Category: Spotlight

15 Free Ebooks and an Exclusive Spellbook

October 8, 2018 by in category Spotlight tagged as , , ,

15 Free Ebooks | A Slice of Orange




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Rite to Reign | A Slice of Orange

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Writing Dialogue by Kat Martin

May 24, 2018 by in category Apples & Oranges by Marianne H. Donley, Guest Posts, Spotlight tagged as , , , , , , , ,

Writing Dialogue | Kat Martin | A Slice of Orange

One of the questions I’m commonly asked is how do you write dialogue?  No question, dialogue between characters can be tricky.  Each character has a unique voice that is distinct from others in the book.

Since I’ve never been particularly good at description, letting the characters tell the story is my favorite way to craft a novel.

Of course there has to be narration, ways to move the story forward and set the scene.  A lot of writers simply have a different way of telling a tale, maybe through a single character’s actions and observations or just a majority of narrative.  But if you want to move the book forward through dialog, here are a few helpful tricks.

First, enter the scene late and leave early.  Readers don’t want to hear “How are you?”  “I am fine.”

Second, once the characters start talking, let them talk—you can always delete or alter the conversation later.  But the fun is in hearing what the characters have to say.

Third, something I’m careful about, try not to overwork unfinished sentences.  “What do you mean you didn’t—“  Or “I don’t think you should—“ What?  Readers can’t read minds.  Yes, this is how people talk in real life, but your job is to make it sound like real conversation while it’s actually more fleshed out, easier to understand.

Fourth, be sure to use contractions to make the character’s speech sound more real.  Unless you have a character who says things like “I cannot do that,” use “can’t” or “won’t,” or “don’t” or whatever.

So now that you know some of tricks, you just have to listen to your characters and get them talking in your head—which I think is at least partly determined by how you describe them.

Once I sat in front of the post office with the car windows rolled up and tried to hear the voice of every person walking out.  It was amazing—no two voices sounded the same!  A strange story but true.

So listen to the voices in your head.  That’s my best advice.  And just keep writing.  It gets easier as you go along.



Summer Adventure | Kat Martin
Bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, in Missoula, Montana, Kat has written sixty eight Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels.  More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Her last novel is BEYOND CONTROL, which will be released May 29th.






Beyond Control | Kat Martin | A Slice of Orange




Victoria Bradford and her four-year old daughter are on the run from Tory’s abusive ex-fiancé.   Seventy miles north of Dallas, the Iron River Ranch is pretty much nowhere, exactly what Josh Cain wanted when he came back from Afghanistan.  Big skies, quiet nights, no trouble.

When Tory shows up with her adorable little girl, Josh realizes he is in for trouble of the most personal kind. But Josh has seen trouble before, and he doesn’t scare easy. Not when “accidents” start happening around the ranch. Not when Tory’s best friend is abducted.  Not even when he realizes their troubles are only the tip of the iceberg.

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To CELEBRATE the release of BEYOND CONTROL, enter Kat’s new contest for a chance to win a KINDLE FIRE 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB and a Kindle copy of AGAINST THE WINDAGAINST THE FIRE and AGAINST THE LAW.

Special Contest runs from May 1, 2018 through June 30, 2018.


Monthly Contests

For MAY, Kat Martin is giving away to THREE winners a copy of both INTO THE FURY and MIDNIGHT SUN.

For JUNE, Kat Martin is giving away to THREE winners a copy of both INTO THE FIRESTORM and SEASON OF STRANGERS.

Monthly Contests: 


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Tempted by a Texan, Book Four in Mindy Neff’s Texas Sweethearts

May 8, 2018 by in category Apples & Oranges by Marianne H. Donley, Guest Posts, Spotlight tagged as , , ,

Tempted by a Texan | Mindy Neff | A Slice of Orange

Welcome to Hope, Texas home of the Texas Sweethearts—where gossip’s hotter than three-alarm chili and even the good guys wear black. 


This month we are pleased to share an excerpt from Tempted by a Texan, book four in the Texas Sweethearts series by Mindy Neff.


Tempted by a Texan

Mindy Neff


Chapter One



Becca Sue Ellsworth’s arms felt empty. It was an ache that went clear to her soul.

From her apartment window above her bookshop and antiques boutique, Becca’s Attic, she gazed out at Main Street, darkened now except for streetlamps casting shadowy arcs over the two-lane road. There was no traffic. The diagonal parking spaces in front of the sidewalks were deserted. Hope Valley was one of those small Southern towns that rolled up the sidewalks at dusk.

A deep sense of aloneness pressed against her chest. She’d just spent the evening with her three best friends—more affectionately known as the Texas Sweethearts—and their families. She wasn’t normally given to envy, and it made her feel small to covet her girlfriends’ children, pregnancies and happy families.

Oh, it wasn’t as though she begrudged them their happiness. She just wanted a piece of it for herself.

Younger by six months than Sunny, Donetta and Tracy Lynn, Becca had recently celebrated her thirtieth birthday. The magic number, it seemed, when a woman’s biological clock began to gong like a cowbell being beaten by a sledgehammer.

