helplessly as his mother cowered on the losing side of a man’s fists.

Until he was old and strong enough to beat them off himself.

Rounding the corner, he expected to find a man overpowering a woman with his height and strength. A sight he’d seen a thousand times in these streets. Instead, he spotted a man bent at the waist, clutching his groin, glaring toward the entrance of the Fisk Academy for Girls, according to the sign above the door.

“I’ll smash that pretty face of yours,” the wounded blighter cried.

“I don’t think you will,” a feminine voice countered. “And don’t let me see you darken this doorstep ever again.”

A croquet mallet emerged through the doorway first, the cylinder of wood painted with jaunty blue stripes around the edges. Purple ruffles came next, the edge of a skirt kicking up as a diminutive woman stomped out to face the wounded man.

Gabe rushed forward to assist her and jerked to a dead stop.

Clarissa Ruthven.

Pert nose. Guinea-gold hair. Wavy strands glinting in a beam of afternoon sun that managed to break through the clouds.

He recognized her, yet he squinted, unwilling to believe the evidence of his eyes. Queen Victoria parading down the sodden streets of Whitechapel wouldn’t have shocked him more. What business could the young woman have in this soot-smeared place?

She was a country girl. Gently bred. And on the occasion of her twenty-first birthday, the little hellion would become his employer. Though when Leopold Ruthven entrusted Gabe with the running of his publishing enterprise, he never imagined answering to the man’s children one day.

Clarissa Ruthven couldn’t see him here. She wasn’t privy to his history, and if he had his way, she would never know he hailed from these grimy streets.

As surefooted as he’d been as child when he’d served as lookout to a notorious housebreaker, he retreated. One boot placed silently behind the other.

Then the bullying fool made an awful choice. Tucking his head, he hunched his shoulder forward and heaved toward Miss Ruthven. She lifted her mallet for a defensive swing, but the man moved quicker.

Gabe surged forward, one boot slamming down to break the man’s his stride. With a muffled yelp, the fool pitched forward, striking the wet pavement with a satisfying thud.

Clarissa’s mallet whisked through the air, and Gabe arched back just in time to keep the bloody thing from breaking his nose.

“Mr. Adamson?”

Ignoring her dumbfounded query, he pulled her nemesis to his feet. “Is this wretch troubling you, Miss Ruthven?” He didn’t glance at her, couldn’t bear to meet her inquisitive gaze.

“He’s infatuated with one of our students.” Her bodice brushed Gabe’s coat sleeve as she leaned toward her attacker. “And Sally has no interest in receiving your attentions, as she’s made clear on multiple occasions,” she barked, seemingly undeterred by the man’s murderous glare.

“Go,” Gabe said more succinctly, emphasizing his point by squeezing the man’s shirt front in his fist, twisting and tightening until the scalawag began to gasp. “Never come back.” When he released the bastard, the man stumbled forward, clutching at his neck and casting them a withering scowl before limping up the lane.

Gabe was intensely aware of Miss Ruthven’s perusal. He would have preferred to don a mask and disappear into the fog, like Spring-heeled Jack or one of the other characters in the penny dreadfuls he’d read as a child. When he finally met her gaze, her face puckered in a frown.

“What is it?” He should have spared a thought for what damage might have been done before he arrived on the scene. “Did he hurt you?”

“No,” she assured, though she continued to study him closely.

He swept a hand across his head and pulled at the lapels of his coat to straighten them. Dust and muck had soiled his pristine cuffs. He shoved his hands behind his back to conceal them.

“I’ve never seen you with a hair out of place,” she mused. “Dishevelment quite transforms you, Mr. Adamson.” From her expression, he couldn’t determine if she intended to praise or insult. “Thank you,” she finally said, waving her hand in the direction her assailant had gone.

Her clipped tone and taut expression didn’t surprise Gabe. Offering him gratitude must have galled her. The one fact he knew for certain about Clarissa Ruthven was that the young woman loathed him. On the few occasions they’d met, she’d refused all his attempts at gentlemanly civility—whether opening a door or pulling out her chair.

He suspected she was the last woman who’d wish to play the role of damsel in need of saving.

“You’re welcome, Miss Ruthven.” He spoke slowly, enunciating each syllable, taking care not to lapse into the Cockney accent he’d used with Mrs. Nivens. “Though I’m sure your mallet would have been an effective deterrent.”

She glanced down at the sporting equipment, more suited to a posh lawn party than fending off an East End thug, then narrowed an eye. “Why are you here?” Balling a fist at the swell of her hip, she demanded, “Did my brother send you to spy on me?”

“Of course not.” Like a match to dry tinder, his irritation sparked into flame. “Today I am master of my own hours.”

How dare she look down her pert little nose at him? As if he were some lackey sent on her brother’s errands. He’d been running her family’s business for years, keeping the income flowing so that she could afford her fine dresses decorated with satin ribbons.

He stared at the unfastened length of ribbon at her neck, the cleft in her chin, and the tremor in her full, flushed lips. Then he found himself caught in the glare of violet eyes.

