Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Christmas on Cougar Mountain - Nancy Radke
Hard-working Zoey is dedicated to helping children learn, and has built her business to the neglect of having a family. When she rescues a dog on the freeway, she discovers that the escape artist brings a family with him, including a boy she would like to help, and as love grows, a man she would like to keep. But will Kellen ever trust her to help his son, much less give her his heart?t.
A dog... on the freeway! Or just about. A lovely Border Collie, it was walking up the on-ramp, headed into deadly traffic. Zoey's headlights picked up the shadowy form as she drove past.
Quickly decelerating, she pulled over to the edge and stopped, throwing on her emergency flashers. She hadn't reached the actual freeway yet, she still had about thirty feet before the lanes merged. Watching for any cars coming up the on-ramp behind her, she opened her driver's door and stepped out into the pouring rain. It was December in Seattle, so she was used to it. She splashed around to the back of her car and called the dog.
"Here boy. Here girl." What did you call a dog when you were a total stranger? "Come on." She bent forward and patted her hands against her legs. Zoey had grown up on a farm in Idaho and was no stranger to animals. She used her very best, soft coaxing voice, one that had saved the lives of lambs and other baby animals who had lost their mamas and had to be coaxed into eating. "Come on, pet. This is no place for you. You'll get killed, or cause a pile-up, as people try to miss you. Come on, sweet."
The dog paused, looking about, totally bewildered, then looked toward her, head low. Hers was the only encouraging, friendly voice around, and Zoey called again, wishing she had even part of a sandwich to help bring the dog to her. The rain soaked her hair and shoes and made short work of her raincoat. She could feel the moisture working its way around the collar.
"Come on. Would you like to go for a ride?"
The collie lifted its head.
"Ride? Go for a ride?"
That evidently meant something, and Zoey hurried over to the passenger door and opened it. "Get in! Ride."
The dog bounded forward and leaped into her car. She shut the door quickly. None too soon, as two cars made the turn and were headed up the ramp, their headlights blinding her. She waited for them to swerve around and pass on by, then she rounded her car, cracked open the driver's door, and slipped inside.
A wet tongue greeted her, adding to the wetness on her face. The dog was halfway onto the driver's seat, thoroughly soaked, and Zoey had to push it away so that she could sit down. It put a wet paw on her arm and licked her face, treating her like a long lost friend, giving her a big doggy "thank you."
"Down. Get down," she protested, thankful that she had chosen to travel in her jeans and heavy coat, rather than in her better clothes.
The dog immediately jumped down on the floor and sat there, head cocked to one side, as if to say, "Now what?"
She stared out into the pouring rain. Almost a monsoon. Now that she had the collie off the freeway, what was she going to do with it? She was still close to Bellevue, although not familiar with this neighborhood.
"Well, I'm not going to have to worry that you'll bite me," she said, flipping on her turn signal and accelerating onto the freeway. "Let's hope your owner had a chip put in you."
She continued alongside the freeway for a few hundred feet, then pulled back off it, following the cloverleaf around. She drove down to the small shopping mall where she had stopped to get some coffee. There should be a veterinarian somewhere close. She didn't want to take the dog with her, out of the area where she found it, in case the owners were looking for it.
Flipping on her phone, she searched for a nearby vet's office. She found an animal hospital about a mile away, and drove to it.
Leaving the dog in the car, she tried the office door. Still open.
"Hi. I found a dog on the freeway, and would like to see if it has a locator chip," she called across the room to the attendant.
"Sure. Bring him in."
Zoey still wasn't sure if the dog was male or female, so checked when she opened the door to take it out. Male.
He ran happily ahead of her, but when she said "Heel," he came in close to her left side and stayed there.
"Well, someone has been teaching you manners," she said, opening the vet's door and going inside.
"He doesn't look like he's been injured," the lady said, as they approached her.
"No. He was running up the on-ramp when I got him."
The attendant petted the dog on the head and got a sweeping tail wag response. "Good boy. He might have been following his owner's car. Dogs do that, expecting to get picked up. Then they get lost or hurt."
"If so, he might be from around here. I picked him up on this exit."
The lady scanned him along the back and shoulder. "No chip. Probably a family pet, and so no one thought to put in a chip. Do you want to leave him here?"
"What will you do with him?"
"We'll send him to one of the pet rescue groups. If they can't find his owner, they'll put him out for adoption. If no one takes him, he'll be put down."
"That would be a shame. He's a nice dog. Well trained. I think I'll leave my name and number with you, and take the dog. You know what he looks like. If someone calls looking for him, you can send them to me."
"Do you have room for him?"