The incessant reminder was almost deafening.

She didn’t have the money for artificial insemination, which Tracy Lynn had tried. And she didn’t have a husband like Sunny and Donetta—and, of course, Tracy Lynn. Tracy Lynn had practically been forced into a marriage of convenience, which had ultimately turned out to be her heart’s every dream come true.

Sighing, Becca looked past her own reflection in the window and caught a glimpse of movement below. Her heart jumped into her throat, and with a silent yelp, she quickly ducked behind the silky Priscilla curtains.

Colby Flynn.

The streetlight illuminated him as he walked down the sidewalk and paused outside his law office, which was right across the street from Becca’s Attic. He started to insert the key, then turned suddenly, looking directly up at Becca’s window.

She hit the wall beside the window with a thud, flattening her back against the blue forget-me-nots speckled across the antique wallpaper, and held her breath. It was a wonder she hadn’t wet her pants.

That was all she needed—to get caught staring at her ex-boyfriend.

Lord, the man could still make her heart bump against her ribs. More so lately. And all because of a silly promise made when they were both drunk on their butts.

Shoot, he probably didn’t even remember. It’d been seven years.

They’d dated, even tried living together for a couple of months one summer when Colby took a semester off from law school, but they’d soon found out that they were total opposites who drove each other nuts. She’d been a scatterbrained free spirit. He’d been a neatnik, stuffy

sort who hadn’t appreciated the fact that clothes lying about on the floor was an excellent way to preserve the life of the carpet.

Maybe she’d scared him off. At twenty-three, she’d been going through her I-want-to- get-married-and-have-babies phase. Colby was set on building a future in the field of law, not housekeeping. He’d told her he couldn’t give her what she wanted, that he had to let her go so she could find someone else who could fulfill her dream, give her the things she deserved— commitment and family.

Even now a wave of embarrassment washed over her as she recalled the pitiful plea in her voice: “What if that doesn’t happen? I’m all that’s left of my family, Colby. What if I turn thirty someday and haven’t found my soul mate?”

“You will turn thirty,” he’d teased. “And I’m sure a smarter man than me will have snapped you up way sooner than that.” “But what if?” she’d persisted.

“Then we’ll have a baby together,” he’d said, wiping the tears from her face, her alcohol- induced misery clearly too much for him to resist. “No strings attached. You’ll have your family, I’ll take care of the finances.”

Well, her birthday had already passed. And because Colby’s office was right across the street from her shop and apartment, she was hyperaware of his comings and goings. Every time it looked as though he might make the trek across the street, an adrenaline surge nearly knocked her to her knees.

Did he remember?

Neither of them had ever mentioned the words they’d said to each other seven years ago, words that made sense in the midst of an alcoholic haze, but could only be deemed ridiculous in the sober light of day.

Several times lately, though, when their paths crossed, Colby had given her a teasing, flirtatious wink and a knowing look.

What was up with that? And what in the world did it mean? She was becoming a wreck obsessing over it.

Gathering her nerve, Becca carefully inched to the side and sneaked a peek out the window. Colby was no longer on the sidewalk and a light inside his office indicated he’d gone in.

Both relief and disappointment washed over her.

Criminy, Becca Sue. Get a grip.

Most likely, she was merely projecting her own wishes onto Colby—thinking his overt glances in her direction carried undertones of their youthful baby pact.

Annoyed with herself at the silliness, she crossed the room, climbed into bed and snatched up a knitting magazine from her nightstand.

Neither she nor Colby would consider hopping in the sack just to produce a child and then go on their respective ways.

Besides, Colby Flynn had broken her heart. Oh, sure, she’d made a point of not letting him know that. She’d been determined to act sophisticated, to play off their breakup as no big deal, insisting they continue their friendship—which they had, albeit as slightly distant friends.

Sadly, she would never easily trust a man with her heart again. Especially Colby Flynn.

She flipped through the pages of the knitting magazine. It was the fall edition and she couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for trendy hat and sweater patterns when the temperature outside this week had barely made it below seventy degrees. In Becca’s opinion, it was silly to send out the fall issue of a publication in the middle of June.

After a few more minutes, she set aside the magazine and turned out the light. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, the barely perceptible smell of animals from the area’s horse and cattle ranches wafted in the gentle breeze, shifted the gauzy curtains at her window, and mingled with the lemon verbena scent of her linens. What would probably seem like an odd combination of odors to others was actually comforting to Becca Sue. With every breath, she felt wrapped in a sense of the familiar, in generational roots that went as far back as the defenders of the Alamo.

What was Colby doing at his office so late at night? she wondered. Darla Pam Kirkwell, Hope Valley’s self-appointed busybody, had mentioned that she’d heard he was leaving town, but then, Darla Pam loved to gossip and stir up trouble and her information was not always reliable.

Becca gave a start when she heard a noise coming from downstairs. A crash.

