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Archive for January, 2012

Hi friends! I … well, I had played with posting this in early January, but then life was OMGWTF. And then I wanted to post it at the end of January. Because that’s what somehow made sense to me. So here we are. Anyway, I’m going with the post date and sticking to it!

This is a “tradition” I started way back in 2009. When everyone else was posting their “best books of the previous year” lists… I wanted to do something different. So I did. Now, we see more such lists as this one. I’m going to take credit. Because I can. And I’m feeling grouchy. [No seriously though – when I googled it in 2009 and wrote my first one I found not a thing. So you’re welcome, okay?!]

It’s also a bit flawed because some books, there simply is no information out there, other than the title and author, and I’m not willing to make it a top 10 want/recommended book based only on that. Um, this system works, you know, cuz it’s a bit quirky, a bit flawed, and yet exciting. Like me! >.> … yeah.

😀

This year… I’m also making a tentative pledge to not only read but also review all ten books on this list. You’ll notice then there are no extras. Because… I want to set a goal I can actually accomplish. And now you guys can keep me accountable. (I’m already starting to think I might’ve made a mistake…)

Listed in nothing but chronological order… the books!

1. My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander

Evelyn Hadley-Attwater has it all—a genteel Victoria life replete with loving husband, ball gowns and elegant parties. No one, including the man she married, suspects that she was once “Eve”, a spy for England’s most enigmatic intelligence agency. Summoned for one final assignment, the excitement of her former life and memories of her mysterious, flirtatious boss “Sir” prove too tempting . . .

Adrian Hadley Attwater is a respectable, dignified gentleman. But even the most proper gentlemen have secrets of their own. Secrets from the rest of the world, from their families, from their wives. Secrets that have a price. Now, as the veil of secrecy frays, a tantalizing game of cat and mouse will test the bounds of unfailing love . . .

What really won me over was the book excerpt. I also bought the book. Especially because the kindle cost wasn’t the same as the print!

 2. Secrets of an Accidental Duchess by Jennifer Haymore

With her pale hair and slim figure, Olivia Donovan looks as fragile as fine china, and has been treated as such by her sisters ever since a childhood bout with malaria. But beneath her delicate facade, Olivia guards a bold, independent spirit and the kind of passionate desires proper young ladies must never confess…

It was a reckless wager, and one Max couldn’t resist: seduce the alluring Olivia or forfeit part of his fortune. Yet the wild, soon-to-be Duke never imagined he’d fall in love with this innocent beauty. Nor could he have guessed that a dangerously unpredictable rival would set out to destroy them both. Now, Max must beat a Madman at his own twisted game-or forever lose the only woman to have ever won his heart.

I mean… a duchess! And then how Olivia “surprises” them all and… yeah. Much want. I mean, read the excerpt. I dare you to finish it and not have some sort of “!!!” reaction. Mine was “Oh. My. God!” and a giggle. ❤

 3. Taking a Shot by Jaci Burton

If you want to score, you have to get in the game…

The last thing Jenna Riley needs is more sports in her life. While her brothers are off being athletic superstars, she’s stuck running the family’s sports bar, whether she likes it or not. Then in walks pro hockey stud Tyler Anderson. As much as Jenna would like to go to the boards with him, she’s vowed to never fall for a jock—even one as hot as Ty.

Ty, intrigued by the beautiful bar owner, becomes a regular. He senses that Jenna wants to do something more with her life. And as he gains her trust, the passion between them grows, as does Ty’s insistence that Jenna should start living for herself. With his encouragement, Jenna starts to believe it, too…

But first, Jenna has to figure out what she wants, what she needs, who she loves, and if she has the passion and pride to take a shot at having it all—including Ty…

You can also read an excerpt here. Which is what won me over over the football book. You have to love a hero who just is a good guy, right? Especially when he’s a sports star. I don’t know why we give famous people so much more leeway (we can discuss that later) – but it’s still refreshing, especially in romances – to see them as “the good guy.”

 4. Taming an Impossible Rogue by Suzanne Enoch

One year ago, Lady Camille Pryce left her haughty fiancé at the altar—for good reason. Not only was the marriage arranged before she could even walk, her betrothed was too smug to exert himself to meet her! Now, disowned, with no husband or family to support her, she’s left with one option: go to work in the notorious Tantalus Club…

A gentleman’s gaming house run by a woman, the Tantalus is no place for a proper lady; so, to save face, her jilted fiancé must retrieve her. But banned from the club, he’s forced to employ his ne’er-do-well cousin instead. A handsome, experienced rogue, Keating Blackwood is the perfect man to lure Camille away. But the moment they meet, Keating instead wants to save her…for himself. Impossible? Perhaps. But if Camille can make the ultimate player lay his cards on the table—and risk his heart—all bets are off…

It’s just… we all have read the “bad boy” hero, yes? And even sometimes the “bad girl” heroine – but here, she appears to be something of a bad girl, yet… not. I like that interesting premise. And you know, it’s always nice to see a rake brought to his knees through love. I also enjoyed how the guys talked to each other based on what I read.

