Sunday, March 31, 2013

Blogging from A to Z - April 2013

This is the first time I will be doing this challenge. If you are not familiar it's an invitation to bloggers to post everyday except on Sundays for the month of April thematically (or not) from A to Z (4/1=A, 4/2=B, 4/3=C, etc.). Go HERE to learn more and sign-up. If you sign-up, let me know so I'd be sure to stop by ..there are over 1700 participants so I want to make sure I catch yours.

I haven't pick an actual theme, but hope to be able to post a review, blog tour alphabetically on each day. Wish me luck. UPDATE: I'm going to have a giveaway a day. I'm still working on 8 of the letters. (E, I, J, Q, V, X, Y, Z)

Hope you check it out it could be fun.

I'll now be looking for a challenge for May - any ideas?

Author Interview: The Zombie Story by MM Shelley

Little Blurb about yourself:
I have been writing since childhood and it’s a form of expression that I have always enjoyed. I enjoy traveling and I use the cities and places that I have been to as the backdrops of my stories because I like to share these places with others.

1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
My aunt Cecelia, she has filled my ears with such wonderful stories as I grew up and she always encouraged me with my own.

2. How long did it take you to write The Zombie Story?
It took me several months to work on The Zombie Story (The Chronicles of Orlando).

3. While writing how many times do you go back and rewrite a plot?
I create an outline first. I try to make my way through the first draft without going back to work on rewrites, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

4. You run into a bookstore, where do you go first?
The mystery section, sometimes though, I will wander over into the Romance section and pick up the new Julie Garwood or J.D. Robb.

5. How many books in a month do you tend to read?
About five or six and in a good month eight, I enjoy reading and I like to read not only YA, but other genres as well.

6. In all the books you've read. Who is your most favorite character and why?
Eve Dallas from the ‘In Death’ series by J.D. Robb, she is a very well written character with different tones and dimensions.

7. State 5 random facts about yourself.
1. Black Belt in Kung Fu Tai Shing Pek Kwar
2. Love researching my family Genealogy
3. I have four brothers
4. I enjoy oil painting, but don’t have the skill for it!
5. Love road trips!

8. Your favorite Genre?
Young Adult

9. What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Monster Island a Zombie Novel by David Wellington. So far I’ve found it to be a great zombie story filled with interesting and delightful characters. I’d say that this is my favorite because I like the take on the genre.

10. What is the best book you've read?
There are too many of them to list!

11. Any new projects coming up?
I’m working on the next book of my New Orleans Mystery series. Each book in this series is a stand alone story and I enjoy returning to these characters to check in on them.

Here’s your chance to market your book. Describe it. And why readers should pick it up?

The Zombie Story is a YA set in the city of Los Angeles and it follows Orlando Drake as he discovers he’s moved into a zombie infested city.
Unfolding on the streets of Los Angeles is a new breed of monster...
Orlando, fresh from the mid west, arrives at his new high school on his Harley Davidson.
All he wants is to make it through the day, and begin his training as a Zombie Hunter.
But someone has different plans for him.

The Zombie Story
By M.M. Shelley

The Zombie Story is the first novella in a young adult series.

Unfolding on the streets of Los Angeles is a new breed of monster...

Orlando, fresh from the mid west, arrives at his new high school on his Harley Davidson.

All he wants is to make it through the day, and begin his training as a Zombie Hunter.

But someone has different plans for him.

About the Author:

M.M. Shelley is a storyteller, word smith and dreamer. She has traveled the world extensively in search of the magic which is often overlooked in every day life. M.M. Shelley is a native of southern California, and a student of mythology from which she gets much inspiration. Visit M.M. Shelley:






Sunday Post Edition #13

Sunday Posts Lists

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer ~ It's a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.

This Week @ Books, Books The Magical Fruit

Week of March 24 – 30
Author Guest Post: (AToMR) The Witch Avenue Series by Karice Bolton
Book Promo (First Wild Card Tours) So Shines the Night by Tracy L. Higley
Book Promo (First Wild Card Tours): Mountain Homecoming by Sandra Robbins
Book Review: 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Nominees: The Case For 37 Men by Frank Jenkins (ebook)
Book Review: Japan: Picture Book by Planet Collection (ebook)
Cover Reveal: (AToMR) The Do Over by A. L. Zaun
Cover Reveal: (AToMR) The Last Hour by Charles Sheehan-Miles
Author Interview/Guest Post(Black Lion Tours) Coinage of Commitment by R. Costelloe
Promo Blitz(Reading Addiction Blog Tours) Undressed by Avery Aster
Book Blast/Giveaway (I Am A Reader) Blue Hearts of Mars by Nicole Grotepas
No Joke! - Win Big April Fools Kindle Fire Giveaway (I Am A Reader)
Author Interview (Bewitching Book Tours): Silver Hollow by Jennifer Silverwood
Author Interview (Bewitching Book Tours): A Bride by Midnight by Liz Carlyle

Week of Mar 31 – Apr 6
Author Interview: (Bewitching Book Tours): The Zombie Story by MM Shelley
Author Interview (Bewitching Book Tours): Special Offers by M.L. Ryan
Author Guest Post(Black Lion Tours) January Justice – The Malcolm Cutter Memoirs #1 by Athol Dickson
Author Interview (Bewitching Book Tours): Special Offers by M.L. Ryan
Book Blast/Giveaway (I Am A Reader) Hunted by Ednah Walters
Promo Post (I Am A Reader) Ixeos by Jennings Wright
Spotlight (Bewitching Book Tours): Violet Dawn by Lynn Rush
Author Guest Post (Bewitching Book Tours): Eustice by Alex Gulczynski
Book Blast: Sprung by Kelbian Noel
Book Blitz (Bewitching Book Tours): Some Like It Wicked by Stacey Kennedy

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Author Interview: A Bride by Midnight by Liz Carlyle

Short Blurb about yourself:

Liz is the author of over twenty historical romance novels. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and their four amazing cats.

1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I’m not sure I was ever precisely inspired. That makes me sound almost . . . . romantic and introspective. Writing was always one of my (few) talents, so when I got bored one day, I decided to write a novel.

2. How long did it take you to write (title of book you're promoting)?

About eight months.

3. While writing how many times do you go back and rewrite a plot?

Almost never.

4. You run into a bookstore, where do you go first?

To the romance shelf, of course!

5. How many books in a month do you tend to read?

Sadly, zero.

6. In all the books you've read. Who is your most favorite character and why?

I would have to say Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice because she is just so sensible and has this unassailable sense of self-worth.

7. State 5 random facts about yourself.

I’m short (and shrinking!)
I own three pairs of glasses—and I wear each pair at least once a day.
Career placement tests indicate I should have become an actuary, and that novelist was probably last on the list.
I have four newspapers delivered every day—my small slap in the face to digital progress.
I’m part of an endangered species—a conservative Democrat.

