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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Stars in Their Eyes by Pema Donyo

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This beautifully sweeping story of dueling ambitions and restless hearts in the roaring twenties will captivate fans who loved the romance of La La Land.

The bohemian salons and wild cabarets of 1920s Paris are just the place for Owen Matthews to pursue his writing and make the right connections in the literary scene. But six years after leaving Los Angeles and the love of his life, he still strives for success. Penning a new screenplay for his friend’s film might just help keep the lights on a bit longer in the City of Lights.

Iris Wong is used to sacrifice and rejection as an Asian-American actress. She’s determined to take full advantage of her new leading role in a Parisian silent film—and the director’s romantic interest in her. Playing the game almost guarantees she’ll be able to break through the industry’s racism and become the silver screen star she’s dreamed of being since she earned her first nickel as a Hollywood extra.

When these two star-crossed lovers unexpectedly reunite, they get a second chance to reconcile their hearts’ desires with their dreams of fame and fortune.

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EXCERPT

A group of women in cloche hats giggled over coffees at a table. Beside them stood a group of children covered head to toe in wool clothes, selling lilies from woven baskets, waving the fresh flowers toward the women.

A clink of glass hitting marble jerked her attention back to Pierre. He swore in French and grabbed a napkin, dotting his lap. He must have knocked over the wine bottle; the red liquid streamed over the tablecloth and toward him. She righted the bottle as he pushed his chair away from the table.

“Forgive me, excusez-moi . . . ”

“It’s fine; accidents happen.”

“No, no, clumsy of me, I apologize.”

She caught a glimpse of the dark stain on his plum trousers before he headed inside the café, likely to find a sink or at least a pail of water to wash it out.

She traced a finger around the rim of her nearly full wine goblet. The children moved farther down the avenue and passed by her. The mother wielded the largest basket of flowers and used it to gesture across the street. She crossed, and three of the children followed. The youngest, a girl wearing a bright red beret, trailed behind her siblings. Iris winced as the girl tripped against a raised cobblestone and fell forward, scattering her flowers on the ground. Her family ahead of her didn’t seem to notice. The girl started to gather the lilies, one by one placing the delicate stems back into her basket.

A canary-yellow roadster sped down the road. Its speed was dangerous on such a crowded street. The girl needed to move. Yet she plucked the flowers from the road without a glance upward. The hairs on the back of Iris’s neck stood up. Why didn’t anyone help her? The driver made exaggerated gesticulations as he spoke to the woman in the passenger seat, both more absorbed in each other than the road ahead.

Across the street, a tall man angled his head toward the child’s direction. He started walking toward the girl, his pace quickening as the car came closer. Iris stepped toward the road, too, yelling at the girl. The child looked up at her. Before Iris could reach her, the man broke into a sprint and pushed the girl out of the roadster’s way. The vehicle brushed past them moments afterward, speeding ahead in a tremendous gust of air.

The driver swore and honked his horn. “Get out of the road!” he yelled.

She ran toward them both. The girl was crying, and her remaining lilies lay flattened in the center of the road. Iris crouched down and held her hands.

“Are you all right, dear?”

She nodded, wiping away her tears with the flat ends of her palms.

Quick footsteps followed a cry of Romanian words as her mother joined the party.

She said something to the girl, and the child pressed her face into her mother’s thick skirt.

“Thank you,” she said to Iris.

Iris shook her head. She wasn’t due any thanks.

“Don’t thank me, thank . . . ” Her voice trailed off as she pointed toward the man.

Iris supposed she had looked at him before he crossed the street, but she hadn’t really seen him. His light brown hair fell over his forehead in soft waves, appearing almost fluffy under the sun’s rays. Blue eyes stared back at her in recognition. His shoulders looked broader than she remembered, and light stubble grazed his jaw and upper lip.

“No need to thank me,” he said to the woman. He held up his hands as if he wanted no praise. Once the child and her mother started back to the other side of the road, he met Iris’s gaze.

He chuckled. “It’s been a damn long time.”

She nodded, a lump rising in her throat. She had rehearsed so many lines to say to him if they ever saw each other again. An endless cache of words—gone. Images crossed her mind instead: standing on the dim street as his car pulled away. She had waited until it disappeared around the bend of the road and the rumble of its engine faded away. She would see him again, she’d told herself. Paris was an ocean away; he wouldn’t really leave. It couldn’t be over. Her legs had burned to run after the car.

“Owen! Is that you?” Pierre waved at them both and gestured to them to join him at the table.

Iris moved as fast as her T-strap heels would take her. Against her better judgment, she placed her palm against one of her cheeks. Burning hot. Hopefully, Owen wouldn’t notice. At the table, she ignored the slight shaking of her hands as she poured herself a glass of water.

Pierre clapped a hand on Owen’s back. “This is my friend Owen Matthews, our film’s screenwriter.”

He had changed a bit, at least physically. His arms appeared more muscular. She’d sworn he had been incapable of growing facial hair back in the days when they used to steal kisses on his parents’ porch. And the deep tan that had settled over his skin was gone. Or perhaps her recollection of him betrayed her. Her memory blurred the edges, making her unsure of what she remembered.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pema Donyo lives in sunny Southern California, where she balances plotting her next novel and watching too many Bollywood movies. Find Pema Donyo at https://pemadonyo.wordpress.com, and on Twitter @PemaDonyo.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Love and Mayhem by Luanna Stewart

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Sybil is happily on the shelf, tending to her sheep. But she fears she’ll depart this life without experiencing physical love, which she suspects is rather enjoyable. When her long-lost fiancé returns from sea, she decides he’s the lucky man who’ll receive her virginity.

Max is eager to return to his sugar plantation and has no intention of remaining in London. However, he didn’t bargain on a wilful, pretty, exasperating spinster determined to take him to her bed.

He insists on marriage, but she wants only his body. Her heart is not part of the deal. Unfortunately, love doesn’t always follow the rules.