 5. No Longer a Gentleman by Mary Jo Putney

Grey Sommers, Lord Wyndham, never met a predicament he couldn’t charm his way out of. Then a tryst with a government official’s wife during a bit of casual espionage in France condemns him a decade in a dungeon, leaving him a shadow of his former self. Yet his greatest challenge may be the enigmatic spy sent to free his body—the only woman who might heal his soul.

Half English and half French, Cassie Fox lost everything in the chaos of revolution, leaving only a determination to help destroy Napoleon’s empire through her perilous calling. Rescuing Grey is merely one more mission.  She hadn’t counted on a man with the stark beauty of a ravaged angel, whose desperate courage and vulnerability touch her frozen heart as no one ever has.  With Grey, she can become the passionate woman she has long denied.  But a spy and a lord are divided by an impassable gulf even if they manage to survive one last, terrifying mission….

I found this excerpt here, and it’s nice to see even damaged, the hero is still kind. Even in the beginning. Not to mention the fascinating premise! For me it was a pdf that opened in my browser, just an fyi.

 6. Lethal Rider by Larissa Ione

They are here. They ride. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Thanatos, the most deadly Horseman of the Apocalypse, has endured thousands of years of celibacy to prevent the end of days. But just one night with the wickedly sexy Aegis Guardian, Regan Cooper, shatters centuries of resolve. Yet their passion comes with a price. And Thanatos must face a truth more terrifying than an apocalypse-he’s about to become a father.

Demon-slayer Regan Cooper never imagined herself the maternal type, but with the fate of the world hanging in the balance she had no choice but to seduce Thanatos and bear his child. Now, as the final battle draws closer and his rage at being betrayed is overshadowed by an undeniable passion for the mother of his child, Thanatos has a life-shattering realization: To save the world, he must sacrifice the only thing he’s ever wanted-a family.

The blurb, the start of the excerpt, I mean this isn’t even normally my thing. But come on here. And even the cover! I guess it appeals to my teenage self, because you know it’ll be Angsty McAngst-town. And sometimes? You just want a little of that. In fiction.

 7. Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt

A MASKED MAN . . .
Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day he’s the stoic headmaster of a home for foundling children. But the night brings out a darker side of Winter. As the moon rises, so does the Ghost of St. Giles—protector, judge, fugitive. When the Ghost, beaten and wounded, is rescued by a beautiful aristocrat, Winter has no idea that his two worlds are about to collide.

A DANGEROUS WOMAN . . .
Lady Isabel Beckinhall enjoys nothing more than a challenge. Yet when she’s asked to tutor the Home’s dour manager in the ways of society—flirtation, double entendres, and scandalous liaisons—Isabel can’t help wondering why his eyes seem so familiar—and his lips so tempting.

A PASSION NEITHER COULD DENY
During the day Isabel and Winter engage in a battle of wills. At night their passions are revealed . . . But when little girls start disappearing from St. Giles, Winter must avenge them. For that he might have to sacrifice everything—the Home, Isabel . . . and his life.

I mean even the blurb just makes you [or at least me!] think “scandalous!” in a good way, of course. And I like how things just jump right in at the beginning. Always nice to find a half dead man on your doorstep… right?!

8. Ravishing the Heiress by Sherry Thomas

Millicent understands the terms of her arranged marriage all too well. She gets to be a Countess by marrying an impoverished Earl. And in return, the Earl

Fitzhugh receives the benefit of her vast wealth, saving his family from bankruptcy. Because of her youth, they have agreed to wait eight years before consummating the marriage—and then, only to beget an heir. After which, they will lead separate lives.

It is a most sensible arrangement. Except for one little thing. Somehow Millie has fallen head over heels in love with her husband. Her husband, who has become her very best friend, but nothing more… Her husband, who plans to reunite with his childhood sweetheart, the beautiful and newly widowed Isabelle, as soon as he has honored the pact with his wife…

As the hour they truly become husband-and-wife draws near, both Millie and Fitzhugh must face the truth in their hearts. Has their pact bred only a great friendship—or has it, without either of them quite noticing, given rise to a great love?

This one was hard. Like. Really. I was so torn between this and Beguiling the Beauty but… the premise of this one intrigued me more. Just watch me love the non-listed one more. It happened last year… But the whole “love at first sight” line at the beginning gets me. When they’re kids it’s just so aaaaawwwweeeee. In books.

 9. Tart by Lauren Dane

Juliet Lamprey is having the time of her life running her successful bakery, TART, when Gideon Carter comes back into her life. Returning home to help his grandfather run the family on the farm, Gideon is back for good. When they meet again, the spark between them is immediate, and it isn’t long before the former childhood friends play catch up in bed.

That’s not good news for local lawyer Cal Whaley. Though the sexually open but strictly monogamous Cal has loved Jules for a long time, he’s hardly ever taken it further than friendship. When he sees her start to fall for Gideon, he knows he has to make his move or risk losing her forever.

