Friday, August 28, 2015

Countdown Til Christmas Pets - Spotlight: Minty's Kiss by P.C. Zick #Christmas #romance


Minty's Kiss - P. C. Zick

When newly divorced Molly retreats to a family cabin with Gracie, her ten-year-old daughter, she's surprised to find her childhood crush, Nick, still living in the area. Can a small kitty named Minty help Gracie accept the love developing between Nick and Molly in time for her first Christmas in the mountains of North Carolina?

Excerpt

Prologue

The bundle of black fur became Molly’s trusted companion the year she turned ten. It was her consolation prize for being the child of two people who hated one another so much they ended their marriage right before Christmas. Molly’s father brought the kitty over on Christmas Eve, and left it in a box with holes in the top under the Christmas tree. When Molly and her mother returned from midnight Mass, she heard squeaks coming from a box laden with a large red ribbon, sitting beneath the tree.
“A kitty!” she screamed when she tore open the top. She pulled the furry creature out of the box. The squeaking stopped only to be replaced by a loud purr.
“That purr is bigger than it is,” her mother said as she knelt down on the carpet next to Molly. “Your father finally got one thing right this Christmas.”
Molly ignored her mother as she buried her nose in his fur. “We need food, Mommy. Everything’s closed.”
“Go look in the kitchen.”
She carried her present with her and found cans of food and a box filled with litter on the floor by the sink.
“Just point it to the box, and everything should be fine.”
“Is it a girl or a boy?” Molly asked as she carried the fur ball to the litter box.
“It’s going to be hard to tell with all that fur. Knowing your father, he got you a male cat.”
“I think I’ll name him Harold. I think he’s a boy.”
“Harold? Why?”
“It fits. I like it.”
“It’s not very cat-like, but I suppose you’ll do what you want no matter what I say. Just like your father.”
Harold helped Molly ignore her mother and her bitterness over the divorce. He became her constant companion and confidant during the dark days of the winter, holed up in the mountain cabin in North Carolina. Her father’s family owned it, but her mother decided she would start her new life as a single mom in the Smoky Mountains, even though she never liked the cabin. Marilyn Irving enjoyed going to the theater and shopping at the mall. When the family did come to the cabin for vacations, Marilyn complained about the backwardness of Murphy, the closest town, and the rural area surrounding them. Her decision to move to the cabin came as an effort at revenge because Molly’s father enjoyed escaping to the mountains, and he loved the cabin. Since he initiated the divorce, he wasn’t in a position to deny his daughter and ex-wife much of anything.
“Molly, Nick is here.” The announcement came on Christmas afternoon as Molly sat on the kitchen floor playing with Harold. Nick was one of the only reasons she hadn’t protested too much when her mother made the surprising announcement about moving to Murphy.
“I see Santa was very good to you.” He knelt down next to her and gave Harold a rub on the head.
“Meet Harold. Harold, this is my friend Nick.”
Nick, two years older than Molly, reached for the kitty and rolled him over on his back in his arms. “People don’t think cats like their undersides rubbed like dogs do, but if you scratch right here on the chest between the front paws, most of them love it.” He scratched Harold in that spot and instantly his eyes closed and his purring machine started working.
“He loves it.” She looked at Nick with his blonde hair falling down into his eyes. He still wore his down jacket, but had pulled off his knit cap.
“How’s it going, Molly?” Nick looked at her with his bright blue eyes, and she lost herself in his gaze.
“It’s better now that you and Harold are here,” she said.
“My mom said you’ve moved here for good.”
“That’s what she says.” Molly nodded her head toward the living room where her mother sat reading a novel. “I hate her. She’s so mean.”
“It’s tough, isn’t it?” Nick reached for her brown hair and rubbed her head. “You just come find me anytime you need a friend, you hear?”

Molly nodded, and right there, on the kitchen floor, she vowed that one day she would marry Nick.

About the Author

P.C. Zick describes herself as "a storyteller no matter what I write." And she writes in a variety of genres, including romance, contemporary fiction, and nonfiction. Her female characters are strong and sexy and her male heroes are easy to love. She's won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction. When she’s not at the computer, she’s boating, kayaking, golfing, and just generally enjoying life with her husband—a lost love from her youth who resurfaced six years ago. Talk about a romantic story!


Minty's Kiss is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Minty's Kiss by P.C. Zick



Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c





Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Countdown Til Christmas Pets - Spotlight: The Christmas Wish by Michele Shriver #Christmas


The Christmas Wish - Michele Shriver

Ashley McLaughlin is struggling to move on from her husband's infidelity. Brennan wants to make amends for his transgression. Their young daughter, Hayley, has only one wish for Christmas- for her family to be together again. When Hayley suffers a head injury after a fall from her horse, will it help her get her wish? Or do the wounds from Brennan's betrayal run too deep for Ashley to forgive?

