One Tough Cowboy by Lora Leigh ~ Sarah A’s Review

First in a brand-new series from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lora Leigh and Veronica Chadwick about one man’s pursuit of justice—and unbridled desire.

LAW AND ORDER. 
For as long as Samantha can remember, Hunter—a man as strong as steel, with a heart of gold—has been her hero. It came as no surprise to Samantha when she found out that the ranch-hardened cowboy who always protected her from bullies went on to become the town’s sheriff. What does surprise her is how incredibly hot he still is. And how much she still wants him…

PRIDE AND PASSION
And, lo and behold, Hunter still has feelings for Samantha. The long-smoldering heat of their innocent flirtation has grown into a full-raging fire. But when tragedy strikes, and their small-town community is shattered, Hunter vows to do everything he can to keep his childhood sweetheart safe. But can Samantha trust that Hunter has her best interests at heart…and that, after all these years, his love is true?

I’m going to keep this short since this book didn’t work for me in the big picture. There were some things I liked; I thought the suspense storyline was fascinating, and I wanted to know what happened enough to stick with the book even while I wasn’t buying into much else.

My biggest issue with One Tough Cowboy was the excessive and repetitive sex scenes. They got so redundant that I started skimming them for anything important that may have been moving Samantha and Hunter’s relationship forward, to no avail. It seemed, to me at least, that the author was far too focused on their sexual relationship and forgot to develop their emotional relationship in any way. They couldn’t be in a room together without being all over one another, to the detriment of letting the reader know why they cared for one another beyond have sex.

Secondly, for a traditionally published book, I found the editorial issues in this book to be glaring – even to my untrained eye. There was a lot of who/that confusion, various typos and misused words, and there was one point where an entire sentence was repeated. I was less than impressed with all of it.

On the plus side, the investigation and implications of it were riveting. I needed to finish the book, even if it didn’t work as a romance for me, so I could find out what was happening in Hunter’s county. I would have loved to see the end be a little more fleshed out – it felt awfully rushed and unrealistic in regards to what Samantha had experienced – and have a little more closure, since I’m not sure I can handle continuing this series, but I did understand that storyline was left a little open-ended since One Tough Cowboy is the beginning of a series.

Lora Leigh lives in the rolling hills of Kentucky, often found absorbing the ambience of this peaceful setting. She dreams in bright, vivid images of the characters intent on taking over her writing life, and fights a constant battle to put them on the hard drive of her computer before they can disappear as fast as they appeared. Lora’s family, and her writing life co-exist, if not in harmony, in relative peace with each other. Surrounded by a menagerie of pets, friends, and a teenage son who keeps her quick wit engaged, Lora’s life is filled with joys, aided by her fans whose hearts remind her daily why she writes.

NEW RELEASE!! Kiss the Girl by Tara Sivec ~ Sarah A’s Review

A struggling antiques collector finds herself falling in love with a millionaire playboy; but can she ever be a part of his world?

Meet the Naughty Princess Club, a series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that brings readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that three women fall into once they decide to strut their stuff and bring on their own happily ever after.

While her friends have broken free of their insecurities, Ariel Waters is struggling to come out of her shell. Her ex-husband took away her voice and her self-confidence, and Ariel is drowning under a sea of debt to afford the alimony she has to pay him. She refuses to ever fall for a man’s charms again, and is determined to make her own way.

When her house and her beloved antiques are taken by the bank after too many missed payments, Ariel finds herself adrift until the infuriatingly charming Eric Sailor comes to her rescue. Although she can’t stand the millionaire playboy, Eric’s kindness and unconditional support reveal hidden depths and a love that Ariel never imagined she could find.

But there are outside influences who will stop at nothing to keep them apart; can Ariel and Eric weather the storm and find a way to be together?

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I have loved this story, and as excited as I was to read the final book, I was also a little sad to say goodbye to the Naughty Princess Club. This series was so smart and funny; I loved how Tara Sivec weaved elements from the fairy tales we all know and love into each book lending an air of familiarity to some adorable romance novels.

Kiss the Girl was so much fun. Even while Ariel was experiencing some of the most difficult and trying moments in her life, Eric added levity to the scenes to keep them from being overwhelming – both to Ariel and to the readers. They had such a fun dynamic, both giving as well as they got without pushing the limit between teasing into just being mean. I had loved their back and forth in the previous two books, and it was even better in this one.

Hands down the best part of this book was Ariel’s growth arc. For all her bluster, she was quite broken on the inside. I loved how her friends and Eric carefully helped her to discover her strength and self-confidence. It was wonderful to see the person she was on the inside grow to match the smart-mouthed, tough, confident woman she projected on the outside.

Kiss the Girl is the third and final book in Tara Sivec’s Naughty Princess Club series. These books are interconnected standalones and can be enjoyed independently. The threads of their friendship and shared business ties all the books together and, of course, reading all the books in order will give you the most comprehensive reading experience, but you won’t be lost if you only read one. Kiss the Girl is narrated in first-person perspective by Ariel.

Tara Sivec is a heavy hitter in the romance community. She writes romcoms and heavy, emotional books with equal skill. While I’ve always been a huge fan of her more serious work, I’m happy to have tried these lighter books because it gave me a greater understanding of her skill.

Once upon a time, Cynthia was the perfect housewife. Between being the President of the PTA and keeping her home spotless without a hair (or her pearls) out of place, her life was a dream come true. Her husband was once her knight in shining armor, but now he’s run off with all their money…and the babysitter.
Dressed as a princess at the annual Halloween block party on Fairytale Lane, she meets two other “princesses” also facing money troubles: antique store owner Ariel and librarian Isabelle. When the women are invited to wear their costumes to a party where they’re mistaken for strippers, Cindy, Ariel, and Belle realize that a career change could be the best way to make their money problems go bippityboppity-boo.
But can structured Cindy approach a stripper pole without sanitizing wipes? And could the blue-eyed anti-prince that has been crossing her path become Cindy’s happily ever after? At the Stroke of Midnight is a hilarious, empowering story where princesses can save themselves while slaying in stilettos.