"Yes. I have a large enclosed porch where he can stay." Zoey wrote down her name and phone number on a pad and handed it to the attendant. "I put 'Found Dog' beside my name."
"Border Collie. Male," the attendant said, and added the words to the paper. Then she tore off the note and stuck it on a bulletin board on the wall behind her.
Zoey looked at all the notes. There were a lot of them. "All lost dogs?"
"Dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds... you name it. Even a rooster. We get a lot of missing pets this time of year. Folks get busy with the Christmas holidays and forget to check their animals. Or they think someone else in the family has done it."
That wouldn't be her, Zoey thought. Her family was still in Idaho.
"Come along, Dog."
"You'd better name him. Do you want a leash?"
"A name?" Zoey's mind stayed blank. What would she name the dog?
"Call him Jack. Just something rather than 'Dog.'"
"OK. Jack was my grandfather's name. I can remember that."
"Have you had a dog before?"
"Not recently. But my folks had dogs. There was always one or two around."
Leashes and collars hung on a rack near the counter. Should she get one? She might only have this dog for one day. She realized she wanted Jack. He would keep the nights from being so long. He probably wouldn't sleep out on her porch, after all.
"I'll take a leash and collar." She chose a serviceable-looking set from the rack and put it on Jack. Sixty dollars. She could afford it, and pulled out her credit card.
The attendant ran the card and handed it back to her. "There you go. Don't get too attached. Owners have a habit of showing up out of the woodwork, when you figure they never will."
"Thanks for the warning." She put the collar and leash on the dog. "Come on, Jack." The collie followed her to the door and waited while she opened it. "Good dog. Heel."
Jack positioned himself on her left side and stayed that way out to the car. She opened the door and he looked at her. "Get in."
Thus invited, he jumped inside. She went around the car and joined him.
"There is no way I'd let anyone put you down," she told him, giving him a scratch behind the ears. "Even if you chewed holes in my boots. I'm a sucker for a lost animal. Besides, you'll make the kids feel at home." And herself less lonely. She didn't say it, but she thought it.
Zoey's biological clock was ticking. She was almost twenty-eight and had no man interested in her. She had tried gym membership, but couldn't stand the smell. Online dating seemed too risky. Her work kept her so busy, she really didn't have time for dating. She had spent her college-age years getting her business going, and hadn't met anyone.
Now she wished she had spent a little time looking around, "husband hunting," but it had seemed so important to find a place where she could work. She had tried renting a duplex, where she could live in one side and work in the other, but it wasn't set up the way she wanted it, and the double rent was just as expensive as a house. So she had bought a new house, built the way she wanted it.
She felt left behind. As lost as this dog. The eligible men had all settled down with someone else. She was going to have to make some changes in her life. Schedule more vacations. Join some clubs. Go out and meet people. Pray about it more often.
She turned on the windshield wipers and drove home to their rapid thumping. At top speed they still couldn't keep the windshield clear of the heavy rain. Like everyone else on the freeway, she slowed down to forty miles an hour.
The dog in the car made a difference. She had made this trip many times, to and from the airport, but always by herself. Just the presence of a living, breathing being in the car beside her made a difference. He couldn't talk back to her, but she chatted away to him, happy to have a companion for the journey.
"Do you know you are both beautiful and intelligent?" she asked Jack. "I don't expect I'm going to get to keep you very long, not a dog like you. But if your owner is out of town or somewhere, I wouldn't want you to end up at a shelter and go to someone else. Or get put down. I'll take care of you. You really are a sweetie. You don't look very old."
In reply, he steamed up the windows and filled the air with the smell of wet dog, but she was very glad to have him.
About the Author
Author Nancy Radke, started out writing full-length, modern romance and suspense stories, then switched to novella length for her western series, The Traherns, and now writes both, usually two or three books at the same time. She has published ten Sisters of Spirit books, including Christmas on Cougar Mountain, thirteen Trahern books, and one book of a new Brothers of Spirit series. A former special education teacher, her education background shows when she includes history, or in this case, reading problems, in her books. Her books are G-rated, no sex, no swearing.
Christmas on Cougar Mountain is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Christmas on Cougar Mountain by Nancy Radke
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c
Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Amazon UKGoogle
We Wish You A Ferret Christmas by Nikki Lynn Barrett
Widower Lance Rossiter wants nothing to do with the pet ferret who caused his daughter to be hit by a car. Widow Cara McLean is shocked by the ferret her son finds and wants to keep. When Lance and Cara meet, sparks fly and love suddenly seems possible. Can a lost and found ferret bring two fractured families together?

