It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…with Heather Long

First and foremost let me say thanks to the Delighted Reader for having me drop in and take up a bit of your time. I wanted to share a little bit about my holiday Marines and what the holidays mean to me.

I’ve always been a fan of the holiday season—from the decorations to the music to the traditions that surround each and everyone. When I was growing up, everything was closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. You had to get your shopping done or your presents wrapped or even batteries before the big events, because if you didn’t—well Christmas morning you woke up to what you had.

But the holidays were more than presents, they always seem to have a little bit of magic invested in them. People seemed kinder, they went out of their way to do nice things, and they tried to give back. Yes, I know that shoppers were still crazy and they still pushed and shoved, but there was a flavor in the air that lasts for just a few weeks stretching through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Yule, and Christmas and seems to expire just after the New Year.

It is that feeling, that flavor that is my favorite part of the holidays. I wish the whole goodwill toward men, generosity of spirit, and magic of the season would last all year long—but if it can’t, then I’ll take what I can get.

Every year, I choose an angel from the angel tree. Even in years when I’ve been pretty broke or money has been tight, I’ve tried to do this because it’s important to remember that the holidays aren’t about things, it’s about people and it’s important that everyone have someone that thinks about them.

So if you do nothing else this holiday season, do something kind for another. Pay it forward, and fill someone else’s holiday season with your joyful spirit.

 

A Marine of Plenty by Heather LongA Marine of Plenty
Always a Marine
Release Date: October 9, 2013

Serving overseas is a lonely duty…

Captain Charlie Sparks faces an impossible task—assigned to a security detail for the sister of a fallen Marine. The last thing Charlie wants is this beautiful woman in the middle of a base in Afghanistan no matter what holiday she plans to help them celebrate. But no one asked for his opinion, and worse, she’s everything he adores in a woman and more…

Mourning what might have been is a terrible burden…

Jana Grimaldi had a plan—a plan to help her brother when he came home, but his death in Afghanistan left a hole in her heart and a desperate desire to do something. With the help of Congressman Sparks, she heads to Afghanistan to bring Thanksgiving to the men and women who served with her brother. Nervous and uneasy, she finds an unexpected—and familiar ally in Captain Sparks…

Not all wounds heal…

Charlie was one of the first people to reach out to Jana, communicating via email when her brother died—but coming face to face in the lonely desolation of the holiday connects these two wounded souls…

Can Charlie and Jana find hope amidst the heartbreak this Thanksgiving?

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Enjoy the following excerpt for A Marine of Plenty

“Miss Grimaldi?” A deep, smooth, masculine voice pulled her back to the present and the officer dressed in the deep dark tan and olive MARPATS waiting inside the door. He stood easily over six-foot. The uniform did little to disguise his broad shoulders or thick muscular arms.

Rising, she adjusted her bag and held out her hand, fumbling for a greeting. “Hi. Captain…?”

“Sparks.” Quiet hesitation arrested his features and a muscle ticked in his jaw.

The congressman’s brother was her escort.

Her heart thudded against her ribs and her nerves stretched taut. Captain Charles Sparks gave the order that led to her brother’s death—a communication failure. She understood all the terms, the reasoning, and the apologies. Even his letters expressed his heartfelt condolences and apologies. Letters she’d answered, and he’d returned regularly.

He grasped her hand and the world seemed to shrink away, as though someone dropped her in a drum and banged it loudly from the outside. His words had provided a desperately needed source of comfort—straightforward, blunt, and without any pretty excuses. A mistake had been made, one costing a good man his life. He didn’t ask for her forgiveness. He’d never asked her for it, no matter how many exchanges they’d had.

Staring into his coffee-brown eyes, she knew he hadn’t forgiven himself. And that’s why Congressman Sparks offered his help and asked for mine. Weak-kneed, she sat abruptly. Her fisted grip on the captain’s hand pulled him forward a step.

Concern rippled across his face. “Ma’am? Jana?”

Unexpected grief locked her throat and tears filmed her vision. She held up her other hand and he wavered. Fighting the urge to sniffle, she squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated on breathing. Grief might be the one emotion everyone had in common, but acceptance came in its own ways, on its own time. Understanding the concept intellectually and experiencing it, however, were two completely opposite things, because the crappiest part of her grief lay in how she couldn’t control it.

“I’m okay.” She fought to get the words out. “I’m sorry.”

“No,” he said, his voice gruff. “I should apologize. I thought you received my e-mail about being your escort.”

“I haven’t looked at my e-mail since leaving Dallas, I’ve been so focused on getting here.” Moistening her lips, she struggled to bring her tumbling emotions back into focus. It would be easy to hate the man, to blame him for what happened, and to let anger take over her grief.

