Archive | December 2017

Cozy Corgi Mystery Book 2 by Mildred Abbott RELEASE BLITZ

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Traitorous Toys 
A Cozy Corgi Mystery
by Mildred Abbott
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It’s Christmas in Estes Park, Colorado: cozy fires, twinkling lights, soft snowfall, and… murder.
The winter holidays in charming Estes Park lulls Winifred Page and her corgi, Watson, into thoughts of spiced chai and gingerbread as they settle into their new home. Fred’s dream bookshop is becoming a reality, and with Christmas only days away, her only concerns are spending time with family, enforcing Watson’s diet, and finding the perfect gifts.
The toy store beckons Fred and her friend Katie, who dash in out of the cold, during a shopping spree to discover handmade toys, cuddly stuffed animals… and a dying man on the floor.
When Katie’s desperate attempts to save the man ends in her being taken in for his murder, Fred once again dons her detective hat. She puts aside her Christmas list and—with Watson sniffing around—begins a list of suspects. But as quickly as clues point to one person, new discoveries shift the spotlight to another.
With Katie’s freedom in the balance, Fred has little time to think about gifts or to enjoy the holiday lights and music. A killer is on the loose, one who became violent in a picture-perfect Christmas toy shop, and Fred and Watson can’t begin to predict what might happen next…

 

