Friday, July 31, 2020

Hasty by Julia Kent ~ Excerpt & Giveaway


Hasty
Julia Kent
(Do-Over Series, #4)
Publication date: July 28th 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

AN ALL-NEW STANDALONE FROM NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR JULIA KENT

I never thought my perp walk would lead to true love.

Then again, I never thought I’d be arrested on RICO charges and hauled away in zip ties on camera for the world to see, minutes after closing the most amazing deal of my career.

And all of it in front of my biggest viral, billionaire wunderkind Ian McRory.

I am broke.

I am disgraced.

I am alone.

I am a sucker.

But the worst part? I have to go back to my hometown and live in my bedroom filled with relics from my childhood.

Lisa Frank never made me so mad before.

Just when I needed a rescue, I got one — in the form of help from my biggest rival.

He can’t bring back my money.

He certainly can’t bring back my reputation or my pride.

But there’s one thing he can bring back to me.

A sense of hope.

Maybe even love.

Ian sees something in me no one else does, and he’s relentless about making me see it, too. As we grow closer, I’m starting to see that while my entire life used to be a lie, the truth is staring me in the present — and it’s a truth I like very, very much, hot eyes and gorgeous smile and all.

But I have to be careful.

I can’t be too —

That’s right.

Hasty.

The final book in the USA Today bestselling Do-Over Series (Fluffy, Perky, Feisty), as Mallory’s sister, Hastings “Hasty” Monahan gets her turn at a happily ever after that starts off with an arrest.

Hers.

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EXCERPT:

Today is the best day of my life.

I know people say that, and they mean it, but they don’t mean this. My best day is better than anyone else’s. Trust me.

I know.

I’m sitting at a table at Essentialz, a five-star restaurant in San Francisco. Everyone at the table watches me as I tuck the signed paperwork away in my black Bottega Veneta woven leather brief bag.

I, Hastings Monahan, just signed a nine-figure investment deal on behalf of the venture capital firm I work for.

Full partner, here I come.

Of course, lawyers will handle the majority of this. The signatures are symbolic as much as they are legal. But the fellow diners at my carefully crafted table will go back to China with an exciting opportunity for their company, Zhangwa Telecommunications, to enter the North American market with climate-change technology projecting yields that are the best aphrodisiac ever.

As I sip from my glass of Montrachet Grand Cru, I catch the eye of Ming Bannerton, a consultant with Zhangwa whose father is a high-ranking U.S State Department official in China, a woman who has a hunger for financial success that I can spot in anyone in three seconds flat. There’s something special about a fellow hustler–and when I use the word hustler, I don’t mean it pejoratively.

People who hustle get things done.

We connect. We network. We pattern match. We ruthlessly apply what we intuitively feel to what we operationally know in order to produce optimal outcomes.

In short–we hustle.

And we win.

But in competition, there can only be one winner.

One.

Tonight, I’m it.

Her smile mirrors mine, red lips stretched over perfectly white teeth that are as straight as a new picket fence. The smile doesn’t reach her eyes, but an intensity infuses her. She’s about five years younger than me, with a knowing eye that tells me we need to stay in touch. Someday soon, she may shoot past me, and that’s where all the legwork pays off.

In this business, you network down as well as you network up, if you want to get anywhere.

And the manila folder resting in my brief bag, the one that feels like a warm gold ingot pressed against my lips? That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you get somewhere.

“Where is Burke?” Mr. Zhao Bai asks, his head at a slight tilt, a gesture of genuine curiosity as his eyes survey me, looking for information that doesn’t come directly from my mouth. He’s the youngest of the four men at the table, a fast talker who looks around the room like he’s a mob boss. Negotiating with him took a steady hand I didn’t know I possessed, but now I understand.

Burke is part of the deal, and I didn’t realize it.

The contracts are signed, though. That makes my husband an off-the-books addendum. No matter what, this is my accomplishment.

My husband, Burke Oonaj, is one of the hottest market makers in finance right now. Even he will have no choice but to be impressed by the deal I’ve just put together.

But the inquiry about my husband makes my uterus fall.

And it’s not like he’s around to catch it.

“Good question,” I say before taking another sip of wine, needing to buy myself a smidgen of space and time. I only need a split second.

Normally.

For some reason that I can’t explain, my emotions are tangling in my mind, and that’s an unpredictable variable I have to weed out.

Fast.

My heart feels strangely heavy in my chest, a sense of dread filling me that has no right to be here. This is MY night, I tell that sense of dread. This is MY deal. This is my culmination of six years of careful work, all coming together, right now.

Go away, dread.

But Mr. Zhao’s question is a good one, because Burke isn’t answering any of my texts or emails or phone calls, and hasn’t for the last three days.

My husband has disappeared.

Not literally, of course, because husbands don’t just do that. Business travel can be intense. Plenty of stretches of time have gone by without hearing from him. They involved twenty-four hours or less, though.

Not eighty-one hours and thirteen minutes.

Not that I’m counting.