“We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you....” Children's voices blended with a few adult ones filled the hallways. Seriously? Lance Rossiter glanced up from the magazine he'd barely been looking at anyway to peer out the hospital room door. Christmas carolers? So people still did things like that?
He found it a little disheartening that Christmas tunes were sung as a background noise to beeping machines- one of them currently hooked up to his five year old daughter to monitor her breathing.

Fine. Maybe some people felt the need to surround themselves with the holiday. He could put on a little cheer and go with the flow. He loved Christmas, as did Tamara, but his bad mood reflected on his first reaction to wave off the cheery carolers.

Nah, really they were a welcome sound. Plastering on a smile, he stood and quietly moved toward the holiday cheerers. He watched as the group of around eight or more kids with two adults slowly walked down the hospital hallways singing. In their hands, they each carried a bag. Lance spotted a teddy bear hanging out of one of them. So not only were they singing, but bringing gifts as well. Maybe a get-well effort? Kind of like candy stripers, or whatever you call them. They weren't over-the-top loud, and their harmonies blended well. Others had taken up his idea and lined the doors of hospital rooms. Some were wearing a smile, but others were unsure what to make of the whole scene.

When the kids spread out and handed each person a bag, his heart melted. Well, this wasn't something he saw every day. What a sweet gesture. Whoever organized this event deserved a medal. This was a perfect way to brighten a sick child's day.

A little sandy blond haired boy Lance guessed to be about seven trailed behind. He wasn't singing, and his face was masked into one of confusion and worry. The woman leading the group stopped, smiled, and held her hand out to him. “Come on, Alex. Don't be afraid,” she soothed. “You love music.”

The boy didn't reach for her hand. He trailed close behind the woman, but didn't make eye contact with her. His gaze was cast downward. The child shuffled his feet along the tile.

“Look up at me, please,” the woman said softly. The rest of their party continued down the hall singing. The kid clutched the gift bag.

Lance should have gone inside, but he continued to watch the two. Most of the other patients and family members had already disappeared from the doorway, probably taking pictures of the goodies, posting them on social media, and sharing them with the patients.

“No! Leave me alone!” The boy screamed and ran from her, barreling straight towards Lance.

Startled, he took a step back as the boy plowed into him, ran into the room, and closed himself off in the bathroom.

Alrighty then. Talk about awkward.

“I'm so terribly sorry!” The woman's cheeks reddened as she darted toward him. “I'd hoped for a better outcome today.” She shoved her frizzy brown curls from her face.

Unsure what to do or say, Lance shrugged his shoulders. “Kids will be kids.” He stared back at Tamara and hoped this situation could be resolved quickly. He felt for the little boy, who was obviously having some kind of meltdown. He also sympathized with the woman, who'd become very flustered and nervous.

“Alex, please come out of the bathroom. I don't want to have to call your mom. She's very busy at work today,” she coaxed from outside the door.

The sound of crying wafted through the walls. Lance didn't want to sit back down, but standing around seemed like the wrong thing to do. He didn't want to leave the room in search of a nurse or someone else who could help, either. He blew out a breath and hoped to hide his exasperation. While patient and understanding, he silently pleaded with no one in particular for this to get situated quickly.

The woman glanced back at him again. “I really am sorry-”

“It happens.” He waved it off, but Lance wished he'd never walked toward the door. Would that have stopped the little boy from running into his room? Maybe not. Thank God for little favors, though. Tamara hadn't woken from her nap to this mess.

The woman pulled out a cell phone and, in a desperate plea, spoke into it. “Cara? I'm sorry to bother you, but Alex locked himself in a bathroom at the hospital. In a patient's room. I think it's best you come down here.”

Lance stifled a groan. This could take a while.

As the boy inside the bathroom continued to wail, the sound of Christmas carolers on TV now drew his attention, singing the same song he'd just heard.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas....”

Some Christmas.

Cara McLean ignored the frustrated mixed with pity stare from her boss as once again she had to leave her desk for another meltdown rescue. Alex had been been having meltdown after meltdown at school, and more frequently she continued to go there to coax him out of a room. It wasn't really the teachers' faults. They didn't know how to handle him.

Just before school, Alex had been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, after countless appointments and evaluations. She'd dodged the suggestions for months about moving Alex to a more private school setting. He was a bright kid and had a lot of talent, but it appeared his behavioral issues were going to be in the way of regular learning.

It took her a long time to accept it, and Cara hoped the damage hadn't already been done. She'd agonized over the decision and the pros and cons of it since the diagnosis. It didn't help being a widowed mom of two and going at this alone, especially since Cara had attempted to convince her late husband that something wasn't right with Alex. No, he'd avoided the subject and said she was paranoid. Nothing could be wrong with his son.

Now, things were spiraling out of control. Time to actually get something done about it. Swiping at stray tears, she swallowed her regrets, then headed toward her car to drive to the hospital. Ten minutes later, she arrived in the crowded parking lot. Cara called Jean to find out where they were.

“Still in the room. The others have gone on to keep things normal.” There was a frantic note in Jean's voice. “I made that mistake again- mentioning for him to look at me- and he got extremely agitated. I'm sorry.”

Suppressing a sigh, Cara asked for the room number, then hung up and made her way.
Alex's cries could be heard all the way down the hall. And no nurses helped? What about the patient in the room? Cheeks heated, Cara stepped up her pace. Nurses stood outside the door, baffled and unsure what to do.

