Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Review - - Rough Ride

Rough Ride
by Breezie Bennett
South Florida Riders - Book 5
Publisher: Palm Island Publishing
Release Date: May 29, 2020
Reviewed by PJ

Andre Smoke is the newest arrival to the Riders, an incredibly private defensive player who is feared and revered in the NFL. His trade to South Florida is a little unexpected in the league, but Smoke has his personal reasons for heading to the tropics to play football. Well, one reason. Her name is Kendall Collins and her big brother, Smoke's lifelong best friend, needs someone he can trust to keep an eye on her...without her knowing it, of course.
Loyal and protective, Smoke agrees...but one look at Kendall and things get a little complicated. The sassy designer is definitely not the awkward fourteen-year-old in braces that he remembers, and the attraction between them burns as hot as his name. Smoke hires Kendall to renovate his historic Miami home...but the plan to keep an eye on her soon turns into a desire to keep his whole body on her. Before long, Smoke is falling hard for his best friend's sister who is determined to fix more than his house...she's getting awfully close to his damaged heart and he just might have to give it to her.

PJ's Thoughts:
I'm having so much fun getting to know the members of Breezie Bennett's South Florida Riders professional football team and the women who turn their lives upside down...and capture their hearts in the process. Rough Ride brings readers one of my favorite romance tropes - brother's best friend - and, once again, engaged my interest from page one, holding it until the end. I tended to steer clear of first-person narratives until I began reading Bennett's books but I can't imagine her stories being told in any other way. She has a gift for creating fully developed characters that are young, fresh, and full of life. Using first-person in alternating points of view allows readers to dig deep into the emotions and motivations of the main characters, understanding them more completely as they proceed through their journey, individually and as a couple.

In Rough Ride, Bennett pairs my love of football with my love of home renovation (somebody else's, not mine) in a sweet and steamy story with heart-tugging depth of emotion that brought all the feels and left me sighing with delight. I really enjoyed Smoke and Kendall. He's such a good guy, she's very likeable, and the chemistry between them sizzles. But, while their physical attraction is off the charts (and don't get me wrong, I loved that part), it's their shared history and the sweetness of the emotional bond between them that captured my heart. These two belong together and I was cheering them on the entire way. 

Enhancing Smoke and Kendall's journey is a vibrant secondary cast of characters who are much more than wallpaper. From Riders players, to Kendall's partners, to players' wives, to a sweet older couple who get the surprise of their lives, they all leap from the pages and enrich the overall journey. And there's one more character who has very limited time on the page but a pivotal impact on the story and, wow, does she showcase Bennett's ability to write a spot-on "Real Housewives" type of character. I think my blood pressure jumped 20 points just from that one scene!

For those of you who enjoy snappy dialogue, heart-tugging emotion, humor, sizzle, sports-themed romance, and home renovation shows, you'll find all that and more in Breezie Bennett's Rough Ride

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review - - Summer on Honeysuckle Ridge

Summer on Honeysuckle Ridge
by Debbie Mason
Highland Falls - Book 1
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: May 26, 2020
Reviewed by PJ

Welcome to Highland Falls, a small town where love is always in the air.
In just a few months Abby Everhart has gone from being a top LA media influencer to an unemployed divorcée living out of her car. So inheriting her great-aunt's homestead comes at the perfect time. Abby heads to Highland Falls, North Carolina, to spruce up Honeysuckle Farm before putting it on the market for some much-needed cash. But instead of finding a charming getaway, she discovers a serious fixer-upper, complete with a leaky roof, overgrown yard, and a reclusive -- albeit sexy -- man living on the property.

Ex-Delta Force soldier Hunter MacKenzie has faced war and loss, but nothing has quite prepared him for an outgoing redhead who's determined to turn his life upside down. Hunter doesn't want to get involved with anyone, especially a city girl who plans to sell the only place he's ever felt at home. But the sparks between them are undeniable. Spending time with Abby is easy. Convincing her to stay for good is another matter entirely.

