Wednesday, June 19, 2019

BOOK BLITZ w/EXCERPT - SUSPENSE - A Woman Like Her by Hannalore Jones

A Woman Like Her
by Hannalore Jones
Publication date: June 19th 2019
Genres: Adult, Romance, Suspense




BLURB
They thought they could control a woman like her.

Seri’s world shattered when they labeled her father a traitor. Three years later, the government that disavowed him makes her an offer she can’t refuse, sending her on a dangerous mission to seduce a man who’s planning a catastrophic attack. How far will she go to clear her father’s name—especially because she can’t seem to resist the Boy Scout who’s been assigned to protect her?

Sam has never lost his cool on an op—except that one time, and it nearly cost him his career. And he thought he knew everything there was to know about his new asset after reading Seri’s file. But he never expected to fall so hard for a woman like her. Now as they race across the world to save millions of lives, he’s willing to risk everything to keep her safe.
EXCERPT:
He had to run to catch up with her in the hallway. “Seri, hold up,” he shouted, as she rushed to the elevator and jammed the button. “We have to look like a couple, if anyone’s watching.”
“Fine, we’re a couple having an argument,” she said, pushing past him into the elevator and crossing her arms.
He laughed. “Seriously, we have to find a way to get along,” he said. “And to that end, I should apologize. Earlier, I acted—”
“Like an asshole?”
He smiled. “Exactly. And I’m sorry. It was unprofessional and inappropriate.”
“. . . and you’re worried that I’m gonna file a report with your supervisor?”
“No, I’m worried that I fucked up our working relationship.”
“I didn’t realize we had a working relationship.”
“Well, we do now. I hope we can at least be civil.”
“I’ll be civil on Saturday night,” she said as they arrived in the lobby.
He chased after her, waving to Pete before he cut her off to push open the door for her. She brushed past him and started down the block at a brisk pace. He trotted alongside her and finally managed to grab her hand.
She stopped to look at him. “Why are you doing this?”
“I told you,” he whispered, squeezing her hand too tightly when she tried to pull away. Her petulant attitude was risking his life as much as hers. “We have to look like a couple. For your safety, if nothing else.”
She nodded and stopped struggling against his hand. “Fine. But do we have to talk?”
“No,” he relented.
They walked along in silence for a couple of blocks. He could feel the tension buzzing off of her, like static electricity.
Just a few hours ago, she’d been ready to fuck him.
Now she despised him. It wasn’t exactly a feeling he was comfortable with.
And that in itself annoyed him. He was doing his job. There was no reason to feel guilty.
“You need to be able to trust me,” he finally said, to which she snorted. “Okay, I get it—I have no right to expect that,” he sighed. “But whatever you think of me, I’m good at my job. I really am a nice guy, you’ll see. I swear I’ll never let anything, you know, happen to you. You have my word, not that it means much to you.”
She looked at him closely as they stopped in front of her building. “Trust is not my strong suit. Don’t ever lie to me again, Boy Scout.”
“I won’t. Promise. And I quit after Cub Scouts.”
That worked. He could tell she was trying not to laugh when he leaned in, putting his lips against her ear. “Now let’s pretend we made up, shall we, sweetheart?”
He put his hand on her jawline, annoyed when it trembled slightly, beyond his control. He touched his lips to hers, gently, teasing. She sighed, almost like she was annoyed, but opened her mouth and leaned into the kiss. She even gripped his T-shirt. He smiled against her as his tongue met hers.
One hand slid down to her ass and she arched into him for a second, pressing her whole body against his . . . and bit down hard on his bottom lip. He winced, tightening his hand on her hair until she stifled a grimace of pain.
He let go and stepped back, smiling. She smiled back.
“You’re not forgiven,” she whispered, then turned and trotted up the steps, disappearing into the door without looking back. He braced his hand against the stoop railing, trying to catch his breath.
He was in trouble.
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SPOTLIGHT w/INTERVIEW - Tabloid (Dirty Laundry, #1) by Jackie Paxson

Tabloid
Dirty Laundry, #1

by Jackie Paxson

Date of Publication: May 25th 2019
Cover Artist: self

Genre:  Romance with a dash of humor



Tagline:  1 gossip writer + 1 A-list movie star = 1 fake relationship…or does it?



BLURB
After breaking a story that rocks Hollywood, Talia is the top gossip writer around. One night will put all of that into question. The writer becomes the story when she gets caught doing the walk of shame from A-lister Zee Jaxon’s home.

To save both of their reputations he suggests a fake relationship. Pretending should be easy. It shouldn’t mean the fake feelings become real. Accepting the real feelings means the lies they’ve told are even harder to hide.

When the truth comes out can their love survive or will everything just fade to black?