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EXCERPT

Kissing Max was delicious, and she was eager to continue. When they returned home, she’d invite him into the study. Or they could go to his house. Did she dare?

Their inconvenient audience had not taken itself off as evidenced by the approaching swish of skirts.

She pushed against his chest again, harder. “Please, this has gone far enough.”

“I would argue, but apparently this is neither the time nor the place.” He placed one last kiss on her forehead before stepping back, though he kept one arm around her waist, preventing her escape. “Is there something you needed to say, madam?” He spoke to the interlopers, for there were indeed two matrons approaching, in a frosty tone.

Sybil would be hesitant to intrude further if faced with his scowl. And she knew him. At least, she thought she did. But during the last few days she’d discovered more than a handsome face, an admirable physique, and a charming smile. Here was a man who listened to her ideas and considered her opinions. A man who made her feel safe and comfortable. A man who could fill her days and weeks with delicious kisses.

The two women who had stumbled upon their tryst got rather red in the face and pursed their lips. The taller of the two took a step closer. “Who are you, sir? And what do you mean by manhandling this poor child?” She fairly bristled with indignation and outrage.

He sketched a brief bow. “Maxwell Bretherton at your service. Allow me to present my affianced bride, Miss Sybil Woodbridge.”

“I’m not marrying you.” She finally broke free of his hold and attempted to straighten her hat. He’d surely become addled from all his years under the tropical sun. Not only had he not properly proposed marriage, but she’d not said yes. Nor would she. She didn’t want a husband. And certainly not one who would think nothing of ordering her about. Even if it was Max. With his kisses.

“We’ll discuss this later.” Max’s breath tickled her ear, his voice a low growl. “I don’t want these fine ladies to fall under a misapprehension.”

“I think they interpreted the situation quite accurately.” With her hat firmly in place she faced the women, determined to brazen this out. What a lot of fuss and bother over an unimportant embrace. She smoothed her gloves. Yes, unimportant. Well, to anyone else but her, certainly. But it didn’t mean anything. Mutual attraction. And if she wanted to explore that attraction further, it was no one’s concern but hers. And Max’s, of course. She glanced at him quickly, fearing she’d ventured beyond mutual attraction.

“Shall we summon a constable, miss?” The short, plump woman clearly wanted to leave the awkward scene, but didn’t want to abandon Sybil to potential ravishment.

“No, you needn’t summon help.” Max appeared to be talking through clenched teeth. He put his arm around her again, scandalously higher than her waist. In fact, his thumb touched her breast. The heat of his hand seeped through his glove and her gown, chemise and corset. Her nipples tightened. Her private parts tingled as she imagined his bare hand touching her bare skin, smoothing over all areas seldom exposed.

The tall, horsey looking woman grabbed Sybil by the elbow and pulled her from Max’s embrace, propelling her along the path. “We will escort you home, young lady. There has been more than enough of this foolishness.”

Max grasped Sybil’s other arm and pulled her to a stop. She stood suspended between the two like a marionette. “I told you, madam, we are to be wed. There is nothing improper about us spending time alone together.” Max attempted to pry the woman’s fingers from Sybil’s arm.

“Max, stop it.” Sybil swatted at his hand. “You are causing a scene. Ma’am, I am quite safe with this gentleman. He is a friend of my brother. He is returning me to my home right this minute.”

“The hell I am. We aren’t finished here yet.”

“We are quite finished. We were finished nine years ago when you disappeared at sea.”

The plump woman gasped. “It is you, the one they were talking about in Teacher’s Tea Room. Hester, he’s known to Lady Arabella. He’s the man who became a pirate rather than marry some grasping chit.”

Sybil spun on the interfering busybody. “I was not some grasping chit. He made a promise and broke it. Not so much as a letter did I receive.”

The tall woman finally released Sybil’s arm. “I am acquainted with Lady Arabella.” She looked down her long nose, a gleam in her eye. “And now you mean to trap this man into marriage. Is that the plan, girl?”

“I mean no such thing. I have no intention of marrying this—him.” Just her luck to run into one of the few people in London acquainted with her family. The woman’s nose twitched, no doubt excited to be near the center of a scandal.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Luanna Stewart has been creating adventures for her imaginary friends since childhood. As soon as she discovered, and devoured, her grandmother’s stash of medical romance novels, all plots had to lead to a happily-ever-after.

Luanna writes full time, concentrating on sexy romantic suspense, steamy paranormal romance, and spicy historical romance.

Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Luanna now lives in Maine with her dear husband, two college boys, two cats, and one surviving gold fish. When she’s not torturing her heroes and heroines, she can be found in her kitchen whipping up something chocolate.

Visit Luanna on her website: http://www.luannastewart.com/

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Hidden Duchess by Bree Verity

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Celeste, Duchesse de Saint Tours, is forced into hiding when she is falsely accused of the murder of her husband. She flees to the south of France, where her distant cousin, Marcel Daunou reluctantly agrees to hide her in plain sight on his farm. However, she must learn to live as a peasant farmer to complete the deception, a feat which appears next to impossible to the haughty Duchess. Especially knowing that the unsettling Marcel is watching over her at every turn. She can’t wait to return to her beloved Paris, and the exquisite, hedonistic lifestyle she has left behind.

Marcel knows that he places his loved ones in danger when he agrees to hide Celeste. However, his committee has agreed to hide her in exchange for a large sum of money that will assist their gravely poor community, and since she is his family, he takes responsibility for her. But Republican fervor is running high and Marcel knows if the Duchess is found out, she will be marched back to Paris, and to the guillotine. And his family will face harsh retribution from the agitating revolutionaries for hiding a member of the despised nobility.

Forced to work together, Celeste and Marcel discover a passion that they cannot resist. And Celeste discovers a feeling of belonging and acceptance from the people of the village that she has never felt before. She begins to dream about a future with Marcel.

