Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Review - - The Love Con

The Love Con
by Seressia Glass
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: December 14, 2021
Reviewed by Nancy

He’s cosplaying as her boyfriend but their feelings for each other are real in this romantic comedy from Seressia Glass.

Sometimes Kenya Davenport believes she was switched at the hospital—how else could a lover of anime, gaming, and cosplay come from STEM parents? Still, Kenya dreams of being able to turn her creative hobby into a career. She finally has a chance to make it big when she joins the reality show competition Cosplay or No Way.

There's just one catch: the challenge for the final round is all about iconic pairs, and the judges want the contestants' significant others to participate. Unfortunately, Kenya is as single as can be at the moment. Luckily her best friend, Cameron Lassiter, agrees to be her fake boyfriend for the show.

Roleplaying a couple in love will force them to explore what they're hiding under the mask of friendship. Can Kenya and Cam fake it until she makes it, or will she be real about her feelings, knowing it could cost her the best friend she’s ever had?

Nancy says:

The Love Con is a brilliant melding of romance, geekdom, and reality TV with a touching friends-to-lovers romance at its core. Kenya is attracted to Cameron but says nothing lest she ruin their friendship. He’s attracted to her but says nothing because the one time he tried, years before, she shot him down. 

Since then, the timing hasn’t been right even though they’ve shared an apartment for years. They’ve also worked together at Cam’s fabrication shop, Make It Worx, where Kenya is a silent partner. Now, though, neither is dating anyone, they’re thrown together for the cosplay contest (think Project Runway for geeks), and they’re pretending they actually are in the relationship they both secretly yearn for. 

The cosplay contest is the external plot, but the romance dominates the story. The romantic arc has complications, of course. Kenya’s parents disapprove of her cosplay interests, which Cam has always shared. They believe she should get a real job, meaning one in her field, engineering, and outgrow this childish cosplay stuff. 

On top of that, one of the three contest judge seems to have it in for Kenya, always emphasizing the downsides of what she does and implying criticism of her weight. As you can tell from the cover, Kenya is a plus-size heroine (who also loves pink). Kenya deals with this woman’s borderline-snide comments by emphasizing her work on the project. She knows any show of temper will have her branded the Angry Black Woman. Her awareness of this potential trap permeates her reactions to the judge and to the equally critical producer who leads the camera crew following Kenya as she prepares for the final round. 

Glass handles Kenya’s reactions in a way that makes me aware of the problem and sympathetic to Kenya but without letting Kenya’s concern over the stereotype dominate the story, or even the conflict. 

The developing romance interweaves emotion and very hot sexual tension with tenderness and trust as Kenya and Cam take the first tentative steps toward making their pretend relationship real. When Cam’s ex tries to make trouble, the camera crew gets it all on film, and the things she says make Kenya question whether what she and Cam believe they feel is genuine. A subsequent conversation with her parents makes her doubt worse. 

Kenya’s parents are my only quibble with the book. She agrees to give up cosplay and get an engineering job if she doesn’t win the contest. I have a little trouble with a self-supporting adult making a bargain like that, but parental disapproval, the desire to prove oneself, can be a powerful motivator. The parents’ attitude about comic books and all things related was common when I was growing up, so I can see how someone really devoted to those interests could feel pushed into a corner. 

As a lifelong geek, I recognize many of the references to comics and science fiction in the book. Readers who aren’t familiar with those references, however, will know what they relate to, and that’s more important than the particulars. I especially like the reference Anubis, which reminds me of Glass’s use of Egyptian mythology in her wonderful Shadowchasers urban fantasy trilogy. 

The story moves at a good pace, with interesting details on cosplay costume creation sprinkled through it. The supporting cast are well drawn, especially Kenya’s friend Janelle and the two guys who work at Make It Worx, Mack and Javier. One judge is petty and mean, but the other two are fair-minded and positive. Even Kenya’s parents, unsympathetic as they are to her goals, are clearly doing what they think best out of concern for both Kenya and Cameron. 

The Love Con melds a clever concept with engaging, sympathetic characters, sexual tension, and a nicely twisty plot. 