Excerpt
Talia woke on something soft and warm.  It was too lumpy for a bed.  Not to mention moving.  Her eyes snapped open.  Abs.  Pecks.  Nipples. She couldn’t quite comprehend what she was seeing.  Lifting her head, she saw Zeke.  Zeke was her bed. 
            Her eyes roamed over him.  His mouth was open as he slept. Blonde scruff grew along his jaw.  A soft snore escaped making her freeze in place.  His hands flexed around her.  A tingling sensation exploded inside her. 
            Zeke’s chest rose with every breath bringing her gaze to his well-defined pecks.  With her free hand she reached out to touch a muscle she’s only seen in magazines.  None of the men she’d previously been with had such a defined chest.  Some should have even had bras. 
            Her hand trailed down his chest to his abs.  A sensation of need took over her.  All she wanted to do was drag her tongue over each ridge of muscle.  The six pack abs with those defined hip bone things made her squirm.  She lightly caressed his happy trail.
“I wouldn’t go any further, baby.” Talia squeaked in surprise pulling her hand back. 
Zeke was awake and watching her.  In his eyes was a desire she was surprised to find. 
“Oh…um…uh.”  Talia tried to move off of him, but he clutched her tighter.
“You don’t have to stop.  I just wanted to warn you because if you went any further I don’t think I could help myself any longer.” 
A look of shock crossed her face.  She scrambled off Zeke only to grind against something very hard.  “Oh god.”  They both moaned.  In her clumsy attempt to climb off him she fell off the couch banging into the coffee table. 
“Ow!”  She moaned laying on the floor.
“Glad to see you two are awake.  Breakfast is ready.  Zeke you are needed in the barn.  Apparently, the storm did some damage.”  Addie looked at them. 
“Thank you, Addie.”  Zeke ground out. 
Addie smirked at the two then walked back to the kitchen.
“What time is it?”  Talia asked.
“Oh God!  Its after nine.  We are really late.” Zeke turned to see Talia crawling away from the table.  “I wish I had my camera right now.”  He laughed.
Using a side table, she heaved herself off the floor. Walking away, she gave him the finger over her head.  His laughing followed her upstairs. 
***
            Hours later covered in brown, either mud or horse shit, Talia washed up in the first-floor bathroom.  She scurried across the hall to the laundry room.  A pair of sweats and t-shirt sat folded on top of the dryer. She pulled on the sweats and oversized shirt. Taking a deep breath, she shuffled her way out to the kitchen.
“Alright, Addie.  I am ready to help.  What can I do to help with dinner?” 
Addie looked at Talia.  The wince she tried to conceal told Talia all she needed to know about how she looked.  “You don’t have to help me, hon.” 
“I’m not a freeloader around here.  Give me something to do.”  Talia felt her reserve dwindling, but she needed to help out. 
Reluctantly, Addie gave Talia the rolling pin.  “Roll out this dough.  When it’s about an inch thick cut out the biscuits and place them on the sheet.”
Talia could do that.  How hard could it be to roll out dough and cut it in circles?  The answer was near impossible with only a few hours of sleep.  Not to mention cleaning the horse stalls all day. 
“Oh dear.”  Addie stood next to Talia.  They looked at the misshapen dough.  Most were a ball or oval.  They weren’t an inch thick either. 
“Sorry, Addie.” 
“It’s alright, Tally.  Go sit in the living room while I put these in the oven.”  Talia nodded and slumped off to the living room.
A bone deep ache spread through her body.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d worked that hard.  Talia now knew how Zeke got those defined muscles.  Those muscles she’d been touching, rubbing and ready to kiss.  What the hell was wrong with her? 
“What’s wrong with her?”  Zeke’s voice came out from the kitchen echoing her thoughts.
“She’s exhausted.”  Addie said.
“How long has she been sitting like that staring at the blank tv?”
“About 45 minutes.  Poor thing needs a good soak in the tub, dinner then straight to bed.” 
Footsteps sounded next to the couch.  Zeke squatted in front of her.  “Lia, you ok?”
“Yep.  Just catching my breath.”
“Uh huh.  Come on let’s get you upstairs.” 
“No, I’m fine.” 
“You have two choices.  Either you get your butt off the couch and up to your room or I pick you up off the couch and carry you to your room.  Easy way or hard way, Lia?”
Talia remained seated on the couch.  She was too exhausted to answer.
“Ok.  Hard way it is.”  Zeke picked her up as if she were light as a pillow. 
“What are you doing?” 
“I’m taking you to your room, getting a bath ready for you, then bringing you dinner.” 
“Ok.”  Talia was too tired to argue.  She knew she smelled of the manure/mud mixture, but she couldn’t help snuggling into Zeke’s arms.  His warmth and strength enveloped her.  He smelled like sweat, hay and fresh cut grass.  It was like a damn aphrodisiac.  Her lady V was standing at attention.











Author Info
Jackie is a single mom of a rambunctious boy and his dog, Cady.  She is an avid reader with a blog under the name of The Book Maven.  Reading has been a passion of hers from the time she could pick up a Sweet Valley High book.  Writing is a new adventure where she gets to curse, be clumsy and fall in love with every page. 