I can’t admit any of this to anyone at this table, of course, so instead, I give what my pattern-matching brain tells me is the optimal answer, designed to make me look good.

“Burke’s fine,” I say with a grin, the glass of wine still full enough to make more sips look like an appropriate response. “He sends his best regards. He would have been here tonight, but… you know.”

Two of the men share a look I don’t like. It’s a fleeting glance, the type that is practiced and meant to look like nothing. You think I’m paranoid, that I’m inventing it all?

Wrong.

I’m in a state of hyperarousal.

No, not the sexual kind. Haven’t felt that in a long time, at least not with Burke. My hyperarousal is based around the stress hormones pumping through me from the excitement of what I just accomplished.

Me. Myself. Alone.

Independent of Burke.

As workday smiles stretch to become the more casual, intimate grins of people enjoying bottle after bottle of excellent wine, I loosen up. The answer I gave them sufficed. We can move on.

My body feels numb and excited at the same time. I’m on top of the world. The pinnacle.

I am Peak Hastings.

Which is why, when the maître d’ approaches my side, I don’t pick up on the gravity of his whisper. No one would. Because learning that my credit card has been declined for this business dinner is definitely not part of the plan, and the areas of my brain assigned to processing language literally can’t comprehend it.

“It’s what?” I whisper, standing carefully, legs still steady, my alcohol consumption measured, even if my tablemates have made their way through more wine than an entire wedding party back home.

The maître d’, José, gives me a wide-eyed but polite look. “I’m sorry, Ms. Monahan. This has never happened before when you’ve dined with us. But the credit card company was very firm. You cannot use this one.”

Mr. Zhao gives me an inquiring look. My stomach sinks. Did he overhear?

“Will you all excuse me?” I tell them, hating the disruption, my legs turning into two steel beams covered in chilled skin.

“Something must be wrong with the credit card processor,” I snap at the maître d’ as I hurry away from my group. I want to get the taint of this failure out of the way and get back to my stellar success.

Once we’re out of sight of my table, I rifle through my purse and find another business credit card. “Use this one. And let me be very clear, to you and to your boss, that this is absolutely, abjectly unacceptable.”

He inserts the card, chip side in. “I realize this, Ms. Monahan, but we cannot…”

Beep.

He stares at the credit card terminal.

I read the display upside down. “Declined!” I hiss. “This is impossible! That card has no limit!”

“Perhaps you’ve had your identity stolen, or there are fraud alerts on your account? Perhaps you’re the victim of a financial crime?” José suggests.

“I can’t be the victim of a financial crime!” I snap at him. “I’m a financial expert! This doesn’t happen to people like me. Here!” I shove a third company card at him. This one better work.

I only have one more.

My mind races ahead, conjuring contingency plans, even as my cheeks burn with shame.

Shame.

Why would I feel shame for someone else’s mistake? And yet, there it is, and I have to override it fast. Because if I don’t, it gets a toehold.

And that is the fastest way to lose your edge.

José closes his eyes and lets out a sigh through his nose, a split second before the display terminal beeps.

Again.

“Your computer system is down,” I declare, pulling out the fourth card and my phone, texting my office manager. Maybe something went wrong. Maybe José is right. Maybe we were hacked. But this is surreal enough to let the dread come inside me and have a seat, as it decides whether to become an overnight guest.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m staring at a mid-four-figure bill that I owe, right now, and have no way to settle.

This cannot be happening.

As he runs the fourth card, the main door opens. My spine straightens, calves stretching tall, and not just from the five-inch heels I’m wearing.

I know that man.

I hate that man.

And he’s the last person on Earth I want to see in the middle of this debacle.

Ian McCrory cannot see me like this.


Author Bio:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julia Kent writes romantic comedy with an edge. Since 2013, she has sold more than 2 million books, with 4 New York Times bestsellers and more than 19 appearances on the USA Today bestseller list. Her books have been translated into French and German, with more titles releasing in 2020 and beyond.

From billionaires to BBWs to new adult rock stars, Julia finds a sensual, goofy joy in every contemporary romance she writes. Unlike Shannon from Shopping for a Billionaire, she did not meet her husband after dropping her phone in a men's room toilet (and he isn't a billionaire she met in a romantic comedy).

She lives in New England with her husband and three children where she is the only person in the household with the gene required to change empty toilet paper rolls.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bookbub / Newsletter / Amazon


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Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Good Samaritan by Melynda Price ~ Excerpt & Giveaway


The Good Samaritan
Melynda Price
Publication date: July 30th 2020
Genres: Adult, Thriller
“Only through death, can one truly experience life…”
~The Good Samaritan

With dreams of becoming an Emergency physician, resident Dr. Emma Rhodes has struggled to overcome the tragedy of her past. She’s moving on with her life and reinventing herself despite the guilt that still haunts her. Emma’s goals are finally within her grasp, and the fresh start she’s worked so hard for is hers for the taking. Or is it?
Shot in the line of duty, Detective Sawyer Gerrard owes Dr. Rhodes his life. A budding friendship with the doctor quickly ignites into a complicated relationship when a series of murders leads him to believe she’s being targeted by a serial killer. When the Good Samaritan claims yet another victim, the investigation takes a dangerous turn. The killer knows Emma’s secret and he’s toying with Sawyer, pulling them into a deadly game of cat and mouse where there’s only one rule: nothing is as it seems…