Highly recommended ~ 4.5 stars 


Monday, December 27, 2021

Review - - The True Cowboy of Sunset Ridge

The True Cowboy of Sunset Ridge
by Maisey Yates
Gold Valley - Book 14
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: December 28, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

When a bull-riding champion is left holding his friend’s baby, could it be time to put down roots in Gold Valley?

Midwife Mallory Chance is ready for a fresh start in Gold Valley. And when she locks eyes with a handsome cowboy across the saloon, it feels like fate. After too many years wasted on her cheating ex, good girl Mallory is ready to cut loose and prioritize herself. But when the dust settles on their hot night together, it turns out that her mysterious one-night cowboy is none other than her new landlord—and someone she’ll be seeing very regularly around Gold Valley.

Bull rider Colt Daniels has a wild reputation, but after losing his friend on the rodeo circuit, he's left it all behind. If only he could walk away from his guilt as easily…or the temptation of Mallory. He can’t offer her the future she deserves—what does a cowboy with a heart as damaged as his know about forever? Then his friend's tiny daughter ends up in Colt's care. Colt has never wanted to rely on anyone, but he needs Mallory's help taking care of the baby he's beginning to love as his own. But is it all still temporary, or is it their chance at a forever family?

PJ's Thoughts:

This final book in the Daniels family subset of Maisey Yates' Gold Valley series just may be my favorite of the entire series. I fell hard for Colt and Mallory, with them every step of the way from that first life-altering gaze across a crowded bar, to their set-the-sheets-on-fire hookup six months later, and through their heart-tugging journey to a hard-earned happily ever after. I've read their story twice. I have no doubt I'll probably revisit it again.

Yates' complex characters are the heart of her stories and one of the facets I most enjoy about her writing. In this book, she digs deep into the souls of both Mallory and Colt, characters with flaws, layers, and a multitude of emotional baggage. I love the evolution they both undergo; the growth they achieve by facing their emotional demons, learning from them, letting go of them, and finally, whole-heartedly, moving forward. I enjoyed the connections with the members of the Daniels and Chance families, the threads that weave within and around Mallory and Colt's story, and the relationships that shift, expand, and heal. And then there's Lily, the sweet baby who shows up unexpectedly and opens their hearts to unconditional love and possibilities. So many feels. When I reached the final page all I wanted to do was go back to the beginning and read it again, tears and all. So I did. This one's a keeper. 

Yates has written The True Cowboy of Sunset Ridge in a way that it can be enjoyed as a standalone, however, if you prefer to read books in order, the Daniels family titles are listed below.  

The Bad Boy of Redemption Ranch (Pansy and West)
The Hero of Hope Springs (Ryder and Sammy)
The Last Christmas Cowboy (Rose and Logan)
The Heartbreaker of Echo Pass (Iris and Griffin)
Rodeo Christmas at Evergreen Ranch (Jake and Callie)

Winner - - Merry Christmas Giveaway


The randomly chosen winner of the 

Merry Christmas giveaway is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Winner - - Someone Perfect


The randomly chosen winner of 

a print copy of

Someone Perfect by Mary Balogh is:

Laurie G


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Merry Christmas Giveaway


The presents are wrapped, parcels are shipped, cookies are baked, and Elf PJ goodie plates ready to be delivered. Now it's time for me to spend a few days cuddled up under a cozy blanket with Hallmark movies, Christmas romance novels, and a holiday beverage - or two.

I hope all of you who celebrate have a blessed and festive Christmas. 
I'll be celebrating virtually with family far away
and in person with a few close friends nearby.

 Be safe and I'll see you on the flip side (12/27)!

Did you do any holiday baking this year? What did you make?

Tell me what books you hope to find under the tree on Christmas or what books you plan to buy if you score a gift card from Santa.

If you celebrate (or celebrated) a holiday other than Christmas this month, what special traditions do you have? 

One person who posts a comment before 6:00 PM (EST), December 25 will receive a package of books from my stash. 

*U.S. only

*Must be 18

*Void where prohibited

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Review & Giveaway - - Someone Perfect

Someone Perfect
by Mary Balogh
The Westcott Series - Book 9
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: November 30, 2021
Reviewed by Hellie

As a young man, Justin Wiley was banished by his father for mysterious reasons, but now his father is dead, and Justin has been Earl of Brandon for six years. A dark, dour man, he nonetheless takes it as his responsibility to care for his half-sister Maria when her mother dies. He travels to her home to fetch her back to the family seat at Everleigh Park. 