The Book Junkie Reads . . . Interview with Jackie Paxson . . .
Hello!  Thank you so much for having me and my book, Tabloid, on your blog.
How would you describe your style of writing to someone that has never read your work?
-My writing is a mixture of romance, comedy and emotion.  There are definitely times you will be laughing out loud but then in the next chapter you will need Kleenex.  I try to make everything as believable as possible by taking real scenarios that have either happened to me or someone I know and make them just a tad bigger.  Unfortunately, some are 100% true. I will leave it to the reader to figure those out. 😊


What are some of your writing/publishing goals for this year?
-I have plans on continuing the Dirty Laundry series with hopefully publishing the next two books by the end of the year.  However, in the middle of those goals are the facts of moving my family to a new house and school.


Do you feel that writing is an ingrained process or just something that flows naturally for you?
-For me personally, there are times that writing comes naturally.  It flows out of me and I can barely keep up with the thoughts and ideas.  If the thoughts and ideas are not coming then I can’t force it. No matter what if I am not in the mood to write or my characters don’t want to show themselves to me then I am basically incapable of writing.


Where would you spend one full year, if you could go ANYWhere? What would you do with this time?
-If I could go anywhere for an entire year I would go to Europe.  I would want to travel all over. See all of the historical sites, write and enjoy meeting new people and cultures.  I can only imagine inspiration I could get from a trip like that.
Can you share you next creative project(s)? If yes, can you give a few details?
-I have two things spinning in my head right now.  First is the next book in the Dirty Laundry series.  I will tell you it is Chrissy and Max’s book. From this book another set of characters has popped up.  I am feeling a spin-off from this series about some brothers who own a bar. I can feel the shenanigans coming.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

TOUR w/EXCERPT - The Lemon Sisters (Wildstone, #3) by Jill Shalvis

DIGITAL:    Amazon Kindle    Barnes & Noble Nook    Apple Books    Google Play    Kobo    PRINT:    Amazon Print    Barnes & Noble Print    Books-a-Million    Powell's    Book Depository    IndieBound    AUDIO:    AudibleThe Lemon Sisters
Wildstone, #3
by Jill Shalvis
June 18, 2019
Avon Books




The Book Junkie Reads . . . Review of . . . The Lemon Sisters (Wildstone, #3) . . . I loved revisiting Wildstone, CA. It was filled with family, friends, loves old and new, but this time there was something different about Wildstone.  

MORE COMING . . . 



Blurb
Brooke Lemon has always led the life she wanted, wild adventures—and mistakes—included, something her perfect sister, Mindy, never understood. So when Mindy shows up on Brooke’s doorstep in the throes of a breakdown with her three little kids in tow, Brooke’s shocked.

Wanting to make amends, Brooke agrees to trade places with Mindy, taking the kids back to Wildstone for a few days so she can pick up the pieces and put herself back together. What Brooke doesn’t admit is she’s just as broken …also how does one go home after seven years away? It doesn’t take long for Brooke to come face-to-face with her past, in the form of one tall, dark, sexy mistake. But Garrett’s no longer interested. Only his words don’t match his actions, leaving Brooke feeling things she’d shoved deep.

Soon the sisters begin to wonder: Are they lemons in life? In love? All they know is that neither seems to be able to run far enough to outpace her demons. And when secrets surface, they’ll have to learn that sometimes the one person who can help you the most is the one you never thought to ask.


Buy Links
KINDLE US: https://amzn.to/2FxEn88
KINDLE UK: https://amzn.to/2BpR40O
KINDLE CA: https://amzn.to/2OVqfoI
KINDLE AU: https://amzn.to/2Fx8PPX
iBOOKS: https://apple.co/2S3VHmH
NOOK: http://bit.ly/2R1dU4i
KOBO: http://bit.ly/2SbGxMv
GPLAY: http://bit.ly/2BnpH7E
PAPERBACK: http://bit.ly/2Bp1fCQ
Series Buy Link: https://www.jillshalvis.com/the-wildstone-series

Excerpt:
*Read the First Chapter, https://www.jillshalvis.com/excerpts/the-lemon-sisters

Chapter 1
“I get that life sucks right now, but that’s never a reason to wear granny panties.”

Without warning, the helicopter dipped sharply and Brooke Lemon’s stomach went along with it. Suddenly her view of a pretty sky shifted and she was staring out at a craggily mountain peak, seemingly close enough to touch.

Too close, and worse, they were nearly sideways. Fighting the vertigo, she swallowed hard at the jagged cliffs, shooting up thousands of feet into the air, vanishing in the clouds.

There was nowhere to land.

Compounding the terror, the previously benign sky had given way to a sudden cloud pack, dark and turbulent, and Brooke’s heart pounded in tune to the thump, thump, thump of the rotors. The chopper shuddered, straining to right itself. Her palms went slick, and she regretted that extra sleeve of cookies she’d inhaled at lunch, which seemed a lifetime ago now.

“Brooke.”

“Shh.” Afraid to so much as blink, she leaned forward, unable to tear her gaze away.

“You’re green, Brooke. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. In fact, you’ve been at this for ten straight hours, take a nap.”

“I can’t nap! I have to stay awake for the crash!”

“There’s no crash this time, I promise.”

Pulling off her headphones, she leaned back in her chair and gulped in a deep breath. The video was paused, the lights came up, and then a few words rolled across the screen.