A tale as old as time: she needs a place to stay, he’s a grump with a secret and an extra room…can love find a way?

Meet the Naughty Princess Club, a series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that brings readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that three women fall into once they decide to strut their stuff and bring on their own happily ever after.

Living in her overprotective dad’s basement, shy Belle lives her life through books. Being a part of the Naughty Princess Club is the first adventure she’s ever had, plus she desperately needs the money to save one of her favorite places – the local library.

But when her new friends and new business gets her kicked out of her dad’s house, Belle is rescued by the surly Vincent “Beast” Adams who invites her to be his house guest until she gets back on her feet. Despite his attitude problem and long list of rules, Belle finds herself warming to the muscled man with a penchant for growling and starts seeing a gentle side to him that wasn’t there before.

Yet there’s a room that Beast keeps locked and Belle keeps getting hints that Beast is hiding something…can a nerdy librarian tame the beast or will their romance be over before it has a chance to blossom?

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Tara Sivec is a USA Today best-selling author, wife, mother, chauffeur, maid, short-order cook, babysitter, and sarcasm expert. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children and looks forward to the day when all three of them become adults and move out.

After working in the brokerage business for fourteen years, Tara decided to pick up a pen and write instead of shoving it in her eye out of boredom. She writes in a wide range of genres including Romantic Comedy, Romantic Comedy/Mystery, Romantic Suspense, New Adult Drama, Contemporary Romance and Psychological Thriller. Her novel Seduction and Snacks won first place in the Indie Romance Convention Reader’s Choice Awards 2013 for Best Indie First Book and she was voted Best Indie Author in the Indie Romance Convention Reader’s Choice Awards 2014.

In her spare time, Tara loves to dream about all of the baking she’ll do and naps she’ll take when she ever gets spare time.

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NOW AVAILABLE!! Dirty-Talking Cowboy by Stacey Kennedy ~ Sarah A’s Review

Emma Monroe has returned to River Rock, Colorado, after the death of her grandmother. Now she’s inherited a farm full of abused animals and she’s working as a waitress at the local hotspot, Kinky Spurs. The last thing Emma wants in her life is a man, as she’s still recovering from a recent heartbreak. But when a sensual and powerful cowboy, Shep Blackshaw enters her life, Emma begins to want things she shouldn’t.

Shep knows sex shouldn’t be on his mind. He’s got a world of responsibility on his shoulders. He’s attempting to save his late father’s cattle ranch, Blackshaw Cattle Company, from foreclosure. But Emma’s heated reactions to his touch make ignoring her impossible. She’s the perfect distraction to make him forget that his father’s company is a sinking ship.

While their nights only heat up, soon emotions become tangled into the mix. Shep’s not only giving Emma the hottest nights of her life, he’s also healing her heart. With every encounter, she forgets her heartbreak. With every naughty adventure, she stops mourning the life she left behind. And with every dirty word whispered from Shep’s mouth, she stops thinking of all the reasons why she shouldn’t fall for him. But when the past comes to claim Emma, she’ll need to choose between the life she thought she wanted and the life she’s grown to love with Shep. How will she say no to forever with a dirty-talking cowboy.

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I kind of went into this book blindly.  I had never read anything by this author, nor did I read the blurb.  I love a good cowboy romance, so I that was pretty much all I needed to know about Dirty-Talking Cowboy to want to read it.  This book ended up having so many things I look for in a book; it’s hard to know where to start with why I liked it. It just pushed so many of my buttons.

Almost as soon as I opened this book, I knew I was going to be unable to put it down.  There is just something about instant, undeniable chemistry that pulls me in.  While other readers sometimes have an issue with insta-love, I find it wonderful.  Add in a little bit of power exchange, and I’m a goner.

Shep was such a force in this book, seemingly without trying.  His presence was consuming, regardless of who he was in the room with.  Ms. Kennedy did a phenomenal job of making the entire feeling of the book change when he entered the picture.  His strength of character was astounding, and I loved how he supported Emma in her time(s) of need, even when he was dealing with a massive loss of his own.

My favorite part of Dirty-Talking Cowboy was the parallels Ms. Kennedy drew between heartbroken Emma and the terrified horse, Bentley.  The shadowing of Emma’s character arc in how the horse was learning to trust felt natural.  Shep had walked into both of their lives at a time when they could have easily never learned to live a full life again, but he had an expert understanding of exactly how to approach them at their most skittish and gently guide them to a place of healing.

Stacey Kennedy is a completely new to me author.  I’d never heard of her before I started this book and, after reading Dirty-Talking Cowboy, I’m a little heartbroken about that.  Her writing style was right up my alley, she wove several of my favorite romance elements together nearly flawlessly, and she reminded me of some of my most beloved authors.  She is an author I will now strive to never miss a release from; she did such an amazing job of winning me over in a single book.

Emma spun on her heels, opened her mouth, then promptly closed it. All sadness fled in a millisecond.

Leaning against the doorframe, Shep wore only his jeans, no shirt in sight. Oh my fucking God. Dream Shep had nothing on the real thing. Anyone could tell that Shep worked hard for a living. He didn’t seem the type of man that would spend hours in the gym, indicating his job was the reason he was built for hard labor. His wide shoulders, squared chest, gloriously perfect six-pack with deep ridges made for exploring fingers—all of it was mouthwateringly hot.

His voice deepened into a low rumbly tone. “Darlin’, you really need to stop looking at me like that.”

She lifted her gaze to his potent stare. Heat rose to her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” The side of his mouth curved, like he knew the power he had over her. “I happen to enjoy watching you eye-fuck me, but you’re making it hard for me to be a gentleman.”