“Excuse me, but that's my son in there. I'll get him out. I'm so sorry.” Cara apologized as she blew past them and bumped full force into a body. “I'm-”

Strong arms held her steady. “Careful there.” Her skin tingled where the man's hands still rested.

Cara stared up into the blue eyes of a gorgeous man. Oh, this must be his room, or at least a member of his family, as this was the children's ward. There was compassion, curiosity, and a whole lot of torture in those eyes. What a disaster! He continued to study her, and Cara was frozen in place. His bangs drifted across tan skin along his forehead. A tiny mole close to his hairline caught her attention for a moment. Sucking in a breath, Cara realized she'd better move, instead of staring back at this man.

“I'll have my son out of the bathroom in just a second,” she whispered, regaining her composure and jerking out of his hold. He dropped his hands to his sides. No wedding ring on his left hand. Why did she even look? A shiver rippled through her. Cara briefly searched the room. Her heart ached for the pale young girl in the bed with her eyes closed.

Could this day get any worse? Failure and worry settled over her shoulder like a heavy weight. She needed to coax Alex out of that bathroom, take him home, and make the necessary calls.

Cara ignored the stares and walked with rubbery legs to the door and knocked. “Come on out, Alex. I'm here. Please open the door, okay?” Her voice came out weak and squeaky. Ugh. She dared not to look back at the blue eyed man behind her, though she had to really work at that. Who cared what he thought about her? She'd never see him again. After today, Cara could wake up and forget about this encounter. But those eyes, the way they carried so much, really ate at her. He had a story to tell, but she'd never hear it.

“Mommy?” Alex's voice came out small and uncertain. What was he doing in there? Had he hurt himself? Was he curled up on the floor, trembling and scared? It bugged her to no end how she couldn't understand her son sometimes. What went on in his busy brain? What did he think and feel when hit with these meltdowns? Most people who weren't up to date with signs and symptoms of Asperger's would naturally assume a spoiled brat temper tantrum. Cara knew better, but she didn't feel like explaining herself every single time Alex had a meltdown. And it happened more and more in public. What should she do, not go out any more to avoid it? That wasn't the right answer, but she had no idea how to avoid that type of behavior. It all came down to wishing she could understand, so that making decisions would be easier.

“Yes, buddy. I'm here. Come on out so we can talk. There's a little girl who needs her rest, and we're in the way.” She kept her voice calm. No loudness, no distractions. Cara hoped for the best.

For a fraction of a minute, no one said anything. The crying stopped, but no other sounds came from behind the bathroom door. Cara anticipated a wail, a shout, something. Then after the hesitance, the door opened and Alex ran straight into her arms. Cara couldn't be sure, but she thought she heard several sighs of relief.

Yeah, they did what she felt like doing. Tears formed in her eyes as she held her son. “Will you say sorry to the nice man for barging into his room?”

Alex's lower lip quivered. Big eyes stared back at her, but her son did just what she asked. He pulled out of Cara's hug and stood before the man. “I'm sorry,” he mumbled.

“It's okay,” the man awkwardly replied. “I accept your apology.”

“Give him the gift bag for the little girl, Alex.” Jean broke her silence, prodding him gently.

He thrust out his hand, still clutching the bag. “Here you go.”

Mr. Blue Eyes smiled. Dimples. Oh, he had dimples. “Thank you, Alex.” Not a tone of disdain, not even an irritated scowl. He could have really pitched a fit, but the man took it all in stride. Cara sent him a look of relief and a silent thank you. His gaze lingered on her for a lot longer than she anticipated. Alex hung back behind Cara. She blinked, breaking eye contact with the man so she could focus. Time to get out of here.

Cara led Alex out of the room. Jean followed, making more apologizes to the man. Nurses had finally scattered away from the door, but the faster Cara got out of here, the better.

“Cara-” Jean started once they were down the hall. She'd bet Jean had a lot to say right about now.

“I know, okay? I get it. I'm going to make those calls and look into getting him in the school you guys keep suggesting!” She didn't mean to yell. Her loud voice echoed off the beige walls. Keep calm, keep calm. The last thing she needed was to upset Alex because she got all riled up and defensive.

Jean blanched. “I wasn't going to say that. It'll be good for him, though. I was going to apologize because I pushed again for eye contact. That's what set him off.”

Shaking her head, Cara turned away again, keeping her arm on Alex's shoulder. Jean was a good teacher, wonderful and patient, but Cara knew that she wasn't equipped to deal with a child with Asperger's when the rest of the kids were mainstreamed students.


Keeping her tongue in check, she faced the teacher.

“It's not your fault.”

The words were meant to be a comfort and a help, but they weren't at this very moment. Giving Jean a curt nod, she walked Alex out of the hospital, attempting to put her emotions in check.

Lately, she took everything to heart, blaming herself. How could she not understand her son? Why did she feel so helpless? As Alex's mother, Cara should have some sort of idea how to handle these situations, but she didn't.

