Sunday, July 29, 2012

Spotlight & Giveaway: The CEO'S Unexpected Proposal by Karen Rose Smith

Today it is my Pleasure to Welcome Harlequin Special Edition author Karen Rose Smith to HarlequinJunkie!

Karen is here to tell us about her brand new release The CEO'S Unexpected Proposal 

Sara: If you had to sum up The CEO'S Unexpected Proposal….
Karen: My latest release is The CEO'S Unexpected Proposal.  Mikala and Dawson were friends back in high school. The night of the prom Dawson had been Mikala's white knight and she never forgot that or the way he made her feel. They are reunited at their fifteenth year high school reunion and Dawson asks Mikala, who is a music therapist, for help with his son.  As Mikala leads ten-year-old Luke on a journey to emotional healing, she leads herself and Dawson, too. But old wounds form scars that are difficult to forget. They have to leave the past behind to find love, trust and their happily-ever-after.

Sara:What sparked the idea for your novel “The CEO'S Unexpected ProposalKaren: Music can lift me up, energize and heal. I wanted to use all of those feelings in a book.

Sara:How did you come up with character in this book?
Mikala has a lot of me in her.
Karen: She appeared in my imagination almost fully developed. I added details to her background that would explain how she felt about the world and her relationships with people in it. 

Sara:How did you come up with the title?Karen: The title was one in a list I gave my editor and embodied themes in the book. My working title had been A DANCE WITH HER PRINCE CHARMING. 

Sara:What were the challenges you faced in bringing this book to life?Karen: The emotional content was, at times, challenging.  I wanted to make the situation and Luke's therapy honest and real.

Sara:Please Tell us  a little bit about yourself...

Karen: An only child, I delved into books at an early age. I learned about kindred spirits from Anne of Green Gables, solved mysteries with Nancy Drew, and wished I could have been the rider on The Black Stallion. Yet even though I escaped often into story worlds, I had many aunts, uncles and cousins around me on weekends. My sense of family and relationships began there.  Maybe that's why families are a strong theme in my novels along with couples finding true love.

As my couples fall in love I like to use different settings. Many of my first releases were set around my home town in Pennsylvania. Over 80 books later, I now enjoy settings like Northern Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming where the landscape can become as integral to the plot as another character. There is something about canyons, mountains and the ocean that give me a sense of awe and I like to bring that to my romances.

Readers often ask me about my past times. I have herb, flower and vegetable gardens that help me relax. In the winter, I cook rather than garden! And year round I spend most of my time with my husband, as well as my two cats who are my constant companions. They chase rainbows from sun catchers, reminding me life isn't all about work. Everyone needs that rainbow to chase.

Sara: What inspired you to write your first book? How long did it take you to publish your first book? 
Karen: I was used to an exercise routine of biking, swimming and aerobics when I started having back pain. I was confined to bed rest and I needed a creative and emotional outlet. I turned to writing. I wrote for six years and finished thirteen manuscripts before I was published. Then I sold two books in one week to two different companies.

Sara: How did you choose the genre you write in?
Karen: Relationships have always fascinated me. I read teenage romances, then Emilie Loring and Harlequins. It just seemed to be the most natural genre for me to write.

Sara: Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
 Karen: That depends on the book. In my latest release The CEO'S Unexpected Proposal, I knew I wanted to write about a heroine who was a music therapist. I developed the story around her. But in my ebook AWAYS DEVOTED, a mystery/romance, I thought about the story first then developed the characters around that.

Sara: What are your current projects? Can you share a little of your current work with us? Is this book part of a series?
 Karen: I'm working on two projects at once--a new series for Harlequin Special Edition--The Mommy Club (women helping parents in need of a helping hand), as well as a new mystery series for Kensington tentatively called Staged To Death. It's a 3 book series about a home stager who stages high-end houses. Caprice De Luca takes in stray animals, shops in a vintage store, likes to cook and loves her big Italian family, though they often interfere in her life.

Sara: Take us through a typical day in the life of “Author”
 Karen: Writing, tweeting, blogging, working on promo, gardening, writing, relaxing with hubby, writing

On a lighter note... 