EXCERPT:

“That’s one of the victims?”
Closing the file, he set it aside. “She was his first one. That we know of. I want to warn you that these interviews are going to get personal. But with any luck, we’ll find a thread that will help us catch this guy.”
A shadow of concern crossed her face, but it was gone so fast he almost missed it. Emma had secrets she wasn’t going to part with easily.
“Can you tell me about you past boyfriends? Men you’ve dated? I need first and last names. Phone numbers if you still have them.” He flipped the tablet to a clean page, set the pen on it, and pushed it across the table.
Something painful flashed in her verdant eyes, her expression locking down. “There isn’t anyone.” She slid the tablet back to him.
She’d told him she wasn’t dating right now, but never? Not possible. But why hide it? No way she had no one to put on that list.
“Everyone has someone in their past, Emma. You haven’t been living in a convent for the past twenty-six years. This is important—”
She exhaled a sigh, grabbed the tablet back, and scribbled a name on it before pushing it toward him. “This isn’t going to help you.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because he’s dead.”
Good thing Sawyer was experienced in masking his emotions because Emma just surprised the hell out of him. It explained a lot. Why she didn’t date, why she buried herself in her work. She was obviously still in love with the guy. He’d known there was more to it than simply being busy with her residency. And now her virgin status took on a whole new meaning. These were all questions he was dying to know the answer to, but in this context, he had no business asking. He felt like a prick for being jealous of a ghost and stuffed the emotion before it could take root. “All right, so no boyfriends. What about the hopefuls? Guys that have been interested in you?”
She shrugged.
Well, that was clear as mud. “What about Blake Weston?” he prodded.
Her gaze snapped up and locked on his. “Blake’s my boss.”
“I’m not sure how that excludes him from the list.”
“He knows how I feel about mixing my personal life with my professional one. I’ve been very clear with him. I don’t date the people I work with.”
Her tone was clipped, as if he’d offended her by even suggesting she’d mix business with pleasure. It still didn’t mean shit, though. Blake Weston had a thing for Emma. Anyone with eyes in their goddamn head could see that. He wrote Blake’s name down then met her eyes with a waiting stare. “Anyone else?”
She returned it, non-pulsed, and didn’t miss a beat when she replied, “Not unless you want to put yourself on that list.”


Author Bio:
Melynda Price is a bestselling and award-winning author of contemporary romance. Her Against the Cage series has finaled in many awards such as the RONE, USA Today BBA, Golden Quill, National Readers’ Choice, and New England Readers’ Choice.
What Price enjoys most about writing is the chance to make her readers fall in love, over and over again. She cites the greatest challenge of writing is making the unbelievable believable, while taking her characters to the limit with stories full of passion and unique twists and turns. Salting stories with undertones of history whenever possible, Price adds immeasurable depth to her well-crafted books. She currently lives in Northern Minnesota with her husband and two children where she has plenty of snow-filled days to curl up in front of the fireplace with her Chihuahua and a hot cup of coffee to write.


GIVEAWAY!

This is not a Stuck In Books giveaway.  Stuck In Books is not responsible for selecting the winner or delivering the prize.


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Swoon Thursday ~ 7/30/20




Who doesn't LOVE a good swoon?!  We love them for sure!  Check out our swoon below and then add to the fun.

Post anything that made you swoon, past or present read.  Include the cover, blurb and links.  Please no spoilers.

          


 

Take a Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters, #2)Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral...

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his... um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?


Swoon...


He laughed and dragged her into a hug, which was fabulous, because Zaf was the most huggable person on earth. He was very sweet and very soft and very firm. He held onto you, not enough that you felt suffocated, but more than enough to make it clear you should stay right there. With him. Because he wanted you to.

I love them, I love them, I love them, I LOVE THEM.


That's our swoon this week!  What about you?  Leave us a comment & a link.







Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Friendship List by Susan Mallery ~ Excerpt & Author Q/A



The Friendship List : A Novel 

Susan Mallery

On Sale Date: August 4, 2020

9781335136961, 1335136967

Hardcover

$26.99 USD, $33.50 CAD

Fiction / Romance / Contemporary 

384 pages




ABOUT THE BOOK:

Already a worldwide success in mass market and trade paperback formats, Susan Mallery’s newest hardcover is an emotional, witty, and heartfelt story about two best friends who are determined to help one another shake things up and live life to the fullest...only to discover that possibilities are everywhere--especially in the most unexpected of places.


Ellen and Unity have been best friends basically since birth, but they couldn’t be more different. Unity married her childhood sweetheart just after high school and became an Army wife, moving from base to base…until her husband's shocking death in the line of duty leaves her a widow. Grief-stricken, it’s time for Unity to come back home to Ellen—the only person she can trust to help her rebuild her life. But Ellen has troubles of her own. Boys never seemed to notice Ellen…until one got her pregnant in high school and disappeared. Her son is now 17 and she’s wondering what to do with herself now that he’s heading off to college and he's literally her entire world.