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CHAPTER REVEAL

Despite Watson’s sensitive nose, and the smell of recently varnished floors, we spent the entire day in the Cozy Corgi bookshop. When the motherlode of all deliveries arrived before noon, the majority of the books were at least within the walls of my store, and I now owned more than an empty building. Progress!
After having the sign hung, the floors and walls refinished, and all of the bookcases installed, I’d thought my dream shop was becoming a reality. But with mountains upon mountains of boxes of books taking up most of the large center room, it finally began to feel real. And that realness doubled down. Transforming the place seemed nearly impossible, especially considering the timeline I’d set for myself, but even so, excitement thrummed. It was happening. Finally.
I spent the rest of the afternoon pushing boxes to the center of the smaller rooms that ran around the perimeter of the main floor. The more I worked, the more manageable it seemed. I already knew my favorite space. The corner room in the back left side of the shop. It was the one with the largest river rock fireplace. My uncles’ store had a Victorian sofa and antique standing lamp with an ornate fabric shade I’d been eyeing. Those would go there, and it would be my mystery-themed room. Each little nook would have its own genre. The largest offshoot would be the children’s book area, and while I was going to make every inch of the store as spectacular as I could, the mystery room was going to be just a touch more special.
By the same time next year, I’d have the entire shop decked out for Christmas. As it was, I used some of my illusive time to cut out paper snowflakes and tape them to the windows looking out on the tourists passing by. Next year, lights, trees, and maybe I could even brew some spiced cider for customers. But, for now, wonky snowflakes would have to do for holiday cheer.
“If you keep glaring at me like that, I’m going to leave you home tomorrow.” I glowered at Watson, who peered up at me as I taped the final snowflake on the glass. His corgi eyes doubtlessly did a better job of glowering than mine. “It’s not like you’d be unsafe. With the fortune I just paid for your dog run, the abominable snowman himself couldn’t break in.”
The threat to leave him home was an empty one, and we both knew it. Even with the Fort Knox of dog enclosures, I’d worry about him the entire day and get absolutely nothing done. Never mind the fact that since he’d waddled into my life a little more than a year ago, we’d been inseparable.
Watson’s intense look was interrupted by a sneeze, a second one, and then he went right back to glaring.
“You know, buddy, the Cozy Corgi bookstore is named after you. We’re going to have to work on your disposition before we have living, breathing customers.”
I was fairly certain his brown gaze darkened. Watson was persnickety about which strangers he would allow to fawn over him.
A few seconds longer of our staring battle and I admitted defeat. We had both known I would. The only way I could change his disposition in the moment was to offer him a treat. And I’d already given him five since coming to the store a few hours ago. Since moving to Estes Park, Watson had steadily required more treats, and he was just a bit “fluffier” than was healthy. Not that I had much room to judge. My newest friend, Katie, was a baker, and I felt fairly certain she was intent on me buying an entire new wardrobe, with all the fresh carby goodness she continually shoved my way.
“Fine. You win. But this bookstore isn’t going to put itself together, you know.” I strode to the counter, slipped into my jacket, and grabbed my purse and an incorrectly delivered letter. It seemed I got someone else’s mail every other day. I wondered how much of my own ended up somewhere other than with me. At least all the books had come to the right place.
I couldn’t blame Watson. The smell of stain, varnish, and all the other chemicals used to refinish the wooden floors of the two-leveled shop a couple of weeks before had finally faded. We’d had an entire day and a half of getting the Cozy Corgi ready without runny noses and stinging eyes before the newly installed bookcases that filled nearly every room on the main floor had their turn at a beauty treatment. I was planning on opening the store in January, but that was only two weeks away. If I started stocking the books on the shelves too soon, I feared no one would buy them due to their absorbing the chemical smell.
After slipping on his leash, I stepped outside with Watson, paused long enough to lock the front door of the shop, and then began walking down the sidewalk. The two stores on either side of the Cozy Corgi had been candy shops, but now sat empty, waiting. While some of the stores had closed for the winter season, these were the only ones that felt desolate. I was certain it wouldn’t last for long.
“One more stop, and then it’s family dinner night.”
Watson turned his unimpressed gaze on me again.
“Barry, buddy. You get to see Barry.”
And with that, his eyes lit up and he gave a little hop. My stepfather was Watson’s favorite human in the world, outside of myself. And there were times I wasn’t entirely certain I outranked Barry.
Though it was barely four thirty in the afternoon, the sky was dark and only a small pink glow remained over the rim of the mountains. Snow fell in thick soft flakes, and while it was cold, there was no wind, so it was a crisp pleasant sensation. The weather mixed with the garlands, light-festooned streetlamps, and the ropes of glowing tinsel across the street made me marvel at my new life.
When we first moved to Estes Park from Kansas City the month before, I’d felt like we’d landed inside a snow globe. Now, with the holiday barely a week away, I was convinced we lived in a Christmas village. The sensation was compounded by the endless rows of shops on Elkhorn Avenue, all of which were either vintage fifties and sixties mountain style or those, like mine, that looked like small log cabins.
Within five minutes, we walked close to the end of the next block, and I checked the address on the envelope. The return address showed that it was from a Denver law office. There was no business name, but the numbers matched those under the silver script that read Rocky Mountain Imprints on the glass door.
A bell chimed as we walked in, and Watson let out an irritated snuff seconds before the smell hit—not overly unpleasant, and less harsh than what my own shop currently smelled like, but it was a weird mix of heat, plastic, and something I didn’t have a name for. Endless racks of T-shirts and hoodies filled the store, and every inch of wall space was papered in square designs, ranging from cute forest animals, to Smokey Bear, to borderline risqué logos about hiking naked.
“Welcome, and Merry Christmas!” A cute blonde woman waved at me from behind the counter.
I nearly jumped at the sudden sound of her voice. I hadn’t noticed her amid all the cacophony of fabric colors and images. Not to mention she was nearly pixie small.
“Thank you! And Merry Christmas to you.” I motioned down at Watson. “I hope you don’t mind that my dog is with me.” Estes Park was extremely dog friendly, but Watson and I had encountered the rare shopkeeper who didn’t appreciate animals in their store. In their defense, Watson tended to leave a cloud of dog hair wherever he went, as evidenced by every article of clothing I owned.
“Of course not!” The woman’s bright voice was nearly as cheerful as a pixie. “He’s adorable. We actually sell T-shirts for dogs.” Her eyes narrowed as she inspected Watson. “He’s… a basset hound, right? I don’t think we have any of those, but I do a lot of the art myself. I can custom-design something for you. Maybe a basset hound wearing reindeer ears or something for the season?”
I shook my head and managed to smile instead of grimace. “Thank you, but no. Watson would murder me in my sleep if I tried to put clothes on him. Once in a while, he’ll let me get away with a little scarf, but even then he gives me attitude for days after. And he’s a corgi.” A basset hound and a corgi both were long and short, but really couldn’t look more different, with basset hound ears nearly dragging the floor, and a corgi looking for all intents and purposes more like a chiseled fox.
“Well, if you change your mind, let me know. I’ll happily create something for a corky. I’ve never tried to do anything with scarves, but it could be a fun adventure.”
corky? I was going to have to remember that one. Maybe that could be a new nickname when Watson was being a snot.
As we walked closer to the counter, the woman seemed to get smaller. Granted, that wasn’t an unusual sensation for me upon meeting petite women. I was a healthy five foot ten, which seemed like a good size to me, but anytime I was around women the stature of my mother, I grew the tiniest bit self-conscious. At thirty-eight, I’d expected to outgrow that particular insecurity. Maybe by the time I was forty….
“I am actually not here to shop. Sorry.” I held out the envelope. “This was delivered to my store by accident. It’s addressed to a Sarah M. Beeman, but it had your shop’s address.”
The blonde’s eyes narrowed as she took the envelope, and then she glanced toward the back of the store before flashing me another smile. “Thank you. I’ll see that she gets it.” She cocked her head. “Wait a second. You said it was delivered to your store? I don’t think I’ve met….” Her gaze left me once more, flicked to Watson, and then I saw understanding. “Ah! The Cozy Corky, the bookshop that’s coming. I saw your sign. It’s adorable.”
She might not know her dog breeds, but with that comment, she won my approval. I was particularly proud of the wooden sign above my door with a corgi sitting on a stack of books. I held out my hand. “That’s me. My name is Winifred Page, but everyone calls me Fred.”
“Fred! That’s almost as adorable as your shop sign.” She slipped her tiny hand into mine. “I am Peg Singer.” She tilted her head toward the back. “My husband, Joe, and I own the shop.” She broke our hands’ embrace and then gasped. “I have the best idea! That logo would be amazing on T-shirts and hoodies, we can even put them on hats. If you buy them in bulk, I’ll give you a discount, and then you can mark them up and sell them at your store.” She gestured behind her at a row of trophies. “Each summer we locals have a softball season. There were so many shop owners by the end of last year, we talked about splitting into two teams. You could lead the new one, and your little dog could be the mascot. Joe does really wonderful things with jersey imprints.”
I shook my head, a little more emphatically than I’d intend. “I’m so not a sports person. Any team I’d be on would be guaranteed to lose. And Watson is about as athletic as a beached whale.” I reminded myself I needed to get off to a good start with the other business owners, so I paused, considering. “The Cozy Corgi logo on shirts and stuff might be cute, though.”
“I promise you it would be.”
“Let me think about it, but….” I fished around in my purse for my newly printed business cards “Let me leave you my information and you can send me the details. Will that work?”
“Absolutely!” The card went the way of the letter. “I’ll send you some options and quotes in the next couple of days.”
I hadn’t figured out what I was going to do with the top level of my shop, it had been an apartment before—and the scene of a murder. I hadn’t wanted to extend the bookstore up there, preferring to keep it more of an intimate space, but maybe Cozy Corgi merchandise could be fun.
