Meant to be Different by Amelia Foster

Another home run! Amelia Foster once again succeeds in hitting it out of the park in her sequel of the “Meant to Be” series, Meant to be Different. 

What’s it About?

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Young Wyatt Carlisle fell in love with the rodeo and it became his dream career. It was also the decision that would one day cost him his high school sweetheart. But when thirty rolls around he decides to give his battered body a break, he retires with two goals in mind: open a training facility in his hometown and win back his Gigi.

Teenage Georgia Marsh is not only faced with watching her mother fade from terminal cancer, but also a relocation to North Carolina. It’s only made worse when the one person not scared by her goth girl persona is a rhinestone cowboy with more swagger than brain cells. In a turn of events she never thought possible, Wyatt becomes her first love and a rock through the heartbreak of losing her mother. Only to shatter her months later when he chooses his career and disappears from her world.

After a twelve year separation, Wyatt saunters back into Georgia’s life. Forced to work together on a project for her boss, and one of Wyatt’s sponsors, their sexual chemistry quickly ignites, but Georgia is determined not to fall for Wyatt’s charm a second time around. Especially when she suspects that watching the cowboy ride off into the sunset for a second time might be more than she can handle.

First Impressions

What can I say about this series other than that you should read it? Amelia Foster is a master storyteller who allows us a glimpse into teen love, second chances, and even emotional heartbreak. This sequel in the “Meant to Be” series holds up just as strongly to the premier novel, which is really saying something considering that was also a beautiful roller-coaster of a read that gave me all the feels. Something I’ve appreciated with this series so far is that while we see a continuation of certain themes, such as the brilliant use of flashbacks and alternating points of view between the lead characters, each novel really is distinct.

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It never felt as though this second book was merely a repeat of the one which came before it. Wyatt and Gigi’s story is unique to them in a way that sets them apart from the couple of the first novel, even though that one featured Wyatt’s older brother. It feels as though we are once again witnessing a true romance play out between two very real people that we’ve come to know intimately through the author’s words. Wyatt and Gigi demonstrate that their teenage love which ended 12 years ago may not be entirely over, but simply paused. This rhinestone cowboy may have just found a second chance at love with his dark angel.

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A Journey to the Past

While the consistent use of flashbacks might not have been as mind-blowingly spectacular as their use in book one, they still served a very important and alluring purpose of highlighting the foundation of Wyatt and Gigi’s relationship all those years ago. They seemed like polar opposites when they first met in high school. She was the new goth girl in town, and he was the popular wannabe rodeo stud that all the girls drooled over. Somehow this rhinestone cowboy is able to draw this dark angel out of her shell, and they find love together. But this story is more than just a simple teenage romance. We discover that Gigi’s surly attitude at moving to this small North Carolina town is born of the fact that her mother is in the last stages of cancer, and it’s just a matter of time before she’s gone from this world.

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Heavy stuff, I know. The beauty though of her relationship with Wyatt is that he manages to pull her out of the constant limbo she’s experiencing at home, bouncing constantly between life and the imminent arrival of her mother’s death, to find an escape where she can simply be herself. To find a few days a week where she doesn’t have to be constantly worrying about her mother’s illness, or how her dad is struggling with losing the love of his life. What started as a simple dalliance to take her mind off the harsh realities of life soon turns into an example of true love. Wyatt stands by Gigi in everything, and she too supports him through some of his own life’s struggles. They might experience a few bumps in the road, just like with any new relationship, but they soon discover the key to their love is always being open with each other when life tries to get in the way. Wyatt especially acknowledges that the depth of their love isn’t like every other typical teenage romance. It’s real. They’ll make it through anything life throws at them, and they’ll be together past their teenage years, because their love is meant to be different. Or is it?

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The Hope for Second Chances

We know pretty much from the opening page, actually from the synopsis itself, that Wyatt left Gigi behind all those years ago to pursue his dreams of becoming a rodeo star bull rider. It seems that in spite of all their vows that their love was “meant to be different”, it seems to have succumbed to defeat just like any other teenage romance. Throughout the novel we see a constant switch back and forth of Wyatt trying to win Gigi back in the present, while simultaneously seeing how their love played out in the past. As we see how deep of a connection these two had when they were young, we see that their teenage romance in fact wasn’t merely just a passing fancy. They meant everything to each other. So where did it all go wrong, and more importantly, will Wyatt be able to convince Gigi that he’s worth a second chance? When they first met he had to fight for her to see how good they could be together, and all these years later he’s going through that same fight of trying to win her trust.

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Something that really did surprise me as we saw the love between Wyatt and Gigi play out in both the past and the present, was that we never witnessed that one key moment where Wyatt decided to leave. We hear his explanation to Gigi when they reconnect, but we never actually get a flashback scene where we see him drive off into the sunset. I was kind of confused at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the purpose of these flashbacks was not to build up to the point where he left. Instead, it was to show the development of their love up until that point. To demonstrate how Wyatt was there for Gigi through every hardship, including standing as a pillar when her mother eventually died. He also succeeded in showing her that life was still worth living amidst such pain. His decision to leave was not out of selfishness. As we uncover his reasoning behind the decision we realize it may have been the most selfless decision of his life. What mattered most was not that we saw how or when he left, but rather that he came back. The author manages to convince us through these flashbacks that Wyatt is in fact worthy of a second chance in the present, and we can only hold our breath in anticipation that Gigi remembers why their love is worth fighting for.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Meant to Be, book 2. I love, love, love this series, and you can bet your Stetson I’ll be continuing on to see what might be in store for the other Carlisle brothers going forward.

Final Impressions: I pretty much finished this book in two sittings. It made me laugh, sigh, and definitely brought tears to my eyes a time or two. It’s an emotional read for sure, and seeing Gigi and Wyatt’s love play out as teenagers was particularly heartbreaking because you knew going into it that eventually it would end. But then to see them pick things up again in the present, you’re hopeful that all these years later they’ll manage to find the happiness which escaped them back then. As their story played out, I was drawn so much into their world that it started to feel like I was reading about two people I actually knew. When it was over I even wanted to pick up my phone to call Gigi and dish about how Wyatt is such a dreamboat. A girl can dream!