And it bothered the heck out of her.

About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Nikki Lynn Barrett I'm an avid lover of books. I've been writing as far back as I can remember, completing my first "book" by fifth grade in one of those one subject spiral notebooks. I have a passion for music, photography, jewelry and all things creative. I live in Arizona with my husband and son, but dream of being somewhere much colder and stormier. For now, I'll have to live that life through my characters and stick it out with the summer heat.
We Wish You A Ferret Christmas is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read We Wish You A Ferret Christmas by Nikki Lynn Barrett

Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Amazon UKGoogle
You're Invited to the Christmas Pets & Kisses Countdown Launch Party! [September 21 - Oct 6] Chat with the authors and win great prizes! Come join the Fun. a Rafflecopter giveaway
Dog-Gone Christmas by Melinda Curtis
Widow Marnie Haywood wants Christmas hosting her in-laws to go smoothly. And it would – if her handsome neighbor and his friendly St. Bernard would stop coming over, mooching food, and stealing kisses.
“The abominable snowman is in our backyard!”
Marnie Haywood kept stirring the gravy. She had a few days to perfect her gravy-making technique before Christmas. She wasn’t going to burn the gravy this year, especially since her in-laws were coming for the holiday.
Besides, the likelihood that a live snowman was in their sunny San Diego backyard was small.
Five year-old Alex jumped up and down next to her. “Abominable! Snowman!” He made claws with both hands and dropped his voice to a monster snarl. “A-bom-in-a-ble! Snow-man!”
Maybe it’d been a mistake to allow Alex to binge-watch Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and sample the baked goods she’d made to share with their friends and neighbors. He was supercharged, bursting with enough energy to power Rudolph’s nose through a foggy all-nighter.
No fictional snowman was ruining Marnie’s gravy. She stirred as vigorously as her son jumped.
And then they both stopped, because something growled. Something in their backyard.
Alex gripped her jean-clad leg. “I told you.” He pointed to the glass slider behind her. The one leading to their condo’s backyard.
A thin sheet of glass separated them from a huge white dog. A pony-sized dog. A slobber-on-the-slider, paws-as-big-as-softballs, jaws-as-big-as-bear-traps dog.
Marnie’s insides shimmied like tinsel near a heating vent. This situation wasn’t covered in the Single Mom Handbook.
The dog gave another growly-grumble.
“No. I will not let you in,” Alex said as if he understood dog-speak.
The canine drooled and licked the slider, but mostly he panted. Now that the initial shock of him had passed, Marnie noted he had a black nose and a brown mask and ears. He was just so large, white, and Abominable Snowman-like.
“He’s thirsty.” Alex’s death grip relaxed on Marnie’s leg. “We have water, doggy.” Her little man took two steps toward the slider before Marnie dragged him back.
Panting, the dog plopped to his haunches and tilted his head to one side, trying to see in.
“Mama, you said we have to be nice to the new neighbor.”
Their condo shared a backyard and a wall with the unit next door. They’d heard someone move in yesterday. Marnie had planned on introducing herself tonight after whoever moved in had time to settle. But this…
Marnie held on to Alex’s small shoulders. “That dog is not a new neighbor. He’s a stray.” Had to be. There was a no pet policy at the condo complex. She had no problem with people sneaking in hamsters, indoor cats, or parakeets. But this…
The dog rested his humongous head on his humongous paws and made a sound that was half growl/half howl in a way that sounded as if he said, “But I’m harmless.” And then he put a paw on the glass with all the grace of a ballerina.
Her heart wanted to soften. But Marnie was a single mother. She had to be strong.
Alex broke away from Marnie’s arms and ran to the sliding door. He pressed his hand where the dog’s paw was. His small one was almost a perfect fit with the dog’s.
Marnie hurried after him. “Touch that slider latch, young man, and you’ll never watch Rudolph again.”
The beast lifted his head slowly, staring at Marnie with soulful eyes. He licked the glass near her son’s face before resuming his panting in a way that sounded like, “Hot-hot-hot-hot.”
Granted, it was warm. Ninety degrees wasn’t too warm for San Diego. But it was warm for the week before Christmas and for a big, furry dog.
“Water, Mama. Please?” Alex had big soulful eyes of his own.
“We’re not letting in a stray dog.”
An even larger figure stepped on to their small concrete patio.
Shrieking, Marnie and Alex stumbled back.
The setting sun outlined a towering, muscular frame, and kept the man’s face in shadow. He surveyed the backyard, paused, and then peered inside as the dog had done.
A second scream caught in Marnie’s throat. A man. At her backdoor. With only a flip-lock and a thin sheet of glass separating them.
