Daily Archives: November 28, 2013

[Release Day Blast] A Home for Christmas by Ann Vaughn

 

A Home for Christmas

Ann Vaughn


Publication: November 28, 2013

Synopsis

Single mom, Jenna Blackwell wasn’t having a very good start to the Christmas season; her purse got stolen on Black Friday. She’s cursing her luck and herself for even being out in the Black Friday madness when the store manager brings in Riley Stanton, a former Navy SEAL who chased down the thieves and recovered her purse. Jenna is blown away by Riley: his looks, his smile, the fact that he ran down the purse snatchers, everything.

Riley Stanton had no idea when he chased down the kids who stole a few purses that he would walk into a room and have his life changed forever. He looked into the eyes of Jenna and saw a strength in her that he found intriguing.

Riley soon learns that Jenna is everything he ever wanted in a woman. He falls for her and for her son harder than he expected to. Jenna is cautious but welcoming and hopes that she and her son can give Riley the one thing he hasn’t had in years, A Home for Christmas.

 

Excerpt:

Riley came over every evening after work. He helped Cam with his homework. he got there before she did on Wednesday and he and Cam had dinner ready by the time she got home. Jenna had to fight tears as she sat at the table. It had been so long since someone had cooked for her. To be honest, other than her mother, she didn’t think anyone ever had. Wade, her ex, certainly never did. Watching Cam work so closely with Riley, having Riley there filling the role that Wade had abandoned, even sitting at a table with candlelight and roses and food she hadn’t had to prepare…it was a lot for her to handle. She was barely hanging on by a thread and when Riley had initiated the blessing, she lost it. “Mom?” Cam asked, uncertain of what was happening. Jenna covered her face with her hands, silently crying. She heard the scrape of a chair and then suddenly Riley was there, his arms around her, lifting her from the chair. She heard him say something to Cam and then he carried her from the room.

He sat on the sofa and cradled her in his lap and just held her while she cried. After several minutes, when her tears had subsided somewhat, Riley reached down to cup her chin in his hand and lift her head so he could look into her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “Nothing to be sorry about,” he said, smoothing his hands over her cheeks to wipe her tears away.

“Mom?” Cam asked again, drawing her attention. “You OK?” “I’m good, bud, I’m sorry.” Riley looked up at Cam and made eye contact with him. Jenna wasn’t sure what passed between them, but Cam got up and left, leaving her there with Riley. “Look at me,” he said, softly. When she raised her eyes to meet his gaze, he lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles. “What’s going on?” She took a deep breath. “It’s just…no one’s ever done something like this for me before.” “Like what? Take care of you?” She nodded. “Better get used to it, babe. I’m not going anywhere.” She squeezed his hand, tears falling down her cheeks again. This time, Riley leaned forward and kissed them away before touching his lips to hers. For the first time, Jenna didn’t hold herself back.

Maybe it was because Cam was just down the hall and she knew it couldn’t get out-of-control. Whatever the case, she turned in his arms and wrapped her arms around his neck, deepening the kiss. “Thank you, Riley,” she whispered when they pulled apart, pressing her forehead to his, and placing her fingertips against his lower lip. He nipped her fingertip lightly, then ran his tongue around her finger. “Anytime,” he replied, “and I mean that. You don’t have to do it all alone any more.” “Riley,” she whispered, kissing him, “please don’t make promises you can’t keep. My heart is fragile enough, but Cam…” He kissed her back. “Quit while you’re ahead. Don’t piss me off.” She smiled and combed her fingers through the hair at his nape. “I’ll try.” “Good. Let me take care of you, Jenna.

You and Cam.” She took a deep breath. “Tell you what. You’re still here by Christmas? We’ll talk,” she said, giving him a final kiss then sliding off his lap. He watched her walk down the hall to Cam’s room. Closing his eyes and letting his head fall back on the couch, he reached down to adjust himself in his jeans. For the first time since leaving the Navy, Riley felt like he wasn’t just spinning his wheels.

