Thursday, August 20, 2015

{Blog Tour w/ #GIVEAWAY} Guardians of the Heart (Secrets of Sterling Street #2) by Loree Lough

On Tour with Prism Book Tours.

Guardians of the Heart
(Secrets on Sterling Street, #2)
by Loree Lough
Historical Romance
Paperback & ebook, 272 pages
August 3rd 2015 by Whitaker House

Nell Holstrom wanted no part of her grandfather's barren gold mine that had taken the lives of her mother, father, and younger brother; even if there may still be hidden wealth inside. Instead, she went to Denver and took a job as housekeeper at the old Stone Hill Inn.

Asa Stone was barely more than a boy when his father dragged him and his brothers to fight with Colonel John Chivington. But Asa refused to participate in the raid on the peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahoe; and when the smoke cleared, his father and brother lay among the slaughtered. Besieged by guilt, Asa wandered the West for years before returning to Denver to rebuild the old inn he'd inherited. 

Together, Nell and Asa work hard to restore Stone Hill. But when disaster hits the inn, Asa retreats into despair and Nell is forced to return to her family's mine. Asa faces the hard fact: He'll never be the man Nell deserves. Can he overcome the dark secrets of his past? And will Nell still love him when she learns the truth?

The First Book in the Series

Currency of the Heart
(Secrets on Sterling Street, #1)
by Loree Lough
Historical Romance
Paperback & ebook, 256 pages
January 1st 2015 by Whitaker House

Young widow Shaina Sterling hates living a lie. Desperate to keep bill collectors from the door, she secretly sells valuable possessions piece by piece, and hopes Denver’s elite never discover that his lavish lifestyle left her a near pauper.

She’s unaware that as her husband lay dying, successful rancher Sloan Remington made him a promise. And Sloan guards her secrets
as carefully as he looks after her safety.

When fire devours Sterling Hall, leaving her homeless and penniless, he brings her to Remington Ranch to manage his household. His kindness makes Shaina beholden to him … and threatens to expose the secret that could destroy him.

Will trials and tragedies bring Sloan and Shaina together?
Or will secrets—and the cost of exposing them—drive them apart forever?

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Guest Post
A “Just for You” short story to enjoy: A Promise to Jake by Loree Lough

Storyline: When a mysterious package arrives shortly before Christmas, a wealthy author is forced to remember what's truly important about the holy day…and about life.

He stared at the blinking cursor. "I've let you down big time, Jake," he said, eyes on the blank white screen. Maybe telling his friend’s story would ease his conscience. Squaring his shoulders, Homer pulled out the keyboard drawer and gave his knuckles one last crack, and began to type:

Jake's Angel
by Homer O'Tuathail

It was me who dubbed the new arrivals 'rookies', because Lord, they had a lot to learn! Didn't matter if they came to Dexter Domicile for Displaced Juveniles wearing store-bought shoes or no shoes at all, or if they carried their belongings in a valise or a flour sack. They all climbed those red-brick stairs in one of two ways: Crying out loud, or silent and stiff as a cemetery angel. Usually, they were handed over by guilty-faced relatives who said things like, "If only there was another way..." and "When things get better, we'll be back for you...."
A rooky showed up one Christmas Eve, a tattered name tag hanging around his neck and a beat-up Buster Brown shoebox under one arm. He didn't seem to notice that the sole of his left shoe flapped when he walked. If he knew there was a hole in the right knee of his threadbare trousers, or that the frayed sleeves of his jacket ended inches above his wrists, he hid it well. And if it bothered him that Miss Germane all but shoved him up the walk, well, you couldn't tell by looking at him. The most memorable thing about him, right off the bat, was that way he had of smiling with his whole body. It started with blue eyes that crinkled at the corners, and ended with a hop-step on those time-worn shoes.
Half-way up the flagstone path, he stopped dead in his tracks and whipped the old gray cap from his head. Using it as a visor, he glanced up at Dexter's windows. I watched his lips move as he counted to himself: One, two, three...eighteen, nineteen, twenty.... "Wow," he whispered, "who's in charge of polishin' all that glass?" Then he blinked a few times and did a neat about-face that would have put any soldier to shame. "Ma'am," he said to Miss Germane, "my Aunt Cassie, she said I'd be sleepin' in a dorm’tory with other boys. Is that true?"
Nodding, she gave her best thin-lipped smile.
"How many young'uns you got in this place?"
"Three hundred and five,” she said, like she was proud of the number.
"Countin' me?"
"Counting you."
"Shoo-eee. That's a lot of orphans." He shook his head. "I don't spoze new kids get top digs." Looking from Miss Germane's puzzled face to mine and back again, he explained: "Way I see it, the high floors is fu'thest from the wood stove in winter, an’ even a simpleton knows heat rises in summer." Bobbing his head, he added, "Reckon a boy would hafta be some kinda big shot to get a bed down on a low floor in a place this big."
Miss Germane's mouth dropped open, and I'd never seen her cheeks any redder than that, not even when Jimmy Stoker described for her entire science class exactly how babies were made, right down to pictures on the chalkboard.
"I'm not sure which dormitory floor you'll be assigned to, Mr. Donnelly," she said, nose in the air.
With his thumb, the rookie pointed at me. "Will this boy, here, be in my dormitory?"
One dark brow rose on her forehead when she met my eyes. "Yes, I imagine he will."
"Well, good, 'cause he looks like a right nice young feller to me."
Just then, a teacher walked up to Miss Germane and whispered something into her ear. The rookie chose that moment to take a step closer to me and stick out his right hand. "Name's John," he told me, eyes shining like new blue marbles. "John Jacob Donnelly. But mostly, folks just call me Jake for short."
I was a good six inches taller and had at least thirty pounds on him, yet I couldn't help but admire the strength of his handshake. But I couldn't let him see that, not yet, anyway. So I pumped his arm up and down and said in my deepest voice, "Homer O'Tuathail." For good measure, I added, "I'm twelve years old" like it mattered, because at a place like Dexter, things like age and size mattered a lot.
He leaned closer. "Miss Germane, there," he said under his breath, "she tol' me even afore both my feet was off the bus, that I'm to have a one-on-one with the head master, first thing." He glanced right and left, then narrowed his eyes. "Did you have a one-on-one with him the day you got here?"
"I did." I was only four when my Uncle Joe brought me to Dexter, but I’d never forget a minute of that first day.
"Got any pointers?"
Life in the orphanage had taught me many lessons, among them, think on a question before answering it. So no one was more surprised than me when I blurted, "Well, you might try callin' him 'sir', for starters. And if you interrupt him when he's talkin', he gets so red-faced, you'll think his head is gonna explode, so I'd keep quiet when—"
"Mr. Donnelly," Miss Germane said, "will you follow me, please?" She raised the other brow and aimed a hard stare at me. "Mr. O'Tuathail, you may return the broom to the janitor's closet now." I'd always suspected she knew sweeping was just a way for me to get first glance at the rookies.
"Thanks for the advice, Homer," Jake said, slapping the old hat onto his head.
I nodded, uncertain how I felt about him.
Then he poked out his elbow and offered it to Miss Germane, and when she took it, I knew I was going to like him.
Donaldson's Dormitory was all manner of commotion before Miss Germane flung open the door and pierced our eardrums with her high-pitched "Lights out, gentlemen!" Until then, boys hopped from cot to cot like frogs on lilypads, making the bedsprings squeal like the brakes on an old city bus. Whistles and whoops of laughter bounced off the dorm's stone walls and wood-planked floors.
It was especially noisy that Christmas Eve, because we knew every priest and pastor in Jersey City had 'sermoned' until their parishioners knew the difference between our lives and their own. We pretended not to mind that they saw us as riff-raff; if that's what it took to get them to dig deep, blow the lint off a coin or two, so be it. Because that's what made trucks and rubber balls appear for the boys, baby dolls and stuffed animals for the girls appear under the tree down in the parlor. And if we were real lucky, maybe even some gravy for the dry turkey they'd serve at dinner time.
That night, I couldn't help noticing that the rookie didn't get involved in the rough-housing. He just sat there, cross-legged in the middle of his cot, holding a battered shoebox in his lap. Just being careful, I figured, since it was his first day and all.
So feeling a little sorry for him, I walked over, leaned both forearms on the cold steel footboard of his cot. "What you got there, Jake for Short?"