Although she adored him once, Maria now loathes Justin, and her friend Lady Estelle Lamarr can see immediately how his very name upsets her. When Justin arrives and invites Estelle and her brother to accompany Maria to Everleigh Park to help with her distress, she begrudgingly agrees for Maria's sake. 

As family secrets unravel in Maria's homecoming, Justin, too, uncovers his desire for a countess. And, while he may believe he's found an obvious candidate in the beautiful 25-year-old Lady Estelle, she is most certain that they could never make a match... 


Hellie’s Heeds 

Once the Bridgertons all get their Netflix seasons as they justly deserve, I pray the next romance novel series that is brought to life is Balogh’s Westcott series. Not only do I want to see the Duke of Netherby brought to life (a younger Benedict Cumberbatch sort), I want a reason to finally get that family tree printout I’ve always wanted to keep all the characters straight. I love them. They’re meddling. They’re haughty. They defy convention. Shonda Rhimes would have a blast in reconstructing every wedding of the Westcotts, where each of them basically get out of a big wedding and do some sort of elopement on the fly. Except this one. Hurrah, fans, finally a big wedding! 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. And I hope you don’t mind I gave away the happily ever after, but if you’ve read any Mary Balogh books, you know a HEA is in the offing, no matter how much on tenterhooks she might be keeping her readers. Instead, we start off the book with a beloved character–Lady Estelle–who is the twin daughter of the Marquess of Dorchester, who you might remember (if you too have a family tree printout) is married to Viola Kingsley, who we learned in the first book was bigamously married to the Earl of Riverdale, who died and ruined everyone’s lives, starting us on this grand adventure of a series. Of course, you don’t need to know all this or have read Viola’s book–or the ones before it–but much like the Bridgerton series, it’s more satisfying if you do because all the characters are beloved family members you know better than your own family.  

Lady Estelle has agreed to accompany a friend, Maria, in order for her to get settled. Maria is being forced back home after several years of being estranged from her stepbrother, Justin, whom she believes wronged her mother and their family. Lady Estelle, not one to judge and willing to help her friend, also does not care for Justin from the few interactions they have had. Think Pride & Prejudice. There’s haughtiness. There’s stilted conversation. There’s a terrible proposal. Justin does not acquit himself well. I was delighted by it, wondering how the hero was going to win her over.  

But slowly the truth begins to reveal itself. Slowly the real Justin emerges from the brittle hard man his sister and her friend see; and Estelle is confused who the real Justin is: the one her friend has told her horrible stories about or the one who shows true kindness in the most unexpected ways? Balogh does what she does best: she creates and mingles large, complicated yet kind families together to show the joy of the ties that bind. Yes, there are outbursts and Dramatic Scenes, but the family who stays together, talks it out and gives each other grace. It’s lovely to read and enjoy–and when the truth is actually revealed, we see that first impressions aren’t always true.  

I think this book made a nice ending for the Westcott series (though of course, I wouldn’t say no to a book for Bertrand.) If I had one critique–I was a bit disappointed about Justin’s father. I think Balogh clearly motivated her character in why he behaved how he did. I can see it, but I didn’t like him for it. For other readers, they may also have an issue with how the father behaved and that aspect would keep it from being a truly satisfying book. As someone who realizes life doesn’t always allow do-overs or people to get everything right the first time, or how one’s virtue can also be their downfall, it made sense to me even though I was sad for the characters.  

I enjoyed this book enough to garner it 5 stars (it would truly have to be a bad book indeed for me to do otherwise to a Balogh book) but I would say this wasn’t my favorite of the series. (Though that proposal will likely live on in my memory. Egads.) This may be because the Duke of Netherby didn’t have such a starring role as he’s had in other offshoots–and he is hilarious every time he enters the fray. But if I had to pick a favorite character here, Lady Maple is perhaps the most like Netherby: eccentric, unfiltered, confident. Still, this book is studded with lots of characters, all wonderful, real, and heart-warming. Highly recommend.

