Tuesday, April 23, 2019

KissCon Weekend Affair




Some of you may recall that last October I attended the Avon KissCon event in Atlanta. That event, like all KissCons before it, consisted of a get-to-know-the-authors panel session followed by a book signing and a VIP reception. There were eight Avon and Harlequin authors in attendance and the entire event took place over the course of a single afternoon and evening. A few months later, when Avon announced they were taking KissCon to the next level with a full three-days of events and 30 authors I knew I had to attend. I'm happy to report that KissCon Weekend Affair in Chicago was everything I could have anticipated...and more! Here are a few highlights. 



You know your weekend is off to a good start when you run into three of your favorite authors your first night there and they graciously pose for a photo. With Julia Quinn, Sophie Jordan, and Eloisa James.








Romance readers are the friendliest people around. Lots of out-of-towners arrived Thursday so we rounded up a group of fellow readers for dinner. By the end of the evening, strangers from around the country had become friends. 









Happiness is discovering you're standing in the hotel check-in line directly behind two newly discovered favorite contemporary romance authors: Mia Sosa and Nisha Sharma. I adored Sosa's Love on Cue trilogy (read my 5-star review of Crashing Into Her). If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw my 3:00 am post about Sharma's contemporary romance debut, The Takeover Effect. So, so good. 








Twenty-three breakout sessions Friday and Saturday provided plenty of laughter, information, and fun. The "Never Have I Ever" speed round with HelenKay Dimon, Tracey Livesay, Sarah MacLean, Julia Quinn, and Jill Shalvis had us rolling. 








Avon has done a wonderful job of creating an open, friendly, and intimate atmosphere in their KissCon events where readers can comfortably chat with favorite authors at ice cream socials, movie screenings, dance parties, or while leisurely strolling through the hotel. Random photo ops were found everywhere! Here I am with Sophie Jordan and Joanna Shupe. 







And here, with Caroline Linden and HelenKay Dimon. 









I adore romances and I equally adore food. Eloisa James, Alisha Rai, and Jennifer Estep led a lively, and drool-inducing, session called Taste of Romance. I want to eat at their houses!







Jennifer Ryan, Lorraine Heath, Caroline Linden, Beverly Jenkins, and Julia Quinn kept us entertained in the Family Affair breakout session. These ladies write some of the best families around!







Stepping straight from the pages of her upcoming contemporary romance, A Prince on Paper, Alyssa Cole was stunning in the same outfit worn on the cover of her book. She wasn't the actual cover model but she sure could have been. 









You never know when you'll get hungry, right? Not a problem for Lori Wilde; she brought lunch with her in the form of a taco hat! 










Sonali Dev is not only an exceptional writer, she's also one of the nicest women around. And funny. She'll have you smiling in no time. 













Speaking of funny - and nice - Sarah MacLean is high on the list of both. I adore this woman and her books. She's an outspoken advocate for romance and goes out of her way to show her readers how much she appreciates them.  









Brenda Jackson struts the book signing "red carpet" with confidence and sass. I'm enjoying her Catalina Cove contemporary romance series. 












Have you ever met a person who immediately makes you feel like you've known them forever? Here are two of them. Cat Sebastian and Eva Moore. 








This last photo was taken at the airport while I waited for my flight home from KissCon. It isn't author related but was a real thrill for this lifelong Cubs fan so I had to include it. :)








Those are a few of my photo highlights from KissCon Weekend Affair in Chicago. Avon hasn't announced yet if they're going to do this again but I'm hoping they will. It's a weekend of fun I highly recommend. 

Where would you like to see Avon hold a KissCon Weekend Affair?

Which Avon and Harlequin authors would you most like to meet?

Four randomly chosen people who leave a comment before 11:00 PM, April 24 will receive a signed book from KissCon. (U.S. only)



Monday, April 22, 2019

Review - - The Infamous Duchess


The Infamous Duchess
by Sophie Barnes
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Reviewed by Santa





The Infamous Duchess is a five star book in Sophie Barnes’ Diamonds in the Rough series. Viola Cartwright is the Dowager Duchess of Tremaine who upon her husband’s death and generosity is able to establish St. Agatha’s Hospital. To the ton and his son she is branded as a golddigger when her only wish was to provide care to the citizens of London and to be left alone. She is able to ignore the jabs since she never wanted to be a part of that society. And so, with the help of Dr. Florian Lowell - late the Duke of Redding - she has been able to do just that until two events serve to knock into her.