But now that Ellen and Unity are reunited, they’re done with their stale lives. It’s time to shake things up and start living again, knowing that they'll always have one another to lean on. So they create a list of challenges they have to accomplish--everything from getting a tattoo to skydiving to staying out all night. And whoever completes the most challenges is the winner. But with new adventures and love just around the corner, there’s no such thing as losing…


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Chapter One

 

“I should have married money,” Ellen Fox said glumly. “That would have solved all my problems.”

 Unity Leandre, her best friend, practically since birth, raised her eyebrows. “Because that was an option so many times and you kept saying no?”

“It could have been. Maybe. If I’d ever, you know, met a rich guy I liked and wanted to marry.”

“Wouldn’t having him want to marry you be an equally important part of the equation?”

Ellen groaned. “This is not a good time for logic. This is a good time for sympathy. Or giving me a winning lottery ticket. We’ve been friends for years and you’ve never once given me a winning lottery ticket.”

 Unity picked up her coffee and smiled. “True, but I did give you my pony rides when we celebrated our eighth birthdays.”

 A point she would have to concede, Ellen thought. With their birthdays so close together, they’d often had shared parties. The summer they’d turned eight, Unity’s mom had arranged for pony rides at a nearby farm. Unity had enjoyed herself, but Ellen had fallen in love with scruffy Mr. Peepers, the crabby old pony who carried them around the paddock. At Ellen’s declaration of affection for the pony, Unity had handed over the rest of her ride tickets, content to watch Ellen on Mr. Peepers’s wide back.

 “You were wonderful about the pony rides,” Ellen said earnestly, “And I love that you were so generous. But right now I really need a small fortune. Nothing overwhelming. Just a tasteful million or so. In return, I’ll give back the rides on Mr. Peepers.”

Unity reached across the kitchen table and touched Ellen’s arm. “He really wants to go to UCLA?”

Ellen nodded, afraid if she spoke, she would whimper. After sucking in a breath, she managed to say, “He does. Even with a partial scholarship, the price is going to kill me.” She braced herself for the ugly reality. “Out-of-state costs, including room and board, are about sixty-four thousand dollars.” Ellen felt her heart skip a beat and not out of excitement. “A year. A year! I don’t even bring home that much after taxes. Who has that kind of money? It might as well be a million dollars.”

 Unity nodded. “Okay, now marrying money makes sense.”

 “I don’t have a lot of options.” Ellen pressed her hand to her chest and told herself she wasn’t having a heart attack. “You know I’d do anything for Coop and I’ll figure this out, but those numbers are terrifying. I have to start buying lottery scratchers and get a second job.” She looked at Unity. “How much do you think they make at Starbucks? I could work nights.”

 Unity, five inches taller, with long straight blond hair, grabbed her hands. “Last month it was University of Oklahoma and the month before that, he wanted to go to Notre Dame. Cooper has changed his mind a dozen times. Wait until you go look at colleges this summer and he figures out what he really wants, then see who offers the best financial aid before you panic.” Her mouth curved up in a smile. “No offense, Ellen, but I’ve tasted your coffee. You shouldn’t be working anywhere near a Starbucks.”

“Very funny.” Ellen squeezed her hands. “You’re right. He’s barely seventeen. He won’t be a senior until September. I have time. And I’m saving money every month.”

 It was how she’d been raised, she thought. To be practical, to take responsibility. If only her parents had thought to mention marrying for money.

“After our road trip, he may decide he wants to go to the University of Washington after all, and that would solve all my problems.”

Not just the money ones, but the loneliness ones, she thought wistfully. Because after eighteen years of them being a team, her nearly grown-up baby boy was going to leave her.

 “Stop,” Unity said. “You’re getting sad. I can see it.”

“I hate that you know me so well.”

“No, you don’t.”

 Ellen sighed. “No, I don’t, but you’re annoying.”

“You’re more annoying.”

 They smiled at each other.

 Unity stood, all five feet ten of her, and stretched. “I have to get going. You have young minds to mold and I have a backed-up kitchen sink to deal with, followed by a gate repair and something with a vacuum. The message wasn’t clear.” She looked at Ellen. “You going to be okay?”

Ellen nodded. “I’m fine. You’re right. Coop will change his mind fifteen more times. I’ll wait until it’s a sure thing, then have my breakdown.”

 “See. You always have a plan.”

 They walked to the front door. Ellen’s mind slid back to the ridiculous cost of college.

 “Any of those old people you help have money?” she asked. “For the right price, I could be a trophy wife.”

Unity shook her head. “You’re thirty-four. The average resident of Silver Pines is in his seventies.”

“Marrying money would still solve all my problems.”

Unity hugged her, hanging on tight for an extra second. “You’re a freak.”

