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January Book of the Month

Wanted. You Loved Damien Stark. Now Meet Evan Black.

I know exactly when my life shifted. That precise instant when his eyes met mine and I no longer saw the bland look of familiarity, but danger and fire, lust and hunger. Perhaps I should have turned away. Perhaps I should have run. I didn't. I wanted him. More, I needed him. The man, and the fire that he ignited inside of me. And in his eyes, I saw that he needed me, too. That was the moment that everything changed. Me, most of all. But whether it changed for good or for ill . . . well, that remains to be seen. Even dead, my Uncle Jahn knew how to throw one hell of a party. His Chicago lakeside penthouse was bursting at the seams with an eclectic collection of mourners, most of whom had imbibed so much wine from the famous Howard Jahn cellar that whatever melancholy they’d brought with them had been sweetly erased, and now this wake or reception or whatever the hell you wanted to call it wasn’t the least bit somber. Politicians mingled with financiers mingled with artists and academics, and everyone was smiling and laughing and toasting the deceased. At his request, there’d been no formal funeral. Just this gathering of friends and family, food and drink, music and mirth. Jahn - he hated the name Howard - had lived a vibrant life, and that was never more obvious than now in his death. I missed him so damn much, but I hadn’t cried. Hadn’t screamed and ranted. Hadn’t done anything, really, except move through the days and nights lost in a haze of emotions, my mind numb. My body anesthetized. I sighed and fingered the charm on my silver bracelet. He’d presented me with the tiny motorcycle just over a month ago, and the gift had made me smile. I hadn’t talked about wanting to ride a motorcycle since before I turned sixteen. And it had been years since I’d ridden behind a boy, my arms tight around his waist and my hair blowing in the wind. But Uncle Jahn knew me better than anyone. He saw past the princess to the girl hidden inside. A girl who’d built up walls out of necessity, but still desperately wanted to break free. Who longed to slip on a pair of well-worn jeans, grab a battered leather jacket, and go a little wild. Sometimes, she even did. And sometimes it didn’t end right at all. I tightened my grip on the charm as the memory of Jahn holding my hand - of him promising to keep my secrets - swept over me, finally bringing tears to my eyes. He should be beside me, dammit, and the swell of laughter and conversation that filled the room was making me a little sick. Despite the fact that I knew Jahn wanted it that way, it was all I could do not to smack all the people who’d hugged me and murmured softly that he was in a better place and wasn’t it wonderful that he’d lived such a full life. That was such bullshit - he hadn’t even turned sixty yet. Vibrant men in their fifties shouldn’t drop dead from aneurysms, and there weren’t enough pithy Hallmark quotes in the universe to make me think otherwise. Antsy, I shifted my weight from foot to foot. There was a bar set up on the other side of the room, and I’d positioned myself as far away as physically possible because right then I wanted the burn of tequila. Wanted to let go, to explode through the numbness that clung to me like a cocoon. To run. To feel. But that wasn’t going to happen. No alcohol was passing these lips tonight. I was Jahn’s niece, after all, and that made me some kind of hostess-by-default, which meant I was stuck in the penthouse. Four thousand square feet, but I swear I could feel the art-covered walls pressing in around me. I wanted to race up the spiral staircase to the rooftop patio, then leap over the balcony into the darkening sky. I wanted to take flight over Lake Michigan and the whole world. I wanted to break things and scream and rant and curse this damned universe that took away a good man. Shit. I sucked in a breath and looked down at the exquisite ancient-looking notebook inside the glass and chrome display case I’d been leaning against. The leather-bound book was an exceptionally well-done copy of a recently discovered Da Vinci notebook. Dubbed the Creature Notebook, it had sixteen pages of animal studies and was open to the center, revealing a stunning sketch the young master had drawn - his study for the famous, but never located, dragon shield. Jahn had attempted to