Her knees weakened, heart raced. How tempting it was to engulf this fiery passion burning between them, not run from it. And how confusing was that? No more casual sex, wasn’t that what she said? She knew where relationships like that ended up, nowhere good. Yet, her mouth parted, and out came, “What if I don’t want you to be a gentleman?”

Something fierce crossed his expression then, darkening his eyes. He stepped forward, bringing all that strong manly heat in close. He smelled of rain and wood and all that was perfect in this world. He dipped his head, and all she had to do was reach out and touch him. “What exactly do you want from me, Emma?” His lips were right there. His naked flesh, right there. “Do you want me to take control of you and roughly take what’s mine for the night?”

His sexy smile revealed a horrible truth. She nearly melted into the floor. “Oh, dear Lord, I told you about my dream?” Please say no. Please say no.

He lifted his hand, gently dragging his knuckles across her cheek. “Ah, but I happen to like that dream you had and shared with me.” He slid his thumb across her chin, tilting her head up to stare deeply into his gorgeous eyes. “You still haven’t answered me. Do you want me to kiss you slowly, savoring every little bit of your mouth?” His thumb brushed across the plumpest part of her bottom lip. “Or shall I punish you with my kiss, making you regret that you ever turned me down?” The heat of his body sizzled against her as he leaned in closer, his warm breath across her mouth. “Tell me, Emma, shall I tie you up with my ropes like I already have? Do you remember what that felt like? Did you like it, sweetheart?”

“You know I liked it,” she managed, breathless.

His grin was pure sin. “You’re right, I do know that.” He dragged his knuckles over her flushing cheek again, seemingly touching her soul-deep. Her mouth parted, breaths became heavier when he ran the pads of his fingers slowly down her arms, the power he exuded like a wall of strength in front of her. “Tell me, Emma,” he finished.

The words nearly fell out of her mouth. She wanted to experience his brand of passion. She got the feeling if she let go with him, he’d deliver where others had failed. Almost as if he’d take away all the pain, all the confusion, and silence her fears.

Her mouth parted to say, Make me forget it all. The words died in her throat. Her fears were bigger and stronger than her desire. She’d been fooled by one man before. The icy cold reminder still splintered her heart, there and unavoidable. “I can’t,” she said softly.

“You can’t.” There was no disappointment in his voice, only firmness. “Then I can’t.”

He took her hand into the strength of his, and she slowly opened her eyes, her breath catching at the contained power in his expression.

Shep breathed sex and passion, and the danger of him presented itself to her. Causal sex was one thing, but she got the feeling Shep didn’t do causal sex. He was pure emotion, total connection, and all intimacy. He’d wrap her up emotionally and take everything she had, and when he was finished with her, he’d demand more.

With his eyes locked onto hers, he led her from the bedroom. Once in the hallway, he turned to her, leaned in, and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “Good night, Emma.”

She could finally breathe again. “Good night, Shep.”

Then with that blazing-hot gaze pinning her to where she stood, he shut the bedroom door, leaving her, and all her thoughts, alone in the quiet hallway.

USA Today bestselling author Stacey Kennedy has written more than forty romances, including titles in her wildly hot Kinky Spurs, Club Sin, and Filthy Dirty Love series. Her books are about real people with real-life problems, searching for that special thing we call love…in a very sexy way. When she’s not burning up the pages and setting e-readers ablaze, she’s living her happily ever after with her husband and two young children in southwestern Ontario. She’s a firm believer that wine, chocolate, and sinfully sexy books can cure all of life’s problems.

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NEW RELEASE!! In Bed with the Beast by Tara Sivec ~ Sarah A’s Review

A tale as old as time: she needs a place to stay, he’s a grump with a secret and an extra room…can love find a way?

Meet the Naughty Princess Club, a series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that brings readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that three women fall into once they decide to strut their stuff and bring on their own happily ever after.

Living in her overprotective dad’s basement, shy Belle lives her life through books. Being a part of the Naughty Princess Club is the first adventure she’s ever had, plus she desperately needs the money to save one of her favorite places – the local library.

But when her new friends and new business gets her kicked out of her dad’s house, Belle is rescued by the surly Vincent “Beast” Adams who invites her to be his house guest until she gets back on her feet. Despite his attitude problem and long list of rules, Belle finds herself warming to the muscled man with a penchant for growling and starts seeing a gentle side to him that wasn’t there before.

Yet there’s a room that Beast keeps locked and Belle keeps getting hints that Beast is hiding something…can a nerdy librarian tame the beast or will their romance be over before it has a chance to blossom?

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Tara Sivec’s take on Beauty and the Beast was such a fun ride.  It has long been my favorite fairytale, as I have always identified with Belle, so this was the story in this series I was most looking forward to.  There were tons of hilarious moments in this book, but it was also peppered with a significant number of poignant interactions between the characters.  In Bed with the Beast was a great choice for a weekend afternoon read.

Belle had a phenomenal growth arc, especially when you consider where she started in At the Stroke of Midnight.  She started out as a timid, bookish, floormat.  She had no fire, no backbone.  She gained so much by first losing everything she’d ever counted on throughout the course of this book.  Witnessing her realize her own strength and gain confidence in who she was as a woman was fabulous.  By the end of In Bed with the Beast, she was an impressively strong female, and there was no doubt she’d do whatever she needed to ensure her own happiness.

Beast – aka Vincent – shocked me.  He’d been so brutish and nearly silent in the first book and the beginning of this one, I was sure he was kind of an alpha meathead.  My mistake.  He impressed me with his background and his gentle, protective strength.  He was the perfect person to help bring Belle out of her shell and show her everything she already was.  I loved how his veiled vulnerability and how he opened up to Belle when he hid so much of himself from the world.

The plot of In Bed with the Beast was so fun.  From Belle’s disastrous go at online dating to her notecards to Mrs. Potter this book was rife with comedic relief.  My hands-down favorite part of this book, however, was how slowly Belle and Vincent moved from friends and roommates to more.  Her slow seduction of him – with the guidance of her friends – and his refusal to give her more than he was certain she was ready for was adorable.  I loved them together and their genuine care for one another shined from the pages.

