Special Valentine Treats, Harlequin style!

Special Valentine Treats, Harlequin style!
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There’s a lot of history surrounding Valentine’s Day and as you can imagine, the history of the holiday is somewhat checkered. Some will tell you the dark tale about how Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine in the 3rd century A.D. Others will take you to the year 496 and a Pagan festival, Lupercalia, that celebrated spring and fertility by pairing off women’s fertility rites to men in a lottery.  That’s a lot to unpack. Then there’s also the bloody Al Capone St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but I don’t think there’s a card for that. I prefer to think of Valentine’s Day as the ending of my very favorite time of year, The Eating Season. For me, the Eating Season begins on Halloween and ends on Valentine’s Day, you know, if you start with candy, you should end with candy, it’s a rule. The Eating Season is all-inclusive and doesn’t discriminate based on relationship status. If you have a significant other, you can eat your candy together. If you are rolling solo, all the better, you don’t have to share your sweets! However you cut it, Valentine’s Day is filled with goodness. I found a few Harlequin romances you can read that are set around Valentine’s Day and its various forms of celebration. Let these exclusive excerpts brighten your day!

His Forbidden Kiss by Jessica Lemmon

His Forbidden Kiss gives me all sorts of “wrong brother, bad timing” vibes. I am always here for Valentine’s Day surprises in the coat closet! All I can say to this is, Taylor, go get your man, the one that makes your pulse race and your heart soar. Never settle for less than that.

Heartbeat pounding in her ears, heels of her designer shoes clacking on the marble flooring, Taylor Thomp­son ran as fast as she dared in the heavy, beaded, floor-length Versace gown. She’d chosen it specifi­cally for the River Grove Valentine’s Day gala, extrav­agant even for the high-end affair, but until the tapered skirt was strangling her ankles with each quickening step she hadn’t imagined it’d be inhibiting her escape.

She tugged the hemline as high as her calves, steered clear of the ladies’ room—no doubt teeming with primped, classy women who were also attending the gala—and ducked into the coatroom.

At least she’d thought it was a coat “room.”

Now that she’d shut the door behind her, the tight, dark space felt more like a coat cracker box.

No matter. She just needed thirty seconds to her­self, away from onlookers. Without having to pretend she didn’t know she was about to be proposed to.

God. A proposal.

She’d attended the gala every year save one—the year she traveled to Miami during a college vaca­tion with her friends—so she never thought much of going. She’d never thought of not going. It was what the kids of River Grove did.

Here, being wealthy wasn’t an option, it was a re­quirement.

Her family had helped build this town—along with her date’s, Brannon Knox’s, family. The Thompsons and Knoxes were known for founding one of the big­gest tech companies in the nation. The ThomKnox Group was started by her late father, Charles, and Brannon’s father, Jack, some twenty-six years ago, when Taylor was two years old.

It seemed that tonight Brannon was attempting a merger of a different style.

“Brannon Knox, what were you thinking?”

To be fair, she should ask herself exactly the same question. When he’d asked her to come as his date tonight, she should have said no. Instead, she’d chick­ened out, agreeing to one last event before having the discussion she should have had with him three weeks ago. The one where she said something to the effect of, “This isn’t working. Let’s be friends.”

Aware she couldn’t finish out the party in the closet, Taylor considered her options. She couldn’t dart into the ladies’ room and face Mrs. Mueller or Patsy Sheffield. They were sweet, and had been noth­ing but lovely after her father died last fall, but they were also…involved. She didn’t need the entire town gossiping about her hiding from her date—and Patsy and Mrs. Mueller would happily start that rumor.

Was it considered a rumor if it was true?

If it hadn’t been for her father losing his battle with cancer not so long ago, she probably never would’ve dated Brannon. They’d known each other a lifetime, but the attraction simply hadn’t been there.

Explaining that to him was never going to be fun. Sorry, Bran. I only dated you because I was sad and in some way hoped it’d please my father from beyond the grave. Now with an engagement on the line, ex­plaining to Bran that she should’ve said no—before tonight—would be more agonizing.

“Dammit!” Fists balled, she stomped one high heel into the floor in frustration. It was hot in here and the room was closing in on her.

Deciding to find a bigger space in which to gather her thoughts, she reached for the doorknob. Wiggling it once, then twice, didn’t help. The third time wasn’t the charm—the antique knob had an antique lock fix­ture that had engaged.

“Crap.” Sweat beaded on her brow as she jiggled harder, and she suddenly wished she’d carried her clutch in with her instead of leaving it on the table in Addison’s care. At least then she would’ve had the light from her phone.

She wasn’t particularly claustrophobic, but the op­tions of suffocating in a coat closet or passing out from panic weren’t good ones.