Who would have anticipated that all three of them would connect on such an intimate level? The trio’s scalding liaisons take them places they’ve never dreamed. But such an intensely passionate and unusual relationship comes with equally as complicated emotions, and when Jules must suddenly leave town, she wonders if she’ll have a choice to make when she returns

Every so often, you just want a spicier book. I’ve enjoyed Lauren Dane’s contemporary novels, and she writes ménages so very well. Also, hello! Bakery. Also, Cal! Love it! Want! There’s no excerpt yet… but I’m [pretty sure] Ms. Dane has been tweeting random lines from it. And… yeah. That’s enough for me. Also, I’m not going to link where the excerpt will go because it’s this weird pop-up-ey type and it like kills the website. Yeah I don’t know.

 10. Exposed to You by Bethany Kane

HOLD UP. I know, you’re all thinking “Lime! That cover isn’t Exposed to You … that’s Addicted to You! Your citrus brain has… fermented!” Well, no, it hasn’t actually. That’s a place holder, because Exposed to You isn’t even up on Amazon yet. There’s no cover of course. (For the previous two I had to snatch and grab from author websites, so … thank you, Picasa!)

It’s not often you’re hired to paint a body tattoo—and what a body—on a total stranger at a Hollywood film set. A reserved and careful art teacher, Joy would never forget it. In a rare fit of raw desire she gave herself completely, knowing she’d never see him again, or ever repeat such a shameless, naked impulse.

Little did she know, the man with whom she shared that lightning bolt of lust was star Everett Hughes. For Everett, women and sex came as easily as fame. But how could he hope to convince the guarded Joy that beneath the hard body and sexy façade of celebrity was a real man who wanted only one, real woman?

In the heat of an intoxicating affair, Everett endeavors to break down her barriers, gain her trust, and expose himself as the real deal. But can Joy do the same, and reveal to him the vulnerable woman who longs to be loved, wanted, and desired forever?

I loved Addicted to You. And guess what? It’s only six dollars right now. I also loved Everett. And/so, if his book is anything like Rill and Katie’s? Yeah. I know it’ll be on my “favorites of the year” list.

There was a short list of about 16 books… with Sophia Nash, Manda Collins, Vicky Dreiling, Samantha Grace, Sarah MacLean, Jill Shalvis, Lisa Klyepas, Eloisa James and you know, others. Some didn’t make the list because they didn’t have book information up, so I couldn’t in good conscience put up a book I didn’t know enough about. Those authors I didn’t mention. Because, well, I’m not trying to call anyone out here.

There was a longer list of books to consider – about 30 or 40 of them. And… the way I did this? I did an advanced search at amazon looking at each month’s romance listings for 2012. I scrolled through about 5,000 titles. Yeah – that’s dedication. I also found some eye-bleachingly traumatic titles and covers, that in no way belonged in romance. I suffered for you.

So – what’s not here that is on your list? Generally I do an “honorable mentions” and all, but gotta keep it strictly to ten so I can reach my goal. 🙂

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Hello lovelies! Apparently I’m part of a blog tour! Who knew?! 😉 Today we’ve got Mia Marlowe visiting with us. Obviously she wanted to end her tour on a high note. Cuz I’m so awesome. >.> *looks around gingerly for lightning strikes* … which would be especially freaky since it was almost a blizzard out there just 30 minutes ago and now it’s all sunshine and brightness. So you know, I might actually be incinerated by the time this post goes live… :X But enough about me. Let’s go ahead and see what Ms. Marlowe has to say!

Thanks for having me here today, Limecello. You’re the last stop on my Sins of the Highlander tour. Though I love writing and I adore all my stories, there’s nothing quite so tedious as writing about them. It makes me feel as if I’m some sort of stage mother, bragging about my offspring ad nauseum. I’d much rather hear what readers have to say about my work. (If you contact me through my website  I will write you back, though it may take me a while if I’m up against a deadline.)

If reading is a conversation between an author and her readers, it may seem a little one-sided. But actually, it’s not. You see, I believe we are a product of the people with whom we surround ourselves and the books we read. When we read, we take someone else’s thoughts into our minds and try them on for size. Some of it, we decide to keep. Some of it, we toss out like last night’s fish.

When I think back on the books that have really meant something to me, I realize most of them were read when I was a child. The characters were real to me. They became my friends. To this day, I still mist up when I think about Beth’s death in Little Women. I still pull for ‘Wart’ to overcome his foes and become the shining soul that was Arthur in The Once and Future King. The obstacles my literary friends went through shaped how I saw the world. And myself.

No wonder the characters live beyond the pages of the books in my imagination.

And that’s my goal for each of my characters—that you’ll believe they are off having adventures without you even once you reach “the end.”