8. Your favorite Genre?

In the last couple of years, when I’ve had a chance to read, I’ve tended to pick up suspense/police procedurals. I’m not sure why.

9. What are you currently reading?

I just finished today’s New York Times. That’s as good as it will get for me today. Or this week. Or next month.

10. What is the best book you've read?

Wow. That changes with my mood, but today I would definitely have to say Watership Down by Richard Adams. What an amazing book that was. Anyone who hasn’t read it has really missed something special.

11. Any new projects coming up?

I’m in the process of sketching out my next novel, which will be released in 2014. I’ll also have a book out this fall.

Describe your book. And why readers should pick it up?

A Bride By Moonlight is the story of two scarred characters who find love and redemption through one another. I hope readers will pick it up because it is a deeply emotional read—and because it’s really, really hot.

Liz Carlyle

Genre: Romance

Publisher: Avon

ISBN: 9780062100283
Number of pages: 432

Book Description:

Royden Napier, Baron Saint-Bryce, is tall, dark, and ruthless—and on the hunt for a dangerous beauty . . . On the eve of her escape to the Continent, bold, beautiful Lisette Colburne accepts a proposal she dare not refuse: masquerade as the future bride of the steely-eyed Royden Napier and help him solve his most dangerous case. Soon Lisette is in even greater danger—of losing her heart to the one man with the power to destroy her . . .

Estranged from his aristocratic family, the enigmatic Napier has forged a reputation as Scotland Yard's most relentless police commissioner. He's vowed to bring Lisette to justice—but with every forbidden kiss and every tantalizing touch, he finds himself becoming less convinced of her guilt . . . and more certain he must have her. But when danger touches Lisette, can he save her?

About the Author:

A lifelong Anglophile, Liz Carlyle cut her teeth reading gothic novels under the bedcovers by flashlight. She is the author of over twenty historical romances, including several New York Times bestsellers. Liz travels incessantly, ever in search of the perfect setting for her next book. Along with her genuine romance-hero husband and four very fine felines, she makes her home in North Carolina.

Where you can find author Liz Carlyle:


Twitter: @lizcarlyle



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Thursday, March 28, 2013

No Joke! - Win Big April Fools Kindle Fire Giveaway

No Joke - Win Big April Fools Giveaway
Kindle Fire HD 7" Giveaway

The winner will have the option of receiving a 7" Kindle Fire HD (US Only)

Or $199 Gift Card (International)

Or $199 in Paypal Cash (International)

Sponsoring Authors

The Breeders by Katie French

"The Breeders is a YA dystopian read that's as gritty and dark as the cover and title suggest. It takes a look at how society might devolve if females were commodities: bought, sold, stolen, and traded to keep the dwindling human race going. Frightening concept. I loved it." --A.G. Henley, author of The Scourge

Dissidence by Jamie Canosa

"An amazingly snarky protagonist, two hot boys, a mass rebellion, and an ending that will blow your mind are the perfect ingredients that will make Dissidence the next big thing in YA." --Beth, YA Sisterhood

The Moon Dwellers and Fire Country 
by David Estes

“Fire Country is an epic start to the Country saga and left me with my heart pounding and totally breathless. Phenomenal"

Blue Hearts of Mars by Nicole Grotepas

Love between humans and androids is forbidden, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen...

The Tale of Mally Biddle by M.L. LeGette

"To say I loved this book is an understatement." --April Holgate

Terra by Gretchen Powell

"This could be your world... but it's definitely Terra's, and she navigates it with determination, and a longing for answers that makes her story engrossing and entertaining." --

After the Fear by Rosanne Rivers

"The book is just breathtaking from the moment you start till the moment you put it down." -- Amazon review

Entanglement by Dan Rix

A YA Dystopian Romance where every human is born with a soulmate, whom they meet on their 18th birthday...and the one boy who's the exception.

daynight by Megan Thomason

“Sure to win over YA readers looking for a dangerous, dystopian adventure story” --Kirkus Reviews
 “Gripping; page-turner” --BlueInk Review (starred review)

Fields of Elysium by A.B. Whelan

"The novel's take on otherworldly travel is a compelling one, and the romantic plot will likely appeal to Twilight fans." - Kirkus Reviews

Giveaway Details

1 winner will receive their choice of a Kindle Fire HD (US Only), $199 Amazon Gift Card or $199 in Paypal Cash (International).

Ends 4/15/13

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the participating authors. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Cover Reveal:The Last Hour by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Title: The Last Hour

Author: Charles Sheehan-Miles

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Age Group: Adult

Cover Designer: Okay Creations

Expected release date: May 15, 2013

Goodreads Button photo goodreads-badge-add-plus_zps5d68ec23.png


Twenty-seven year old Carrie Thompson-Sherman has the life she always wanted: her PhD, a prestigious fellowship, and an amazing husband.

Her life begins to unravel as a jealous colleague puts her fellowship in jeopardy and a haunting secret Ray Sherman carried home from Afghanistan comes to light.

Hounded by a federal investigation and the ensuing media feeding frenzy, Carrie and Ray desperately lean on each other, until a disastrous accident puts both Ray and her sister's lives at risk.

In the last hour, Carrie and Ray will each find themselves faced with a choice.

A choice that will change everything.



About the Author

Charles Sheehan-Miles has been a soldier, computer programmer, short-order cook and non-profit executive. He is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books, including the indie bestsellers Just Remember to Breathe and Republic: A Novel of America's Future.

Charles Sheehan-Miles | Facebook | Twitter

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Author Interview/Giveaway: Silver Hollow by Jennifer Silverwood

Silver Hollow
Jennifer Silverwood

Genre: Paranormal Romance/ Fantasy Romance/ Chick-lit

Publisher: SilverWoodSketches

ISBN: 1481000144
ISBN13: 9781481000147

Number of pages: 322
Word Count: 131, 325

Cover Artist: Najla Qamber

Paperback Kindle Smashwords

Book Description:

Amie Wentworth writes paranormal romances, not because she is looking for a degree in ectoplasm, but because she’s got bills to pay. Ever since her parents’ car crash, she has been led a reclusive life and trusted books more than people. Not even a letter from her long-lost uncle, begging her to visit, gives Amie incentive for anything other than ire – until she is stabbed in an alley and brought back to life by a mysterious stranger.

After crossing the Atlantic to her father’s homeland, Amie is dragged into the very sort of tale she is used to selling. Silver Hollow is a place of ancient traditions and supernatural dangers, where everything is the opposite of what it seems and few escape sane.

To make matters worse, the man who saved her life keeps turning up and her would-be-murderer is still at large.

But when she comes face to face with the ugly truth, will she too be sucked into her father’s madness? Or will she discover that madness is just another name for honesty?

