Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: A Madaris Bride for Christmas by Brenda Jackson

From the publisher:
One by one, Madaris men have surrendered to the matchmaking schemes of Felicia Laverne Madaris, matriarch of the family. But Lee Madaris isn't letting anyone else control his destiny. He'll bring a bride of his own choosing to the family's holiday gathering—if his hotel's gorgeous new chef will agree to a marriage of convenience.

It's not just the chance to work at the Strip's hottest hotel that brought Carly Briggs to Vegas. Witnessing a crime in Miami may have made her a mob target. Though she's reluctant to complicate their working relationship, Lee's tempting offer is so hard to resist. And soon, desire is clouding their no-strings arrangement.

The danger that made Carly flee Miami is about to land at their door. So Carly and Lee must decide who to trust, when to let go—and whether a love they never anticipated is strong enough to pass the ultimate test.

Carly Briggs is a strong, independent, self-reliant chief who recently moved from Miami to Las Vegas. Lee Madaris an up-and-coming hotelier with two very successful hotels and one more in the works. What happens when these two individuals come together? Passion and lot of it!!
During one Miami night, while gather supplies from the storeroom of the restaurant she works in, Carly overhears a man begging for his life followed by a single gunshot. Taken aback by what she hears, she calls the police tip line and leaves an anonymous message. Still shaken when she arrives home after her shift, she talks things out with her best friend, Heather. Heather tells her that she must have just dreamed it and not to worry about it since if it really did happened, she has already reported what she might have heard. Having watched the news and reading the paper, nothing out of the ordinary had been reported and Carly begins to believe it really was just a bad dream. Then an unexpected offer to become a pastry chef at a restaurant in a very successful new hotel in Vegas out of the blue, she takes it.
While celebrating her birthday in style and enjoying her day off by staying the night at the hotel in which she works. She is alone and dancing by herself on the balcony and does not see a gentlemen approach and ask for the dance. Reluctant at first, she decides to accept since this gentleman exemplifies tall, dark and handsome to a tee.  They share an amazing dance and unforgettable kiss that leaves both breathless.
Lee is instantly attracted to Carly and just cannot explain it and will stop at nothing to make her his. Carly, having been hurt in the past, is hesitant to believe that Lee, or any man for that matter, could possibly be interested in her. Lee, who is on a mission to out maneuver is his match making great-grandma, Mama Laverne, by finding a wife of his own choosing, will stop at nothing to show Carly just how much he wants her and will do anything to protect her when trouble come calling to their doorstep.  Truth be told, Lee Madaris reminds this reader a lot of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy; someone that will go to the ends of the world for the women he loves.
This story has all it all… romance, suspense, intrigue, passion and family issues. This is a wonderful story that will keep you glued until to end to see if this couple can admit that they love each other in ways neither believed was possible. And when Lee brings Carly home to meet the family it turns into a Christmas neither will ever forget, but will Mama Laverne have the last laugh?

*Book provided for review by publisher. 
*Review written by Leatherbound Reviews contributor Liz Castillo

Connect with Brenda Jackson
Read It Now!
Kindle | Nook

Monday, December 23, 2013

Frolic and Play Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers!

Today's final Frolic and Play excerpt is brought to us by the talented Regina Jeffers! If you have not read Christmas at Pemberley, I highly recommend it! 

While at Pemberely, Jane Bingley, Kitty and Mary Bennet, and Georgiana Darcy are out gathering greenery for Christmas decorations with Mr. Bingley, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Grange when mischievous Kitty get the idea to start launching snowballs at amiable Mr. Bingley. Soon war is declared. Enjoy!