But easier didn’t make it right or fair.

Belatedly, she glanced up, surprised at her white-knuckled grip still firm on his hand. He didn’t pull away or try to let her go, but sadness clouded his eyes—sadness, and quite possibly regret. “I didn’t mean to fall to pieces on you, Captain Sparks.”

Candle for a Marine by Heather Long

A Candle for a Marine
Always a Marine
Release Date: October 29, 2013

Tormented by the question of ‘what if…’

Home for Hanukkah, Sergeant Isaac Janko has never forgotten the baby his girlfriend gave up for adoption years ago.  But he didn’t realize how angry he still was….

More than time separates them….

A chance meeting at Temple brings Zehava Elbaz face-to-face with the first and only man she’s ever loved. She sees a deep and hidden pain in him, one she blames herself for…

An invitation to Hanukkah brings them together….

The two must confront their pain and loss. They have only eight days to face their past, and win each other’s trust, but it is a time for healing, reconciliation and miracles….

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Enjoy the following excerpt for A Candle for a Marine
Except this morning, of course. All the shops were locked up tight for Shabbat. They would open later in the day, after sundown. The nostalgic throwback reminded him about how home he was. He slowed to a stop at the edge of the blacktopped playground area to consider the new center. A fence separated it from the street. The chain-link didn’t disguise the effort toward cheer conveyed by colorful wall art covering every inch of the building facade.

The city of Dallas could be seen in the distance on one corner of the mural, a neighborhood ice cream shop that closed when he was in high school closer to the front, and a dozen familiar faces made up the people. Walking around the gate, he frowned at the man depicted in the bottom right corner. It showed a ramrod straight figure walking away, a duffle on his back and, upon a closer inspection, he recognized himself.

“It took a year to finish all of it.”

The low-keyed chime of her voice ricocheted to his bones and crumbled his reserve and determination like so much ash and smoke. Steeling himself, he slid his hands into the pockets of his shorts and turned. Despite the cool temperatures, heat flash-fired through him. Zehava always had that effect on him.

The center was her personal project. He knew that, the reason why he’d come. He could lie about a lot of things, but not her. She wore a dark green turtleneck, a lighter, camel-colored jacket, jeans, and a pair of running shoes. Wariness shadowed her eyes and she had trouble meeting his gaze. Jaw tight, he couldn’t suppress a flare of triumph at her discomfort.

“It’s lovely. I didn’t know you still painted.”

“Only projects like this and for some classes I teach here during the week.” She folded her arms and unfolded them. A part of him wanted to set her at ease, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to act on it. Resentment slithered across his skin like a sand rash.

“Well, it’s good work. I’m particularly fond of my place in it. Walking away.” Was that how she saw him? The man who left?

“Not walking away.” She shook her head and her chin finally came up. “Walking toward the future. Defending our country, and lonely because you had to leave us to do it. Inspiring because it’s not an easy choice and even harder to live with. Brave because no one here can truly imagine what you faced, so we hoped and prayed you’d come home, safe from hate and harm.”

Uncomfortable with how close her description struck, Isaac dragged his attention away from her. She’d matured beautifully. The softness of her features had taken on an aristocratic bearing, but she was too thin, and her mouth too lush.

“It’s good work,” he repeated. So many words bottled up in his throat and threatened to choke him. “I should get going.” He gave her a quick, abrupt smile, the action physically painful, and jogged toward the fence. The sooner he got the hell away, the better for both of them.

Review Marine Under the MistletoeMarine Under the Mistletoe
Always a Marine
Release Date: November 10, 2013

He used to believe in magic…

Kaiden Nelson looked like every other Marine, only most of his guys didn’t grow up in a family of nudists, celebrating the wheel of the year and the lunar cycles. His buddies wouldn’t name him a witch, either. But after more than a decade at war, Kaiden isn’t sure he can—or even wants to lay claim to that calling anymore. He’s got too much blood on his hands and he’s tired…tired of war, tired of fighting. Some days…he’s tired of living. When he’s sent on leave for the holidays, he’s unsure if he can ever really go home again.

She’s a candle in the night… 

Rowan Harper lives in two worlds, the mundane where she handles tech issues for a major corporation and the pagan where she celebrates the sabbats and esbats with her coven. Like so many in the region, she keeps her beliefs private. It makes life more bearable from others who would judge, and she likes nothing better than the great sabbat retreats the coven takes to the sprawling Lake House. It’s a time where she sheds the shackles of everyday life and embraces the divine.