Sara: Would you rather be ugly and loved or beautiful and lonely?
 Karen: Definitely ugly and loved.
a.  Rather find true love or be filthy rich?
 Karen: Find true love.

b. Invent an item that everybody uses or a song that everybody hums?
 Karen: I do have a practical side, too. If I invented an item everyone uses, I'd probably be rich! Everybody humming one song might not do that.:)

c.  Have a relationship with someone 10 years younger or 10 yrs older?
Karen: Ten years younger.

d. Be deaf or blind?
Karen: This is a tough one. For a few years, because of the result of a medication, I developed severe cataracts. I listened to TV rather than watched, listened to books on tape instead of reading. I couldn't see well across a room but I could hear voices, hear loved ones' words, develop listening skills to make up for what I couldn't see. I think I would rather be blind and stay connected to the rest of the world with words. 

e. Sing in the rain or dance in the streets
Karen: Sing in the rain. SINGING IN THE RAIN is one of my favorite movies.
Sara: If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
Karen: Consistently Yours
Sara: Your favorite quotes?
Karen: Ralph Waldo Emerson.  "None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone."
"When it is dark enough, you can see the stars."

Sara:  What would your ideal career be, if you couldn't be an author? 
Karen:A songwriter
Sara: If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you have?
Karen: Something creamy with a bit of zing.

Sara: Which super power do you like to have and why?
Karen: I'd like to be able to read other people's know their feelings and motives. But I'd also want to be able to turn it on and off so I wouldn't get overloaded!

Sara: What one thing that has happened in your life has made the biggest impact on who you are today?
Karen: My marriage. Because of it I have experienced unconditional love. I've also learned how to give it.

Karen thanks for this wonderful interview.

Karen will be giving away copies of her book The CEO'S Unexpected Proposal 
To enter the Giveway: Please enter your email in the Rafflecopter below and Leave a comment for Karen on your thoughts on the book or A proposal story if you have one to share.  

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Spotlight & Giveaway: His Unexpected Family by Robyn Thomas

ROBYN, Welcome to HarlequinJunkie and Congrats on the release of your debut Novel "His Unexpected Family"

Thank you to Sara for inviting me here today. Settles comfortably and sips cool drink as we chat. Pull up a chair, grab a drink.

Let’s start with your debut Novel “His Unexpected Family”

Sara: If you had to sum up ‘His Unexpected Family’ what would you say...
Robyn: It’s a story of redemption, acceptance and starting over.  It’s proof that sometimes amazing things can happen while your focus and energy is directed elsewhere.

What was the inspiration behind your debut novel “His Unexpected Family”
I watched Touching the Void and thought that the filming of it must’ve involved considerable risks. I wondered what sort of person would film an expedition like that, and how they’d differ from the mountaineers they were filming. What if they were a team and had worked together before? What if being delayed for a few days saved the life of the cameraman while both his brother and his best friend perished? I had a flawed hero on my hands, and I knew straight away that his penchant for extreme sports was going to be a problem.     

How did you come up with the characters for this book?
Oops, I’ve already answered for Cole. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t come up with Ren’s character in a deliberate manner. I made Cole wait for his story until Ren “arrived” in my mind, already named, recently widowed and with a newborn daughter. I was surprised to find that her life had been turned inside out by the same tragedy that had ruined Cole’s.  It gave the two of them common ground and opposing perspectives and a whole world of guilt to navigate through. 


Sara: What were the challenges you faced in bringing this book to life?

Robyn: I’m not a big fan of ordinary sports, let alone extreme ones. I had to familiarise myself with what there was to do, the mindsets of the participants, and the risks involved. I watched whatever I could get my hands on in the way of interviews and documentaries, and read up on survivor guilt.

What one Favorite Scene would you never cut from ‘His Unexpected Family’
I’d have to say the shaving scene where there’s plenty of shaving cream flying around but no sign of a razor.

Now that we know about your debut, it's time to get to know you....

Sara: Who is Robyn Thomas, what should we know about her?
Robyn: Robyn Thomas is the kind of person who wonders what happens to people after their current mishap or hardship has been on the nightly news. Did they recover, are they traumatised, will their life ever be the same again?

What you should know about me: if the book I’m reading doesn’t have a happy ending, I’m going to want to pencil one in.

Sara: What inspired you to be an author? How did you choose the genre you write in?
Robyn: For many years I read a lot and entertained the idea of writing something “one day.”  When an idea took hold and the characters in my head insisted on having their story written, I knew that day had arrived. April Fool’s Day was fast approaching so I made that my start date – a safeguard in case the whole exercise was a disaster. That first book was truly awful and will never see the light of day, but I was already hooked on writing. The guarantee of a happy ending made romance an obvious choice for me.   