Brooke Lemon, producer extraordinaire…

“Funny,” she said.

“And true.” Cole stood and studied her for a long beat. “You miss being out there. Being the one shooting the footage instead of putting it all together.”

“No.” This was a big, fat lie. Of course she missed it. She missed it like she’d miss air. She still hadn’t taken her eyes off the screen. The word ‘producer’ mocked her. Sure it was safer on this side of the camera, but hell yeah she still yearned for the good old days.

Not that she was about to admit it to her boss. Not only would Cole pity her, he’d want to talk about it.

And she never talked about it. What was the point? The only way to fix this was to face her past. Her mistakes. And she couldn’t do that. Okay, that was a lie. She could. She just hadn’t figure out how. Avoiding his knowing eyes, she rose grabbed her backpack just as Tommy poked his head into the editing room. “Hey sweetness, how about some dinner?” His smile faded at whatever he saw on her face, and he exchanged a long look with Cole, who gave a slight head shake.

Tommy held out a hand for Brooke. “Come on, chica, I’ll buy.”

She knew when she was being managed. The three of them worked on a Travel Network show called Around The World, which followed adventure seekers documentary style as they took on different goals such as climbing “unclimbable” mountains, rafting “unraftable” rivers … basically anything high danger and high adrenaline.

Once upon a time, Brooke had been the principal photographer, but these days she worked solely from the studio, editing the footage and writing up the scripts for the supposed “reality” show, living a very different life from the one she’d imagined herself living. But it worked for her. It was all good. 

Or so she told herself in the deep, dark of the night.

Cole was their showrunner and director. He was also a friend, and, when it suited them, also Brooke’s lover. It’d been months this time, though because the funding had been cut, leaving them on a tight budget and an even tighter deadline, which meant they’d been at each other’s throats much more than at each other’s bodies. Lust tended to take a back seat to murderous urges, at least for Brooke. Men didn’t seem to have a problem separating the two.

Tommy was the show’s makeup and hair stylist and Brooke’s bff. They’d never been lovers. Mostly because Tommy preferred relationships with more than one person at a time, and she wasn’t wired that way.

Since both guys knew her way too well, she avoided eye contact by going through her backpack to make sure she had her keys and wallet. Which she already knew she did because she was a teeny tiny bit compulsive about such things. Still, she touched each briefly and then zipped her pack. And then because she liked things in even numbers, she unzipped and re-zipped it a second time.

Tommy turned to Cole in accusation. “Why is she upset? Did that new publicist cancel on her for that concert last night?”

“You actually went out with that guy?” Cole asked. “I told you that I’d take you.”

“I cancelled the date.” Brooke shrugged. “He wears too much cologne.”

‘I don’t,” Cole muttered.

Tommy was still eyes narrowed on Brooke. “The guy before that you said had a crazy mother.”

“He did.” But that hadn’t been the problem. Before the waiter had even brought them drink menus, he’d told her he wanted to get married this year. Preferably in the fall, as that was his mother’s favorite season. And also, the woman wanted a big wedding with all the trimmings. “Why are we even talking about this?” she asked, running the pads of her thumbs over the tips of her fingers, back and forth, back and forth. It was an old habit and a self-soothing mechanism. Not that it ever worked.

Tommy watched her movements with worry. “Because you’re upset at something.”

She shoved her hands in her pockets.

“She had a flashback,” Cole said. “She always gets especially testy after one of those.” He met Brooke’s gaze, his own warm and full of concern. “Come home with me tonight, I’ll make you feel better.”

Though she knew he could do just that, she wasn’t up for his special brand of ‘feel better’. “I’m fine,” she said and slung her backpack over her shoulder. To keep either of them from following her, she went up on tiptoes and brushed a kiss to Tommy’s scruffy jaw, and then Cole’s shaved one. “I’m fine,” she repeated. “I’m also out. Saving you some overtime,” she told Cole.

“You’re on salary.”

“Yeah, which reminds me, I’m due for a raise.” She shut the door before he could respond and exited the studio into the LA heat. It was seven p.m. in late May and ninety-eight degrees. The humidity was high enough to turn her ponytail into something resembling a squirrel’s tail.

Not that it mattered. She had no one to impress, nor the will to change that. Twenty-eight years old and she was a complete burnout on men.

And possibly on life.

She drove home, which was a rented bottom floor condo in North Hollywood only eight miles from the studio, and thirty minutes in gridlock traffic — like tonight. So she added Los Angeles to the list of things she was burned out on. She missed wide open spaces. She missed fresh air and being outdoors. She missed thrill and adventure.

Parking in her one-car garage, she headed through her interior door to her kitchen, mindlessly counting her steps, doing a little shuffle at the end to make sure she ended on an even number. Another self-soothing gesture. Some days required more self-soothing than others. 

Inside, she took a deep breath and tried to let go of the stress ball in her gut. The flashback had been the first in a long time and she’d nearly forgotten the taste of bone-deep terror that most people would never experience.

She looked around. Her place was clean, her plants were alive – well, semi alive anyway. Everything was great.