When her well-meaning lawyer appears in the village and gives her identity away, it isn’t only Marcel that Celeste stands to lose – it’s her life as well.

How can a noble Duchess and a peasant farmer find their happily ever after?

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EXCERPT

Celeste ducked her head to avoid the low door frame as she was ushered into the cellar. Standing up on the other side, she faced around a dozen sizeable men squeezed into a tiny room. And they were all staring at her.

Unable to catch more than snatches of their rumbling conversations, Celeste consoled herself with determining the mood of the room by what she could see in their candlelit faces. Out of the dozen men, she could make out only two who regarded her with any kindness.

One was an old man, Celeste thought he looked the oldest in the group. Perhaps age had rewarded him with understanding, because he seemed to be arguing her case to the stony-faced man beside him. Celeste graced him with a small, grateful smile and he winked back.

The other kind eyes belonged to her cousin.

The rest looked her over with various expressions—thoughtfulness, curiosity, embarrassment, even hostility. The words “murderess” and “duchess” reached her ears, and she inwardly cringed. The contempt in their voices seemed the same whether they were speaking of one or the other. Her stomach gurgled, thankfully it stayed quiet enough that the muttered conversations of the men covered the noise. They didn’t need to know she hadn’t been able to eat all day.

Certain that catching the eye of the hostile men would betray her trepidation, Celeste avoided their faces after a single glance. Appearing assured and self-contained in front of the peasants was paramount, even if her stomach was roiling and her heart pounding. She blinked rapidly, willing herself not to cry.

An unpleasant, dizzy feeling passed over her, and the conversation around her dulled as a greyness entered her vision. She almost lurched, feeling as if she had lost her balance for a moment. Thankfully, the dizziness passed as quickly as it had appeared.

“We’ve come to a decision, Madame.” Her cousin’s deep, serious voice boomed through the room, despite him speaking quietly. Monsieur Daunou reminded Celeste of a bear; enormous, black haired and barrel-chested, with onyx eyes that had glinted with suspicion when he first spoke to her earlier, but which seemed to have softened in the candlelight of the timbered cellar.

Celeste tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. Even running her tongue over her parched lips was impossible. All her actions of the past days—her horror at learning she was accused of murder, her hurried exit from Paris, and the agonizing tediousness of her journey to the tiny village of Danguin had led to this one moment.

Time seemed to stand still. The candle, guttering only a moment before, shone clear and bright. The smoke from the men’s pipes hung motionless in the air. She stood perfectly immobile, even the soft swish of her dark green worsted travelling dress against the stone floor stopped. For a long moment, the only thing Celeste was aware of was her heart, beating an unsteady tattoo. She held her breath, her eyes meeting Monsieur Daunou’s for a suspended moment that felt like forever. Then a half-smile crossed his face.

“We’ve decided you can stay. The price’ll be five hundred louis.”

She let out her breath, closing her eyes as she did so. Her entire body unclenched. From what seemed a long way away, she heard her own voice.

“Thank you, Messieurs. I appreciate your consideration.”

And with that, all the emotions of the past days crashed in on her—the fear, the distrust, the apprehension, along with the new feelings of giddy relief and happiness. She heard herself say in a strange, slurring tone, “I wonder if I could have something to eat, please?” before she felt herself falling, and the world went black.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bree Verity grew up on a diet of tea and crumpets, dancing, Regency novels, old movies and musicals. It’s no wonder she has ended up writing love stories. She lives in Perth Western Australia with her teenage son, her long-suffering, patient and wonderful partner, and her two writing buddies, Millie and Boofhead. She keeps it very quiet from them that she is equally a cat person. She is horribly charmed by the tiny house movement and, although she realizes she would very quickly go crazy in such a confined space, she will watch anything and everything about building tiny houses. If there was a way to directly infuse tea into the veins, she would sign up for it immediately.

Bree loves to hear from her readers and can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website: http://www.breeverity.com

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Mad for the Marquess (Reluctant Hearts, Volume 1) by Jess Russell

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James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, had everything—until he was found covered in blood, standing over a dead girl. Now locked away in a madhouse, he has one short year to recover his memories and prove his sanity, or be condemned for life. But the demons inside Devlin’s head are far easier to battle than the evil surrounding him at Ballencrieff Asylum.

Anne Winton hardly expects to find her calling—or love—while working in a lunatic asylum. But despite all warnings, the “Mad Marquess” proves dangerously fascinating to innocent Anne. She vows to save him not only from his adversaries, but from himself.

Initially, Anne is only a pawn in Devlin’s bid to gain his freedom, until he begins to see her not just as a means to an end, but as a beautifully passionate woman. He must choose: compromise the woman he loves, or languish forever in hell.

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EXCERPT

Very well, she would let her hair down. Really, men could be children at times. She pulled the first pin and slid it into her pocket. By the second, he had stopped dead and stood watching her as if something crucial might be lost if he moved. It finally dawned on her thick brain in the middle of removing the third that she had his entire attention. Of course that knowledge made her fumble the fourth. As she scrambled to pick it up, her hair fell in a rush, the ends brushing the rug.

“I have been aching to see that since I knocked your bonnet off in the great hall the first day you came.”

He was so close, nearly face to face with her. Taking the pin from her shaking fingers, his hands framed her face and then brushed over her head, searching for more pins. When he found them all, he released her hair. It fell heavy and swinging down her back and over her breasts.

Wishing to hide or to savor this moment, she closed her eyes. He smelled of linseed oil and cloves. And something else that was deep and earthy, as if he had just sprung from the ground.

His hand brushed her skirt. She blinked. He dipped into her pocket and then dropped the pins. The bone of his knuckle hovered next to her thigh. Only one thinnish petticoat between them.

She would slip her hand in with his and then lift her mouth—

He jerked the delicious heat away and then yanked her to her feet.