Kitty mischievously scooped a handful of snow into a tight ball. She hid her icy creation under her cloak’s flap and waited for Mr. Bingley to step away from Jane. She had thought to hit Mr. Grange, but neither Mary nor the gentleman possessed a sense of humor. “Look,” Kitty whispered to Georgiana. “Let’s see if Mr. Bingley can protect himself. You make one also, and we shall attack together.”
Georgiana smiled easily. Gathering the evergreen branches and holly had gone well. “Do you suppose it would anger Mr. Bingley?” Without waiting for an answer, Georgiana formed a ball from the snowline sitting on the fence rail.
“Mr. Bingley?” Kitty chuckled. “As amiable as my sister’s husband is? Not likely.”
Georgiana giggled. “Then let’s have some enjoyment.”
Mr. Bingley bent to gather an armful of branches, but as he turned his back, two snowy spheres found his right shoulder. Plop! Splat!
Surprised, he turned to see Kitty and Georgiana hugging each other tightly while stifling bursts of laughter. “Ah!” he smiled largely. “So, that’s how it’s to be. A man labors to please a woman’s whims, and then she turns on him,” he taunted. As Bingley spoke, he dropped his stack of pine boughs on a horse blanket they had earlier spread on the ground, and then he armed himself. Playfully tossing the icy ball into the air, he teased, “You leave me no other choice, Sisters, but to defend myself.”
Jane Bingley stepped before her sister. “Kitty was just playing, Charles.”
“Oh, no, my Wife,” he continued his banter, “our sisters have declared war.”
Kitty peered around her eldest sister. “No war, Mr. Bingley. Just men against women.”
Bingley’s hands flitted in large circles above his head. “Oh, woe! We are beset upon! Come along, Grange; you’re with me, as are you Father Bennet.”
“Charles!” Jane warned.
“No reasoning permitted, Mrs. Bingley,” he mocked. “You’re now one of them.” To prove his point, Bingley lobed his snowball in his wife’s direction.
Laughing, Jane made an attempt of returning his attack, but her icy missile actually fell apart before it made contact.
Totally enjoying the play, Kitty and Georgiana hastily squeezed fist-sized snow sausages and flung them in the direction of the three men. Mary’s efforts were less stellar, but even she became caught up in the spontaneous fun.
“Sorry, Papa,” Kitty called as one of her efforts slid down her father’s neck and into his cravat.
“Careful with my wife,” Bingley cautioned the other men. “Remember she’s carrying my child.”
“Then my eldest shouldn’t put herself in the way of my best pitch.” Mr. Bennet purposely barreled a loosely packed snowball at Jane.
“Papa!” she protested, but returned a strong lob, landing a solid hit in his chest’s middle.
Laughter filled the frosty morning air. Soon, it was no longer men versus women. Each person fought everyone else, and snow drenched cloaks and great coats. Just as Mr. Bingley caught his wife and planned to dump her in a nearby snowdrift, a clearing of a deep voice brought them all up short.
“Yes, Thomas?” Georgiana fought to catch her breath.
“Pardon, Miss Darcy. Mr. Nathan asked me to fetch you. Your aunt, Lady Catherine, is waiting for you in the small drawing room.”
Georgiana gasped, “Lady Catherine?”
“Yes, Miss. She and Miss De Bourgh.”
Georgiana swayed in place. “Oh, Lord,” she murmured. “What could Her Ladyship mean with her visit?”
“Do you wish for me to accompany you, Miss Darcy?” Mrs. Bingley came to stand beside her.
Georgiana shook off the idea. “No, I should see my aunt alone.” She took off at a trot in the house’s direction.
Mrs. Bingley turned to her husband. “Charles, you and Mr. Grange should oversee bringing the greenery to the house. Papa, could you intercede with my mother until after Miss Darcy has the opportunity to address Lady Catherine’s needs.”
“I’m on my way, Jane.” Mr. Bennet followed Georgiana toward the side door.
“Kitty,” Jane continued. “I know Miss Darcy needs to tend to Her Ladyship alone, but you might be available to support her–even if she thinks she doesn’t need it.”
“Certainly.” Kitty rushed to catch up with her father.
“Caroline’s at the house,” Bingley assured his wife.
Jane glanced quickly to where Mary assisted Mr. Grange. Assured of some privacy, she said, “That’s what I fear. Lady Catherine knows nothing of Elizabeth’s problems in carrying to term. I would prefer that she didn’t learn of Lizzy’s anguish from either my mother or your sister. Neither would realize the pain such knowledge in Lady Catherine’s hands would give Mrs. Darcy.”
“Then you should speak to Caroline,” Bingley observed.
“It might be better coming from you, Charles. Caroline has no true affection for Elizabeth. She would disregard my pleas on Lizzy’s behalf.”
Bingley accepted the task immediately, as his wife gave orders to the waiting footmen. He certainly didn’t look forward to speaking to Caroline about such a private matter, but he would for Darcy. Although as a man, Darcy didn’t display his feeling, but Bingley knew his friend had suffered as much as Mrs. Darcy, but Darcy had felt compelled to protect Elizabeth–to be strong for her. Bingley would do whatever was necessary to divert Caroline’s spitefulness.