PJ's Thoughts:

With each book she writes, Debbie Mason further cements her place on my author auto-buy list. I enjoyed her Christmas, Colorado series and fell hard for her Harmony Harbor characters and their journeys to love. I was so sad to see Harmony Harbor end and skeptical that Mason could create new characters I would love as much as the Gallaghers and DiRossis but, you know what? I just finished an ARC of Summer on Honeysuckle Ridge, the (May 26) book that will launch her new Highland Falls series, and she's done it again. Abby just may be my favorite Mason heroine ever. She's so endearing, and so much more than she initially appears. Learning what she has overcome made me like her even more and discovering the full story of how her dog, Bella came to live with her made her someone I'd want to be best friends with for life. I loved watching her evolution throughout the book. I'm a total pushover for a brooding alpha hero with a gentle side and a tortured soul. Hunter checked all my happy boxes and Abby's too...eventually. These two are so good together. I can't wait to (hopefully) see how their love story continues to evolve throughout this new series. 

I'm already invested in this small mountain town and the people who live there. I'm looking forward to discovering what Mason has in store for Highlands Falls and her citizens. Based on Summer on Honeysuckle Ridge, it's going to be a fun ride. Book two, Christmas on Reindeer Road, releases September 29. I already have it on pre-order. 

If you enjoy multi-layered characters, humor, emotional twists and turns, and heart-tugging romance that will leave you eager for more, I enthusiastically recommend a visit to Highland Falls, North Carolina and Debbie Mason's Summer on Honeysuckle Ridge


I live in North Carolina and have a special fondness for the small towns in my state's western mountains. Are there areas of your state that you enjoy exploring? Tell me about them.

Have you read any of Debbie Mason's books? Do you have a favorite book or couple?

One person who comments before 11:00 PM, May 27, will receive a print copy of Summer on Honeysuckle Ridge

*Must be 18 or older
*U.S. and Canadian addresses only

Friday, May 22, 2020

Tour Review - - Marry in Scarlet

Marry in Scarlet
by Anne Gracie
Marriage of Convenience - Book 4
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: May 26, 2020
Reviewed by PJ

When a duke denied . . .

The proud and arrogant Duke of Everingham is determined to secure a marriage of convenience with heiress, Lady Georgiana Rutherford. He's the biggest prize on the London marriage mart, pursued by young unmarried ladies and their match-making mamas, as well as married women with a wandering eye. He can have any woman he wants. Or so he thinks. . . 

...Hunts an independent lady . . .
Lady Georgiana Rutherford--irreverent and unconventional--has no plans to marry. Having grown up poor, Lady George has no intention of giving up her fortune to become dependent on the dubious and unreliable goodwill of a man. Especially a man as insufferable as the Duke of Everingham, whose kisses stirs unwelcome and unsettling emotions . . .

...Sparks are sure to fly
The more she defies him, the more the duke wants her, until an argument at a ball spirals into a passionate embrace. Caught in a compromising position, the duke announces their betrothal. George is furious and when gossip claims she deliberately entrapped the duke--when she was the one who was trapped--she marches down the aisle in a scarlet wedding dress. But the unlikely bride and groom may have found love in the most improbable of places--a marriage of convenience.

PJ's Thoughts:

I've been reading Anne Gracie's books for a long time. She's one of my favorite historical romance authors, a gifted storyteller whose characters leap from the pages and immerse me completely in their lives and loves. Some of her books I like better than others, though she's never disappointed me, and many sit on my keeper shelf, ready to indulge my need to revisit certain characters and their journeys to love. But, even among that collection of favorites, Marry in Scarlet stands apart. This one is special. 

Every so often, a character comes along, captures my heart, and refuses to return it. George is just such a character. I've been eagerly anticipating her story since she first burst onto the page of book one, kicking and screaming. She's unique, endearing, courageous, refreshing, honorable, and just plain fun. I adore her kindness, her loyalty, her protective nature, her irreverence, take-charge mindset, and huge capacity for love. Watching her evolve over the course of this series, while remaining true to herself, has been pure pleasure. There are so many facets of her personality and passages from her story that I want to share but each reader should have the opportunity to discover the wonder of George by reading her story themselves. 