“Stop looking at me that way, for God’s sake. How am I to concentrate on anything?”

Stupid tears pricked at her eyes. So foolish, persisting in the belief that his smallest gesture might be one of seduction. Steeling herself she met his gaze.

His breath came fast, and the hand he had just withdrawn from her clenched white with tension. Not just in anger, but something else as well.

She would find out what the something was. Insolent and stubborn, Mrs. Abbot had called her. Her knees still bore the scars from being made to kneel on sharp stones from morning prayers until tea. Lord Devlin would find out his Owl, as he called her, could be tenacious as a hawk when she truly wanted something.

“Sit down. Quickly.”

She did so. But not quickly.

“Lie back in the chair. Yes… No! Don’t touch your hair. Now drape yourself over the chair’s arms. Yes, exactly, your head back like that. Now, lick your lips and look at me.”

She loved these orders. He exuded power in giving them, but she had learnt a valuable lesson today.

She had a bit of power as well.

Waiting until his full attention was back on her, only then did she lick her lips and arch her back ever so slightly.

“Yes. All right.” His Adams Apple bobbed in his neck. “Now you may resume your story. I think we left off yesterday just when the Troll-Lord was about to remove Cristabelle’s wings. And don’t skimp on the details. You know how I like seeing everything.”

“My stories are no longer free.” His gaze snapped to meet hers. “But I am prepared to trade you for the next installment.” Flirting with disaster she was. Not only her position here at Ballencrieff, but something more dire, her heart. So be it. She would suffer the consequences of both.

His eyes were entirely fixed on her lips. His chain clanked against the bare floor. “A trade?” He flicked his paintbrush against his open palm. “It would appear, Miss Owl, you are learning the ways of the world. Very well, I am open to a fair trade. What would you have of me?”

She sat up straighter, struggling to maintain her new-found power. “A kiss.”

His brush dropped to the floor.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

As a girl Jess escaped the world of rigorous ballet class and hideous math homework into the haven of toe wriggling romance novels. Now she writes them! Jess lives in New York City with her husband and son and disappears to the Catskill Mountains whenever she can. She is a sometime actress, award-winning batik artist, and accomplished seamstress. Along with her sewing machine, she loves power tools, and, what’s more, she knows how to use them. Jess is currently working on renovating a condo in uptown Manhattan (The Lipstick on a Pig Project) and writing two other stories for the Reluctant Hearts series, Captivated by the Countess, and Daft for a Duke.

Visit Jess at https://jessrussellromance.com/

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: My Hellion, My Heart (Lords of Essex #3) by Amalie Howard & Angie Morgan

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He fought battles for crown and country. She waged war for his heart.

Lord Henry Radcliffe, the scarred but sinfully sexy Earl of Langlevit, is a beast. The only way Henry can exorcise the demons of his war-ravaged past is through intense physicality. In and out of bed. An endeavor that has no shortage of willing participants.

Intent on scandalizing London, Princess Irina Volkonsky is a hellion and every gentleman’s deepest desire…except for one. Irina knows better than to provoke the wickedly forbidding earl, but she will stop at nothing short of ruination to win the heart of the only man she’s ever loved.

But when one scandalous kiss makes dangerous passions ignite, neither of them can fight their sizzling attraction. When a sinister plot emerges to threaten them both, they will have to fight one last battle, this time for the ultimate prize…love.

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EXCERPT

“You’re good with children,” her sister commented as they left. “You should think about having some of your own.”

“I am content with yours, thank you.”

“Irina—”
She stood, raising a hand and strode back to the window.

“I don’t want to fight with you about this, Lana. The truth is I have no interest in marrying anyone. And, yes, I do intend for London to be a repeat of Paris: diverting and fun. I won’t be anyone’s trophy.”

“Is it because of Lord Langlevit?”

Irina’s breath halted painfully in her lungs. She turned to face her sister, composing her face into a mask of indifference. “What do you mean?”

“You’ve carried a tendre for him for five years,” Lana said quietly. “Ever since you were fourteen. I suspect you still carry it, which is why no one else can measure up.”

A hundred reasons, excuses, words popped into Irina’s brain. Her sister had always been able to see right through her. She settled for four hard ones. “You mean my infatuation.”

“That doesn’t mean your feelings weren’t real.” Her sister rose unsteadily and met her at the window as Irina’s fingers wound into the folds of her skirts. “Certain events draw people close, tying them together in inexplicable ways. It’s not surprising that you…cared for Henry.”

“Hopelessly unrequited, as it were.”

“Be that as it may,” Lana said. “Henry is not the same man you knew, and I know you can see that for yourself. He has changed.”

“Because of France,” Irina whispered.

Lana nodded. “He’s never confided in me, but yes, Lady Langlevit has suggested that what happened to him is beyond understanding. I fear much of him was lost there.” She pulled Irina close. “I don’t want you to lose your heart to him and have it broken. You cannot save him, no matter how much you may wish to.” Her voice wavered. “Trust me, Henry does not want to be saved.”

“How do you know?”

“Because he told me so.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Amalie Howard’s love of romance developed after she started pilfering her grandmother’s novels in high school when she should have been studying. She has no regrets. A #1 Amazon bestseller and a national IPPY silver medalist, she is the author of My Rogue, My Ruin, the first in the Lords of Essex historical romance series, as well as several award-winning young adult novels critically acclaimed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, School Library Journal, and Booklist, including Waterfell, The Almost Girl, and Alpha Goddess, a Kid’s IndieNext title. She currently resides in Colorado with her husband and three children. Visit her at www.amaliehoward.com.