She was working on believing that when a knock came at her door. And actually, it was more of a pounding, loud and startling in the calm silence of her living room. Not Tommy, he would’ve knocked while yelling her name. Cole would’ve texted her before getting out of his car.

No stranger to danger, Brooke grabbed her trusty baseball bat on the way to the door. She hadn’t traveled the planet over and back more times than she could count without learning how to protect herself. 

Just as she leaned in to look out the peephole, there came another round of pounding, accompanied by a female voice. “Brooke! Oh God, what if you’re not home? Please be home!”

Brooke went still as stone. She knew that voice, though it’d been awhile. A long while. It belonged to her older sister Mindy. Mindy had her shit together. She wore a body armor of calm like other women wore earrings, didn’t have to count in her head, and never lost her way or screwed up her entire life. 

But she kept up the frantic knocking and something else that sounded suspiciously like sobs.

Brooke yanked the front door open and Mindy fell into her arms. They hadn’t seen each other in over a year and hadn’t spoken in months, and the last time they had, they’d hung up on each other.

“What the hell?” Brooke asked, trying to extract herself.

They weren’t a demonstrative family. Hugs were saved for weddings and funerals, or the very occasional family gathering where there was alcohol, copious amounts of it. Emotions were kept tight to the vest. But Mindy was demonstrating boatloads of emotion at high volume, clinging like Saran Wrap while crying and talking at the same time in a pitch not meant for humans.

“Min, you gotta slow down,” Brooke said. “Only dogs can hear you right now.”

Mindy sucked in a breath and lifted her head. Her mascara was smudged so badly that it was possibly yesterday’s mascara that just hadn’t been removed. She wore no other makeup. She was at least fifteen pounds heavier than Brooke had ever seen her. Her clothes were wrinkled and there was a suspicious looking dark stain on her t-shirt, which was odd because Mindy didn’t wear tees. Her honey-colored shoulder length hair was the same color as Brooke’s, but Mindy’s hair always behaved. Not today. It was outdoing Brooke’s in the squirrel tail impersonation and looked like it was a week past needing a shampoo. She hiccupped, but thankfully stopped the sobbing.

Brooke nodded gratefully, but braced herself because she had a very bad feeling. “Who’s dead?” 

Mindy choked on a low laugh and swiped beneath her eyes, succeeding only in making things worse. “No one’s dead. Unless you count my personal life.”

This made no sense. Mindy had been born with a plan in hand. At any given moment of any day, she could flip open her fancy binder and tell you exactly where she was in that plan. “You’ve got something in your hair.” Brooke gingerly picked it out. It was a Cheerio. 

“It’s Maddox’s. He was chucking them in the car.” Mindy’s eyes were misting again. “You don’t know how lucky you are that you don’t have kids!”

It used to be, a sentence like that would send a hot poker of fire through Brooke’s chest, but now it was more like a dull ache. Mostly. She took a step back and crossed her arms. “Why are you falling apart? You never fall apart.” And why are you coming to me? 

Mindy shook her head. “Meet the new me. Remember when we were little and poor because dad had put all his money into the first POP Smoothie shop and everyone called us the Lemon Sisters?”

“We are the Lemon sisters,” Brooke said.

“Yes, but they made it a play on words, like we were lemons. As in bad lemons. As in worthless. I’m a bad Lemon!”

“First of all, you were the one who told me back then to ignore it because we weren’t worthless,” Brooke said, “so I’ll tell you now – we’re still not. And second, you’ve got a great life, a life you planned out in great detail, I might add. You married a doctor. You now run and manage the Wildstone Pop Smoothie shop. You bake like no other. People flock to the shop on the days you bring in your fresh stuff to sell alongside the smoothies. You’ve got three kids. You live in a house with a real white picket fence, for God’s sake.”

Mindy sniffed. “I know! And I get that on paper it looks like I’m the together sister, but I’m not!”

That shouldn’t hurt, but it did. Mindy didn’t have the first clue about Brooke’s life these days. Which was another problem entirely. “Min, what’s really going on here? We don’t do this, we’re not … close.”

“Well whose fault is that?” Mindy’s eyes filled. “I burnt the school cupcakes and the firefighters had to come, and now the whole block knows I’m losing my shit. Dad wants to sell off some of the POP Smoothie shops, including the Wildstone one, so he can retire—” She put retire in air quotes, because the man was already pretty much hands off the business –”which puts me out of work. Linc says I should buy it, and I love that store, you know how much I love working that store, but I can’t so much as potty train Maddox, even though he’s thirty-two-point-five months old.” She drew in a shuddery breath. “And I think Linc’s having an affair with Brittney, our nanny. “

Whoa. Brooke stopped trying to do the math to figure out how old thirty-two-point-five months was in years and stared at her sister. “What?” 

“Look, I know you hate me, but when it all started to fall apart in the car on the way home from mom and dad’s in Palm Springs, I looked you up. Google Maps said you were right on the way home to Wildstone.”