Just as her step-son Robert,the present Duke of Tremaine, decides to slash his cobra’s tongue from the West Indies in an effort to kill her dreams and take everything from her, Florian rushes in with his older brother Harry Lowell who seems to have a penchant for having violence visited upon him. He has just been shot in a duel. Viola sets about assisting Florian in performing surgery on Harry to remove a bullet from his shoulder. Thanks to her father’s instruction Viola is, to put a modern term to it, an exceptional physician’s assistant. Harry’s recovery depends on the skill of these two people; a brother he dearly loves and a woman who is about to change everything in his life.

Harry is a very determined and a complicated man. From the moment he discovers Viola taking care of him he is enthralled. He persuades her to care for him exclusively. Viola takes his flirtations as just that because he is known as a rake. But Harry is more than meets the eye and he is determined to convince her otherwise.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fun to see some of the characters from the other books in the series appear here. As soon as I finish a Sophie Barnes book, I find myself smiling and looking forward to her next book. That, my friends, is a clear sign of an auto-buy author for me.




Friday, April 19, 2019

Winners - - Can't Escape Love Review







The randomly chosen winners from my 

Can't Escape Love review are:

Linda May
(signed copy of A Princess in Theory)

and

Nikita
(signed copy of A Prince on Paper)

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com





Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Second Chance Winners - - The Summer Retreat








The second chance winners of a copy of

The Summer Retreat by Sheila Roberts are:

Patoct

and

linsleo

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

If I have not received your information by April 21 

I will choose new winners. 

Review - - Can't Escape Love


Can't Escape Love:A Reluctant Royals Novella
by Alyssa Cole
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Release Date: March 19, 2019
Reviewed by PJ





Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She's finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.
Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime…except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love?


My thoughts:

Brimming with originality, this novella features engaging characters I couldn't help but cheer for, a depth of emotion typically only found in full-length books, the imperfections that make all of us unique, and the joy experienced when we find that person who not only accepts but celebrates us for who we are. Reggie is a brilliant business owner, sci fi and anime geek, "good" twin, and over-achiever who also lives with an illness-induced disability that requires her to use a wheelchair - but does not define her. Gus, a former podcaster, is an emotionally challenged, super nerdy designer of escape rooms who lives on the autism spectrum and possesses a soothing voice that Reggie needs to calm enough to sleep. And I am the non-nerdy reader old enough to be their grandmother, who would be hard pressed to name a sci fi character or anime movie, who absolutely adored them. 

Thus is the brilliance of Alyssa Cole's writing and her ability to fully immerse readers into the hearts, minds, and lives of her unforgettable characters and the journeys of her imagination. Begin with Can't Escape Love. Move on to the other stories in the Reluctant Royals series. I can't recommend them highly enough.


Have you read Alyssa Cole's books yet?

Have you "met" any nerdy, quirky, and adorably awkward romance characters who captured your attention and affection?

I have two giveaways today, thanks to my weekend at Avon's KissCon. (more on that later)

One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM (Eastern), April 18 will receive a signed print copy of A Princess in Theory, the first book in Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals series.  (U.S. only) (read Hellie's Top Dish review)



Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM (Eastern), April 18 will receive a signed print copy of A Prince on Paper, the third full-length book in Cole's Reluctant Royals series - which won't be released to the public until April 29!
(U.S. only)



Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.
For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.
Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Review - - Second Act


Second Act
by Nancy Herkness
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: April 2, 2019
Reviewed by PJ
 



Jessica Quillen, veterinarian for the charitable K-9 Angelz program, didn’t mean to stumble into the middle of a New York movie shoot. She just wanted to rescue the stray dog she’d been chasing. Instead, she’s playing catch-up with her ex-fiancĂ©—and the screen’s hottest action hero, Hugh Baker. The only man she ever loved. The dream that disappeared. The heartthrob who’s now hoping for a “take two.”
Seeing Jessica triggers emotions Hugh has tried to forget. Abandoned by his mother to foster care, he still struggles to feel worthy of love and to open his heart to a woman. His biggest mistake was not trusting Jessica. It was his fault she left. All he wants now is to make up for lost time. But he has to prove that she can trust him.
Though the sparks still smolder, he’s still Hollywood—a world far away from Jessica’s. Now it’s up to her to give their love story a happily ever after.