Angie Morgan lives in New Hampshire with her husband, their three daughters, a menagerie of pets, and an extensive collection of paperback romance novels. She’s the author of MY ROGUE, MY RUIN, the first book in the Lords of Essex historical romance series, as well as several young adult books, including The Dispossessed series written under the name Page Morgan. Critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin, Angie’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Visit her at www.AngieMorganBooks.com

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Scandalous Mrs. Wilson by Laine Ferndale

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Jo Wilson has seen her share of tragedy, but she’s determined to keep her late husband’s bathhouse afloat, even if her all-female staff raises eyebrows. She’s holding her own against the Fraser Springs society ladies’ public scorn, but a handsome new customer poses a different threat.

Bored with writing adventure novels, author Owen Sterling arrives in the tiny Canadian town hoping to launch a serious journalism career with an exposé on the titillating rumors swirling around Wilson’s Bathhouse. But the beguiling Jo is honest and upright and her respectable business is not at all what he expected.

When the town’s small-mindedness lights a literal fire under their feet, Jo and Owen must choose what’s most important: tending to their careers or surrendering to their bubbling emotions.

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EXCERPT

If Fraser Springs held a dirty looks contest, Mrs. McSheen would be the reigning champion. Josephine Wilson swept the wooden planks of the bathhouse’s porch as she considered the list of other likely entrants. Mrs. McSheen would face stiff competition from the ladies of the First Presbyterian congregation, the Ladies’ Charitable Club, and the Society for the Advancement of Moral Temperance. World-class scowlers, every one. There were probably more societies in this tiny town than there were ladies to fill them. Heavens knew how they found the time to play bridge in between all of the meetings.

It was a beautiful morning. The sharp, mineral tang of the springs felt invigorating in the breeze, not oppressive as it could on a hotter day. The rhododendrons in front of the bathhouse were fat and rosy. There was no reason for scowls. But Mrs. McSheen was intent on showing little Emma McSheen, dressed in a starched white pinafore with a pink sash, how a true lady treats a woman like Josephine.

“Can … may I have a flower?” little Emma asked.

“Any flower grown from this soil is not fit for good little girls such as yourself, dearest,” Mrs. McSheen said, proffering Josephine another of her world-famous sneers as she clomped down the wooden boardwalk towards the general store. “And at any rate, those gaudy red things smell like cheap perfume.”

In the years since her husband died and she took over the bathhouse, Josephine had received more dirty looks than she could count. Scowls, muttered curses, raised eyebrows; someone had even gone so far as to throw a rock through one of her windows. Mostly, however, the townspeople’s outrage took the form of anonymous letters slipped under her door or left in her mailbox. She was a whore, apparently. A harlot. A murderess. A temptress. A jezebel. A “shrew sent from the environs of hell to cast ruin and immorality upon the weak.” (It was clear Fraser Springs had at least one aspiring poet among its citizens.) She called them her love letters and kept them all tied with a red ribbon in the top corner of her husband’s old desk as a daily reminder of how important it was to maintain a thick skin.

But the hot springs looked lovely today. The surface roiled in shades of silver, purple, and blue. Mist swirled in tendrils towards the rocky shore of the lake, and somehow its color made her think of opals. Josephine had never actually seen an opal, but with the hot springs reflecting the sun into pools of light on the boardwalk, it wasn’t hard to imagine. After each day’s work ended, there wasn’t much to do in Fraser Springs besides imagine.

The town was little more than a cluster of wood-framed houses huddled around its namesake hot spring, the rickety structures leaning towards the water like old hens huddling together for warmth. In recent years, a few lucky mining operations and health-seeking tourists had provided the money for a fancy brick bank and the St. Alice Hotel with its marble floors and formal dining room. It was a town at a crossroads, and it was clear which way Mrs. McSheen and her cronies wanted it to go. The improvements had drawn a whole class of respectable women intent on scrubbing out the traces of the Canadian wilderness. Never mind that the town was a seven-hour steamboat ride from Vancouver or that their closest neighbours were bears or that the main patrons of the springs’ bathhouses were still loggers and miners hoping to soothe a year’s worth of aches and injuries.

“Miz Jo, customer!” Ilsa’s call drew Josephine out of her daydreaming. She’d poached Ilsa from a dance hall in Gastown, but though she was no longer earning her living by charming men into buying overpriced drinks, no amount of training could rid her of her sultry voice. She could make an advertisement for dentures sound like a provocation.

When Josephine’s husband had passed away suddenly, the staff he’d spent a lifetime cultivating had taken the next boat back to Vancouver. She had been faced with a choice: close the bathhouse or find new staff as quickly as possible. She’d chosen the latter and assembled a cadre of equally desperate women who she’d trained in the healing art of massage—and massage only. The women were quick learners and keen to start new lives, and the lure of an all-female staff had paid off. Soon, Wilson’s Bathhouse had become so successful that the husbands of the Society Ladies started becoming patrons. Now, however, business was down, and nasty letters were the order of the day.

Jo propped the broom against the wall, pulled off her apron, and tucked a stray curl back into her chignon. Whatever the McSheens of this town might think, her customers would meet a polished and respectable proprietress when they arrived.

She took a breath and straightened her posture. There, that was better. In a business like this, you never knew who was going to be on the other side of the door: maybe an old miner, maybe a local businessman who’d snuck in through the side entrance to avoid suspicion. Either way, Jo was ready.

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Laine Ferndale teaches literature and writing to pay for a fairly serious chai latte habit. She lives with her husband and her adorably needy cat. Find Laine Ferndale on Facebook and on Twitter @laineferndale.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: West of Forgotten by Lynda J. Cox

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Banished from civilization to the Wyoming Territory, U.S. Marshal Harrison Taylor holds a deed to half the Lazy L. He isn’t sure why his beautiful new partner, Rachel Leonard, doesn’t trust him. He has to convince her he is nothing like the man who abused her and he must earn her trust before the escalating attacks at the Lazy L turn deadly.

For six years, Rachel has worked to repair a shattered life. Caring for her son and invalid father leaves little time to keep the Lazy L profitable. She doesn’t want a business partner simply because her father gambled away half of her beloved ranch, and most certainly doesn’t desire a husband. Unfortunately, she’s stuck with the former and can’t trust Harrison as the latter.