In Bed with the Beast is the second book in Tara Sivec’s Naught Princess Club series.  These books are interconnected standalones and do not need to be read in order.  The characters and the idea of the club are all introduced in the first book, At the Stroke of Midnight, so I would highly suggest reading that book first, though nothing about Belle and Vincent’s love story is lost by not reading it.  In Bed with the Beast is written in first-person perspective, narrated by Belle.

Tara Sivec has once again impressed me with this romcom.  I’d already fallen in love with her writing in her heavier books, she delivers some crazy emotional stories, but she’s quickly winning me over to the comedy-side with this series.  I may yet become a romcom fanatic if she keeps delivering these smart, fun stories.

Once upon a time, Cynthia was the perfect housewife. Between being the President of the PTA and keeping her home spotless without a hair (or her pearls) out of place, her life was a dream come true. Her husband was once her knight in shining armor, but now he’s run off with all their money…and the babysitter.
Dressed as a princess at the annual Halloween block party on Fairytale Lane, she meets two other “princesses” also facing money troubles: antique store owner Ariel and librarian Isabelle. When the women are invited to wear their costumes to a party where they’re mistaken for strippers, Cindy, Ariel, and Belle realize that a career change could be the best way to make their money problems go bippityboppity-boo.
But can structured Cindy approach a stripper pole without sanitizing wipes? And could the blue-eyed anti-prince that has been crossing her path become Cindy’s happily ever after? At the Stroke of Midnight is a hilarious, empowering story where princesses can save themselves while slaying in stilettos.

A struggling antiques collector finds herself falling in love with a millionaire playboy; but can she ever be a part of his world?

Meet the Naughty Princess Club, a series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that brings readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that three women fall into once they decide to strut their stuff and bring on their own happily ever after.

While her friends have broken free of their insecurities, Ariel Waters is struggling to come out of her shell. Her ex-husband took away her voice and her self-confidence, and Ariel is drowning under a sea of debt to afford the alimony she has to pay him. She refuses to ever fall for a man’s charms again, and is determined to make her own way.

When her house and her beloved antiques are taken by the bank after too many missed payments, Ariel finds herself adrift until the infuriatingly charming Eric Sailor comes to her rescue. Although she can’t stand the millionaire playboy, Eric’s kindness and unconditional support reveal hidden depths and a love that Ariel never imagined she could find.

But there are outside influences who will stop at nothing to keep them apart; can Ariel and Eric weather the storm and find a way to be together?

***  PREORDER NOW  ~ RELEASES SEPTEMBER 4, 2018  ***
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Tara Sivec is a USA Today best-selling author, wife, mother, chauffeur, maid, short-order cook, babysitter, and sarcasm expert. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children and looks forward to the day when all three of them become adults and move out.

After working in the brokerage business for fourteen years, Tara decided to pick up a pen and write instead of shoving it in her eye out of boredom. She writes in a wide range of genres including Romantic Comedy, Romantic Comedy/Mystery, Romantic Suspense, New Adult Drama, Contemporary Romance and Psychological Thriller. Her novel Seduction and Snacks won first place in the Indie Romance Convention Reader’s Choice Awards 2013 for Best Indie First Book and she was voted Best Indie Author in the Indie Romance Convention Reader’s Choice Awards 2014.

In her spare time, Tara loves to dream about all of the baking she’ll do and naps she’ll take when she ever gets spare time.

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I Flipping Love You by Helena Hunting ~ Sarah A’s Review

SHE’S GOT CURB APPEAL. HE’S A FIXER UPPER…

From New York Times bestselling author Helena Hunting comes I Flipping Love You, a love story about flipping houses, taking risks, and landing that special someone who’s move-in ready.

Rian Sutter grew up with the finer things in life. Spending summers in the Hamptons was a normal occurrence for her until her parents lost everything years ago. Now Rian and her sister are getting their life, and finances, back on track through real estate. Not only do they buy and sell houses to the rich and famous but they finally have the capital to flip their very own beachfront property. But when she catches the attention of a sexy stranger who snaps up every house from under her, all bets are off…

Pierce Whitfield doesn’t normally demo kitchens, install dry wall, or tear apart a beautiful woman’s dreams. He’s just a down-on-his-luck lawyer who needed a break from the city and agreed to help his brother work on a few homes in the Hamptons. When he first meets Rian, the attraction is undeniable. But when they start competing for the same pieces of prime real estate, the early sparks turn into full-blown fireworks. Can these passionate rivals turn up the heat on their budding romance—without burning down the house?

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I flipping loved this book! I was taken aback by how emotional this book made me. I would have never guessed how emotionally involved I would get with Rian and Pierce, their relationship, and the way their lives had played out. Romantic comedies have been something I’ve eschewed for most of my life, but in the last several months I’ve read a few really smart ones that are slowly pulling me over to the lighter side.

Rian was amazing; the girl had chutzpah. She had a million and one things to worry about and often it would have been easier for her to give in, but she fought for herself and what she thought was right for her and her sister. I was in awe of her sass and strength; she was fascinatingly unapologetic when she knew she was right and I identified with her difficulty in admitting when she’d made a mistake.

Pierce, while maybe a tad jerky in the beginning, was such a great guy. I loved his single-minded pursuit of Rian. Pierce was the model of a perfect book boyfriend; he was chivalrous – yet let Rian have her independence, he was considerate, he was smart, he was, uh, talented in and out of the bedroom, and most of all he was unwaveringly devoted to Rian. The man won me over from the beginning and continually proved he was not a man who should be let go.

I Flipping Love You was so much more than a romantic comedy, yes there were plenty of laughable moments, but the intensity of Rian’s past and the effects it had on her trust gave this book an extra layer of intrigue. Add to that everything that was going on with Pierce’s career and family and the pace of this book never slowed. I was intrigued by all the moving pieces and how they were all going to fall in the end, while also being completely emotionally involved in their love story. There were even a few moments when I found myself getting choked up by the intensity of feeling brought out by Ms. Hunting’s writing.