Sara: Tell us about the “CALL”
Robyn: The call was an event in itself. I totally missed it! My lovely editor sent an email saying she’d like to acquire my book, and I eventually stumbled across – wait for it – a follow up email. I don’t believe I’ve ever made such a high pitched squeal of horror and disbelief.  I was thrilled, don’t get me wrong, but the most amazing news ever had been squirrelled away in some obscure spam filter that I didn’t even know I had. And it‘d been there for more than two weeks! When I finally got myself together enough to hit reply… I repeatedly got an error message.

I emailed my critique partners two words that are rarely coupled together, and got their undivided attention. Between all of us we got it sorted, and I managed to send a resounding yes (please) email to my editor! Thankfully, I hadn’t missed my chance to accept her offer.     

Sara: What are you currently working on? Are there any other books to be released in 2012?
Robyn: I’m currently working on another Indulgence that’s due to release in Fall 2012. It can be described as: Prince Charming never moved into Cinderella’s house! But mega rock star Jake Olsen is rewriting the script, complete with a fake yet headline grabbing engagement. Beth Carlisle’s insular life is shaken up and publicly dissected, but this modern day Cinderella has the ability to direct her own Happily Ever After.

Sara: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Robyn: I’m definitely a pantser. I like to have a clear resolution in my mind before I start, but I follow my instincts for the bulk of the story. My characters tend to be headstrong and I try to let them have free rein.  

Sara: What is the one thing you've always wanted to do, but never had the courage to try?
Robyn: This is it! Getting a book published and sharing it with the world.

Sara: If you were stranded on an Island…
Robyn: If I was stranded on an island I’d definitely need my family with me. My husband is the most resourceful person I know, and my sons want to be inventors. Can anyone say Gilligan’s Island?
Oh, and I’d want the contents of my hubby’s off road vehicle. We’d be able to start a fire, catch fish, drink fresh water, snack and rug up. And there’s a radio to call for help. 

Book Blurb:
Sometimes you have to take the leap…again.
Newly widowed with a new baby, Ren Jamieson is putting her life back together after her thrill-seeking husband’s death. But when she’s called to show a high-end property to a prospective client—a commission she desperately needs—she meets a man who makes her pulse pound like nothing she’s ever known…
Cole Matthews is more than he seems. Real estate is only part of the reason he’s in Australia – the other is to see Ren, and make amends somehow for the life lost. The last thing Cole expects is a woman whose humor, sweetness and sexiness give him a rush greater than any he’s ever experienced…
Torn between her growing feelings for Cole and the risks of loving yet another adventurer, Ren will have to choose between keeping her feet on the ground…and taking the most dangerous leap of her life.

Contact Robyn:

To enter the Giveway: Please enter your email in the Rafflecopter below and Post a comment -  Please tell us which fairytale characters you’d most like to see paired up in a contemporary romance?  

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spotlight & Giveaway: Hajar's Hidden Legacy by Maisey Yates

I'm absolutely thrilled to have Harlequin Presents and USA today best selling author Maisey Yates here today to share with us her inspiration behind the book 'Hajar's Hidden Legacy'

Maisey Yates Welcome to HarlequinJunkie!

Over to Maisey....

What happens when you combine my love of tortured heroes, strong heroines and Disney movies? Hajar's Hidden Legacy is what happens.

Beauty and the Beast has been my favorite cartoon ever since my dad took me to see it when I was six. What's not to love? A strong woman who loves books sacrifices for her father, teaches the beast to love and ultimately breaks the spell!

I knew I wanted to write my own version.

The Beauty is Princess Katharine Rauch, princess of Austrich. She was promised to the future ruler of Hajar five years earlier. Until, a tragic accident took the lives of the royal family. The only remaining survivor was the second son. And he is...

The Beast. Sheikh Zahir S'ad al din is known as the Beast of Hajar. After losing his family in an attack on his country, the reclusive ruler has concealed himself in his palace, only making appearances when they can't possible be avoided.

 He's horribly scarred, both inside and out, and the last thing he wants is a wife.

But Katharine needs a husband to protect her country, and Zahir's honor won't allow him to go back on the bargain drawn up between their families years earlier.

I so enjoyed writing this intensely scarred man. Physically, he's damaged past the point of being called handsome. He's limited now, with a mostly blind eye and a badly wounded leg. But it's his internal scars, flashbacks of the attack that take over even while he's awake, that truly cripple him.