Smut Level: When it comes to the bedroom, Gigi demands one simple thing of her cowboy lover. Clothes off…cowboy hat on. 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Limitless Publishing, LLC. 227 Pages.

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Desert Rose by J. Arlene Culiner

A woman who lives for the moment. Who enjoys her own company. A woman who acknowledges that long-term relationships can eventually turn flat with a lack of excitement. Is…is this my doppleganger?!?

What’s it About? 

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A secret life is the best protection against love…Men love Rose Badger, and if the other inhabitants of dead-end Blake’s Folly, Nevada, don’t approve, she couldn’t care less. With a disastrous marriage far behind her, settling down is the last thing she intends to do. Isn’t life for fun? Doesn’t a stable relationship always mean predictability and boredom? Well… perhaps things might be different with Jonah Livingstone, but he is off limits for anything other than friendship. Even though he’s started a slow burning fire inside her, he’s still entangled in a complicated past relationship. And Rose has another secret life—one that she’ll never give up for any man.

The last person geologist Jonah Livingstone expected to meet in a semi-ghost town is Rose Badger. She’s easy-going, delightfully spontaneous, and Jonah is certain their attraction is mutual. But Rose is always surrounded by a crowd of admirers and doesn’t seem inclined to choose a favorite. Though Jonah has also suffered a failed marriage, he can’t help being drawn to Rose—and he dares to hope she may feel the same for him. But is Jonah too independent to settle into a permanent relationship again? He’s leading his own very private life, as well…and secrets are an excellent protection against love. Will he do what it takes to hold on to his DESERT ROSE?

First Impressions

Rose and Jonah come from very different backgrounds. He’s a university professor who’s benefited from education all his life. She’s a high school drop out who now owns a second-hand clothing store, and her family has a history of prostitution and alcoholism. In spite of their different backgrounds, they’re still able to connect over those shared interests which can bring a couple together. For the case of Rose and Jonah, it’s the love of music. Russian music to be exact. Different time periods, sure, but it’s still an interest that they can discuss, and even learn more about from each other. As they spend more time together we also see a rise in their own insecurities. For Jonah, he sees himself as one of many admirers who always seem to be following Rose around like a lost puppy. Everywhere she goes in Blake’s Folly, she’s surrounded by men hoping to spend time with her, and he worries that she just seems him as another one of the crowd. Perhaps he’s too plain and boring with his love of fossils to stand out among the other lads vying for her attention.

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As for Rose, I even feel like the big reveal of her past demonstrated that she put more weight and judgement behind it than Jonah, or even we as the audience did. Whenever she would talk about the sordid past of her brothel-working grandmother, or not knowing the identity of her father, and her mother being a lowly drunk I thought…so what? Rose is still an awesome person who seems like she’d be a hoot to be around. The somewhat troubled pasts of her family members, and even her own difficult past as a musician in the big city, may have molded her into the person she is today, but they by no means negatively impacted her personality. They made her strong, caring, and even proud of certain aspects of her background. She managed to find a positive light in some of the darkness of her family’s past. Her love of Russian folk music in particular turns out to be not only a big part of who she is today, but also binds her to the future love of her life.

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Standing Out From the Crowd

Even though Jonah feared that he would simply get lost in the wave of admirers surrounding Rose in her every day life, he actually manages to do something which sets him apart from all the rest. He asks Rose questions. He quickly recognizes that she always tries to turn the focus of a conversation away from herself, and he doesn’t fall for this standard ploy of hiding from others. Instead, Jonah succeeds in getting her to open up about herself, and in those moments is able to demonstrate his total selflessness, as well his definite interest in getting to know as much about Rose as possible. It also makes Rose feel vulnerable. Keeping secrets has always given Rose an air of mystery that has drawn men to her, and she now worries that because Jonah has seen every part of her he’ll either tire of her and move on, or not like what he sees lying behind the walls she’s erected around herself.

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Secret, Secrets Are No Fun

In the beginning, secrets are a dominant feature of Jonah and Rose’s relationship. Not only does Rose not want to share the details of her family history, but she’s also keeping secret something which she doesn’t even deign to share with her fellow citizens of Blake’s Folly. Now don’t worry, it’s nothing illegal or exceedingly shocking, it’s actually the details of her musical past and present, including the fact she sings every Saturday for a Russian cultural club in the city.

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As far as the secrecy of Jonah’s life, this has more to do with a misunderstanding, and possibly even a misleading situation. The whole impetus behind Rose and Jonah’s first meeting was that he stopped into her shop to buy a necklace for another woman. Jewelry…for another woman…who isn’t his mother? This doesn’t look too good, does it? While he openly admits it’s a gift for a woman he’s living with, he remains pretty tight-lipped about the identity of this woman, and Rose has no choice really but to assume it’s someone that Jonah is romantically involved with. This designates the beginning of their relationship as one bound to the “friend-zone”. While Rose might love to flirt with other men, she’s not one to pursue a man already in a relationship, so she tries to limit their interactions to ones that “friends” would do. By Rose acting more reserved around Jonah, he in turn assumes that she’s not into him as much as he is into her. Eventually they have a heart-to-heart about the true identity and background situation of the woman living with Jonah, and it’s a rather interesting turn of events.

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Jonah openly admits that he didn’t make things as clear as he should have about the identity of this woman, and that he is to blame for the misunderstanding. However, he also scolds Rose slightly for essentially thinking the worst of him. At this point in the book, they have developed a pretty strong friendship. While they won’t admit the deeper stirrings of affection which are bubbling between them, they can’t deny they’ve grown close and have certainly come to care for each other. This is why Jonah can’t help but be slightly hurt over the fact that Rose’s first assumption would be that he’s just a typical cheater. I certainly understand his view on this, but you also can’t help but understand Rose’s misunderstanding on the whole situation.