Watson pulled on his leash, obviously done with another smelly location. I followed his lead. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Peg. We should probably get going, though. My little guy is getting hungry.” I loved Watson for all that he was, even his often grumpy disposition. But one of my favorite parts of puppy motherhood was always having a ready excuse to leave.
“It was great to meet you as well, Fred.” She gave a finger-wiggling wave to Watson. “And you too, Walter.”
I truly did like the idea of the Cozy Corgi merchandise, but I made a mental note to double and then triple check spelling on any proofs she might send my way. The Cozy Corgi could easily end up being the Grumpy Goat or some such nonsense.
The snow had picked up, and as Watson and I stepped outside, the cold fresh mountain air was such a contrast to the plasticky smell of the T-shirt shop that I stood there for a second to luxuriate.
I turned back the way we’d come, and the store next to Rocky Mountain Imprints caught my eye. I wasn’t sure how I’d missed it to begin with. Toys filled the window, and like my shop, the outside was a log cabin façade. The arched wooden sign over the door read Bushy Evergreen’s Workshop. Unlike the T-shirt store, even from my spot on the sidewalk, it was easy to see the place was completely decked out for Christmas. I gave Watson an apologetic grimace. “One more stop before Barry. But this is the last one. I promise.”
Before he could sit down and refuse to move, I pushed open the door and ushered him inside.
Sure enough, the place was as charming as it seemed from the outside. I’d toured all the stores when we first moved, but I’d been so focused on all the drama, I hadn’t paid too much attention to aesthetics. Bushy Evergreen was an unfortunate name choice, but workshop was appropriate. It felt like Watson and I had stepped through a portal and landed in Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. The tiny place practically overflowed with toys. For a second I couldn’t figure out what was unusual about it, but then it hit me, only increasing the sensation of being in a place owned by Santa. Most of the toys—much like Estes Park itself—seemed to be from a time long ago. Tops, jack-in-the-boxes, wooden train sets and cars, and endless rows of stuffed animals. Many of the wooden toys and figurines looked expertly hand carved. In all the chaos of toys, three different Christmas trees were stuffed here and there, twinkling brightly. Garland was roped around every available surface, looping over the perimeter of the walls and outlining the shelves and tables.
“Wow.” I stood in awe and forgot that I was nearly forty. This place was Christmas morning—smells of hot chocolate and molasses, the feeling of rushing down the stairs to find brightly colored packages under a sparkling tree.
There was a warm chuckle from somewhere to the left. “Never get tired of seeing that expression on people’s faces. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed one on a dog before, but even your furry friend appears enchanted.”
I glanced at Watson. Sure enough, Watson’s gaze flicked from one thing to another and he seemed captivated by it all, rather than irritated at keeping Barry waiting. Talk about a Christmas miracle. Maybe we really had stumbled upon Santa’s workshop.
Catching myself, I looked toward the voice, and seemed to misplace my own. The man standing behind the counter was no elf. Nor was he Santa. He was a tall, rugged mountain of a man. Dark red hair and stunningly handsome. Where Peg had made me feel like a giant, this man made me feel like… well, probably how Peg had felt next to me, I assumed.
He flashed a bright white smile, somehow increasing his good looks, which shouldn’t have been possible. “You all right?”
I nodded and had to lick my lips so I wouldn’t drool, more than anything. I pointed to the garland strewn magically over the store. “Yes. I’ve just never seen garland that lights up before.” That much was true, the crystalline garland was a constant shifting rainbow of colors. It almost looked like it was made from shards of glass or snow, and somehow glowed in countless sparkling hues.
His thick brows creased. “Yeah, it was my idiot brother’s idea. Pretty spectacular stuff, unless you’re the one hanging it. I think I bled for a week.” Whatever irritation he felt vanished. “Looking for a gift?”
I shook my head. I was not looking for a gift. Although, since I was in a toyshop… “Yes, though I have no idea what to get. I have nieces and nephews. Two who are fourteen and two who are eight. Two boys, and two girls.” He had a small dimple in his chin. Not too deep as to be distracting, but just enough to highlight how chiseled his jaw truly was. “Well, they’re my stepnieces and stepnephews actually. I’m not very good at this whole aunt thing. My stepfather has two daughters; they’re twins.” His blue eyes might actually be made from sapphires. “And of course they married twin brothers, because Verona and Zelda weren’t identical enough, they had to marry twins. And they each have a fourteen-year-old and an eight-year-old, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to do for presents. Judging from the way they reacted the last few Christmases, I’m a horrible gift giver.”
Watson yanked at his leash, pulling my attention to him. He cocked one of his puppy brows at me and sat down.
He’d just earned himself another treat.
If I’d kept going, I probably would’ve told the man my entire family history. I turned back to him but focused on a carved bear over his shoulder. Maybe he was like an eclipse, you could function if you didn’t look directly at him.
“I can definitely help you out with the eight-year-olds, but I doubt we’ll have much to offer the teenagers. They seem to want nothing more than cell phones, iPads, and cash.” He gave another chuckle, proving that the sound of his voice was just as distracting as his appearance, no matter where I looked. “Depending on what they’re into, I just got a new shipment of….” His voice trailed off momentarily, causing me to look him full in the face again. “Wait a minute. I recognize you, and your dog. You’re—” He snapped his fingers a couple times. “—Fred Page, the one opening the bookshop where the old taxidermy place used to be. Where Opal was killed.”
For a moment I was beyond flattered that he had not only recognized me but recalled my name. Then I quickly realized chances were he’d been much more captivated by the murder and investigation that had swirled around me upon my arrival in town than he was about me personally. And that, more than keeping my focus away from him, helped me to quit acting like a complete fool. “That’s me. For better or worse. Watson and I are the ones opening the bookshop. You must be… Bushy?”
Even as I said it, I knew it couldn’t be. A man like that didn’t have the name Bushy.
He shook his head, and once more there was a flash of irritation like there’d been about the garland. “No. This was my father’s store originally. He still carves a lot of the toys, but it’s mine now. Bushy Evergreen was one of Santa’s original elves. He was a woodcarver and was in charge of the toyshop. My father felt a kinship with him. I would love nothing more than to put a sensible name on the place, but we’ve been here for over fifty years. Doesn’t make good business sense to change it now.” His charm was back. “My name is Declan, thankfully, not Bushy.”
Before I had the opportunity to somehow put my foot in my mouth again, there was a slamming of a door, and a voice rang out from somewhere in the back. “Declan, you’re never going to believe what I just found. I was just driving back from the grocery store and there was this old chest sitting beside a dumpster.” A man rushed through the doorway carrying a wooden box that looked like it had been kept at the bottom of the ocean for the past century. At a glance, I almost thought he was Declan’s twin, but it was a fleeting notion. He had the same height, coloring, and hair, but even though he had similar features to Declan, everything seemed off somehow—not malformed, just not as pleasing. Even so, he was very clearly related to Declan. “I was thinking I can clean it up, and Dad could—” His words fell away as he noticed me, and halted. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to be so loud. Didn’t realize we had customers.”
Two other figures emerged from the back. I wasn’t sure if they’d been there the entire time or if they’d arrived with the strange Declan look-alike. An ancient-looking man with snowy hair, who was clearly Declan’s father, and a raven-haired woman, who was just as beautiful as Declan. Both of them halted as well.
“Yes, imagine that. A toy store having an actual customer at Christmastime. Shocking.” The coldness and shift in Declan’s voice drew my attention away from the other three people. His handsome features were suddenly hard. But a heartbeat later, he was charming again, his voice warm and pleasant. “Might as well make introductions while we’re all here. This is Fred Page, the one who’s opening the new bookshop.” He gestured from me toward the three individuals. “This is my father, Duncan, my brother, Dolan, and my wife, Daphne.”
“That’s a lot of Ds.” I wasn’t sure if it was the residual effect of Declan’s stunning appearance or his abrupt shift from warm and inviting to cold and harsh, but whatever it was, I chose to say that instead of hello, nice to meet you.
Dolan gave a maniacal laugh, the father’s brows knitted in an expression which reminded me of Watson in his grumpy moments, and Daphne smiled as she spoke. “That’s true. I’ve often wondered if Declan married me simply because of my name. My mother-in-law’s name was Della, believe it or not.” She shrugged and patted her flat stomach. “We won’t know if it’s a boy or a girl until the little one arrives, but I can guarantee you the name will start with D.”
Dolan let out another wild laugh. It wasn’t exactly off-putting, but a little crazed or something. Actually there was something off entirely. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I only knew that the Christmassy cheer of Santa’s workshop had morphed into something else. And probably sensing it himself, Watson once again pulled on his leash, this time making it very clear he wanted to go.
“Well….” I attempted to force an easy-breezy tone, but was fairly certain I failed. “It’s lovely to meet all of you.” I refocused on Declan, this time not mesmerized by his appearance. “I’m running late for dinner with my family. Mom’s making a big spread. I’ll drop in before Christmas and find something good for the eight-year-olds.”
And once more, Declan was all handsome charm and pleasant voice. “Please do. I’m sure we’ll find something perfect for them. It was a pleasure to meet you, Fred. We’ll look forward to visiting your store when you open.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” I gave a wave that hopefully encompassed everyone. “We’d best get going. Merry Christmas.”
Dolan and Daphne responded as I turned and hurried out the door. I paused in the cool air once more, but this time it wasn’t refreshing. Just cold. I glanced down at Watson.
“What in the world was that?”
He didn’t bother to respond, only took off down the sidewalk, pulling me with him.
Before I’d taken two steps, loud voices reached my ears, and I glanced through the window, past the toys, to see Declan shaking his fist as he yelled at Daphne. Dolan jumped between them, shouting something as well, though I couldn’t make it out.
Duncan’s old eyes met mine through the window and clearly told me to mind my own business.
I hesitated despite his stare, wondering what I should do.
With another tug on his leash, Watson made the decision for me.






