I jumped at the chance to review this anthology, which is unusual for me. Anthologies are normally hit and miss for me, I like a few of the novellas and the rest are ho-hum. It takes an exceptionally talented author to give me a satisfying short read, so I’m always wary when it comes to this type of book. But this is a five-star lineup I couldn’t pass up, especially since I’ve read only a few of the authors featured here and have wanted to read a majority of the rest. Did my chance jumping so quickly pay off? Let’s find out.
Pick Your Poison (A Bullet Catchers Novella) by Roxanne St. Claire
I’ve read only one Bullet Catcher novel and have wanted to read more. Alas, time isn’t a reviewer’s friend when there are so many books in a series. But when I get to enjoy little nuggets like this one that let me know what I have to look forward to some day, I can bide my time. One of the things I remember about that previous Bullet Catcher book is sexy hero and intelligent heroine. Ms. St. Claire has created a world where that, among other things of course, is a necessity, and she doesn’t fail one bit in this novella.
Benjamin Youngblood has worked with Lucy Sharpe for a number of years, but he’s been called on the carpet a few times on how he gets the job done. Finally Lucy has had enough when Ben costs the company a client this time around. Not wanting to lose this job that saved him when he was young and headed in the wrong direction, he talks Lucy into a deal – if he can solve the case and get the client back on the books, he can have his job back. Lucy puts her foot down on him using Bullet Catcher resources, however. Ben is on his own.
And he is a resourceful devil. His last assignment that went wrong, according to Lucy (but went right according to Ben’s gut), is Florida’s Governor McManus, who is receiving death threats. Ben knows the black roses and other items left at the defunct re-election event for the governor are clues that will lead him to the would-be assassin. He follows the rose angle and discovers a farm, almost in the politician’s backyard, that grows the flowers. Getting information from the pretty and feisty farm girl is another story, though. The woman is outdated when it comes to keeping sales records and not as initially forthcoming as Ben would like.
Callie Parrish has just discovered someone has snipped every last one of her rare Black Cherry roses and absconded with them – thousands of dollars worth. On the heels of that discovery comes a handsome and sexy man who barges into her store, asking questions about the very flowers that could be the end to her plans to take her grandmother to France. When she fills Ben in on the woman who bought – and then stole – the roses, as well as info on how dangerous they are when mixed with other elements, he doesn’t have to drag her kicking and screaming to find the culprit. She wants payment for all those lost blooms.
And from this point on, this short story doesn’t let up. The pace is fast and even twists a bit when you think you might have it all figured out. The scenes in the walk-in freezer are fun, even though there’s danger staring Ben and Callie in the face the whole time. I like the ingenuity the Bullet Catchers are trained for, and Ben doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Full of fun and excitement, plenty of sexual tension, this is a terrific start to the anthology.
When Bullet Catcher Benjamin Youngblood sets out to track and trap an assassin, he’s forced to trust a sexy flower farmer who could be as dangerous as her homegrown poison.
Read an excerpt.
Nightfall by Laura Griffin
On her way to deliver flowers for a wedding, Holly Henriksen skids and slides on an icy and isolated road, taking out a guardrail and pitching nose first into a ditch. Injured but still able to make her way to the nearest house a mile or so back, she doesn’t get far when gunshots ring out all around her. And at her. Escaping into the dark woods, Holly can only pray whoever is gunning for her won’t be able to find her the deeper she runs.
Colin Denton is AFT and undercover, trying to take down a drug trafficker he’s been after for months now, but with no witnesses and now a botched meet, things aren’t going well. He spies a white van off the side of the road on his way home, but finds no one around – and the back full of flowers? He’d totally been expecting something else. Searching further he finds a cell phone and eventually the owner of the device. Scared but cautious, Holly decides to trust the man, especially because her options are limited as she tries to save her business with this upcoming wedding.
This is my first Laura Griffin read, and it’s definitely not my last. Another author who pulls you in immediately and gives you a story to sink your teeth into, despite the shortened length. These two characters are perfect with each other, Holly’s independence taking over her fright – enough to piss Colin off big time — and Colin’s trust in Holly when doing so could cause hell for them both. After a rough start, they work well together, and Holly trusts Ben just when she needs him most.