 “I’m a momma bear with a cub.”

 “Your cub is six foot three. It’s time to stop worrying.”

 “That will never happen.”

“Which is why I love you. Talk later.”

Ellen smiled. “Have a good one. Avoid spiders.”

 “Always.”

 When Unity had driven away, Ellen returned to the kitchen where she quickly loaded the dishwasher, then packed her lunch. Cooper had left before six. He was doing some end-of-school-year fitness challenge. Something about running and Ellen wasn’t sure what. To be honest, when he went on about his workouts, it was really hard not to tune him out. Especially when she had things like tuition to worry about.

 “Not anymore today,” she said out loud. She would worry again in the morning. Unity was right—Cooper was going to keep changing his mind. Their road trip to look at colleges was only a few weeks away. After that they would narrow the list and he would start to apply. Only then would she know the final number and have to figure out how to pay for it.

Until then she had plenty to keep her busy. She was giving pop quizzes in both fourth and sixth periods and she wanted to update her year-end tests for her two algebra classes. She needed to buy groceries and put gas in the car and go by the library to get all her summer reading on the reserve list.

As she finished her morning routine and drove to the high school where she taught, Ellen thought about Cooper and the college issue. While she was afraid she couldn’t afford the tuition, she had to admit it was a great problem to have. Seventeen years ago, she’d been a terrified teenager, about to be a single mom, with nothing between her and living on the streets except incredibly disappointed and angry parents who had been determined to make her see the error of her ways.

Through hard work and determination, she’d managed to pull herself together—raise Cooper, go to college, get a good job, buy a duplex and save money for her kid’s education. Yay her.

 But it sure would have been a lot easier if she’d simply married someone with money.

 *

 “How is it possible to get a C- in Spanish?” Coach Keith Kinne asked, not bothering to keep his voice down. “Half the population in town speaks Spanish. Hell, your sister’s husband is Hispanic.” He glared at the strapping football player standing in front of him. “Luka, you’re an idiot.”

 Luka hung his head. “Yes, Coach.”

“Don’t ‘yes, Coach’ me. You knew this was happening—you’ve known for weeks. And did you ask for help? Did you tell me?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith thought about strangling the kid but he wasn’t sure he could physically wrap his hands around the teen’s thick neck. He swore silently, knowing they were where they were and now he had to fix things—like he always did with his students.

 “You know the rules,” he pointed out. “To play on any varsity team you have to get a C+ or better in every class. Did you think the rules didn’t apply to you?”

Luka, nearly six-five and two hundred and fifty pounds, slumped even more. “I thought I was doing okay.”

“Really? So you’d been getting better grades on your tests?”

“Not exactly.” He raised his head, his expression miserable. “I thought I could pull up my grade at the last minute.”

“How did that plan work out?”

 “No bueno.”

 Keith glared at him. “You think this is funny?”

 “No, Coach.”

 Keith shook his head. “You know there’s not a Spanish summer school class. That means we’re going to have to find an alternative.”

 Despite his dark skin, Luka went pale. “Coach, don’t send me away.”

 “No one gets sent away.” Sometimes athletes went to other districts that had a different summer curriculum. They stayed with families and focused on their studies.

“I need to stay with my family. My mom understands me.”

 “It would be better for all of us if she understood Spanish.” Keith glared at the kid. “I’ll arrange for an online class. You’ll get a tutor. You will report to me twice a week, bringing me updates until you pass the class.” He sharpened his gaze. “With an A.”

 Luka took a step back. “Coach, no! An A? I can’t.”

 “Not with that attitude.”

 “But, Coach.”

 “You knew the rules and you broke them. You could have come to me for help early on. You know I’m always here for any of my students, but did you think about that or did you decide you were fine on your own?”

 “I decided I was fine on my own,” Luka mumbled.

“Exactly. And deciding on your own is not how teams work. You go it alone and you fail.”

Tears filled Luka’s eyes. “Yes, Coach.”

Keith pointed to the door. Luka shuffled out. Keith sank into his chair. He’d been hard on the kid, but he needed to get the message across. Grades mattered. He was willing to help whenever he could, but he had to be told what was going on. He had a feeling Luka thought because he was a star athlete he was going to get special treatment. Maybe somewhere else, but not here. Forcing Luka to get an A sent a message to everyone who wanted to play varsity sports.

 He’d barely turned to his computer when one of the freshman boys stuck his head in the office. “Coach Kinne! Coach Kinne! There’s a girl crying in the weight room.”

 Keith silently groaned as he got up and jogged to the weight room, hoping he was about to deal with something simple like a broken arm or a concussion. He knew what to do for those kinds of things. Anything that was more emotional, honest to God, terrified him.

 He walked into the weight room and found a group of guys huddled together. A petite, dark-haired girl he didn’t know sat on a bench at the far end, her hands covering her face, her sobs audible in the uneasy silence.

He looked at the guys. “She hurt?”

 They shifted their weight and shook their heads. Damn. So it wasn’t physical. Why didn’t things ever go his way?