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Reading the Cozy Corgi series is pretty much all you need to know about Mildred. In real life, she’s obsessed with everything she writes about: Corgis, Books, Cozy Mountain Towns, and Baked Goods. She’s not obsessed with murder, however. At least not at her own hands (nor paid for… no contract killing here). But since childhood, starting with Nancy Drew, trying to figure out who-dun-it has played a formative role in her personality. Having Fred and Watson stroll into her mind was a touch of kismet.
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WAR GAMES by JESS ANASTASI Blog Tour

When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death.

Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.

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Jess has been making up stories ever since she can remember. Though her messy handwriting made it hard for anyone else to read them, she wasn’t deterred and now she gets to make up stories for a living. She loves loud music, a good book on a rainy day, and probably spends too much time watching too many TV shows. Jess lives in regional Victoria, Australia, with her very supportive husband, three daughters, two border collie dogs, and one cat who thinks he’s one of the kids.

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Chase The Sons of Crosby Release Day

Chase Crosby didn’t know what he wanted right now. He was trying to get a grip on who his new mate was. He was told she was an ice dragon, but that wasn’t right either, she was a protector of the ice dragons. He had so many questions, and all he could do was sit there while she was locked away in his freezer to recover from her injuries. 

Emerald was a warrior, and she had no idea what she was going to do with a mate. Even though the vampire appealed to her, she was worried the people chasing her would hurt him or his family to get to her, and she couldn’t allow that.

A Homeland Security Agent had gone rogue and he was after Emerald. He didn’t know exactly who or what she was, but he was going to prove she’d been around for centuries, and it didn’t matter who he had to go through to get to her.
Recommended for 18+. Contains graphic sex and language. 
Spencer Graham had been trying to get a hold of Jason Crosby for weeks, but he didn’t seem to answer emails, mail or the telephone. She had an idea that would make them a great deal of money, but she needed him to invest in her project before it was too late. So, barging into his home at 4 a. m. was the only solution as far as she was concerned. She didn’t, however, expect him to answer the door naked and proposition her as soon as she walked in the door. Spencer did the only thing that came natural to her, she knocked him on his ass…. Jason Crosby was nearly two thousand years old, and in all his days as a vampire, he’d never seen anyone quite like her, not that he thought that was a good thing. He didn’t. She was his mate, and he was only going the tolerate her because he had to