Silver Hollow Excerpt

The windows Amie passed on her mad dash back to her rooms betrayed the first glimpse of dawn. How her bare feet managed to take her back without getting splinters from the fallen wood beams or getting lost, she didn’t have time to dissect. Amie darted past the shadows, relieved when the West Wing was nearly behind her.
Home stretch, Wentworth! You’re almost there and you didn’t even last a week in track.
She grinned, touching the end of the feather sticking out of her robe pocket. This was her biggest mystery and most intriguing find. She wondered if any of the books Henry had put in her bookcase could shed some light.
Amie squinted and gasped when the distant candle light winked out of existence. The corner shadows literally moved to stand in front of her, blocking her vision. Confused and more than a little freaked out, Amie decided to just plunge through the gap. It had to be a trick of the eyes. She’d been awake most of the night, after all.
When she impacted the shadow, she realized too late it was hard as a brick wall. Within seconds she was flipped onto her back, the breath knocked out of her and the candelabra pooling wax onto the floor beside her head. She was too frightened to shout, flashbacks of the night she was attacked penetrating her mind. So she flinched when the shadows shifted and drew into her candle’s light to reveal the impression of a face.
Amie threw up her hands and scrambled backwards when the shadow reached to touch her. “Don’t come any closer! Get away from me!” she hissed, afraid to scream and wake the house. A part of her was still convinced this was a figment of her troubled imagination. Shutting her eyes, she willed the spirit to flee, then froze in terror when it spoke.
“Forgive me for startling you. I only intended to be certain ye were real, flying about the castle in yer nightdress as if ye had all the golems of the world at your back.”
“Your voice…” she whispered, blinked up at the source of the deeply masculine voice. “I feel like I’ve heard that before.” When he chuckled at her words she frowned, so he explained.
“I’ve been told a great many things by maidens far uglier and others with only a reflection of your true beauty, but never this. Tell me,” he said after a tense pause, where she focused on the reflection of her candle’s flames dancing in his black orbs, “what reason should a blood-filled woman have in the West Wing this night, lest she be a wight?” He was mocking her yet her curiosity won over her frustration.
“What’s a wight?” she asked and could have sworn his eyes shifted colors, from black to red to silver and then brilliant blue.
“A walking specter, milady, doomed to haunt its resting place forever.”
“I’m not a wight,” she said. For a long moment he said nothing, only peered intensely over her, until she felt the blackness would swallow her whole.
“Then neither am I, Jessamiene Wenderdowne,” he whispered, drawing back into the darkness. Amie’s heart was pounding, her blood racing. He shouldn’t have been able to leave so quickly. There were no other rooms past hers, no alcoves she had uncovered, or hidden passages to escape into. Yet as soon as his whisper was nothing more than a memory and his face had left her candle’s glow, she knew she was truly alone.

About the Author:

Jennifer Silverwood was raised deep in the heart of Texas and has been spinning yarns a mile high since childhood. In her spare time she reads and writes and tries to sustain her wanderlust, whether it's the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, the highlands of Ecuador or a road trip to the next town.

After attending three different universities without managing to square a degree, she decided to the next logical thing; become a writer. Always on the lookout for her next adventure, in print or reality, she dreams of one day proving to the masses that everything really is better in Texas.

She is the author of the Heaven's Edge series and Silver Hollow. To stay tuned, please have a gander at her website:




Twitter- @JennSilverwood





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Promo Blitz: Undressed by Avery Aster

Avery Aster
Erotic Romance


(78,000 words, Erotic Contemporary Romance, M/F, HEA, Ages 18+ due to sexual situations and mature content)
Milan's notorious playboy, Massimo Tittoni, seems to have everything--Lamborghinis, exotic women, palaces throughout Europe and business success. Ramping up his fabric company to go global with a new apparel brand, he ruthlessly stops supplying fabrics to the American client who inspired the collection. But once they meet, what's he willing to give to get her in his bed?
Upper East Side designer Lex Easton will be damned if she'll let an Italian stud muffin knock her down. So what if she named her favorite vibrator after him. With Fashion Week approaching, she'll do whatever it takes to secure the fabrics she needs to become the next Diane von Furstenburg-- even sleep with her rival. Lex's Louboutins stilettos are dug in deep to win this war.

Avery Aster's super-glossy debut novel is loaded with passionate escapism, pitting American ambition against Italian tradition. Erotic romance fans who appreciate extended sex scenes, witty banter and glamour mustn't miss Undressed.

Inside Scoop: Though the hero and heroine remain monogamous, their Prada-wearing friends indulge in a ménage a trois and other fashionable sexual fun and games.

The Manhattanites is a series of full length novels focusing on relationships. Each book may be read as a stand alone. If you've enjoyed TV shows like Girls (HBO), Dirty Sexy Money (ABC), and The Bold & the Beautiful (CBS) then you'll love this series. Avery's characters are over the top. They have raunchy sex, speak their minds and the plots are twisted. (In a good way!) Manhattanites celebrate lust, ambition, and true devotion.

25 New Yorker Insights Revealed After Reading Undressed by Avery Aster
§  Your vajayjay can take a guy’s cock 'n' balls…at the same time.
§  Always name your butt plug after Anderson Cooper.
§  Pre-ejaculation while jetting a plane over Italy causes turbulence.
§  Never let a dog sleep in your bed, especially three dogs. It’ll ruin your sex life.
§  If he’s as hung as an Evian bottle, it’s best to look away.
§  Always retain the legal services of female lawyers, particularly ones named; Sarah Goldbaum and Hannah Goldstein.
§  Never allow your mother to spend your line of credit on a psychic from the Caribbean.
§  Sexual frustration leads to good business practices, enough to earn three hundred million dollars.
§  If Bergdorf’s, Barney’s and Saks Fifth Avenue reject your upcoming fashion collections try selling it to JCPenny’s or Kmart.
§  Use your American Express reward points wisely. You never know when you'll need to jet.
§  Bellini cocktail consumption will induce foot fetishes.
§  Swedish Fish, Now & Later, and Gummy Bears from Dylan’s Candy Bar are perfect for your fuck-it bucket.
§  Everyone should be so lucky to have a best friend like Taddy Brill.
§  Never drive a Ford Thunderbird off a cliff thinking you’re Thelma & Louise.
§  Stay away from any woman named Scilla or Ottavia.
§  Wearing Tory Burch ballet flats while racing a sports car may cause ones clitoris to hum.
§  Think twice before sitting Lady Gaga and Madonna next to one another at your fashion show.
§  Prada and a condom, when worn together, are known to make bisexual men go bonkbuster cra-cra.
§  Altering a vintage Valentino dress, formerly worn by socialite Nati Abascal, may land you on the red carpet.
§  We should all get "f'd" in Fendi.
§  When in love, you can have as many orgasms as you like…in one day!
§  Slow dancing to Giuseppe Verdi enhances one’s emotional state.
§  Don't argue with your lover in public, above all—never in front of Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, or Karl Lagerfeld.
§  Playing Simon Says, in bed, may lead one to reveal their true feelings. So will strip dancing in front of him to the song Girls, Girls, Girls by Mötley Crüe.
§  And finally, he must always say, “I love you,” first.