acquire the notebook, and I remember just how angry he’d been when he’d lost out to Victor Neely, another Chicago businessman with a private collection that rivaled my uncle’s. At the time, I’d just started at Northwestern with a major in poli sci and a minor in art history. I’m not particularly talented, but I’ve sketched my whole life, and I’ve been fascinated with art - and in particular with Leonardo da Vinci - since my parents took me to my first museum at the age of three. I thought the Creature Notebook was beyond cool, and I’d been irritated on Jahn’s behalf when he not only lost out on it, but when the press had poured salt in the wound by prattling on about Neely’s amazing new acquisition. About a year later, Jahn showed me the facsimile, bright and shiny in the custom-made display case. As a general rule, my uncle never owned a copy. If he couldn’t have the original - be it a Rembrandt or a Rauschenberg or a Da Vinci - he simply moved on. When I’d asked why he’d made an exception for the Creature Notebook, he shrugged and told me that the images were at least as interesting as the provenance. “Besides, anyone who can successfully copy a Da Vinci has created a masterpiece himself.” Despite the fact that it wasn’t authentic, the notebook was my favorite of Jahn’s many manuscripts and artifacts, and now, standing with my hands pressed to the glass, I felt as if he was, in some small way, beside me. I drew in a breath, knowing I had to get my act together, if for no other reason than the more wrecked I looked, the more guests would try to cheer me. Not that I looked particularly wrecked. When you grow up as Angelina Hayden Raine, with a United States senator for a father and a mother who served on the board of over a dozen international nonprofit organizations, you learn the difference between a public and a private face very early on. Especially when you have your own secrets to keep. “This is so goddamn fucked up it makes me want to scream.” I felt a whisper of a smile touch my lips and turned around to find myself looking into Kat’s bloodshot eyes. “Oh, hell, Angie,” she said. “He shouldn’t be dead.” “He’d be pissed if he knew you’d been crying,” I said, blinking away the last of my own tears. “Fuck that.” I almost laughed. Katrina Laron had a talent for cutting straight through the bullshit. I’m not sure which one of us leaned in first, but we caught each other in a bone-crushing hug. With a sniffle, I finally pulled away. Perverse, maybe, but just knowing that someone else was acknowledging the utter horror of the situation made me feel infinitesimally better. “Every time I turn a corner, I feel like I’m going to see him,” I said. “I almost wish I’d stayed in my old place.” I’d moved in four months ago when Uncle Jahn’s aneurysm was discovered. I’d taken time off from work - easy when you work for your uncle. For two weeks I’d played nurse after he came home from the hospital, and when he’d been given the allclear by the doctors - yeah, like that was a good call - I’d accepted his invitation to move in permanently. Why not? The tiny apartment I’d shared with my lifelong friend Flynn wasn’t exactly the lap of luxury. And although I loved Flynn, he wasn’t the easiest person to cohabitate with. He knew me too well, and it always made me uneasy when people saw what I wanted to keep hidden. Now, though, I craved both the cocoon-like comfort of my tiny room and Flynn’s steady presence. As much as I loved the condo, without my uncle, it was cold and hollow, and just being in it made me feel brittle. As if at any moment I would shatter into a million pieces. Kat’s eyes were warm and understanding. “I know. But he loved having you here. God knows why,” she added with a quirky grin. “You’re nothing but trouble.” I rolled my eyes. At twenty-seven, Katrina Laron was only four years older than me, but that didn’t stop her from pulling the older-and-wiser card whenever she got the chance. The fact that we’d become friends under decidedly dodgy circumstances probably played a role, too. She’d been working at one of the coffee shops in Evanston where I used to mainline caffeine during my first year at Northwestern. We’d chatted a couple of times in an “extra cream please, it’s been a bitch of a day” kind of way, but we were hardly on a first-name basis. All that changed when we bumped into each other on a day when extra cream wasn’t going to cut it for me - not by a long shot. It was