 
 

Dreamcast: 

 
 

 

 
 

Check out Ann’s previous novels:

 

 
Publication Date: August 7, 2013
 
 
Shane McCanton and Tessa Kelly were childhood enemies. Everything was a contest to them and Tessa always seemed to show Shane that nice guys finished last. Things change, however, when hormones take over and Shane begins to see the perpetual thorn-in-his-side as more than just his childhood nemesis…
Tessa had never meant to set into motion events that led to their childhood rivalry, but once it started, she embraced it with gusto…until her world started to fall apart and she realized that Shane was the one constant in her life, her rock who would never leave her and help her find her Long Way Home…
 
 

Book Trailer:

 

 
Publication Date: November 4, 2013
 
Colt Harris wasn’t on the hunt for love when he looked up from his lunch and spotted Sarah. As cliched as it was, time stood still – all he could see was her. Hearing her laugh sealed his fate; he knew his life was about to change.

Sarah Sauter was used to being alone. She lost her parents when she was eighteen and after a really bad love affair, had given up on ever finding love. Since then, her life had been all about simply surviving. Little did she know that when she went to lunch with her co-workers, she would have a chance encounter with a man who would literally turn her world upside down.

When Colt steps into Sarah’s life, he finds that things with her aren’t exactly as they appear to be. Secrets hidden deep in her past begin to surface, dropping Colt and Sarah in the middle of a nearly twenty-seven year old mystery. It will take all of Colt’s strength, patience and resolve Finding Home for Sarah.

 
 
Playlist:
1. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams (for the opening scene when Jenna’s sitting in the store manager’s office…because this version of this song gets on my nerves so it would grate in her nerves while she’s sitting there thinking about how stupid she was to shop on Black Friday)
2. Trenches by Pop Evil (during Cam’s race)
3. My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark by Fall Out Boy (during Cam’s race)
4.  Feels Like Home by Chantal Kreviazuk
5.  Coming Home for Christmas by Jim Brickman
6.  O Holy Night by Celtic Woman
7. I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Amy Grant
8. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland
9. To Get Me To You by Lila McCann
10. Winter Wonderland by Kenny G
11. All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey
12. Auld Lang Syne by Jim Brickman
 

About  the Author

 
Ann Vaughn is a Native Texan now living in Oklahoma. She’s been writing since the seventh grade (many MANY moons ago) when she and her friends were obsessed with the Sweet Valley High series. Back then, access to books wasn’t as easy as it is now, so to tide her over between SVH releases, she began writing her own, Texas versions of SVH, full of lots of Texas Friday Night Lights and pitfalls and perils of teenage life in the 80s. Writing has always been a comfort and a release for her, though she never expected to be published. It wasn’t until a conversation with her husband about the rise of eBooks that she decided to try her hand at self-publishing. It was scary and exciting and ever since the release of her first book, Long Way Home on August 7, 2013 she has been on a wild roller coaster ride that she wouldn’t trade for the world. 

 
 
Contact Ann:
 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1731657.Ann_Vaughn

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Filed under Ann Vaughn, Excerpt, Release Day Blast, Synopsis, Teaser, Trailer

[Release Week Blitz] Lost Seraphine by KaSonndra Leigh


Lost Seraphine Release Week Blitz
By KaSonndra Leigh

Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy
Date to be Published: 11/24/2013


Caleb Wood now knows the Dark Seraphine’s true identity. 
Life should be a little more sane now, right? Wrong! It’s kind of hard to ignore the walkers, fallen souls taken by the Angel of Chaos. Oh yeah, only Caleb can see them.
After saving his girlfriend from the wrath of a sea witch, Caleb finds himself faced with a new problem…understanding the strange tattoos showing up on his body. He must also deal with his Lost Seraphine, the girl who left her family behind to save the boy she loves. The same girl who just happens to be the daughter of a mythological god. 
Gia gave up one of her powers to be with Caleb. She knew that she was connected to the Dark Seraphine in some way.  You see, there’s a prophecy, something she always believed to be a fairy tale linking her with the girl who also wants Caleb. Haunted by visions of her dead brother, Gia realizes she has made a terrible mistake. The ability she gave up is the one thing she will need to keep her boyfriend safe. 
Will Caleb be able to accept the things he will learn about his real father while trying to save the girl he loves from herself? Book Two of the Seraphine Trilogy and prequel to the Lost Immortals Saga is coming soon.