What a way to end such a good-natured snowball fight? Poor Georgiana has to deal with not only Lady Catherine but Caroline Bingley. Lucky her, right? ;)

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt and the other excerpts in the Frolic and Play series!
Merry Christmas!

Connect with Regina Jeffers
Facebook Goodreads | Website   Blog Twitter
Read It Now!
Kindle | Nook

Winners Announced!!

Wicked Designs (ebook) by Lauren Smith:

Mary Chen!!

All I Want for Christmas is a Duke and Lady in Red (ebooks) by Maire Claremont:
Joana Starnes!!

Mischief and Mistletoe (paperback) by Mary Jo Putney:

U.S. copy: Colleen!!
International copy: Katrin!!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaways and especially to the authors for their generous giveaways and providing entertaining excerpts for the holidays! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Frolic and Play: The Netherfield Snowball by Cassandra Grafton.

I am super excited to announce today's snow-filled scene. Cassandra Grafton, author of A Fair Prospect, has generously and cleverly written a special scene for the Frolic and Play series! Thank you, Cassandra. :)
This scene takes place the day after the Netherfield ball in Pride and Prejudice and after Mr. Collins is rejected by Elizabeth Bennet. Enjoy!

The day after the Netherfield Ball…

An early blast of wintry air had descended upon Hertfordshire overnight, leaving a hard frost atop a thin layer of snow, with the threat of more to come. Intent upon his business in Town and thus a speedy return, Charles Bingley set off at first light, the use of his carriage his only concession to the weather.

By the time the remaining occupants of Netherfield ventured downstairs, snow fell heavily from grey skies and before long several inches lay upon the ground.

Despite the roaring fires in every hearth, Caroline Bingley complained as steadily as the flakes fell, of the coldness in the air, the conditions outside underfoot and the paucity of the neighbourhood for offering any possible distraction.

As the clock struck noon, she and her sister settled beside the largest fire of all in the drawing room, refusing to move from its warmth. Mr Hurst resumed his usual indolent position on the sofa before drifting into slumber and, striving to tune out the ladies’ plaintive voices, Darcy walked over to the window and stared out into the park.

The weather was an unfortunate complication, and he released a frustrated breath. Their discussion earlier had centred upon Miss Jane Bennet and Bingley’s apparent infatuation with her. His sisters harboured some of Darcy’s own reservations over the suitability of the lady, and his doubts over Miss Bennet’s genuine interest in his friend were sufficient for him to agree to their suggestion: that they follow Bingley to Town directly and somehow – he knew not how – persuade him against not only his inclination, but returning to Netherfield at all.

Darcy eyed the conditions outside. There would be no journey to Town today. He could only hope, it being so early in winter, for a quick thaw so that they could make a swift withdrawal from the neighbourhood soon after. Hard upon the heels of this thought, came another: he would not see Miss Elizabeth Bennet again.

The tightening in his chest that accompanied any thought of the lady of late made its presence duly felt and, keen for distraction, he excused himself and made his way to the boot room. He needed fresh air and exercise to stave off the thoughts and regrets that would intrude.

Stepping outside, suitably booted and wrapped in his great coat, Darcy strode out, his feet making no sound on the virgin snow. The snow had all but stopped falling, and the skies were lightening slowly, and he inhaled deeply of the crisp, clear air as he walked, relishing the feel of it coolness.

Just then, a sound caught his ear, and he stopped to listen: children playing, their shouts of joy and laughter drifting to him like snowflakes on the wind. Turning a corner, he beheld them, using make-shift sledges to fly down a nearby slope before, pink-faced with cold, turning to trudge their way to the top again, bent upon repeating the pleasure.