Wildstone. Their hometown on the central coast of California amongst wineries and ranches and gorgeous rolling hills dotted with oaks. Just the thought of home conjured up a sense of longing so painful it almost buckled her knees. “I don’t hate you,” Brooke said. Much. “But do you really think your husband, cutie pie Dr. Linc Tenant, the guy you’ve been in love with since the second grade and who worships the ground you walk on is having an affair with the nanny? And since when do you have a nanny?”

“Since I went back to work at the shop right after Maddox was born.” Mindy sighed. “She’s only part time, but yes, I really think he’s cheating on me. Which means I’m going to be single soon. Oh my God, I can’t go back to being single! I mean how do you know which way to swipe, left or right?”  

“Okay first off … breathe.” Brooke waited until Mindy gulped in air. “Good. Second, why do you think Linc’s having an affair?”

“Because Cosmo says that married couples our age are supposed to have sex two to three times a week, and we don’t. I’m not sure we managed to have sex this whole month!” She tossed up her hands. “It used to be every day. Every day, Brooke, and we used to role play too, like sexy bad cop and sassy perp, or naughty nurse and—”

Brooke covered her ears. “Oh my God. Please stop talking.”

“We have a chest full of costumes and props that we never even use anymore.”

“Seriously,” Brooke said on a heartfelt grimace. “I can still hear you.”

“I just miss it. I mean I really miss it. I need a man-made orgasm or I’m going to have to buy more batteries.”

“Okay, I get it, you miss sex! Jeez! Let’s move on! So you’ve got the problems with Linc, the nanny, and your, uh, lack of new batteries … but instead of fixing any of these problems, you, what, ran away from Wildstone six hours south to mom’s and dad’s in Palm Springs?”

“I don’t know what I was thinking. And now Mom thinks Millie needs therapy because she’ll only answer to Princess Millie, and that Maddox should be talking more than barking. And dad says Mason shouldn’t wear pink shirts – but it was salmon not pink. He picks out his own clothes and dresses himself, and I don’t want to squash that. Also, Dad thinks that my ass is getting fat.”

“Dad did not say that,” Brooke said. The man was a quiet, thoughtful introvert. He might think it, but he’d never say it.

“No he didn’t,” Mindy admitted. “But it’s true and that’s probably why Linc won’t sleep with me!” She started crying again.

“Momma.”

At the little kid voice, Brooke and Mindy both froze and turned. In the doorway stood Mindy’s Mini-Me, eight year old Millie, outfitted in a yellow dress with black elephants and giraffes on it. Her hair was held off her face by a headband that matched the dress. But it was her eyes that got to Brooke. They were the same jade green Mindy’s. And her own, she supposed. “Millie,” Brooke said. “Wow, you’re all grown up.”

“Hi, Aunt Brooke,” Millie said politely before turning back to her mom. “Momma, Mad Dog peed on Mason again.” She held up her hands like a surgeon waiting to have her gloves put on. She ran the pads of her thumbs across the tips of her fingers four times in a row. “I’ve got to wash my hands. Can I wash my hands?”

“Down the hall,” Brooke said, heart tugging for the kid. “First door on the right’s the bathroom.”

Millie ran down the hall. They heard the bathroom door shut and then the lock clicked into place. And out of place. And back into place. Four times.

Brooke’s heart pinched. Maybe Millie was more Brooke’s Mini-Me than Mindy’s… She didn’t know much about kids, and she was certainly in no position to tell her sister how to live her life, but things did seem out of control – something Mindy had never been a day in her life.

Her sister’s car was parked in the short driveway in front of the condo, the doors open. Two little boys were rolling around on the grass. One was naked. 

Mindy was staring at them like one might stare at an impending train wreck. 

“Yours, I presume,” Brooke said.

“Yeah. Want one?”

She ignored the way her heart took a good, hard leap. “Tell me about Linc.”

Mindy sighed. “I keep up the house, work at the shop thirty hours a week, and handle all the kid and life stuff. I’m the heavy. The bad cop. And I get that Linc and his brother Ethan had to take over their dad’s medical practice when he had a stroke, but that wasn’t in our life plan. And Ethan’s having some sort of mid life crisis and taking time off, which leaves Linc working seventy hours a week. When he finally walks in after a long day, I’m invisible. The kids always love the good cop. I want to be the good cop.”

“So be the good cop,” Brooke said. 

“I can’t be the good cop. I’ve tried. I’m too anal.” Mindy lowered her voice to a whisper. “I want to be you, Brooke. You get to bounce all over the planet, living out wild adventure after wild adventure, and you get paid to do it. No wonder you never come home.”

It wasn’t adventure that kept her away from Wildstone. Shame, maybe. Okay, definitely. And regrets. Lots of regrets. She’d been haunted by them for seven years, during which time she’d stayed away from her childhood town that was four hours north of LA.

But sometimes in the deep, dark of the night she dreamed about going back.

Pushing those thoughts aside, she stared into her sister’s red-rimmed, despairing gaze. She knew despair. She knew it to the depths of her soul, and some of the pent-up resentment she’d been holding for Mindy and her very perfect life shifted slightly. Not fade away, not exactly, more like it just moved over to make room for a teeny tiny amount of compassion and empathy. “Go into the kitchen and pour yourself a glass of wine,” she said. “I’ve got the kids for now.”