Excerpt

Prologue

Hayley
“That stupid horse,” I hear my mother say. “You had to go and get her that stupid horse, as if that might somehow assuage your guilt, and now here we are. Watching our daughter lay unconscious in the hospital.”
Assuage. I don’t know what that word means, but it doesn’t matter. I can tell my mom is angry at my dad, like she always seems to be these days, and now she’s blaming him for buying me Thunder. And even worse, blaming Thunder for me being here, just because I fell off of him and hurt my head.
I’m not sure what my dad’s supposed to feel guilty about, either. Maybe moving out and leaving my mom and me alone? I miss the way things were when we used to be a family, the three of us. We were happy, and I thought we were the perfect family. I even asked my parents for a baby brother or sister for Christmas last year. I didn’t get my wish. Instead, my mom got mad at my dad and my dad moved to an apartment in the city, where I only seem once a week. And I got Thunder.
Yeah, I’ve always wanted a horse and I love Thunder. I think he’s the best horse ever, and the prettiest, even after what happened today. But I’d trade him in a minute to have things back to the way they used to be.
I don’t even care about a baby brother or sister anymore. I only have one wish for Christmas. I want my dad to come home. I want my family to be together again.
“Sheesh, Ashley, can you let it rest for even a minute?” my dad wants to know. “Does everything always have to be a fight with you?”
It never used to be like that. She used to smile. She used to be happy. Then she started crying a lot, and my dad left, and she cried even more. Now she doesn’t cry as much, but she always seems angry, especially with my dad.
“I don’t know, Brennan, you tell me,” she snaps. “After all, you’re the reason we’re here.”
“Yes, I know. It’s always my fault.” He gives that sigh that I’m so used to hearing, like he’s just tired and frustrated. “Everything’s my fault, and I’m sick of it. That counseling you’re getting sure doesn’t seem to be helping much. You’re still hostile all the time.”
“And gee, why might that be?”
“Just stop it, okay?” he says. “You hate me, I get that. I messed up, and I’m sorry. But that shouldn’t matter right now. What matters is Hayley, and her getting better.”
I’m glad he says that, that he seems to be thinking about me. Sometimes, since he left, I’ve wondered if he’s mad at me, or if he just doesn’t care about me as much. I worry he’ll find a new family and forget about me. That happened to a friend of mine from school. Her parents got divorced, and now her father has a new family that he sees every day, and she only sees him every two weeks.
I don’t want that to happen to me, and I don’t want them to fight anymore. I’m so sick of them fighting. They used to love each other. Why are they so angry now?
“Stop it, both of you!” I say as I snap my eyes open. “Why do you always have to yell at each other? Why can’t you ever be nice anymore?”

“Hayley, honey, you’re awake,” my mother says as she turns around and rushes to the bed. “Oh my God, Brennan. She’s awake!” 