Avery Aster

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Author Guest Post:The Witch Avenue Series by Karice Bolton

Title: The Witch Avenue Series
Author: Karice Bolton
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Age Group: New Adult
Tour organized by: AToMR Tours
Lonely Souls (Book, #1)
It’s two weeks before Triss turns 18, and her world is about to change into the most magical one imaginable as she readies herself to enter The Witch Avenue Order... that is until her mother’s disappearance. Instead of celebrating her transformation, she finds herself spreading rose petals into her mother’s empty grave.

When Logan, her best friend from junior high, moves back to town for college, he vows to help her find the answers she so desperately seeks surrounding her mother’s disappearance. As they begin uncovering clues, it becomes apparent that the life of white magic they both grew up loving is not what the majority practices, and their lives are in danger.

With a haunting feeling that her mother may still be alive, she begins to hear a call to the wilderness. Triss realizes that in order to find the answers she needs, she must learn the ways of her ancestors and become the hunter, not the hunted before it’s too late, and she becomes part of the lonely souls.

Facts about The Witch Avenue Series
By Karice Bolton

• I grew up with archery as a family sport and was excited to include that in the magical world of the Witch Avenue Series.
• It was really hard for me not to include one of my English Bulldogs as a character in the series (I did it in The Watchers Trilogy) lol.
• Grandpa Eben was one of the most fun characters to mess with in this series.
• I loved researching all of the spells and flower meanings and uses around the world.
• My aunt lives in the Saranac Lake area in NY (Altered Souls)

About the Author

Karice married the love of her life who she met in high school, and she still can't get over how cute and funny he is. They have two English Bulldogs that are the sweetest bullies in the world, and they use their cuteness to get what they want. Karice loves the snow and gravitates towards the stuff as often as possible! She enjoys skiing and tries really hard to snowboard, but often makes a nice little area to sit while everyone zips by on their board. She enjoys writing, and she also loves to read just about anything with print.

Karice Bolton| Facebook | Twitter

Please see the entire Tour Schedule

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review: Chipmunks: Picture Book by Planet Collection

Title: Chipmunks: Picture Book (Educational Children's Books Collection) - Level 2 (Planet Collection)
Author: Planet Collection
Publisher: Planet Collection
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Pages: 17
Genre: Children’s
Format: ebook
Source: Kindle

Kindle: As a part of the Planet Collection, "Chipmunks" offers facts, descriptions and thought inspiring questions alongside amazing photographs of the Chipmunks.

Toddlers and babies will love looking at the photos, while the older children will be able to grow their minds through reading the passages.

MineReading Challenges:
101 Books in 1001 Days Challenge
150+ Reading Challenge for 2013
2013 What An Animal Reading Challenge VI
2013 E-Book Reading Challenge
Let Me Count the Ways Reading Challenge
2013 Mount TBR Reading Challenge
2013 Read-A-Latte Challenge
2013 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge

Cover Reveal:The Do Over by A. L. Zaun

Title: The Do Over
Author: A. L. Zaun
Genre: Contemporary Adult
Cover Designer: Wicked by Design ;
Expected release date: May 20, 2013

Book Description
Life doesn't look like it's supposed to for Daniela, aka Dani. After a painful break-up with Rick, Dani decides she doesn't want to deal with the hassles of relationship.

After almost two years, Dani's friends stage an intervention, forcing her out of her holding pattern and back into the real world of dating.

Liam, a down to earth firefighter, may be just the person to show her she’s still worth something. Their chemistry is instant and electric. But will Dani be able to trust her patched-up heart with him?

And what will happen when Rick decides he’ll go to any lengths to get her back?

About the Author:

A.L. Zaun graduated from Florida International University with a degree in English Literature a long time ago. A degree she didn’t use at all in her professional endeavors. She loves to read, write and take pictures. She walks around with her camera, and most importantly she has her e-reader available at all times. Healthcare Management by day, Mommy in the evening and most nights, you can find her sitting in front of her laptop with a bottle of Diet Pepsi, bringing the voices in her head to life on the pages of her debut novel, The Do Over.

A.L. Zaun| Facebook

Guest Post/Giveaway: Coinage of Commitment by R. Costelloe

Gratitude: the Romantic Emotion that Gets No Respect

My books feature characters who want more from love that what they see all around them. Something stronger, something higher, something worth pursuing. Part of that pursuit is usually an effort to understand love. We can’t make it soar higher or make it last longer unless we figure out how it works and what can harm it. This usually means the characters need to take a thinking as well as an emotional journey to attain the emotional altitude they seek. And this opens up all sorts of plot opportunities to explore. But regardless of the type of romance being composed, writing love stories requires the author to analyze the different types of emotions that blend together to define a relationship. Every relationship is unique, so the blend of emotions is just as unique.

I’ve always been fascinated that certain motivations in that possible blend of romantic feelings get discounted because they’re thought inferior or contaminating. Marrying for money probably tops the list and, from a qualitative standpoint, is probably one that most readers would agree on. But gratitude is another attribute often named as invalidating the integrity of a relationship. “She only married him out of gratitude,” is heard from the TV soap opera as a signal that the romance is facing certain doom in future episodes.

But does gratitude really deserve such a bad rap? We may want to take another look, because gratitude can be viewed as verification from the past that a lover can be counted on in the future. Yes, I think gratitude creates faith in its object for a victorious future. And gratitude is often the very basis for our best romantic memories.

In fact, I think it’s fair to turn the question completely around. Can any successful relationship that’s mature function without it? Can you show me a successful relationship where the lovers are not grateful to each other, and in manifold ways? If your lover takes care of many little things that matter to you, isn’t that something to be grateful for? And isn’t that gratitude bound to feed the relationship in a way that will make it richer and deeper? I see mainly good things coming out of a relationship that’s laced with gratitude. And the more, the better. Show me a relationship that’s healthy and vibrant, and I’ll show you lovers who have grateful memories.

Coinage of Commitment
by R. Costelloe​

​​Quick Facts
Release Date: Jan 6, 2013.
​Genre: Contemporary Romance​
Formats: Kindle, Smashwords, Epub, PDF

​​Setup: Late Friday night, 1968, at Philadelphia’s 30th St. Subway Station. Wayne is looking from the trolley station, where he stands, to the adjacent subway train (El) platform.