Zahir and Katharine have a lot to overcome. Katharine is living for honor, while Zahir is just living each day as a matter of survival.

I loved bringing this strong woman into Zahir's life to push him our of his cave, to help him overcome the issues in his life to become the best ruler, and the best man that he can be. And not only does Zahir find healing, he finds love.

And even though there's no transforming his outside, those scars will remain, he gets his healing inside. And that's what counts!

I have an excerpt I'd like to share with you. 
And one commenter will win a copy of Hajar's Hidden Legacy! (this is an international contest! Open to all!)

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They called him the Beast of Hajar for a reason. Katharine could see that now. Zahir S’ad al Din was every bit as frightening as they said. He was an entirely different man from the one she’d met so many years ago. Cold, completely forbidding.
But Katharine didn’t have the luxury of being frightened by him. Anyway, she was used to cold, forbidding men.
“Sheikh Zahir,” she began, taking a step toward his expansive desk. He wasn’t looking at her, his dark head inclined, his focus on a paper in front of him. “I have been waiting for you to contact me. You haven’t.”
“No, I have not. Which makes me wonder why you are here.”
Katharine swallowed. “To marry you.”
“Is that right, Princess Katharine? I had heard a rumor about that, but I didn’t believe it.” He lifted his head and for the first time, Katharine saw his face.
Yes, he was every bit as frightening as they said. The skin on the left side of his face ravaged, his eye not as focused or sharp on that side. Yet she still felt like he was seeing all the way into her, as if the accident that had served to cloud his physical vision had made him able to see more than a mere mortal man.
That he was a ghost, or a god of some kind was part of his legend, and looking at him now, she understood why.
“I did call.” She hadn’t exactly talked to Zahir, but she’d talked to his advisor. And she hadn’t really been invited, either.
“I didn’t think you would travel all the way from the comfort of your palace to have your marriage proposal turned down, as I was certain I had relayed my thoughts on the matter.”
She straightened her shoulders. “I thought you owed me a conversation. A personal one, not your relayed response. And I didn’t come to be turned down. I came to make sure the contract was honored. The deal was struck six years ago…”
“For you to marry Malik. Not me.”
Thinking of Malik always made her feel sad. But her sadness was for a young life cut short, nothing deeper. He had been her destiny, her duty, for all of her adult life, and while she had liked him, cared for him in some ways, she had not loved him.
At first it seemed like losing him had changed everything, that her horizons had opened, that she might have a different future before her. It was clear now that nothing had changed.
Instead of Malik, it would be Zahir. But she was still destined to be sold into marriage for the sake of her country. She’d accepted it. Ultimately she hadn’t felt that the change in groom had mattered all that much.
Although, looking at him now it became a whole different matter than it had been in theory. He was…he was something much more than she’d counted on.
This was never about you. Never about your feelings. You have to be prepared to see this through.
“That’s what I thought. But when I examined the documents a little bit closer…” Her father had handled most of the legal portion of the marriage agreement that had been drawn up between her and Malik.
It hadn’t really been of personal interest to her. Her relationship with him had been nothing more than political maneuvering by their parents. She’d only met him on a few occasions. She’d simply accepted that it was what she could do for her country, that the marriage was what she could contribute. She had never personally studied the agreement. Until recently.
“Well, yes. But really, if you look at the wording, I am promised to Malik. Unless he is not able to assume the throne of Hajar. In that case, it is his successor that I’m meant to marry. That’s…

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh by Ros Clarke

The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh by Ros Clarke
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Back Cover:
His duty, her dreams, undone by their desire...

In the male-dominated oil industry, executive Olivia McInnes plays a careful game - she's cold, uncompromising, and ambitious as hell. Once she seals the deal to drill in the clear waters of Saqat, she'll finally prove herself worthy to take the reins of her father's oil company. Her only obstacle is marine biologist - and Saqat's royal heir - Sheikh Khaled Ibm Saqat al Mayim, who's determined to protect both his people and his country from environmental devastation...

It's not long before Olivia's icy cool exterior is shattered by the intelligent and wickedly hot sheikh, and business is surpassed by sweet, stolen pleasures. But outside the bedroom, there's reality to be faced. Soon Khaled must return to his obligations - and his betrothed - in Saqat.

Caught between duty and ambition, can an oil tycoon and a sexy sheikh find room for love... or will this business deal spell disaster for them both?