Chapter One


For a moment, Ashley McLaughlin forgot her anger at her husband and hurried to their daughter’s bedside. Relief washed over her as she looked into Hayley’s eyes—eyes so much like Brennan’s—and tried to gauge any lasting effects from the fall. As if she’d know what to look for? She ran a collectibles boutique and tea room. Head injuries were far from her sphere of knowledge.
“I’ll go get her doctor,” Brennan said, before rushing out into the hallway.
Ashley squeezed her daughter’s hand. “Are you okay, honey?”
“My head hurts,” Hayley said.
“I’m sure. You took a hard fall.” And scared all of us to death in the process.  Ashley doubted she’d ever forget the fear she’d felt when she went outside to look for Hayley just in time to see her thrown from her horse. As scary as it was, though, she was thankful she had been there and able to respond right away. Maybe there was such a thing as a mother’s intuition that led her outside at that precise moment. “Didn’t I tell you to always wear a helmet when you ride?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Mommy.” Hayley’s voice came out in a whisper and cut through Ashley’s heart. She hadn’t meant to scold.
“It’s okay, honey. I’m not mad at you. I’ve just been worried about you. We all have.”
The door opened, and Brennan returned with the young ER doctor. “I hear our patient’s awake,” he said, moving toward the bed. “Hayley, I’m Dr. Radcliffe. Let’s see how you’re doing, okay?”
Ashley watched as the doctor conducted an examination of Hayley’s vision, hearing and reflexes. He nodded a few times, and she wondered if that might be an encouraging sign. “I’m going to ask you a few questions now. Can you tell me how old you are, Hayley?”
“Nine,” she answered.
“And what grade are you in?”
“Fourth.”
The questions went on, and Hayley seemed to answer them just fine. Dr. Radcliffe had a great bedside manner and seemed to be a natural with kids. Ashley wondered if he had any children of his own. She noticed he was wearing a wedding ring.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Dr. Radcliffe ashed Hayley.
“She fell off her horse,” Ashley supplied. Hadn’t they already been over all of that?
The doctor turned in Ashley’s direction and nodded. “Yes, but I want to hear it from Hayley. I want to see how much she remembers. It can give us an idea how her brain is functioning, especially her memory.”
It made sense, and even if the doctor’s words weren’t harsh, Ashley chastised herself for interfering. Just because she was stressed and angry right now, that was no reason to take it out on Hayley’s doctor. “Of course, I’m sorry,” she said, backing away.
“It was a nice day, and I know it’s going to get really cold soon, so I wanted to ride Thunder when I got home from school,” Hayley began. “Thunder’s my horse.”
Dr. Radcliffe smiled. “And what color is Thunder?”
“Dark gray, with some lighter gray marks.” Hayley answered. “Like the sky looks when it’s stormy outside. That’s how he got his name.”
“That’s clever. How long have you had Thunder?”
“A couple months. I got him for my birthday. Daddy gave him to me before he moved out.”
Ashley swallowed hard. Hearing the sadness in her daughter’s voice always cut her to the core. She stole a sideways glance at her estranged husband. Brennan leaned against the wall, hands jammed in his pockets, his expression stoic. What was he feeling now?
“I’ve been sad about Christmas coming and my family not being together,” Hayley said. “Riding Thunder makes me feel better, so I went out for a ride. Not far, just around our pasture at home. I think something must have spooked Thunder, and he threw me off.”
“We’re getting rid of the horse,” Ashley declared.
Brennan shot a look in her direction. “Whoa, don’t be so hasty, Ash. That hasn’t been decided yet. Didn’t you just hear her say she’s happier when she rides him?”
Probably because it makes her feel closer to her absentee father. Ashley kept the remark to herself. Her anger at her husband notwithstanding, she knew Hayley adored Brennan and missed him terribly since he’d moved out of their home. Her therapist cautioned her that it was important to preserve that relationship and not bring Hayley into their adult problems. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done sometimes.
Dr. Radcliffe talked with Hayley for a few more minutes before gesturing for Ashley and Brennan to join him out in the hall.
“How is she? Is she going to be okay?” Brennan wanted to know.
“She’s got a mild concussion, but there’s no reason to think she won’t recover fine with plenty of rest. She’s very lucky, really. It could have been a whole lot worse,” the doctor said. “We’d like to keep her overnight for observation, but if there aren’t any further problems, she should be able to go home tomorrow.” He talked with them for a few more minutes about how they could care for her when she came home, and Ashley tried to absorb it all. She was exhausted, though, and she wondered if she’d remember everything he said.
“Thank you, doctor,” Brennan said, shaking his hand. As usual, he was the calm one under pressure. Ashley remembered the time when he used to be her rock, when she could always count on him. Did he now fill that role for Bethany? The thought made Ashley sick to her stomach.
Brennan placed a hand on her shoulder. “How are you holding up?”
How did he think? “I’m exhausted and scared.”
“You heard the doctor. She’ll be fine. It’s just going to take a little time.”
Ashley nodded. “I know that. I do. But it’s still hard. It’s less than three weeks until Christmas, Brennan. You know how much Hayley loves Christmas.”
Brennan gave her a reassuring smile. “Yes, and the important thing is, she’ll be home to enjoy it, and probably feeling much better by then. We’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s her best Christmas ever.”
“We?” Ashey raised an eyebrow. Since when were they a ‘we’ anymore?
“Yes. We,” Brennan repeated, emphasizing the word. “I’m moving back home, at least until our daughter is better.”
“Brennan,” Ashley started to protest, and he held a hand up.
“No. No argument, Ash. You heard Hayley. She’s tired of the fighting. So am I. I’ll sleep in the guest room if you want, but I’m coming home.”
Ashley knew it was pointless to protest further, and she was too tired to fight right now, so she nodded her assent. It would be good for Hayley to have Brennan around more. Ashley would have to get used to it. She just hoped it didn’t add to her stress.
***
Brennan braced himself for a fight, because everything with Ash was a fight these days. He expected her to toss Bethany in his face, because she never seemed to miss an opportunity to do that. As if he didn’t have enough regret, as if he didn’t already hate himself for hurting her? Ashley wanted to blame him for Hayley’s fall, and that was fine. Even if it was a freak accident and not his fault, he’d shoulder the blame. After all, he was the reason their family was fractured.
“Fine,” Ashley said after a minute. “Whatever.” Her tone was tired, resigned. Definitely not enthusiastic. And ‘whatever’ was a word he’d come to despise. “You are sleeping in the guest room, though.”
Brennan expected as much. No way was Ashley ready to welcome him back into the room they’d once shared, into their bed. He still considered it their room and their bed, though. Until Ashley told him things were truly over, until she took that final step and filed for divorce, he’d continue to hope that she could someday forgive him and they could be a family again. Brennan knew that was Hayley’s wish, and it was his, too.
“I understand that. I told you I would,” he said. “I know you’re not ready.”
“I may never be ready,” she answered, as if he needed a reminder.
“I know that, too.” Brennan let out a sigh as he raked a hand through his short brown hair. He’d thought it was an encouraging sign when Ashley decided to see a counselor. It gave him hope. If she’d completely given up, why would she seek out counseling? That was several months ago, though, and things didn’t seem to be getting any better. “I’ll take what I can get.”
He pushed the door open and went back into Hayley’s room. “Hey, Pumpkin. How are you doing?”
“I want to go home,” his daughter answered, and Brennan smiled. If she was already asking to go home, then she must be feeling better.
He pulled a chair over by the bed and sat down. “I’m sure you do. The doctor wants you to stay here overnight, though, just to make sure you’re okay.”
She shook her head in protest. “I don’t want to.”
Brennan suppressed a smile. She was so much like her mother. “Of course you don’t, but it’s only for one night, then you get to go home. And guess what?”
“What?”
“I’m coming home, too,” he said. “I’ll be moving back into the house with you and your mom.”
“Really?” Hayley’s face broke out in a grin. “So you’ll be there for Christmas?”
It was two and a half weeks away. Brennan didn’t like to make promises he couldn’t keep. He’d already failed his family. But this seemed like a safe promise. Hayley would still be recovering when Christmas came around,  and he didn’t think Ashley would kick him out right before a holiday. “Yes, I will. I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Thank you, Daddy. I love you.”
“I love you too, Pumpkin.” A lump formed in his throat, and he swallowed. “I love you and your mom so much and I always will.” He cast a glance backward and saw Ashley standing in the doorway. As his eyes met hers, she reverted her gaze to the floor.