As he watched absently, the girl from Sullivan’s came down the El station steps opposite him. She paused at the foot of the stairs, getting her bearings. Although adequate lighting bathed the platform, most riders took stock of others in the vicinity for safety’s sake. It was a natural precaution, instinctive for most, and especially important this late at night. She saw him, signaled recognition by a parting of her lips that was not quite a smile, then she lowered her gaze, turned, and strolled slowly out of sight to the other side of the stairway.
Seeing her again pricked him with an off-kilter joy, uplifting and refreshing, partly because she recognized and acknowledged him, but also because she seemed so buoyantly out of place down here, her bright beauty undefeated by the dank-smelling gloom of the subway. He smiled, turned away, and sauntered to the south side of the trolley platform. The minutes dragged, but no trolley car arrived. He began mentally composing a theme paper for his International Politics course, the only non-technical one he had that semester. Ideas came to him, prancing, and he thought of getting a notebook from his bag.
“Police! Help! Help me!” A woman’s screaming and it came from the El platform.
Thinking frantically of the girl, he ran to the north edge of the platform and jumped the foot or so that got him down onto the trolley tracks. A steel grate fence separated the two transit systems, but it had seen better days. A section was ajar, just ten feet to his left, and he swung it open enough to squeeze through.
Now things got difficult. The El platform was too high and far to jump to. The train tracks gleamed below him, the electrified rail closest, then the two steel tracks. He saw only one way to get there and didn’t slow down to analyze the risk. He threw his bag onto the opposite platform, then leaped forward, over the electrified rail, and down into the square trench that ran a foot and a half below and between the steel tracks. The platform loomed just above him, and the smell of ozone was stronger this close to the electrified rail—the one he must not fall back against. With his momentum still carrying forward from the jump, he kept moving, aware his footing and balance must be perfect. He reached up and grabbed the El platform edge, stepped up on the rail before him, then used his grip on the edge to lever himself up and onto the platform, landing on his right shoulder and side. Feeling no pain, he got to his feet and sprinted west down the platform toward the woman’s screams.
As he ran, he recalled what he had seen: the girl from Sullivan’s, a nondescript man, and three black youths: teens with their heads wrapped in dark bandannas, signifying…he knew not what. They were what fueled his urgency. Where was she? The commotion was still ahead of him.
He ran at top speed past the central vending area and spotted figures near the far steps. He could see her blond mane, somewhat disheveled now, and she stood with her arm across a shorter girl’s shoulder. The nondescript man ran up and joined them.
“He took my purse,” the other girl wailed. “I can’t believe I was so careless to let him get my purse that easily.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the blond girl said, her arm still across the smaller girl’s shoulder in comfort.
“All my ID. A credit card. And I just got my paycheck cashed today. How stupid can you get?”
Another woman came down the steps and joined the group. As Wayne approached and slowed, a balding, thirtyish-looking man passed him from behind, joined the scene, said he had heard the commotion from above, and that a companion had gone to the toll booths to get help. Then two of the black youths he had seen earlier ran up from the west.
“He high-tailed it onto the tracks,” said the shorter of the youths. “He’s got choice of Thirty-third Street trolley or Thirty-fourth Street El station, so it looks like we kiss that one good-bye. You know what I’m saying? The Fuzz’l never collar that dude now.”
As though on cue, a police officer, complete with German Shepherd, came down the steps and assumed authority. The third black youth also joined the crowd. Wayne held back, not seeing what he could contribute by his late arrival. The blond girl had seen his running approach. Or had she? Her gaze had flicked briefly in his direction, then back to her charge. The tension eased with collective relief, and the officer started questioning the stricken girl, unpacking a notebook as he spoke.
Wayne thought of how the blond girl continued to be too distracted to notice him, and he felt bemused by the irony of his situation. He had arrived about 7.2 seconds too late to be of any use, even to the wrong damsel in distress. His breathing slowed. Still not seeing anything he could contribute, he turned and walked slowly in the direction he had come. He needed to retrieve his bag from where he had tossed it onto the platform. When he got there, he picked up the bag and looked out over the gleaming tracks toward the trolley station. No way, he thought, realizing with a shiver the danger he had risked. The price of another transit token wasn’t nearly worth the peril. And then, as though to underscore the irony, his trolley arrived and then quickly departed. Oh well, might as well climb the stairs to the mid-level pay booths so he could get back down to the trolley station. He took his sweet time since he probably had at least a twenty-minute wait. He approached the corner of the stairway, trying to remember whether the trolleys discontinued service during the wee hours. Suddenly the blond girl stood in front of him, her eyes wide, her expression anxious.
“It just dawned on me,” she said. “How did you get over here?”

The Author
Rob Costelloe wrote fiction as a youngster, and completed his first novel a few years after college. But then the demands of family and career intervened, and his writing was mostly business or technical. But then in 2005, he read an Anita Shreve novel whose ending was so abruptly despairing that he felt outrage on behalf of so many abused readers. The result was two books, Coinage of Commitment, which became a National Indie Excellence Book Award finalist, and Pocket Piece Cameo, both published by Saga Books in the next three years.
Again he went off into nonfiction pursuits, but in 2012, he elected to rewrite both titles for the simple reason that he could make them better stories for his readers. Both titles have been published digitally, and are available from Amazon and other outlets.

Learn more about the author at: ​​​​​​​​​​​

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Book Promo: Mountain Homecoming by Sandra Robbins

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***


Sandra Robbins and her husband live in the small college town in Tennessee where she grew up. They count their four children and five grandchildren as the greatest blessings in their lives. Her published books include stories in historical romance and romantic suspense. When not writing or spending time with her family, Sandra enjoys reading, collecting flow blue china, and playing the piano.

Visit the author's website.


In the second book in the Smoky Mountain Dreams series, acclaimed author Sandra Robbins spins a tender tale of God's faithfulness throughout the generations.

Rani Martin, Simon and Anna's only daughter, is a beautiful and spirited young woman living deep in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. She has plenty of ideas about the man she'll marry someday, but none of them could have prepared her for the return of Matthew Jackson.

Matthew left Cades Cove as a child after his father's death. Now he's come back to build a new life for himself, and it's his dearest wish that Rani be a part of that life. But the people of the Cove won't let him forget the sins of his father, and Matthew can't forget the darkness of his own past.

Is there a place for Matthew in the Cove? And can the light of Rani's love overcome his pain?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0736948864

ISBN-13: 978-0736948869


Cades Cove, Tennessee

June, 1914

Rani Martin stared through the cabin window at the Smoky

Mountains rising above the valley she loved. Usually the sight of the foggy mists curling around the hills made her happy. But try as she might, she couldn’t find anything to cheer her up today.

There had to be something that would take away the misery gnawing in the pit of her stomach. Poppa always told her she could do anything she set her mind to, but she didn’t know how she could be happy about losing the best friend any girl could ever have.