“You do?” Mindy asked with clear disbelief.

“Yeah.” If there was one thing Brooke had down, it was the ability to bullshit her way through any situation. She’d summited the roof of Africa – Kilimanjaro. She’d been one of the few to get to and photograph the limestone formations of the Stone Forest in China. She’d gone swimming with giants – migrating humpback whales — along the waters of Ningaloo Reef in Australia. Certainly she could handle her sister and her kids. She waited until Mindy vanished inside before calling out to the boys wrestling in the grass. “Hey.”

Neither of them looked at her. 

She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled. Loudly. All destruction and mayhem stopped on a dime and two sets of eyeballs turned her way. “Inside,” she said. “Everyone to the couch.”

The boys met up with the freshly washed up Millie in the living room and they all sat, even the naked one. Brooke winced, but let it go as she opened her laptop and scrolled her way to a Disney flick to stream They were rated by viewer age which was helpful. “Okay, so you’re almost three,” she said, pointing to the nudie-patootie Maddox. “And just four, right?” she asked the one with clothes, which meant he was Mason. He nodded and she turned to the oldest. “Millie?”

Millie didn’t answer.

She looked at Mason.

“She’s almost eight,” he said.

Brooke looked at Millie. “Is this movie okay?”

Millie didn’t answer this question either.

“You have to call her Princess Millie,” Mason said. His knee was bloody. “She only answers to Princess Millie.”

“Right,” Brooke sent a glance toward the kitchen, but nothing from Mindy. She’d either made a run for it through the garage, or she was hiding out, drinking her wine in peace. Brooke went to her backpack, pulled out the first aid kit she always carried with her, and grabbed the antiseptic.

Mason covered his knee. “Only need a band-aid.”

While she could appreciate the sentiment more than he could know, the cut was dirty. She doctored him up and looked at Millie. “Back to the movie. The Lion King or no?”

Millie shook her head. “The dad dies and it makes Mad Dog cry.”

“Me too,” Brooke said and scrolled to The Toy Story 3.

“That one makes all of us cry,” Millie said. “And you can’t play Frozen either. Mason will sing it for three straight days until Momma says she needs a pill.”

They finally settled on Cars 3. Brooke brought Maddox his clothes— “Don’t forget a diaper!” Millie said. “Or we’ll all be sorry.”

Right. A diaper. Brooke helped the kid into everything. She then tented a big soft blanket over the back of the couch to the coffee table, pinning it in place with several heavy books, one of which was filled with her own photography. From the old days, back when she was actually having the adventures Mindy clearly thought she was still having.

“A fort!” Mason yelled enthusiastically. 

Maddox barked with equal enthusiasm, flashing a smile and a devastatingly adorable dimple while he was at it.

“Aunt Brooke is the best,” Brooke heard Millie whisper to her brothers.

She felt herself smile with pride and also a sense of warmth and affection that had been all too rare in her world lately. But along with the goodness came something else. A sense of dread. Because blood or not, family or not, this couldn’t happen. She couldn’t fall for Mindy’s kids, no matter how much she wanted to.

“Mad dog!” Millie cried out, voice muffled like maybe she was holding her hand over her mouth. “You pooped!”

This was followed by a giggle. Mad Dog, presumably. Thank God for diapers.

“You’re supposed to do that in the bathroom!” Millie yelled. “Mom said!” And then she yanked the blanket down around them to dramatically gasp in some fresh air. 

Mason and Maddox were rolling with helpless laughter.

“Boys are disgusting,” Millie announced.

Brooke shrugged. “You might think differently in a few years.”

“No way.” She jabbed a finger at Maddox. “He needs changing. If you don’t do it right away, he gets a rash and screams bloody murder.”

Brooke slid another look toward the kitchen. Still nothing from Mindy. So she scooped up Maddox, and then nearly staggered back from the stench coming out of this sweet, little boy.

At the look on her face, he giggled again and drooled down her front. 

“You know what would be even funnier?” she asked, walking him out to Mindy’s car to find his diaper bag, and then changing him outside on her porch lounge so that she didn’t have to hazmat her place afterwards. “If you used a toilet like a big boy and showed your siblings what you’re capable of.”

He stared up at her, not committing to anything, but clearly considering. 

When she was done, she brought him inside and recreated the tent. Then she walked into the kitchen.

No Mindy.

Troublesome. Brooke filled a bowl with cut up apples and a pile of almond butter for dip, and thrust it into the tent.

It was immediately accepted with squeals of delight.

Proud of her aunting skills, she went in search of her sister. It was with great relief that she found her in Brooke’s bedroom, sprawled out on the bed with a bottle of wine. 

No glass.

“You’re drinking in my bed,” Brooke said, trying not to hyperventilate.

“Do you mind?”
Her OCD sure did. “Um—”

“Mom called,” Mindy murmured, staring off into space. “She told me that my husband and children are perfect.” She took a swig of wine. Clearly not her first. Or tenth. “Which means it’s me.” 