He moved, and sunlight illuminated him in all his raggedy glory. A sleeveless black T-shirt, faded blue jeans, and tan work boots – torn, dirty, and scuffed. None of which made her pulse slow. Her gaze met his smiling one – blue eyes as soulful as the dog’s, his teeth just as white. She wasn’t fooled by his good looks and that meant-to-be-reassuring smile. Dressed like that, her money was on vagrant serial killer. The Single Mom Handbook was clear on big strange men in tattered clothing – call the police.
Marnie ran through their small living room/dining area and into the galley kitchen, looking for her phone. Where had she left it?
“Mom?” Alex pointed to the patio.
The man had straddled the sitting dog and was pounding the beast’s barrel chest as if it was a drum. “Good boy, Snowflake.”
Snowflake?” The name was more fitting for a small white poodle than that monstrosity.
The vagrant serial killer straightened, smiling as if he had the world at his feet. He knocked on the glass.
Did she trust those soulful blue eyes? That sun-kissed brown hair? That sigh-worthy smile?
Alex did. He unlocked and opened the slider.
“I didn’t do anything.” Her son’s standard disclaimer.
Snowflake bounded in, circling Alex and licking his face, eliciting a giggle. The dog finished with her son and galloped through the living room, past the Christmas tree, toward Marnie.
Big white teeth. Big white paws. Big white underbelly.
He tackled her, knocking the air from her lungs, banging her head to the hardwood, and wiping every trace of makeup from her face with his tongue.
“Off the nice lady, Snowy.” Using the dog’s nickname and his cop voice, Jonas Johnson took hold of the St. Bernard’s collar and pulled him off the petite woman. “Sorry. He only tackles people he bonds with.”
“But…We just met.” She wiped her face with the back of her hands. “Tell me you didn’t move in next door.”
“I did. I was crashing at a friend’s apartment, but Snowy wouldn’t have fit in that small space.”
Introductions were exchanged.
The little boy, Alex, giggled. “You smell like my friend Ursula’s Christmas tree.”
“That’s because I’m managing some Christmas tree lots for my family. We have a big Christmas tree farm. Three generations.” He took a couple of weeks off from the police department at the holidays every year to help out.
Holding Snowy back with one arm, Jonas extended his free hand to help Marnie up from her whitewashed hardwood floor. Only then did he get a good look at her – velvety brown eyes, a delicate nose, and a cascade of black, silken hair. Her small hand fit in his like a properly placed puzzle piece. When he brought her to her bare feet, she hardly came to his shoulder. But there was nothing petite about her attitude.
“No dogs allowed.” She tossed her hair and tugged at her clothing. Her hair was straight and her body was curvy, covered in blue jeans and a simple red tank top.
Something shifted in the air between them. And it wasn’t dog breath. It was a bone deep awareness that spread from Jonas’ lungs to his chest to his gut. Her words finally sunk in. “No dogs? In your house?”
“In the entire condo neighborhood!”
“Well, I…Is something burning?” He glanced at the brick fireplace. Was that what had him all tied up in knots?
My gravy.” The spitfire hurried into the small kitchen, turned off the stove, and put the saucepan on the back burner. “Ruined again. I’ll never get past this.”
Snowy trailed after Marnie. He was tall enough to put his nose on the stove, but he didn’t. He took deep breaths and then did his doggy-mutter, the one he used to beg for food. He sat, still talking, sounding hopeful and reproachful at the same time.
“Gravy isn’t good for dogs,” she said. “Especially dogs who aren’t supposed to be here.” She leaned against the counter, brought Jonas in her sights, and crossed her arms.
“Don’t you like Snowy?” Little Alex hugged the St. Bernard. “I do.”
Snowy made a soft noise and licked the boy’s cheek.
“He talks,” Jonas said, studying her for more than just her negative reaction to a dog. “How can you not love a dog like that?”
“It doesn’t matter what skills your dog has. He has to go. Little boy. Big dog. Someone’s going to get hurt.” She touched the back of her head, wincing slightly. “The policy is clear. No pets.”
Snowy slumped.
She couldn’t possibly care that much about the rules. More likely she didn’t want any more overly-loving take-downs or extra-large poop piles for Alex to step in.
 “He’s not my dog,” Jonas admitted. “I’m taking care of him for a friend who just deployed. This was the only place I could find that was available on short notice and had a fenced yard.” Yeah, he’d seen the photo of a Marine in dress blues on her corner table next to the brown microfiber couch. And yeah, he wasn’t lying. Darren had been deployed with his SEAL team yesterday and was due back in two weeks.
Her gaze flew to the picture in the corner. Something flashed across her face. Pain? Guilt? Remorse? The jumbled emotions disappeared as fast as they came, triggering Jonas’ spidey-cop sense. What had begun as a friendly, neighborly distraction, threatened to plunge into private territory Jonas wanted to avoid.