“Darn it, Trouble!” She threw back the bed sheet and got up. The silly cat was always getting into something he shouldn’t. Trouble lived up to his name nicely—although Becca should have tacked on the middle name of Klepto. Over the past few months, her cat had actually been stealing things from the neighbors! Shiny hair clips from Donetta’s salon, spoons from Anna’s Café, trinkets from the hardware store and saddle shop…it was starting to get embarrassing.

The cat was either going to get arrested or Becca would have to take her to a shrink. Perhaps she ought to rethink the kitty doors she’d installed. Clearly the little menace needed less freedom.

“I swear, Trouble, if you’ve broken any of my prize collectibles, I’ll take you to jail myself.”

Without bothering to put on a robe, Becca opened the door at the top of the steep staircase that led to her shop below and flicked on the light switch. The single, low-wattage bulb didn’t even have the courtesy to give a pop to let her know it was burned out. It simply didn’t come on.

No problem. She knew the layout of the building by heart, right down to the last creaky board, and she always kept a flashlight behind the cash register in case of major storms or power outages.

Besides, she was all too aware that Colby was right across the street, and since she rarely pulled the shades over the front windows, she didn’t particularly want to turn on the store lights. That would make Becca’s Attic the equivalent of a lighted aquarium, and Becca the parading fish.

Her bare feet made only a whisper of sound on the wood treads. She counted thirteen steps, then reached for the crystal knob she knew was right in front of her on the door at the bottom of the stairs.

She expected the shrill of squeaky hinges.

She did not expect the blinding pain when something slammed into her side. Or the next blow that buckled her knees.

* * *


Colby Flynn sealed another carton of law books and carried it to the growing stack piled neatly by the front door. He still had three weeks before he was scheduled to relocate to Dallas, but there was a lot of packing to do. He hadn’t realized how much stuff he’d accumulated since he’d been back in Hope Valley.

He also hadn’t realized how stupidly melancholy he’d feel about leaving his hometown and friends.

He touched the corkboard hanging on the wall by the front entrance. It was overflowing with lawyer jokes, some written on pieces of scrap paper, all of them held in place by colorful pushpins. Nearly everyone who crossed this threshold and saw the wall art ended up coming back and pinning their own joke to the board. Over the years, the collection had become vast.

This was his one and only concession to clutter.

Granted, he’d tried organizing the contents of the corkboard in the beginning, but it had been a losing battle. So he’d given in and let his friends have their fun—a difficult concession for a guy who’d attended military school and had organization burned into his brain.

Although some of the paper was yellowed with age, and the board looked like a scrap hoarder’s mess, Colby hated to part with the thing.

But this wasn’t the sort of art appropriate for the tastefully elegant walls of the Wells and

Steadman law firm, soon to be Wells, Steadman and Flynn.

Leaving the corkboard where it was for the time being, he pushed the stack of packing boxes against the baseboard and turned to see what else needed doing. A flash of light caught his eye and he paused.

For a minute he thought his tired eyes were playing tricks on him. He could have sworn he saw a beam of light coming from Becca’s shop, which had been dark for quite a while now. Her upstairs apartment lights had switched off almost an hour ago—yes, damn it, he reminded himself, he’d noticed.

Moving his law practice to the building across from Becca’s Attic last year had been both heaven and torture. Heaven because he got to see Becca’s cute little body sashaying in and out day after day.

And torture because he had to watch her cute little body sashaying in and out day after day—knowing he’d tossed away any chance of actually touching or holding her.

Although his regret was deep, he still believed that he’d done the right thing seven years ago by letting her go. She was a woman who deserved commitment, steadiness and roots.

Because of his family’s track record, those were the things in life he feared most—along with failure.

The narrow beam glanced off the darkened window again. Why would Becca be prowling around with a flashlight at midnight? Why not just turn on the lights?

He didn’t like the suspicions that came to mind. Curse of the profession—he’d been privy to way too many cases involving crimes where people stole from others because they were too damn lazy to go out and make their own money; or they were such slaves to drugs that their jo bs weren’t enough to fund their habit and they had to take what didn’t belong to them.

Well, by God, nobody was going to steal from Becca Sue. Not if he had anything to say about it.

He removed a Colt .45 handgun from the file cabinet and stuffed it in the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back. Leaving his office, he sprinted across the street and slipped into the alley that led to the back entrance.

The door to her shop was ajar.

His heart lodged right up under his Adam’s apple and his mouth went dry. He slid the

Colt from his jeans and checked the safety.

Using his knuckles so he wouldn’t sully any potentially incriminating fingerprints with his own, he eased the door open the rest of the way and crept inside, taking a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness.

Nothing moved. No sound.

He could hear his own breath loudly in his ears. A sixth sense told him he wasn’t alone.

Simultaneously, he heard a moan and the sound of a car engine roaring to life. The moan was female and coming from inside. The pitch of the vehicle’s muffler indicated it was accelerating away. Fast.

He slammed his hand against the wall, groping in the dark for the light switch. The side of his palm brushed the toggle and fluorescent lights blinked on, illuminating half the store.