The instant she’d observed Brannon admiring the ring nestled in the Tiffany & Co. blue box backstage, she should have handled the situation. Where was a time machine when she needed one?

She strained to hear music or voices. Not a single sound infiltrated her insulated new home. Giving up on the doorknob, she backed up to throw her shoul­der into the panel and bust herself out, when the door swung open, easy as you please.

Silhouetted in the frame was a pair of imposing shoulders in a black tuxedo jacket, long legs in match­ing trousers, and above that shadowed, sharp jaw she could easily imagine a frown.

Brannon’s older brother.

“Taylor? What the hell are you doing in here?” Curiosity lined Royce Knox’s voice. Even though he wasn’t yelling at her, and even though he scared her about as much as a passing butterfly, her building anxiety pushed forth a gusty breath.

“Royce, thank God.” She gripped his forearms. Over the material of his jacket she could make out the corded muscle, the sinew that made up those damned attractive arms. Once, years ago, she’d stumbled on her way to the limo and he’d been there to catch her. She was sixteen years old when she gripped his arms then. They weren’t as muscular or thick as they were now, but the fluttery feeling in her belly was the same. When it came to Royce, there was never any question if she was attracted to him. She totally was.

She hadn’t missed her father’s scolding glower at that party afterward. He’d told her under no uncertain terms to stay away from the older Knox brother. “He’s too old for you.”

Her father hadn’t wanted the older, more serious Knox brother for Taylor. He’d dreamed of a union be­tween her and the younger, more eager one. Brannon.

She yanked her hands from Royce’s forearms, un­sure if she was more troubled by inadvertently obey­ing her father’s wishes and dating Brannon, or feeling an attraction for Royce she still couldn’t deny. It was there, though—pounding in her bloodstream.

“I thought I was going to die in here,” she mum­bled into the tight, dark space.

A short grunt came from Royce’s throat. “Highly unlikely. Bran’s looking for you.”

“I know.” She pictured the engagement ring and her stomach did another somersault. “This was our last date.”

“What?” Royce’s alarmed question was inter­rupted by another voice. Bran’s coming from down the corridor.

“Has anyone seen Taylor?”

Since the closet she’d sprinted into was around a corner, Bran hadn’t seen her or his brother yet. Nor would he. She wasn’t ready.

Taylor yanked Royce into the small space and pulled the door shut behind him, lock be damned. Suffocating in here might be better than facing the man who was about to go down on bended knee.

“Hey!” Royce protested as the door clicked. She clapped her hand over his mouth, feeling the barest hint of stubble pushing past a sharp, clean shave—his preference. He reached for her wrist but froze when she gently shushed him. Together, they listened. Her to her erratic pulse sloshing in her ears and just under that, Brannon’s receding voice as he contin­ued his search.

She let out the breath she’d held and became aware of two things. Royce’s long, blunt fingers covering the pulse point at her wrist and the feel of his warm exhalations on her hand that still covered his mouth.

Fortune’s Texas Surprise by Stella Bagwell

When vet assistant Stephanie becomes a foster mom to a sweet baby boy, she thinks all is right in the world. Then she catches the eye of town charmer, Acton Donovon and well, things really get interesting. Here’s Stephanie hoping for more than “just friends” for Valentine’s Day in Fortune’s Texas Surprise by Stella Bagwell.

When Stephanie and Acton arrived at The Shop­pes building, the parking area was already beginning to fill up with vehicles. Acton parked at the far end of the lot, then came around to help her out of the truck.

“Did you do gymnastics as a child?” he asked once she was standing on solid ground.

“No. Why?”

“Those heels. You’d have to be an acrobat to walk in them. But I’ll say one thing, they’re damned sexy.” He flashed her a sizzling grin. “Everything about you tonight looks sexy.”

No one had ever used that word to describe Steph­anie. She’d been called pretty plenty of times, along with cute. But she’d never been called sexy. Hearing it from Acton’s lips put a warm blush on her cheeks.

“Thank you, Acton. You look rather handsome yourself. I wasn’t expecting you to get so dressed up.”

He was wearing a dark, Western-cut suit with a white shirt. Black cowboy boots and a bolo tie with a silver-and-onyx slide completed the look that was masculine and classy at the same time.

He glanced down at himself. “I don’t break out these clothes too often. But what the heck, it’s Valen­tine’s Day and we’re going to a party. And speaking of Valentine’s Day, I have a little something for you.”

“For me?”

He opened the back door of the truck and pulled out a huge, beautiful bouquet of purple and yellow tulips arranged in an amber hobnail vase.

He said. “Considering the occasion, I should’ve probably gone with red and pink flowers. But I wanted you to have something different.”

Stephanie was so touched by the unexpected gift that tears stung the back of her eyes.