And then there's Hart. If George evolves during this journey, it's nothing compared to what happens to Hart. This aloof, entitled duke, full of his own consequence and cold-blooded in his approach to matrimony, has his life turned upside down by our heroine. She's nothing he could have anticipated and everything he never knew he needed. The banter between these two sparkles and the desire threatens to spiral out of control. But it's the unexpected sweetness and depth of their emotions, especially his, that are so romantic and sensual. He's one of my favorite Gracie heroes and, believe me, after reading book three, Marry in Secret, I never thought I'd be saying that. But Hart came through, and in glorious, heart-tugging style. He and George made me laugh, made me sigh, and made me cry. And if they aren't enough, there's a secondary, secret romance that kept my tear ducts, and my heart, overflowing. Keep tissues handy for the epilogue. Just sayin'. 

I've already read this book twice and I know if won't be long before I'm pulled back to these characters again...and again...and again. Marry in Scarlet can be read as a standalone but for a more complete understanding of the characters and their journeys to this point, especially George, I strongly recommend reading this quartet in order: Marry in Haste, Marry in Scandal, Marry in Secret, and Marry in Scarlet. All four books have my enthusiastic endorsement. I can't wait to see what Gracie has planned for readers next. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review - - Scandalous Scot

Scandalous Scot
by Cecilia Mecca and Julie Johnstone
Highlanders Through Time - Book 4
Publisher: Altiora Press
Release Date: May 19, 2020
Reviewed by PJ

Ian McCaim is used to following in his brother’s footsteps—even if it takes him to medieval Scotland. When he finally completes the time travel ritual, the magic lands him next to Hightower Castle and his big brother, Greyson, is there to greet him. As soon as the rest of the family returns to Hightower, the McCaims can finally go home, but in the meantime, Greyson has a task for Ian: charm the man whose son is fated to play a pivotal role in the Scottish War of Independence. An easy task—or at least it would be if Ian were capable of behaving himself.
After a lifetime of having endured stares, Màiri Kelbrue is used to being looked at—the strange mark on her cheek ensures it. So when the handsome man she encounters near her father’s loch gawks at her, she assumes the worst. Until he kisses her. The passion she feels for the stranger stuns her—she’d thought to marry her childhood friend, but never once did he make her feel like this. And then the unimaginable happens—when the stranger escorts her home, he tells her very religious father exactly what happened between them.
Within a sennight, Ian and Màiri are rushed to the altar. Ian plans to return to the future sooner rather than later, but the bride he didn’t ask for soon becomes the only thing he wants. What will he do when it’s time to go home?

PJ's Thoughts:

I have thoroughly enjoyed this four-book journey through time brought to readers by authors Cecilia Mecca and Julie Johnstone. Both Mecca and Johnstone have a gift for immersing readers into medieval Scotland with a seamless blend of fact and fiction, intermingling real people with characters of their own creation, and giving readers a breath-stealing and realistic reading experience.

Book four, Scandalous Scot, brings us the story of youngest McCaim brother, Ian, as well as the conclusion of the series. Like his older brothers before him, Ian has time traveled back to medieval Scotland in an attempt to locate his missing mother, reunite with his brothers, and bring his family back to present-day New Orleans. And, also like his brothers before him, a medieval woman has added a detour to his journey.

This book was a bit different from the others in that it not only tells Ian's individual story but also wraps up the series. I enjoyed Ian's growth throughout his journey. He's probably the most emotionally transparent of the brothers, struggling to find his place without disappointing his parents or siblings. I enjoyed his interactions with his brothers and watching him come into his own, though he sure took his good sweet time to do it. And, I really enjoyed the culmination of the brothers' journey and the resolution of their mother's disappearance, along with the final outcome of their father's health crisis. The ending had tears of happiness flowing and me reaching for tissues. Many tissues.

What I wanted more of in this book was Ian's and Mairi's romantic journey. I liked Mairi a lot. She's a sympathetic character with difficult decisions to make and my heart ached for her. I enjoyed how her relationship with her new sister-in-law helps her gain confidence in herself and I cheered for her to find her happy ending. What I had a bit of difficulty with was her relationship with Ian. These two find themselves married at lightning speed, within a few days of first meeting, in a marriage neither wants. They are literal strangers, and not only because they're from different centuries. They need time together to learn about one another, for feelings to develop. And I needed that time to believe in them. There's so much going on within this book in regards to family matters (which I loved) that at times it feels like their romance gets pushed to the back burner. I needed more attention given to these two, more of them together on the page, more development of their relationship, and more depth of emotion. Because of that, while I enjoyed their happily ever after I wasn't as fully invested in them as I was in the other three couples in the series. Others may feel differently.