KaSonndra Leigh

Author Bio
Author of the Lost Immortals Saga and the Path Seekers Series. I’m also a mother, blogger, reader, gardener, home renovator, and a slayer of undead Egyptian mummies in Tomb Raider. I believe in karma, coffee, and seriously wish that the producers of Xena would bring my favorite show ever back.
I was born in the race-car city of Charlotte, NC, and now live in the City of Alchemy and Medicine, NC, when I’m not hanging out in Bardonia (Lost Immortals). Most of my characters are based on people that I’ve met throughout my travels and adventures. People tend to stop and start conversations with me as if I’ve known them my entire life. Does this freak me out? Not really. My mom says that one day I’ll get kidnapped by one of them. I told her that if it weren’t for these lovely people then I wouldn’t be able to create the stories that I do.
Some other common tidbits…hmm. I’ve watched the movie Under the Tuscan Sun almost 200 times. Seriously, the way I see it is if I keep watching it enough, then suddenly the house that Diane Lane lives in will magically appear in my backyard. I know. I have a huge imagination!

Authors Links
Website | Facebook YA | Facebook NA | Twitter @kasonndraleigh
Buy Links:

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[Blitz & Giveaway] Entwine by Rebecca Berto

 
 
 
Entwine by Rebecca Berto
Publication date: November 25th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult

Synopsis:



Sarah Langham’s life was the epitome of normal until her dad slept with another woman when she was sixteen. It ripped her family apart.

Twenty-two-year-old Sarah has it together, though.

Waiting at the train station to go home from her first day of her first proper job out of university, she spots a man.

He is an enigma to her. She’s drawn to him, with his square jaw; buzz of hair; and his tall, solid frame, seen under the contours of his business suit. And he’s been looking at her, too. Fate pulls them together that night on a whirlwind date, exceeding anything Sarah’s experienced before. He’s even more into her than she’s into him. Finally, she wants to trust a guy for the first time since she was sixteen.

But then they discover something.

Something that meant they were never two strangers at a train station.

And it threatens to tear their future apart before it, really, ever begins.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18467906-entwine?ac=1

Purchase:

Amazon | B&N

AUTHOR BIO:

Rebecca Berto writes stories about love and relationships. She gets a thrill when her readers are emotional reading her books, and gets even more of a kick when they tell her so. She’s strangely imaginative, spends too much time on her computer, and is certifiably crazy when she works on her fiction.

Rebecca Berto lives in Melbourne, Australia with her boyfriend and their doggy.

Author Links:

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

~ Excerpt ~

 

The smell of the man next to her, panting and sweating from obviously running to catch the train, didn’t matter. Nor did the fact she was standing for a one-hour train trip in heels. There was little that could matter to her right now—except for when the train suddenly stopped, and the driver announced a delay.

“We have stopped to attend to an ill passenger on board,” he said. “I don’t know how long the wait will be, but it could be up to forty-five minutes due to peak hour traffic and the patient’s condition. Thank you for your understanding.”

At that time, Sarah heard a deep, yet smooth voice say, “Lucky I don’t plan on being anywhere.”

She knew it was Him before she looked up to meet his eyes. Apart from the fact she was sure it came from somewhere in front of her, or thereabouts, a voice in her head associated it with the man she’d almost profiled to full detail.

Looking up, she saw his face and, for some reason, knowing what his voice sounded like was like tying up a little bow on top of her perfect package.

“It’s not like I have to be anywhere,” Sarah agreed.

For a moment, she matched his gaze, trying to stop from doing anything suggestive. She wanted to lick her lips as they were dry, and she was sure even a little grin would crack them. Only an hour ago she’d had gloss on them from her special first day at work, but now they felt dry and baron.

Oh, how with every moment she stood here, it got worse. Now her head was itchy. If only she could sneak up a fingernail to scratch. Just above and behind her ear. Just a bit. But Sarah couldn’t. Why was a stranger doing this to her?

Sarah held her place, gazing with as much power as he had. She wouldn’t lick her lips. Or scratch her head. And now she was a dry, twitching freak.

Stuff it.

She turned a little, trying to hide her hand, and covered it by fussing with her hair near her ear, and licked away the cracked feeling from her lips. When she looked up, the man was shamelessly staring. She knew that look. There was no mistaking that, for some reason, he was as intrigued by her as she was him.

“Here,” the man said. He bent and dropped against the railing behind his back, his knees sticking out at the sides, and his huge legs separated in a way that made Sarah want to look away but couldn’t. “Sit here. Your feet must be sore.”

That made Sarah self-conscious, made her unable to move. Had he seen her shoes? Or looked up and down the length of her? The idea thrilled her.