I do have a couple of wishes for this book. There were a few storylines that didn’t seem to be wrapped up; there was one I was sure was going to explode into a huge conflict but seemed to just be forgotten about partway through the story. There were also a few scenes that didn’t seem to be necessary to the story and lent to the feeling of incomplete storylines. I don’t think the story would have lacked anything without them; they detracted from the primary storyline more than they added any real value.

I Flipping Love You is the third book in Helena Hunting’s Shacking Up series, a fact I was unaware of before I went to mark the book as read on my Goodreads account. Obviously, these stories do not need to be read in order, nor does the series need to be read in its entirety. I do wonder if reading the first two books would have relieved some of my feelings of incomplete storylines, as they mostly dealt with secondary characters, though. I Flipping Love You is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Rian and Pierce.

While I’ve been aware of Helena Hunting as an author for years and some of her more serious books – specifically her Clipped Wings series – have been on my TBR for years, I’d written off most of her comedic ventures seemed a little too on the nose for me, judging by the titles. Having read his book, I’m now painfully aware how rash a judgment that was and will definitely be taking a closer look at Ms. Hunting’s backlist and, at the very least, reading the other books in this series. I was quite impressed with the writing in this novel and could easily see myself becoming a rabid fan of Helena Hunting.

CHAPTER 1

ANGRY HOT GUY

RIAN

I flip through my stack of flyers, checking for a sale on the jumbo box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal so I can price match it. I’m a conscientious price matcher. I mark the sale with a big circle before tucking the red Sharpie into the front of my shirt. If I’m going to wheel and deal at the cash register, I want to make it as easy as possible for the cashier and the people in line behind me. Nothing is worse than getting stuck behind an unorganized price matcher.

I shimmy a little to the song playing over the store intercom as I toss boxes of my most favorite, unhealthy cereal in my cart. A prickly feeling climbs the back of my neck, and I shiver, glancing over my shoulder. A mom rushes past me down the aisle, her toddler leaning precariously out of the cart in an attempt to grab a box of Fruit Roll-Ups. I can’t blame him. They are artificially delicious.

But the mom-toddler combo isn’t the reason for the prickly feeling. Halfway down the aisle is a suit. A big suit. Well over six feet of man wrapped in expensive charcoal-gray fabric. He doesn’t have a cart or a basket. And he’s staring at me. Weird. I can’t look at him long enough to decide if he’s familiar or not without making it obvious that I’m staring back.

I have the urge to check my appearance, worried I have his attention because my hair is a mess, or there’s a sweat stain down the center of my back. I’m not particularly appealing at the moment. I’ve just come from a boot camp class at this new gym my twin sister forced me to try out.

Marley bought an online two-for-one coupon for forty bucks, so now I have to attend six of these stupid classes with her. I managed to get out of last week’s class, but she wouldn’t let me escape two weeks in a row. My tank is still dewy, post-exertion, I have terrible under-boob sweat, and my thong is all wonky. If I were alone in this aisle, I’d for sure fix the last issue, but suit guy is here so I must leave the thong where it is for now, wedged uncomfortably between my vagina lips.

The suit quickly shifts his attention to the shelves and picks up the jar directly in front of him, which happens to contain prunes. He inspects it, then maybe realizes what it is, because he rushes to return it, exchanging it for another item. I bite back a smile, pleased that even in my disgusting state I’m being checked out.

As suit man gives the shelf in front of him his full attention, I return the checkout favor. His attire and his posture scream money and a twinge of something like longing combined with jealousy makes my throat momentarily tight. At one time, price matching was a practice I would’ve laughed at—like an entitled jerk—now it’s a necessity.

Suit man must be warm, considering it’s late April and we’re experiencing temperatures far above average for this time of year. Based on the tapered fit of his suit, I’m guessing it’s a high-end brand. He’s complemented it with black patent leather shoes. Very impractical for this weather and location. Does he realize he’s in the Hamptons?

He’s wearing a watch, and from his profile, he can’t be much beyond his early thirties. I have to assume the only reason for the watch is because it’s expensive and he wants to show it off. In my head, I’ve already profiled him as a pretentious, rich prick who probably commutes to NYC a few times a week where he bones his secretary and has a penthouse with the barest of furniture. The rest of the time he works from home.

I return to shopping and continue down the aisle, in the opposite direction of the suit—it’s my way of finding out if he’s actually creeping on me or not. I keep tabs on him in my peripheral vision as I scope out more sales and more delicious, unhealthy food items. My job is to balance out all the fruit and vegetables my sister, Marley, is currently picking out in the produce section.

I grab a jar of the no-name peanut butter since we’re out and the good stuff isn’t on sale, dropping it in the cart. My phone keeps buzzing in my purse. It’s distracting, so I give up ignoring it and check my messages.

It’s my sister.

We’re in the same store. It’s not particularly huge, so I don’t know what could be so pressing that she needs to text four thousand times instead of finding me.

ABORT SHOPPING

LEAVE NOW

Meet me in parking lot

RIAN??????

Jeez. What the heck is going on? Maybe the grocery store is being robbed. Holy Hot Pockets. What if there is a grocery store heist going down? I’m about to abandon my cart in a bid to find Marley and escape the mayhem I’ve created in my head. It’s all very dramatic. As I turn, I come face-to-face with the suit.

I suck in a breath and slap my hand over my chest. The tank is still damp, and my skin’s a little gritty with salt-sweat, so I drop it quickly, because ew.

“Hi.” His expression is hard to read. He seems … smug.

“Hi, hey. Uh…” I wave a hand around in the air, a little flustered, and conflicted, because it’s not often I get approached by a guy this hot—and in a grocery store of all places. Maybe he’ll be here again next week. “I’m sorry, I’d like to stare at your pretty face, I mean…” Crap, why are words so hard? “I have to go.”