While I may have wanted more in regards to the romantic relationship in this final book, the overall journey and conclusion to the McCaim family saga checked my happy boxes and left me a very satisfied reader. I enthusiastically recommend Cecilia Mecca's and Julie Johnstone's time-traveling McCaim brothers - Highlanders Through Time. 

Winner - - Remington Medical

The randomly chosen winner of a Kindle copy of one of the

Remington Medical books (winner's choice) is:

Annette N


Please send your email address and choice of title to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Winners - - The Beauty of Broken Things

The randomly chosen winners of a print copy of

The Beauty of Broken Things by Victoria Connelly are:

Heather Eccles


Patricia B


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Review - - Carolina Breeze

Carolina Breeze
by Denise Hunter
Bluebell Inn - Book 2
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: May 19, 2020
Reviewed by PJ

A jilted bride. A struggling innkeeper. And a romantic mountain getaway that changes everything
Rising Hollywood star Mia Emerson is looking for a safe place to land in the wake of a public breakup and celebrity scandal, and she finds it in the lake town of Bluebell, North Carolina—the location of her canceled honeymoon. She wants nothing more than to hide and wait for the tabloids to die down.
Soon after her arrival at the Bluebell Inn, Mia meets Levi Bennett, who runs the inn along with his two younger sisters. Drawn to one another from the start, Mia trusts Levi to keep her location from the press, and Levi confides in Mia about the precarious financial state of the inn—a secret he’s been keeping from his sisters.
When Mia and Levi discover an old journal that hints at a rare diamond necklace hidden in the inn, they set off on a treasure hunt to find the long-lost heirloom. What they don’t expect to surface are feelings they thought were safely locked away. Mia and Levi must decide if falling in love again is too big a risk—or if it will uncover a treasure of its own instead.

PJ's Thoughts:

Denise Hunter returns to one of my favorite places - Western North Carolina - for this second book in her heartwarming Bluebell Inn series. As with book one in the series, Lake Season, I was immediately immersed into the fabric of the Bennett family and their newly renovated and reopened Bluebell Inn. Hunter brings them all to life on the page as well as the beautiful lake and mountains surrounding them. 

In book one, Levi is a bit of a taskmaster but in this story the author delves deeper into his character, allowing us to discover the layers beneath the surface and the motivating factors driving him. I enjoyed watching him begin to relax and find enjoyment in the friendship, and gradually deepening emotions, that slowly build between him and Mia. I also appreciated that Hunter didn't make Mia a stereotypical starlet but, rather, gave us a multi-layered, genuinely likable woman with relatable issues. I liked her and was in her corner the whole way. There's no sex on the page between these two but there's enough flirtation and simmering emotion to fully buy into their attraction. The relationship they form is built on a solid foundation of friendship, faith, desire, shared values, and enduring love. I happily accompanied them every step of the way.  

The Bennett family dynamics are a central focus of this series as they work together to turn their late parents' dream of creating the Bluebell Inn into reality. It's heartwarming to watch their journeys as the siblings breathe new life into not only their home but also their family unit, as well as their individual lives. I'm enjoying Hunter's parallel journeys of rebirth and renewal. And, I have to say, as the oldest of five children, she really nails the sibling dynamic. I'm enjoying getting to know the siblings better in each book and am already eager for youngest child Grace's story, Autumn Skies, to be released in October.  

Do you read any faith-based romances?

Any authors or books you'd like to recommend?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Review - - Beyond Just Us

Beyond Just Us
by Kimberly Kincaid
Publisher: Kimberly Kincaid
Release Date: May 19, 2020
Reviewed by PJ

Remington’s most cynical doctor is about to get upended by two little words: I do.