Alone on an icy road at nightfall, Holly Henriksen puts her trust in a charming stranger and soon discovers he is keeping a dangerous secret.
Read an excerpt.
Above Reproach by Allison Brennan
This is also my first read by Allison Brennan, and I have to say she knows how to push a reader’s buttons. My buttons don’t go off until the end, but more on that in a sec.
Selena Black is a top-notch detective in the sex crimes unit, and she’s after a rapist who’s now turned killer. And he’s a high-powered local attorney, Greg Keller. She’s been after him for months and at every turn she’s smacked down when trying to gather more evidence on the man. He taunts her each time they come to face to face, and it seems as though Selena is losing her objectivity. She’s going about her job so out of character even her partner doesn’t believe her in certain situations anymore. Her past is beginning to haunt her, pushing her to help these current victims, to push Keller into doing something stupid. But he’s a smart, arrogant asshole. Her commanding officer finally puts on her leave.
What’s kept her sane so far is her lover, Dr. Gabriel Storm. He’s the harbor she goes to when things spiral out of control. The relationship works on so many different levels, but the understanding they have of the rigors and heartbreak of each of their jobs is what keeps them on an even keel amid danger. I wish there’d been more of Gabriel in the story, but what we do get is just right. I love the scene in the stairwell at the hospital. He knows just what she needs.
And now that ending. It’s one of those “It’s up to the reader’s imagination” endings. The twist is unexpected and perfect, but it’s never truly confirmed. Even Selena picks up hints and questions the very same things you do. Being who she is and what she does, you wonder if she can let it go. But then why not, when it gets her what she wants. So then why stop short of spelling it out completely? I’m not sure!
I also like the first person POV in this story. I’ve always enjoyed that and you don’t see it too often anymore, so it’s nice to read it here.
Sex crimes detective Selena Black puts her career and life at risk to prove that high-profile attorney Greg Keller is the brutal River City Rapist before he strikes again.
Read an excerpt.
Dead Flowers by Lori Armstrong
Again, a first-time author read for me. I think this is one of those stories that needs backup of reading the previous books in the series. Not that I don’t like it or it’s not good, far from it. But I do feel out of sorts with the relationship between Tony and Judy. They’re having problems, at least as far as Judy is concerned, and it reads like they’ve been having problems for a while now. So having some history between them would be nice just to keep on an even keel as we move through the story. Especially because Tony seems to have some shady business dealings, so a reader just meeting him doesn’t know his history. So at first I’m not so sure about Tony.
Judy isn’t so sure about him either. She begins to suspect he’s having an affair. Little things she learns just don’t gel with what she seems to know. And the current case she and her partner, Kevin, are investigating eggs her on in her doubts about unfaithful men. Then the tables begin to turn – for me. Judy seems a little out of control with her suspicions, and she never confronts Tony until she’s nearly talked herself out of the relationship. Tony is of the same mind, why didn’t she just come out and ask. So now I’m feeling a little more for Tony, especially after everything he reveals to her to ease her mind. His explanation is heart felt and sincere.
There’s a bit of humor, which is nice. And though I do come to like Tony, I just wish I’d known him before, despite the fact he’s even now won my heart.
PI Julie Collins trails cheating lovers, which leads to questions about her relationship with Tony Martinez.
No excerpt available.
Blood and Roses by Sylvia Day
Nobody does it like Sylvia Day. I especially love her heroes. I’m a sucker for an alpha hero, and Jake Monroe steals my heart completely when he’s faced with his heroine again after ten long years.
It’s Anastasia who broke it off with Jake when she left town, trying not to ruin his life, which would have happened if she’d have stayed. Which he obviously didn’t know. All he knows, now and then, is that Ana was gone, and he’s waited for her return ever since. In that ten years, Ana has taken her life experience to track down thieves as an insurance investigator. That’s what has brought her home. A huge jewel heist has just gone down, and she knows exactly who’s behind it. Her mother has never been able to curb her need to pull off the perfect con.
What Ana has never understood is that Jake would stand by her, no matter what. He loves her. End of story. And when he, with hardly any preamble, demands Ana she’ll be staying with him as long as she’s in town, my heart stuttered. Though it seems as though they’re picking up where they left off, Ana giving herself over to Jake’s domination – and their first scene together is simply moving and hot, hot, hot – they’re both more mature and realize the life they want together still may never be.