After today, there would be no reason for her to visit this cabin. Tomorrow Josie Ferguson and her husband, Ted, would load their belongings in their wagon, take their baby, and do what many of their friends and neighbors had already done—move out of Cades Cove. Josie, the one she’d shared secrets with all her life, would be gone, and Rani would be left behind with only memories of her best friend since childhood.

She didn’t understand what any of the folks who’d left the Cove were thinking. How could they leave the most beautiful place on God’s good earth?

It was springtime, the best time of year in the Cove. The winter snow had melted and the mountain laurel was in bloom. It wouldn’t be long before rhododendrons dotted the mountainsides and azaleas reappeared on Gregory’s Bald. This year, however, Josie wouldn’t be with her to share the wonder of the Cove coming back to life after a hard winter.

To Rani the prospect of living anywhere except the mountain valley where she’d been born scared her. She’d had an opportunity to see what existed in the outside world when she spent a year attending school while living with Uncle Charles in Maryville. It had been enough to convince her that life wasn’t nearly as good anywhere else as it was in the Cove. But others didn’t share her thoughts, and they’d left. And now Josie was going too.

With a sigh she turned back to the task she’d abandoned moments ago, helping pack up the kitchen utensils. Her throat constricted as she pulled the cake plate she and her mother had given Josie from the kitchen cupboard. She wrapped her fingers around the pierced handles and stared down at the hand-painted red and yellow roses on the delicate china dish. She’d thought it the most beautiful plate she’d ever seen when she first spied it at the store in Pigeon Forge.

Tears filled her eyes, and she loosened her grip with one hand so she could trace the gold band on the fluted rim. “I can’t believe it’s been three years since your wedding.”

Josie Ferguson bit down on her lip and nodded. “Ted’s always said this was his favorite of all our wedding gifts. It reminds him of the molasses cake your mother let him and his sister help make the day George was born.”

“I’ve heard Mama tell that story so many times. But she has one about every baby she’s helped deliver.”

“She’s been a blessing to the women she’s helped birth their babies. Everybody loves Anna Martin.” Josie’s eyes grew wide. “And of course your father too. I don’t think I can ever love another pastor like I do your pa. I’ve listened to him on Sundays ever since I can remember.”

“But you won’t be there anymore.” Rani set the plate down on the table and glanced at the baskets and tubs scattered across the kitchen floor. Pots, pans, and cooking utensils protruded above their sides. The tears she’d been holding back poured down her face, and she covered her eyes with her fingers. “First my brother decides to spend the summer at Uncle Robert’s farm in Strawberry Plains instead of coming home from school, then my cousin Annie gets married and moves to Townsend. Now you’re going too. What will I do with all of you gone? I’m going to feel so alone.”

“No, you won’t.”

Rani dug her fists into her eyes to stop the tears and gritted her teeth. “Why couldn’t Stephen have come home when school was out at Milligan College instead of spending the summer on Uncle Robert’s farm?”

Josie propped her hands on her hips and tilted her head to one side. “You know why.”

“Yeah,” Rani sighed. “He didn’t want to hear Poppa talk to him all summer about following in his footsteps. I don’t know why Poppa can’t see that Stephen doesn’t feel led to preach even though he agreed to that year at Milligan College. He wants to go to medical school. Of course that’s what Mama wants too. I’m glad they don’t have that problem with me. I don’t want to live anywhere but right here in Cades Cove…even if I am going to be alone.”

Josie rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Like I said, you won’t be alone. You’ll have your ma and pa, and Stephen will be here for a visit in July.” Josie wrapped her arms around Rani’s shoulders and hugged her close. “I’m the one who’s going to be alone. I won’t know anybody over at Townsend. You know Ted never has taken to farming, and there’s nothing else for him in the Cove. His new job pays real good. They’re going to furnish us a house too.”

Rani drew back in shock and gaped at Josie. “House? Have you seen what that high and mighty Little River Logging Company calls houses? I went with Poppa to Townsend last month, and I couldn’t believe what the workers were living in. They call them setoff houses because they bring them in on railroad cars and set them off on the hillsides or even right next to the railroad. They’re nothing more than one-room shacks with tar paper roofs. When the lumber company gets through cutting all the trees in one place, they load the houses onto a train and ship them to the next spot for their workers.”

Josie’s lip trembled, and her forehead wrinkled. “I know.” Her voice was almost a whisper. “But what can I do, Rani? Ted is my husband. We have to go where he can find work.”

Rani gazed past Josie to the cradle in the next room. “I can’t stand to think about you living in one of those things, especially now since you have a baby. Can’t you convince Ted to stay in Cades Cove? This is the only life you know.”

Josie pulled the corner of her apron up and wiped her eyes. She took a deep breath. “We’ll be fine. I’ll come back to visit, and you can come to Townsend to see me.”

Rani snorted and shook her head. “No thanks. I have no desire to share a one-room setoff house with you and your husband, not to mention your baby. I can’t believe Ted would be so disloyal to the Cove to go work for a company that’s trying to destroy our mountains.”

“Are you accusing my husband of turning his back on his friends?” Josie’s eyes flared and grew dark with anger.

Rani had seen that look before and realized she’d gone too far. She really needed to follow her mother’s advice and not be so outspoken about the company she thought was using the Smokies as a quick way to make money. Her opinion of Little River Lumber differed from that of many who’d left to work for the logging company. Now she had sounded like she believed Ted to be a traitor to his friends.

She reached out and grasped Josie’s arm. “I’m sorry, Josie. I didn’t mean to criticize Ted. It’s just that I’ve been so upset over what Little River’s doing to our mountains. Colonel Townsend has bought 86,000 acres of forest land all the way from Tuckaleechee to Clingman’s Dome. I don’t care if he does own the company, he’s a foolish man. They’re cutting every tree in their path. If somebody doesn’t stop them, the Smokies will end up as barren hillsides.”

Josie waved her hand in dismissal. “As usual, you’re being overly dramatic. That’s not going to happen. Like I said before, they pay well, and we need the money. End of discussion.”

Rani opened her mouth to respond, but the set of Josie’s jaw told her it would be useless. With a sigh, she picked up the cake plate from the table and handed it to Josie. “I hope you’ll think of me every time you use this.”

Josie took the plate and clasped it in her hands like she held a priceless treasure. For the first time Rani caught a glimpse of fear in Josie’s eyes, and the truth struck her. Josie didn’t want to leave Cades Cove, but she had no choice.

“I will,” Josie whispered. “I wanted this to be the last thing I packed. After all, you’re my best friend.”

Rani burst into tears and threw her arms around Josie. “We’re more than best friends. I think of you as the sister I never had. ”

“Me too.” Josie pulled back and wiped at the corner of her eyes. “But you know we could really be sisters.”

Josie’s words shattered the mood of moments ago and swept all the sadness from Rani’s mind. She took a step backward and wagged her finger in Josie’s direction. “Oh no. Don’t start that again.”