Jonas flashed an expression of his own: his most charming smile – the one that settled speeders he’d pulled over to ticket and that sold Charlie Brown Christmas trees at full price on Christmas Eve. “I’m only here until Christmas Day and then I’m gone.”
“So he’s here until the holiday?”
The “he” in question grumbled softly and slid to the floor, putting his head on his paws. Alex sank next to Snowy and gave him another hug.
Marnie shook her head. “Does Snowflake always take things so personally?”
“He’s a sensitive dog.” Her white granite counter was lined with baked goods, including an open tin decorated with toy soldiers and filled with sugar cookies. “Are these homemade?” He selected a red stocking cookie as she nodded, and then handed one to Alex. The cookie was soft and sweet, worth savoring. “I miss home cooking. Your husband is a lucky man.”
Marnie paled.
“Daddy’s in Heaven.” Alex stood, dropping cookie crumbs on Snowy’s head. He bounded over to the couch. “And my grandparents live in Houston and Hackensack.”
Somebody liked alliteration.
“Michael’s parents are coming to spend the holidays with us for the first time.” Marnie’s words were tension-filled, her eyes clouded with worry. “They arrive day after tomorrow from Hackensack.”
Ah, the reason for the rules comes out.
Marnie glanced at the pot of ruined gravy and then back to Snowy. “Is there anyone else Snowflake can stay with once they arrive?”
“No.” Jonas took another cookie and admired the fridge art. If he had to guess, the rectangle with stick legs, Xs for eyes, and a red nose was Rudolph.
“Just for a few nights?” Her voice had a hand-wringing quality to it that reached inside Jonas’ chest and squeezed.
How far did she have to reach before she found his heart? Most days lately, it felt like it had gone missing. Some days, like today with an exuberant, friendly dog, it felt merely Grinch-sized.
“My former in-laws didn’t approve of me either.” Jonas admitted begrudgingly, tugging at his wrinkled, sap-stained T-shirt over the place where his heart should be beating. He was only crashing here for a few days. Why did this have to be complicated? “Hillary’s parents wanted someone with a college degree and an office job.” Anyone who wasn’t a cop.
Snowy climbed onto the couch and curled into a tight ball next to Alex, who leaned on him as if he was a pillow.
“I just…” Marnie lowered her voice, glancing at her son. “I just want us all to get along and move past...things.” Her gaze returned to the photograph of her dead husband. She seemed as reluctant to talk about her past as he was. “Things that…Well, I just want Christmas to be perfect.”
Things. Such a small word with such big emotional punch. According to his police captain, Jonas had “things” to get past before he could return to patrol. For the first time in weeks, Jonas felt he wasn’t the only person in this oversharing world that didn’t want to regurgitate the past. Maybe that wasn’t sexual attraction he’d felt when he’d helped her up earlier, but an intuitive emotional connection. Had to be. He hadn’t felt anything like it since.
 “I could be convinced to take Snowy to work with me at the Christmas tree lot while they’re here, if you could see it in your heart to share some of your holiday treats.” He gestured to the apple pie and cinnamon rolls on the counter. Both looked homemade.
“Could you?” Marnie perked up. “I’ll close the curtains at night so they won’t see Snowflake. This will be perfect.”
Snowy grumbled and nuzzled Alex’s head.
Jonas bit into his cookie. It was bakery quality. Really, setting aside the burnt gravy, Marnie had skills in the kitchen. “So we have a deal?” It was the least he could do for their mutual “thingness.”
“We have a deal.” And then Marnie smiled.
He hadn’t seen her smile before, hadn’t experienced that deep hit of joy and enthusiasm.
The air deflated from his lungs quicker than an inflatable snowman with a puncture wound.
This had nothing to do with things.
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Melinda Curtis
Award winning, USA Today bestseller Melinda Curtis writes the Harmony Valley series of sweet and emotional romances for Harlequin Heartwarming, and the indie pubbed Bridesmaid series. Brenda Novak says: “Season of Change has found a place on my keeper shelf”. Melinda also writes independently published, hotter romances as Mel Curtis. Jayne Ann Krentz says of Blue Rules: “Sharp, sassy, modern version of a screwball comedy from Hollywood's Golden Age except a lot hotter.”
Dog-Gone Christmas is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Dog-Gone Christmas  by Melinda Curtis
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Amazon UKGoogle
You're Invited to the Christmas Pets & Kisses Countdown Launch Party! [September 21 - Oct 6] Chat with the authors and win great prizes! Come join the Fun. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The pre-order link is up for the new set Spicy Christmas Kisses on Amazon, only 99 cents!