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If they had been friends for a while, and then Jonah were to admit his living with another woman, I could probably sympathize more with his frustration over Rose thinking he was cheating. However, seeing as this misunderstanding was bred from their very first meeting, and he made multiple mentions of this woman throughout their time together without clarifying who she was, I don’t think we can necessarily fault Rose for holding onto this initial misunderstanding. After all, she didn’t know anything about his nature at that point to be able to determine for sure if her assumption was true or false. If she had this idea during their first meeting, we can see how this misconception could balloon up bigger and bigger as they spent more time together, and Rose herself felt more remorseful as her feelings for Jonah continued to grow. I think it’s one part of their story that didn’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer as to how it was handled.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: The relationship between Jonah and Rose felt “real”. Some of the misunderstandings and circumstances surrounding their time together may have been somewhat dramatized, but I enjoyed that the emotions they evoked felt natural. These were two people who had a friendship which developed into something more intimate. They were attentive in learning about the hobbies and interests of the other person, just as anyone would do in a real relationship outside of the romance novel world. I do wish this book had been slightly longer, as I think it would have been interesting to focus more attention on Rose’s various admirers, as well as her relationship with her mother. There probably could have been some features with more depth and exploration which went beyond Rose and Jonah constantly questioning whether or not the other person liked them as much as they did, but overall I’d say it was a good read.

Smut Level: Only one love scene, but it definitely has some heat to it! It certainly packs a punch in spite of how quick it was.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Fire Star Press. 152 Pages.

Cupid Comes to the Lonesome Buzzard Ranch by Hebby Roman

Who would have thought that a weekend which starts off as such a disaster could so quickly transform into one of romance, and dare I say even love!

What’s it About? 

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Les Springer, a widowed rancher, hasn’t stopped grieving for his wife. When three of his friends cook up a Valentine’s Day weekend at his B&B, chaos ensues. The three cowboys go to an online dating site to find matches. The only problem is, no one ends up with who they pick…almost. Jackson Coleridge, Les’ best buddy, kisses the wrong woman at the wrong time…in front of the wrong woman. Jiggs Davis, Les’ ranch foreman, gets drafted at the last minute to squire one of the matched ladies…but she’s no lady. Jayce Fulton, Les’ rodeo champion friend, tries to corral the lady no one wants…until she turns on him.

Harper Lewis, a social media guru, is divorced and thinks she’s looking for a husband…until she realizes she wants more. Can the cowboy she’s chosen meet her expectations? Lillian Mayfield, a widowed accountant turned florist, comes across as stiff and formal and still…grieving. Is she ready to open her heart and discover a new love? Cheyenne MacPherson, part Navajo and a sculptor, is dedicated to her work and feels the weekend is…one big mistake. Can a handsome cowboy change her mind? Eva González, Les’ widowed cook and housekeeper, misses her children and longs for a sense of…family. Is she ready to start a new family with the man she loves?

First Impressions

I just loved the premise of this romance with how every person was meant to be paired with someone else. Each couple really has their distinct personalities and characteristics which make their particular relationship unique from those around them. Although, I will say it definitely didn’t help that 3 of the 4 male leads had names that started with a “J”. Made it a bit tricky in the beginning to remember who exactly we were dealing with! After a while we get to know them all fairly well, and I appreciated the balance in how each couple received the appropriate amount of attention they deserved. You also can’t help but love the fact that these are handkerchief men! There are a few moments throughout the story where a few of our leading lads seem to whip out a handkerchief at just the right moment. Now, if that’s not the sign of a gentleman, then I just don’t know what is!

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“Never, at any crisis of your life, have I known you to have a handkerchief.”

Online Dating Run Amuck

While I definitely enjoyed the haphazard way each couple eventually found their suitable partner, I sort of wish the impetus for what brought all these characters together was slightly different. This is one hell of a blind date when you think about! Some of these women are traveling rather lengthy distances for this romantic weekend, and the idea of four women who don’t know each other traveling to a B&B with a name out of a horror film to meet with four for men they’ve never met before…well it actually kind of sounds like the start of a horror film!

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I think the one change I would have liked above everything else was if these women could have known each other and been friends before coming to the ranch. As a single woman, I don’t know if I’d travel such a long distance to go to a somewhat solitary cabin to meet with men who have seemingly put the call out for four women to come meet them for skiing and bridge over Valentine’s Day. But…then again maybe that’s why I’m single. Maybe instead if this had just been a group of girlfriends who decided to get away for a fun weekend of skiing, and then just happened to be swept away by the men on this ranch/B&B it may have felt slightly more realistic.

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Speed Dating

We definitely have several whirlwind romances taking place over this one Valentine’s weekend! There were a few moments throughout the book where you can’t help but question if our couples are moving too quickly in their search of love. The fact that these characters spend approximately four days together, and by the end some are openly declaring their love makes you wonder if these couples will still be together a month from now, let alone a year. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t as bothered by these expeditious tales of love as I probably would have been if we’d been dealing with couples in their mid-twenties.

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Practically all of these couples are in their 40s or 50s, and most have found love before. They know what it feels like to fall in love, and they can recognize when someone is special. For most of the people presented here they quickly acknowledge that what they feel for the person in front of them is something strong and unique. In some cases it’s reminiscent of what they felt for a past love, and in others it’s something stronger than anything they’ve felt before. Now granted, not everyone is ready to walk down the aisle by the end of the weekend. Some just seem willing to see where this new relationship will lead, whereas others are willing to make big moves and changes in their lives. Again, it was nice to see that not everyone fit into the same mold.

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My Favorite Couple?

There are a number of cute couples to enjoy here, but if I had to choose my favorite it would probably be Les and Lilly.  They are clearly drawn to each other, yet both find themselves pretty consistently referencing their deceased spouses. The romance which develops between them might not be the steamiest, or one which receives the most attention when all was said and done. That being said, I think the message which was shared from their romance was my favorite of the bunch. Seeing as all of these couples are older than your typical romance novel lead characters, it’s not just the fact they’re in their 50s that makes their romance unique. Nor is it the fact that both have been married before, and are just now taking the chance to open up their hearts again to someone new. Rather, the aspect of their relationship which I found the most compelling was that in those moments where they couldn’t help but reference a memory from their late-spouse, the other person encouraged them to discuss it.