Tess Michaleson runs her ER like she runs her life—
no pretenses, no exceptions. As a single mother, she can’t afford anything less. As a woman who’s been burned by love? She can’t believe in anything more. Her son and her job are the center of her world. That’s all Tess needs.

Until Declan Riley falls into her arms…literally.

His tattoos and his Irish accent are enough to melt her panties. His diagnosis? That’s enough to break her heart.
But Tess can help him get the care he needs…

All she has to do is marry him.

Declan knows he should keep Tess at arm’s length.
What they have is temporary. Necessary. And he knows from experience just how dangerous getting close can be.

But the longer he’s around the smart, sexy doctor and her son, the more Declan realizes close isn’t enough.

He wants Tess. He wants it all.

Even if he has to do the one thing he swore he never would to have her.

PJ's Thoughts:

If you've been reading my reviews, you know by now how much I've enjoyed Kimberly Kincaid's Remington Medical contemporary romance series. Kincaid wraps up the series with Beyond Just Us, another sexy, steamy, emotional powder keg that kept me eagerly turning pages from start to finish. 

I adored Tess and Declan together. If you've read any of the books in this series, you know single mom Tess is the smart-mouthed, no-nonsense, hard-working head of the Emergency Department at Remington Medical who always goes the extra mile for her patients. She's also finally divorced from her slime-bucket husband when her book opens and not looking to jump right back into another relationship. But, hey, a solid friendship and some burn-the-sheets sex with the gorgeous Irishman who falls at her feet is not out of the question. Especially when said Irishman ends up as her marriage of convenience husband.

It's easy to see how Tess falls for Declan because, boy howdy, I was right there with her. The guy cooks, cleans her condo, is wonderful with her infant son, respects her career, sets her body on fire, and protects and defends her from her critics. Not to mention, he's a romance novel cover model (Yum), Connor's (Between Me & You) good friend from the Air Force, and a really good guy. And then there's the Irish accent. ::sigh:: I want a Declan! 

But it's not all fun and games for these two. Kincaid has set some pretty significant obstacles in the path of their relationship and she tackles them head on. Both Tess and Declan have serious emotional baggage to unpack. Tess has a whole lot of trust issues (not surprising, considering her marriage) as well as personal insecurities seeded by her family. Declan, on the other hand, is struggling with a life-changing health diagnosis that has taken away his career and, possibly, his future. I like that Kincaid guides them into friendship and partnership while moving their romantic relationship forward. And I love how the community of friends from the other books, all of whom have benefited from Tess's guidance, gather together to now help her and Declan. It's a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful series and has my enthusiastic recommendation.

The books in this series do not have to be read in order, however, the characters all appear in all of the books. If you wish to avoid relationship spoilers, I'd recommend starting with book one, Back to You: A Bad Boy Workplace Romance, and continuing to Better Than Me: A Friends to Lovers Workplace Romance, Between Me & You: An Enemies to Lovers Workplace Romance, and Beyond Just Us: A Single Parent Marriage of Convenience Romance. 


Because I love this series so much, I'm giving away a Kindle copy of one Remington Medical book (winner's choice) to a randomly selected person who comments on this post before 11:00 PM, May 20. 
*Must be 18 or older

So, tell me, what's your favorite romance trope?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Excerpt and Giveaway - - The Beauty of Broken Things

The Beauty of Broken Things
by Victoria Connelly
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: June 9, 2020

United by tragedy, can two broken souls make each other whole?

After the tragic loss of his wife, Helen, Luke Hansard is desperate to keep her memory alive. In an effort to stay close to her, he reaches out to an online friend Helen often mentioned: a reclusive photographer with a curious interest in beautiful but broken objects. But first he must find her—and she doesn’t want to be found.

Orla Kendrick lives alone in the ruins of a remote Suffolk castle, hiding from the haunting past that has left her physically and emotionally scarred. In her fortress, she can keep a safe distance from prying eyes, surrounded by her broken treasures and insulated from the world outside.

When Luke tracks Orla down, he is determined to help her in the way Helen wanted to: by encouraging her out of her isolation and back into the world. But Orla has never seen her refuge as a prison. and, when painful secrets and dangerous threats begin to resurface, Luke’s good deed is turned on its head.