“Any of you responsible for whatever it is?” he asked.

More shaken heads with a couple of guys ducking out.

Keith pointed to the door so the rest of them left, then returned his attention to the crying girl. She was small and looked young. Maybe fifteen. Not one of his daughter’s friends or a school athlete—he knew all of them.

He approached the teen, trying to look friendly rather than menacing, then sat on a nearby bench.

 “Hey,” he said softly. “I’m Coach Kinne.”

 She sniffed. Her eyes were red, her skin pale. “I know who you are.”

 “What’s going on?” Don’t be pregnant, don’t be pregnant, he chanted silently.

More tears spilled over. “I’m pregnant. The father is Dylan, only he says he’s not, and I can’t tell my m-mom because she’ll be so mad and he said he l-loved me.”

And just like that Keith watched his Monday fall directly into the crapper.

*

Keith left work exactly at three fifteen. He would be returning to his office to finish up paperwork, supervise a couple of workouts and review final grades for athletes hovering on the edge of academic problems. But first, he had pressing personal business.

He drove the two short miles to his house, walked inside and headed directly for his seventeen-year-old daughter’s room.

Lissa looked up from her laptop when he entered, her smile fading as she figured out he was in a mood. Despite the attitude, she was a beauty. Long dark hair, big brown eyes. Dammit all to hell—why couldn’t he have an ugly daughter who no guy would look at twice?

 “Hi, Dad,” she said, sounding wary. “What’s up?”

 “Spot check.”

She rolled her eyes. “Seriously? There is something wrong with you. I heard what happened at school today. I’m not dumb enough to date a guy like Dylan who would tell a tree stump he loved it if it would have sex with him. I’m not sleeping with anyone and I’m not pregnant. I told you—I’m not ready to have sex, as in I’m still a virgin. You’re obsessed. Would you feel better if I wore a chastity belt?”

 “Yes, but you won’t. I’ve asked.”

 “Da-ad. Why are you like this? Pregnancy isn’t the worst thing that could happen. I could be sick and dying. Wouldn’t that be terrible?”

 “You can’t win this argument with logic. I’m irrational. I accept that. But I’m also the parent, so you have to deal with me being irrational.”

 He pointed to her bathroom. She sighed the long-suffering sigh of those cursed with impossible fathers and got up. He followed her to the doorway and watched as she pulled the small plastic container out of the bathroom drawer and opened it.

 Relief eased the tension in his body. Pills were missing. The right number of pills.

 “You are a nightmare father,” his daughter said, shoving the pills back in the drawer. “I can’t wait until I’m eighteen and I can get the shot instead of having to take birth control pills. Then you’ll only bug me every few months.”

“I can’t wait, either.”

“It’s not like I even have a boyfriend.”

 “You could be talking to someone online.”

 Her annoyance faded as she smiled at him. “Dad, only one of us in this house does the online dating thing and it’s not me.”

 “I don’t online date.”

“Fine. You pick up women online, then go off and have sex with them for the weekend. It’s gross. You should fall in love with someone you’re not embarrassed to bring home to meet me.”

 “I’m not embarrassed. I just don’t want complications.”

 “But you do want to have sex. It’s yucky.”

“Then why are we talking about it?” He pulled her close and hugged her, then kissed the top of her head. “Sorry, Lissa. I can’t help worrying about you.”

 She looked up at him. “Dad, I’m taking my pills every day, not that it matters because I’m not having sex. I’m not. I’ve barely kissed a guy. Having you as my father makes it really difficult to date. Guys don’t want to mess with you and risk being beat up.”

 “Good.”

 She smiled even as she hit him in the arm. “You’re repressing my emotional growth.”

 “Just don’t get pregnant.”

 “You need to find a more positive message. How about ‘be your best self?’”

 “That, too. Gotta go.”

 “I’m having dinner with Jessie tonight. Remember?”

 “No problem. Be home by ten.”

 He got back in his truck but before starting the engine, he quickly texted Ellen. I need a couple of beers and a friendly ear. You around tonight?

 The response came quickly. Only if you bring fried chicken. I have beer and ice cream.

You’re on. See you at six.

Excerpted from The Friendship List by Susan Mallery, Copyright © 2020 by Susan Mallery, Inc.. Published by HQN. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women's lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations," and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.


Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She's passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two Ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.


SOCIAL LINKS:

Twitter: @susanmallery

Facebook: @susanmallery

Instagram: @susanmallery

Author website: https://www.susanmallery.com/


Q&A with Susan Mallery

Q: Where did the inspiration for The Friendship List’s plot come from?

A: The inspiration for The Friendship List came from a reader—but I don’t think it’s exactly the story the reader was asking for. A couple years ago, a reader suggested I write a story about empty nesters, a couple whose children had grown up and were moving out. I considered the idea, but it didn’t immediately sing for me.

Then, while washing dishes—which is when I often get ideas—I thought to myself, “What if it isn’t a couple, but a single mom? And what if she had her baby really young, like in high school? She would be in her midthirties when her kid went to college. What would that be like?”