in the Michigan Avenue Neiman Marcus and I’d been surfing on adrenaline, using it to soothe the rough edges of a particularly crappy day. Specifically, I’d just succumbed to my personal demons and surreptitiously dropped a pair of fifteen-dollar clearance earrings into my purse. But, apparently, not as surreptitiously as I’d thought. “Well, aren’t you the stumbling amateur?” she’d whispered, as she steered me toward women’s shoes. “With a shit technique like that, it’s a wonder you haven’t been arrested yet.” “Arrested!” I squeaked, as if that word would carry all the way to Washington and to my father’s all-hearing ears. The fear of getting caught might be part of the excitement. Actually getting caught wasn’t a good thing at all. “No, I didn’t- I mean-” She cut off my protests with a casual flip of her hand. “All I’m saying is be smart. If you’re going to take a risk, at least make it worth the trouble. Those earrings? Really not the bomb.” “It’s not about the earrings,” I’d snapped, then immediately cringed. The words had been a knee-jerk response, but they were also true. It wasn’t about the earrings. It was about my dad, and the grad school lectures and the career-planning talks, and the never-spoken certainty that no matter what I did, my sister would have done it better. It was about the oppressive, overwhelming weight of my life and my future that was bearing down on me, harder and harder until I was certain that if I didn’t do something to break out a little I’d spontaneously combust. Kat had glanced at my purse as if she could see through the soft Coach leather to the contraband inside. Then she slowly lifted her eyes back to my face. The silence hung between us for a full minute. Then she nodded. “Don’t worry. I get it.” She cocked her head toward the exit. “Come on.” Relief flooded through me, and my limbs that had frozen in both fear and mortification began to thaw. She steered me to her car, a cherry-red Mustang that she drove at more or less the speed of light. She careened down Michigan Avenue, maneuvered her way onto Lake Shore Drive, and came so close to the other cars as she zipped in and out of traffic that I’m surprised her convertible didn’t lose a layer of paint. In other words, it was freaking awesome. The top was down, the wind was whipping my hair into my face and mouth, and all I could do was tilt my head back and laugh. Kat risked our lives long enough to shoot me one sideways glance. “Yeah,” she said. “We’re going to get along just fine.” From that moment on, I’d adored Kat. Now, with Jahn’s death sending my universe reeling, I realized that I not only loved her - I relied on her. “I’m really glad you’re here,” I said. “Where else would I be?” She scanned the room. “Are your mom and dad around somewhere?” “They can’t make it. They’re stuck overseas.” The familiar numbness settled over me again as I remembered my mother’s hysterical sobs and the deep well of sorrow that had filled my father’s voice when he’d learned about his half-brother. “I hated calling them,” I whispered. “It felt like Gracie all over again.” “I’m so sorry.” Kat had never met my sister, but she’d heard the story. The public version, anyway, and I knew her sympathy was real. I managed a wavering smile. “I know. That means a lot to me.” “The whole thing sucks,” Kat said. “It’s so unfair. Your uncle was too damn cool to die.” “I guess the universe doesn’t give a shit about coolness.” “The universe can be a raving bitch sometimes,” Kat said. She exhaled loudly. “Want me to crash here tonight so you won’t be alone? We could stay up late getting so wasted that there’s no way in hell either one of us will dream.” “Thanks, but I think I’ll be okay.” She eyed me uncertainly. She was one of the few people I’d confided in about my nightmares, and while I appreciated the sympathy, sometimes I wished I’d kept my mouth shut. “Really,” I said earnestly. “Kevin’s here.” “Oh, yeah? And how’s that going? Engaged yet?” “Not quite,” I said wryly. I supposed we were dating since I’d slept with him twice, but so far I’d dodged the let’s-be-exclusive conversation. I wasn’t sure why I was so reticent. The sex wasn’t mind-blowing, but it did the job. And I did genuinely like the guy. But I’d spent the last few months holding him at arm’s length, telling him I needed to keep my attention on Jahn’s surgery, then his recovery. Obviously, I hadn’t planned on his sudden death. How horrible was it of me to think that now Jahn was gone, I had no more excuses to hand Kevin? Beside me, Kat craned her neck and scoped out the crowd. “So where is he?” “He had to go take a call. Technically, he’s working today.” “What are you going to do now?” Kat asked. “About Kevin?” Honestly, I was hoping to avoid doing anything on that front for the foreseeable future. “About your job,” she countered. “About the roof over your head. About your life. Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” “Oh.” My shoulders sagged. “No. Not really.” My job in the PR department of Jahn’s company might pay my bills, but it was hardly my life’s ambition, and Kat was one of the few people to whom I’d confessed that deep, dark secret. Right then, however, that wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have. Fortunately, something across the room had caught Kat’s attention, effectively erasing my lack of direction and purpose from her mind. She stood slightly straighter and the corners of her mouth tilted a bit, almost hinting at a smile. Curious, I turned to look in that direction, but saw nothing but suits and dresses and a sea of black. “What is it? Kevin?” I asked, praying he wasn’t heading our direction. “Cole August,” she said. “At least I thought I saw him.” “Oh.” I licked my lips. My mouth had gone suddenly dry. “Is Evan with him?” I forced my voice to sound casual, but my pulse was racing. If Cole was around, it was always a good bet that Evan was, too. Then I remembered what day it was and my pulse slowed as disappointment weighed down on me. “Isn’t tonight the ribbon-cutting for the hospital wing Evan funded?” Kat didn’t even spare me a glance, her eyes still searching the crowd. “Not sure.” She shot me a quick look. “Yeah, it was. You invited me before, you know, all of this happened.” I blinked back the sudden prick of tears. “Evan’s going to hate missing this. Jahn was like a dad to him.” Beside me, Kat took a quick step backward, startling me. “What is it?” She dragged her gaze away from the crowd, then frowned at me. “I . . . Oh, shit. I have to go make a call. I’ll be right back, okay?” “Um, okay.” Who the hell did she need to call right now? That wasn’t a question I pondered for long, though, because I’d caught a glimpse of Cole. And right beside him - looking like he owned the world and everything in it - was Evan. Immediately, my chest tightened and a current of electricity zinged across my skin. Technically, I saw him first, but it was my body’s reaction that caught my attention. Only after I felt him did I truly see him. And what a sight he was. Whereas Cole might be sex on wheels, Evan Black was the slow burn of sin and seduction - and tonight he was in rare form. He must have come straight from the hospital, because he was still in a tux, and although he was clearly overdressed, he appeared perfectly at ease. Whether in a tux or jeans, where Evan was concerned, it was the man that mattered, not the garment. He had the kind of chiseled good looks that would have gotten him plucked from obscurity in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the kind of confidence and bearing that would have made him a box-office draw. A small scar intersected his left brow, giving the angel’s face a hint of the devil. He both came from money and had made his own fortune, and it showed in the way he held himself, the way he looked around a room, managing to take control of it with nothing more than a glance. His eyes were as gray as a wolf’s and his hair was the color of cherrywood, a deep brown that hinted at golds and reds when the light hit it just right. He wore it long in the back so that it brushed his collar, and the natural waves gave it the quality of a mane - which only enhanced the impression that there was a wildness clinging to the man. Wild or not, I wanted to get close. I wanted to thrust my fingers into his hair and feel the locks on my skin. I imagined his hair was soft, but that’s the only part of him that was. Everything else was edged with steel, the hard planes of his face and body hinting at a dangerous core beneath that beauty. I didn’t know whether the danger was real or an illusion. And right then, I didn’t care. I wanted the touch, the thrill. That desperate need to fly I’d been feeling all night? So help me, I wanted to fly right into Evan’s arms. I needed the rush. I craved the thrill. I wanted the man. And it was just too damn bad that he didn’t want me, too.