Are you a Mary Balogh fan? Have you been reading the Westcott series? 

For what series would you most like "just one more book?" 

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 6:00 PM (EST), December 25 will receive a print copy of Someone Perfect.

*U.S. only

*Must be 18

*Void where prohibited 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Tour Review - - An Unexpected Distraction

An Unexpected Distraction
by Catherine Bybee
Richter - Book 3
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: November 30, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Jacqueline “Jax” Simon knows how to expose secrets: she’s a skilled operative with MacBain Security and Solutions. When Jax hears her parents are divorcing, she races to London to find out why. She’s determined to learn the truth, especially when her investigation uncovers why her parents sent her to Richter, the German military school that made her a fighter.

Andrew Craig collects Jax at Heathrow Airport as a favor. He’s heard she’s a handful, but he didn’t know she’s dangerously gorgeous too. His instant attraction could change his life…or end it.

Jax doesn’t want to fall for Andrew, but soon he’s worming his way into her life. Together, they infiltrate Richter to discover if it has returned to its covert purpose: training children to be spies and assassins and blackmailing parents to look the other way. As the attraction between the two intensifies, so do the secrets exploding all around them. How deadly are those secrets—and who will survive?

PJ's Thoughts:

Catherine Bybee hits it out of the park with another heart-tugging, breath-stealing story that kept me glued to the pages from start to finish. From the early meet cute to the explosive conclusion, I was so deeply immersed in the lives of these characters that I completely lost track of time.

I really enjoyed Andrew. I loved his personality, his playfulness, and his absolute respect for all the facets of who Jax is. The chemistry between these two sizzles, as does the banter. Their scenes in Germany show how great a couple they are, in all situations. 

Jax is a very complex character. It was fun to peel back the layers and watch her evolve both personally and professionally. I enjoyed the multi-layered relationships within her family and how that all played out, especially her changing relationship with her mother.  

The suspense portion of the book is well plotted, with plenty of red herrings to keep me guessing. There's a suspense sub-plot that is concluded within this book but also an overlying one that will continue to play out in future book(s). I am fully invested in the outcome and will be buying all future books in this series. She has me hooked!

This is the third book of a series with a romantic thread that stands on its own and offers a happy ending in this book. The suspense thread, however, is part of an arc that continues throughout the series and, while the portion pertaining to Jax and Andrew is concluded in this story, there were times when I felt I was missing critical information that would have deepened my understanding of the overall mystery. For that reason, and also to better understand some secondary characters whose stories have already been told, I would suggest reading the books within the series in order. I have already downloaded book one, Changing the Rules, and book two, A Thin Disguise, and will be reading them soon. All three are available for purchase or in Kindle Unlimited. 



Andrew stood aside, put his beverage down. “I’ll walk you out.”

Outside the bar, the cold, damp London air snapped her spine straight.

“Where is your car?”

Jax pointed across the street and up toward her brother’s place. “I’m capable of getting there on my own.”

“I would suspect anyone who jumps out of airplanes and plays on America’s military bases is capable of more than crossing the street.”

“Then why are you out here?”

The light turned green and they started walking.

“I want to help.”

“Help with what?”

“Your investigation. That’s why Harry asked you to come, isn’t it?”

“Is that what he told you?”

“He told me he needed family reinforcements to get his dad to move out of his flat.”

That sounded like the words her brother would use.

“I have a feeling my father is going to be just as helpful putting this to rest as my mother.”

“He didn’t seem excited to see you.”

“Thank you for pointing that out.”

Andrew paused his step. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive.”

She stopped, turned to look at him. “I’m pretty sure I remember telling you my family was cold. Back when I thought you were a driver who didn’t know them personally.”

“Right. I’m sorry about that, too.”

Jax started walking again. “I tipped you.”

He followed. “I’ll pay you back.”

They crossed another intersection, and she slowed her pace as the rental car came into view.

She wondered if there was a way for Andrew to help her. “Do you work with my dad?”

He shook his head. “No. I’m in finance, but with the private sector. Hedge funds have no appeal to me.”

“There’s more money in it.” Jax stopped at the car.

“And less quality of life. Look at your brother, he doesn’t have any hair left.”