I hope you will grab your copy you will not be sorry!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sixteen all new Sweet Christmas Stories! Don't forget to stop by the 16 day countdown on Facebook to meet the authors, games and prizes.

Mavy's Christmas Miracle - Sharon Coady
Anne Hurd returns to the Pocono's to help her elderly grandfather. Six years earlier Kyle Shafer disappeared from her life. She rescues a kitten, takes her to a vet who turns out to be Kyle. Kyle can’t believe Anne walked back into his life. Will he scare her away, or will she give him another chance? Kyle decides to take a chance and try for the love he gave up on.
Anne couldn’t believe this was happening. She knelt down and sobbed as the tiny gray kitten tried to raise his head. His body was shaking and foam spilled from hismouth along with a diminutive meow.
“Oh poor baby, why would someone do this to you? I’ll be right back.” She ran into her grandparents’ cabin.
  “Pop, one of the kittens is hurt. I think someone poisoned him. He can’t move and foam is coming from his mouth.”
  “Let’s go take a look.” He reached over and took her arm tosteady himself as she helped him down the three wooden steps and off the porch. At ninety years old, he was still independent, but smart enough to know his step was no longer steady.
  Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked down at the kitten. “Poor little fellow.” He glanced at Anne. “Looks like you were right. Go get my gun, girl. The Smith and Wesson twenty-two. We don’t want him suffering any longer.”
  Anne ran back into the house, sadness for the kitten engulfing her. She had fallen in love with him the first time he had come out from under the house andstared at her with his dark green eyes. It had taken her almost three weeks to coax him into letting her get close enough to pet him. The kittens were about eight weeks old now and she had hoped to convince her grandfather to adopt the one of them.
Grabbing Pop’s gun carefully, she hurried back outside and waited patiently as he asked her to steady him while he put the kitten down. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the trigger. The bang resonated loudly and echoed in the silence that followed. Pop sighed, shook his head and wiped a tear away from his deeply wrinkled cheek.
“I’ll never understand how some people can be so cruel to little animals. Can you bury him, girl?”
“Yes, but I’ll take you back inside first.” She took his arm and helped him back to the porch, not trying to hide the tears streaming down her cheeks. She glanced at his face as she helped him up the steps and saw how tired he was. He stumbled a bit on the last step and she put her arm around him and gave him a hug.
“Things happen and people are mean sometimes. See if you can find any of the others after you bury him.”
“I will.”
He shuffled over to his cabinet and laid the pistol down. He stood for a moment, shaking his head and mumbling under his breath. His shoulders bent as he put his hands in his pockets.
“I’m going now. I’ll let you know if I see any of the others.” She pulled on her old wool coat and zipped it up, not looking forward to the task at hand.
After she took care of the kitten, she put the shovel back in place and made her way to the porch. It made her sad to see the cracked and peeling paint covering the cabin. She closed her eyes and brought to mind the images of the place she remembered from her childhood: Gram’s lovingly tended gardens full of different types of flowers in front of the small, enclosed porch. The white paint covering the wood siding of the cabin, making it neat and tidy. Her favorite image was of Gram looking out the kitchen window while she washed her dishes, smiling as Anne picked the blackberries off the bush.
Kneeling down, she tried to see underneath the porch, hoping to spot the other kittens. Her heart sank when she saw no movement. I hate to tell him the other ones are gone. I can’t do it. She stood up and made her way slowly into the house.
When she walked in, he glanced at her. “Did you see the rest of them?” His steel-blue eyes searched her face.
“It was too dark. I’ll have to look again tomorrow. I’m going to start dinner now.” She prayed he wouldn’t see the sadness on her face.
“Do you need me to peel potatoes? I always did for your grandmother.”
“That would be wonderful. I’ll bring them to you.” She grabbed four potatoes, the old green Tupperware strainer and his favorite peeler. “Here you go.” She stooped down and kissed the top of his bald head. “Love you,” she whispered.
“Love you too, girl.” He set to work peeling the potatoes.
She wondered if her resemblance to Gram bothered him. Everyone told her she looked just like a younger version of her grandmother. Anne had the same cinnamon colored hair and slight build, but her grandmother’s eyes had been a deep hazel color while hers were green.
Pop interrupted her thoughts. “So, you’ll look for the other kittens?”
“Sure. I’ll go out first thing in the morning and look around.” She glanced over to see his brows drawn down, and his lips pressed together. “Hopefully, they’re okay.”
Reviewer's Comment
"Sometimes, Christmas miracles come in small packages -- a sweet and heartwarming story." - Rachelle Ayala
About the Author
Sharon Coady lives in Florida with her husband, three of their daughters and five of their eleven grandchildren. She wrote two booksbefore discovering Romance novels. She has now written a romantic suspense, a romance novella and is currently writing a Christmas novella. She has two published novels. When not working as a nurse for the Veterans Administration or writing she enjoys spending time with her family and riding behind her husband on their Harley. Facebook:  Twitter:
Mavy's Christmas Miracle is EXCLUSIVE to Christmas Pets & Kisses from October 6 - November 6, so pre-order Christmas Pets & Kisses today and be the first of your friends to read Mavy's Christmas Miracle by Sharon Coady today!
Amazon US ~ B&N ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ~ Goodreads
Get into the Christmas spirit with CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES. Limited time offer, so grab your set today! ONLY 99c