Darcy turned his steps to the right, seeking solitude and soon came upon an opening in the hedgerow through which he slipped. Yet his evasive action proved his downfall; with a resounding thud, something hit him squarely in the throat and, as icy slithers of snow began to slide beneath his neck-cloth, his gaze met that of a wide-eyed Elizabeth Bennet.

“Forgive me, Mr Darcy; I did not expect you.” Her tone was sufficiently contrite, but her countenance did not speak of regret. Unless he was much mistaken, the lady was struggling to conceal her mirth.

He wiped the snow from his neck, brushing the remainder from his coat. “You have a sure aim for a lady, Madam.”

A raised brow greeted this comment. “For a lady, Sir? I will take the credit, begrudgingly though you bestow it. Yet my honesty will prevail. I did not take aim and fire, you merely obliged me by walking into my range.” She waved a hand, and he looked over his shoulder.

A low stone wall ran the length of the copse on this side and balanced atop it was a small snowman, albeit now minus part of its head. He frowned; she appeared to have attached some black ribbon to its neck but before he could study it further, she spoke from beside him.

“You place yourself in continued peril, Mr Darcy.”

He glanced at her as she picked something up from the foot of the wall: a low-brimmed black hat, and he frowned again. It was familiar yet he could not place it.

Having balanced it once more upon the remains of the snowman’s head, she returned to the place where she had first stood and, sensing that she would make no allowance for his present position, he quickly stepped aside, just in time to miss the next missile as it struck its target.

Elizabeth made a charming picture, wrapped up warmly in a thick coat, a colourful scarf at her throat and her pink cheeks glowing almost as much as her dark eyes and, despite the lingering dampness about his neck, Darcy released a contented sigh.

“You force me to repeat my praise, Miss Bennet. Your aim is true.”

She laughed. “It is a fine accomplishment, is it not?” Bending to scoop up another handful of snow, she moulded it into a tight ball. “You are very gallant, Mr Darcy?”

“You seem surprised.”

She pursed her lips. “Aye, you and gallantry are not things I have coupled together before now.”

Shocked, not only by her outspokenness but also the implication of her words, Darcy knew not what to say. Did she truly hold him in such low esteem? If so, how might he improve her opinion of him, and why was it so essential to him that he did?

Elizabeth, meanwhile, showed no respect for his inner turmoil, releasing the next snowball with expediency and returning the hat to its former place on the ground.

As she passed him on her way to restore it, he noted the snow clinging in clumps to her boots and the hem of her coat. “You are a long way from home in these conditions. May I not see you safely back?”

She adjusted the ribbon on the snowman’s shoulders, its head now fully dispatched to the other side of the wall and turned to study him. He could not see that he had said anything amiss, yet her expression did not auger well.

“You are mistaken, Mr Darcy. Home is but the other side of the wall.” Trying to get his bearings, Darcy’s gaze narrowed as she continued. “Longbourn may only be a modest house in your eyes, Sir, but the grounds are sufficiently large for finding solitude,” she raised an admonishing brow at him before turning to top the ribbon with the hat, “and escape when required.”

Accepting the hit, Darcy inclined his head. “Then permit me to leave you in peace, Madam.”

At this, the lady shook her head. “Pay me no mind, Mr Darcy. I am out of countenance with myself more than any other. You are perfectly at liberty to walk here.”

Glad of the reprieve, he smiled. “May I be of any assistance?”

Elizabeth threw him a surprised glance. “I doubt that you can, Sir. I am sorely in need of an outlet for a surfeit of ill temper.” She paused, then added, “Do not be alarmed, Mr Darcy; I am merely aggrieved by my cousin and needed to be where he was not.”

Recognition of the snowman’s attire came instantly, and Darcy bit his lip to hide his amusement.

“And er - may I enquire how you managed to take possession of his hat?”

She shrugged. “I cannot lay claim to any talent in that quarter. It hung upon the coat stand as I passed through the hall and, as I suspected he would have little use for it at present, I borrowed it.”

Turning, she walked back to a small pile of remaining snowballs and picked one up, weighing it on her palm, before facing him. “May I ask you a question?”

Unsure if she was about to request that she aim the next missile at him rather than the snowman, Darcy faltered; then, he nodded. “Of course.”