Oh, man. Becca lay in a crumpled heap just beyond the stairwell doorway.



Mindy Neff

Mindy Neff is the award-winning author of over thirty novels and novellas. Her contemporary romances touch the heart, tug at the reader’s emotions, and always, without fail, have a happy ending.

Mindy is the recipient of the National Reader’s Choice Award, the Orange Rose Award of Excellence, the Romantic Times Career Achievement award and the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, as well as W.I.S.H. awards for outstanding heroes, and two prestigious RITA nominations.

Originally from Louisiana, Mindy moved to Southern California where she met and married a very romantic guy a little over thirty years ago. They blended their families, his three kids and her two, and have been living happily (if a little insanely) ever after. Now, when she isn’t meddling in the lives of her five kids and ten grandchildren, Mindy hides out with a good book, hot sunshine, and a chair at the river’s edge at her second home along the Parker Strip in Arizona.

Mindy loves to hear from readers.  You can email her at


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Rescued by a Rancher by Mindy Neff

April 8, 2018 by in category Apples & Oranges by Marianne H. Donley, Guest Posts, Spotlight tagged as , , ,

Rescued by a Rancher | Mindy Neff | A Slice of Orange

Welcome to Hope, Texas home of the Texas Sweethearts—where gossip’s hotter than three-alarm chili and even the good guys wear black. 


This month we are pleased to share an excerpt from Rescued by a Rancher , book three in the Texas Sweethearts series by Mindy Neff.


Rescued by a Rancher

Mindy Neff

Chapter One

Sometimes a woman had to take charge of her own destiny. Tracy Lynn Randolph was doing just that.

Above her, puffy clouds cast huge shadows over the Texas hills, the sky so blue it almost hurt to look at it. A brisk November wind ruffled the spiky seed pods on the sweet -gum tree, scattering little sticker balls over the lawn and onto the steps of the redbrick courthouse.

Even if it hadn’t been such a glorious afternoon, nothing could have dampened Tracy Lynn’s mood. Her smile far outshone any smile she’d perfected in the dozen or so beauty pageants she’d entered in her youth. She pressed a hand to her chest as if to contain her giddy excitement.

Pausing at the base of the Hope Valley courthouse steps, she closed her eyes and sent her thoughts heavenward.

Mama, are you watching? I’m finally starting on my dream. Our dream.

Her heart squeezed and her throat ached as she remembered the words her mother had uttered just hours before succumbing completely to the aggressive ovarian cancer that had been draining the life from her once-vibrant body for the past eight months.

“Give Daddy grandbabies,” Mama had said, her voice weak yet steady. “You were the only child I was able to have, and he so wanted a big family.”

“I will, Mama. Before I’m thirty.”

In those last few weeks they’d planned Tracy Lynn’s future—a future her mother, Chelsa, would never see, the fairy-tale wedding she would never attend. They’d even chosen names for the grandbabies, whose sweet, warm bodies her mother would never rock in her arms.

Those had been the very best weeks of Tracy Lynn’s life. And the very worst.

Ten years had gone by since her mom had died. Tracy Lynn had truly believed she’d be married long before she turned twenty-five—a reasonable assumption since she’d never lacked for dates.

But Prince Charming hadn’t arrived.

So she’d decided to go on without him.

Granted, she hadn’t actually met the deadline she’d so confidently promised her mother, but she was darn close. Next month, on Christmas Eve, she’d be turning thirty.

Before that auspicious day, though, she would be able to tell her dad that he was going to be a grandpa. The thought of Hope Valley Mayor Jerald Randolph bouncing his grandbaby on

his knee was enough to make Tracy Lynn laugh out loud.

She looked up as her dad pushed through the glass doors of the courthouse. He was a handsome man at fifty-nine, his dark hair graying at the temples, giving him a distinguished look. He was also still quite slim, due in part to his restless energy.

Jerald Randolph didn’t know how to relax; he had to be going somewhere or doing something all the time.

She waved and jogged up the half-dozen steps to meet him on the wide landing and give him a hug. “Hey, Daddy.”

His frown was both apologetic and confused as he pecked her on the cheek. “Did I forget an appointment, honey?”

“No. But I have some great news, and I couldn’t wait to share it.”

“Can you tell me in three minutes or less? You caught me on the way to a meeting.”

“I know. I called Alice and she itemized your schedule.” His secretary knew more about him than anyone else. Tracy Lynn had hoped to get her father alone so they could celebrate in private, but the man was a workaholic—had been all her life—and she’d learned to catch him when she could, often obliged to fall into step beside him as he rushed from one place to the next, conducting his mayoral duties or handling his commercial real estate investment business.

“That’s why I wanted to intercept you this afternoon, so you’d be the first to know. It’s all I can do not to climb the flagpole and shout it to the world.”

He gave her an indulgent smile. “In the interest of decorum, why don’t you just tell me and I’ll pass along whatever it is at the school-board meeting. That’d be a lot more effective. Those folks can spread news faster than a minnow can swim a dipper.”