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Chase put the book down on his desk and thought about what he’d just read. He’d been doing that a great deal lately, reading about the woman that was still in his freezer. She had been hard to figure out, what she was and how she’d come to be, but Kilian had come to his rescue just yesterday and had helped him a great deal. Not that he still didn’t have a million questions, but for the most part, he did have a better understanding and knowledge of what she was. “Do you have a question I can answer for you, Lord Chase?” He told Spud, a friend of Jewel, that he didn’t know, what he wanted to ask right now. “Understandable. The lady queen, she has put someone in charge of watching over her. There are few who didn’t want to be here, but she has picked a couple to help you as well. The helper is called Sunshine. She will be here as long as the Lady Warrior is.” Chase had found out that while Emerald was very powerful and old, she wasn’t an ice dragon, but the protector of them. Yes, she was created in ice, but had the appearance of a human in all ways. It was so she would to be able to withstand the heat should there be a need, but her job was to fight with and to protect dragons, dragons made entirely of ice. And not just any ice either, but ice so cold that it was as hard as stone, which would only melt when the heat from the sun shone directly on them for one thousand years. He’d never heard of such a thing. “Where is her dragon, do you know?” Sunshine, his new helper, bowed before him and told him that she was looking for him now. “So, is he dead or alive? Or don’t you know that yet?” “I believe him to be dead, my lord, but I can’t be sure just yet. Forgive me for not having the answer right now.” He told Sunshine that he didn’t expect her to have them all right now, but to keep looking. “I am, my lord. We all are. To have an ice dragon alive would be a great thing.” He didn’t know why but he let it go. To his way of thinking, to have a full-sized dragon around would be scary. But then he hadn’t ever met a dragon, so he wasn’t sure what full sized could mean. To him they were great creatures that smashed houses. For all he knew they could be no bigger than the faerie in front of him. Emerald had been in his freezer for a week now. She’d come out on occasion, stare at him or whoever was in the room with him, then go back inside. Her sword was always drawn, and she was covered from head to toe in ice…her shield, he’d been told. He’d also read that she would be cold at all times, much like someone that was dead. He didn’t want to think about that too much. The rest of his day was spent trying to catch up on some paperwork. He’d moved all his office—well, most of it—into the kitchen when going back and forth between there and his actual office was too time consuming. Besides, he thought that it was working out better anyway, as he seemed to be getting more done than sitting in his office, staring at the wall. 
Dad had been making it to his house about suppertime every night since he’d been told that Chase had his mate. It had been both wonderful and nerve-wracking at the same time. He loved his dad, more than anything, but he asked too many questions and in a small space of time. And that was what made him tense about this entire thing, not having the answers when his dad assumed that he should.  As soon as he walked in the door, Chase put up his hand. “No, I’ve not spoken to her. Yes, she’s still in there. No, I’ve not learned anything more than I did yesterday, and no, I’m not going to go in there and see if she needs me. She’s fine where she is.” Dad sat down, but looked to be a little miffed. “Dad, I’m scared enough without you adding to my already overflowing cup of what ifs.” “Can’t a man be curious about his newest family member?” Chase said that he could, so long as he didn’t ask him about her. “You think she’s going to be all right in there after all this time?” “No, I think she’s dead and I’m only waiting until you leave before I go in, wrap her in a thick blanket, and bury her in the back yard.” His dad growled. “Dad, I don’t know anything about her other than she worked for Jewel, knows a lot of languages, and that someone, someone deadly, is after her.”  “There are a lot of people around town that don’t belong here, so you know. And Jason has talked to a few of the people in your mate’s neighborhood, who said that Emerald has helped them out a bit, so they don’t tell them anything.” He said that Jason had told him that last night. “He said that he’s got some people watching those guys in the hotel too. I thought that you should know that they’re not moving around much during the day, mostly in the evening, asking questions. I think they figure that people would be more respective of a few questions after they’ve had dinner. Morons.” “Are they human?” Dad told him that a few of them were, but they were wolves for the most part. “Do you know if they’ve registered with the pack leader? That could be an easy way to check them out.” “They’re by the books, I can tell you that. Donald said that not only had they come to him to tell them that they were here, but they gave him some story about being here on a shopping expedition. To put in a plant of some kind. I don’t know what that would be, and Donald said he can’t ask.” Yeah, Chase knew that as well. They had to report to him if they were wolf, but not tell him why they were here other than to say it was business or vacation. “He said to tell you that he has his men and women working in the hotel that they’re in, and they have been snooping around.” “I hope they’re being careful. These men don’t seem the sort to mess with.” Dad said that they were being extra careful, as they seem to have suspicious minds as well. “What do you mean? They figure someone is looking into their lives?” “Said that while they’re in the rooms—cleaning up, you know—there seems to be a lot of luggage, and most of it is locked up. They can’t tell, like one of us can, what’s in there, but they don’t bother them. One of them told Donald that they could smell silver in the cases, so were kind of afraid to touch them.” Dad looked around then back at him, and Chase found himself leaning in to hear what he had to say. “I’ve been in their rooms…not so they’d see me, but in there. They have all kinds of equipment that I had 
to ask what it was when I got back. Jewel is helping me find out what it is, but mostly it’s lab equipment. And a big saw. Like them kind that you’d have when felling trees for a house.” “To remove my head.” They both stood when Emerald came out of the freezer and spoke. “I’ve healed for the most part, but I now need to feed.” Chase felt his own body’s need to feed overwhelm him. Sitting down, he tried to calm himself and his beast. It wasn’t working. He needed her, they both did. When she moved by him to the sink, he growled low and she paused to look at him. “You’ve been here for more than a week, and I’ve not been able to feed either. I’m sorry. I don’t want to rush you or scare you, but just letting you know.” She nodded and poured herself a glass of juice, juice that he knew for a fact hadn’t been in his refrigerator before she’d opened it. “You know what I am to you.” “My mate. I’m not sure how that works with you being a vampire, but I’m not an easy person to know. I’m a loner as well.” She drained the glass of juice then poured herself another. The next time she drained it, it filled on its own. “What is it you expect from me?” It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her to come sit on his naked cock. To let him have her in a very carnal way. But he only looked at her, hoping to Christ that not only could she not read his mind, but that she wasn’t as dangerous as he’d heard she could be. Then he realized that he’d not answered her yet. “Expect? Nothing that you’re not willing to give me. Answers would be great, but having the questions in any kind of order or even coherent right now isn’t going to happen. I’ve been reading up on what I could find, or someone has given me. I know a little about your kind, but that’s it, just a little.” She asked him what he wanted to know. “You’re a warrior. Where is your dragon?” “He died some decades ago. More than I care to think about.” He nodded and told her that he had figured that was what she’d say. “I was harmed when he was taken off the field we were fighting on. He died later, from other wounds. Not that it matters, but the people who are looking for me now, the ones chasing me, they think that I can tell them things about why I’ve been alive for so long. Something about pictures from long ago. I don’t think that they know what I am. But that hasn’t stopped them from trying to find me. It’s been hard to keep away; they must have resources that are good. But I can’t let them capture me for any reason, because that would cause a lot of creatures a great deal of trouble. Including you. And if I won’t give them what they want, then they’ll simply remove my head.” “They have lab equipment with them. And as you said, a saw to remove your head. I’m thinking, unlike you, that they know just what you are and what you could bring to them if they were to capture you.” She didn’t say anything, but sat at the table he and Dad were at. “What can we do to protect you? I’m assuming that somewhere along the line, you’ve trusted people before who betrayed you. I won’t. Never. And neither will my family.” “As I have been told before. Sorry, but my levels of trust don’t include you just yet. That doesn’t mean that I won’t eventually, but for now, I don’t.” She didn’t elaborate, 
and he didn’t ask. If he was honest, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to know. “You are the son of Crosby, the vampires that saved the Queen Kilian.” “Yes, and you are Emerald, dragon warrior, rider and protector of the ice dragons and last female of your kind.” She nodded, and he could see her shifting under the façade of clothing that she had worn when she’d come out of the freezer. “You’re magical, the most magical creature that has ever lived, too.” “Yes, and by being my mate, you are as well.” He had already figured that would happen, but it didn’t make it any easier for him to question her. “You will be safe with me, Chase Crosby. This I can promise you with my sword.” ~~~ Kilian was excited and afraid to meet the warrior. She knew who she was, of course. All creatures of the earth knew who the great Emerald was. But when she entered the dwelling that housed her, she knew immediately that while she was healed, she was still very weak. Looking at Chase as he sat with her at the table, Kilian wondered if he knew that she was just as hungry as he was. “I’ve come to bless you with some of my magic.” Kilian had only come to talk to the warrior, but knew that she was going to need more than she was getting right now. “My lady, you need to feed, and soon. I’m sure that you’re aware of this, but you’re unwell.” “I’m all right. I’ve been talking to the vampire here.” She nodded at Chase and he smiled. Kilian loved this young man—because he was to her, young—more than she did any of the others. Which was saying a great deal, as she loved them all very much. But Chase had a heart of gold, and he was as kind a person as she’d ever met. “He has it in his head that he’s going to protect me. I don’t need protecting from a vampire, or any other creature that comes to this house. So we’re coming to an understanding, he and I. He’ll let me do my job and not get in my way.” “You do need him, however.” Emerald looked at her, and Kilian could see that she was angry. At who or what she didn’t know, but she bowed before her. “You need only to tell him and Chase will help you.” “He cannot, and you know this.” Kilian said that she knew no such thing, and looked at the warrior when she laughed. “The vampire isn’t going to be—” “Chase. Say it…my name is Chase, Chase Crosby.” He grinned, and Kilian wondered if he knew how much more handsome he was when he did that. “You have to stop calling me the vampire, as that isn’t something about me that a great many people know. Chase. You can say it in several languages, I’m sure.” “It would be all the same, as well you know. But there are things that you don’t understand. You can’t get close to me, vampire. I am a danger to not just you, but to all mankind if they find me. Especially here.” He asked her why here. “You are here. So is your family.” “Yes, so they are. And for what it’s worth, they’d help me in any kind of way that you needed. But as for the men in town that are here for you, I can tell you right now, they have no idea where you are, or that you’ve healed. Nor do they know exactly what we’ll do to them when they try anything. As I said before, we’re a tight family of 
vampires, with magic that none others have. Also, we can call on many other packs and leaps at any time. They like us.” She asked him why he thought that they’d not get to her. “Because, I have taken care that they don’t. And we have people working in the building that they’re in who are watching their every move. Even what they eat and what they send back to the kitchen. Did you know that they don’t drink anything but water? Why is that, I wonder? It could be that they, like me, don’t care for sugary drinks, but who knows? But they like water.” “So, they aren’t human.” Kilian laughed when Chase told her no shit. “I’m not one to fuck with. I have a great deal riding on me staying alive.”  “Yes, you do, and so do I. I have my life and everything that I am riding on you staying alive.” He stood up and Kilian marveled at his height, as she did all the Crosby boys when she was near them. “My brothers and I are working very hard on keeping you safe, and have been since you were put into my freezer to heal. We’ve all taken turns in making sure that you were taken care of, that you had all that you needed, and that no one, at least only those that we trust, knew where you were. As far as anyone knows, they haven’t any idea that you’ve been in my freezer all this time.” When Emerald stood up as well, Kilian decided that she’d come to talk to the warrior some other time, and slipped out of the house as quietly as she’d entered. She found herself smiling at nothing when she made her way back to her home.  There were going to be fireworks when those two came together, and Kilian was glad that she was close enough to see them when they did. The Crosbys were a powerful group of men, but they paled considerably when their magic was put against one as strong as the warrior. Chase was going to be a vampire to be reckoned with, more so than he was now. “My queen?” She looked at Sunshine and allowed her to speak freely. She found this rule, as old as she was, the most annoying of all of them. To have to ask to speak to her. “We have located the body of the ice dragon, my lady. Three, as a matter of fact. They have been dead for a great many years. His body, like that of two others, has been hidden within the caves of the mountain. By the same hand, we believe. They have not been bothered, my lady. Their bodies are still as they had been when they entered. No human has ever touched them. Not in all these years.” “The ice warrior, you think she put them in there?” Sunshine nodded. “How did they perish? Were you able to ascertain that?” “Yes, my lady. Two of the dragons were very old and worn out. They wished to die and did so. They have been moved and put to rest in the gardens here. I hope that is all right with you. The cave they were found in, it was not proper for ones such as them. Her dragon, the ice warrior’s, he was killed by his own hand. She brought him to the cave to be with his family in his last moments, I think. But he ended his life on his own.” Kilian asked how they were related. “His parents, my lady. Both his mother and father were put there by the warrior, as well as several, smaller dragons that were killed by war. The dragon of the ice warrior, he had been hurt badly when he was hidden away. He finished himself to free her of his life.” 
He had been her true dragon, and Emerald should have died with him…her heart having beat with his. But since he killed himself—the only thing he could do for her to be free to move on—her life did not end with his. As soon as he died, by his own hand, it separated their hearts. Her heart would beat for only Chase now. It was the thing that Kilian might have done, should she have been a dragon for a warrior. “How do you know this? That he died by his own hand?” Kilian was handed a thick slab of stone, hand cut and a great many years old. She read the accounting of the incident then looked at Sunshine. “Have you told anyone of this?” “No. I was to tell his lordship, Lord Chase, but I thought you should know first.” She nodded. This changed so many things for them. “He gave her his all, my lady. All that they were, even his parents, was gifted to the warrior for her service to them. This is a great thing he did for her. And the title that is now hers.” The king and queen of the dragons had been found, it seemed. After all these many years, their bodies had been found, and Kilian was both saddened by their deaths and happy that someone had taken care that their bodies were safe. She herself had looked for them whenever she was out and about, the earth not giving her their whereabouts, and now she knew why. Emerald had hidden them away so that their forms could be safe. For all of them. “Tell the Crosbys that I wish to speak to them. All of them. And the warrior. She might know what her dragon has done for her, but I have my doubts. But I have to let them all know what this means. Not just to Chase and Emerald, but to the family as a whole. There will be others now that will come for her, and when they do, there will be hell to pay.” Sunshine asked if she could be paired with the warrior. “You will need to ask her, my child. And do not be surprised if she tells you no. Her life has been hard since she was created, and I doubt she has had a friend or helpmate at all since then.” “I will await your conversation with them before I put the question to her.” Kilian thought that a good idea. “She is the queen of the warriors as well as the queen of the dragons. When she brought them all together, do you think she knew what she had done?” “She might have, as I said, but I doubt it. The note that was left for her, where did you find it?” Sunshine told her that it had been under the king, with the two crowns that they had worn. “I would say that she didn’t know, nor does she have any idea what they have given her. And indirectly to young Chase. He will be…well, I hope he will be more receptive of it than Jason might have been before meeting his own mate. Otherwise, we might have a greater war on our hands than we have ever had.”  She didn’t think that Chase would be a problem, not with this or anything that had to do with his mate. But Kilian was as sure as she stood there, in her garden, that Emerald would be. She would be angry at a lot of things, but mostly at her dragon for putting her into such a position. Kilian was both looking forward to telling her and not. This wasn’t going to be easy, she knew it. 