“Why not? George is crazy about you. All he talks about is how he wants to marry you, and you won’t give him any encouragement. If you married him, we’d be family. Sisters-in-law.”

Rani couldn’t believe they were having this conversation again. “I’ve told you at least a hundred times that George is a good friend, but I don’t love him. Even if I did, I don’t think I’d marry him.”

A skeptical expression crossed Josie’s face. “What’s the matter? Isn’t he good looking enough for you?”

Rani’s mouth gaped open at the ridiculous suggestion. “Oh, Josie, you know I would never think that. The truth is George is the youngest child in his family, and he’s spoiled rotten. If he doesn’t get his way, he sulks for days. I wouldn’t want a husband that I have to coddle and give in to all the time.”

Josie dropped her gaze to the cake plate she held and wrapped a burlap sack around it before she tucked it in the side of one of the baskets. “I have to admit you’re right. As a matter of fact, Ted told me George had an awful argument with his pa the other night. It seems he’s upset because he’s going to be left behind in the Cove after we leave.”

Rani held up her hands in exasperation. “You see what I mean. George can only see what he wants. He doesn’t realize what a great opportunity he has to work with his father on one of the best farms in the Cove.”

“But, Rani, you know he’s in love with you. That ought to be enough to make him a good husband.”

“Maybe it would be for somebody else, but not for me. I’m just eighteen years old. I have plenty of time to think about getting married. When I do, it’s going to be because I love a man so much my heart aches when I’m away from him.”

Josie turned to Rani and propped her hands on her hips. “Yeah, you’ve always had those romantic ideas. I think it must come from all those stories about how hard it was for your pa to get your mother to marry him.” She leaned closer to Rani. “Well, for those of us who don’t have a great love like that happen in our lives, we have to settle for the next best thing. It’s not like there’s a lot of men to choose from in the Cove. Being married to George is better than ending up an old maid.”

Rani flinched at Josie’s words. She remembered how Josie had cried four years ago when Charlie Simmons left the Cove, bound for California. At the time she’d thought it was because he was Ted’s friend. Now she wasn’t so sure. “Is that what you did, Josie? You settled for the next best thing?”

Josie’s face drained of color, and she put her hand to her throat. “Rani, I didn’t mean…”

“What’s goin’ on in here?”

At the sound of her husband’s voice at the back door Josie’s body stiffened, and she glanced over her shoulder. Rani’s heart lurched at the lack of expression on Josie’s face. She might very well have been looking at a stranger who’d come to her door instead of her husband. “I need to check on the baby,” she said, and hurried from the kitchen.

Ted Ferguson frowned and gazed after his wife as she hurried into the next room. His eyes darkened, and the look in his eyes told Rani he longed for something he would never have from Josie. After a moment he took a deep breath and smiled at her. “You two havin’ another one of your friendly arguments?”

Rani forced a laugh from her throat and wiped her eyes. “No argument. We’re just a little emotional over the two of you leaving the Cove. It seems all my friends are taking off for different places. My family may be the only one left before long.”

Ted shook his head. “Naw, you won’t be. They’ll have to drag my pa out of the Cove to get him to leave. He says he intends to be buried at the church he’s gone to all his life.”

“That’s what my pa says too.” Rani picked up the empty basket sitting on the table. “I left you some fried chicken and a fresh loaf of bread that Mama sent. She thought you might get hungry on your way to Townsend tomorrow.”

“She always thinks about other folks. Tell her I’m mighty obliged, and I hope I see her soon.”

“I will.”

Ted followed Rani into the next room where Josie was holding her son. No one spoke for a moment, then Josie swallowed and handed the baby to Ted. “Take care of Jimmy a minute while I walk Rani out.”

As Rani stepped onto the front porch, she glanced down at her dog lying next to the door. She snapped her fingers, and he jumped to his feet. He shook his shaggy body, wagged his tail, and awaited her command. It was so easy to communicate with animals. Give them love, feed them well, and reward them for good behavior, and they’d do anything you asked. Too bad people weren’t like that.

Josie had a husband who did all that for her, but today Rani had discovered the secret Josie had kept so well hidden—she would never be able to return Ted’s love. Rani didn’t want to end up like that.

With a sigh, she reached down and stroked her dog’s head. “Good boy, Scout. You did what I said. Now let’s go home.”

With Scout at her heels, she and Josie walked to the road that ran in front of the cabin. As they neared the edge of the yard, Rani turned to Josie. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you too. We’re leaving early in the morning. So I guess I won’t see you again. I hope you will come visit me in Townsend. We’ll make room.”

Rani nodded. “We’ll see. You take care of yourself. And Ted and little Jimmy too.”

Josie smiled, but Rani could see the tears she was fighting to control. “Goodbye, Rani.”

Rani started to speak, but the words froze in her throat. She pressed her lips together and hugged her friend before she turned and started the long walk home. Scout trotted along beside her, and she didn’t look back. She wanted to, but she didn’t think she could stand the sight of Josie watching her walk away.

She glanced down at the dog and smiled. “Well, Scout, it’s a two-mile walk home. Do you think you can make it?”

The dog stared up at her and yelped a reply without breaking his stride.

“I think I can too.”

She didn’t mind walking. It had always been her way of getting around the Cove, and it gave her time to think. Today she had a lot to mull over. Her discovery about Josie’s feelings that she had settled for the next best thing still bothered her. She’d never imagined that Josie might have been in love with someone else.

Now that she thought back to four years ago, she remembered Josie seeming happy all summer. At the time, all she would say was that she’d had her first kiss and was in love. Rani thought it had to be Ted because he had been in love with Josie for years. But it must have been Charlie Simmons, and things hadn’t worked out. And soon after Charlie’s departure from the Cove, Josie had agreed to marry Ted after putting him off for so long.

Today she had learned the truth. Josie had settled for something—someone—she didn’t want. How could she have done that? She must have thought she was doing the right thing, but she’d been wrong. And she was wrong about something else. Being an old maid wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to a woman. To Rani’s way of thinking, being married to someone you didn’t love was far worse.

She squared her shoulders, clenched her fists at her side, and looked down at Scout. “I promise you, Scout, I will never settle for second best, even if it means I never get married.”

From the moment he rode into Cades Cove a peace like he hadn’t experienced in years came over Matthew Jackson. He pulled his horse to a stop and breathed in the sweet scent of mountain laurel drifting on the air. It smelled like home. He was back where his heart had remained.

Had it really been twenty years since he left the Cove? He closed his eyes and tried to recall every memory of the days following the death of his drunkard father. Even now the thought of the life he, his mother, and his little brother had endured made the old anger he’d tried to bury resurface. With his father drunk most of the time, survival had been hard. But his mother had seen to it that there was always food on the table. Then their lives had taken a turn for the worse when a tavern brawl had ended with his father lying dead of a gunshot wound.