I try to step around him, but he mirrors the movement, taking a linebacker stance, as if he’s considering tackling me. Which is an odd way to stage an introduction.

“Recognize me?” he asks, one perfect eyebrow arched.

As I take him in, I wrack my brain for a time or place I might’ve run into him before. I don’t think so, though. His light brown hair is neatly styled, and the cut of his suit highlights all of his assets. Well, the visible PG ones, anyway.

He widens his stance and crosses his arms over his chest. His very broad chest. The sleeves of his suit jacket pull tight, biceps bulging and flexing. He’s a bit intimidating based on his size alone, but we’re in a public grocery store, so I feel relatively safe. And he’s just so gorgeous. Which is a silly reason not to be concerned, some of the most notorious serial killers are attractive men. Also, I need to find my sister, in case the grocery store is really under attack—although maybe this suit could save us.

I adopt his crossed arm pose, but I don’t think I look intimidating. All I succeed in doing is awkwardly squeezing my boobs together inside my damp sports bra and jabbing the right one with the Sharpie. “Should I?”

He looks me over, a slight smirk tipping his mouth. His gaze gets stuck on the Sharpie for a few seconds before they come back up to my eyes.

It’s possible I met him in a bar, but I swear I’d remember his face if I did. The bar scene is also more my sister’s speed than it is mine. Oh God. It’s also possible he’s mistaking me for her. It’s happened before.

While we look nearly identical at first to most people, we’re actually fraternal twins. After a few interactions, most people can tell us apart. I have a distinctive Marilyn Monroe mole on the right side above my lip, and my eyes are amber, where Marley’s are closer to green. My mouth is too big for my face, my lips a little too full and my nose too small. At least that’s my perception. Marley’s also the more outgoing of the two of us and an inch taller. And about ten pounds lighter.

Marley is a little less cautious than I am with men, so there have been a few uncomfortable occasions where her previous hookups have approached me, asking why I haven’t returned their calls. It’s too bad if this is the case, because this guy is inordinately attractive and it would be nice if he wasn’t one of my sister’s castoffs.

His face is a masterpiece of masculine perfection; straight nose, high cheekbones, an angular jawline that could cut glass, full lips. Especially the bottom one. The kind of full that makes me think of kissing, with tongue, of course. He’s all-American handsome with a shot of alpha hotness. It’s a lethal combination for the state of my already damp panties.

“I recognize you.” He has a low, rough voice, like the delicious scrape of fine grit sandpaper.

He breaks me out of my ogle daze. He must think I’m Marley. I’m actually rather disappointed. “I think maybe you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”

“Oh no, sweetheart.” His gaze rakes over me again. I feel very naked all of a sudden. And hot. It’s really hot in here. “You drive a powder-blue Buick.”

“How the heck—”

“I knew it!” he shouts, eyes alight with some kind of weird, victorious satisfaction as he points a long finger with a blue-black nail at me. Maybe he slammed it in a door or something. Or based on the way he’s rudely pointing, maybe someone slammed it for him. “I fucking knew it! You hit my car.”

I definitely would’ve remembered hitting someone’s car, especially if a guy this good looking was driving it. He should probably come with a warning, like: Panties may combust if you get too close, or something. I take a step back since he’s all up in my grill and clearly he’s not looking to flirt like I originally thought. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t play dumb with me! You think you can flip your ponytail”—he reaches out and flicks the end, which is rather startling—“flash a smile and some cleavage, and it’s going to get you out of this. Well, think again, sweetheart. I guarantee my paint is still all over your bumper.” He’s leaning over me, face way too close to mine. So close I can see tiny gold flecks in his deep green eyes. They’re an unusual shade. Dark like pine tree needles.

And he’s chewing gum. Juicy Fruit. I can smell it when he breathes in my face. I would’ve expected a man like him to chew something more along the lines of Polar Ice, or Arctic Ice—strong mint.

I put a hand on his chest and take one deliberate step backward as he opens his mouth to resume his tangent. It’s a solid chest. Extremely hard. His gaze darts down, brows furrowed. I use his distracted state to my advantage. “First of all…” I point my finger in his face, like he did to me. “Don’t ‘sweetheart’ me. That’s condescending. Secondly, I’m sure I would’ve noticed if I’d hit another car. Thirdly, there are literally hundreds of powder-blue Buicks in this stupid city. It’s not an uncommon car. And I’d like to point out, that the cleavage comment was completely unnecessary and unwarranted and actually, pretty damn sexist.”

He blinks a couple of times, possibly taken aback. That expression doesn’t last long. His lip curls in a sneer and that pretty all-American handsomeness morphs into downright malevolent hotness. “Nice try, sweetheart. But there’s no way I’d forget you.” His gaze sweeps over me—it’s not in an unappreciative way either.

I poke his hard chest. “Stop leering at me, you pervert. I don’t know what kind of drugs you’ve been snorting, but I assure you, you’ve got the wrong person.”

“Oh shit!” my sister’s voice comes from behind me.

I turn to find Marley doing an about-face, and then she breaks into a little grapevine step as she moves back toward me. Her eyes are wide, mouth contorted into some kind of grimace as she grabs my wrist.

“What the fuck? There are two of you?” hot-crazy guy asks, eyes bouncing between us.

“We gotta go.” Marley latches onto my hand and drags me down the aisle, away from crazy-hot suit.

“Whoa! Wait a damn second!”

Hot suit makes a grab for me, but Marley yanks me out of the way and shoves my shopping cart at him—hard. He’s not quite quick enough to get out of the way, and the corner of the cart slams right into his crotch. He doubles over with a groan and aggressively pushes the cart aside. It ricochets into a display of canned peaches, which spill into the aisle with a deafening crash.

“What the heck, Mar?”