But unless she can learn to trust him, everything and everyone Rachel loves will be lost.

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EXCERPT

Rachel continued to watch the play of light in the depths of the clouds. She tried to puzzle out why Harrison was engaging in trivial small talk. Perhaps he was on the same uncertain footing she was about their marriage, about Sam’s sudden death, even what it was married couples talked about. “I don’t think so. I think that one is going to miss us. We might get a few drops, but it will rain out before it gets here.”

“Joshua asleep?”

She nodded. “I suppose we should discuss sleeping arrangements.” Just saying those words twisted her stomach with painful knots. “My father’s old room on the second floor hasn’t been used since his accident.” She had to stop thinking of that room as her father’s. It hadn’t been Sam’s room since the day she had found him nearly crushed under the rubble of the mine collapse. There had been no manner to navigate him up and down the stairs.

“We don’t have to discuss anything permanent tonight.” The chair creaked with his shifting weight. He rose from the chair and set his coffee cup on the porch railing, then crossed the distance to her. Without a word, he took her hand and pulled her closer to him. He looked down into her face. “I can continue to sleep on the chesterfield for a few more nights. Not that it would be my first choice…” His voice trailed off.

“I will need to air the room out, change the bed linens, and dust in there, but it would be senseless for you to continue to sleep in the parlor.” She freed her hand and walked a few paces away. She was talking nonsense, hoping to quell her unease. Even the most hastily arranged marriage had a wedding night. Yet he had agreed that for now, they would have a marriage in name only.

Harrison’s boot heels echoed on the porch floor. She startled when his hands came to rest on her shoulders.

“You’re terrified,” he said.

“What makes you think that?” She couldn’t make herself look at him. The knots in her stomach drew tighter, making breathing naturally more difficult, and forcing her heart to race.

He drew his hands down her arms and back to her shoulders. “Let’s start with how stiff your spine is. Or that your voice is shaking. Every time I’ve touched you, you’ve either frozen or you panic.” His breath whispered across the nape of her neck and ruffled the tendrils escaping her severe chignon. He turned her to him and caught her chin on the back of his hand, tilting her head up. “I made a promise, Rachel, and I will not break my word. You have to change the terms of our marriage.”

She forced herself to draw a deep breath when his arms wrapped around her waist and he exerted gentle pressure to bring her against his chest. He enveloped her within his embrace and this time there wasn’t panic or the desperate need to break free hammering in her. Rachel allowed herself to relax.

His cheek pressed into her crown. A self-deprecating laugh broke from him, and she admitted she liked how that sound rumbled in the depths of his chest.

“I really should have my head examined for agreeing to all of that.”

His arms tightened around her. She forced herself to remain within the circle of his arms, the side of her face against him. He must have sensed her sudden unease as he loosened his hold.

“You are an interesting woman. Beautiful, fascinating, and so full of contradictions.” He levered back from her and lifted his hand to cradle the side of her face, the pad of his thumb feathering along the slope of her cheek. “A seemingly very strong woman and yet terrified of a kiss.”

Rachel’s lips went dry and she couldn’t pry her tongue from the roof of her mouth. Her limbs trembled. Surely he had to hear how fiercely her heart was pounding, so loudly she heard it echoing in her ears.

His voice deepened, grew quieter until it was almost a whisper and she fought the urge to close her eyes and let the warmth in his voice wash fully over her. “A woman with a child but so frightened of intimacy.” He leaned even closer to her, his mouth almost on hers, yet not touching her except where his warm palm held her face.

In the darkness, she could just make out his features. Her hands slid up his chest and she didn’t know if it was to push him away or pull him closer. She was aware her breathing was shallow and she held her breath when he brushed the pad of his thumb against her lower lip.

“You have a mouth made for kissing, my beautiful wife, but I’m not going to kiss you. Not until you ask me. And, I promise, when that time comes, you’ll be asking me to do a whole lot more than just kiss you.”

He straightened and released her, moving away in the same fluid motion. His long strides carried him to the house, up the steps, and then through the door. Rachel sagged, pulling in a ragged, deep breath. A strange ache filled her lower belly, not painful but entirely confusing for its origin. She ran her tongue over her dry lips, staring into the night.

She twisted her head to the house. Part of her wanted to know if this time would be different. Fear of discovering that it wouldn’t be kept her feet frozen, unable to move forward.

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Once upon a time there was little girl who fell in love with the wide open spaces of the American West, cowboys, horses, and collies. She blames a steady diet of syndicated Western programs and John Wayne movies as well as Lassie for these loves. That girl grew up but never outgrew her first loves. Lynda J Cox writes predominantly western historical romance. When she isn’t writing, she can be found on the road, travelling to the next dog show to exhibit her award winning collies. She loves to talk about books, writing, the allure of the vastness of the American West landscape, the mythos of the cowboy, and the insanity which is the sport of showing dogs. She can be reached at www.facebook.com/LyndaJCox or through her website at http://www.lyndajcox.com

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: To Seduce a Lady’s Heart (Landon Sisters #3) by Ingrid Hahn

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Lord Jeremy Landon, Earl of Bennington, spent the last ten years rebuilding the ruined earldom he inherited from his scandal-ridden uncle. He has one final debt to repay. In lieu of money, though, he is manipulated into marrying a spinster…

Lady Eliza Burke is tired of living under the rule of a tyrannical mother. She’ll do anything to escape, even marry a man she doesn’t know—and a man her mother despises. Eliza doesn’t believe herself destined for love. Lord Bennington doesn’t believe he’s destined for happiness. Both are about to be tested by a scandal that could tear them apart forever.

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EXCERPT

She reached out to take his hand, warmth swirling in his veins at the unanticipated intimacy.

“Nothing more than too much coffee at breakfast, I’m sure.”