About the Author

Michele Shriver writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance. Her books feature flawed-but-likeable characters in real-life settings. She’s not afraid to break the rules, but never stops believing in happily ever after. Michele counts among her favorite things a good glass of wine, a hockey game, and a sweet and sexy book boyfriend, not necessarily in that order..


The Christmas Wish is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read The Christmas Wish by Michele Shriver

Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Goodreads


Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c






Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Goodreads



Saturday, August 22, 2015

#NewRelease A Pet for Christmas - A Veteran's Christmas Series by Rachelle Ayala #sweet #romance

Hello Dear Readers, Bree, Tyler, and Kelly are ready for Christmas again. One year later, Bree's five years old and waiting anxiously to be a big sister. All she wishes for Christmas is a puppy--for her little baby brother, of course. Tyler's back in Afghanistan to take care of the children's charity he founded. Unfortunately, conditions there are worse than before, and a terrorist bomb explodes, trapping Tyler in Taliban territory... until a bark and a wet nose give him hope to make it home in time for Christmas.

If you enjoyed Bree getting a Father for Christmas last year, you'll love Bree getting a Pet for Christmas this year. [Both A Father for Christmas and A Pet for Christmas are PG-rated, and part of A Veteran's Christmas Series]

A Father for Christmas (A Veteran’s Christmas #1, Clean) (Kindle,NookApple, KoboGoogleScribdOyster) [2014]
A Pet for Christmas (A Veteran’s Christmas #2, Clean) (Kindle,Nook, AppleKoboGoogleScribdOyster) [2015]


Dedication
To those who still suffer the wounds of war.