 

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Filed under Contemporary, Excerpt, Giveaway, New Adult, Rebecca Berto, Synopsis, Xpresso Book Tours

[Review] Naughty Christmas Nights by Tawny Weber

Naughty Christmas Nights by Tawny Weber

Publication date: December 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Blaze
<div style=”font-size:11px”>Publication date: 05/01/2013</div>Pages: 221

Back of the book

 
This Christmas, it’s nice vs. naughty… 

Lace stockings… 

Hailey North has worked her butt off to make Merry Widow Lingerie a success. But if she doesn’t win the bid for Rudolph’s department store, she’s in big trouble. Her strategy? To prove that romance, playfulness and eroticism are what women want. The problem, however, is what Hailey wants…her wickedly hot, sexy competitor. 

Or black leather? 

Sex sells, and the Milano line is certainly all about sex. Besides, winning is the only way Gage Milano can extract himself from the family business. Unfortunately, Hailey’s romantic lingerie threatens not only his freedom, but his libido! But when their professional rivalry turns into a red-hot rendezvous, the competition really starts heating up. And Xmas is about to get a whole lot more X-rated!

 

Pre-Order Naughty Christmas Nights

Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Harlequin | BAM

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18050815-naughty-christmas-nights?from_search=true


My Review: 

4.5 Star Review – Naughty Christmas Nights

I recommend this book.

I enjoyed this book by Tawny.  This book includes Erotic fun, passion, laughs, heartache, and betrayal.

Tawny will pull you into the story and before you know it you will either be laughing out loud or yelling out loud!!  

Hailey North needs to win the contract to save her company. 

Gage Milano needs to win the contract so he can get a year off from his family’s business.

When it all comes down to it who will win the contract that they both want?

They are attracted to each other even before finding out they are competing for the same contract. 
How will they set aside the attraction to win the contract?  Is that even possible?

Hailey knows what it like when people let you down.  Seems everyone has always let her down.  Will Gage also let her down?

Love both of these characters.  Gage is tough but also sweet.  Hailey is a sweetheart who hopes that everyone is not going to let her down but gets disappointed every time.  They are both funny and sweet together. 

 

One of my favorite parts:

“The party’s great,” she said, nerves starting to poke through the champagne bubbles. ” I thought it was a fun theme, coming as your favorite holiday character. At least I did until I saw the guy dressed as a pair of Christmas balls waving his candy cane around.”

“You think I did all of that?  You actually like that I called you on being a jackass?”

“Well, I’m not saying I want it to be my new nickname or anything. But I appreciate that you see me, that you understand me. And that you believe in me.”
 

Contact Info for Tawny Weber

 
 
 

 

Facebook | Twitter | Website | GoodReads


About Tawny:

I love romance.

Happily ever after, hot love scenes… all the good things in life.

For a long time, I was content to explore this enticing world through books. Then, wow – I found out it can happen in real life. I met my husband, who showed me that all those wonderful, magical feelings described in the books are real. Hey, what d’ya know, fiction really IS based in reality.

Once that particular dream came true, it was like Pandora’s Box opened… if I could have that dream, why not the one I’d hidden away in that quiet corner of my mind… the one about putting those stories dancing around in my head onto paper (or computer screen) and writing my own romances? It took awhile. Workshops and classes, voraciously devouring every how-to book I could buy, studying the market and finding my niche, to say nothing of my voice. Throw in those little distractions like life, children and such… but the dream started taking life.Once I joined RWA I found another form of magic. Camaraderie, support and friendships that have touched my heart. The dream is blooming. Over the years, I’ve served as President, Secretary and VP of Administration in various RWA chapters, as well as Publicity Chair, Mentorship Chair, Critique Chair, Judged and coordinated various contests and moderated a few other programs. All of this gives strength to that dream, and keeps it grounded. 2012 will see my thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth Harlequin Blaze novels in the shelves, as well as three indie Karma Cafe novellas.

I do have other dreams that I’m happily tending: my own real-life hero husband and our two children. Our Northern California home, an ode to ideas and obsessive redecorating/remodeling. Good thing my hero is handy with a saw. Gardening, scrapbooking, crafting and an incredibly supportive family round things out. Along with homeschooling our children and writing, I work from home with my Intuitive Consulting business. I would love to hear from you.

  

 

Read an Excerpt

Hailey North loved the holidays.

All the glitter and fun. Smiling faces glowing with joy, the secrets and excitement. And the gifts. Gifts and surprises always rocked. Especially hard-earned ones, presented at a fancy dress-up ball. Or, in this case, a ballroom packed with the rich and influential of the Northern California fashion scene all dressed up like holiday cartoons.