Although he was smiling at her, she noticed that he looked pale, tired. But her fabulous announcement would perk him up for sure.

She took a breath, felt her eyes mist from happiness.

“You’re going to be a grandfather, Dad.”

He looked at her in confusion.

“I’m pregnant.”

Dead silence met her words. Instead of the awe and exuberant hug she’d expected, his smile faded and his facial muscles went rigid.

A sparrow hopped off a nearby brick planter, then darted away in a flutter of wings. Somewhere, a woodpecker hammered his beak into bark in search of supper, the staccato sound matching the rhythm of Tracy Lynn’s heart.

Dread began to gather beneath her sternum as she waited for him to respond. Although they were the only two standing on the steps, he glanced around as if checking to see if anyone might have overheard her announcement.

This wasn’t the proud reception she’d expected. He appeared…embarrassed. “Daddy?” she prompted. “Aren’t you excited?”

Gripping her upper arm, he pulled her to one side of the landing, next to the iron bench and metal ash can county employees used during smoke breaks.

“What do you mean, you’re pregnant?” The question was a harsh demand. His gaze darted to her stomach, then back to her face. “Did you think this was good news? You’re not even married, Tracy Lynn.”

“Oh, Daddy.” She smiled and shook her head. “That’s not an issue in this generation.” “You damned well better believe it is in my generation! It’s vitally important for our

family to keep up a good image. If I run for senator, you can be sure my opponent will dig deep in our backyard, searching for old bones we can’t bury. My God, girl, you know how gossip is in a small town.”

“But this is good gossip. There’s no need to hide my pregnancy or the existence of my child.” The sting of rejection swarmed in her stomach like angry bees. She was both bewildered and terrified.

For the first time in her life, she wasn’t Daddy’s perfect girl. And she didn’t know quite how to react.

Jerald reached for his handkerchief and mopped his brow. “Who’s the father?”

“No one…” The gray pallor of his skin worried her, cutting off her explanation. He was breathing heavily, and she’d never seen him sweat so profusely. “Daddy? What’s wrong?” “Nothing. I asked you a question, girl. I—” He opened his mouth to continue, but his face contorted in pain. To her everlasting horror, he clutched his chest, and before her brain could signal her to reach out and catch him, he collapsed at her feet, his back scraping against the iron bench as he went down.

“Oh, my God! Daddy! Somebody, help!” She wasn’t sure if she managed to yell loud enough for anyone inside the courthouse to hear. Her purse slid off her shoulder as she dropped to her knees beside him.

She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. She felt as though she was having a nightmare—this couldn’t be happening! Every bit of first-aid training she’d ever learned—she’d needed it to care for her mother and later to work at the senior center—flew right out of her head.

“Don’t do this to me, girl.” He wheezed and gasped for breath. “I can’t have my daughter pregnant and not married. Tell me. We’ll make everything right. I need to know who fathered this baby—”

“I did, sir.”

Tracy Lynn turned quickly to see who had spoken. Lincoln Slade—bad-boy-turned- rancher. She watched, heart in her throat, as Linc bent down, loosened Jerald’s shirt buttons, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Now, let’s calm down and leave this discussion until later.”

Tracy Lynn was so distraught she could hardly think past the fact that her strong, youthful father was lying at the top of the courthouse steps gasping for breath. In some rational part of her mind, she noted that Linc already had his cell phone against his ear.

Oh, God. Hers was in her purse. She hadn’t even thought—

“I need rescue in front of the courthouse,” Linc said into the phone. “Patients name is Jerald Randolph. Early sixties. Appears to be a heart attack. Tell the paramedics that if they look out their door, they’ll see us.”

She glanced down the street.  It felt as though the fire station was ten miles away instead of a mere block.

“Do you have any aspirin, babe?”

“I have Tylenol.” She snatched up her purse, dumping the contents on the cement. “Will that work? Wait. Maybe I’ve got—“

Linc swore.

Her head jerked up, fear ripping at her insides.

Her father’s eyes had rolled back in his head.

His chest wasn’t moving.

Linc dropped the phone and went into action.

Paralyzed by shock, Tracy Lynn stared as he checked her father’s pulse, his breathing, then shook him and shouted his name. Only seconds passed before he tilted back her daddy’s head, breathed deeply into his mouth, then began CPR compressions.

“Breathe for him, Trace,” Linc said. “I’ll pause on ten. Come on, now. Get it together.” Her hands were shaking so hard she could barely position her father’s chin.

“And nine, and ten,” Linc counted. “Now!”

Tears streaming down her cheeks, she tried to blow air into her father’s mouth, but terror and anguish made her own breath shallow. She choked on a sob, didn’t even have enough air in her lungs to lift his chest.

“Damn it, Tracy Lynn. Snap out of it!” Linc resumed chest compressions, palms cupped, counting even as he shouted at her. “This isn’t about you. Princess. Now breathe for him or kiss him goodbye!”

Tears dripping onto her father’s face, she did as she was told, Linc’s forceful words finally penetrating her stupor. Between Linc’s compressions, she transferred her breath into her father’s lungs for what seemed like hours.