My Review
The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh is a sexy, engaging read about two star-crossed lovers who are caught between duty and desire; ambition and passion…

Olivia and Khaled meet as adversaries across a boardroom trying to negotiate a mutually beneficial deal that will allow drilling oil in the clear waters of Saqat.

Olivia needs this deal to secure her position as the new CEO of MCI oil once her father retires. She has worked hard to succeed in this male dominated world trying to live upto her father’s expectations and cannot afford to fail this late in the game. The only thorn in her side is Marine Biologist and Heir to the throne of Saqat Sheikh Khaled.

Khaled and Olivia are instantly attracted to each other but they both know they cannot have more than a brief fling. Olivia has her own ambitious goals and Khaled has a duty to his country, as heir to the sheikhdom he is required to marry a Saqat woman a bride pre-chosen for him. Destiny however has very different plans for them…

The characters were well written; Khaled isn’t your typical playboy sheikh, He is a sexy scientist who is actually more concerned about the environment that making money and Olivia is smart, feisty, ambitious businesswoman with heart.

The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh is a well-written romance that will have you turning the pages, I like the way the story flowed and have to give credit to the author for not rushing the ending; but being a huge fan of epilogues I sure would have liked to read about their lives 5 years down to find out if they achieved all they set out to do.

Ros Clarke is a new author for me and I have to say I quite enjoyed reading this book and would definitely recommend it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spotlight & Giveaway: Battle for the Soldier's Heart by Cara Colter

Today it is my Pleasure to Welcome Harlequin Romance Best Selling Author Cara Colter to HarlequinJunkie...

I love Cara's books, if you have read Cara's books you know what I am gushing about if not here's your chance to Win a copy!

 Battle for the Soldier's Heart

When Grace Day accepts returning soldier Rory Adams's help for the military fundraiser she's organizing, memories of her teenage crush on him come rushing back.

Growing up in practically a war zone, Rory's motto is "When you expect the worst, you are rarely disappointed." Yet Grace's sweetness, hope and light threaten his cynicism.

As she discovers the Rory beneath the armor, can Grace convince him to believe in the man he really is: a man so good it brings tears to her eyes—the man she wants to spend her life with?

Sara: If you had to sum up “Battle for the soldier's Heart” in 100 words or less, what would you say? 

Cara: I think I specialize in stories about people who have lost their way, finding their way back home. This story is no exception. But I have to add it's not serious.  It's very funny and sweet.  The opening line is "There were Shetland ponies everywhere" so you've got to know you're are in for a fun ride (er, read.)

Sara: What were the challenges you faced in bringing this book to life?

Cara: I'm having problems with insomnia right now, so sometimes when its time to work my poor brain feels like mush!

Sara: Please tell us a few things about yourself? 

Cara: I love my "H"s -- horses, Hawaii, HGTV, also Hubby, Rob ( not necessarily in that order!)  Where were you born and where do you call home? I was born in Calgary, Alberta, and I now live in the interior of British Columbia on a small acreage that I share with above mentioned horses and hubby.

Sara: What are your current projects?

Cara: I just finished a book that will be out for Mother's Day, 2013.  It doesn't even have a title yet. It has one scene I adore where the hero and heroine unearth an old two-seater bicycle.  Unfortunatley, ever since I wrote it, I cannot get that song out of my head: Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do, I'm half crazy, all for the love of you, I can't afford a carriage, we won't have a fancy marriage, but wouldn't you look sweet, upon the seat of a bicycle built for two? Try and get that unstuck from your head once its in there! (Misery loves company, I bet now you'll be stuck with it, now, too. Evil laugh.)

I've just been asked to do a Christmas trilogy with Rebecca Winters and Shirley Jump, so we're at the planning stages right now.  It is always creatively really invigorating to work with other writers, espeically ones as talented as them.    

Sara: What are 4 things you never leave home without (apart from keys, money and phone)?

Cara: There is a part in the Mother's Day book where a woman tells the hero they dress for dinner, and he says "As opposed to what?".  So, generally when I leave I have clothes (though I've been known to walk the dog in my pajamas); I live in the middle of nowhere (this makes the pajama part slightly less risque), so I am not going anywhere without my truck.  I honestly cannot think of anything else that makes every trip out of the house with me.  I know it would be politcally correct to say pictures of my children, my sainted mother or other inspirational items, but sadly, no. My dog wishes it was her, though!

Sara: If you won $20 million in the lottery, what would you do with the money? 