He aimed those piercing blue eyes at me and stared hard, harder than I’d ever stared at the arithmetic problems Miss Germane scribbled on the board. I couldn’t decide if Jake was trying to figure out if I could be trusted, or if my question roused a sad memory. Too many of those at Dexter, and sure I didn't want to be responsible for waking one, especially on Christmas Eve. "It ain't alive, is it?" I teased, grinning as I pointed at the box. "'Cause if it is, Miss Germane will beat your butt for sure."
A little smile lifted one corner of his mouth. "Y'all oughtn't say cuss words, Homer. Cussin' is a sin, y'know."
"Butt isn't a cuss word. Besides…y'all?'" I echoed. "Where you from?"
"How'd you get all the way from there to here?"
"Well, when my maw died, there weren't no other blood kin to take me in, so I was sent to live with her sister, here in Jersey. And when Aunt Cassie passed...." Jake shrugged. "An' to answer your other question—iffin the thing in this here box was alive—well, if there was, there'd be holes in the top, so's it could breathe, now wouldn't there?"
He'd made a good point, but I wasn't about to admit it. "So if it ain’t alive, what is it?"
Jake inhaled, said on the exhale, "This here's…it's…it's a angel."
He said it with the awe and respect folks said God and Jesus. " angel?"
"You one of them young’uns who’s got trouble with his ears, Homer?"
Ignoring the insult, I lobbed one of my own. "You ain't of those sissy boys, are ya?"
"If keepin' a Christmas angel in a box makes a feller a sissy boy," he hissed through clenched teeth, "then I reckon I must be a sissy boy."
Well, when he put it that way, it didn't make any sense to me, either. "So what you gonna do with a Christmas angel in a crummy place like this?"
Jake looked at the bouncing boys and the gray walls and the bare wood floor. "I seen worse places."
Worse than Dexter, where it was so noisy a boy couldn't fall asleep unless he was dog-tired? Where it was so crowded, a guy thanked God if he got a minute to shower in private? If there was a worse place, I sure didn't want to see it!
"This is 'zactly the place for an angel," Jake said, "'specially a Christmas angel." He removed the boxtop. "It first belonged to my granmaw, became my maw's when Gran passed on." He sucked in such a big breath that it lifted his shoulders and chin at the same time. "And when my maw passed," he continued, "well, that’s how it become mine." He brightened slightly when he added, "Didja notice? Her face is made of porcelain."
He said 'porcelain' like it was something fine, so I nodded, like I knew something about the stuff. Everything about Jake's angel was shiny, from its thick canary-yellow hair to the pale blue shoes poking from under her puffy white dress. The halo on her head and wings on her back, I could tell, had once been the color of the ring Miss Germane's wore. Whether the angel’s gold had worn or faded, I couldn't say, but I knew this: She was the prettiest thing I’d ever laid eyes on.
"I saw one of those once," I said, “'bout four years ago, when some church people picked us up in a bus. They took us to see the Nativity play, and there was a big tree beside the stage. It had an angel on top of it."
I stared at its face. Some artist, I supposed, had painted on a tiny, barely-smiling red mouth, black-lashed blue eyes, comma-shaped eyebrows, and pink blushing cheeks. I wondered if her hair felt as soft as it looked. "That angel I saw in town," I began, touching the yellow curls, "wasn't half as pretty as yours."
"We need to get us a Christmas tree."
He said it so matter-of-factly that I laughed out loud, and that brought the others over. "He wants us to get a Christmas tree," I explained as they gathered round, "so he can put his angel on top of it."
In place of the teasing I'd expected, the boys pressed closer still. "A Christmas angel?" said one. "Lemme see it," said another.
Jake tilted the box. "'Twas my grandmaw's," he repeated. "When she passed, it became my own maw's."
"And now that your maw is dead," Tommy asked, mimicking Jake's drawl, "the angel is yours."
"Yep," he said. Then, "So what-say we get busy, gettin’ us a Christmas tree!"
"B-b-but how?" Stuttering William demanded. "Any m-m-minute now, it'll be l-l-ights out, and—"
Wiggling his eyebrows, Jake winked. "Get back to makin' noise," he instructed, smirking. "If Miss Germane comes in here and we're all behavin' like li'l angels ourselves, she'll know there's a fox in the hen house, an' we'll never get away with it."
"'A fox in the hen house?'" I echoed. "What in the—"
Jake waved us nearer. "After lights out, me'n Homer, here, will climb out the winder and cut us down a tree."
Tommy crossed both arms over his chest. "How you gonna do that?"
"Y-y-yeah," Stuttering William put in. "W-we ain't got no—"
Jake lifted the white paper surrounding his angel...and exposed a pearl-handled pocket knife. He slid the knife into his trousers' pocket, gave it a light pat-pat-pat. "This here blade ain't goin' to cut down no giant redwood, but then, there ain't room at Dexter for a tree that size, anyway." He pointed. "All's we need is a tree 'bout the size of him."
All eyes went to Tommy, who stood no more than three feet tall. "Ain't gonna be much of a tree," he said, grinning, "if it ain't no bigger than me."
As Jake put the shoebox into his bureau drawer, he said, "Ever seen them fancy ladies in town?"
Giggling and shoving, the boys nodded.
"Well, a Christmas tree is kind like them. It’s the doo-dads what make the difference."
If a mirror had been handy just then, I would have bet that my face was as wide-eyed and slack-jawed as everybody else's. Still, as the oldest boy in Donaldson's Dorm I believed I had an obligation to see to it we all kept our feet on the ground. "Doo-dads?" I echoed. "Where we gonna get doo-dads when we don’t even know what they are."
Jake's brow crinkled, as if he couldn't believe how dense the lot of us were. Then he looked me in the eye: "Whilst you an' me is out makin' like lumberjacks, these here boys'll come up with somethin' to trim the tree with," he said. "Jus' wait an' see." Then he shoved his bed against the wall, and like a zoo monkey, leaped from headboard to window ledge. "Get back to makin' a racket," he said, "or Miss Germane's gonna come on in here to find out what all the quiet is about!"
Sure enough, when we returned at midnight with a squat, scraggly tree, the boys presented a collection of bent spoons and two-tined forks, the handle from a broken mug, and an assortment of string and twine. When they'd finished hanging the stuff on the tree, Jake handed me his angel. "You're the tallest, Homer. Put 'er up top!"
One Year Later