Ana tries to keep Jake out of the loop in her investigation – if he doesn’t know anything, his life and his job won’t be compromised or ruined. But Jake has other ideas and he forces his way in so they can work together to keep their families safe. Coming up against a crazed gunman, who has nothing to lose and only goes more berserk when cornered, and only hope and luck will get them out danger safely.
While the suspense and action has been front and center in these novellas so far, here it’s the emotion of the love of family and a man’s love for a woman and her love for him, one that doesn’t wither and die, one that is true and will overcome. It works beautifully because no one does it better than Sylvia Day
When insurance investigator Anastasia Miller sets out to retrieve the rose-hued pink diamonds stolen in a recent heist, she finds herself working alongside former flame, deputy U.S. Marshal Jake Monroe—the man she loved enough to leave behind.
Read an excerpt.
A Punishing Night by Sophie Littlefield
This is my first time reading Sophie Littlefield, and I’m not sure this is the place I should have started. While the idea of this story is a good one, the pace is too slow and the resolution is really no surprise. We meet the heroine well into the story, and once the decision is made she’s the right one for our hero, that’s all we get. I don’t necessarily have to have steam between a couple, and while there’s empathy and sympathy, they barely get past the acquaintance stage, as the blurb talks about.
There is no action to speak of, the investigation Detective Joe Bashir is working on is a death in a college dormitory. So it’s interrogations of students amid his walk down memory lane while he was a student on campus, the racism he and his family faced, which is almost a bigger part of the story. Joe’s father was severely beaten post-911 and now must be taken care of in his childlike state. Joe makes the trek home on Sundays to help his mother out, spending time with his dad while she goes shopping and gets out of the house.
As the investigation heads toward solution, a red herring is tossed the reader’s way, but there’s too many ifs for that to work. The culprit really isn’t a surprise, and neither is the reason for his actions. It all just needs something more to get the story moving along better.
While investigating the stabbing death of a student at his own alma mater, Detective Joe Bashir confronts painful memories and makes an intriguing new acquaintance.
No excerpt available.
Rebel Rose by Karin Tabke
I’m surprised I don’t like this novella by Ms. Tabke more. I love her books under her Karin Harlow pseudonym, which are full of action and exciting characters. So I’m a little perplexed that this story is so tame compared to her other work.
This involves another college murder which brings Cash Cantrell, the detective investigating the crime, and Rebel Yell Culpepper, a friend of the victim, together. Cash is half black, and in the south that’s still a problem for a lot folks. Cash has learned to work around such attitudes and obstacles, however. Wanting Southern Belle Culpepper is another story. He can’t get let himself want her because she’s involved in his case, the product of a true southern family, and he’s got just a week left before he heads to Raleigh and the new job he’s worked hard for.
With his current case mirroring a cold case from five years before, Cash ends up taking Rebel along during his investigation because she brings a different look at things that no one has noticed before, giving him new leads toward solving both murders. I doubt his superiors would have liked his new partner, but they do work well together – to a point. Problem is, Rebel can’t do what she’s told. That’s a bad thing and a good thing, depending on how you look at it and what’s happening at the time. Suffice it to say, she nearly botches the investigation only to turn around and pretty much solve it with her keen observations.
Once again, there is plenty of sexual tension, but the romance is left out and the happily ever after doesn’t happen when you expect. The villain seems to be a tad too convenient. It’s not a super complex case, so the officers from five years before should have been able to figure it all out, but it’s left to a college co-ed to help out. The last scenes with the villain are just a little too lax in conversation and deed to ring true.
For Detective Cash Cantrell, hunting down a University serial killer is as routine as strapping on his gun each morning. Until he comes face to face with meddlesome coed, Rebel Yell Culpepper. He doesn’t know if he should arrest her or kiss her, but one thing Cash knows for sure, Rebel is key to finding the murderer, and the killer knows it, too.
Read an excerpt. (scroll down)
The Housewife Assassin’s Bloody Valentine by Josie Brown
Another first for me, reading Josie Brown. I thoroughly enjoyed Donna and Jack, their zeal for their missions and each other – done with humor and in the fun, inventive ways of James Bond.