“Come the fuck on!” She sprints down the aisle, dragging me behind her. I’d protest, but I don’t think I have much choice in the matter, considering the death grip she has on my hand, or the fact that she’s assaulted the sexy-crazy suit with my shopping cart.

Marley fast-walks to the exit, glancing over her shoulder. “Act natural.”

“Will you tell me what’s going on? Who is that guy?”

She flips her hair over her shoulder and smiles as we pass the cashiers and the automatic doors open. Marley fast-walks down the sidewalk toward our car. “I may have tapped that guy’s car last Saturday when I was shopping.”

I stop walking, which brings her to a jarring halt. She yanks on my arm. “Seriously, come on. I’ll explain when we’re in the car.”

“Nope. No way. You explain now.”

Her eyes are bouncing all over the place. “It’s not a big deal. I just grazed his bumper.” Marley spin and tries to push me forward from behind. “Now let’s get out of here before he finds us again. We should probably shop somewhere else for a while.”

I stumble forward a step and then spin away from her. “You hit that guy’s car?”

“It was more of a graze. At least I think it was.” She wrings her hands and makes her oh crap face.

Now crazy-hot suit guy seems a lot less crazy and much more justified in his reaction. Except for the cleavage comment. That was still unnecessary. “It sure didn’t seem like nothing with the way he freaked out in there.”

“He’s probably overreacting. Where are your keys?” She’s still wringing her hands.

I pat my hip with the intention of keeping my purse safe and away from my sister. Except all I end up patting is my actual hip. I look down, running my hands over my stomach, searching for the cheap, faux-leather knockoff. “Oh fudge.”

“What?”

“My purse. It’s in the cart. I have to go back and get it.”

Marley grabs the back of my tank. “You can’t! What if he’s still in there?”

“It has my identification in it, Marley. And my bankcards, and my money, and keys to the car and the apartment. I can’t leave it in there!”

Marley flails and paces around in a circle. “What if he’s waiting for us to come back and get it?”

“You can stay here if you want, but I’m going back for it. I’m not leaving my purse behind because you hit some guy’s car in a parking lot. I can’t believe you just drove away!”

“I thought I tapped it, and then I panicked.” Her fingers are at her mouth now. “I didn’t want to drive up our insurance premiums over some guy and his Tesla.”

“You hit a Tesla?” This keeps getting worse.

“Anyone who has the money to buy a Tesla has the money to fix it, right?” Marley says.

“So you drove off! Jeez, Marley. What were you thinking?” I shake my head. I’d like to say I’m surprised by this, but sadly I’m not. Marley doesn’t always use common sense in day-to-day life.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. That’s the problem, I guess.”

I’m about to go back into the store, but stop short at the sight of the suit leaning against the side of my car, one ankle crossed over the other, all calm like. Dangling from a single finger is my knockoff, hot-pink Coach purse. “Forget something?”

** Copyright © 2018 by Helena Hunting in I Flipping Love You and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks. **

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of PUCKED, Helena Hunting lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her incredibly tolerant family and two moderately intolerant cats. She’s writes contemporary romance ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.

Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

NEW RELEASE!! At the Stroke of Midnight by Tara Sivec ~ Sarah A’s Review

Meet the Naughty Princess Club: a brand new series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that introduces readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that ensues when three women start a new business to make it rain.
Once upon a time, Cynthia was the perfect housewife. Between being the President of the PTA and keeping her home spotless without a hair (or her pearls) out of place, her life was a dream come true. Her husband was once her knight in shining armor, but now he’s run off with all their money…and the babysitter.
Dressed as a princess at the annual Halloween block party on Fairytale Lane, she meets two other “princesses” also facing money troubles: antique store owner Ariel and librarian Isabelle. When the women are invited to wear their costumes to a party where they’re mistaken for strippers, Cindy, Ariel, and Belle realize that a career change could be the best way to make their money problems go bippityboppity-boo.
But can structured Cindy approach a stripper pole without sanitizing wipes? And could the blue-eyed anti-prince that has been crossing her path become Cindy’s happily ever after? At the Stroke of Midnight is a hilarious, empowering story where princesses can save themselves while slaying in stilettos.
 Truth? I was unsure about reading this book; I don’t gravitate toward comedy in anything.  In fact, I will actively avoid anything billed as humorous, unless it’s been well vetted by people I know and trust.  Another truth?  I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN AFTER I STARTED IT.  Yes, those are shouty capitals.  Cynthia – Cindy, Cin- totally won me over.  Well, maybe that’s overstating things.  Ariel impressed me with her brash honesty, and from there I fell for Cindy, too.

At the Stroke of Midnight is the first book in Tara Sivec’s new Naughty Princess Club series.  These books are all going to focus on different women – I say couples, but let’s be honest, the ladies rule this kingdom – and could technically be read as stand-alones, but after reading this book, I can’t see how you wouldn’t want to read them all in order, since you get to know the other two princesses so well in it.  At the Stroke of Midnight is written in first person perspective, from our fabulous heroine’s point of view.

My absolutely favorite part of this book wasn’t the romance between the heroine and her Prince Charming; it was the love story between the heroine and herself.  She grew so much from the woman in the first chapter to the take-charge, brazen broad who she proved herself to be in the final chapter.  Watching her shed her Stepford wife persona was fantastic; watching the effect her transformation had on the people who cared for her was everything.  So, yes, the romance was great, but not the reason I loved this book so much.

While Cin was the shining star of this show – as well she should be – I’d be remiss to completely neglect her prince.  I loved how he was with her.  Knowing when to push her, and just how hard to do it.  Supporting her completely in all her choices.  He very much lived up to anything I could hope for a woman who’d been dealt the cards our Cindy had been playing.

While I’d always heard about how amazing Tara Sivec’s romcoms were, I’d never picked one up; I’d assumed I wouldn’t care for them because it’s not a genre I generally care for.  Wow.  If this book is in keeping with her other comedies I was sorely mistaken.  At the Stroke of Midnight was smart, empowering, and a lot deeper than I would have ever guessed.  I’d always loved her heavy, heart-wrenching books, but I think I’ll be adding her romcoms to my reading repertoire.