In Sins of the Highlander, there are as many layers of conflict between “Mad Rob” MacLaren and Elspeth Stewart as an onion, but one of the most difficult for Rob is the fact that he is fighting his growing attraction to her. He’s a widower and still achingly in love with his wife when he first abducts Elspeth from the altar. His astonishment that his heart isn’t as dead as he thought is only eclipsed by his guilt over it. As you can imagine, he has some things to work through and his vivid dreams of his dead wife Fiona help him do it.

Excerpt from Sins of the Highlander,

He hadn’t seen her in so long, it took Rob a moment to realize who it was that appeared overhead in the thatch. Fiona wavered before his eyes and then sank slowly to the floor, her long gown fluttering in a nonexistent breeze. She halted her descent before the tips of her bare feet brushed the cold flagstone.

Fiona drew near his bedside. She smiled and the room brightened around her.
“Lazing in bed when ye’re needed elsewhere.” She reached out to cup his cheek and for the first time in all his lovely dreams of her, Rob couldn’t feel her fingertips. “What are ye doing, my daftie man?”
“Daftie man,” he repeated though he realized his lips hadn’t moved. “Ye always called me so. Ye must have known I’d come to this. D’ye ken they say I’m mad in truth now? Mad or witched.”
“Aye, but ye’re no’ mad. Nor witched either,” she said. “There’s one who needs ye, Rob.”
“Who?”
Fiona settled a hip on his bedside, but the feather tick didn’t sink a finger-width under her weight. “Elspeth Stewart, of course.”
“Ye know of her?”
She smiled sadly. “Aye, Rob, I know she has your heart in her keeping as I used to.”
“Ye still do,” he said.
“I know that too, but there is a great divide between us. I canna hold on to ye any more. I must let ye go.” She leaned down to kiss his forehead. Her lips were light as angel’s breath on his skin. “And ye must let me go.”
He knew she was right, but his chest still constricted.
“Aye, that’s love,” she said, still naming his feelings for him. “That willna end, though all else does. Dinna feel sad, Rob. ‘Tis the way of things.”
She began to float away, and he strained against his bonds to reach for her.
“Even if ye were unbound, ye canna hold me here longer,” Fiona said. “Ye must wake, Rob. Ye must hie yourself to Drummond’s stronghold before it’s too late.”
“Too late? Elspeth isna there. She left with her father. What’s happened?”

“Wake, Rob.” Fiona hovered near the ceiling, then began to pass through the thatch as if it wasn’t there. She faded completely from his sight, but her voice whispered into his ear as though she rested her head on the pillow beside him. “Open your eyes, love, but this time, truly see.”

Mia enjoys connecting with readers. You can find her at her cyber-home. While you’re there checking out the excerpts, her lively blog and other fun stuff, be sure to enter her website contest. The Grand Prize on Mia’s website is a New Kindle!

Sourcebooks is offering two chances to win Sins of the Highlander today. Leave a comment or question for Mia to be entered into the random drawing. (USA/Canada only) Here’s a question to get the conversation going:

What book or character lives large in your imagination?

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First of all… if you follow me on twitter you know I’ve been a crazy ass Ranty McRanterpants. (Yes it’s been so bad that the capitalization is needed. It’s a proper bloody name in my case.) Part of it is… well a shit ton of stuff. And some of it, is the name. Or lack thereof.

We all know I go by “Limecello” or “Lime.” That’s how it is, and that’s how it will be. Perhaps in some unforeseeable future that’ll change. But… well, I’ve carried on this way for almost six years (if not longer) and… I don’t see why I wouldn’t continue to do so.

Recently, however, I have noticed there are a veritable spate – yes a spate – of people who refuse to address me as such! They’ll sign their names to every email, message, what have you. And I’ll sign mine. And address said person with his/her name. And yet they won’t return the courtesy. It’s just “Hi.”

Now, I wouldn’t be so unreasonable as to expect every correspondence to be formal. If a person stops signing their emails, well it’s perfectly natural for them to not use an “address”/name for me. But these persons don’t do that.

They don’t ask my name… and I’m bratty and bitchy and fed up enough that I haven’t asked “why not” or “what’s the deal?” either. I do, however, determinedly continue to sign each message “Limecello” in the hopes that said persons will pick up the hint. (Incidentally, none have.)

So my friends, I’ll give it up to you to help me sort out this conundrum. What should I do?

And for more fun – and what interests me more – give me reasons. Why will these individuals not call me Limecello? Or ask for an alternative name? Some people call me Limecello. Some call me Lime. Jennifer Haymore calls me “Limey.” Angela James refuses to call me Limecello, so she calls me “LC.” (Remember, I’ve wondered why she won’t just go with “Elle”…)

You’re free to come up with a new special – yet fitting – name for me. Give advice, or a reason why so many people now wish to contact me, yet refuse to call me Limecello. Or Elle. (It’s not as if I make it a state secret…)

And that’s my question and my contest. The person who comes up with the best answer gets a prize. To be determined, but I hope it’ll be something good.