>>><<< 

This book is a sequel to A Father for Christmas

>>><<< 

Excerpt - Chapter One

~ Kelly ~
“Tell me about my father.” My five-year-old daughter, Bree, taps the oak dining table with her fork and knife right after we’ve said grace. Her blue eyes are large and expectant.
Everyone gathered around my mother’s Thanksgiving table gawks at her before turning to me.
“We just spoke to him on the video call.” I try to avoid the question on everyone’s faces. “He’s helping children in Afghanistan, remember?”
The baby in my belly kicks and reminds me how exhausted I am with Tyler, my fiancĂ©, traveling again. He assures me he’ll be home for Christmas. I can only hope.
“Not Tyler.” Bree pouts and her eyebrows narrow with that determined look of hers—the kind that tells me she’s not about to be put off. “I want to know about my real father.”
Uh oh. This is not the type of thing I want to be discussing with company. My mother knows, and so does my sister and her boyfriend, Jaden, but we also have church friends gathered around, including Mr. Wong, the widower who recently started dating my mother. The turkey is waiting, as are all the trimmings, dressing, candied yams, potato salad, butternut squash casserole and cranberry sauce.
“Tyler is your father.” I pat her shoulder, gently. Last year, right before Christmas, Bree asked Santa for a father. She met Tyler Manning, a war veteran, soon afterward sitting under the giant Christmas tree at a mall in San Francisco. We both fell in love with him, and I assumed the rest would be history.
Bree blinks and looks away from me, or at least my face since she’s staring at my protruding belly. “I want my real papa. The kind who puts babies inside mamas. We didn’t know Tyler when I was a baby.”
Various throats clear around the table as my mother’s guests pretend not to hear Bree’s request.
“Pass the turkey, please.”
“I’ll have a helping of mashed potatoes.”
“Anyone want yams?”
Beside me, Bree rattles her plate with her fork and pouts. “A real father would be here for Thanksgiving.”
So should Tyler. I’m disappointed too, but now’s not the time or place to go into it. I serve a scoop of mashed potatoes onto Bree’s plate. “Sweetie, Tyler misses you and wishes he could be here. You know that, don’t you?”
Bree crosses her arms and shakes her head, making her blond curls bounce. “He promised he would give me the biggest drumstick.”
“You can still get the drumstick.” I take the platter from my sister. “See, here? Just for you.”
Bree grabs it, looking happy for a split second, before her lower lip protrudes again. “When my baby brother gets here, he’ll take the drumstick, won’t he?”
“A turkey has two drumsticks,” my mother interjects and rubs Bree’s head. “I’m sure you and your brother can share.”
“Only Tyler’s his real daddy, and he’ll get everything.” Bree stares at her drumstick as if it’s the last good thing she’ll ever get.
“He’s your real daddy, too,” I remind her. “You asked Santa for him, and you found him under the Christmas tree.”
Bree flings the drumstick onto her plate and climbs off the chair. “You’re not supposed to find a daddy under the Christmas tree. They told me at school.”
She stomps down the hallway to the guest bedroom she stays at whenever I work late. Great. I wonder what else the kids at school have been talking about. She’s only in kindergarten. However, these days, they know everything, although I doubt they understand artificial insemination, which is why I’ll never be able to find Bree’s biological father.
The baby inside me, Tyler’s baby, kicks and turns as a wave of exhaustion crests over me. Some days, I don’t believe I can do it all—work a full time job chasing insider traders for the government, be a mother to Bree, and hold onto my high-risk pregnancy.
“Are you okay?” My mother grips my arm. “Any contractions?”
“I’m sorry Bree ruined everything. Please continue with your dinner. I’m going to rest.” I didn’t want to let her know about the contractions and tightness around my womb. I’d been spotting off and on during this pregnancy, and while I haven’t been ordered on bedrest yet, I have to monitor myself by counting contractions and kicks every day.
“It’s okay.” My mother rubs my back. “Everyone here is family or friends. We understand.”
“Thanks. Maybe I should call Tyler again and let Bree speak to him. May I be excused?”
“Of course. It’s hard to talk to him when all of us are around. Obviously, Bree heard something from school.”
I nod and smile to everyone around the table and push myself away. I can’t expect Bree to understand the stress Tyler is under. He still suffers from PTSD caused by his combat days, and even though he hides it from me, I’m only too aware why he’s chosen to travel so much.
“Bree?” I stop in front of the bedroom door. “We can’t call Tyler until after six our time.” Afghanistan is twelve and a half hours ahead of California. “He’s sleeping right now.”
“I don’t want Tyler. I want my real father.” Bree flips through a storybook. “My real papa will buy me a dog and play with me all the time. He’ll read me stories and take me to the zoo.”
“Oh, sweetie.” I sit on the daybed next to her. “You have so many people who love you. Me, Nana, Ella, and Tyler.”
Bree continues flipping through the storybook. It’s my mother’s old Barney Beagle book, a story about a dog waiting at a pet shop for his very own special person.
Bree stops on a page where a girl with a fancy coat takes Poodle home with her.
“See how happy they look.” She echoes Barney, the little beagle, who is left overnight in the store without a boy or girl. “Will Tyler bring me home a puppy?”
“Maybe,” I say idly.
Bree used to call Tyler “Papa” when we first got together last year just after Christmas. Everything was great back then. Tyler had been a homeless veteran, but had landed a job as spokesperson for Warspring, International, an organization that raises and distributes funds for charities benefiting children who are orphans because of war.
He moved in with us, and I thought we’d get married, eventually. We were so perfect together, me, Tyler, and Bree that I got careless about birth control. Once we found out we were pregnant, Tyler redoubled his efforts on finding speaking engagements to earn money to save for a down payment on a house. I don’t know why I never noticed, but little by little, he began traveling more frequently and staying away longer.
“Bree,” my sister, Ella, calls from the dining room. “Nana says you can have dessert first. How about a hot fudge brownie and strawberry ice cream?”
“A brownie!” Bree drops the storybook and bounces off the bed. “I want a brown puppy just like Barney Beagle. Mommy says my real daddy will bring me one for Christmas.”
~ Tyler ~
Sweat ringed Tyler’s head and he rolled, tangled in the damp sheets, unable to sleep. The chill of an Afghan winter did nothing to cool the heat coursing his veins. The sports compound he was in charge of was in the northeastern part of Afghanistan, near the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains separating Afghanistan from Pakistan.
Minutes and hours ticked by, and he still had a million things he needed to do. Much needed supplies had been delayed, and money was missing from the books. The center director had quit, and key staff members hadn’t shown up for work. Instead of running a sports camp for boys, the walled compound had filled up with refugees from areas where the Taliban and other insurgents fought for control after the US withdrew the bulk of its forces last year.