Yasmine Galenorn on Whisper Hollow...

Catch up with Yasmine Galenorn talking about her spectacular parnaormal romance series, Whisper Hollow...

Q&A with Beth Ciotta, author of the month and creator of the Cupcake Lovers series

Getting to the Heart of a Cupcake Lover

Your Cupcake Lovers series is the most irresistible combination of gorgeous romance and delicious cake! What inspired you to create this series? Thank you for your kind words! I have to say this series is a delight to write. As to how it all began . . . My American editor had approached me with the possibility of writing a small town series revolving around a ‘cupcake club’. My baking skills are limited, but I love eating cupcakes and I adored the idea of writing an on-going small town series featuring recurring characters and a running story arc — although each book highlights the romance of a new hero and heroine. As soon as I created the history and mission of this cupcake club — known as The Cupcake Lovers — everything fell into place for me. Sugar Creek, Vermont, and all of the characters that populate that fictional town, are as real to me as my friends and family. Researching cupcakes is a yummy bonus! Was it always your ambition to be a writer? What do you love most about your job? I’ve always been a creative soul. Although I dabbled with writing when I was quite young, my driving force early on was music. I started singing professionally at age fourteen and maintained a career as a performer (singing, dancing, acting) for more than twenty-five years. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I was seriously bitten by the writing bug. At that point my passion turned to storytelling, and that passion burns stronger by the day. As to what I love most about this job, that’s easy — making a positive difference in a reader’s life even if only for a few hours. Do you have favourites out of the characters you’ve created? What type of hero makes you melt? To date I have more than twenty books in print and more in the immediate pipeline, so that’s a lot of characters! I must admit, it’s quite difficult to choose favourites. I love all of my characters for different reasons. Focusing on The Cupcake Lovers series, as far as the ladies go, I have a real soft spot for Rocky and Rachel/Rae. Very different heroines, but equally compelling. I also adore Daisy Monroe, the eccentric matriarch of the Monroe family. She’s a hoot! As for the men . . . Jayce and Sam ring my bell big time. Jayce has a massive protective streak. Sam’s the strong, silent type—a widower raising two small children. Both men are deep and complicated and extremely alpha. Intimidating, yet sexy. I’m also head over heels for Luke. I adore his kind nature, his joy for life, and love of family. He’s a good man with a minor learning issue. More on the beta side, but just as sexy. Down-to-earth and charmingly irresistible. Who are the authors you read for pleasure? Too many to fully list, but here are a few. Nora Roberts, Julie Garwood, Heather Graham, Zoë Archer, F.Paul Wilson, Karen Marie Moning, Elle J Rossi, Stephanie Bond . . . Happily, the list goes on and on. If you could take only three essentials with you to a desert island what would they be? A riveting book to read over and over. A journal and pen to chronicle my adventure (or to make something up for escapism). Lipstick—preferably red. What are your guilty pleasures? Coffee—black and strong and lots of it. Chinese food. My dogs and cat. Movies. Reading. Who would be on your dream dinner party guest list? Daniel Craig, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Gerard Butler. (Is that wrong?) Your cupcake recipes are always mouth-watering! Have you tried them all? Which would you recommend we try to bake?! Hmm. Well, they’re not my recipes. My recipes need work. (Not that you heard that from me.) The recipes included in the back of the books were submitted by readers who are avid bakers! I haven’t tried them all, but I have tasted most and they are all equally yummy! I adore the fact that readers — Honorary Cupcake Lovers — are willing to share their recipes and I invite anyone to email me with a submission should they be inspired! We’re so excited to read ANYTHING BUT LOVE! Can you tell us a little of what readers can expect from book three in the series? ANYTHING BUT LOVE is quite close to my heart as it features two of the most gentle-hearted characters I have ever written. Luke and Rae possess hearts as big as the planet however they come from opposite sides of the tracks in more ways than one. This particular story focuses heavily on making the most of a life you didn’t plan. It also delves deeply into family members at odds and how those relationships evolve. Readers will be treated to an emotional tale sprinkled with the sexy set-up for book four — IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. And of course, in addition to the romance and family drama, ANYTHING BUT LOVE features the on-going antics and adventure of the Cupcake Lovers!

What Happens In Vegas . . . stays in Vegas!

January Book of the Month

Meet Max in An Ounce of Hope...

Read a gorgeous excerpt from Sophie Jackson's AN OUNCE OF HOPE...

March Book of the Month

Discover Every Vow She Breaks...

Discover the thrilling EVERY VOW SHE BREAKS by Jannine Gallant...