Andrew reached out his hand.

She looked at it.

He wiggled his fingers as if asking for something. “Your phone. In case you need backup.”

“There’s an entire team here in London.”

He pointed to his chest. “But only one of me.”

That sounded like a line. But she handed him her phone anyway.

He pressed a button to power it on, then turned it toward her so it would open.

A sly smile sat on his lips as he put in his phone number.

When his phone buzzed, he silenced it quickly, obviously pleased with himself.

“Was this about me getting ahold of you, or you getting ahold of me?”


Jax narrowed her gaze, saw the same attraction she had the night they’d met. “I’m not here for that.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His eyes twitched. His smile grew.

Instead of calling him out, she reached for her keys.

He opened the door and waited for her to get behind the wheel “Petrol,” he said.

Jax looked up at him, confused. “What?”

“My last credit card transaction was at the petrol station.”

It was hard not to smile. “You’re an interesting man, Andrew.”

He leaned down with a knowing smile. “You have beautiful legs, Jax.”

She was blushing . . . she could feel the heat in her cheeks.

He closed the door and stepped back.

Jax drove away without saying goodbye, knowing full well she’d see him again.

Order Links:

Friday, December 17, 2021

Tour Review - - Rodeo Christmas at Evergreen Ranch


Rodeo Christmas at Evergreen Ranch
by Maisey Yates
Gold Valley Novels - Book 13
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: October 26, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Gold Valley’s rodeo champion is facing the toughest challenge of his life – a Christmas wedding!

Legendary bull-rider Jake Daniels has only one plan this holiday season – to ignore the pain it always brings. Until his best friend Callie Carson shows up on his ranch with a marriage proposal! Jake has lived so close to the edge it’s a miracle he’s still alive – he knows all about risk. But marrying the woman he craves more than anything feels like the biggest risk of all.

Callie Carson might be rodeo royalty, but to fulfil her dreams of riding saddle bronc, she needs her inheritance. And to access that, she needs a husband. But Jake the husband is deliciously different from Jake the friend, especially after the wild heat of their wedding night! He was only supposed to be her cowboy for Christmas, but Jake’s every heart-stopping touch has Callie questioning how she’ll ever be able to walk away…

PJ's Thoughts:

I can always count on Maisey Yates for sizzling, emotional, heart-tugging reads and Rodeo Christmas at Evergreen Ranch is no exception. This friends-to-lovers, marriage-of-convenience story grabbed me from the start and held me captive right up to the sigh-worthy end.

I was a little concerned in the early stages of this book that Yates might take it old school, with an older, alpha, my-way-or-the-highway hero and a young, inexperienced, no-agency heroine. Happily, she chose a different path, giving Callie a significant growth arc, allowing her to evolve into an equal partner in their relationship, learning lessons along the way but also using the wisdom she gains. I loved her hard-earned confidence, how she was willing to fight her family for her dreams, and the stand she took to bring Jake out of the darkness.

Like his cousins (Gold Valley - Books 9-12), Jake carries deep emotional baggage from the tragic accident that claimed their parents' lives when he was a teen, baggage that has guided his relationships (or lack thereof) ever since. Callie is his dearest friend and has been since she was a young girl but she's all grown up now and inciting feelings that have him running. This is very much a journey of growth for Jake as well. Yates guides him through a difficult, at times, heartrending, journey of self-forgiveness, acceptance, and understanding on his way to a well-deserved happy ending.

If you enjoy sexy, emotional, and a bit angsty, friends-to-lovers romance with snappy banter, complicated family dynamics, significant character growth, and well-deserved happy endings, give this one a try. Also, don't be put off by the fact that it's the 13th book of a series. You'll meet characters from books 9-12 of the series, but this one works well as a standalone.