She sighed. “Would you ever consider putting your own happiness ahead of duty to your family?”

Darcy stared at her thoughtfully for a moment, unsure of the relevance of her words. “It is not so simple to answer. If I thought I had forsaken my duty, I do not think I could find contentment.” He studied her troubled countenance, then added. “But my resolve has yet to be tested in earnest.”

What he might have said next, he did not know, for voices drifted towards them on the cold air and they looked towards a stile part way along the wall only to see two of the younger Bennet sisters appear.

“Come, Lizzy! Papa says it is time for you to return to the house.” The girl gave Darcy a startled glance, as if only now perceiving his presence; then, she smirked. “You are quite safe; our cousin has taken to his room until supper.”

“I bid you good day, Mr Darcy.” Elizabeth curtsied, and he offered her a bow by return. “I thank you for bearing me company.” She held out her latest offering towards him, and he took it.

“I return the compliment, Miss Bennet.”

She retrieved the hat and soon disappeared over the stile and into the grounds of Longbourn, the chattering and laughter of her sisters fading slowly, and Darcy stooped to gather more snow, doubling his missile in size.

Though it had been many a year since he had thrown a snowball, Darcy was a keen sportsman with a good eye and a true aim, and the remains of the snowman, ribbon and all, soon disappeared over the wall in search of its head. How was it he felt such pleasure over such a childish thing and so revitalised by spending a short time in the lady’s company?

Darcy turned to retrace his steps, deep in thought. A few light flakes of snow began to fall, and he cast a wary glance heavenwards. Then, he shook his head at his own folly. Whatever the weather chose to deliver, he was caught in a trap of his own making – it was time to own it to himself. Thus, he would remain in Hertfordshire, await his friend’s return and, in the meantime, consider the benefits of lingering a little longer in the country.

I don't know about you, but I am wishing this were not a stand-alone scene. I want to know what happens next in the story. Thanks again, Cassandra for writing this scene for Frolic and Play!

Connect with Cassandra Grafton

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Frolic and Play: The Christmas Tart by Mary Jo Putney + Giveaway!

Today's Frolic and Play excerpt is brought to you by the lovely Mary Jo Putney. She is the author of many entertaining Christmas stories. Today she provides readers an excerpt from The Christmas Tart, which appears in her three novella anthology Christmas Mischief. Ms. Putney is also giving away TWO paperback copies of Mischief and Mistletoe. Open internationally! So sit back and enjoy a fun curricle ride. 

Penniless after being unjustly fired from her job, Nicole Chambord meets Sir Phillip Selbourne in rather unusual circumstances, Philip decides to take her to his family estate for Christmas so she won't starve.  But he hadn't counted on the weather.

After that conversation flagged, for the weather was steadily worsening. The mizzling rain froze wherever it touched, and the muddy ruts began to solidify to iron-hard ridges that rattled the curricle and its occupants to the bone. Earlier there had been a steady trickle of traffic in both directions, but now they were alone on the road.

The Northamptonshire terrain consisted of wide rolling hills that took a long time to climb. It was at the top of one such ridge that the curricle’s wheels got trapped in a deep, icy set of ruts that ran at a tangent to the main direction of the road. Caught between the pull of the horses and the ruts, the curricle pitched heavily, almost spilling both passengers out.

“Damnation!” Using all of the strength of his powerful arms, Sir Philip managed to bring the carriage to a safe halt. “I’m sorry, Nicole. In a heavier carriage we could manage, but the curricle is just too light for these conditions. We’ve scarcely eight miles to go, and I’d hoped to make it home, but it’s dangerous to continue. There’s a small inn about a mile ahead. We can stop there for the night.”

Struggling to keep her teeth from chattering, Nicole nodded with relief. “Whatever you think best, monsieur.”

He urged the nervous horses forward again. “What a polite answer when you would probably rather curse me for risking your neck.”

“I’m in no position to complain. Two days ago I was this cold, but then I had no prospect of finding a warm fire at the end of the day.”

The road down the hill was steep and dangerous, so icy the horses sometimes slipped. The light was failing and visibility was only a few yards, but with Philip’s firm hands on the reins, they made it almost to the bottom without incident.