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Neither was made to feel guilty for bringing up their beloved on several occasions, and they were never pressured to “move on”. Both of these characters could understand the difficulty of losing the love of your life, as well as the undeniable fact that some scenarios they encounter or places they’ll go will undoubtedly remind them of their wife or husband. While many people would view this constant remembrance of a previous loved one as an annoying or troubling characteristic, for Lilly she actually saw it as a representation of how devoted Les could feel for another person. It was something to be celebrated. You can tell that Les feels a slight sense of embarrassment over the fact that he brings up his late wife on several occasions, but instead of reprimanding him for it, Lilly actually encourages him to share the memories of his wife. He also does the same when it comes to the few times Lilly is reminded of her deceased husband, Doug. Both can acknowledge that they were in love with these people, and even though they’re gone, their memories live on. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or try to hide.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-alone. Since finishing I keep going back and forth debating whether or not I would have liked to see each romance broken out into its own novel. It would have allowed us to get to know each couple on a deeper level, but I also don’t know if the premise of how they came together could have held up if we had four individual books. Maybe another 100 pages would have been great!

Final Impressions: Could there have been maybe one less couple involved? Mayyyybe. I did enjoy how different each couple was, but at times it almost seemed like we may have been dealing with too much back and forth between our various characters. Especially considering we’re dealing with under 250 pages, to have four distinct couples was definitely a lot. I also found it a bit hard to get behind the premise of four solo females agreeing to travel to an oddly named B&B to meet four men they’ve never met over Valentine’s Day weekend to possibly find romance. That being said, we do have plenty of cute stories at work here, and you come to appreciate their struggles, their hesitancies, but also their undeniable connections.

Smut Level: Some of the relationships have some heat to their stories. These folks may have just met, but that doesn’t prevent some from getting a bit…handsy…at the dinner table 😉 Nothing overly detailed or outrageous though!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Estrella Publishing. 224 Pages

Taming the Troublemaker by Kadie Scott

“You may always win, Autry Hill, but I never lose.” A woman willing to stand up to ladies-man Autry? Hot damn! 

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Autry Hill may be a cowboy to his boots, but he’s also gained quite the reputation as a charmer and playboy. His parents aren’t sure he’s ready to take the reins of the family’s prosperous Texas ranch, so they set up a challenge: No women or scandal for the next six months and the ranch house he grew up in is his. Easy peasy, Autry thinks. He’s already tired of late nights and romancing, until elementary school teacher Beth Cooper happens to cross his path. Suddenly Autry is losing his heart, his mind, and what’s left of his reputation.

Good girl teacher Beth Cooper is far too practical to fall for Autry Hill, even if she had a crush on him way back when. The man’s been breaking hearts since middle school. But when he becomes her unexpected champion and then they work together to help one of Beth’s troubled students who’s about to lose everything, she sees a different side of Autry – serious, compassionate, determined and dedicated. And that Autry is nearly impossible to resist. Does she need to?

First Impressions

Normally in a romance novel we see how a bet can bring two people together. This one throws a rather unique twist on the whole betting trope in that we see how it actually keeps our two lead characters apart in terms of not having sex. Autry has a bet going with a family member that he won’t get into any sexual shenanigans for the next six months, and lo and behold this bet is actually made with his father. Not a drinking buddy or frat brother, which is another aspect we usually expect to see with this theme. Well, not for this ranching family! Autry needs to prove to his mother and father that he’s worthy of inheriting the family homestead after his parents downsize to a smaller piece of property.

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Aside from his parents and siblings, it’s probably the one thing that Autry is most passionate about in this entire world. He’s always been a bit of a player about town, but for the last few months he’s taken up a personal vendetta to clean up his act a bit. Something which his family and the other townsfolk of this small corner of Texas don’t seem to have noticed. The prospect of spending a few more months without a random woman in his life doesn’t phase Autry in the least. Until a quiet local schoolteacher flips his entire world upside down that is. Now, how could you not be intrigued to give this romance a read?

Staying Out of the Bedroom

For those of you who know me, you’ll know there’s one element I usually like to see in all of my romance reads, and that’s some hanky panky between the lead characters before the halfway point. They say patience is a virtue, and it’s a quality I have never possessed, and most likely never will. I usually hate when a physical connection seems forcibly delayed, so when I learned Autry has this bet going with his father which would prevent him and Beth from doing the horizontal mambo, I was understandably concerned. Lemme tell you, I was shocked the author managed to pull me into this story so fully that I didn’t even notice or care that it was taking a while for Beth and Autry to fall into bed together.

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A big part of that probably had to do with the fact that just because they can’t have sex doesn’t mean they can’t do…other things, and my goodness do they do a LOT! But I still think the main part of this was the fact that I was so drawn in by these characters, their connection, their growth as individuals, that sex was the last thing on my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sexual element in a romance, but the emotional connection and passion between these characters was so strong that I don’t think I would have minded at all if we’d gone the entire novel without seeing them have sex at all. Don’t worry though, they do, and it was everything I was hoping it would be! It was still refreshing though to see these two build a relationship that had such a strong foundation that didn’t rely on a physical component.

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Big Brother

The true beauty of this novel lay not in the burgeoning sexual relationship between Autry and Beth, but rather in the familial relationship Beth and the entire Hill family were building with a young lonely boy named Dylan. A troubled foster child who seems closed off from the rest of the world, Beth and Autry are both determined to show him all the love he’s worthy of. Hands down this was my favorite feature of the novel. Dylan’s reluctance to trust others, or show hope in the possibility of someone else willingly choosing to care for him was heartbreaking, yet also the most truthful part of the book. We feel for this boy just as much as Beth and Autry do, and you can’t help but become entranced with the way that we see him open up from his shell to simply have fun as Autry spends more time with him as a positive male influence.