He stepped closer and she accepted the bouquet from him. “What a lovely surprise, Acton! And the colors are gorgeous.”

“My pleasure. I’m glad you like them.”

Her gaze lifted from the tulips to scan his face and she noticed he’d left his hat in the truck. With his head bent slightly toward hers, the masculine scent of his hair swirled in her nostrils and acted on her senses like an aphrodisiac.

“I’d love to take the flowers in with me,” she said, while hoping her voice sounded steady. “But I’m afraid someone might confuse them as part of the decorations and they’d end up in the wrong hands.”

“I’d hate for that to happen. Let’s just leave them here. Since the night is cool they should be fine.”

By the time he returned the bouquet back to the truck and locked the vehicle, Stephanie’s knees were quivering and she latched a hand on his forearm to steady herself.

“Thank you, Acton, for the lovely flowers. Do you mind if I hang on to you while we walk to the building? I’m not used to these heels.”

 His eyes twinkling, he pressed a hand over hers. “I’m all yours.”

All hers? For this one special night, Stephanie was going to let herself believe him.

Daughter on His Doorstep by Teresa Southwick

And finally, here’s a little Daddy/Daughter Valentine’s Day interaction from Teresa Southwick’s Daughter on His Doorstep. If you’re down for a secret baby, second chance trope, this is the Valentine you need.

“Hey, Emma, what do you want for dinner?”

Luke had this whole Friday with his daughter. He’d gone to the Valentine’s Day party in her class­room earlier and everything had gone off without a hitch. Even though her hostile grandmother at­tended, too. By mutual, unspoken agreement they’d ignored each other and Emma didn’t seem to notice. She’d seemed excited to introduce him as her dad when he helped her pass out her valentines to class­mates. Even the sugar buzz overexcitement from a bunch of fourth graders couldn’t take the shine off that moment. And when class was dismissed, he got to take her home. That probably put Pam’s knickers in a twist which didn’t bother him a bit.

Now it was late afternoon and they were shopping for groceries together. This was an occasion because she was going to spend the night at his place for the first time. Her idea and Shelby approved. The house would be sold eventually, but he had bought a twin bed for her. Wherever he ended up after the sale hap­pened, she would still need one.

“What do I want for dinner.” Emma was walk­ing beside him next to the rapidly filling shopping basket. She looked up at him. “Can you even cook?”

“I’m hurt you would even ask that question. I’ve got skills. You can’t get takeout every night.”

“But you do it a lot.” Big dramatic eyes met his own. “I’ve seen the containers in your refrigerator.”

Busted. He could be looking at a future prose­cuting attorney. “You’re right. I often stop for food before coming home after a shift. It’s easier. And I’m usually pretty hungry. Plus, cooking for one is a challenge.”

She thought about that and nodded. “But I’m here tonight. That makes two, Dad.”

Luke wasn’t sure he’d heard right. There were any number of words that rhymed with dad—sad, glad, bad, rad. He wanted to ask and make sure she’d just called him that but it would make this a big deal and get weird. The best thing would be to just leave it alone and act cool.

He almost always went to the store with a list but not this time. This day was all about Emma and let­ting her pick out whatever she wanted. Was he buy­ing her love? Maybe. But he also wanted to know her likes, dislikes and stuff she wouldn’t eat even for money.

“Can we get popcorn?” She pointed to a box con­taining six microwavable bags. “Mommy gets that kind.”

“Put it in the basket,” he said.

She smiled from ear to ear and proudly took care of it. “Thanks, Dad.”

There it was again. As if she’d always been say­ing it. He was someone’s dad. There should be a band playing, a parade, something to mark this mo­mentous occasion. It had to be enough that all of the above was going on inside him. But he still had to feed her tonight. Preferably a well-balanced meal.

“I hate to break this to you, kid, but popcorn isn’t dinner. You still haven’t told me what you want.”

“Because you still haven’t told me what you can cook.”

“Fair enough.” He thought for a moment. “I grill a lot. Steak, ribs, hamburgers and hot dogs.”

“Do you burn them?” She wrinkled her nose in disapproval.

“Not usually.”

“Mommy likes them that way but I think they’re gross.”

Luke remembered that. Shelby had managed to sneak out for a Fourth of July picnic at the park. She asked for the most well-done hot dog and he’d teased her about eating charred tubes. She was un­ affected by his mocking and savored it while he en­joyed watching her, wanting more than anything to be alone with her. And kiss her until they both lost control. Then his daughter’s voice punctured that sensuous spell.

“What about spaghetti?” Emma pointed to the pasta on the shelf.

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Real Life Meet-Cute: Jennifer Millikin

Real Life Meet-Cute: Jennifer Millikin

Love like a black girl...the life and times of a romance author!

Love Like a Black Girl…The Life and Times of a Romance Author!

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