Buy Links: 



Barnes & Noble




Social Links:

Author Website

Facebook: @MaiseyYates.Author

Instagram: @maiseyyates

Twitter: @maiseyyates


Maisey Yates is a New York Times bestselling author of over one hundred romance novels. Whether she's writing strong, hard working cowboys, dissolute princes or multigenerational family stories, she loves getting lost in fictional worlds. An avid knitter with a dangerous yarn addiction and an aversion to housework, Maisey lives with her husband and three kids in rural Oregon.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Tour Review - - Sleigh Bells Ring


Sleigh Bells Ring
by RaeAnne Thayne
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: October 26, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Angel’s View Ranch has always been special to Annelise McCade. Once upon a time, it was her family’s land, until her grandfather sold it to billionaire Wallace Sheridan. Now employed as the live-in caretaker, Annie is just trying to make it through the holidays with both her sanity and her niece's and nephew’s faith in the magic of Christmas intact.

The six-year-old twins recently lost their mother, so Annie tells herself it wouldn’t be a problem to bring them to Angel’s View. Why should it be? The Sheridans haven’t visited in years, not since Wallace died. They would never know the twins were there…until Tate Sheridan shows up out of the blue two weeks before Christmas.

Crushed to learn that Tate is there to sell his grandfather’s property—and mortified that her secret guests have been discovered—Annie offers her resignation. But Tate asks them to stay and help him get the house ready for one last family Christmas before it’s put on the market.

Annie and Tate have three days to work their magic before the Sheridan clan arrives—and to work through the growing attraction between them. But Annie simply can’t fall for the man who will put her out of a job and a home. Still, the sparkle of the season is impossible to deny…and this Christmas has surprises in store for everyone.

PJ'S Thoughts:

RaeAnne Thayne is one of my go-to, feel-good authors and her newest book, Sleigh Bells Ring, is one of my favorite holiday stories this year. This book checks all of my Christmas story boxes. There's a childhood friend/reunion (closed door) romance, multi-layered family dynamics, adorable kids, complex characters, humor, emotional depth, and a heart-tugging happy ending. I mean, really, what more could I want?

One of the facets of Thayne's writing I most enjoy is her characters. She takes the time to fully develop them, adding layers and depth, giving them flaws that make them both relatable and realistic. I like that they aren't perfect, that they sometimes make bad choices. And I appreciate that she holds them accountable for those choices, giving them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow into people who make better decisions.

I very much enjoyed the sense of community in this book, both within the town and within family. Several characters' stories are interwoven throughout the book, adding richness to both the reading experience and the journey of the main couple. The family "community" isn't always smooth sailing but Thayne guides them to a better place with kindness, forgiveness, and love. By the end of the book, I was firmly in each of their corners, cheering them on and happily confident in their futures. 

I highly recommend adding this one to your holiday reading list. 





Backed into a corner and taking fire from multiple fronts, Annelise McCade launched missiles as fast as she could manage against her enemies. She was outnumbered. They had teamed up to attack her with agile cunning and skill.

At least it was a nice day for battle. The snow the night before hadn’t been particularly substantial but it had still left everything white and sparkly and the massive ranch house behind her was solid and comforting in the December afternoon sunlight. 

A projectile hit her square in the face, an icy splat against her skin that had her gasping. 

At her instinctive reaction, giggles rang out across the snowy expanse. She barely took time to wipe the cold muck off her cheek. “No fair, aiming for the face,” she called back. “That’s against the rules.”

“It was an accident,” her six-year-old nephew, Henry, admitted. “I didn’t mean to hit your face.” 

“You’ll pay for that one.” She scooped up several more balls as fast as she could manage and hurled them across the battlefield at Henry and his twin sister, Alice. 

“Do you give up?” she called. 


Henry followed up his defiance by throwing a snowball back at her. His aim wasn’t exactly accurate—hence her still-dripping face—but it still hit her shoulder and made her wince. 

“Never!” his twin sister, Alice, cried out. She had some difficulty pronouncing her Rs, so her declaration sounded like “Nevoh.” 

Alice threw with such force the effort almost made her spin around like a discus thrower in the Olympics. 

It was so good to hear them laughing. In the week since they had come to live with her temporarily, Annie had witnessed very little of this childish glee. 

Not for the first time, she cursed her brother and the temper he had inherited from their father and grandfather. If not for that temper, compounded by the heavy drinking that had taken over his life since his wife’s death a year ago, Wes would be here with the twins right now, throwing snowballs in the cold sunshine. 

Grief for all that these children had lost was like a tiny shard of ice permanently lodged against her heart. But at least they could put their pain aside for a few moments to have fun outside on a snowy December day. 