My thoughts:

Nancy Herkness brings readers another heart-tugging story of second chances in her newest novel, Second Act. I had serious doubts that she could ever create a hero who would equal Luke Archer (The All-Star Antes Up) in my affections but dang if she hasn't done exactly that with Hugh. And then, she went and gave him a heroine in Jessica who not only earned my respect and admiration but notched her own place in my heart. I cheered so hard for these two.

When you pair a financially struggling, Harlem veterinarian with a billionaire movie star you'd think Hollywood (Hugh) would hold all the power. I love that Herkness flips the script. Hugh may have the money and connections but Jessica has the emotional strength. Hugh may be the mega-successful movie star but, deep in his core, he's still the unwanted foster kid, abandoned by the people who were supposed to love him. There are vulnerabilities in Jessica as well. Both were hurt in their past relationship, both need to open their hearts and be honest with themselves, and one another, if they have any hope of finding their happily ever after. Herkness skillfully leads them through their journey with humor, passion, forgiveness, and acceptance. I admired Jessica's dedication to her patients, to the K-9 Angelz program, and the at-risk kids she works with. I enjoyed unraveling Hugh to discover the caring heart he keeps well protected. And I adored them together. I was with them every step of their journey.

Surrounding Jessica and Hugh are a cast of well-crafted characters - both two and four legged - who add an undeniable richness, humor, and depth of emotion to the story. Readers new to this series will have no problem reading Second Act on its own but fans of the series - and the previous Wager of Hearts series - will no doubt be excited by guest appearances of prior heroes and heroines. The conversations between Hugh and Gavin (hero of The VIP Doubles Down) are especially enjoyable. 

If you're looking for a contemporary second chance romance with humor, heart, and sizzle, likable characters, adorable rescue animals, and a sigh-inducing, well-deserved, HEA, I enthusiastically recommend Second Act



Friday, April 12, 2019

Sneak Peek Excerpt & Giveaway


Hide and Seek
by Mary Burton
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: April 23, 2019


She’s hunting. He’s watching.
Special Agent Macy Crow is a survivor. After a vicious hit-and-run nearly kills her, she gets right back to work, and now she’s gunning for a spot on the FBI’s elite profiling team. As an audition, she offers to investigate the recently discovered bones of Tobi Turner, a high school girl who disappeared fifteen years ago.
While investigating with local sheriff Mike Nevada, a former colleague and onetime lover, Macy discovers a link between Tobi’s case and several others that occurred around the same time as her disappearance. As Macy interviews victims and examines old cases, she uncovers a sinister picture of a stalker who graduated to sexual assault—and then murder.
Macy and Nevada race to put this monster behind bars before he can come out of hiding. But the murderer’s had years to hone his skills, and soon Macy herself becomes a target. She’s no stranger to pain and terror, but will Macy’s first profiling case be her last?



HIDE AND SEEK 
EXCERPT ONE: Only by Accident


The man grew silent for a moment as his shoulders stiffened. Reality had chased away the pleasant last moments. Neither Macy nor Nevada spoke. Each knew the man needed to tell his story in his own time.
Turner cleared his throat. “Tobi had only been driving on her own for six months, and we got worried when she drove off by herself.” He shook his head. “But there comes a time when you have to let them grow up, right?”
“Tobi never made it to the high school, did she?” Macy asked.
“The cops found our van at a parking lot a mile from the school. Sheriff Greene interviewed all the kids at the study session, but they said Tobi never came into the school.”
“Was she dating anyone at the time?” Macy asked.
“She’d gone out a few times with a kid from the debate team, but he’d been in Ohio at a math competition when she went missing. The cops cleared him right away.”
“Are you sure there wasn’t anyone else?” Macy pressed.
“I’ve been asked that question a lot. And the answer is always no. Tobi was focused on school, not boys.”
Macy knew young girls could and did hide many things from their parents. “When did you know something was wrong?”
“We had given her an eleven p.m. curfew. At half past eleven, I called her friend Jenna Newsome,” he said. “They were close that last year.”
“And what did Jenna say?”
“She said she didn’t know anything,” Turner said. “Jenna still lives in town, but I don’t know the exact address.”
“Was there anyone else close with Tobi?” Macy asked.
“She was friendly with the kids in the band. But she didn’t have much time for socializing. Are you going to talk to Jenna?” he asked.
“I am.”
“Okay, you speak to Jenna, then what?” Turner demanded. “It’s been fifteen years, and the cops came up with nothing. My girl was only found by accident.”
Macy sidestepped the comment. “When did you call Mr. Greene?”
“It was past midnight.” He shook his head. “I should have called the sheriff five minutes after eleven. It wasn’t at all like Tobi to be late, but my wife said to give her a little more time.”
“And did the sheriff launch a search?”
“The sheriff didn’t sound worried, and I remember I lost my temper. He said he’d look into it.”
©2019 Mary Burton