She should be ecstatic. Over-the-moon excited.

Tonight she’d finally be sure that her lingerie company wouldn’t be joining Father Time in waving goodbye at the end of the year.

Instead, she was afraid the past couple of months of financial worries and stress over keeping her company had sent her over the edge into Crazyville.

Here she was surrounded by male models and wealthy designers, many of the most gorgeous specimens of the opposite sex to be found in the Bay Area. And it was the six-and-a-half feet of green fur, snowshoes and a bowling-pin shaped body across the room that was making her hot.

Hailey squinted just to be sure.

Nope. There was absolutely nothing enticing about the costumed guy at the bar. But sex appeal radiated off him like a tractor beam, pulling her in. Turning her on.

Green fur, for crying out loud.

Wow. Month after month of no sex really did a number on a healthy woman’s libido.

Or maybe it was a year dedicated to the objective of making romance sexy. Of studying romantic fantasies, and finding ways to tastefully re-create them in lingerie form and show women that as long as they felt sexy, they were sexy.

Or, possibly, it might have something to do with the glass of champagne she’d knocked back for a little social courage when she’d walked into a ballroom filled with high-powered movers and shakers, most of whom had more money in their wallets than she had in her bank account. And all of them here to impress Rudy Rudolph, a department-store tycoon with a wicked sense of fun and prized openings in his new spring fashion lineup.

She glanced at her empty champagne flute, then at the bar. She should trade this in for something nonalcoholic. Something that didn’t make her go tingly over green, grouchy holiday figures.

Then the Grinch pushed back his fur to check the time. When the hairs on his fingers caught on his leather watch-band, he yanked off the gloves in an impatient move, tossing them on the bar.

Thirst forgotten, Hailey stared at his hand as he reached for his own drink. Long and lean, with tapered fingers. Even from across the room, his palm looked broad. Her mind played through every hand-to-penis-size euphemism she’d ever heard and came up with the only conclusion possible.

The Grinch was hung.

The only question was, did he go for cute elves? Or was he strictly a man-and-his-dog kind of guy? Maybe she should have dressed up like a Who?

She’d taken two steps toward him, her body desperate to find out, before she caught herself.

No. She was here for business.

She peered at the baggy, saggy, furry back and grimaced. Not for fun. No matter how big the fun’s hands were.

“Hailey, darling.”

Relieved, both at the distraction from lusting after the Grinch and at there actually being someone here who knew her name, Hailey turned.

Her social smile shifted to genuine delight at the sight of the man who’d made this night possible for her. Jared Jones, assistant to the wealthiest—and most eccentric—tycoon in the department-store business.

Jared had taken her under his wing last summer when they’d met in an elevator. Hailey had been on her way to pitch her lingerie designs to the sales team and Jared had been bemoaning a rip in his shirt. Before they’d reached the sixth floor, she’d pulled out some fabric tape for a temporary mend, earning his gratitude and his endless devotion.

Apparently, a fashion faux pas was, to some, the end of the world.

“Jared,” she greeted, leaning in for a hug but careful not to let him bump her head. It’d taken her twenty minutes to get the bell-festooned elf hat pinned to her curls in a way that didn’t make her hair look like fluffy poodle ears.

“I love your gingerbread-man costume. Is that your favorite holiday character?” she asked, flicking her finger on one of his cheerful, oversize buttons. Her eyes widened before she laughed aloud as she noted the words Eat Me etched on the red plastic.

“Edible goodness, that’s me,” he said with a wink. Then he shifted his head to the left and gave a little wag of his chin. “And if all goes well, that drummer boy over there will be having a taste before the night is out.”

Used to Jared’s aggressive sexuality by now, Hailey gave the drummer an obligatory once-over before sharing an impressed look with her horny gingerbread friend.

“But look at you,” he gushed, his loud enthusiasm aimed as much at getting the drummer’s attention as it was appreciation for Hailey’s costume. “You know, I’ve seen at least a dozen elves tonight, but you’re the best by far. You look fabulous. Is everything you’re wearing straight from your lingerie line?”

“Everything but the skirt,” Hailey confirmed, arms wide as she gave a slow turn to show off the goods. Her candy-cane-striped bustier with its red satin trim and white laces paired nicely with her red stockings and their white seams up the back that ended in clever bows just below the hem of her green tulle ballerina skirt. She was proof positive that the right lingerie could make any woman feel sexy.