As they work through their grief for Helen in very different ways, will these two broken souls be able to heal?


“Luke?” Orla said softly.
Luke turned around from the window, his expression a little vague as if he wasn’t fully there in the room with her.
“You said you wanted to talk to me—about Helen.”
A dark shadow seemed to pass across his face and that gentle, vague expression was gone.
“We don’t have to—if you don’t want to,” Orla added quickly.
“No—no—it’s okay. It’s what I came here for, isn’t it? And I have something for you.”
“Something from Helen. It’s in the van.” He motioned to the outside. “Mind if I get it?”
Orla walked to the door with him and unlocked it. One Ear accompanied her and stood on the threshold with his mistress as Luke walked down the steps and across the driveway towards his van. She watched as he opened the passenger door and lifted a box from the footwell. Carrying it carefully, he closed the van door, locked it, and returned to the castle. Orla led the way back to the great hall, where Luke placed the box on a table.
“Helen was going to send it to you, but...”  He swallowed hard, pausing. “Anyway, it’s yours.”
“What is it?” Orla stepped forward, her fingers touching the sky-blue ribbon.
“Open it.”
Orla untied the ribbon and took the lid off the box, gently removing the layers of bubblewrap and tissue paper to reveal the blue and white vase.
“Oh!” she gasped. “It’s lovely!” She handled it carefully, mindful of how fragile it was and how much care had gone into choosing it and wrapping it. She was deeply touched that a stranger should go to so much trouble for her.
“It’s chipped, I’m afraid, but she said you wouldn’t mind that. That’s what you liked about old things.”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“Helen liked that about you—that you saw the beauty in broken things.”
“She did?”
“She said it’s easy to love something that’s shiny and new, but it takes someone special to love the old, neglected things.”
 Orla felt her eyes sting with tears. “She said that?”
“You were a great inspiration to her. She started her own small collection because of you. I say small because our house is small. But she took so much pleasure in every single piece she found.”
“I didn’t know that.”
Luke nodded, and Orla could see that he was becoming emotional, too, and she couldn’t help wondering if he was remembering some special moment with Helen. Maybe he’d been there when she’d bought the vase or maybe he remembered her bringing it home.
“There’s a card with it,” he said, pointing to the box.
Orla placed the vase on the table and moved the last of the tissue paper from the box and reached in for the card. She could feel Luke watching her as she opened it and read the words, her eyes filling with tears again.
“I can’t believe she did this for me,” she whispered, returning the card to its envelope with shaking hands.
“You meant a lot to her. Your friendship. Your advice.”
“You know about that?”
“Little bits,” Luke confessed. “She used to talk about you and...” Luke stopped. “I found her journal and—well—she said that you encouraged her. You helped her.”
Orla bit her lip but didn’t say anything, and then she looked at the vase, picking it up and holding it tightly.
“I’ll treasure this always. It means the world to me. It really does.” She noticed that Luke was still standing. “How rude of me—please sit down.”
Luke nodded, and, as soon as he was sitting, One Ear looked up from his basket and then got up, stretching his long body before trotting over to say hello. Luke smiled and patted the dog’s head, and, after placing the vase on one of the deep windowsills, Orla sat in a chair opposite him.
Luke was perched forward on the sofa as if he was about to be interviewed for a job he didn’t want. One Ear nuzzled up against him, and Luke continued to fuss with the dog, delaying whatever he wanted to say a little while longer.
“Luke?” Orla prompted him. “You were going to tell me what happened, weren’t you?”
He nodded, and Orla realised how very difficult it must be for him.
“It was last month,” he began slowly. “Helen had a job in London, and she’d catch the train in and out every day. She usually got back home around quarter past seven. But she didn’t come back that day. I waited, thinking she’d gone shopping or that there were delays on the trains. It’s usually a good line, but you can never tell in this country, can you? A spot of rain or a windy day and the whole system can collapse.” He gave a hollow sort of laugh. “I wish it had just been rain or leaves on the track that day, but it wasn’t. There was some sort of signal failure.” He paused, as if trying to find the right words, and then they gushed out of him all at once as if he wanted to be rid of them. “There was a train crash. Two trains. Eleven people died, and Helen was one of them.”