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Have you read any of Mary Burton's books? 

Do you enjoy trying to figure out the mystery in suspense novels before the big reveal? How often are you correct? 

One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, April 13, 2019 will receive a copy of Cut and Run by Mary Burton. (U.S. only) 


Cut and Run
by Mary Burton
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: October 9, 2018

Twin sisters separated by the past are reunited by unspeakable crimes in New York Timesbestselling author Mary Burton’s throat-clutching novel of suspense…

Trauma victims are not new to medical examiner Faith McIntyre, but this one is different. The unconscious woman clinging to life after a hit and run is FBI agent Macy Crow. What the woman from Quantico was doing in a dark alley after midnight is just one mystery. The other is more unsettling: Macy is Faith’s mirror image—the twin sister she never knew she had.
Faith knew that she was adopted, but now she’s finding that her childhood concealed other secrets. Following the trail of clues Macy left behind, Faith and Texas Ranger Mitchell Hayden make a shocking discovery on an isolated country ranch—a burial ground for three women who disappeared thirty years before.
They weren’t the only victims in a killer’s twisted plot. And they won’t be the last.
As the missing pieces of Faith’s and Macy’s dark lives snap into place, Faith is becoming more terrified by what she sees—and by what she must do to save her sister and herself from the past.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Winners - - The Summer Retreat







The randomly chosen winners of a print copy of

The Summer Retreat by Sheila Roberts are:

Lorimck

and

lynneb

Please send an email with your full name, 

U.S. mailing address, and "Summer Retreat" in the 

subject line, no later than April 16 to:

theromancedish(at)gmail(dot)com

If I have not received your information by April 16, 

I'll choose a new winner.  


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review - - A Silken Thread


A SILKEN THREAD
by Kim Vogel Sawyer
Publisher: WaterBrook (Random House)
April 2, 2019
Reviewed by Hellie




18 year old Laurel Millard is struggling between her duty and her desire. Her siblings require her to “take care of their mother” and not marry until she is gone, but Laurel hopes to find a husband who is willing to marry her AND take in her mother. Laurel’s mother shows her a want ad about the Atlanta Cotton Exposition of 1895, hiring loom weavers. Laurel applies for the job as a chance for her to meet new suitors, preferably a rich one who can care for her mother and allow her the life she dreams of. She soon falls for the handsome Langdon Rochester, a dashing rich playboy with the world at his feet, and it seems she may have the answer to her prayers.

However, when disaster strikes the exhibit she works at, Laurel meets Willie Sharp, the security guard posted to protect the display and workers. She gets to know Willie and his friend, Quincy Tate--a black groundskeeper--and she witnesses firsthand the destructive behaviors based on race, education, and social class. In the end, Laurel must make the choice of what kind of love will truly fulfill her.

The story flows between several viewpoints: Laurel, Langdon, Willie, and Quincy. Langdon--it soon becomes apparent to everyone but Laurel--is a complete prat. He’s spoiled, vicious, and manipulating. I feared for Laurel not paying attention to the red flags he presented as a suitor, torn as she was about having a husband who was wealthy enough to provide for her. Willie is Langdon’s polar opposite, not just in education and social status, but in what it means to be a man. He is the sole caretaker of his father who has suffered a stroke. He applies for the job as security guard in order to make more money (than his job at the steam engine manufacturing, which Langdon’s father owns) in order to send his father to rehab. Willie is childhood friends with Quincy, living in a neighborhood that at least on the surface seemed to not notice skin color, but lived with the shared experiences of poverty and social class.