Now for the winners. Courtesy of randomizer.org as usual…

The lucky winner of Abigail Barnette’s fabulous post is vanillaorchids69. (Incidentally, if you haven’t read this post yet, you really must.)

Remember when Michelle Beattie came to visit with us and talk about games? She very kindly offered up two prizes! So her winners are myrandaroyann and Mary Kirkland.

And last but not least – the fantastic excerpt that Megan Hart shared from Pleasure and Purpose. The winner is willaful!

Winners! You have until Thursday, February 2 to contact me with your information. It is your responsibility to send me your email or mailing address, depending on what the prize is. Which should be easy, because I’d like for you to include your prize in the email please. (That makes it easier for everyone, and guarantees you’ll get the prize you’re supposed to.)

If you didn’t win this time… well no worries. There are always plenty of other giveaways going on. In fact there are a few still open on this very blog! If you would like more certainty… well I can’t tell you anything but that you might try making a few sacrifices to the randomizer.org gods. 😉 Or the developers. Whichever you think will work best for you.

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Sandi’s Post!

[Remember how Sandi is here the last Saturday of each month? I heart her very much. Yay Sandi!]

January 2012

We are almost to the end of the first month of 2012.  It’s been a fairly good month for me both professionally and personally.

After several weeks of being unhappy professionally I finally see a light.  I spent a good part of one day barely able to refrain from doing a snoopy dance in my seat when that light finally started shining!  I realize that no job is perfect, but with the change that I had been asking for and finally received my job got closer to perfection, and that’s good enough for me!

I decided that I really enjoy reading and that without a doubt I was going to make time to read each and every day!  I also decided that I was going to do a much better job in tracking what I read or listen to than I did in 2011.  So far I believe that there have been few days where I didn’t read at least a page, and I’m confident that every book I’ve read has been recorded at least once, and hopefully even two or three times! Obsessive I know, but this way I can be sure I’m tracking because if my different lists don’t match I know right away I forgot to add something somewhere.

Without a doubt the best book I read in January 2012 was Home Front by Kristin Hannah which is her latest title.  I got to read an advance copy because I review for Fresh Fiction.   It’s an amazing story of one family’s journey through deployment, active duty, injury, recovery, and eventual fitting back into the family during the Iraq war.  Have the tissues handy because you will need them.

Is 2012 shaping up to be the type of year you had hoped?  Did you resolve to change something about yourself or your job and been able to make it happen?  Did you set a reading goal?  Tell me something happy to keep my good mood going as the year progresses!

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Today we have the lovely author Jennifer Haymore visiting with us! She is one of the nicest and sweetest people you’ll ever come across. She’s so sweet in fact, I’m going to let this eensy über short post go by without a comment. :X I mean… (hey, I never said that I’m the nice person…) 😉 Anyway, without further ado, Jennifer is going to talk about her newest series and upcoming books! Yay!

Hey, everyone! Much thanks to Limecello for having me here!

I’m going to talk about my Donovan series today, because I have two books releasing from that series on February 1–so exciting! The Donovans are five sisters that have been a big part of my life for the past two years. Their stories are covered in three novels (available in print and digital formats) and one short story (available in ebook only).

Here are the sisters:

Serena–the oldest and the biggest troublemaker, who learned the error of her ways when she was caught in a VERY compromising position when she was eighteen years old and has spent the past several years paying for that mistake.

Meg–Serena’s twin, lost at sea (miles off the coast of Antigua) when she was eighteen.

Olivia–The sweetest Donovan sister–suffers from reoccurring bouts of malaria.

Phoebe–The most independent Donovan–makes up her mind quickly and goes after what she wants with no regrets!

Jessica–the youngest and most beautiful Donovan sister. At 18 years old, she is loyal to a fault and takes great risks for those she loves.

And here are the Donovan sisters’ books:

BOOK 1: Confessions of an Improper Bride – Novel – already out! – Serena’s and Phoebe’s story.

BOOK 1.5: Once Upon a Wicked Night – Short Story – releases February 1 – Bridges the gap between books 1 & 2.

BOOK 2: Secrets of an Accidental Duchess – Novel – releases February 1 – Olivia’s story.

BOOK 3: Pleasures of a Tempted Lady – Novel – releases August, 2012 – Meg and Jessica’s story.

I love writing about sisters. I always wanted a sister growing up, and finally got my wish–but I was already fourteen years old! So in a way, the Donovan sisters were my way of learning about what being a sister really means.

What about you? Do you have a sister? Do you recall a time in your life when she was your best friend or your worst enemy?

For more information on the Donovan Series including book blurbs and excerpts: go here.

You can also find Jennifer on Twitter as well as Facebook.

Aren’t all those covers gorgeous?! Anyway, I’m very curious about all the sister responses too. Or brothers. Siblings. You know. And! Jennifer has agreed to come by and answer questions – so ask her anything! Really! Book related or not. *angelface* (Seriously though – please come up with something!) To sweeten the deal, Ms. Haymore is giving away three prizes to lucky commenters! Up for grabs are one copy of Confessions of an Improper Bride, and two copies of Secrets of an Accidental Duchess. Because three is a pretty amazing number, yes? 