“Oh, Luke! I’m so sorry.”
He dropped his gaze to One Ear and ruffled his head again.
“Perhaps you saw it on the news? It was everywhere for a while. You couldn’t escape it.”
“I don’t watch the news,” Orla told him. “How did you find out?”
“The police called at my house.”
She sighed. “I can’t imagine how awful that must have been for you.”
“I can’t remember much about it to be honest. It’s all a bit of a blur. The whole month has been. Cards, phone calls, emails. I’ve never had to talk to so many people before.”
“And I’m so grateful that you thought to contact me.”
“Helen cared about you. Even though you’d never met.’”
“And I cared about her.”
“I felt that. I felt that connection between you. It was as real as any regular kind of relationship.” Luke smiled sadly. “She used to look forward to your posts so much, and she’d miss them if you didn’t post. She’d look at them each morning at breakfast before she went to work. I think you put her in a good mood for the day. ‘Something bright in a sometimes dark world,’ she’d say of your posts.”
Luke nodded. “She used to share them with me, reading them out and showing me the pictures.” He gave a faint smile. “You have a lot of tea cups!”
Orla laughed, tears in her eyes. “Yes. I do.”
There was an awkward silence as some of the darkness seemed to seep back into Luke.
“She sent me a message,” he began again at last, “just before the train crash. She said she had a proposal for me, but I can’t think what it could have been and it’s been driving me crazy.” He paused and then took a couple deep breaths before speaking again. “I don’t suppose she talked to you about it?”
“You mean the night of the crash?’”
“Yes. Did she message you, perhaps?”
“What date was the accident?”
“The twelve of April.”
“Let me check.” Orla got up and went to get her phone.
“Have you got anything? Did she message you?” Luke asked desperately.
“Wait a minute.”
Luke crossed the room and peered over her shoulder as she searched her phone.
“Here,” she said at last. “The twelfth. She asked me a question.”
“What was the question?”
“Do you think I can make a living from my photography?”  Orla looked up at him.
“She asked you that?”
“Yes.” She turned the phone round for him to see and he grabbed it in shaking hands before reading the message, taking a moment to digest it. Orla gave him a bit of space as he absorbed each and every word Helen had written. Finally, he looked up from the screen and suddenly seemed to realise that he’d taken the phone without asking.
“I’m sorry,” he said, quickly handing it back.
“It’s fine.”
“I only read Helen’s—“
“It’s okay. Really,” Orla told him.
“Do you mind me asking what you said to her? I mean, if you replied.”
“I told that I thought she could make a living from it and that she should give it a go.” Orla looked at her phone, reading the words she’d sent to Helen. “I said, ‘Go for it! Your gift for photography and your passion for what you do is a recipe for success!’”
“Did she answer back?”
“Just this.” Orla turned the phone back to Luke so he could see the smiley face that Helen had sent in response.
“Was that her last message to you?”
Orla nodded.
“Her last message was a smiley face,” he said.
“What time did she send it?”
Orla looked at the screen again.
“At 6:26.”
“Oh, my God,” Luke said. “That was just a few minutes before the crash. She messaged me at 6:15, so you must have been the last person she messaged.”
Orla’s fingers closed tightly around the phone as if that knowledge made it all the more precious, and then she looked up at Luke, whose eyes were filled with tears.
“She left the world with a smile,” he said.


Have you read any of Victoria Connelly's books?

Victoria lives in a 200-year old cottage in Suffolk. Where would you choose to live if money were no object?

Two randomly chosen people who comment on this post before 11:00 PM, May 19, will receive a copy of The Beauty of Broken Things

*Must be 18 or older

With more than one million books sold worldwide, Victoria Connelly is the bestselling U.K. author of uplifting stories that demonstrate the power of friendship and the beauty of romantic relationships. Victoria’s first novel, Flights of Angels, was made into a film in Germany by Academy award-winning Ziegler Film. She lives in a 200-year old cottage in rural Suffolk with her artist husband, a springer spaniel and a flock of rescued hens. You can find her on, on Twitter @VictoriaDarcy and on