Cara: Again, I'm sure there is a politcally correct answer that would have something to do with being unselfish and saving the world, but somehow I see myself wintering in Hawaii, (there's those H's again)  one foot hanging off the lounger into the pool, and a lifetime supply of books beside me.  (And maybe a cute poolboy refreshing my virgin pina coloda, with apologies to another of my H's Rob.)

Sara: Where can readers contact you?
Facebook is the best way. 

Cara will be giving away a Copy of ‘Battle for the Soldier's Heart’ to 1 lucky Winner.

TO WIN: Please enter your email in the Rafflecopter widget and leave a comment for Cara below.

Giveaway is open to reader’s world wide

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   Excerpt.  All rights reserved.

There were Shetland ponies everywhere.
They were gobbling the long strands of grass that sprouted around the brightly painted legs of the children's playground equipment. They were chowing down on the weeping-willow fronds at the edge of the duck pond.
Three had found their way through the chain-link fence and were grazing with voracious appetite on the green temptations of the Mason Memorial Soccer Field.
One had its face buried in the remnants of a birthday cake, and another, wandering toward the wading pool, was trailing a banner that said Happy Birthday, Wilson Schmelski.
From where he stood at the pedestrian bridge that crossed into the city of Mason's most favored civic park, Pondview, Rory Adams counted eight ponies on the loose.
And only one person trying to catch them. "You little monster! You beady-eyed ingrate!" The woman lunged right, the pony left. If it had been anyone else, he might have allowed himself to see the humor in her predicament.
Instead, he frowned. When he thought of Gracie Day, somehow, even after speaking to her on the phone, he hadn't factored in the passage of time. She was frozen in his mind at fourteen or fifteen. All glittering braces and freckles, skinned knees, smartalecky and annoying.
To him, six years her senior, Gracie, his best friend's little sister, had not even been a blip on his radar. He had not considered her a girl in the sense that he considered girls. And at that age? Had he ever considered anything but girls?
He'd been twenty-one when he saw her last. He and Graham mustering out, on their first tour of Afghanistan, and her looking at him with fury glittering in her tear-filled eyes. I hate you. How couldyou talk him into this?
Graham had started to argue—the whole let's-go-play-soldier thing had been his idea, after all—but Rory had nudged him, and Graham had understood instantly.
Let me take it, let me be the bad guy in your kid sister 's eyes.
The memory made him wince. They had looked out for each other. They'd had each other's backs. Probably thousands of times since they had said good-bye to Gracie that day. But the one time it had really counted…
Rory shook off the thoughts, and focused on the woman chasing ponies.
That kid sister.
Gracie Day was small and slender, deliciously curved in all the right places. Auburn hair that had probably started the day perfectly controlled and prettily coiffed, had long since surrendered to humidity and the pitfalls of pony-chasing. Her hair was practically hissing with bad temper and fell in a wild wave to her bare sun-kissed shoulders.
She was daintily dressed in a wide-skirted cream sundress and matching heels that had probably been perfect for the children's birthday party her event-planning company had just hosted.
But if Gracie had worked at it, she couldn't have chosen a worse outfit for chasing ponies.
The dress was looking rumpled, one slender strap kept sliding off her shoulder, and not only couldn't she get up any speed in those shoes, but the heels kept turning in the grass. At first glance, the smudge on the delectable rise of her bosom might have been mistaken for part of the pattern on the dress. But a closer look—that was not the bosom she'd had at fourteen—and he was pretty sure the bright-green splotch was horse slobber.
"Do you have any idea what glue is made from? Do you?"
Something still in her, then, of that fourteen-year-old girl she had once been. That girl was closer to the surface than the cool, calm and collected Gracie Day she had managed to convince him she was when he had spoken to her on the phone.
"I need to talk to you," he'd said, when he'd finally made it home. By then Graham had already been gone for six months. He'd wanted to tell her the truth.
I failed.
"I can't see why we would need to talk," she'd responded, and the fact was, he'd been relieved.
Talking about what had happened to Graham—and his part in it—was not going to be easy. And while he was not a man who shirked hard things, he had been thankful for the reprieve.
Rory felt a shiver along his spine. They said it was survivor's guilt, but in his heart he felt it was his fault her brother hadn't come home.
Somehow, instead of being a temporary diversion, playing soldier had turned into a career for both of them. Graham, on their third deployment, Afghanistan again, had taken a bullet.
Rory still woke almost every night, sweating, his heart pounding.