Quincy’s story of being thrilled to work at the Exposition, but soon finding conflict in the everyday racism as well as conflict in his friendship with Willie. Quincy also struggles with himself and how best to present himself to society so they will respect him. His story was the most touching, I thought, of the group, and I thought it was handled deftly while still offering a character with little upward mobility dignity and triumph. I also noticed some wonderful plot braiding and foil mirroring in the story arcs that was a delight to read (as a writer) and marvel at how easy Ms. Sawyer made it look.

Ms. Sawyer includes an author’s note and disclaimer at the beginning of her story, talking about how she was nervous to include a story thread about racism (even though historically correct) and shared a story of growing up in similar way as Willie Sharp and Quincy, friends first before they ever realized what being black or white means. I think Ms. Sawyer handled what most anyone could term a “difficult dialogue” in her story in a genuine, open, and sensitive way. I hope more writers take the opportunity to address relationships of “other” in their books, in hopes of presenting new and valid historical truths that show how alike we all are and how we’re all worthy of love and success. (I also hope to read more historical romances that feature successful and powerful heroes of color--there are some millionaires to be found before Jay-Z, way before Jay-Z. Or maybe a cowboy story along the lines of Bass Reeves? Just putting that out in the Universe.)




*****SPOILER ALERT*****

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The romance between Willie and Laurel is a long time coming but well worth it. Willie is an outstanding hero and well-deserving of the title. Laurel is loving, kind, and generous--and it’s no wonder I panicked when I thought she might choose Langdon. It’s a sweet and thoughtful romance about what it means to love--and I recommend it without reservation.



Monday, April 8, 2019

Excerpt & Giveaway - - The Summer Retreat


THE SUMMER RETREAT
By Sheila Roberts
MIRA Books mass market paperback and eBook original
Moonlight Harbor #3
April 23, 2019
ISBN-10: 0778369404
ISBN-13: 978-0778369400
ASIN: B07MFVJMS6


Celeste Jones has plans for a perfect summer with her boyfriend (and hopefully soon-to-be fiancĂ©)—until he dumps her to be with the woman he’s had on the side for months. Heartbroken and furious, Celeste resolves to move on. When the going gets tough, the tough…okay, the not-so-tough go to the beach.

As soon as school lets out for the summer, she waves goodbye to her first-graders, packs up her bikini and heads for Moonlight Harbor, where she knows her big sister, Jenna, will receive her with open arms. Jenna could probably use some help at the Driftwood Inn, and Celeste is happy to do chores around the place in exchange for a relaxing summer escape. She just needs something—or someone—to distract her from her troubles.

Finding The One can be tricky, and Jenna is determined to make sure Celeste gets it right this time around. Not that Jenna’s an expert. She’s still trying to sort out her own love life. But if both sisters listen to their hearts, eventually they’re bound to discover that life—and love—is good at the beach.