In any case, Tyler couldn’t turn needy people away, and after months of being back in Afghanistan, he had to conclude that the sports idea was unfeasible when there were so many children in need of basic shelter, food, and medical treatment. About all he’d accomplished was replacing the sacks used for street soccer with real soccer balls for the children to use.
Not that he’d given up. He still held matches for the residents and taught them how to exercise. Playing sports was healthy, and even the tiniest smile was a reward for his efforts.
Which were never enough. Ever.
He wiped his palms over his face and breathed to calm his galloping heart. It was Thanksgiving in the States, and he’d chatted with Kelly and Bree by video call right before turning in. Kelly had put on a cheery smile, but her eyes were tired, even though she’d assured him she was doing great. Bree, however, had barely looked at him, only answering when Kelly told her to say “hi” and “bye.”
Then there was the baby. Kelly said her checkups were normal, and there was nothing for him to worry about. Her mother and sister were eager to let him believe everything was okay, but deep in Tyler’s gut, he knew something was off.
Bree. His darling girl—the daughter he’d promised to adopt, hadn’t asked him for anything, not a trinket, a souvenir, a flower, or a piece of candy. She also hadn’t called him “Papa.”
Everything was not fine, no matter what Kelly said, and of course, it was all his fault. He loved Kelly and Bree more than his own life, but lately, he could do nothing right.
Tyler’s gut clenched, and he stared at the ceiling in the cold, dank office of the refugee center. What was he doing in this hellhole? The place that had stolen his life? What had he done to deserve the guilt?
You killed a little boy. You shot him dead. You’re a killer. A monster. You’ll never atone for it. You let your buddies die.
The continual rattling of machine gun fire stuttered as background noise to the deafening explosions of mortar fire. His brigade was under attack. He had to call in for air support. Where was his com unit? Why couldn’t he connect? He repeated the request. They were taking heavy fire from several machine gun nests hidden in the rocks above the hillside. An unidentified vehicle barreled through the checkpoint, not halting on command.
The roar of an explosion shocked his eardrums as a giant column of orange flames and thick, putrid smoke ascended in an upward column. Another explosion rocketed the entire compound. Heat flashed in a ball of flame and walls crumbled.
His skin melted off his body, and he was deaf except for the pounding of his heart. A wall of orange surrounded him, yet he felt no pain.
Good. He deserved to die. He let others die. He killed a kid.
Die, asshole, die.
An electronic rendition of “Jingle Bells” played merrily in the hellhole he was in. Tyler kicked and his limbs twitched. He bumped his head and the springs on the cot squeaked. Opening his eyes, he sat up.
Again, “Jingle Bells” chimed. It was his phone. Stumbling to his feet, he hit his knee on the desk and knocked the phone onto the floor. His shirt was plastered to his sweat-drenched back, and the room seemed to tilt and turn.
Patting on the dusty floor, he found his phone. Missed call from Kelly. At four in the morning? Of course it was afternoon for her, but she knew the time difference.
What if something had happened to the baby? He checked his wifi connection and called her from the video conference app.
She answered immediately. “I woke you. Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?” He ran his hand over his damp forehead and tried to calm his breathing. “How’s the baby?”
“He’s fine. I just had to hear your voice.” Her face was distorted, being so close to the phone, and if he wasn’t mistaken, she was sitting on the toilet at her mother’s apartment, because he recognized the towel rack hanging behind her.
“Are you sure? You’re not bleeding, are you?”
“Only the usual.” She blinked and sniffled, wiping the corners of her eyes.
“Usual? What does that mean? Has your water broken?”
“No. Just spots, not the type to worry about, according to the doctor.”
“Kel, you don’t have to hide it from me.” Tyler wanted to reach across the miles and hold her. “Get it checked out. I mean, you’re hiding in the bathroom. Why?”
“Because of Bree.”
“Bree? What’s happened to Bree?” Tyler’s voice hitched. “Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. Ella’s playing with her.”
“Then why are you hiding in the bathroom?”
“Because I want to talk to you alone. Everyone’s out there having Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t want to ruin it for them.”
“Ruin?” Tyler’s chest tightened, and he found it hard to breathe. “Is there something I should know about?”
Kelly swallowed hard and nodded. Her hazel eyes were dark and watery. “I need you to come home. I really do.”
Shit. Something had to be very wrong. Kelly was a strong woman. She’d always insisted she could handle it all: the pregnancy, working, and raising Bree. Still, through it all, she was as beautiful as ever. Her warm honey brown hair was longer than he remembered, and tangled. But she had circles under her eyes, and her shoulders drooped with exhaustion.
All he wanted to do was to pull her into his arms and make all the pain go away—except he’d put it there. He and his effed up stress disorders or whatever the weenies stateside wanted to call them.
Tyler swallowed hard and touched the screen. “I should be home soon. Right after the convoy arrives with the supplies for the winter. I need to take delivery and transfer the funds.”
“Okay, I’ll wait. There are things we need to talk about.”
An electric spark jiggled over his shoulder blades. He was already on alert, every minute and every second, anticipating a bombshell or attack. “What is it? Is something wrong? Is it me?”
“We’ll talk when you get home. I’m sorry I woke you. I just had to see you.”
“Something happened. You sure the baby’s okay?”
“He’s fine. It’s Bree I’m worried about.”
“Is she sick or has something happened at school?”
Kelly bit her lip. “She’s been bugging me to find her real father—the one who donated the sperm.”
“Are you saying there might be a problem with the adoption?”
Kelly did that eye flip females often did when he wasn’t getting something.
Dammit. Why doesn’t she just spit it out? She was through with him and his problems, his jumpiness and inability to focus. Worst of all were the nightmares and violent episodes where he found himself running out in the middle of the night looking for insurgents. Life with him was one never-ending rollercoaster of pain and worry.
“Kel? Tell me. Are you upset with me?”
She blew out a breath. “You promised me you’d stop running, but you’re still out there running.”
“We agreed that I should come here. I have to fix this. I started the charity and people depend on me. Once it’s stocked for the winter, I’ll be back. Promise.”
Kelly didn’t understand how harsh the Afghan winter could be. The mountainous passes were dangerous enough with bandits and terrorists, but in winter, they could be impassable. He had to secure the compound and supervise the delivery of supplies, or corrupt officials would steal everything and the people would suffer.
“Sure, Tyler. We agreed.” Kelly stiffened her upper lip. “I’m sorry I’m being selfish. I just miss you so much.”
“I miss you, too.” He couldn’t help the cracking of his voice and the lump growing in his throat. “I love you so much. Give Bree a kiss from me. I love her, too. I’ll be back before you know it.”
She moved her mouth up to the camera and made a kissing sound, and as stupid as it was, Tyler also kissed his phone camera. It was pathetic.
“I love you, Tyler. Take care of yourself.” She wiped her eyes and pressed her lips together. “See you soon.”
“Yes, real soon. Love you, Kel.”