Matthew had been almost ten years old at the time, but overnight he became the man of the family. He’d turned to a newcomer in the Cove, Anna Prentiss. Of course she was Anna Martin now. But to him she’d always be the angel who’d found a place for his family to live and had seen they were taken care of.

He even remembered the last words he’d spoken to her the day they left the Cove. She stood beside the wagon loaded with his family’s few belongings, and he’d said, “I’ll be back here someday.” And now, thanks to the money he’d saved working for the Little River Company, he had returned with the deed to his old homestead in his pocket.

But would the people of the Cove welcome the return of Luke Jackson’s son? His father had been a troublemaker and a bully, not to mention an abuser of his wife and children. The sturdy mountain folks didn’t have time for a man who didn’t take care of his family. As his mother used to say, people have long memories, and he was sure they could recall every one of his father’s misdeeds. Now he was about to see if those memories had labeled him a ne’er-do-well like his father.

He could count on one hand the folks who would welcome him back. Simon and Anna Martin. Granny Lawson. They were the ones who made his childhood bearable, and he could hardly wait to see them. But first things first. He had to go to the place where he was born and fulfill a promise he’d made to his dying mother fifteen years ago.

He’d leaned close to her frail, fever-ridden body to catch her last words spoken in that familiar mountain twang: “When you git back to the Cove, see if    ’n my mountain laurel bush is still there, the one yore pa planted for me when we was first married.”

After all the heartache his father had put her through, she still held to the memory of the early days of her marriage when she’d been so happy. Even now the thought of how her eyes had sparkled for a moment, reliving a happier time, made him feel as if a hammer had crushed his heart. His mother and little Eli, his brother. Gone too soon.

He cleared his throat and swiped at his eyes. No need to think about those things now. This was homecoming day, but it was different from what he’d dreamed about when he was a boy. He’d come back alone.

Straightening in the saddle, he spurred the horse forward and concentrated on the road twisting through the valley he loved. All around him were the sights and sounds he’d longed for, but he focused on getting home and seeing the place he’d left twenty years ago.

When he pulled the horse to a halt at what had once been the cabin where he’d lived, his heart dropped to the pit of his stomach. It was worse than he’d expected. The skeleton of a cabin sat near the tulip poplar tree he’d climbed as a boy—bigger now than he remembered. The house’s roof had long ago succumbed to the forces of nature and had caved in. A few timbers marked the spot where it had once been. Weeds grew across what had once been a yard.

Even in its best days the cabin hadn’t been much, but it could have been if his father had concentrated on making a life for his family instead of spending his time in a drunken stupor. The old hatred welled up in his heart, and he whispered the plea he’d prayed every day since he could remember. “God, don’t let me be like him. Make me a better man.”

The promise he’d made his mother flashed into his mind, and he climbed down from the horse and tied the reins to a sapling. Taking a deep breath to slow his racing heart, he headed around the side of the house. Had the mountain laurel plant survived the years?

His gaze drifted to his feet, and a warning flickered in his head. The weeds along what used to be a path had been trampled. Someone else had passed this way not long ago.

With hesitant steps, he inched forward. The knee-high weeds swished against his legs. He caught sight of his mother’s plant that now towered higher than his head, and he stopped in amazement. It wasn’t the bloom-covered bush that made his breath catch in his throat. It was a young woman who appeared unaware of his presence. With her arms outstretched and her face turned up to the sun, she whirled in circles in front of the mountain laurel bush while saying something in a language he didn’t understand.

Her bare feet hammered the hardened earth around the plant in a pounding rhythm. Pink blooms from the mountain laurel bush ringed the top of her head and several more protruded from the mass of black hair that reached below her shoulders.

She moved with the grace and elegance of a queen, and he thought he had never seen anyone more beautiful. He tried to speak, to alert her she wasn’t alone, but he felt as if he had come under her spell and had been forbidden to move.

Suddenly the air crackled with frantic barking, and a dog emerged from the other side of the bush. His hackles raised, he positioned himself between Matthew and the girl. She jerked to a stop and stared at him, wide-eyed. The dog snarled and inched forward.

Her dark eyes narrowed, and with one snap of her fingers she quieted the dog. She didn’t move, and her arched eyebrow told him his company wasn’t welcomed. “Stay back, mister, or I’ll sic my dog on you.”

He glanced down at the dog, whose body still bristled as if he was ready to attack. “I don’t mean you any harm, miss.”

“Then why did you sneak up on me?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t. I stopped when I heard your voice. What were you saying?”

“Just some words I learned from a Cherokee woman.” She frowned and glanced past him. “Are you alone?”

“I am. I just rode into the Cove from Townsend.”

Her body stiffened, and her lips curled into a sneer. “Townsend? Are you with the Little River Company?”

“I have been.”

“It figures.” She spit the words at him as if they were distasteful. “We get a lot of Little River workers checking out the Cove. You people are always searching for another stand of timber to cut down, aren’t you?” She bent down, grabbed her discarded shoes, and slipped them on her feet. Then with her arms rigid at her sides and her fists clenched, she took a step toward him. “Well, you can go back and tell your bosses we don’t sell our land and our trees to outsiders who want to clear cut their way through the Smokies.”

The defiant look in her eyes shot daggers at him, and they felt as if they poked deep holes in his heart. This girl’s words echoed the fierce pride shared by all the Cove residents for this valley, his valley, the place he called home. He wanted to tell her he agreed with her, that all he wanted was to live again among the people he remembered. Instead, other words emerged from his lips. “I worked for their railroad, not the logging company.”

She shook her head, and one of the blooms tumbled to the ground. Her eyes widened, and she glanced up as if she’d forgotten she wore a crown of flowers. A flush covered her cheeks, and she yanked the blossoms from her thick hair. “They’re the same to me. Maybe you didn’t cut our trees, but you carried them away.”

Matthew swallowed hard. There was something so familiar about this girl. Her brown eyes, dark complexion, and the high cheekbones reminded him of someone. It wasn’t possible he could have met her before. She probably hadn’t even been born when he had left the Cove. But still, there was something. He took a step closer, and the dog growled. With a smile he stopped and held up his hands. “I’m not coming closer.”

“Good.” She sniffed and snapped her fingers again. “Let’s go, Scout. It’s time we got home.”

He didn’t move as she strode past him, her head held high and her dog at her side. He turned and watched her disappear around the side of what had once been his home. Her straight back and determined stride reminded him of the spirited mountain women he’d known. They attacked the harsh life in the Cove and planted the seed of unyielding loyalty to the land in their children. Just like his mother had done with him.

Someone had instilled that same devotion in this girl. He hoped he’d get to meet the person who had done that, for he had just encountered the fierce mountain pride that had ruled his life. And it thrived in the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.