That’s the spark that led to Ellen, a single mom who had her son when she was a senior in high school. Since then, she has put his needs first, always, to the point where she hasn’t dated really at all in her adult life. When her son was little, she worked her butt off to raise him and go to college to become a math teacher.

The story starts as Ellen overhears her son telling a friend he can’t go away to college because his mom doesn’t have a life without him. They’re a team, and she needs him. Ellen is horrified that she’s holding him back, and she knows she has to do something drastic to convince him that it’s safe for him to follow his dreams.

Unity, Ellen’s best friend for as long as they both can remember, is a young widow, still mourning the death of her husband three years ago. She’s stuck in her grief, and reluctant to change that because getting over her grief might mean really letting go of the love of her life forever. But for Ellen’s sake, Unity comes up with the friendship list—a series of challenges designed to shake up their lives.

One way or another, this will be a summer that will change them forever. The Friendship List is a celebration of friendship. I know authors aren’t supposed to have favorite books, but I have to admit, this is one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written—certainly the funniest. Every day, I couldn’t wait to get to my desk, excited to write that day’s fun scene. It was pure joy from page 1 to The End, and I hope you’ll love it, too.

 

Q: Who is your favorite character in this novel and why?

A: I love both of the friends, but Ellen probably squeaks out a narrow win over Unity simply because her journey was so much fun. Think about it—she had her kid when she was seventeen years old, and from that moment on, her life revolved around him so she missed out on the things most people experience in their twenties. Dating, parties, bar-hopping. She was home studying and taking care of her kid.

And in fact, he’s the impetus for her to change, as well, because she  sees  that what’s best for him now is for her to let go, to get a life of her own. When she realizes all that she’s been missing, she dives in with her whole heart and body, with such enthusiasm that she had me laughing every day. Suddenly she wants to try everything all at once. Love, love, love, love her.

 

Q: Of the challenges in the book, which was the most fun to write about? Why?

A: Oh, that’s a tough one! I don’t know if I want to tell you my favorite-favorite because it might be too much of a spoiler. So instead, I’ll tell you one of my other favorites, which is more of a teaser than a spoiler. 😊 One of Ellen’s challenges is to wear clothes that fit, instead of her normal habit of wearing clothes that are at least three sizes too large for her. Baggy is her comfort zone. The first time she wears an outfit that shows the shape of her body, her pal Keith can’t help looking at her in a whole new way. Here’s a clip:

 

He stared at her in confusion. Something was different with Ellen, he thought, trying to figure out what it was.

 

He cataloged her appearance. Her long hair was pulled back in a ponytail, just like always. She had on makeup maybe, which was a surprise, but made her eyes looked bluer than usual. As for what she was wearing, it was just some shirt thing and pants that stopped just below her knee. Nothing out of the ordinary except—

 

He swore silently. The clothes fit. For once they weren’t swirling around her, the extra fabric concealing every part of her body. He could see the shape of her waist and her hips, the outline of her thighs. And breasts. Ellen had breasts!

 

He realized he was staring and forced his gaze away. Of course she had breasts. Women had breasts. Ellen’s were no big deal. Only he’d never noticed them before and he didn’t want to see them now.

 

Q: What is your idea of a good personal challenge for yourself?

A: The challenges in The Friendship List are meant to push the women out of their comfort zone and be a little intimidating for them, so my personal challenge will have to do the same. Hmm… Oh! How about a plunging V neckline? Cleavage makes me really self-conscious, but I admire women who can proudly show off their curves.

I’m nervous just thinking about it!

 

Q: Do your characters tell you their stories a bit at a time or all at once? Do they ever pull you in unexpected directions changing up the plot you originally planned?

A: Yes, yes, and yes. It depends on the story. Very rarely, a story will come to me fully formed. Daughters of the Bride was like that. A gift book. That almost never happens. Usually, I get a spark of an idea. I write up some notes, then set it aside. If I’m still thinking about it, I know it has potential. I get a lot of ideas that never go anywhere. They might make fine stories for someone else, but if they’re not tugging at me, I let them go.

I’m on the extreme-plotter end of the plotter/pantser spectrum. (For those who don’t know, a plotter is a writer who plots the story in advance. A pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of her pants, without knowing where the story is going.) I generally work out story problems during my plotting process, which makes me feel free to relax and sink into the story while I’m writing.

When I get into the flow of a book, the characters do take over and sometimes they do surprise me. When they take me in a direction I didn’t expect, I have to step back to look at the big picture to adjust. I never try to force a character to do something that doesn’t feel right for him or her. Every decision must be motivated.

In The Friendship List, Unity threw me for a loop early on. I knew she was still in love with her late husband, but until I wrote a particular scene, I didn’t realize just how broken she still was. I did have to make some very serious adjustments to her road to a happy ending. And in the end, as I brought her out of that darkness, I cried. So satisfying!

 

Q: Do you have pets? How do the animals you have now or have had in the past influence writing animals into your stories?