“You like your coffee, don’t you? At least you have that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean you’ve got nothing in your life that you really live for.”

The pronouncement rankled. “I’ve worked—”

“Yes, I know.” She waved. “You have much to be proud of, my lord, that I would never dispute. But the only thing you do is work.”

“That’s the only thing for which I’ve had any time.”

“That’s the only thing for which you’ve given yourself any time. You treat life like it’s a game of subterfuge.”

“I suppose I’ll take your word for that one, my lady. Since you’re the resident expert on subterfuge.”

She colored.

They went on in silence. His shoulders ached from tension. “I used to play the violin.” Lord save him. He didn’t need to tell her this—he hadn’t spoken of it in years. He had nothing to prove. Whatever she thought of him…he didn’t care.

“You did?”

He scowled and sighed. “I started lessons when I was a lad. And I hated them—every last second. I nally wore my mother down and nagled her help in convincing my father to let me abandon music all together. It wasn’t easy. My father was…a dif cult man.”

Eliza’s eyes were full of tender concern. She said nothing. Only waited.

Jeremy looked away and continued. “No sooner had I put down the instrument—forever, I’d thought—than I longed to pick it up again. After a year, I could stand it no longer, and demanded to resume lessons. But on my own terms and with a new master.”

That’s when they’d found Mr. Oswald, a man with a deep passion for music instead of a deep passion for petty punishments.

With Eliza’s hand over his, Jeremy allowed himself to feel the full measure of the guilt he’d pushed away for years, telling himself it no longer mattered because the estate and the family name were more important than anything else.

He didn’t want to let go, though—didn’t want to admit that perhaps he’d taken things too far. He raised his chin and withdrew his hand. “Music is nothing more than a frivolity.”

When she reached for him again, he pulled away.

“My lord…” Her was face full of concern, her voice soft. It would be so easy to kiss her now. To capture her lips with his and drink her long and deeply, inhaling the rosy scent of her. “I don’t think those things are frivolous. Least of all music. You’re entirely wrong on that score. Perhaps you should think about taking it up again.”

“It’s too late for that.”

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Ingrid Hahn is a failed administrative assistant with a B.A. in Art History. Her love of reading has turned her mortgage payment into a book storage fee, which makes her the friend who you never want to ask you for help moving. Though originally from Seattle, she now lives in the metropolitan DC area with her ship-nerd husband, small son, and four opinionated cats. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves knitting, theater, nature walks, travel, history, and is a hopelessly devoted fan of Jane Austen. Please connect with her on social media!

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: How to Bewilder a Lord (How To #3) by Ally Broadfield

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Gavin Corey, the Earl of Thornbrook, has shed his rakish ways in the hope of winning Lady Louisa Adair’s heart, but neither she nor her parents consider him a suitable match. He convinces her to join forces with him to locate a missing family treasure by proposing a wager: if he finds the jewels, Lady Louisa must allow him to court her, but if she prevails, he must reveal the secret he’s keeping from her.

Lady Louisa might be the most sought after lady on the marriage mart, but she values her independence above all else and has no interest in giving up her inheritance to marry. As she spends more time with the charming earl, however, she starts to wonder if he’s worth risking her inheritance and her family’s disapproval… until she’s confronted with a scandal from his past.

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EXCERPT

Louisa had ordered tea to be served in the library. Thornbrook picked up a biscuit and popped it into his mouth, perhaps to delay reading more awkward passages. She contemplated doing the same.

“Is love really any different from lust?”

He coughed, and she thought for a moment she might have to pound on his back to free the obstruction. She poured tea into a cup and handed it to him. Nodding his thanks, he took a large gulp. Luckily it had been steeping for some time, so it hadn’t been too hot.

“I think this is an inappropriate conversation that would cause your father to throw me out of the house if he caught wind of it.”

She raised a brow. “But he’s not here.”

He glared at her. “Let’s just stick to the clues and ignore everything else.”

Louisa snorted. “Certainly, because that will be easy.”

He leaned down and whispered in her ear. “Behave.”

She shivered at his warm breath tingling across the shell of her ear.

After settling back into his spot, he picked up the journal again. “Didn’t the woman have any hobbies? Household responsibilities maybe?” He pulled out his handkerchief and mopped his brow. “I think I miss the boring recitations of the household accounts.”

Louisa narrowed her eyes. “Just read the next passage.”

He sighed dramatically. “‘He kissed his way down my neck. Liquid heat pooled between my legs, and when his hand slid up between my legs and touched my—’ I cannot read the rest to you.”

Louisa opened her mouth to speak. He jumped up and clamped his hand over the entire lower part of her face.

“Don’t. Say. A. Word. Not one.”

“But I don’t understand.”

Thornbrook made a strange, squeaky sound, then fell facedown onto the sofa. His body shook. “I should hope not,” he said, his voice muffled by the cushion.

Her stomach dropped. “Are you laughing at me?” It wasn’t her fault she didn’t have any knowledge of these sorts of things. Ladies weren’t supposed to, were they? Her confidence shattered, she turned away from him.

He popped up and pushed his hair back from his face, then took her hand. “I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at the absurdity of our situation, with me reading the wildly inappropriate musings of your granny to you, a proper lady and the daughter of a duke. If they knew, your entire family would be lined up, each awaiting their turn to fillet me.”

She refused to meet his eyes. “No one seemed to mind when Isa read the journal.” She sounded like a petulant child, even to her own ears, but she couldn’t help it.

He brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “That’s different. She wasn’t family yet. I suspect her father and brother would have minded very much if they had known.”

“Her father died several years ago.”

“Yes, well, your father is very much alive and won’t hesitate to kill me.”

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Ally has worked as a horse trainer, director of marketing and development, freelance proofreader, and a children’s librarian, among other things. None of them were as awesome as writing romance novels (though the librarian gig came closest). She lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, four dogs, a cat, a rabbit, and assorted reptiles. Oh, and her husband.