Excerpt
The Summer Retreat
Chapter Three


Celeste had never been an early riser and on weekends made a habit of sleeping in. Which she was doing Sunday morning, splayed out on her stomach, one pedicured foot sticking out from under the covers, when Jenna shook her by the shoulder and announced it was time for breakfast.
“I’ll get something later,” she mumbled and turned her head away.
Oh, no. Nice try. “There is no later. We have to get out the door to church in forty minutes.”
Celeste turned back and gaped at her. “Church?”
“Yeah, you know, that place Mom always took us to when we were growing up.”
“I’m done growing up.” Celeste settled back onto the pillow.
Jenna pulled it out from under her.
“Hey!” she protested.
“Now that you’re here for the summer, you have to come with us and set an example for Sabrina.”
“Is Aunt Edie going?”
“No, she’s old and she doesn’t like the loud music.”
Celeste grabbed her pillow back. “Tell Sabrina I felt it was my duty to stay home and keep Aunt Edie company.”
“Come on, don’t give me grief. It’s only an hour out of your day.”
“An hour of lost sleep.”
“Come on,” Jenna repeated. “Please?”
“Oh, all right. But I’ll probably sleep through the sermon.”
Not once she saw Pastor Paul she wouldn’t.
Forty minutes later they were walking into the church foyer. Sabrina’s two best friends, Jennifer and Hudson, had been waiting for her and instantly swept her off to hang with the other kids, the three of them talking and giggling.
What a difference from when they’d first come to town and Sabrina had resented not only being at church but also being in Moonlight Harbor. Jenna had been relieved when she’d finally found some friends.
She’d also found a boyfriend. Tristan was a nice kid, but four years older than Sabrina. Due to their age difference, and rampaging hormones, Jenna had limited boyfriend time to parties and hanging out at the house. He’d just graduated from high school and would be going off to college in the fall, and she suspected her daughter’s year-long romance would come to a painful end once he met some cute college girl.
Sometimes it seemed that all the women in her family were love-challenged. Sabrina had fallen for a senior when she was only a freshman. Celeste fell for users and losers. Their mom had never found another man to take their father’s place. And there was Jenna herself. After her disastrous marriage she was standing at the edge of the love pool with just one toe in the water, even though Brody was ready to catch her and urging her to jump in. Would she jump if Seth was in the pool? In spite of the chemistry between them, he wasn’t holding out open arms.
She’d figure that all out once she helped Celeste get her love life right.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard, considering the way Celeste was looking at Pastor Paul, who was approaching them. She could almost see the thoughts swirling in her sister’s head. Prince or frog?
“Yes, he’s single,” Jenna said.
“Just because he’s in a church doesn’t mean he’s got it together,” Celeste whispered.
“This man does,” Jenna assured her. “Hi, Paul,” she greeted him. “I don’t think you’ve met my sister yet. Celeste, this is Paul Welch, our pastor.”
Celeste’s eyes got big. “P-pastor?” she stuttered.
Paul Welch was the polar opposite of balding, pot-bellied Pastor Munsen, the minister at the church they’d attended growing up.
“Welcome to Moonlight Harbor,” he said to Celeste.
“Thanks. You’re a pastor?”
He raised his eyebrows curiously. “Is that a bad thing?”
“No, it’s just that you don’t look like a pastor.”
“What does a pastor look like?” he asked, an easy smile on his face.
“Old. I mean…not like you.”
“Give me time, I’ll get there,” he said. “I hope you enjoy your visit with us today.”
“I will if you’re not boring,” Celeste teased, recovering from her shock.
“I’ll try not to be,” he said, still smiling. Someone called to him and he moved on, but not before saying, “I’m glad you could join us today, Celeste.”
Jenna elbowed her. “See what you missed when you didn’t come to church with me last summer?”
“Old.” Celeste rolled her eyes. “You could’ve warned me.”
“About what? That I have a cute pastor?”
“And an ulterior motive for getting me here.”
“You needed to get to church,” Jenna said as her friend Tyrella walked in. She waved and Tyrella joined them.
“You look too cute,” she said, giving Celeste a hug. “I swear, God overblessed you two when it came to looks,” she continued, hugging Jenna, also. “Have you been introducing her around?” she asked Jenna.
“Only to Pastor Paul so far.”
“I bet he’ll have trouble concentrating on his sermon now,” Tyrella joked. She waved at Hyacinth Brown, who was standing nearby, talking to two other women while simultaneously assessing Celeste. “Hyacinth, come on over and meet Jenna’s sister.”
Jenna didn’t know Hyacinth very well. She was a skinny little thing with big brown eyes who dressed in drab colors. She’d pretty much kept her distance since Jenna had been attending the church. Jenna had put it down to her being shy.
But now she felt the chill as Hyacinth said a polite hello to Celeste. Okay, so Hyacinth wasn’t simply shy. She was also insecure and not open to welcoming single women into the church family, especially curvy ones with platinum hair, green eyes and plenty of personality. Considering who their pastor was, that shouldn’t have been surprising. Half the women in church crushed on Pastor Paul, and Jenna supposed Hyacinth was a member of his fan club. Maybe all that volunteer work she did around church had a hidden agenda.