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Estes Park, Colorado: picturesque mountains, charming shops, delightful bakeries, a cozy bookstore… and murder.

 

Winifred Page and her corgi, Watson, move to Estes Park to hit the reset button on life. Fred is about to open her dream bookshop, and the only challenges she anticipates are adjusting to small town life, tourists, and living close to her loveable mother, Phyllis, and hippy stepfather, Barry.

 

When Fred steps into her soon-to-be-bookshop for the first time, she expects dust bunnies and spiders… not the dead body in the upstairs kitchen. The local police have an easy suspect—Barry.

 

Determined to prove quirky Barry innocent of murder, Fred puts on her detective hat, and with Watson by her side, she explores her new town and gets acquainted with her fellow shopkeepers. Could one of her friendly neighbors be the real culprit? And what would be the motive for killing the owner of the Sinful Bites candy store? The secrets Fred discover put her at odds with the local police sergeant and threaten her cozy future in Estes.

 

With snow falling outside, all Fred wants to do is curl up by the fire with a good book and Watson snuggled at her feet. But before she can begin her new life and put her plans for her bookshop into action, Fred and Watson have a mystery to solve…
 
GET A CLOSER LOOK AND READ A CHAPTER HERE
 
“Oh, Watson, what have I gotten us into?” I stared at the shop through the safety of my car window. It was smaller than I remembered. I leaned forward, bumping my forehead on the glass. Fairly tall, though, at least two storeys. With the dark-stained log siding and forest-green trim and shutters, it looked like a log cabin had been sandwiched between the other stores of Estes Park.
And it was mine.
The thought ushered in a wave of excitement. A tingle of nausea too, but more excitement than anything. At least that was what I told myself.
The death grip I had on the steering wheel of my Mini Cooper said otherwise. I tore my gaze away and turned a forced smile toward the passenger seat. I needed to be brave for Watson.
He arched a brow lazily at me, not bothering to lift his head from his curled-up position. Managing to pull one of my hands free from the steering wheel, I slipped the car into Park, then scratched behind his pointed fox-like ears.
“We’re here. It’s been a long day, and you’ve been a great copilot.” A grumpy copilot, but that was normal for Watson. A quality that probably wouldn’t be as endearing if he wasn’t so stinking cute. “I’d say you deserve a treat. What do you think?”
At what was unquestionably his favorite word, Watson bounded to a standing position and began bouncing on his two front legs. His stubby corgi legs didn’t make him that much taller, though the bouncing helped.
“And this is why we work, you and me. Food is king, behind books, of course.” I snagged a dog bone out of the glove compartment, started to request for Watson to sit first—demands never worked—then decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and held it out to him. Despite his voracious appetite, which even a shark would envy, Watson avoided removing my fingers and made short work of the snack.
After a couple of minutes, Watson cocked that judgmental brow of his once more. His thoughts were clear: The prolonged staring is creepy, lady. But I’ll forgive you for another treat. 
He had a point. I was putting off the inevitable. Which was silly. I was excited, happy. Time to launch into an adventure.
I turned toward the shop again, took a breath, and opened the car door. Here goes nothing.
My knees popped as I stepped onto the sidewalk, and I sucked in a breath at the tweak in my back. I supposed a drive halfway across the country was a reasonable excuse, even if I was still two years away from forty. I glanced back at Watson, who had curled back into a ball. “Seriously? The ten-hour nap wasn’t enough?”
After a few more seconds of glaring, Watson acquiesced, stood, and stretched. He raised his knobbed-tail of a butt in the air, just letting me know he was still in charge, and then leisurely crossed the console and hopped out beside me.
“Thanks for joining me, your highness.” I shut the car door and looked up at the shop. It seemed a little larger once I stood in front of it. It would be charming. My gaze flicked to the sign above the door that read Heads and TailsWould being the operative word. Who knew what horrors lay behind the papered-over windows. I’d never envisioned a behind-the-scenes look at a taxidermy business, but it seemed I hadn’t been aware of a lot about my future. Well, whatever. If it was too horrible, I’d just pay one of those junk companies to come in and haul everything away.
That thought brought a sense of relief, but then another swept it away. I was thinking like a city girl. I doubted a town the size of Estes Park had a junk-removal business.
And again, I decided, whatever.
I had a feeling I was going to be saying that a lot.
Movement caught my eye from the store window to the left of my shop. Before I could make out a figure, I was captured by the crimson script over the glass, Sinful Bites.
Perfect. Some fortification would be needed in the very likely chance I was getting ready to walk into a store filled with petrified dead animals. I veered off to the left, giving a quick pat to my thigh. “Come on, Watson. Mama deserves a—” I almost said treat. “—reward too.”
A pleasant chime sounded as I opened the door to Sinful Bites and allowed Watson to waddle through. I cast a quick glance around. The store was done in my favorite colors—the walls, cabinets, and displays all in various shades of rich earth tones. It felt homey, comfortable. Exactly what I would be going for when I redid the god-awful taxidermy shop. That boded well for my relationship with my neighbor.
A woman with short, spiraling brunette hair looked up in surprise from behind the cash register. Her brown gaze glanced at me in confusion, then moved to the front door, and back.
I offered a hesitant smile, feeling like I’d messed up somehow. “Everything okay?”
“Yes!” The woman smiled back, wide and bright. “I’m so sorry. We just closed. I could’ve sworn I locked the door,” she said, her tone apologetic.
“Oh. Well, I can come back another time.” Despite myself, I couldn’t keep my gaze from traveling over the gleaming cases filled with candy.
“Not at all! My fault for not locking the door, and I haven’t started putting things away yet, so I insist.” Another smile.
“Thank you. I promise I’ll be quick.” I moved closer to the cases, unsure if I would be able to keep that promise. Though slightly picked over, the display was magnificent. Gleaming fruit tarts in golden brown crusts, hand-size brownies filled with nuts, caramel, and chunks of candy. Fudge of every flavor, truffles of various shapes and colors, and chocolate. So much chocolate that I was suddenly aware I’d smelled it since I walked in the door. No wonder I felt at home. Chocolates done in nearly every imaginable way—almond bark and turtles, covering pretzels, marzipan and nougat.
Heaven, I decided. I’d died and gone to heaven. I managed to tear my gaze away from the smorgasbord of delights and look at the woman. “I think I’m in love.”
The woman chuckled good-naturedly and held out her hand. “I’m Katie. Always nice to meet someone who appreciates dessert more than cardio.”
I stiffened for a heartbeat, wondering if I should be insulted. But at the twinkling of Katie’s eyes, I couldn’t help but laugh. I felt an instant kinship with the woman. “Yes, I’ll take dessert any day over fitting into a size eight. Though my real weakness is carbs, not candy. Give me a hot loaf of fresh bread and I can die a happy woman.” I took Katie’s hand.
“Me too, actually. I might work in a candy shop, but bread is what I do best.”
“Then I am definitely glad to meet you, Katie.” I released her grip and gestured down to Watson, who stared up at me, salivating. “My little corgi friend is Watson, and I’m—”
“I’m telling you, Lois, if you would just use actual sugar in your baking instead of all the stupid substitutions—” Two elderly women walked through the back door of the shop, cutting me off. They both halted at the sight of Watson and me. The blonde cast a quick glare at Katie. “I thought we closed.”
Katie flushed. “I apparently didn’t lock the door. Sorry. But I believe—” It seemed she was searching for my name. “—our friend here is in need of some chocolate.”
The blonde looked at me and cast another glare down at Watson, but by the time she met my gaze once more, her smile was wide, even if it didn’t reach her eyes. “Well, of course! You’ve come to the right place. Sinful Bites has the best chocolate in town.”
The other woman’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t say anything.
Katie cleared her throat, cutting the brief tension that had filled the place. “Do you know what you’d like? If you’re not sure, I can get you a sample.”
Getting-to-know-you time was most definitely over. Which was doubly sad, as at any other time I would’ve taken Katie up on the offer of samples. Under the inspection of the blonde, however, I didn’t dare. “You know, I just drove into town, and I really should get home. Why don’t you give me an assortment of the ones you like best.” Chances were high such a thing would end up being more expensive than I’d intended to spend on candy, but since I was going to be neighbors with the shop, it was clear I needed to put my best foot forward as quickly as possible.
“Home?” The third woman finally spoke. “Do you live here? You must be new in town. I don’t think I’ve seen you around.”
“I just moved in. Quite literally, in fact.” I smiled at the woman, who seemed nicer than the blonde. “I’ve visited several times. I have family who live here.” I nodded at Katie as I spoke, trying to include her again and continue the introductions. “I’m Fred, and this is Watson. We just made the long drive from Kansas City to Colorado. This was our first stop in town.”
The woman gave a chuckle. “Fred? I don’t believe I’ve ever met a woman named Fred.” She gestured to herself and the blonde. “I’m Lois Garble, and this is my sister, Opal. Opal owns this candy shop, and I own the one two doors down, Healthy Delights.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” Sisters? The two women definitely didn’t look like sisters. Although, now that I thought about it, they had the same features. It was only everything else that was different. Lois had naturally graying hair, a clean and wrinkled face, and she wore a plain cotton dress. Opal had dyed, highly stylized blonde hair, copious amounts of makeup, a brightly colored dress, and tons of jewelry. “My true name is Winifred Page, but everyone calls me Fred.”
“Well, I think that is simply adorable. And it suits you.” Lois shrugged playfully. “Like I said, I’ve never met a woman named Fred, but if I could imagine one, she’d have beautiful auburn hair just like yours. I’ve always thought Opal would look ravishing in that color.” She cast a sidelong glance toward her sister’s coiffed blonde hairdo.