She might not be the perfect temporary guardian but it had been a good idea to make them come outside after homework for a little exercise and fresh air. 

She was doing her best, though she was wholly aware that she was only treading water. 

For now, this moment, she decided she would focus on gratitude. The children were healthy, they all had a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs and their father should be back home with them in less than a month. 

Things could be much, much worse. 

“Time out,” Henry gasped out during a lull in the pitched battle. “We gotta make more snowballs.” 

“Deal. Five-minute break, starting now.” 

Annie pulled her glove off long enough to set the timer on her smartwatch, then ducked behind the large landscape boulder she was using as cover and scooped up several snowballs to add to her stash. 

The sun would be going down in another hour and already the temperature had cooled several degrees. The air smelled like impending snow, though she knew only a dusting was forecast, at least until the following weekend. 

She didn’t worry. Holly Creek, Wyoming, about an hour south of Jackson Hole in the beautiful Star Valley, almost always had a white Christmas. 

Annie’s phone timer went off just as she finished a perfectly formed snowball. “Okay. Time’s up,” she called. Without standing up, she launched a snowball to where she knew the twins would be. 

An instant later, she heard a deep grunt that definitely did not sound like Henry or Alice. 

Annie winced. Levi Moran, the ranch manager, or his grizzled old ranch hand, Bill Shaw, must have wandered across the battlefield in the middle of a ceasefire without knowing he was about to get blasted. 

“Sorry,” she called, rising to her feet. “I didn’t mean to do that.” 

She saw a male figure approach, wearing sunglasses. The sun reflecting off the new snow was hitting his face and she couldn’t instantly identify him. 

“No doubt,” he said, wiping snow off his face with his sleeve. She frowned. This was definitely not Levi or Bill. 

He stepped closer and Annie felt as if an entire avalanche of snow had just crumbled away from the mountain and buried her. 

She knew this man, though it had been nearly two decades since Annie had seen him in person. 

It couldn’t be anyone else. 

Dark hair, lean, gorgeous features. Beneath those sunglasses, she knew she would find blue eyes the color of Bear Lake in summertime. 

The unsuspecting man she had just pummeled with a completely unprovoked snowball attack had to be Tate Sheridan. 

Her de facto boss. 

The twins had fallen uncharacteristically silent, wary of a tall, unsmiling stranger. Henry, she saw, had moved closer to his twin sister and slipped his hand in hers. 

Annie’s mind whirled trying to make sense of what she was seeing. 

Tate Sheridan. Here. After all this time. 

She shouldn’t be completely shocked, she supposed. It was his family’s house, after all. For many years when her father was the ranch manager, the Sheridans had trekked here annually from the Bay Area several times a year for the Christmas season, as well as most summers. 

His younger sister had been her very best friend in the world, until tragedy and pain and life circumstances had separated them. 

She had wondered when she agreed to take the job if she would see Tate again. She hadn’t truly expected to. She had worked here for nearly a year and he hadn’t once come to his grandfather’s Wyoming vacation ranch. 

How humiliating, that he would show up when she was in the middle of a snowball fight with her niece and nephew— who had no business being there in the first place! 

“What are you doing here?” she burst out, then winced. She wanted to drag the words back. It was his family’s property. He had every right to be there.

“I might ask the same of you. Along with a few more obvious questions, I suppose. Who are you and why are you having a snowball fight in the middle of my property?” 

“You don’t know who I am?” 

Of course he wouldn’t, she realized. And while she thought of him often, especially over the past year while living at Angel’s View once more, he probably had not given her a moment’s thought. 

“Should I?” 

It was stupid to feel a little hurt. “

Annelise McCade. My dad was Scott McCade.” 

He lifted his sunglasses, giving her an intense look. A moment later, she saw recognition flood his features. 

“Little Annie McCade. Wow. You’re still here, after all this time?” 

She frowned. He didn’t have to make it sound like she was a lump of mold growing in the back of the refrigerator. She had lived a full life in the nearly two decades since she had seen Tate in person. 

She had moved away to California with her mother, struggling through the painful transition of being a new girl in a new school. She had graduated from college and found success in her chosen field. She had even been planning marriage a year ago, to a man she hardly even thought about anymore. 