At last sirens screamed from half a block away. Tracy Lynn wondered why in heaven’s name the paramedics hadn’t just grabbed their gear and run the short distance.

As she bent to cover his mouth once more, Jerald took a breath. His eyes opened and he looked around wildly as though he had no idea how he’d ended up lying on the cold concrete.

Paramedics appeared at her elbow. One of them was Damian Stoltz. She’d dated him a couple of years ago, but things hadn’t worked out between them.

She felt Linc’s hands on her, urging her to her feet, shifting her out of the way so the medics would have room to work. Her body trembled and her teeth chattered, more from fear than the chilly afternoon air.

“You did just fine, babe,” Linc said, drawing her against his side, his hands chafing her arms, her back, bringing warmth to thaw the icy shock.

She shook her head, didn’t deserve his bolstering. She’d been worse than useless, frozen in blind terror when she should have acted. “He wasn’t breathing. His heart stopped. Linc, what if—“

“Shh. He’s in good hands now.”

The other paramedic was Mason Lowe, who she’d also dated. Thank heaven she remained friends with guys when the relationships didn’t work. She’d never seen Damian or Mason so serious and efficient.

Or Linc, either.

She leaned into his warmth. He’d only been back in Hope Valley for four months, showing up the day his brother, Jackson Slade, had married Sunny Carmichael—who happened to be the town’s veterinarian and one of Tracy Lynn’s best friends.

“I’m so glad you were here,” she said.

He didn’t respond. Lincoln Slade was one of those men who could be stingy with words. Just when she thought her nerves were about to get a reprieve, there was a scurry of

activity and a volley of words between Damian and Mason.

“V-fib,” Damian said. “Charging to two hundred joules.”

Daddy! Tracy Lynn automatically lunged forward, but Linc hooked his arm around her waist and held her back.

“What’s wrong? What are they doing?” She could hear the fear in her voice as she struggled against Linc’s hold. “Let me go. I need to see what’s happening.”

“Shh.” He pressed his mouth to her hair near her ear. “Let the professionals do their work, babe.”

Her fingernails dug into the sleeve of his brown suede jacket, his arm remaining as taut as a safety harness around her middle. One of the monitors on the ground emitted an escalating whine. A discarded wrapper, ripped open in haste, skipped away with the wind, tumbling across the courthouse lawn.

“Everybody stay back,” Mason said, quickly checking to ensure their compliance. “I’m clear,” he said. “You’re clear. Everybody’s clear. Shocking at two hundred joules.”

Tracy Lynn realized what was going on a bare instant before the defibrillator paddles sent an audible jolt through her father’s body, a jolt that lifted his upper body right off the ground. “Nothing!” Mason reported. “Charging again to three hundred.”

She couldn’t watch. Twisting in Linc’s arms, she rested her forehead against his chest and gripped the lapels of his sheepskin-lined suede jacket, horribly aware of her own moan as the second shock, then a third reverberated behind her.

Linc’s hand cupped the back of her head, applying firm and steady pressure, his other hand stroking the length of her back over her cashmere sweater. His hold was both comforting and protective, shielding her whether she wanted him to or not.

If she’d been capable of speech, she would have told him that there was no danger of her stealing a look.

She couldn’t bear to watch another parent die before her eyes.

Mindy Neff

Mindy Neff is the award-winning author of over thirty novels and novellas. Her contemporary romances touch the heart, tug at the reader’s emotions, and always, without fail, have a happy ending.

Mindy is the recipient of the National Reader’s Choice Award, the Orange Rose Award of Excellence, the Romantic Times Career Achievement award and the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, as well as W.I.S.H. awards for outstanding heroes, and two prestigious RITA nominations.

Originally from Louisiana, Mindy moved to Southern California where she met and married a very romantic guy a little over thirty years ago. They blended their families, his three kids and her two, and have been living happily (if a little insanely) ever after. Now, when she isn’t meddling in the lives of her five kids and ten grandchildren, Mindy hides out with a good book, hot sunshine, and a chair at the river’s edge at her second home along the Parker Strip in Arizona.

Mindy loves to hear from readers.  You can email her at


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Surprised by a Baby, Book Two in Mindy Neff’s Texas Sweethearts

March 8, 2018 by in category Apples & Oranges by Marianne H. Donley, Guest Posts, Spotlight tagged as ,

Texas Sweethearts | Mindy Neff | A Slice of Orange


Welcome to Hope, Texas home of the Texas Sweethearts—where gossip’s hotter than three-alarm chili and even the good guys wear black. 


This month we are pleased to share an excerpt from Surprised by a Baby , book two in the Texas Sweethearts series by Mindy Neff.


Surprised by a Baby

Mindy Neff

Chapter One


Donetta Presley’s nerves were flat-out wrecked. And no wonder! She’d had another run-in with the town’s new fire marshal; the contractor who’d renovated her trendy hair salon and her upstairs apartment wasn’t returning her phone calls; and, despite feeling like road kill and hugging the porcelain throne more times than she cared to remember, she’d actually given a haircut to a toy poodle named Debbie!