She was irritatingly pretty, with pale freckled skin, peach-plump cheeks, and a thick fringe of dark lashes over those unique lavender-hued eyes. He might be a ruffian playing at being gentleman, but he never lied to himself. Both the Ruthven sisters were lovely, but the younger Miss Ruthven stood out. If only because she was the most vexing female he’d ever met in his life.

Ridiculously independent in her views and behavior, she fully embodied the “New Woman” London newspapers lambasted with glee. Strident in her opinions about politics, society, and everything in between, she took special delight in discomfiting him—whether it was her annoying habit of leaving flowers, ribbons, or some scribbled scrap of paper in her wake, interrupting his sentences, or laughing at his need for order.

Beyond her beauty, she was precisely the sort of woman who held no appeal. What man wished to spend his life distracted by the mere sight of his wife? Or vexed by her quirks and odd habits? When he married, he wanted what he’d never had—peace and simplicity. Give him a plain woman with domestic inclinations and impeccable behavior any day of the week over a reform-minded harridan.

“What are you doing here, Miss Ruthven?” Gabe shoved his fingers into his gloves and scanned the streets for any sign of a cab. “Does your family know you spend your days fending off brutes in Whitechapel?”

“I’m not a child in need of a minder, Mr. Adamson. Kit and Sophia are aware of my charitable work.” She folded her arms over her chest and pursed her mouth. She’d make the worst sort of gambler. Her lying tells were far too obvious.

“But do they know where? This is hardly the place for a lady to spend her spare hours.”

She huffed at him and pivoted on her boot heel, not bothering to favor him with a reply.

He noted the mesmeric swish of her purple skirt and the wavy strands of gold hair escaping a messy bun at the back of her head. She spun to face him, catching his perusal. Heat infused his skin.

“Well? Don’t you wish to see how I pass my Saturday afternoon?”

From the first moment he’d set foot in Whitechapel, he’d wanted to depart. Yet he was curious to see the enterprise that brought a well-bred young lady to these streets.

A milling group of girls greeted them on the threshold, eyes wide, mouths agape.

“Shoulda landed him a facer,” one mumbled as he passed.

“All right, ladies. Mr. Keene has gone. I don’t think he’ll trouble us anymore.” Miss Ruthven clapped her hands together lightly. “Everyone back to your lessons.”

They scattered like dandelion fluff, floating off in different directions. Each girl seemed to know where she belonged, and they resumed their tasks swiftly.

“There are twenty girls here now,” Miss Ruthven informed him, her voice ringing with pride. “We hope to admit at least five more if we can convince the landlord to rent us every floor in the building.”

Gabe had been responsible for the welfare of his older sister for years. The notion of being responsible for twenty young women made his skin itch.

“Seems an enormous enterprise to take upon yourself.” The ragged school he’d attended as a child hadn’t provided lodgings, and only a handful of boys had been admitted.

“Oh, I don’t administer the school, nor did I start the enterprise. I was recruited as a volunteer and patron by one of my friends at college.” She turned and called over her shoulder. “Helen?”

A tall, spindly-limbed young woman stepped forward, assessing Gabe over the top of metal-rimmed glasses. “I heard Clary call you Mr. Adamson. Thank you for scaring Mr. Keene away. He’s a menace we’re glad to see the back of.” She offered him her hand in greeting.

“Welcome to Fisk Academy. As you can see, our young ladies keep busy here. Most attend for the day, though two are parentless and lodge at the school. They’re also the oldest and will be graduating soon. We’ll miss them.” She cast him a sad glance, as if expecting him to offer sympathy. “Oh goodness, I almost forgot to say, I’m Helen Fisk.” The lady spoke in a rapid-fire patter, as if she needed to impart as much information as quickly as she could. When she finally stopped, her breath whooshed out in a gust and color splotched her cheeks.

As he examined the schoolroom, he sensed her gaze on him. He turned back to find her watching him, as most women did. With a glint of interest in her pale green eyes.

Most women, that is, aside from Clarissa Ruthven.

“The school seems to be . . . thriving,” he said, attempting politeness, despite the chaos around him.

Unlike the dusty, unadorned rooms of the ragged school where he’d taken lessons as a child, Fisk Academy sported a riot of colors. There was far too much noise in the overcrowded room. Even the tables were oddly arranged, some pressed close together, others set apart, as if they’d been placed at students’ whims. Several girls bent over desks, but a cluster of others stood in a corner, working at canvases, applying seemingly random washes of paint. In another corner, three girls sat with their backs to him, carefully printing letters in cursive script. Another trio crouched at a low table with test tubes, a tiny gas burner, and a boiling liquid that smelled of metal and rotting sewage. They all chattered to each other as they worked.

He appreciated the efforts of Miss Ruthven, Miss Fisk, and other charitable ladies of their ilk. However, they desperately needed the input of someone with a sense of structure and efficiency to impose a bit of order.

“We ensure the girls are kept busy and challenged with a variety of tasks throughout the day.” Miss Fisk beamed beside him as she took in the disorganized mess. “I teach mathematics and composition. Miss Ruthven guides the girls in art.” She pointed merrily to the trio concocting God knew what over an open flame. “And sometimes chemistry.”