Nothing like a year in the gym, a carb-elimination diet and a great tan to make a girl look damned hot in lingerie.

Too bad she’d only hit the gym maybe four times in the past twelve months, loved carbs like she loved her momma and was closer to winter-white than sun-kissed tan.

But that was the beauty of Merry Widow lingerie. A girl didn’t have to have a supermodel body to look—and feel—fabulous in it.

“Oh, darling,” Jared breathed in admiration as he completed his inspection.

Hailey didn’t have to follow his gaze to know where he was staring. After all, the guy might not be interested in what her lingerie was covering, but he was all about fashion.

And her boots were pure fashion candy.

The white Manolo booties were an early Christmas present from her father. Well, not really from him, since he never knew what to get her. But she’d bought them last month with the holiday check he’d sent, so that made them his gift to her.

“Hailey, you have the best taste in footwear,” he sighed. “Those boots are perfect. And such a great touch to bring the outfit from cute to couture.”

“Thanks. Will Mr. Rudolph be arriving soon?” she asked, shifting from one foot to the other. She wiggled her toes in her most excellent boots as a reminder that a girl could handle anything if she was wearing fabulous footwear. “Since he’s announcing his choices for the spring exclusives, shouldn’t he do it before all the designers are drunk?”

While she was still tipsy enough to use getting one of those prized exclusives as an excuse to seduce the Grinch.

“Drunk designers only add to Rudy’s sense of fun,” Jared told her with a sly grin. He didn’t say a word about the contracts, though. She knew he knew who’d been chosen. And he knew she knew. But they both knew she wouldn’t ask.

“Quit obsessing,” Jared said, giving her a nudge with his shoulder and leaving a streak of glitter on her arm.

“Maybe you should see if the drummer boy’s sticks are worth checking out.” She tilted her head toward the guy he’d been scoping. “I can’t clear my head enough to be fun company.”

“Darling, I’m here to enjoy the party with my favorite designer. If there was anything I could do to set your mind at ease so you could give the party the appreciation it deserves, I would. But you know me—I don’t kiss and tell.”

Giving in to her nerves, and reminding herself that she’d taken a cab here, Hailey traded her empty champagne glass for a full one, then arched one brow at Jared.

“Okay. So I don’t spill company secrets.” He hesitated, then wrinkled his nose and leaned closer. “At least not the ones that could get me fired.”

Then he looked past her again. This time when his face shifted, it wasn’t into lustfully suggestive lines. Instead, he came to attention.

“I don’t think the news will be secret for long, though,” he told her, twirling his finger to indicate she turn herself around.

“Welcome, welcome.”

Hailey, along with the rest of the ballroom, turned around and came to the same subtle attention that Jared had as a skinny Santa took the stage with two helpers dressed in swaths of white fur and a whole lot of skin.

She leaned forward, peering at the trio. The nerves in her stomach stopped jumping for a few seconds as she stared in shock. “Wow. Mr. Rudolph sure looks different without his tie.”

Or maybe it was the fact that the pervy old guy was shirtless under his plush red jacket. Wasn’t he in his seventies? Now, that wasn’t a pretty sight. Afraid to look at it too long, in case it rendered her blind, Hailey glanced at the rest of the crowd. Nobody else seemed surprised.

“Thank you, everyone,” he said, “for joining the Rudolph-department-store annual holiday costume party. As you can see, my favorite character is Santa Claus. Appropriate since I’m the man giving out the gifts tonight.”

Fingernails digging into the soft flesh of her palms, Hailey puffed out a breath, trying to diffuse the nerves that’d suddenly clamped onto her intestines.

This was it. The big announcement.

She felt like throwing up.

“This year, instead of simply awarding spring women’s-line contracts, I’ve decided to make things fun. I’ve chosen two favorite designers in each department. Women’s wear, shoes and lingerie. Those designers will compete through the holiday season for the top spot.”

Hailey’s stomach fell. Competing? That didn’t sound good. She wasn’t the only one who thought so, either, if the muttering and hisses circling the room were anything to go by.

She gave Jared a puzzled look, trying to shrug off the sudden despair that gripped her. The contracts weren’t being awarded tonight? But she needed to know. Without that contract, she was going to lose her business.

Jared ignored her stare, tilting his head pointedly to get her to pay attention.

She dragged her gaze to the stage with a frown. Instead of looking abashed, the old man seemed delighted by the angry buzz. His grin shifted from wicked to a visual cackle as he held up one hand for silence.