“Not really still here as much as here again. I’ve been away for a long time but returned a year ago. Wallace…your grandfather hired me to be the caretaker of Angel’s View.” 

She saw pain darken his expression momentarily, a pain she certainly shared. Even after two months, she still expected her phone to ring and Wallace Sheridan to be on the other end of the line, calling for an update on the ranch he loved. 

The rest of the world had lost a compelling business figure with a brilliant mind and a keen insight into human nature. 

Annie had lost a friend. 

“I’m sorry for your loss,” she said softly. 

“Thank you.” His voice was gruff and he looked away, his gaze landing on the twins, who were watching their interaction with unusual solemnity. 

“Are these yours?” He gestured to the children and Annie was aware of a complex mix of emotions, both protectiveness and guilt. 

The children shouldn’t be here. She had never asked permission from anyone in the Sheridan family to have the twins move into the caretaker’s apartment with her. 

She deeply regretted the omission now. While it was a feeble defense, she hadn’t really known whom to ask. No one in the Sheridan organization seemed to be paying the slightest attention to any of the goings-on at a horse ranch in western Wyoming that represented only a small portion of the vast family empire. 

Annie knew she was in the wrong here. No matter what uproar might have been happening during Wallace’s illness and subsequent death, she should have applied to someone for permission to bring the twins to live with her here. 

Instead, she had simply assumed it shouldn’t be a problem since it was only a temporary situation and the children would be back with their father after the first of the year with no one in the family knowing they had been here at all. 

“Not mine. They are my niece and nephew. Wes’s children.” 

Tate and Wes were similar in age, she remembered, and had been friends once upon a time, just as Annelise had been close to Tate’s younger sister Brianna. The McCades lived on the ranch year-round while the Sheridan children only visited a few times a year, but somehow they had all managed to have a warm, close bond and could always pick up where they left off when the Sheridans came back to the ranch. 

She could only hope Tate would remember that bond and forgive her for overstepping and bringing the children here. 

“Henry and Alice are staying with me for a few weeks because of a…family situation.” 

“Our mommy died last year and our daddy is in the slammer,” Henry announced. 

Annie winced, not quite sure where he had picked up that particular term. Not from her, certainly. She wouldn’t have used those words so bluntly but couldn’t deny they were accurate. 

Tate looked nonplussed at the information. “Is that right?” 

“It’s only temporary,” she told him quickly. “Wes had a little run-in with the law and was sentenced to serve thirty days in the county jail. The children are staying with me in the caretaker’s apartment through the holidays. I hope that’s okay.” 

Tate didn’t seem to know how to respond. She had the impression it was very much not okay with him. 

“We can talk about it later.” 

Annie frowned, anxiety and nerves sending icy fingers down her spine. She didn’t like the sound of that. 

What would she do if he told her she had to find somewhere else for the children to spend Christmas? She would have to quit. She didn’t want do that as she enjoyed working here. But what other choice would she have? 

“Why don’t we, um, go inside,” she suggested. “We can talk more there.” 

“We won, right?” Alice pressed. “We hit you like six times and you only hit us twice each.” 

Her priority right now wasn’t really deciding who won a snowball fight. But then, she was not six years old. “You absolutely won.” 

“Yay! That means we each get two cookies instead of only one!” 

Annie had always planned to give them two cookies each, anyway. She was a sucker for these two. The twins knew this and took full advantage. 

“Kids, why don’t you go change out of your snow stuff and hang out in your room for a few moments,” she said when they were inside the mudroom. “I’ll be there soon to get your cookies.” 

The twins looked reluctant but they went straight to her apartment through her own private entrance, leaving her alone with Tate. 

Excerpted from Sleigh Bells Ring by RaeAnne Thayne. Copyright © 2021 by RaeAnne Thayne LLC. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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RaeAnne Thayne is the #1 Publishers Weekly, New York Times, and USA TODAY bestselling author of more than sixty books. Her books have been described as "poignant and sweet," with "beautiful, honest storytelling that goes straight to the heart." She finds inspiration from the beautiful northern Utah mountains, where she lives with her family.