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Striking a perfect balance between the love story in a romance novel, and any additional aspect involving children is often difficult, but this author manages to do it with a steady hand. It adds depth and struggle to the developing relationship between Beth and Autry, yet doesn’t overpower it either. If anything, my only wish would be that Beth was featured a bit more prominently in the scenes which ameliorated the connection with Dylan. It’s clear at the start of the novel that Dylan and Beth have already established a sense of trust with each other, so the book itself focuses more attention on Autry working his way into Dylan’s life. I think just one more scene elaborating on this already defined relationship between Beth and Dylan would have been especially enlightening.

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The Hill Family

Throughout this entire series we have seen how close the Hill family is as a unit, and Autry’s connection with them is just as strong. However, his past “sins” have apparently put a kind of black mark on their opinion of him. They still love him, but it’s clear throughout their conversations with Autry that they seem surprised any time he demonstrates a selfless act. Needless to say, Autry becomes increasingly upset over his family’s seemingly less than positive opinion of him, and it’s a type of underlying animosity which grows and grows throughout the book. Sure, he’s a bit of a flirt, but it’s clear to us as the audience that every action and feeling he’s ever had towards Beth, Dylan, or his family has been filled with nothing but affection and love.

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There was one scene in particular that I feel deserves mention where Autry has seemingly reached the breaking point in listening to his family’s underhanded sarcastic comments about him. He lashes out at his brother, who was surprised Autry wanted to spend more time with Dylan instead of going out drinking. It was such a beautiful and emotional scene you can practically feel the tension emanating off the page. Personally I think it was a kind of defense mechanism, in that his devotion to Dylan was being called into question by those who are supposed to know him best. Autry exclaims in frustration and anger that his family apparently seems to think so little of him, and he’s practically shaking with outrage. He’s a good person with a good heart, and he never thought he’d have to prove that to his family. It’s a quick scene, but for me it’s the one I’ll probably remember the most from this book. It sort of encapsulates Autry’s desire to be known as a good man, and for his past indiscretions to no longer characterize the man he is today.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: The Hills of Texas, book 3. I didn’t think it was possible, but this series might just be getting better with every new addition we see of a Hill family member. Can’t wait to see what comes next!

Final Impressions: If I had to find one negative of this book it would be that I don’t immediately have book 4 in my hands to start right now! We’ve come to know and love this Hill family, yet I’m surprised that with each new novel in the series we see a slew of different personalities from those we’ve seen in the previous book. Sure, we see some familiar faces from book to book, but it never feels like we’re seeing the same story, or the same people, on repeat. I especially loved the story-line we see here involving Dylan, as it allows us to see a different aspect of how someone can become enveloped into the Hill family. We hold our breath as we question how Beth and Autry’s story might evolve, from their own romance, to whether or not they’ll be able to save Dylan from getting lost in the foster system.

Smut Level: Sure, there might be a no-sex bet in place, but thankfully Autry is willing to push the boundaries as far as what that might include. Some things which aren’t off the table include kissing, licking, sucking, tugging and even a bit of stroking. And they’re on the kitchen table for that matter!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing. 207 Pages.

 

The Pretenders by Marti Ziegler

From the city streets of Chicago to the cold wintry landscape of the Rockies, prepare yourself to be entranced by this story of friendship, hardship, and love.

What’s it About? 

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Two crooked hearts have never fit together so perfectly. Orphaned and forsaken, Ivy Porter and Shane McLaughlin band together at the tender ages of eight and ten in order to survive the brutal streets of nineteenth-century Chicago. Years later, displaced by the historic fire that razes the city, the loyal duo migrates to Colorado. The next decade is spent gambling, picking pockets, and scamming rich silver barons, but their hubris pits them against one very determined small-town marshal intent on bringing them to justice.

Throughout, Ivy believes it’s only a matter of time before Shane regards her as someone more than his childhood confidante or partner in crime, but any greater intimacies between them are quelled by Shane’s traumatic past. Feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the life they’ve cobbled together, Ivy posits an ultimatum, but Shane reacts by revealing a betrayal so deep as to tear them apart.

Benchmarked by two of the greatest natural calamities to take place in nineteenth-century America—the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the catastrophic winter of 1886-87—a final act of faith high in the Rocky Mountains seals the interwoven fates of two childhood friends, a marvelous surprise christened Jack, and the unexpectedly sympathetic lawman who brings them all together again.

First Impressions

To put it as simply and succinctly as possible, this is a beautiful story. We are immediately captivated by the connection of these two characters, and we want to follow along with them for as long as we can. The true beauty of their story is that it’s about trust, which ultimately develops into love. It’s a love that isn’t necessarily romantic at first. They’re literally all the other person has in the world, thereby becoming their whole world, in a sense. In the beginning their trust is one of survival. They meet as children in the rough streets of Chicago, and while timid at first they learn how to come together to survive.

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At times it’s difficult for Ivy and Shane to let anybody else into the tight-knit cohort they’ve formed, again even though it really has nothing to do with romance. They almost have a familial bond. When they eventually do reach the point where they start to feel a level of intimacy that signals a romantic relationship, they must learn to trust each other all over again, this time as a couple. They’ve both seen some terrible things in losing their respective families, living on the streets for most of their lives, and making their way from petty crime to petty con. Even though they’ve both relied on each other for years, they are now attempting to go all in and trust the other with their heart.

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A Journey Across the Country

Ivy and Shane’s relationship is truly a journey, and it’s one which crosses the entire country. The author presents us with a fascinating world that starts off in the mean and busy streets of Chicago, which they must ultimately abandon following the tumultuous and suspenseful Great Fire. We can feel their terror leap off the page, and almost feel the heat of the flames in their mad dash across the city. After this amazing historical travesty we see them enter the next stage of their lives as young adults in the Colorado frontier.

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The author paints us the portrait of yet another world, and portrays a seemingly effortless transition from the busy city streets of Chicago to the quiet yet ruthless mountain towns of Colorado. Even though we start off our tale with Ivy and Shane as children, and we proceed into their teens, early and late twenties, and beyond, not to mention a stark change in scenery, somehow it all flows together beautifully. At no point did it feel disjointed or broken. It lent a feeling of excitement to the progression of the tale, as we never really knew what our characters would encounter next, where they’d be, or at what point in their lives it would be happening.