Then they reached a bare spot where the wind had turned a wide puddle into a treacherous glaze of ice. As soon as the curricle’s wheels struck the slick surface, the vehicle slewed wildly across the road.

The horses screamed, and one reared in its harness. Philip fought for control, and Nicole clung to railing and cat basket for dear life, but to no avail. The curricle tipped over, pitching both occupants onto the verge. Nicole struck the ground hard and rolled over several times, coming to rest in an ice-filmed puddle, too stunned to speak.

While she struggled for breath, a piercing cry split the air. Immediately Philip shouted, “Nicole, where are you? Are you hurt?”

Another shriek came from the vicinity of Nicole’s chest and she wondered dizzily if that was her own voice and she was too numb to know what she was doing. Then she realized she was still clutching the cat basket in her arms. Poor Merkle had been tossed and rolled as much as her mistress and was now protesting in fierce feline fashion.

As she pushed herself to a sitting position, Nicole gasped, “I’m all right. At least, I think I am. Merkle is 
the one carrying on.”

“Thank heaven!” Sir Philip emerged from the gloom and dropped to his knees beside Nicole, then pulled her into his arms, basket and all. She burrowed against him, grateful for his solid warmth.

“You’re sure you’re not hurt?” he asked anxiously, one hand skimming over her head and back, searching for injuries.

Nicole took careful stock. “Just bruised. A moment while I check on Merkle.”

She would have been happy to stay in Philip’s embrace, but conscience made her sit up and lift the lid of the basket. Merkle darted out and swarmed up her mistress’s arm, crying piteously until she found a secure position on Nicole’s shoulder, claws digging like tiny needles.

“Merkle can’t have taken any injury either or she’d not be able to move so quickly,” Sir Philip observed as he got to his feet. He helped Nicole up. “Just a moment while I see if the curricle is damaged.”

Nicole tried to brush away mud and crushed weeds with one hand while soothing the cat with the other. The puddle had finished the job of saturating her cloak, and the bitter wind threatened to freeze her into a solid block of ice.

Sir Philip muttered an oath under his breath. “The horses seem to be all right, but the curricle’s left wheel is broken.”

“Surely it can’t be much farther to the inn you mentioned,” Nicole said through numb lips. “We can walk.”

“Up one long hill and down another,” he said grimly. “That’s too far on a night like this. Luckily there’s an old cottage just a few hundred yards from here. I don’t know who lives there, but it’s always well kept so I’m sure it’s occupied. Just a moment while I get the curricle off the road and unharness the team.”

To reduce her exposure to the wind, Nicole hunkered down beside the road and returned an indignant Merkle to the basket. The baronet undid the leather harness straps, tending the job horses as carefully as if they were his own. Nicole’s father would have approved; he always said that how a man treated his beasts was a good guide to his character.

When Philip had freed the team from its harness, Nicole stood and joined him, the basket handle slung over one arm. “Which way, monsieur?” she said with a hint of chattering teeth.

“Just along here.” Taking the reins in his right hand, Philip put his left arm around his companion, wanting to warm her. He felt her slim body shaking under her damp cloak, but she did not complain. She really was the gamest little creature.

The lane had a surprisingly smooth surface, which meant that it was now treacherous with sheet ice. Even with Philip’s arm to support her, Nicole was skidding with every step. After she had barely survived several near-falls, he turned and scooped her up in his arms, cat basket and all.

When Nicole gave a little squeak of surprise, he explained, “Like the curricle, you are too light for these conditions!”

"The Christmas Tart" is available in the three novella e-book collection  Christmas Mischief by Mary Jo Putney.  Published by RegencyReads.com

Oh, what a scene! How many of you are wanting to pick up the book after that scene? I know I am!


Mary Jo Putney is giving away TWO (2) paperback copies of Mischief and Mistletoe! (1 US and 1 International)
To enter, please comment on this blog post WITH your email address or Twitter handle so I know how to contact the winners.
Extra entires for tweeting about the giveaway. Simply comment you tweeted along with the link.
Giveaway ends 12/21! 
Best of Luck!!

Connect with Mary Jo Putney

Read It Now!