On top of that, she’d had to drive clear over to Austin just to buy a home pregnancy test. Hope Valley had the fastest gossip mill in Texas and she did not want the whole town discussing the nature of her purchase before she could even get home and remove the cellophane from the box.

She could have saved herself the trouble. Pretty soon everyone would know anyway.

She wiped her clammy forehead with the back of her wrist, tempted to lower the thermostat on the salon’s air conditioner another notch. That probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Her clients were shivering as it was.

Trying to take shallow breaths, praying the nausea would pass, she removed the last few bobby pins and rollers from Millicent Lloyd’s blue hair and tossed them into an open drawer. The pink-and-gray perm rods she’d used on a client who’d left more than an hour ago were still scattered in the shampoo bowl. Too bad the scent hadn’t gone with the woman, because the acrid smell of ammonia that wafted from the shiny black sink bowl made Donetta’s stomach revolt anew.

Wasn’t that a hoot? The owner and operator of Donetta’s Secret, the only hair salon in Hope Valley, Texas, couldn’t bear the smell of permanent wave lotion.

Lordy, she didn’t need this grief. Her schedule was so messed up she was now juggling three clients at once. And Miz Lloyd expected to leave here at two-forty-five on the dot—same as every Friday.

She patted the woman on the shoulder. “Be patient with me, okay, Miz Lloyd? I’m tryin’ my best to get you out of here on time.”

She reached for a bottle of finishing spray and gave Millicent’s short barrel curls a squirt, then pumped a couple of aromatic spurts into the air.

Millicent’s blue-tinted eyebrows shot up. “Did you just blast me with air freshener?”

Donetta forced a smile and retrieved her small teasing brush from the top drawer of the laminate workstation. “No, silly. It’s finishing spray. It sets the curl and gives your hair more body. Don’t you just love the way it smells?”

“You’ve never used it on me before,” Millicent said, her light-blue eyes narrowing. Donetta looked down at the sectioned curls. “It’s a new product. Just came in this week.”

“Expensive, I bet. Ought to have a care about wasting it.” She sniffed, still clutching her taupe gloves in her age-spotted fist. Millicent Lloyd never went to town without matching gloves, shoes and pocketbook. “Squirting it all over the place like it was toilet water perfume from the dime store. Why, if I wasn’t trussed up in this cape, I’d be needing a bath.”

“You’re fine,” Donetta soothed. “It’s not sticky.”

As she backcombed Millicent’s thin hair, she glanced at the chrome clock above the front door and checked the minute hands, shaped as neon-red scissors. Barring any more interruptions, she could probably finish these last three clients within the hour and close up early.

Then again, maybe not.

Her hand tightened around the red plastic handle of the brush when she saw the sheriff’s car wheel into a diagonal parking space in front of her salon.

Storm Carmichael.

He was her best friend’s brother—an ex-Texas Ranger who was now the sheriff of Hope Valley.

And he was the last person Donetta wanted to see today.

“I declare, Donetta. You’re about to snatch me bald-headed.”

She jolted and quickly smoothed out the two-inch-long section of hair she’d just teased into a ball of frizz.

“Sorry, Miz Lloyd. My mind wandered.”

“Good thing you didn’t have a pair of scissors in your hand. No telling what I’d look like.” She cut her eyes toward the front window, then back to Donetta’s reflection in the mirror.  “That Carmichael boy is heading this way. Is that what’s got you in such a tizzy?”

Storm Carmichael wasn’t anybody’s idea of a boy, Donetta thought, which was partly the reason her knees were shaking. Thank God she hadn’t worn her miniskirt today. The man was more observant than a hawk, and Donetta had learned a hard lesson about showing vulnerability.

“Just running behind schedule is all that’s wrong with me,” Donetta said.

The door swished open, sucking out precious degrees of the salon’s cool air. And there he stood, Sheriff Storm Carmichael, six feet five inches of sinfully delicious masculinity in boots, jeans, a khaki uniform shirt with a sheriff’s star pinned above his breast pocket, and a Stetson sporting a cattleman’s crease.

The very man responsible for this god-awful, debilitating morning sickness.

His gaze locked onto hers and never wavered, yet she knew he could probably give a detailed description of every customer in the salon, as well as the hairstyle models in the photos on the walls. Despite her outward control, her heart galloped like a thoroughbred on an open range.

She’d had a major crush on him when she was a dreamy ten-year-old and he was sixteen. But that was twenty years ago—and at this particular moment, puppy love was not the emotion she was feeling.

“Excuse me just a minute, Miz Lloyd.” She set the brush on her station, then strolled toward the reception desk to head him off in case he had any ideas of coming in and getting comfortable. Not that he’d ever hung out in the salon, but he looked like a man with something on his mind, a man willing to wait until she was finished with her clients.

That was all she needed, she thought with a mental sigh. To have Storm’s eyes trained on her backside while she worked. She’d likely give Darla Pam Kirkwell a Mohawk.