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From Friends to Lovers

Once our characters end up in Colorado we see they’ve upped their survival game slightly to involve small cons, swindling, pick pocketing and the like. This is also when they both admit an underlying desire for the other, but Shane is especially hesitant to act on it. We all knew they couldn’t hold out forever, and throughout the rest of the book we see different momentous occasions at a few different points in their lives which sometimes bring them together, and other times push them apart. I think what truly helps us connect with these characters is the fact that their lives aren’t just rainbows and butterflies.

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They encounter multiple trials and tribulations throughout their time together which can truly test their trust in each other, as well as their hope in the possibility of making it out together to ultimately find their happily ever after. At times, even we question how they might get out of a situation unscathed, and sometimes they don’t necessarily succeed. Ivy and Shane live a hard life, one that most of us would probably tremble at the thought of living through, and yet through it all we see them consistently lean on each other to help with the weight they carry on their shoulders. We see the good with the bad. Again, theirs is a difficult story, but a beautiful one at the same time.

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Happily Ever After?

Another spectacular feature of this novel is that it certainly keeps you on your toes. I’ve read a plethora of romance novels in my time, and plenty of historical romances to boot. It’s not often that I’m surprised by how a story progresses, but I must say this one definitely threw me for a curve ball or two. At roughly the halfway point, things appear to be going rather swimmingly for our main couple. They’ve both gotten over the awkward hurdle of going from friends to lovers, and they’re ready to start out on a new course in life together. We all know it’s inevitable that they’re about to face some sort of impeccable obstacle. Things have never run completely smoothly for Ivy and Shane, and unfortunately that’s not about to change now. However, the subsequent progression of events caught me completely by surprise. My mouth dropped open in shock a time or two, and you can’t help but wonder how, or if, Ivy and Shane will make it through this difficulty together.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-Alone. I’d looooove to see a continuation of this story with some characters we are introduced to at the very end. Maybe see what else history might have in store for this lot.

Final Impressions: This was a story I didn’t want to end. In a way, I almost felt honored to be offered a glimpse into their world, and witness their connection. To see their trust in each other transform from the necessity for survival, to a need to be with each other forever. Theirs isn’t a perfect story. It’s filled with trying moments that put their trust to the test, but through it all you see how nothing can keep them apart.

Smut Level: Hot daaaaaamn. This historical romance has some heat to it! These two are each other’s firsts and only’s. It takes several years between their first time together to the point when they really try to make it count. Shane is especially determined to get it right, and talks to a friend of his to take notes on how to bring Ivy to the ultimate pleasure. Gotta love a studious lad who comes prepared 🙂

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 315 Pages.

Forgotten Hearts by Sloan Archer

Geez, yet another western romance novel that is making me consider a vacation to a cattle ranch in Montana! Not gonna lie, I’m sort of considering the possibility of building it into a work trip of mine next fall. We’ll just have to see if it all comes together!

What’s it About? 

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In the summer of 1991, young love blossomed between Cash Axton and Vanessa Paul in the vast field of forget-me-nots that separated their family homes in small town Dunblair Ridge, Montana. The two became inseparable best friends, and ten-year-old Cash made a vow to Vanessa that he intended to one day carry out: I’m going to marry you. But with autumn came an unforeseen tragedy, resulting in an event that would tear the two apart and divide them by thousands of miles.

As adults, Cash and Vanessa are living separate lives until fate steps in and brings them back to Dunblair Ridge. Cash, haunted by the events he’d witnessed overseas as a photojournalist, comes home to heal and take over the family’s failing ranch. Vanessa, a workaholic financial planner who suddenly finds herself jobless and single, leaves New York City for Montana to claim the farmhouse she inherited.

Vanessa intends to stay in Dunblair Ridge just long enough to fix up her property and sell it, but then she reunites with Cash and a flood of memories comes rushing back. While the two cannot deny their mutual attraction, they struggle to ignore the ticking clock that counts down the days until Vanessa returns to New York. Will Cash’s vow go unbroken?

First Impressions

Vanessa is having a bit of a rough day. It starts off with her being fired from her job under the accusation of embezzlement, which she didn’t actually commit. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when she runs home to what she assumes will be the comforting arms of her boyfriend, she finds him engaged in some naked loofah washing with a young coffee barista. And for the cherry on top of this hot fudge sundae of mayhem, said barista is pregnant, and is engaged to Vanessa’s now ex-boyfriend. Goodness gracious! I need to remember the next time I experience frustration because Trader Joe’s is out of arugula that things can always get worse. Much, much worse.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

The misfortunes don’t stop there for our young heroine. Her good for nothing mother certainly puts the “itch” in “bitch”, and has been misusing funds which Vanessa’s been sending her for rent. She then discovers that the only relative to ever show her love and affection one summer back when she was 10 has recently died. Her mother never told her of her Aunt Jeanie’s death, and Vanessa has inherited her entire estate in the small Montana town of Dunblair Ridge. Throughout all of these crippling misfortunes I kept asking myself one question…is she ever going to actually meet the sexy cowboy who is now living across the ranch field from her? This is a romance novel after all, yes?

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While the series of unfortunate events at the start of the novel definitely help set the scene for Vanessa’s desperation to move from New York City to Montana, I couldn’t help but feel that it went on for a tad too long. It’s not until over 1/3 of the novel is over that Vanessa and Cash actually have a conversation with each other as adults. The prologue of the novel presents us with the briefest of flashbacks from when the two were 10 years old, and Cash vowed that one day he would marry the young lass who became such a close friend over those summer months before her menacing mother whisked her away. The novel definitely could have benefited from a shortened summary of the downfall to Vanessa’s seemingly perfect New York City life, so that we could have more moments involving Cash and Vanessa rekindling their friendship from years before, and seeing it evolve into something even more.