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Megan Hart is here today sharing an exclusive excerpt of Pleasure and Purpose – a book I’ve read multiple times and enjoyed. It definitely took me back to the days I read fantasy books. (P.S.? The print version is only $1.49 damn – it’s now $1.51, but uh, I think you can afford those 2 cents it went up since I wrote this. Totally worth it- right now. No joke. You should get it.)

Introducing the women of the Order of Solace

The handmaidens of the Order of Solace are each named for the exquisite service that best reflects their true calling. Their greatest delight is giving pleasure–devoted as they are to fulfilling the desires of the mind, the needs of the soul, and the cravings of the body.

Meet Stillness, called upon to soothe the conscience of a man in need of redemption after a shocking act from his sexual past. Then there’s Honesty, whose vow of Solace is to a prince looking for a submissive handmaiden. Instead, he gets the unexpected. And finally, Determinata, a handmaiden confronted with a client lost in a haze of random sex and drugs. She has just the plan to literally whip her man into shape.

Mina looked good in black. It was not her favorite color – she preferred red. But black suited her just as nicely and was better, for many reasons, at portraying the image she wished to uphold. A Handmaiden in red might as well be a whore, as far as she was concerned, though it wouldn’t do for her to say so out loud. Someday she might wear red again, but not now.

Now she had a purpose, and black suited it. She smoothed her hands down the fine cloth of her traveling gown, admiring the severe cut. The high neck. The long sleeves. She’d had it made with buttons of black ironwood, faintly shining, and she admired them too as they ran from her throat to her hem. Not a thread out of place, not a line hanging uneven. Not even a hair dared uncurl from the braid into which she’d pulled it. It hung now over her shoulder and across her breast, and Mina flipped it back to hang straight and sure the way she stood.

A chair, its cushions looking soft, had been waiting when they showed her into this room, but she didn’t take it. Her trip had been long, the ride rough enough that standing felt good for a while. She smoothed her gown again and adjusted the sleeves.

Where were they, by the Void? To have sent for her and be told she’d arrived, yet do nothing to greet her? Intolerably rude. Mina sighed and but didn’t shift from foot to foot in her impatience. She kept herself still and stern though she wanted to pace. It had been long enough, waiting to be sent to a patron. The hours of the journey had been long enough, too. Why was she being kept waiting?

When at last the door opened, she’d already made several circuits of the room. She’d looked out the window. Perused the rather shabby and unimpressive collection of books on the shelves. This office was for show, not function, and it told her much about its owner, King Cillian. He didn’t spend much time in here, which led to an interesting string of thought about where he did his business, if not in an office.

“Your Majesty.” Mina greeted him with her stiffest curtsey, as was appropriate for a man of his stature. To the unknown man coming into the room on the king’s heels she made a slightly less formal gesture.

“Oh. They said you were in here, but I wasn’t expecting…” the king’s gaze swept her up and down, and he grinned slowly. He elbowed the man with him. “Edward. What say you?”

His companion gave her the same sweeping gaze. “Perfection.”

“No,” she said. “Determinata. Perfection was not assigned to this house.”

Neither man laughed and she sighed inwardly at the confused looks they gave one another. “Gentlemen. I am Determinata, most often called Mina. Or My Lady. Sometimes, should I decide it appropriate, Mistress.”

The materials she’d read had provided great detail about the man to whom she’d been assigned, but next to nothing about the men who’d done the acquiring. One a king, she knew that much. His friend a nobleman of some sort, clearly a long-time companion, and with something there beyond mere friendship. She watched them closely. The King of Firth was new to the throne and not much about him had come as gossip to the Motherhouse.

The one called Edward rallied first, making a half-bow and inclining his head. “My lady, I am Edward Delaw.”

“Cillian Derouth,” said the king without using his title. His gaze turned admiring. “By the Arrow, you will whip him into shape, won’t you?”

“By him I assume you mean my new patron? Alaric Dewan, yes? Your friend. I wonder, sirs,” she said casually to them both, “what sort of friends you are to send away for a Handmaiden when he is either incapable or uninterested in procuring one for himself.”

“Incapable,” said Edward.

“Uninterested,” Cillian added. “But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need one. He does. Desperately.”

The men shared another look she couldn’t interpret. Mina plucked a barely visible speck of dust from her skirts. “The Order must have agreed, else I wouldn’t be here. But I think I shall be the one to decide, ultimately, if he deserves one.”

Both of them stared at her with frank appreciation, but it was Cillian who spoke. “Of course.”

They took her to a set of rooms that would have been impressive if they didn’t reek of sour breath, darkness and intoxicants. Mina looked around the outer room, small but furnished with exquisite and expensive taste. She ran a finger over the fireplace mantel and brought it away coated with dust. Alaric Dewan, the son of a merchant farmer, had risen to favor as one of Cillian’s consorts before he became king. Yet the papers the Order had given her said her patron hadn’t held a position of any worth within the Court.