A: Yes, I have three pets. Two ragdoll cats, siblings Alex and Lucy, and a miniature poodle named Kelli. I love animals of all kinds. I’m a big supporter of Seattle Humane and the amazing work they do for animals in and around Seattle.

Animals play a big role in my books. When they have a part in the story, they are genuine characters because I believe, like humans, each animal has its own unique quirks and personality traits. The book I’m working on right now will be the first book in my new series, Wishing Tree—Christmas romances—and there are two dogs in the book who I adore. Bella is a Great Dane who loves to play dress-up in cute canine ensembles, and who is intimidated by a dachshund named Burt. The first Wishing Tree romance will be out in 2021.

 

Q: Is there a genre of books that you have not written yet but might contemplate writing in the future? What might that be?

A: I recently toyed with the idea of writing a thriller. I even did quite a bit of research on Bitcoin, which was going to be a big subplot. I decided against the thriller, but research is never wasted—one of the characters in The Friendship List became a Bitcoin millionaire, and then a regular-money millionaire. Plus, I'm kind of proud of myself—it took me two weeks of research to be able to understand crypto-currency, but I'm now I'm at least cocktail-party level literate. 😊

 

Q: What was the first book you sold/published and how did you celebrate when you received the acceptance letter from the publisher?

A: The first book I sold was a historical romance called Frontier Flame. A few months after that, I sold a book to (then Silhouette) Special Edition. Both books came out the same month, so the first time I was published was with two books. It was very heady! Of course, before that and after that I had many story ideas rejected. Even now, although infrequently, one of my ideas can be rejected. It happened recently. Still stings, but not as badly.

I celebrated my first sale by calling all of my writer friends and squealing over the phone, and then by going out for a nice dinner with my husband.

 

Q: What do you love to do when not writing?

A: I love hanging out with my friends—and I miss that right now because of the coronavirus. Friendship is one of the most fundamental relationships in a woman’s life. You might argue “in a man’s life, too,” but from what I’ve observed, most men don’t have the same visceral need for community that women do. My husband once told me, “You’re all I need.” Which is sweet and romantic and probably true. I love him dearly, more than any other human being on the planet, but I need friends, too. My friends are the family I chose, and I nurture those relationships in every way I can.

 

 


A Stuck In Books Giveaway


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Val has 3 advanced reader copies to give away!

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
Kiss Me in Paris by Catherine Rider




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Waiting On Wednesday ~ 7/29/20


This is our version of Waiting on Wednesday but with more cuddles, books we can't wait to cuddle for various reasons.

What are we waiting on this week?  THIS!






With the stakes this high, it’s no longer just a game for the quarterback in this romance by the author of Blitzed.
Elliot Reed is living her best life—or pretending to. She owes it to her dad’s memory to be happy and make the most of her new job as Strategic Communications Manager for the Denver Mustangs. Things are going well until star quarterback Quinton Howard Jr. decides to use the field as his stage and becomes the first player to take a knee during the national anthem.

As the son of a former professional athlete, Quinton knows the good, the bad, and the ugly about football. He's worked his entire life to gain recognition in the sport, and now that he has it, he’s not about to waste his chance to change the league for better. Not even the brilliant but infuriating Elliot, who the Mustangs assign to manage him, will get Quinton back in line.

A rocky initial meeting only leads to more tension between Quinton and Elliot. But as her new job forces them to spend time together, she realizes they may have more in common than she could've ever imagined. With her job and his integrity on the line, this is one coin toss that nobody can win.


Available October 20, 2020 from Berkley

Why am I waiting?  I read the first book in this series and so loved it!  Definitely want more!


What about you?  What are you waiting on?  Leave us a comment.






Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Stuck In Books Featured Release & Giveaways




From Michele Campbell, the bestselling author of It's Always the Husband comes a new blockbuster thriller in The Wife Who Knew Too Much.

Tabitha Girard had her heart broken years ago by Connor Ford. He was preppy and handsome. She was a pool girl at his country club. Their affair should have been a summer fling. But it meant everything to Tabitha.

Years later, Connor comes back into Tabitha's life—older, richer, and desperately unhappy. He married for money, a wealthy, neurotic, controlling woman whom he never loved. He has always loved Tabitha.

When Connor’s wife Nina takes her own life, he’s free. He can finally be with Tabitha. Nina’s home, Windswept, can be theirs. It seems to be a perfect ending to a fairy tale romance that began so many years ago. But then, Tabitha finds a diary. "I’m writing this to raise an alarm in the event of my untimely death," it begins. “If I die unexpectedly, it was foul play, and Connor was behind it. Connor—and her.”

Who is Connor Ford? Why did he marry Nina? Is Tabitha his true love, or a convenient affair? As the police investigate Nina’s death, is she a convenient suspect?


As Tabitha is drawn deeper into the dark glamour of a life she is ill-prepared for, it becomes clear to her that what a wife knows can kill her.


Now Available from St. Martin's Press


Bonus giveaway!

Val is giving away a hardback copy of  The Wife Who Knew Too Much!


Hardback copy & book themed journal




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