Brooke took the bottle and set it on the nightstand.

Mindy flopped to her back on the mattress. “Oh my God, Brooke. This bed. It’s heaven.” She rolled around. “Your sheets are clean. You’ve got plants that haven’t been eaten. There’s no poop anywhere, it smells delicious.”

“Okay, seriously.” Brooke sat on the edge of the bed. “You’re scaring me. Who are you and what did you do to my sister?” 

From the bathroom in the hallway, Mason called out an, “I finished!”

Mindy sighed. “He doesn’t wipe efficiently and needs to be checked. As for what happened to me, I had babies.”

Brooke didn’t flinch. Progress. “You still haven’t told me about Linc, other than he’s working long hours and is the good cop.”

“I never see him. A few days ago he left for a conference in Florida with some colleagues and he suggested I take the kids to mom and dad’s while he was gone. So I asked Brittney if she wanted to come with me, but she said she couldn’t. Then later that same day on her Instagram, she was on a beach.”

“Okay,” Brooke said. “So…?”

“So what if she’s on a beach in Florida with my husband?”

“Is someone going to come check me?” Mason yelled.

Brooke stuck her head out the bedroom door. “Listen kid, you’re going to need to hang on a second or handle the paper work yourself.” She turned to Mindy. “Have you actually talked to Linc?” 

“No. He’s too busy. We’ve got a rule. When he’s traveling, we only check in via text once a day unless there’s an emergency. It’s because he’s so busy and when he doesn’t call me all the time, I tend to get murderous and want to kill him. Hence the rule.”

Brooke loved Linc, and she got it, Mindy could be incredibly … needy, but thought the rule was pretty shitty. “Maybe you’re wrong about all of this. And anyway, what does this Brittney chick have what you don’t?”

“Boobs that haven’t been ravaged by three babies, for one thing. And a waist. And I bet she doesn’t pee a little when she sneezes.”

Brooke grimaced. “Stay on topic, Min. You’re the goal orientated one here. What’s your goal?”

Mindy stared at her blankly.

“What do you need?” Brooke prompted.

“Linc to say he can’t live without me. In lieu of that, I could use a day or two away from the merry-go-round ride before I fell off and can’t get up.”

“Min, you need to tell Linc this, all of it.”

“But I want him to just know.” Mindy reached for the wine and took another swig before squeezing out a few more tears.

Brooke sighed. If there was one thing you could say about the Lemon sisters, it was that they were night and day. Oil and water. Oranges to apples. But here was the thing – night and day melded together twice every twenty four hours, oil and water could be forced to work together with a good shake, and apples and orange were still both fruit. “What if I take the kids away for a few days,” she heard herself say. “You could stay here and relax.”

“Where would you go? To Wildstone?”

The thought brought both a burst of hope and an equal burst of gut-wrenching anxiety. To go to Wildstone, she’d have to not only face her past, but the consequences of that past. “I was thinking Disneyland. I’ve got some free passes. Perks of the trade.”

“You’d do that for me?” Mindy asked with so much hope it hurt.

Damn, she’d really been a crappy sister. “Yes. Bed time for you. We can make plans in the morning,” she said, hoping this whole meltdown thing wasn’t contagious. Once again wrestling the wine away from Mindy’s hot hands, she set the bottle on the dresser. Then she pulled off her sister’s sneakers and eyed the rest of Mindy’s clothes. “How comfortable are those yoga pants?”

“They’re my skinny weight ones. But since I’m not at my skinny weight, they’re not comfortable at all.” She paused. “I’m not even at my medium weight. I’m the heavy weight champ right now, but I threw away all my heavy weight clothes.”

“Why?”

“Because my skinny weight self is a complete selfish bitch who thought I had more control than I do,” Mindy wailed.

“You’re not fat, you’re just … easier to see.” Brooke tugged Mindy’s leggings off and went hands on hips. “Okay, I get that life sucks right now, but that’s never a reason to wear granny panties. Like ever.”

“My skinny panties give me wedgies.” With a sigh, Mindy turned on her side and curled up in just her t-shirt and undies.

Brooke spread a blanket over her.

“But the kids,” her sister said, eyes already closed. “I’ve gotta make sure the kids brush and floss and clean up…”

Mindy infamously micro-managed everything and everyone around her because she hated surprises. Brooke was the opposite. If you asked anyone who knew her, they’d say she was the free bird, the wanderlust spirit, the … well, crazy one.

They had the crazy part right, especially given what she was about to say. “I got them. Just sleep.” And please God, wake up like your usual calm, unruffled bitch self…

“Thanks, Bee,” Mindy murmured. “I owe you one.”

“Wiiiiiiiipe meeeeeeee!” Mason bellowed.


With a sigh, Brooke headed down the hall to save the kid, thinking she was going to have no problem not falling for these kids after all.

Author Info
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Shalvis writes warm, funny, sexy contemporary romances and women’s fiction. An Amazon, BN & iBooks bestseller, she’s also a two-time RITA winner and has more than 10 million copies of her books sold worldwide.


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