Two teenage boys. Something about them. He'd hesitated because they were so young. And then bullets everywhere. Ducking, taking cover. Where was Graham? Out there. Crawling out, pulling him back, cradling him in his arms.
Blood, so much blood.
But the dream woke him before it was done. There was a piece missing from it, words he could not remember though he chased after them once he was awake.
The dream never told him what he needed to know. Had it been those boys? Were they the ones who had fired those shots? What could he have done differently? Could he have shoved Graham behind him, taken it instead?
Check up on Gracie. Those words whispered, a plea.
You didn't take a dying request lightly. And especially not the dying request of the man who'd been his best friend for more than ten years.
So, back home for six months now, Rory had tried. He called Gracie twice, and admittedly had been somewhat relieved to have been coolly rejected each time. The dreams were bad enough without the reality of having to tell her what had happened, while at the same time sparing her what had happened.
And so, he had followed the letter of Graham's instruction and checked up on her. While he had been away, the company he and his own brother had started—they had begun with race-car graphics and were now taking on the world—had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Once home, done with the military for good, Rory Adams was amazed to find himself a man with considerable resources.
One of whom was named Bridey O'Mitchell. Officially, she was his personal assistant. Unofficially, he considered her his secret weapon.
Bridey, middle-age, British, unflappable, could accomplish anything. Some days, Rory entertained himself by finding impossible challenges for her.
Can you get ice cream delivered to that crew working on the graphics for those Saudi airplanes? I know it's short notice, but do you think you could find half a dozen tickets to the sold-out hockey game? I'd like a koala bear and two kangaroos at the opening of that Aussie tour company we did the buses for.
Checking up on Gracie Day? That had been child's play for Bridey.
And the ensuing report about Gracie Day had been soothingly dull. Gracie was no longer engaged to the fiance Graham had disliked intensely, and she ran a successful event-planning company, Day of Your Life, here in Mason, in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. Hers was the "it" company for weddings and anniversaries and special events.
The company had just been chosen to do the major annual fundraiser for Warrior Down, the organization that helped wounded vets and their families.
But Gracie's bread and butter was birthday parties for the children of the well-heeled, politicians and doctors and lawyers and CeOs. She put together the kind of parties that had clowns in them. And bouncy tents. Maybe a magician. And fireworks. The ponies must be an added touch since Rory had received Bridey's very thorough report.
Gracie Day organized the kind of parties that he had never had. In fact, he didn't recall his birthday ever being celebrated, except on one memorable occasion when his mother had ended up face-first in the cake. How old had he been? Six? After that, he'd said no thanks to efforts at celebration.
There. He'd "checked up" on her. Even that little bit of checking had triggered a bad memory, so he wanted to let it go there. Grace Day was doing well.
Still, even as he tried to tell himself he'd obeyed the letter of Graham's last instruction to him, it ate at the honor he had left. Rory had needed to see for himself that Gracie was doing all right. His last call had been a week ago.
And there had been something in her voice.
Even though she had said she was doing fabulously.
He couldn't pinpoint what exactly he had heard in her voice. A certain forced note to the breezy tone? Something guarded, as if she had a secret that she was not planning on revealing to him?
Whatever it was, it wouldn't let him go. Over the past week, the need to see her had grown in urgency. Instinct had become such a big part of his life when he was a soldier, that he found he couldn't ignore that niggling little voice. When he tried, it was just one more thing that woke him in the night, that haunted his dreams.
A little lie to her secretary had sent him to Pondview. "My company is one of the sponsors of Warrior Down. I need to talk to her urgently. And in person."
Just as he'd suspected, the mention of Gracie's pet project got him all the information he needed. Did he feel guilty for lying?
No. Guilt was for guys of a sensitive nature, and he definitely did not qualify. In his house, growing up, later on the battlefield, that was how you stayed alive. You didn't let things touch you.
But Graham dying… Rory shook it off, chose to focus with unnecessary intensity on Gracie. She was sneaking up on a fat black-and-white pony, who, while seeming oblivious, was clearly watching her out of the corner of his eye. She was right on one count: the pony was beady-eyed.
And a whole lot smarter than he looked. Because when she made her move, the pony sidled sideways, out of her grasp. He turned and looked at her balefully, chewing a clump of grass.
Rory winced when her heel embedded itself in the grassy ground, spongy from a recent watering and Gracie pitched forward. The heel snapped o...