Opal didn’t comment about becoming a redhead. “Page? Your last name is Page, and you have family in town? I don’t remember a family with that name.”
I nodded, though for some reason I was tempted to lie. “Yes. My mother grew up here. Phyllis Oswald, though now she’s Phyllis Adams.”
Both Katie and Lois seemed to take a step back, but Opal didn’t budge, instead folding her arms over her ample bosom. Any semblance of welcome or friendliness vanished, not that there’d been much from Opal. “I thought I’d heard your name before.” If looks could kill. “So that means you’re the one taking over Sid’s taxidermy shop.”
Again, lying seemed the intelligent thing to do. “Yes. Though I won’t be doing taxidermy. I’m going to be changing it to a bookshop. It’s going to be called the Cozy—”
“I’m sorry, but we’re closed.” Opal sniffed, nostrils flared. “And for future reference, I don’t allow dogs in my business.”
I halted, unsure what to say. One of the things I’d always liked about the town was Estes Park’s dog-friendly nature. I started to glance at Katie and then thought better of it. The last thing I wanted to do was get the shopgirl in trouble. I gestured back toward the door. “Sorry for….” What was I sorry for exactly? “Watson and I will just be going.”
Lois gave a loud good-natured laugh and swatted playfully at Opal, which Opal avoided with a glare. “Please forgive my sister. It’s her intake of sugar and butter and things the good Lord never intended us to eat. It makes her cranky.” She managed to deliver the line with a cheerful air, making it sound more like an endearing quality than an insult. Lois headed around the counter and slipped a birdlike arm through mine. “You come with me. I’ll get you some sweets that are natural and nourishing, and I have homemade dog-bone biscuits.” She looked down at Watson, then back at me. “I didn’t notice. How adorable. He’s a redhead like you.” Without waiting for a response, she looked back down once more. “What do you say… Watson, was it? Do you want a treat?”
Watson bounced on his two front paws again at the word, causing Lois to chuckle. The only thing I really wanted to do at that point was get away, but Watson’s reaction settled it. Plus, how could I deny the woman without seeming rude?
I allowed myself to be led toward the front door and cast a glance back, offering a quick smile to Katie and a final apologetic grimace to Opal.
Lois led me out of the shop, around the front of Heads and Tails, then pulled out her keys to usher me into Healthy Delights. “Sorry, I already shut the place down, but I’ll get you an assortment of things from the back. Give me one second, dear.” She flicked on the lights and then headed through the back door to disappear with a small wave.
The tingle of nausea rose again. My shop sat directly between these two sisters. Lois seemed sweet enough, but Lord knew what I was getting myself into with these two. Pushing the thought away, I spared a glance at Lois’s store. It was the exact same layout as Opal’s, just flipped, but the similarities stopped there. Where Opal’s candy shop felt cozy, warm, and friendly—despite the woman herself—Lois’s was done in a garish combination of pastel colors, sickeningly sweet pinks, and yellows. My stomach gurgled.
Watson didn’t seem to notice. He chuffed and looked up at me.
“Your treat is coming. Calm down.” I shook my finger at him. “And I blame you for pulling me into this.”
He chuffed again, and this time bounded so his paws landed on my foot, clearly telling me to shut up and get on with the treat giving.
“You’re ridiculous.” As if watching a car crash, I looked back at the shop. It didn’t make any sense at all. How could the sister who owned the cozy and delicious-smelling candy shop be so irritable, while the one who designed the monstrosity that looked like Easter on speed was the kind one?
Before the color palette had a chance to permanently scar my corneas, Lois returned with a large brown bag in one hand and a massive dog bone in the other. “I’m sorry I have to rush. I’d love to get to know you and your precious pup, but Opal and I have dinner plans, and I don’t want to keep her waiting.” She thrust the bag into my grip. “For future reference, I make everything Opal does, just a healthy, all-natural version. It’s fun to mix and match.”
I forced a smile. I hadn’t been able to identify what smell seemed to linger in the air, but it wasn’t pleasant. If the desserts were edible, I’d be shocked. “Thank you. I appreciate your kindness. I’m sorry if I did anything to offend—”
Lois waved me off, whipping the dog bone in the air, a large crumb flying across the room. In a rare show of speed, Watson zoomed away in pursuit. Lois didn’t seem to notice. “Never you mind. That’s just how Opal is. You see, she and I were hoping to purchase the taxidermy shop after Sid passed, but your mother wouldn’t consider selling. Said her daughter was taking it over.” Though her chipper tone didn’t fade, Lois’s smile did, a touch. “I won’t hold that against you, dear.” Another hand pat. “But if you decide you want to sell, we’d appreciate it if you would let us know.” Leaning closer, her voice dropped to a whisper. “Lots of people move to Estes Park, captured by its beauty and charm, only to discover they feel a little trapped in the mountains and constricted by small-town life. Chances are it will happen to you too. Of course, I hope not, but”—and yet another pat—“when it does, remember my sister and me.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but was utterly at a loss for words.
Words didn’t seem to be required. Lois wrapped her arm around my shoulders, which was no small feat, considering I was several inches taller than the woman, and led me toward the door. She shoved what was left of the dog bone at me. “This is made from peanut butter I ground myself, and organic grains. They are five dollars apiece, but this one’s on the house.” She opened the door for me and stood aside. “Welcome to town, Fred.”
“Thank you, Lois.” I clutched the paper bag and waggled the dog bone in Watson’s direction, capturing his attention. “Come on, buddy. Let’s go.” Watson tore off from where he’d been sniffing in the back corner of the shop. I nodded my thanks to Lois once more, then walked to the car. I changed my mind a few paces away from my burnt-orange Mini Cooper. Turning around, I headed back toward the front door of the taxidermy shop. I’d been so excited to see inside, to get lost in the planning of what my bookstore would look like, that I had driven straight here when we got into town.
After locking her front door, Lois crossed in front of Heads and Tails, gave a final friendly wave, and disappeared into Sinful Bites once more.
Pushing the odd sisters out of my mind, I addressed Watson as we stopped at the front door. “I’m sure you’ll love all the smells you’re going to find in there, but just remember, if we come across a dead animal and I scream, you’re forbidden from telling anyone. If you do, there won’t be any treats for a week.”
Watson gave a quick, sharp bark.
“Crap. I said treat, didn’t I?” At the repeated word, Watson resumed bouncing, his dark brown eyes wild with excitement and looking like a deranged bunny.
I couldn’t help but chuckle as I lifted what was left of the dog bone. “Luckily, we have one. You can get it as soon we’re inside.”
I paused at the lockbox hanging from the door handle, then set the bag of healthy candy—what a thought that was—at my feet. Catching my reflection in the window, the paper behind the glass causing it to act nearly as effectively as a mirror, I couldn’t help but scowl. My hair was a complete mess, and a sheen of light caught the gleam from dog hair. I glanced down at my peasant blouse. Life with a corgi meant I was in constant need of a lint roller, but after the day in the car, things had gotten to a nearly ludicrous level. To make matters worse, I gave my brown broomstick skirt a flick with my wrist and sent a fresh wave of dog hair spiraling around me. Wonderful. So much for putting my best foot forward. Meeting three of my neighbors while looking like I was part corgi myself.
Well, whatever. Too late to be helped now. Besides, it wasn’t like I’d ever actually be dog-hair-free anyway. Pushing the concern away, I pulled out my cell and scrolled through text messages from my mother until I came across the lockbox code. I punched in the four digits and gave a yank. There was no click and the lock didn’t budge. Clearing it, I tried again. Same reaction. I checked the text, confirming I had the numbers right, then tried a third time. When I was still denied, I tapped my mother’s name and lifted the phone to my ear.
It rang several times, then finally clicked to a message saying my mother’s voice mail was full and could no longer accept messages. What else was new? I tried the lockbox one final time. For a moment, I considered breaking the window on the front door and reaching in. It was my shop, after all.
What a way to start a new adventure, breaking and entering. Patience had never been a virtue I fostered, but letting out a resigned huff that sounded more like a corgi than a woman, I stuffed my cell back into my pocket. “Looks like we’re thwarted at the moment, Watson.”
Retrieving the paper bag, I led us back to the car, held the door for Watson to hop in, then followed.
I’d been so ecstatic about opening the bookshop, I hadn’t even considered who my neighbors might be. Being directly between Lois and Opal was going to be…. Well, I was afraid I didn’t have a word for exactly what that was going to be. I doubted it would be all that pleasant.
Watson chuffed.
“You feel it too, don’t you, boy? Who knows what we’re going to have to face with those two. At least we have each other.”
He let out a long pitiful whine.
“Aww, look at you being all empathetic. What’s gotten into—”
I realized Watson’s frantic gaze was focused on my hand, not looking deep into my eyes and sharing a moment. “Oh, I forgot.” I handed him what remained of the all-natural dog biscuit with a sigh.
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Reading the Cozy Corgi series is pretty much all you need to know about Mildred. In real life, she’s obsessed with everything she writes about: Corgis, Books, Cozy Mountain Towns, and Baked Goods. She’s not obsessed with murder, however. At least not at her own hands (nor paid for… no contract killing here). But since childhood, starting with Nancy Drew, trying to figure out who-dun-it has played a formative role in her personality. Having Fred and Watson stroll into her mind was a touch of kismet.
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You’ve been rocked by The Rock Gods and now it’s time to meet the men who have their backs in the spin-off series: Guarding The Gods. The stories in this series will give you a glimpse at what goes into protecting two world class rock bands while they perform around the globe. I hope you’ll continue this journey with me, as I give you a backstage pass to another side of the music world in which the players work hard and they love even harder.