The wheel turns…

When Kaiden turns up at the coven Yule, his Circle of family and friends are eager to welcome him. He feels unworthy of the open warmth and shies away to the darkness, but Rowan refuses to leave him in the shadows. Can the inexorable pull of one woman help him face down his demons as they hold vigil against the longest night of the year?

 

Enjoy the following excerpt for Marine Under the Mistletoe

He grunted, but didn’t complain. The boys cleared out without further warning and the goddess in the pale, gray silk dress descended the stairs slowly. He didn’t get a glimpse of her feet, but the way the skirt swirled around her, it gave her the effect of floating.

“Aaron?”

“Rowan?” The man’s nudity hadn’t bothered Kaiden when he’d arrived, not really. He hadn’t been gone so long he didn’t remember the comfort most others had in their skin—hell, a comfort he’d once shared. But when Rowan achieved the last step, Kaiden fought the desire to strip off his jacket and throw it at him. “Oh.” Realization dawned across Aaron’s chastised expression. “My apologies, you two haven’t met…I forget. Rowan Harper—this is Lorraine and Henry’s son, Kaiden. Kaiden, Rowan Harper—she joined Blue Circle a few years after you enlisted, give or take.”

“Merry meet, Kaiden.” She smiled, walked straight up to him and brushed her lips to his—the contact a violent shock to his system and he blinked once, going completely still. “It’s truly lovely to have you with us this year.”

It took his mind a full minute to catch up to the wrench in his body. “Hello,” the word came out strained and harsh, but either she gave him a free pass as they were strangers or she didn’t notice it. Aaron gave him an odd look.

Rowan gestured to the stairs. “Do you remember the way to your room? I put fresh sheets on the bed and fixed it up when your parents told me you had confirmed coming this year.”

He knew exactly where it was, but his manners finally kicked awake. “Please.” Following her up the stairs, he glanced back at Aaron once, aware of his amused gaze. Kaiden didn’t care for the sensation of being watched. He’s a friendly. They’re all friendlies. This is home.

The mental litany didn’t ease the tension winding him up. At the curve in the stairs, she paused to wait for him and Kaiden picked up the pace. He might be fucked up, but that didn’t mean he had to be rude.

“Sorry, it was a long flight.” Mentally groaning at the obviousness of the comment, he sucked in a deep breath, determined to do better and inhaled fruity, deeply feminine, and deliciously sensual scent that sent a shiver of awareness through his body and his blood plummeted to southern regions.

“I don’t doubt it and I’m a total stranger.” She started climbing again, lifting her skirt with one hand. “But I meant what I said downstairs—I am very happy to welcome you home this year. Your mother speaks of you often.”

“She’ll be annoyed with me.” The effort to make casual conversation came out rough and jagged. “I got an earlier flight and thought I could avoid anything too elaborate when I arrived.”

“Ahh.” She hesitated and her teeth clenched together in a smile-grimace.

“It’s okay,” he held up his free hand, palm out. “I know my parents. I know they’ve planned something special—especially since I haven’t been home. They can still have it all happen, I just get some time to be here before it starts.”

“I could talk to them if you like.” It was a kind—if tempting—offer.

“Thank you, but the last place you need to put yourself is between my parents and I.” The sentence came out far tougher than he’d intended. Exhaling a hard breath, he concentrated on sanding down his attitude. “And by that, I mean I haven’t been the poster child for good son. They’re entitled to react in a way that makes them happy.”

They’d arrived at his door and he found the silence almost as unnerving as the house itself. He’d picked out this room all those years ago because it was furthest from the others, nestled off a quiet hall that had a storage closet and attic access.

“Rowan, please ignore me. I apparently haven’t been around real people in a while.”

“Oh?” Her too innocent eyes glittered under the glow from the single lamp illuminating the hall. “And what mythical people have you been spending time with?”

Have Yourself a Marine Christmas

Have Yourself a Marine Christmas
Always a Marine
Release Date: November 26, 2013 

Rebel with a holiday… 

Ryan Edward Brun—Rebel to his friends—has always loved Christmas. Whether raising money for Toys for Tots, delivering presents dressed up like Santa Claus or driving his platoon crazy with Christmas ‘surprises.’ He never lacked for Christmas spirit—until he lost his legs to an IED.

Operation Good Cheer…

Noël Torres has watched over Rebel for months, holding his hand when he wanted to give up, and bullying him when he got lazy. But with Christmas right around the corner and decorations filling every room in their wing of Mike’s Place, the barren oasis Rebel surrounds himself in breaks her heart. He won’t call his family, he’s not sending out cards, he won’t pull any pranks—she decides to get this Marine back into the holiday action.