It took all of three seconds for him to be obeyed.

“So without further ado, here are the finalists in women’s wear,” he announced. A model featuring an outfit from each line crossed the stage behind him as he named the designer.

Hailey swallowed hard, trying to get past the tight worry in her throat. It wasn’t as if she’d irresponsibly put all of her hopes on this deal. It was more a matter of everything else falling apart until this deal was all that was left to hope for.

She shifted from one foot to the other, trying to appreciate the gorgeous shoes as Rudolph announced the designer finalists for footwear. But not even the studded black leather stilettos could distract her worry.

Then he got to lingerie.

She didn’t even listen to the names.

She just watched the models, her eyes locked with desperate hope on the curtain they entered from.

One strutted out in a wickedly sexual invitation in leather. It was the complete opposite of the Merry Widow’s style, a look that screamed sex. Hot, kinky sex.

Hailey frowned. It wasn’t her style, of course. But it was appealing. If you like hot, kinky sex.

Did she like hot, kinky sex? She’d never had the opportunity to find out. For a second, she wondered if the Grinch was into leather. Before she could imagine that, worry crowded the sexy thoughts right back out of her brain. She held her breath.

“And last but not least, Merry Widow Lingerie.” Echoing the announcement was a model in a white satin chemise trimmed in tiny pink rosebuds, a design Hailey had labeled Sweet Seduction.

Fireworks exploded in her head, all bright lights, loud booms and overwhelming excitement.

“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod,” she chanted, hopping up and down in her gorgeous booties. She spun around to grab Jared in a tight hug, then did another little dance. “That’s me. That’s me. I made it.”

She made it. She had a chance.

An hour later, she was still giddy. It wasn’t a contract, but it wasn’t a rejection, either. And she’d learned young to take what she could get.

“This is so cool.” Ever since Santa Rudolph’s announcement, people kept coming up to congratulate her. That part was great. What was even better, though, were the compliments about her designs, which were displayed all around the room.

She felt like a rock star.

“I’m excited for you, darling. I am sorry it’s not a definitive answer, though,” Jared said quietly, his face taking on a rare seriousness. “I know how bad you need this deal, and I’ve been pitching hard for you. But Rudy got this wild notion that a contest would bring in more publicity and make it more fun. He’ll decide before the New Year, though. He has to for marketing purposes.”

“What kind of publicity?” Big publicity? Good publicity? Could it net her some new clients, maybe a few features in the fashion rags? Hailey’s stomach danced again.

“Well…” Jared drew out, wrinkling his glittery nose. “I honestly don’t think he has a lot of publicity lined up. We were all under the impression that he was simply choosing a single designer for each line. But Friday he talked to some marketing guru who convinced him that it’d bring in great promotion if he made it a competition of some sort instead of a straight-up announcement.”

“Who makes the final decision?” she wondered.

Jared pulled another face and shrugged. Clearly he didn’t like not being in the know any more than she didn’t like not having a clue.

But before Hailey could ask more questions, they were joined by a dapper-looking guy dressed like a festive reindeer with his green-and-red-plaid bow tie.

“Congratulations, Ms. North. I’m Trent Lane, the photographer for Rudolph department stores. I was happy to see your designs in the running. I’ve taken test shots of each submission and yours is my favorite.”

“Really?”

“Really. It seems to epitomize romance. But sexy romance. The boudoir-photo kind, not the Hustler- spread kind.”

Hailey giggled, wondering if the leather getups were Hustler material.

“It’s my favorite, too,” Jared agreed. “I told you when I first saw the line. It’s perfect. Next season is all about nostalgia with overtones of passion. Bridal fresh but womanly confident.”

Hailey wrinkled her nose, wondering if he realized he’d just described her gorgeous designs in the same terms used for feminine-hygiene products.

“Baby’s breath and air ferns lining the runway. Satin backdrops. Maybe one of those long couch things, like Cleopatra would lounge on,” Trent mused, falling into what she immediately saw was a creative brainstorming habit between him and Jared.

“A chaise. Perfect,” Jared agreed. Tapping his chin, he added, “Maybe carried down the runway by four muscle-bound sex slaves?”

“That’s not romantic,” Trent dismissed. “You know Rudy really wants to lead the trend this season. If you suggest sex slaves, he might seriously consider Cassia Carver’s mesh love sleeves for a part of the women’s-wear line.”

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Filed under Blaze, Excerpt, Harlequin, Review, Tawny Weber