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Zac Mulligan is a former Marine now providing personal security for the infamous rock band, Black Ice. Seeing all the guys around him in committed relationships reminds him of his childhood best friend . . . the only person Zac has never managed to get out of his head or his heart.

Ben Holland is an artist. Falling deeply in love with his best friend in his teens, Ben is left alone when Zac leaves him for the military. Ben heads off to college and lives his life “out and proud” as a gay man and creates a brand name for himself with his artwork. Throughout all the years that pass, Ben never forgets his childhood friend, Zac, or the feelings they once shared.

Zac realizes a decade is too long for Ben not to have a presence in his life and finds Ben living on Cape Cod where they spent their summers as kids. Meeting each other as adults stirs up a lot of memories for both of them.

Zac is looking for a mulligan, a “do over,” with his childhood best friend. The question is: Can Ben find a way to put aside his old hurts and fully open his heart to Zac for a second time? Or maybe the past is something better left buried on the beach where it all began.

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Fizzbo is used to taking care of people. He’s the one in charge of the personal and professional security needs for both world-famous rock bands, Ivory Tower and Black Ice. Having their backs is what he does best, and he takes pride in that, both on and off the job. When he’s called into action to save the man he loves, all of his skills are put to the test. Suddenly, he isn’t so sure his training will be enough, but saving Kensey is personal, and he’s willing do anything to keep him safe.

Kensey Pride is the man who rocked Fizzbo’s world when they met during the European tour with Ivory Tower and Black Ice. Kensey’s passion for his job, making people look and feel beautiful in their own skin, is something he lacks in his own life until the magnetism of a certain security guard comes along and breaks down the walls he’s built around his heart to keep him safe. For the first time in his life, Kensey discovers he likes who he sees looking back at him in the mirror.

Without the safety of those walls and his heart left unprotected, Kensey becomes an easy target for those who can’t let go of the past. Will Fizzbo’s strength and love be enough to bring Kensey home, or will old truths be too much for the guard to handle?

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Mason Foxworth has spent the last several months recovering from injuries he received doing personal security while on tour during the horrific fire in Germany. He feels useless and alone, and the worst part of it, the physical scarring left behind from the burns has ruined his self-esteem. Who would want him now, when he is so damaged inside and out and has nothing much to contribute? He doesn’t have many friends and his co-workers feel it’s safer to keep Mason at a desk in the office pushing paperwork, rather than out in the field working security. Mason wants to change that status before he loses the last thread of his sanity, and the main obstacle in his way is a bum leg that’s taking far too long to heal.

Tessler is an enigma in the sci-fi literary world. A young, reclusive author, known for the mystery swirling around him, realizes he’s lost any real joy in his life until he suddenly starts to feel the strange emotion pumping through his veins. Barely beyond the age of twenty-five, and he’s already made more money than most see in a lifetime, but Tessler feels empty inside. What made him this way must remain the secret it is, or he feels he’ll lose the empire he’s created. But meeting a man who could possibly bring all his pieces together is challenging his reasons for anonymity, and Tessler suddenly finds himself wanting more from life and for himself.

Mason wants his life back and Tessler is just looking to have a real life. Can two vastly different men find a way to smooth out their hard edges and blend their lives to offer the one ingredient neither has? Personal growth comes in many different shapes and Mason and Tessler have a mountain of it to climb in order to find their HEA, but it’s a journey both of them are ready to take.

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Ann Lister is a native New Englander currently living on the island of Martha’s Vineyard with her husband. She has pulled details from her years living in the New England area and uses many local settings and landmarks in her novels.

After graduating art school, marrying, and raising two daughters, she established her own video production company. Her nearly two decades working in video production included work within the music industry and won her a coveted Telly Award. Her ‘behind-the-scenes’ exposure to the music world and her love of rock music is the inspiration for her erotic rock star romances.

The Rock Gods series gave her Bestselling Author status on Amazon. Beyond The Music, Book 7 in the series, hit #1 in the Gay Erotica genre during the Pre-Order and held that spot for several weeks. This last book in The Rock Gods series launches the spin-off series, Guarding The Gods, which releases in early Summer of 2016.

Fall For Me, Book One in the series was a Finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Award. Each book in this series brings her two favorite elements together: musicians and the love between two men. These stories focus on what it truly means to love; love unconditionally, love without restrictions or labels, love without fear or judgment – to just simply love.

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The Bad Girl and The Baby by Nina Croft Blog Tour

Captain Matt Peterson prides himself on being able to handle anything…until he winds up as the guardian of his baby niece, Lulu. Two years and six nannies later, his well-ordered existence is in chaos. Still, he’s all Lulu has. Except, well…there is an aunt…

Darcy Butler has spent the last three years in prison for beating up her abusive brother-in-law. Her only regret is that she didn’t hurt him worse and stop him from killing her sister in a drunken car crash six months later. But now, Darcy just wants to rebuild her life. Starting with finding her sister’s child.

But Matt doesn’t want an ex-con with a record for violence anywhere near Lulu. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to keep away from Darcy, himself. Despite their differences, their chemistry is combustible…and the sex is incredible! Still, it can’t possibly last. Can it?

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Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain.

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Release Blitz, New Beginnings, Holiday Novella Barrington Billionaire’s Series Book 5.5 by Jeannette Winters

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Napoleon Oliveira never allowed anything to come between him and his dream. And yet a single clerical error has halted what he’s spent the last ten years working for.

Myla Alluri grew up knowing the lie was the only thing that protected her. Once free to live her life as she wished, she finds she’s still bound by her past. Breaking free would jeopardize the people who risked everything to save her.

When their paths cross their attraction is undeniable. Her lie is the one thing that stands between them and a future together.

Can he love her without knowing the truth or will she risk it all for him?

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Jeannette Winters is a romance author mixing heart, intrigue, and the steamy pleasure of a Billionaire romance.

Jeannette grew up in a large family, number ten out of eleven children, eight of them being older brothers. She quickly developed a great sense of humor, mostly from necessity. One of her greatest joys is sitting on the porch where they were all raised and hearing the stories from years gone by. Quietly laughing to herself, she notices how they embellish the stories more and more each year.

Storytelling was passed down from her grandfather and mother. Jeannette caught the bug at a very young age. If she didn’t have her head in a book, then she was off somewhere with a notebook, jotting down stories of what she would write if one day she became an author. Although the notebook may have vanished, the stories are still vivid and waiting for the right time to be told.

Despite having an amazing family, there have also been some sorrows in her life, including the loss of loved ones. Over the years, Jeannette has spent countless hours volunteering for different organizations and acting as a caregiver to those most dear to her. As a result, supporting the elderly became of utmost importance.

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