“Who pays for this?” She gestured at the furnishings, the books, the accoutrements of a gentlemen’s life.

Edward and Cillian shared another look, but Edward spoke. “Alaric doesn’t pay rent to live in the palace. He’s ever been Cillian’s friend.”

“Since school. I know. But who pays for the rest of it?” She lifted a pile of what might have been rags, though made of velvet and sateen. “These clothes are fine, as is the whiskey in that decanter over there on the window, if it indeed came from the bottle I spy beneath the chair there. These books are all fine-bound and read, real books, not for show. The furniture is well-crafted.”

“Alaric has an income from his father’s estate. I think much of the rest of this came from…gifts,” Cillian said.

“Love gifts.” That made sense. The room did have a definite, feminine touch to it. “A woman with exquisite taste, yes?”

Edward’s lip curled. “A woman, yes. Her taste is a matter of opinion.”

From the adjoining room came a rustle of fabric and a snorting groan. Edward and Cillian turned, but Mina moved between them and the door. “You can go.”

“We should introduce you,” Cillian said.

“I don’t think so.” Mina smiled at him to take the edge off her response. The man was a monarch, after all, and it didn’t do to be rude.

“But he’s not been himself,” protested Edward.

“I imagine he is more himself now than ever he has been, else you’d have no need of me.” She looked toward the half-open door but made no further move toward it.

Cillian also looked toward the door. “He’s not been well, is what my friend meant. But you will help him, won’t you? He’s sore in need of solace.”

“He wouldn’t be the first. I know what I’m doing. You can go.”

Again from within the other chamber came a groan. Mina wrinkled her nose. Whatever aid her patron’s friends had provided, it hadn’t been the sort she intended to give.

“Edward,” said Cillian after a bare half-moment. “She’s right. Let’s go.”

Edward didn’t protest again. He shot a glance through the door but nodded and sketched another bow in her direction. “We shouldn’t doubt you, my lady. Your mercy.”

Mina regarded them both calmly, her mind already working on the puzzle of her as-yet-unseen patron. Much to learn and more to do. She smiled at them both.

“Sometimes,” she said, “they call me that, too.”

When they’d gone, Mina looked once more around the room. It would have been easy even for an untrained eye to see despite that the luxury, there could be no solace found here. Once it might have been a room of relaxation and peace, but someone – her patron, no doubt – had done his level best to turn on its head anything that might remotely provide comfort.

She knew how that felt.

However, his past was her problem only in how it related to his present; his future was her concern. Her duty was to give this man solace, whether for but a moment or something rather more, something upon which he could build a lifetime. She never knew in advance which she could provide, but there was no doubt in her mind she would satisfy them both during her stay here.

Rummaging in the desk pushed haphazardly kitty-corner by the window, she found a box of fine writing paper. Another search of the drawers turned up an inkwell and pen of carved wood, the nib showing no signs of even normal wear. Not a writer, then. Well, she didn’t require poems or love letters, and she would be the one making the lists, not him.

Mina straightened the desk until it sat squarely in front of the window, then pulled the high-backed chair from in front of the fireplace and set it behind the desk. There wasn’t much else to tidy there. Alaric Dewan had been a man of much leisure from what his papers told her. A few receipts, a bundle of letters in a masculine hand and tied with a piece of twine. No accounting books or ledgers, nothing to indicate he’d done much work. At least not the sort most fancy gentlemen of her acquaintance had ever done, the sort that required much conversation and very little physical effort.

Mina believed strongly in the benefits of physical effort.

When the desk had been sufficiently tidied enough to suit her, and her lists had been written, she stood and brushed off her hands. She tugged the bell-pull and waited an entirely inappropriate length of time for the plump-cheeked maid to knock on the door. The girl looked around the room with wide eyes and didn’t bother with even a curtsey.

Mina didn’t waste her time or breath correcting the chit. It wasn’t her job to train other people’s staff. Instead, she spoke slowly and clearly so as not to be misunderstood. “I need a pot of cocao along with a basket of yesterday’s bread. If you haven’t any from yesterday, fresh will do but make sure it’s crusty. I need a pitcher of milk, as well, and the things on this list.”

The girl took it and made to read it, but then shook her head. “I don’t know what this says, Miss.”

Oh, by the Arrow, what sort of place was this? “Take it to your chatelaine, girl. Bring me what I asked for before the five chime.”

The girl goggled, eyeing Mina’s long, dark gown. If she had any idea at all about Mina’s function here, it didn’t show. “Yes…yes’m. Will you be needing anything else? Lord Dewan hasn’t had anyone into his rooms in a right long time. They could use a good cleaning.”

“They could, indeed, but we won’t need anyone for it. Thank you.”

The girl looked around the room again and opened her mouth as though she meant to speak, but a look from Mina stopped her. “All right, then, Miss.”