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A Lost Friendship

Another area where I wish the story had focused a bit more attention was on that summer Vanessa and Cash spent together so many years ago. The initial flashback at the start of the novel is really the only time we see an interaction between Vanessa and Cash as children. Later on we get more information about how Vanessa and her mother ended up staying in Montana all those years ago, how her mother abandoned her to live with her Aunt Jeanie, and how Vanessa and her aunt became remarkably close during those few months together before her cruel mother came to collect her again. Seriously, this mom makes the evil stepmother from Cinderella look like Mother Goose in comparison.

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The scene which describes the crushing moment when Vanessa is literally ripped from the arms of her Aunt was so disturbingly heartbreaking you almost need to take a moment to collect yourself. While I definitely appreciated this glimpse into Vanessa’s past connection to her aunt, the missing component was really her connection with Cash during that time. We get a brief mention of how the two were constantly playing together, but we don’t even see a recap of how it was that the two first met. I feel like if we’d had just one or two additional scenes highlighting their friendship as children, it would have made their eventual meeting again 20 years later so much more special and meaningful.

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Even though I would have liked to see more of a window into Vanessa and Cash’s time together as children, as well as had their meeting occur earlier on in the book, I must say I really did appreciate the moment the two did finally reconnect. The reason I enjoyed this moment so much is because the two had no initial memory of each other from when they were children. I feel like most authors in a similar situation would have had this heartwarming moment where they both glimpse each other again, and all the memories come flooding back right away. Nope, not here! You can’t help but appreciate the reality of the situation, where neither can immediately recall why there’s a sense of familiarity to the hottie staring back at them. Let’s face it, I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to remember many of the details of someone I only knew for about 3 months when I was 10 years old! Eventually they both remember the time they spent together, but it comes about in such a natural way you can’t help but love it.

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Coming Back Full Circle

It’s kind of funny, at the start of the novel I kept asking myself if the two leads of this romance were ever actually going to meet, and by the end I was continually wondering whether we would ever see a resolution to some of the misfortunes presented at the start of the novel. It may seem like Vanessa is doomed to never clear her name from the embezzling accusation which ended her financial advising career, but eventually this story line does come back to the forefront. What followed was definitely an interesting progression of events. At first you experience a kind of frustration at Vanessa’s consideration to leave Cash and Montana behind, even though they’ve both come to hold a prominent place of importance in her life. However, you also have to appreciate that she’s not willing to turn her back on her career in order to be with a man. If she had, I think it would have seemed like a break in character from the determined woman we’ve come to know throughout the book. Instead we see a true internal struggle between what Vanessa thought she always wanted, and what she now realizes she wants.

One aspect that didn’t totally come full circle for me was in regards to Vanessa’s familial struggles. After Vanessa’s mother pulled her away from her loving aunt all those years ago, the two lost touch immediately. Her mother cut off all contact between the two, including throwing away any letters Vanessa tried to write her aunt, and sending back any letters her aunt tried to send Vanessa’s way. When Vanessa shows up in Montana, an old friend of her aunt’s presents her with a stack of the letters which Jeanie tried to send Vanessa all those years ago. The emotions are still too raw for Vanessa to confront these letters right away, so she hides them away in a box underneath her bed. I kept hoping throughout the novel that at some point we would get a glimpse into the love these letters undoubtedly contained, but unfortunately we never hear mention of the letters again at the end of the book.

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Something else which sort of fades to the background is Vanessa’s cold-hearted mother. I kept worrying that one day we’d see her show up on Vanessa’s doorstep in Montana begging for money, or perhaps throwing a wrench into her developing relationship with Cash. However, I was surprised to find that after Vanessa vowed that she was through once and for all with her mother, this vow holds true throughout the rest of the book. Ultimately, I must say I admired Vanessa for finally having the strength to distance herself from such an unloving and unwelcome burden in her life. Again, surprised it never came back into the story, but all in all pretty pleased that this was the case.

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*An ARC of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Dunblair Hearts, book 1. I definitely want to continue with this series. We’re introduced to a slew of beloved townsfolk, and I’m interested to see if some of Vanessa’s newfound friends will find love of their own in a future novel.

Final Impression: This is a story of one woman’s determination in the face of adversity. She might be tempted to give up at times, and even have an emotional breakdown or two (who doesn’t?), but when all is said and done she’s a woman with a plan that she intends to stick to. I would actually say this is more a story of Vanessa breaking free and moving on from her previously hectic life in New York City rather than classifying it as a romance, per se. Something which contributed to this feeling of the romance taking a back seat in the plot is the fact that it took quite a long time before Vanessa and Cash reconnected after so many years apart. In addition, a number of the scenes which involve them developing their relationship from acquaintances to friends to lovers are described more in summary rather than in detail. I almost feel like I got to know them more as individuals rather than as a couple.

Smut Level: A clean read from start to finish. Definitely have some flirtations between Vanessa and Cash, as well as one eventual love scene, but it’s passed over without any erotic detail.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 233 Pages.

Against the Odds by Michele Solano

There’s only a handful of romance novels that make me want to give up city living and move out West to the quiet peace and seclusion of a Wyoming ranch. This is definitely one of those romances.

What’s it About? 

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Jace Nichols is the kind of cowboy every woman wants. He’s sexy, he’s strong, and he knows how to treat a woman to a good time. However, just like a wild stallion who cannot be tamed, Jace makes it a point to keep women at arm’s length, only offering casual dating, and never commits. He gave his heart out only once in his life, and that heartbreak had him promising himself he’d never risk that again. So now his life consists of hard work, time with the Michaels’ clan, and enjoying as many women as he wants without any risk, which suits him just fine. That is, until Scarlet James walks back into his life.

Scarlet James grew up a stone’s throw from Michaels Mob and loved everything about country life. She loved horses, she loved drawing, and she loved Jace Nichols. And when a devastating accident turned her world upside down and ripped her away from everything she knew and loved, including Jace, she never thought she’d set foot on the Mob again. But with her world being turned upside down with an impending divorce and a child to support, she returns to the Mob with the hopes of starting her life over, once again.