An elf on a mission… 

With the help of some kids, a few good Marines, and Santa Claus and Noël is determined to give Rebel a very Marine Christmas…

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Enjoy the following excerpt for Have Yourself a Marine Christmas

Jingle Bell Rock blasted through the speakers and more than one voice jammed out to the familiar tune, echoing the song up and down the hall. The music still invaded his room, even after one of the nurses had closed the door for him. Rebel thumbed the volume louder on the television, hoping to mute the insidious little ditty before it wormed farther into his brain.

A cramp fisted in his thigh and Rebel dropped the remote, digging his fingers into the recalcitrant muscle. He gritted his teeth and a hiss of air escaped—his only concession to the pain radiating up from his calf to pinch his quadriceps. It’s all in your head, Marine. Suck it up. He had no calf muscle to cramp.

Because he had no damn calves.

Staring steadily at the news report offered him a grim distraction. Trouble in the Baltics and civil war raging in an African nation earned top news bites. Somewhere, someone always hurt worse than he did. Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he tried to distract himself, but the thunk of the faux foot on wood didn’t have the same effect.

The door opened, adding fresh punch to his misery as Frosty the Snowman followed behind the luscious, caramel-skinned torturer who looked after him.

“Close the damn door.” He regretted the snarl the moment it passed his lips. The aggravating pain in his quad wouldn’t let go and had begun to radiate up his back. Flattening his prosthetic foot had zero effect and the socket friction on his skin compounded by the damn song replicating like a virus across the walls of his mind.

“Good afternoon to you, too.” Noel Torres pushed the door closed with a thump.  “Cramps?” She didn’t wait for his answer before crossing the room and adding her nimble fingers to the job. Seizing his thigh in both hands, she dug her thumbs right into the center of the knot, brutalizing him with a fresh wave of agony. “You know the drill, Rebel.” Snappy and crisp, her eyes clashed with his. “Breathe.”

He could no more ignore the order than he could the heady scent of her perfume—not that he was expert in such matters. Noel’s was an exotic, distinctly feminine scent he associated only with her, and for the last year it had been his salvation. Deep breaths calmed his racing heart as her thumbs continued to apply pressure to the violent spasm seizing his muscle until bit-by-bit, it eased.

“Breathe,” she ordered him. “In for four. Hold. Out for four.”

Struggling to follow the command, he kept his attention on her. Dressed in deep yellow polo shirt that truly brought out her skin tone, and her long black hair pulled back in a severe ponytail, she looked all of twelve years old.

Yeah, if twelve looked hot and edible…. He scowled at the new direction his mind wandered and Noel squeezed his thigh. A burning lance of sensation stabbed him and then the muscle let go entirely and he wanted to weep.

“You’re holding your breath again.” She frowned, but shifted her grip on his thigh and begun to massage it.

Reminded, he exhaled a hard sigh. “Hurts like a bitch.”

“Of course it does, you’re tense and getting worked up. You know your mood has as much of an effect on your recovery as your exercise regimen.” Disapproval hung off the last two words and Rebel huffed. “And don’t you take that impatient note with me. Did you really think they wouldn’t tell me you skipped physio three days this week?”

“I was tired.” He tried to look around her, but she only adjusted her firm touch to knead the taut muscles of his other thigh.

“Bullshit. Your physio is not an option. Get a grip on your panties, Marine. You don’t get to play the I’m-too-tired card. We put a pin in that one months ago.”

Three months before, he’d been in the midst of a black depression and slept day in and day out. He refused to go to therapy, refused to engage with his psych evaluation, and damn near ended up on forced medication. Noel hadn’t allowed him the luxury of mind-numbing drugs. Instead, she’d all but dragged him out of bed, helped him into a wheelchair and took him for a walk in the park—pushing him around like a baby in a pram. Humiliating—but effective. He returned to therapy the next day—and she’d smiled at him.

The soothing stroke of her fingers unlocked the tension in his gut. “How was your trip?” he asked. Maybe distraction would work.

Lest the Marines Be Forgot by Heather LongLest Old Marines Be Forgot
Always a Marine
Release Date December 2, 2013

She never stopped grieving…

It’s New Year’s Eve, and thirty years since Brenda Connors buried the only man she ever loved. Every year on the anniversary of his death, she finds herself in the hospital, suffering from chest pains. No matter how expected, it always takes her breath away. This year…this year she wants it to be different and takes the advice of her best friend and would be sister-in-law to sign up for a one-night stand. It seems ridiculous, just a year shy of her fiftieth birthday to try and seek happiness she long since gave up on. She never imagined a stern faced Marine with talent for making her laugh…

He doesn’t know what the future holds…

Married to his career and facing forced retirement, Major Tom Baxter doesn’t see much of a future for himself in civilian life. A poker game with the son of an old friend earns him some unwanted advice, but it’s advice he can’t get out of his head. He signs up for a one-night stand, to discover what life on the outside might have to offer. The last thing he expected was an elegant soul with a streak of mischief…

Ringing in a new beginning…

Can Tom and Brenda make every second of their countdown to midnight count, lest old Marines be forgot?