[End of Excerpt - to continue reading, please find A Pet for Christmas at Kindle USUKDEFRESITNLJPBRCAMXAUINNook, AppleKoboGoogleScribdOyster ]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Countdown Til Christmas Pets - Spotlight: Dante's Gift by Aubrey Wynne #Christmas


Dante's Gift - Aubrey Wynne

Seventy years ago, a collie mix brought two hearts together in war torn Italy. Will their story help their grandson find his own Christmas love?

Excerpt
~ Anne Landers

Chapter One


The piles of discarded clothes resembled the glorious Chicago skyline at dusk. The deep sunset colors cluttered the floor and the bed as Katie James systematically emptied out the huge walk-in closet. She shook her head in frustration each time she gazed at the mirror in a new outfit.
This was the night. The night Dominic would pull a dazzling ring from his pocket and ask her to become his wife. He had been like a kid with a big secret for the past three weeks: distracted, smiling for no apparent reason, and cracking stale jokes. All sure signs that he plotted with the “happy gods.” Several times when she’d texted or called, he told her he was Christmas shopping. Ha! No man bought holiday gifts in October. He said to dress up because he had something special planned. There could be only one explanation—a proposal.
Looking out the window from her Lake Point Tower condo, she watched the sailboats bob in Lake Michigan and played out the evening in her mind. Dominic would be dressed in a tailored suit that hugged his wide shoulders. His long fingers would betray his nervousness as they combed through his thick, dark wavy hair. She would shiver delicately when those smoky eyes caressed her face. He would reach for her hand—
Good grief, get a hold of yourself. This is real life not some sappy chick flick.
A loud buzzing announced company had arrived. She waded through the sea of outfits and pushed the intercom.
“Jazzy? Is that you?”
“No, it’s Cinderella. Hurry up and let me in. The creepy doorman is staring again.”
Katie pushed the button with a laugh. Her best friend had a love-hate relationship with Thomas. He would smile at her, she would call him a lecherous old man, and he would respond with a wink. If he didn’t smile at her, Jasmine rushed to check her make-up. He must not have flashed a grin because she made it up to the forty-fourth floor in record time and pounded on the door.
“Come in, it’s open.” She watched the slim blonde rush to the hall mirror for a quick self-inspection. “You look fine. He does it on purpose, you know.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. He’s lucky he’s not bad-looking for an older guy or I’d have slapped him by now.” Jasmine plopped onto the couch. “What are you wearing tonight? I came to give my approval. I have a better sense of romance than you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her friend snorted. “You’re a CPA. Accountants are efficient not romantic.”
“I’m a tax consultant but I could use another opinion. My room looks like a tornado hit it. I’ll pour you a glass of Merlot and put on a fashion show.”
An hour later, both women stood in front of the full-length mirror with huge grins. Katie turned from side to side, watching the vibrant jade dress sway under the black silk jacket. A hint of cleavage peeked out from the scooped neckline. “You are brilliant. I would have never put this together.”
“That’s why I design clothes and you add numbers. See how the darker colors showcase that deep auburn hair?” Jazzy said as she arranged the mass of waves into a loose chignon, leaving long curls to frame her oval face. “I wish you would show more leg, but this is subtly sexy. Now where are the green topaz earrings and pendant your parents bought you last Christmas? They’re the exact color of your eyes.”
An hour later, after a professional make-up session, she gave her friend a hug. “Good luck tonight. I hope it’s everything you have dreamed of since we were girls.”
Katie laughed. “No, you hope it’s everything you have dreamed of since we were young. ”
“Same thing. I admit I always thought I’d find my soul mate first, though.”
She rolled her eyes. “You know I don’t believe in that. Love, yes. True love, love at first sight, fate? No. Compatibility, similar backgrounds and interests, friendship—those are the things that determine lasting love.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you can’t tell me your stomach never flips when he looks at you a certain way, or your legs get wobbly during a particularly passionate kiss.” Jazzy waggled her finger and ignored the second roll of eyes. “Now remember to get at least a little teary-eyed when he pops the question. Pinch yourself if you have to but let him know how much this means to you. We both know you’re lousy at saying what you feel.”
“You make me sound like a cold fish,” she said with frown. “I don’t ooze emotion but I can show affection. Besides, I didn’t have much practice in my family.”
“When was the last time you gave me a hug?”
“Just now.” Katie bit her lip, knowing what was next.
“No, I hugged you. There’s a difference. I’ll get off my soapbox if you promise to try to make tonight as special for Dom as he is making it for you. Throw sensibility to the wind and kiss him in public.” She headed for door. “And for god’s sake, don’t forget to tell him you love him. He should not have to take it for granted when he puts a ring on your finger.”
“Time out! I promise to wear my heart on my sleeve and follow all the rules of Miss Jasmine’s School of Romance, if you promise to leave now,” she agreed and pushed her friend toward the door. “Go pretend you hate Thomas and leave me in peace. I’ll call you first thing in the morning.”
“Call me from the bathroom afterwards. I want to know all the details.”
Katie shut the door. From the other side came a muffled, “And text me a picture of the ring.”
She chuckled as she heard the ding of the elevator and pictured her friend adjusting her hair and taking a quick peek in the mirror before the door opened. The handsome doorman would give her a sly smile. Jazzy would glide past as if she hadn’t noticed, but Thomas would know better from the exaggerated sway of her hips.