Visiting the romantic Green Mountains of Vermont with Marie Force

We’re more than a little in love with the idyllic Vermont setting of the Green Mountain series. What was your inspiration for this fabulous place? Yay! I’m so glad you’re in love with my little corner of Vermont! My inspiration was a TV news story about the real-life Vermont Country Store, which is owned by a father and three sons, who are second- and third-generation proprietors. I was fascinated by their story and went to visit both of the actual stores in Vermont. I quickly realised the setting would make for a fantastic series. Have you always wanted to be a writer? What do you love most about your job? Yes, I’ve always wanted to be and have been a writer because I’ve never really been good at anything else. Never could do a cartwheel, I can’t sing as well as I think I can, I cook and the smoke detector goes off, I tried out for the track team and couldn’t make it once around the track… You get the picture. I wouldn’t trade the one thing I got for any of those other talents. Especially the cartwheel. I’ve learned not to mess with gravity. Gravity always wins. You’re a hugely prolific writer publishing not only the Green Mountain series but your hugely successful McCarthys of Gansett Island and Fatal series as well. How do you manage your busy writing schedule? And let’s not forget my new Quantum series that’s coming next year… Because I wasn’t busy enough! I really love to write, and it’s pretty much all I do when I’m not reading a good romance! I’m not quite sure how it all gets done, but it does. I feel very lucky to be able to write fairly quickly and to keep up with a rather punishing schedule. I love my job - best job EVER! :-) Do you have the most fun creating your heroes or your heroines? I love the guys! I think I might’ve been a guy in my previous life. I love writing them. Of course they’re no good without strong women to love, so I like creating them, too. But there is something about the guys. Do you have a favourite hero or heroine from your books or by any other author? My all-time favourite character in my books is Lt. Sam Holland, homicide detective extraordinaire, from the Fatal series. She’s the bad-ass broad we’d all like to be. She thinks it, she says it, and her mouth gets her into a lot of trouble. She’s so fun to write, and of course her guy, the hunky Senator Nick Cappuano, is pretty damned fun to write, too! Who are the authors you read for pleasure? I read ALL over the place. I’ve been really digging the new adult genre lately. One of my recent favourites was Tangled by Emma Chase. Laugh out loud funny! If you could take only three essentials with you to a desert island what would they be? My kids (because they are WAY smarter and more resourceful than I am), my Kindle and my laptop with a very long extension cord. Who would be on your dream dinner party guest list, dead or alive? Hmmm… What does it say about me that I have no good answer to this question? I guess I will say Nora Roberts, because I greatly admire her career and her blunt way of telling it like it is, which is a lot like my blunt way. I feel like she and I would be BFFs by the end of one night and a couple of bottles of wine. What are your guilty pleasures? Chocolate and uninterrupted time to write. What can I say? I’m kind of boring and easy to please. :-) Can you tell us a little of what we have to look forward to with Let Me Hold Your Hand and beyond with the Abbotts? Let Me Hold Your Hand is a very special book for me about an Iraqi war widow who finds new love with her late husband’s close friend, seven years after her husband’s death. I spent a lot of time reading and talking to war widows, which was an extremely powerful and emotional experience for me. It was really important to me to do justice to Hannah’s loss while also giving her a fresh new start with a man who truly deserves her. The result is a book I’m extremely proud of and can’t wait to get out to readers! After Let Me Hold Your Hand comes I Saw You Standing There, which features Abbott family mountain man, Colton, who runs the sugaring facility that makes maple syrup for the store. He is paired with Lucy Mulvaney, who we met in Book 1, Your Love Is All I Need. I love their story - the two of them were hilarious to write, and I think readers will enjoy them. Right now I’m writing I Love Her, which features oldest Abbott sibling, Hunter, who is the family’s chief financial officer and resident GQ cover model. :-) There’s so much interest and excitement around romance fiction right now. What do you think that romance readers are looking for in the romances they read today? I can really only speak to what I think they are looking for from me, because those are the readers I’m in close contact with. Mine are looking for sexy romances with hot guys who care passionately about their independent women as well as families that pull together in tough times but know how to laugh together, too. More and more I hear from readers who thank me for the ‘escape’ from their real-life problems. For a couple of hours, my books take them away from it all, and they love that. And I love to hear that my books did that for them!

Visiting the romantic Green Mountains of Vermont with Marie Force

Visiting the romantic Green Mountains of Vermont with Marie Force

Pamela Clare discusses the I-Team...

Pamela Clare discusses her sizzling new I-Team series, and guilty pleasures...

July Book of the Month

Feel the Wicked Grind...

From J. Kenner's wickedly sexy Stark World series...

Catch up with J. B. Salsbury...

Catch up with J. B. Salsbury...