“Is this your first time here at Moonlight Harbor Evangelical?” she asked Celeste.
Celeste nodded. “I came with my sister.”
“Oh.” Hyacinth took a moment to digest that. “Are you visiting?”
“I’m here for the summer. I’m going to help out at the Driftwood Inn. How about you? Have you been in Moonlight Harbor long?”
“Two years,” Hyacinth said, and didn’t volunteer any more information about herself. There will be no effort made to become friends.
“She owns the fabric store,” said Tyrella. “And you’re offering quilting classes right now, aren’t you?”
Hyacinth nodded but didn’t share any information about her classes, either.
“She made all the banners in the sanctuary,” Tyrella went on, “and she and Susan Frank are on the decorating committee. Actually, they are the decorating committee. They do the flowers for church every week.”
“That’s appropriate,” Celeste quipped.
Hyacinth managed a wilted smile. “So you’re here with your…husband?”
Talk about the third degree. Was it because she’d seen Paul talking with Celeste?
Celeste’s smile suddenly looked a little wilted, too. “No husband. Not even a boyfriend.”
“Oh.” Hyacinth sounded surprised.
“I’m in between men,” Celeste said lightly, hiding her heartbreak.
Apparently, Hyacinth didn’t approve of being in between men. “I hope you enjoy your visit,” she said briskly, then excused herself and went back to the group of people she’d been talking with before Tyrella called her over.
“Yeah, I’ll bet you do,” Celeste said.
“A pretty woman in between men, just what the other single women want to see,” Tyrella cracked. “Come on, let’s go get a seat.”
Jenna enjoyed the service. She didn’t play an instrument and could never manage to sing in the same key as everyone else, but she loved music and she loved the morning’s selection of songs, which were all positive and encouraging.
Pastor Paul’s sermon was encouraging, too, although a couple of times he seemed to lose his place. Funny how those times coincided with when he happened to glance over at Celeste. “I know some of you have been going through hard times,” he said.
That was for sure. One of their members was battling melanoma. An older man had recently lost his wife. Annie, who’d slipped in late, was struggling with her alcoholic husband, and Jenna saw she was dabbing her eyes. And then, suddenly, right next to her, her sister was taking a shaky breath.
Pastor Paul looked Celeste’s way at that moment, and Jenna could have sworn that if he hadn’t been in the middle of a sermon, he’d have hurried over to offer comfort. “But,” he began. “Uh. But…” He cleared his throat and stared at his notes. “We can’t lose hope.”
Celeste sniffed, and Jenna took her hand and squeezed it.
“Let’s remember to embrace those difficult times in our lives,” he concluded, “knowing that they’re building perseverance and helping us mature in our faith. All things work together for good for those who love God.”
“Even those who haven’t been in church for a while,” Jenna whispered to her sister.
“He’s so right,” Tyrella said as they walked out of the sanctuary to an upbeat song the musicians were playing. “I have no idea why it is, but the times we seem to grow the most are when we’re under pressure. Like diamonds,” she added.
Celeste sighed. “I think I’d rather stay a lump of coal.”
“Too late for that,” Jenna said, linking arms with her. “You’re already a diamond in the rough.”
“Okay, then, let’s settle for that. I don’t want to be under pressure anymore.”
“As if you have a choice,” Tyrella scoffed. “Life’s gonna squeeze you whether you want it to or not. May as well work on learning to sparkle.”
Celeste had plenty of sparkle. She just needed to find a man who appreciated it.
Paul was at the door, shaking hands and visiting with people as they left. “A very good sermon, Pastor,” Susan Frank was telling him as they approached. She saw Jenna and managed her usual sour smile. “Good morning, Jenna. Say hi to your aunt for me.”
“I will,” Jenna said.
Not that it would make any difference. Aunt Edie hadn’t been in Susan’s clothing shop since Susan had dissed Jenna and her brain baby, the Seaside with Santa festival. That had been the end of a beautiful retail relationship.
“Thanks for coming,” Paul said and smiled at Celeste.

Oh, yeah. He’d be stopping by the house for a visit before the week was out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The beach is one of my happy places and one of my preferred places to escape to. Where do you go when you want to get away from it all?

Have you read any of Sheila Roberts' books? Are you reading the Moonlight Harbor series?

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Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. She’s happily married and has three children. She’s been writing since 1989, but she did lots of things before settling in to her writing career, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Her band days are over, but she still enjoys writing songs. Sheila's books are best sellers and often appear as Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Her novel "Angel Lane" was named one of Amazon's top ten romances in 2009. Her novel "On Strike for Christmas" was a Lifetime Network movie and her novel "The Nine Lives of Christmas" was made into a movie for the Hallmark channel. When she’s not speaking to women’s groups or at conferences or hanging out with her girlfriends she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.