She stopped at the reception desk, realizing she’d almost walked right up to Storm to automatically give him a hug.

That was what happened when a person had sex with a friend. Normal, lifelong habits became awkward. She’d always greeted him with a hug—even if she was miffed at him. Now she was afraid the simple gesture would give away more than she wanted him to know.

Wishing she could sit down for about five hours, she leaned against the red laminate counter and put on her polite, welcome-the-customer face. It took a Herculean effort. She felt about as sociable as a she-bear in satin.

“Afternoon, Sheriff. What can I do for you?”

His eyes blatantly lowered to her V-neck tank top that sported a large, dramatic face of a cat, then to her slim khaki pants and open-toed platform shoes. Although it was October, a warm front had moved in from the Gulf, making it feel like the middle of summer. Storm Carmichael’s visual caress cranked up her internal thermostat to triple digits.

“I guess you didn’t see that red tag on the door,” he said in his perfectly charming Texas drawl. He was one of those men whose smooth baritone voice had an innately sensual, teasing tone. His thumbs were hooked in the front pockets of his jeans, a purely masculine gesture that drew the eye and put a woman in danger of losing her good sense.

“Now, don’t you start in on me, too, Storm. As soon as I get ahold of my contractor, he’ll take care of everything. And park those eyeballs back in your head, why don’t you. I’m not in the mood to deal with one more condescending male today.” She’d couched her annoyance in her trademark sultry tone, but for once, she wasn’t quite certain she’d pulled it off. She knew just how to flirt with a guy, to let him down easy without making him feel as though he’d struck out. It was her means of holding men at bay. The trait was pretty much the only useful lesson she’d learned from a mother she hadn’t seen in eight years.

“Can’t blame a man for admiring. All these bold colors in here, and you still stand out like a million-dollar supermodel.”

She arched a brow. “Flattery, Sheriff? My goodness, you must want something.”

“Oh, I want a lot of things,” he said softly, making her shiver even though she was burning up. “Right now, though, I’ll stick to business. That citation on your door isn’t part of a beautification project. It doesn’t say ‘Pretty please’ and it doesn’t mention a thing about phoning your contractor. It’s an official injunction mandating you to vacate these premises until the issues that have been itemized for you—more than once, I’m told—are corrected and in compliance with county and state building codes.”

At the formality of his words, Donetta’s heart pounded with a mounting sense of dread. This was Storm Carmichael the cop. Not Storm Carmichael the friend she’d slept with, the man who held her heart and didn’t even know it.

“Now, I don’t know how these infractions slipped through the cracks for two years, but the improvements on this unit have been declared unsafe by the fire marshal—”

“Would you just hush?” she whispered fiercely. “I know what the damn thing says.” She looked around to see if any of the customers were listening. Of course they were. The three elderly women were practically leaning forward in their chairs, not even trying to disguise that they were exercising what they clearly viewed as their God-given right to eavesdrop.

“Listen, Storm, this will just have to wait.” He wasn’t wearing a gun belt and she didn’t see any handcuffs, so it was a safe bet that he wouldn’t actually arrest her for violating a court order. Hope Valley was a relaxed small town. The judicial system was naturally a bit more laid- back. And she wasn’t ignoring the stupid paper—even though she’d flipped it the bird as she’d unlocked the front door this morning to open for business.

“I intend to take care of everything,” she said, “but first I need to finish styling Miz Lloyd and rinse Darla Pam before the bleach fries her hair. And I promised Cora I’d have her out of here before three o’clock. She has errands to run and has to be home before dark—you know she can’t drive at night.”

Glancing down, she skimmed a fingertip over her appointment book, noticed that her acrylic nail was chipped at the very tip. Swell. One more thing she could add to her to -do list. She swallowed back the queasiness again working its way up her esophagus. She really, really didn’t feel good.

“Why don’t you give me a call around five,” she said, fully aware she wouldn’t be here. Millicent, Darla Pam and Cora were her last three clients for the day. “I should have a break by then. Meanwhile…” She stepped back and fixed a phony smile on her face. “You have yourself a real nice afternoon, Sheriff, ya hear?”

Mindy Neff

Mindy Neff is the award-winning author of over thirty novels and novellas. Her contemporary romances touch the heart, tug at the reader’s emotions, and always, without fail, have a happy ending.

Mindy is the recipient of the National Reader’s Choice Award, the Orange Rose Award of Excellence, the Romantic Times Career Achievement award and the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, as well as W.I.S.H. awards for outstanding heroes, and two prestigious RITA nominations.

Originally from Louisiana, Mindy moved to Southern California where she met and married a very romantic guy a little over thirty years ago. They blended their families, his three kids and her two, and have been living happily (if a little insanely) ever after. Now, when she isn’t meddling in the lives of her five kids and ten grandchildren, Mindy hides out with a good book, hot sunshine, and a chair at the river’s edge at her second home along the Parker Strip in Arizona.

Mindy loves to hear from readers.  You can email her at


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