 

Enjoy the following excerpt for Lest Old Marines Be Forgot
Their table sat in an alcove that also doubled as a private balcony and overlooked a lit garden. According to his hostess, he and his date would also be able to see the fireworks over Dallas later should they still be at their table at midnight. If not, then their reserved suite also had a balcony and a good vantage point. A marble-floored hallway led to their dining table and though the alcove was simply one of several such isolated settings, theirs possessed heavy cream curtains that could be closed to afford them further privacy.

Overall, it was an excellent choice on Luke’s part. Fortunately, years of not doing much with his salary meant Tom could also afford the evening comfortably. He finished the cup of coffee and checked his watch. Fifteen minutes to operation launch and he heard heels tapping on the marble floor caught his attention. Glancing sideways, he spotted a pair of elegant, long legs. Trailing his attention upward, he studied the woman approaching.

The body-hugging sheathe of a dress molded her curves, and what a shape she had…. Dark hair brushed her shoulders, the silvery streaks amidst the deep brown seemed almost artistic. Straightening, he frowned when she hesitated and checked her phone. The curl of anticipation in his gut flattened out.

It didn’t matter if the elegant woman searched for another date; he couldn’t take his attention off her. She all but glared at her phone. A heartbeat later, she rewarded his captivation when her exasperation transformed into sparkling laughter.

Squaring her shoulders, she lifted her chin and their gazes collided. Her smile faltered for a heartbeat, then warmed. At her look, he rose to his feet and enjoyed her long walk down the hall.

“Ms. Connors.” He extended his hand automatically, her smooth palm gliding against his.

A hint of shyness softened her expression, but she didn’t look away. “Mr. Baxter. Can I just say that you chose the loveliest spot for dinner?”

Boosted by the compliment and her lovely manner, he inclined his head. “Only if you’ll allow me to say that you outshine the location—and then some.” He’d never really been that good with flowery compliments, but a hint of color bloomed over her cheeks and he let out a breath. “Here….” To pull out her seat meant he had to let go of her hand.

She had slender fingers, beautiful and tapered, and they’d been silky-soft with the barest hint of callouses on her index fingers and thumbs. Callouses that meant she used tools, but probably didn’t build or work with anything. His brain’s need to catalog details had proven a godsend in the field, but he didn’t need to pick apart his date.

“Thank you,” Brenda murmured and slipped around him to take the chair he held out and he scooted it in just as she sat. From his vantage point, he had a direct view of her cleavage and the teasing hint of a dark mole on the curve of her right breast.

Clearing his throat, he moved back to his seat. “Of course.”

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Shari is the Delighted Reader. Married to her Prince Charming and mother to two Princesses and one Prince. When she is not slaving away as Cinderella she loves to get lost in the pages of a good book. Never without a reading device and a few good paperback books, because she never knows when she might get 5 minutes to read!
  • Sophia Rose

    I love that idea of Pay It Forward. And you are so right about that special magic in the air that comes with the holidays. Love Heather’s Marines and the sales of her holiday Marine books are going toward a great cause with the Marine Toys for Tots project.

  • This series captures the essence of the holidays I remember, as Heather described. It was about the people in our lives, not the “stuff.” The fact that some proceeds from Heather’s holiday books will go to “Toys for Tots,” really spoke to me, as we like to donate food and other items during the holidays.

    • Sophia Rose

      I’ve only read 2 of the holiday marines books, but you’re right. The stories really do capture the holiday spirit, Michelle!

  • I really love this time of year too. Since I usually can’t go home and family can’t travel here I volunteer for shifts at our USO center that’s open 24/7 365. I love going in and hanging out with the service members and their families making their travel a little easier and figure then others can be with their families for big days. Will be checking the series out 🙂

    • Sophia Rose

      That is a wonderful thing you do, Anna! I love how you are doing for others especially b/c you can’t be with your own family.
      And yes, you totally need to check this series out. The first book lays the ground work, but this is an easy series to just pick up pretty much any of the books (exception is Jaz’s two part story) that strike your fancy and many are shorties that can be read in one sitting.