Checking her makeup for the umpteenth time, she thought about what her friend had said. Overt affection had never been part of her upbringing. It’s not that they didn’t care for one another. Her parents just didn’t talk about it or physically show it. A nanny had raised her until she turned thirteen. Katie had thrown a tantrum at the mention of a boarding school. She finally won the public education battle and met her best friend the first day of math class.
It wasn’t until her teens that she began to build a genuine relationship with her mom. Her father often absent, she began to accompany her mother to some of the local charity events and volunteer activities. Her mother’s popularity surprised her. She watched Eleanor use her gracious manner and good looks to charm the most tightfisted businessmen to open their checkbooks. Her fund-raising abilities were legendary; she gathered the most prominent guests and always met or exceeded the goal.
Her parents exposed her to the arts and entertainment provided in Chicago, adding a sophistication beyond her years. She could spot a rare painting out of a collection of copies, identify any classical piece of music, and knew an excellent wine from a mediocre vintage by the time she turned twenty-one. She also knew right from wrong, grey from black and white, and that everyone must give back in some way. Her business education began on her sixteenth birthday with extensive travel that led to internships with foreign finance companies. She would soon be ready to take her place as CEO at James’ Financial Services.
But was she ready to share her heart and her bed with a man? Dominic Lawrence checked off all the must-haves on her list. He had a thriving organic food business that provided fresh produce to the best restaurants in the city and suburbs. Successful, check. Her family approved of his background; he had a similar upbringing and the same values. Shared ethics, check. They loved the cultural activities Chicago offered: plays, opera, museums, and festivals. Both physically active, they enjoyed biking and running along the lake, hiking and skiing in the winter. Compatibility, check.
His Italian descent gave him the tall, dark good looks she’d always preferred. Handsome, check. He was devoted to a grandmother in Italy and wanted children but did not insist on having them right away. Family man, check. There would be no issues with in-laws and holidays since his parents had died in a car crash ten years earlier, and he was an only child. Not that it was a plus, but she had heard horror stories from her friends about their monster-in-laws fighting over which side had more time with the grandchildren.
On the other hand, they were complete opposites in so many ways, which she considered a plus and minus. He appreciated comedy and musicals and tolerated her docudramas and incessant reading. Adds variety, check. She liked to have a plan for everything but enjoyed his spontaneity. Flexible, check. He believed in being frugal throughout the week but letting loose on vacation. She balanced a checkbook to the penny and weighed the importance of every expenditure. Minor flaw #1. She considered punctuality a virtue, while he considered time an approximation. Minor flaw #2.
In general, they complemented one another. He softened her black and white outlook; she gave some edge to his grey areas. Katie found herself enjoying his unexpected surprises. His love of people drew her into unexpected and delightful conversations with perfect strangers. Dominic ticked each box. He wasn’t perfect but his flaws defined him as much as his strengths.
No, she didn’t throw her arms around him in a passionate hug each time he walked through the door. No, she didn’t gush, “I love you” every time he made her heart skip a beat. But he did make her heart skip a beat, and her body responded each time he wrapped his arms around her in a passionate hug. His huge heart and Italian affection had been overwhelming at first but thought she had come a long way in the past year. Dominic called her “a work in progress.”  
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played on her cell phone. “Dom” appeared in bright letters and she quickly swiped the screen. “Hey there. Not cancelling on me, are you?”
“Not a chance. Finished up the week’s orders and cleared some days on next month’s calendar.” He paused then continued in a low, caressing tone, “I miss you, Kathleen James. It’s been a week since I’ve held you in my arms. No more extended business trips if you want me to remain a gentleman.”
Her pulse raced as his deep voice flowed through her like a rich cup of coffee. “Don’t threaten me, Mr. Lawrence. You’re the one working twelve-hour days. Besides,” she added, getting into the spirit of the game, “maybe I like an old-fashioned rogue once a in awhile.”
The moan on the other end made her chuckle. “Are you still picking me up at seven?”
“What time is it now?”
“Grrr. It’s six-fifty.” She tapped her foot on the hard wood floor. “You’re late again, aren’t you?”
“Is that your toe making a staccato beat? I-am-ir-ri-ta-ted. Why-can’t-he-be-on-time.” She could hear the grin in his tone. Sense of humor, check.
“You took the words right out of my—” A knock at the door. “Hang on a minute, okay?”
Not expecting anyone, she looked through the peephole. A charcoal-grey eye stared back at her. She quickly opened the door.
“Boo!” He held out a bouquet of white and pink flowers.
The aroma of white roses and star lily gazers filled the room. Thoughtful, check. Then he pulled her close, nibbling at her lips as her arms went around his neck. When the kiss deepened, the flowers fell to the floor. Katie leaned into him, allowing his strong hands to hold her up.
Strong and sexy. Check.

About the Author

Award-winning author Aubrey Wynne resides in the Midwest with her husband, dogs, horses, mule and barn cats. She is an elementary teacher by trade, champion of children and animals by conscience, and author by night. Obsessions include history, travel, trail riding and all things Christmas. Her debut story, Merry Christmas, Henry, received Best Short Romance in the Preditors & Editors Reader’s Choice of 2013 and her humorous shorts include Pete’s Mighty Purty Privies, also Best Short in P &E 2014 and Top 100 Laugh Out Loud List on Goodreads. Aubrey’s first love is historical romance and the medieval fantasy Rolf’s Quest, will be released in 2016.


Dante's Gift is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Dante's Gift by Aubrey Wynne



Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c






Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Goodreads