Heartbreak returns, secrets are revealed, and first loves reunite in this story of family, love and loss. Can Jace allow the one woman who broke his heart back on the Mob in order to start a new life for herself? Can Scarlet reconnect with the family who helped raise her and heal old wounds with Jace in the process? Can they both be in the same place after all this time and face the pain they caused each other all those years ago or are their wounds too deep to heal?

First Impressions

This series is unbelievably dangerous. Why, you might ask? Because the family matriarch, Grandma E., is so freakin’ adept at cooking and baking, every time I picked up this book I couldn’t help but feel the urge to bake either a casserole, or a pie. The fact I was away from home on work travel without easy access to a kitchen for the majority of this read caused me some rather intense mental anguish. Not to mention severe hunger. In this sequel to Have a Little Faith, we see that the entire clan from the first novel is back, but instead we get a different primary focus on Jace Nichols. He might not be a Michaels, but they’ve basically adopted him into their little family.

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He seems perfectly content to work the Mob with his surrogate family, never becoming tied down or committed to just one woman. But when an unexpected blast from his past comes sweeping onto the ranch to design a race track and stables for a new business venture, both he and Scarlet are forced to confront their former teenage love which ended in heartbreak. Throughout it all we see the couple from the first novel act as a shoulder to cry on, or even vent frustrations, but this tale is really all about Jace and Scarlet finding their way back to each other after so many years apart. The question is, will they be able to overcome the hurdles which separated them all those years ago, or will they prove too strong a barrier? Only one way to find out!

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Part One: Reconnecting

This book is essentially divided into two parts. The first focuses on Scarlet and Jace coming together again after she is hired to design a race track on his family’s ranch. The animosity between the two is palpable, and I must say it was quite a bit of fun to see them try to tip-toe around avoiding each other. However, in those inevitable moments when they’d come face to face, the bickering between them inflated the sexual tension to a delectable degree. You simply know it’s a matter of time before the two become reacquainted in the physical sense, and I rather enjoyed the suspense of wondering when it was going to come about. We do actually have to wait a while until roughly the halfway point before they go for a roll in the stable loft. Before that though, we are constantly wondering what it was that broke them up so many years ago when they seemed destined to be together.

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Normally I hate when we’re left in the dark for so long, but I must say the big reveal moment came about naturally and realistically, which was quite refreshing. We first get to see Jace’s take on events, as he relates them to a character from the first book who was so desperate to find out the truth she essentially cornered him and demanded an explanation. Gotta love this woman’s tenacity! And then we get the ultimate climactic moment when Jace and Scarlet finally square off to lay all their cards out on the table, and Scarlet discloses all the tragic details as to why she abandoned him all those years ago. It was an emotionally touching scene, and in that moment you really do feel for the characters.

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My one and only complaint was that more attention was focused on the explanation of what split them up years before, rather than having any real focus on the time that they were together as a couple. Sure, we get a few mentions of how they were inseparable for years, and that they had a secret hideout spot on the ranch to connect, but I think the story really could have benefited from a few flashback scenes wherein we could witness the emotional bond these two shared. If we’d had some of these moments interspersed with their bickering, we could have constantly been questioning how things could have ever gotten so bad for them to seemingly hate each other so much before finally building to the inevitable explanation. It seemed like we lost a bit of what brought them together in the first place to instead focus on what was bringing them back together now.

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Part Two: Dropping the Ex

The second half of the book switches focus rather dramatically, and I’m not exactly sure how, but it is both my favorite and least favorite part of the novel (I know, my mind is a scary and weird place where anything is possible). After the reconciliation between Jace and Scarlet, things remain primarily hunky dory between them, and we switch all of our attention to the nasty divorce proceedings between Scarlet and her hopefully soon-to-be ex-husband, Preston. In the middle of it all we find her son, Nicholas, caught in the cross fires of a bitter custody dispute. One way this part of the novel should be applauded is how we see a dramatic building of suspense where we don’t really know what is going to happen in terms of this custody battle, and what lengths Preston will go to in order to ensure Scarlet regrets the decision to try and make it on her own. He’s not afraid to use his son as a bargaining chip, and I was filled with worry and wonder as to how this final courtroom drama would play out.

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Something that I didn’t quite care for in the midst of all of this though was that for the most part Jace remains in the background as Scarlet tries to resolve this divorce back in Kentucky. He’s still uber supportive through multiple phone calls and FaceTime sessions, but it was kind of a stark juxtaposition to having Jace be such a major part of the first half of the novel, to see him become almost a secondary character in the second part. It’s also kind of an emotional whiplash for the surly and brooding Jace to suddenly transform into a romantic poet. That being said, with Jace remaining back in Wyoming for a portion of this, we do get to see the special connection that Scarlet has with her son, and also see her stand up for herself against her dick of an ex. It was nice to see such a strong female lead not having to lean on her man to solve all her problems for her. It demonstrates this mother-son duo working together as a unit before they can turn all of their attention to moving forward with Jace stoically standing by in their corner.

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*A copy of this novel was provided for an honest review*

Series: Michaels’ Mob, book 2. There are plenty of sexy cowboys to be found on this here Wyoming ranch. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more highlighted in future books.

Final Impressions: This was a delightful continuation of the Michaels’ Mob series, and instead of portraying a newfound romance we get to see one that highlights the tumultuous path of having a second chance at love. I did enjoy the build-up we get at discovering what it was that separated Jace and Scarlet back when they were teens, as well as the growing suspense surrounding Scarlet’s bitter divorce with her ass-hat ex-husband. While the reasons behind their split were emotionally heartbreaking, I do wish that we had seen a few more tender moments behind the initial love story between Jace and Scarlet all those years ago. It was fun to see the entire Michaels clan back in action for this sequel, although I will say at times their familial connection seems almost a bit too perfect! I mean, is my family the only one that tends to argue around the holidays? No? Oh…well, never mind then.

Smut Level: Alright ladies and gents, you sort of have to wait a while before we eventually get to the good stuff, but once we do? Holy crap. We have some nookie in front of a fireplace, in a candlelit bathtub, not to mention some decent bedroom action. Seriously, I might need to find a Wyoming cowboy for myself.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services, LLC. 260 Pages.

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