Closing my eyes, I take a few deep, calming breaths as I stand behind a black velvet curtain in the dimly lit backstage area. An erotic song that I don’t recognize plays through the club on the other side of the curtain, the heavy, thumping bass from the music vibrating through my body.

“You can do this. It’s just like you’ve been practicing. Close your eyes and pretend you’re just dancing in your bedroom,” I whisper to myself.

“Do you normally have over a hundred complete strangers in your bedroom watching you take your clothes off while dancing to a horrible ’80s song?”

My pep talk is interrupted and my eyes fly open to find my friend, Ariel standing next to me backstage. It still feels weird to call her my friend, considering a few months ago I had no desire to ever speak to her, let alone get to know her. But, she’s one of the reasons I’m standing here right now, getting ready to do something I never thought I’d do. Sure, it’s an unusual way to make your dreams come true, but everyone has to start somewhere.

“I took your advice and chose another song. But just so you know, ‘Eternal Flame’ by the Bangles is not a horrible eighties song. ‘Is this burning, an eternal flame’ is a beautiful and passionate lyric,” I argue with her, my voice rising to be heard over the catcalls, whistling, and clapping happening on the other side of the curtain, as the woman who went on before me finishes up her performance.

“If it’s burning eternally, it’s probably chlamydia,” Ariel deadpans.

“Is this your idea of pep talk?”

“Do you need a pep talk?” Ariel questions, with a confused look on her face.

“Have we met?!” I shout hysterically. “Do you think this is something I’m a hundred percent confident about right now? I feel sick. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. I don’t think I’ve had enough practice.”

I start to back away from the curtain when she reaches out and grabs my arm to stop me from running as fast as I can off this stage and out of this club.

“You’ve had enough practice. You finally let your hair down, literally and figuratively,” she reminds me as I tentatively run my fingers through my long blond hair, which she recently convinced me to put caramel highlights in and which has been curled and teased and hangs around my shoulders and halfway down my back. “This is where your future begins, babe. Right here. On this stage. This is where you take back your life and give a giant fuck you to that dipshit of an ex-husband. And that hot piece of man meat out there in the audience who has no idea what’s about to hit him.”

My eyes start to burn as they fill with tears, and I quickly blink them back before they ruin the perfect cat-eye eyeliner and false lashes she applied for me in the dressing room an hour ago.

“That was the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me,” I tell her with a sniffle.

“Just think: Instead of having that giant pole up your ass, you’ll have it in the palm of your hands and be swinging on it in about forty-five seconds,” she says with a smirk.

“And then you go and completely ruin it,” I mutter with a shake of my head, taking another deep breath and turning away from her to face the curtains again.

“You’ll be fine. It’s two minutes and thirty-five seconds of your life. It will be over before you know it,” she reassures me with a pat on the back.

“I need my Clorox wipes,” I mumble nervously, bringing one hand up to my mouth and chewing nervously on my thumbnail.

She smacks my hand away and rolls her eyes.

“You do not need your Clorox wipes. That pole is clean. Ish. You know what? Don’t think about the pole and all the vaginas that have spun on it before you tonight. Think about how freeing this will be. Think about your business. Our business. Think about being independent and paying your own bills and banging the hot-as-balls man out in the audience who will most likely lose his shit when he sees you walk out on that stage,” she says with a wag of her eyebrows.

“I’m not going to . . . do that with him,” I reply indignantly, even though just the thought of being naked in a bed with that man makes me feel all warm and tingly.

“For fuck’s sake, you can say the word bang. God will not kill a kitten if you say the word bang. And you’re totally going to bang that man like a screen door in a hurricane. Especially when he sees you in this outfit,” she states, looking me up and down. “Well, the outfit you have on underneath that thing.”

I take a second to look down at myself and smile. He told me to never, ever wear this costume again, and I did it just to irritate him. And to see the look on his face when I take it off. I’m not the prude he thinks I am. I can change. I can be sexy and outgoing and do something completely outrageous and not in my comfort zone.

“I can do this,” I state with a nod of my head.

“Hell yeah you can!” Ariel cheers, bumping her shoulder against mine. “Just don’t trip and fall on your face in those ridiculously high heels. Biting it and smacking your face onto the stage is not hot.”

I glare at her, and she holds her hands up and begins backing away.

“You’ve got this. Shake your ass and make momma some money!” she shouts before disappearing around a corner to go out into the audience and cheer me on.

“Let’s give a great big round of applause to Tiffany! We’ve got an extra-special treat for you next. Get your dollar bills ready, folks. Straight from the castle, looking for her very own Prince Charming, is the hottest princess you’ll ever meet! Put your hands together for Cinderella!”

Letting out a long, slow breath, I grab onto the velvet curtain and yank it open, pasting a smile on my face and ignoring the butterflies flapping around in my stomach as I make my way on stage.

I can do this.

I’m going to go out there and show everyone that it’s possible for a housewife to make something of herself. Even if she has to make it by being a stripper.

Tara Sivec is a USA Today best-selling author, wife, mother, chauffeur, maid, short-order cook, babysitter, and sarcasm expert. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children and looks forward to the day when all three of them become adults and move out.

After working in the brokerage business for fourteen years, Tara decided to pick up a pen and write instead of shoving it in her eye out of boredom. She writes in a wide range of genres including Romantic Comedy, Romantic Comedy/Mystery, Romantic Suspense, New Adult Drama, Contemporary Romance and Psychological Thriller. Her novel Seduction and Snacks won first place in the Indie Romance Convention Reader’s Choice Awards 2013 for Best Indie First Book and she was voted Best Indie Author in the Indie Romance Convention Reader’s Choice Awards 2014.

In her spare time, Tara loves to dream about all of the baking she’ll do and naps she’ll take when she ever gets spare time.

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