Ally likes to curse in Russian because very few people know what she’s saying, and spends most of what would be her spare time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She has many stories in her head looking for an opportunity to escape onto paper. She writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia.

You can find Ally on her website, Facebook, and Twitter, though she makes no claims of using any of them properly. For information about contests and new releases, join her mailing list.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Romance Readers Guide to Historic London by Sonja Rouillard

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Written specifically for the 30 million historical romance fans in U.S., the Romance Readers Guide to Historic London offers everything you want to know about the famous London sights in romance novels. In the “Then and Now” chapter (nearly half the book), learn the back-stories of places such as Almack’s, Bedlam, and White’s, and whether they’re still around or can be visited. Hear fascinating anecdotes, like which princesses stayed where or which upstairs maid married up. More than 130 photos and “Then and Now” illustrations show how these places have changed over the centuries. There’s a foreword by NY Times best-selling author Sabrina Jeffries, and romance excerpts by Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and today’s best selling authors to add delightful flavor to the places described (included are Victoria Alexander, Mary Balogh, Lynne Connolly, Tessa Dare, Elizabeth Hoyt, Erin Knightley, Johanna Lindsey, and Delilah Marvelle).

The Guide is an entertaining read for the armchair traveler curled up by the fire with a warm cup of tea. But, it’s an essential resource for anyone who wants to experience old-world London first hand. Enjoy an authentic Afternoon Tea in a charming salon or play princess sleeping in a four-poster bed or even a castle! With historical maps, insider tips, and “~for the guys” highlights, the Guide will make it easy for even a rookie traveler to hit all the historic-romance highlights. The Romance Readers Guide to Historic London is your companion to the London of Elizabethan, Georgian, Regency, and Victorian times, whether in the comfort of your own home or on that once-in-a-lifetime trip.

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EXCERPT

Chapter 3: Then and Now

~ Famous historical sites mostly from romance novels and what they are now

Historical romance novels come to life for readers partly because they are set in places that were a real part of the culture of the period. When I first started reading them, I wondered whether these settings were genuine historical places or just representational—and mostly they are, or were at one time, real. More recently, I’ve wondered which ones still exist and whether I can visit them. The answer to that is yes and no—read on to find out which ones are still around. Here are the stories of these fascinating places, in alphabetical order:

“A’s”

The Albany: 1774–present

THEN: Built originally as a three-story mansion in the Palladian style, it was twice sold when the owners, first Viscount Melbourne and later Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (supplier of the building’s moniker) fell short of money. In 1802, it was converted into 69 “sets,” and thus was launched what is believed to be the first apartment block in London. The Albany has a place in literary history, serving as bachelor residences to many writers, artists, and later photographers over its 250-year life. Fictitious gentlemen—by Dickens, Wilde, and the lesser-known Hornung—have resided here as well. The “place for the fashionable thrifty” wrote Marmion Wilard Savage in his 1848 The Bachelor of Albany and, as such, has been home to a number of aristocratic men, both wealthy and not: in total, 2 earls, 1 baron, 6 knights, 5 lords, and even a prime minister. “Men” is the operative word here, as women weren’t allowed inside the front door until after 1880. Sounding like the plot of a romance novel, Lady Caroline Lamb snuck into the Albany dressed as a pageboy to get around the no-women rule hoping to see her former lover Lord Byron, c.1815. She didn’t. In response to the note she left, pleading, “Remember me!” Byron wrote this enchanting ditty:

Remember thee! Aye, doubt it not.
Thy husband too shall think of thee:
By neither shalt thou be forgot,
Thou false to him, thou fiend to me!

There are real-life connections to romance fiction as well. Jane Austen’s favorite brother Henry had his banking concern there for a time. But most exciting for me, Georgette Heyer—the author often credited with creating the Regency romance genre—lived in flat F.3 from 1942 to 1966. During these 24 years, Heyer penned 19 novels—among them, such famous works as Arabella, The Grand Sophy, and Frederica—while literally walking in the footsteps of Regency bucks who had roamed there more than a century earlier.

NOW: The Grade I listed Albany is occasionally referred to in current romances as the abode of an impoverished noble, and in actuality continues to exist as an apartment complex of the “utmost gentility and refinement,” literally. A board of trustees enforces the requirement that tenants comport themselves to this high standard. While nowadays women may live there, rules forbidding children and pets remain along with, reportedly, no whistling and no publicity. Rarely a “set” sells on the open market for £2 million plus, but the truly fortunate live there at rent-controlled rates that would turn any big city dweller green with envy.

Lucky is the guest that is invited inside to visit a friend in this peaceful oasis in the heart of London complete with a garden in the center and a 100-foot covered walkway called the Rope Walk. This author had the pleasure of a very brief visit—upon hearing about my research mission a kindly porter gave me a quick tour through the mansion’s lobby and down the famous Rope Walk. It was exciting to make it past the front door, but alas no photos could be taken. So, intrepid travellers, you can certainly walk into the front courtyard on Piccadilly Street and climb the stairs to peer in the door as I did—who knows, perhaps someone will allow you a quick trip inside as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sonja Rouillard is a successful writer of fiction and non-fiction. Recently, she launched an erotic romance career under the name Kate Allure with two books from Sourcebooks (Playing Doctor and Lawyer Up), receiving high praise: “The sensuality and sexuality are palpable…4 Stars!” & “Escapism of the richest, most decadent variety.” —RT Book Reviews. “Intense chemistry, great characterization, and a kinky page-singeing ending will have readers clamoring for more.” —Publishers Weekly. Besides being a huge fan of historical romance, Sonja’s other great love is travel and seeking unusual, off-the-beaten-path experiences. China, Monte Carlo, Bora Bora, Mexico, and Poland are among the many foreign countries she’s visited. Sonja lives in California with her husband of 26 years, 3 children, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and a Flemish Giant rabbit.

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