“Every lesson at once, apparently.” He cast her a dubious glance. “Why not one task at a time and then the next? In an orderly fashion.”

She frowned, and her glasses scooted up to meet the line of her brow. “Every student has her own unique aptitudes, Mr. Adamson. Not every task suits every girl.”

Gabe nearly choked on the chuckle tickling in his throat. Miss Fisk’s sincerity was almost as amusing as her naïveté.

He preferred to deal in reality, not fantasy.

“If you’ll excuse me, Miss Fisk, I have a prior engagement in the city.” He’d had enough. Of chaotic spaces. Of prim ladies and their charitable urges. Of rotting wood and the potent memories lurking around every corner.

Miss Fisk looked worried she might have caused offense, and Gabe sketched a gentlemanly bow to assuage her feelings. She managed a tight smile before he spun on his heel and headed for the door.

Being in Whitechapel again reminded him of how hard he’d worked to escape. To embrace a new life. One day he’d marry, have a home and business venture of his own. One day he’d forget the pit he’d dragged himself out of.

Halfway to the door, Clarissa Ruthven stopped him in his tracks. “I’m heading back too, Mr. Adamson. Shall we share a cab and save on fare?”

Her voice sent a strange shudder of awareness down his spine. She was, as the sister of his employer, a young lady he could not deny. Yet every instinct told him being near her would bring no end of trouble his way.

Turning back, he forced down the ire that came naturally and practiced the polite civility he’d spent years struggling to master.

“Very well, Miss Ruthven.” He lifted his arm as he’d been taught a gentleman should when escorting ladies. “Shall we set off?”

She raised her chin, eschewed his gesture, and swept past, as if determined to show him that a woman could and should lead the way.

About Christy Carlyle

Fueled by Pacific Northwest coffee and inspired by multiple viewings of every British costume drama she can get her hands on, USA Today bestselling author Christy Carlyle writes sensual historical romance set in the Victorian era. She loves heroes who struggle against all odds and heroines who are ahead of their time. A former teacher with a degree in history, she finds there’s nothing better than being able to combine her love of the past with a die-hard belief in happy endings.

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NEW RELEASE SPOTLIGHT & EXCERPT: Holiday Wishes by Jill Shalvis

It’s Christmastime again in Heartbreaker Bay!

When Sean O’Riley shows up at the Hartford Bed & Breakfast for his older brother’s bachelor weekend, he’s just hoping to make it through the weekend. What he’s not expecting is to come face to face with the woman he lost his virginity to a decade ago—a woman he’s never really forgotten.

The last time Lotti Hartford saw Sean, she told him she loved him while he said nothing. Now, ten years later, she’s just looking for a good time. For once, she wants to be the wild and free one, and Sean – the good time guy – is the perfect candidate.

But as the weekend continues, Sean realizes that after a lifetime of being the hook-up king, he’s ready to find happily-ever-after, and he wants it with Lotti. But will she open her heart to him again? As Christmas sweeps through the little B&B, he can only hope love and magic are in the air.

About the Book

Holiday Wishes
by Jill Shalvis

Series
Heartbreaker Bay

Genre
Adult
Contemporary Romance

Publisher
Avon Impulse

Publication Date
November 7, 2017

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Excerpt

At the empathetic tone in Sean’s voice, Lotti’s heart and stomach and head all clenched in unison. “What do you mean you can’t give me what I want?” she asked. “All you have to do is walk away.”
“Tried that already,” he said. “And it was the biggest mistake of my life.” He brought her hand up to his mouth and met her gaze over their entwined hands.
He was looking at her like . . . well, she wasn’t sure what was going on in his head, but her thoughts were racing along with her pulse.
“You’re incredible, Lotti. I hope you know that.” Very slowly, clearly giving her time to object, he pulled her into him.
Her breath caught at the connection and his eyes heated in response as he slid a hand up her spine and then back down again, pressing her in tight to him from chest to thighs and everywhere in between. His nose was cold at the crook of her neck, but his breath was warm against her skin. She felt his lips press against the sensitive spot just behind her ear and she shivered. “You’re trembling,” he said, his voice low. “Are you cold?”
“No,” she whispered. Try the opposite of cold . . .
“Nervous?”
“No.” Not even close. The way his mouth moved across her skin was making her warm all over. Not that she could articulate that with his body pressed to hers and his fingers dancing over her skin. She was literally quivering as the memories of what it felt like to be touched by him washed over her, as if no time at all had gone by.
Yes, she’d let him think that their time together had sucked for her. But it hadn’t. Not even close. That long-ago night he’d evoked feelings and a hunger in her that she’d never forgotten. “I’ve just had a long day,” she said.
“I know. I’m going to make it better.” He pressed a kiss at the juncture of her jaw and ear before he made his way to her lips for a slow, hot kiss, his mouth both familiar and yet somehow brand-new. She was so far gone that when he pulled back she protested with a moan, but he held her tight, staring down at her with heated eyes. “Just checking,” he murmured.
“Checking what?”
“That you want this as badly as I do.”

 

About Jill Shalvis

New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit her website, www.jillshalvis.com, for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.

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