Donna and Jack are in the process of liberating a prisoner from a Mexican prison – on Valentine’s Day. So they have some very nice plans to get to after they’ve accomplished their goal. Of course, those plans go awry at every opportunity. I kept grinning at how they come up with a Plan B whenever something does go wrong. James Bond doesn’t have anything on these two. Even when their prisoner gets only “halfway” to their destination, nothing deters them from finding the answers they need.
I’m going to be checking out the Housewife Assassin series by Ms. Brown. Very entertaining, and I’m now curious about these two characters.
CIA contract assassin Donna Stone’s idea of Valentine’s Day? A couples massage with her mission’s leader Jack Craig–not breaking
out of a Mexican prison, then stopping a massacre by an international terrorist cell.
No excerpt available.
King of Hearts (A Rough Riders short story) by Lorelei James
I know when I read a Lorelei James story she’s going to rile up my emotions, especially when it comes to the McKay family. This short story is no different.
Sheriff Cam McKay has been called to a horrendous crime scene. On Valentine’s Day. A murder/suicide. Friends Jim and Teresa Swenson. And when the disbelieving parents of both deceased arrive, it takes everything Cam and his fellow officer have to keep them away, both for scene preservation and peace of mind for the bereft loved ones. And then the blows start. Father against father, mother against mother. Then it’s the accusations, and one is thrown is Cam – why didn’t you help my son when he left military service? Everyone knows Cam returned missing limbs and emotionally distant for years.
Thrown for a loop at the accusation, not even knowing Jim had been in the service, Cam retreats into the darkness and solitude that’s claimed him so many times before when reliving his nightmares. Even his rambunctious children and loving wife can’t cut through the guilt eating at him. But he quickly sees that barricading himself away from everything he needs does no one any good. Family is all that’s needed.
It’s that family along with the love and romance, no matter how it’s found, that always keeps me coming back to this series. Not once have I been disappointed.
Deputy Cam McKay deals with a murder/suicide case on Valentine’s Day.
No excerpt available.
Bobbie Faye’s Whacked Out, No Good, Really Sucky, Hot Mess of a Wedding by Toni McGee Causey
Another addition to an existing series, but Bobbie Faye doesn’t let you dwell on that fact. I have no idea all the trouble’s she’s ever gotten into – I just know she gets into it. A lot. I have no idea how and where she met Trevor. I just know they love each other as they are, come what may. The in-between shenanigans are hilarious and fun. Ms. Causey says on her web site this is the last of this series for a while. That just might be a cryin’ shame.
Bobbie Faye is in a tizzy trying to find a church to get married in, a dress to walk down the aisle in, and other such necessary things to take care of before her wedding day. She’s not happy with anything she finds. The Catholic church has ex-communicated her and no church in the nation will host her special day. All this because Trevor think she wants it. Well, she might, but some things have to be worked out first.
Like the bozos who kidnap her at church on the French Quarter, the one that Trevor forced into holding their wedding. Bobbie Faye is appalled at their inept unprofessionalism, even if they are criminals. I had to laugh at her restraint when she realizes they don’t really want her but something or someone else. And when that restraint finally lets fly, I’m as amazed as Trevor when he eventually figures out where she is and attempts his rescue. One terrific scene.
There’s a lot of secondary characters who I assume have been included in all other books in the series, but I never felt lost or frustrated with their involvement. I just had fun with them all. The love and romance is said and shown in the way Trevor doesn’t want to change Bobbie Faye, lets her go her own way in her own time, and does anything and everything to see that she’s happy. Throw in an evil mother who will stop at nothing to keep “trash” out of her family, and you’ve got one heck of a good time.
Bobbie Faye Sumrall, Cajun Contraband Days Queen, gun expert, and ultimate professional in being in the wrong place at the wrong time, absolutely positively does not want to go through with the wedding that Trevor’s forcing her to agree to, but she soon finds out she has more important things to worry about–like surviving the plot to make her disappear when she’s set up as a fall guy for the theft of a priceless religious icon.
No excerpt available.
Overall Grade: B+
The old saying you can’t please all the people all the time is very true. While I enjoyed a good portion of these novellas, found a couple of authors whose books I’ll check out, there’s still a few that don’t work for me, though that won’t keep me from looking up their future reads. These are all very talented authors, and what may not work for me may work just fine for you. And that’s all that counts!