When the girl had gone, Mina took one last look around the room before slipping through the doorway into the bedchamber. Dark curtains blocked the light. A lump huddled in the center of the bed, not even covered by the blankets that had been tossed into a heap on the floor. The room stank, not the worst reek she’d ever encountered, but one strong enough to assault not only her nose but her sense of propriety.

The first thing she did was go to the window and let in the light. It showed the disorder in greater detail as well as illuminating the lumpen figure on the bed, and Mina’s lip curled. Disgusting, that a man should allow himself to sink so low, and because of what? Love?

He didn’t move. She hadn’t expected him to. The low, irregular in-out of his breath told her he wasn’t even conscious. It would take more than light to rouse him.

She went back through the study and to the attached bathing chamber where she filled a pitcher with water. She studied him for a moment or so with it in her hands. Would he scream? Thrash about? Or would she have to rouse him more thoroughly?

A small smile stole across her lips at the thought.

“Wake up,” Mina said, and tossed the contents of the pitcher on Alaric’s head.

He muttered, arms and legs swimming against the bed’s dirty bottom sheet, but he didn’t get up. His eyes fluttered and closed again, his mouth lax. The water spread in a darkening stain on the sheet.

Mina put the pitcher carefully on a side table. She walked just as carefully to the side of the bed, leaned over and studied him. Alaric Dewan, beneath the dirt and despair, was a handsome man, but if he’d had a troll’s features it wouldn’t have mattered. What caught her breath would not be the shape of his mouth or breadth of his shoulders but something rather less tangible. Something…subtle. And as always the first time she met a patron, Mina wondered if he would have that silent, subtle something she craved.

Obedience.

She took his earlobe between her thumb and finger, the nails pressing into the tender flesh, and squeezed. Hard. Alaric squirmed under the sudden pain. His eyes opened wide. They were blue, she noted without releasing his ear. A lovely, pale blue. He struggled, but was no more able to get away from her grasp than if she’d had him bound with ropes.

She pulled.

He moved.

You can read another excerpt of the book here. Megan has also very generously offered up a prize! The winner’s choice of Pleasure and Purpose or Virtue and Vice! So – tell us. What’d you think? Does this interest you? Do you like alternative universes? Ever read fantasy?

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You guys!!! Today we have yet another incredibly special guest with us! My friend Kelly, who is a romance reader, and this is her very first ever blog post! I kinda had to nudge her into sending me this because she was all nervous. Personally I think she did fabulously, and I hope she’ll blog here again! So everyone please give Kelly a warm welcome and show her some love!

I have been debating with myself as to what I should write about.  Seeing that we just kicked off a brand new year, one would think I should take a trip down memory lane.  But to be honest, I have no idea what the first romance I ever read is.  Must have made quite the impression.   And I know it’s also already been done.
And because I am not a fortune-teller, predicting the future isn’t a good idea either.  Therefore, I prefer to focus on the here and now.  So, with that in mind, I am going to do my take, so to speak, on getting to know you, with a twist.  🙂
WHAT AM I READING? : 
         At present I am about 2/3 of the way through Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase.  Someone please tell me why I haven’t read more Loretta Chase.  She writes smart, strong heroines.  No namby-pamby, simpering ladies here.
WHAT AM I WATCHING? :
      Obviously at the moment, I am typing a blog post  😉     What I want to do, is give props to some of my fave new shows this year.
Two Broke Girls (CBS – Monday  8:30)  Caroline’s dad is basically a Bernie Madoff type and now Caroline has had to resort to working as a waitress in a greasy spoon and ends up rooming with her cranky co-worker, Max.  Max is an aspiring cupcake baker and since Caroline has a finance background, the two are doing their best to save enough money to open their own shop. This show can be a bit crass and may even border on vulgar, but, it always makes me laugh.
Revenge (ABC – Wednesday  10:00)   Who hasn’t dreamed of destroying anyone/everyone who has ruined their life?  This show proves that while revenge may be sweet, it doesn’t always go as easily nor as smoothly as planned.
Person of Interest (CBS – Thursday 9:00)   This show is hard to describe.  A machine spits out the name/number of someone who is about to be involved in a crime.  Only problem is, you don’t know if said name/number is the victim or the perp?
WHAT AM I LISTENING TO? :
      This one is harder for me than the others.  I listen to a little bit of everything.  Top 40, Oldies, Country, Classic Rock.    From Adele to Elvis to George Strait to ZZ Top.  🙂
WHAT AM I BAKING/COOKING? :
     Ummmmm …  I nuked a chicken chimichanga for lunch.  Does that count as cooking?  😉
WHAT AM I THANKFUL FOR TODAY? :
     Thankful that it is yet again another weekend!   🙂
So now it’s your turn!   Who/what are you reading, watching and/or listening to.  Any good eats?  Either at home or out?  What are you thankful for?   I am always looking for new ideas and inspirations.   Inquiring minds or maybe just I, want to know.    <G>

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