"What you got there?" Jake asked.
I shoved the blue-lined tablet under my pillow. "Nothin'," I said, feeling the heat of a blush on my cheeks.
"Looked like some kind of school book. You doin' homework?"
Jake opened the drawer where he kept his angel. "Writin' another story?"
I couldn't very well admit it, not with Stuttering William and Tommy standing within earshot. Writing was for girls. And girlie-boys.
His hand shot out and pulled the tablet from under my pillow.
"Hey, give it back!" I hollered, grabbing for it.
But quick as an eyeblink, Jake took off down the hall and locked himself into the janitor's closet. He knew as well as I did that if I kicked up too big a fuss, every boy in Donaldson's Dorm would want to know why. I had no choice but to sit quietly...and plan the way I'd tear him apart once he opened that door.
Nearly an hour passed before he called through the keyhole. "Homer?"
"These stories of yours…. Wow."
Did that mean he liked them? I licked my lips. "Gimme my tablet back," I snarled.
"Y’all are special, Homer. You know that, right?"
They called Fat Freddie "special"; grown-up talk for not too bright. I felt my hands ball into fists. Oh, he was going to get it good when he came out of there, for sure!
"Iffin y'wanna clobber me for swipin' your book, go right ahead. Readin' your stories was worth a good beatin'." Slowly, he opened the door and handed me the tablet. Head down and hands pocketed, he walked slowly back to the dorm.
"Hey. Where do you think you're going?"
"To get my angel."
I caught up with him. "But...but it ain't even close to Christmas."
He stopped so fast, I nearly crashed into him.
"Save that surprised look for somebody else. I know you seen me talkin’ to her when I need to puzzle out a problem."
Kids did all sorts of goofy things to get by at Dexter. Talking to Christmas tree angels didn't seem all that strange, compared to some of the stuff I’d seen. "What're you gonna ask her?"
"You'll see," he said. Back in the dorm, he sat on the edge of his cot and held the angel in his hands. "So what do you think?" he asked her. "Is it ‘sissy’ for a boy to be writin' stories down in a notebook?" He held her small face to his ear and, nodding, he smiled.
No one else was listening. What could it hurt to play along? I moved closer. "So…?"
Gently, he tucked her back into the shoebox, put the box back into his drawer. "She said there ain't nothin' girlie 'bout a boy tellin' stories that make other people feel good. She says that's just what Jesus did, an' nobody ever called him a sissy."
I sat on my own cot, swallowing and staring, until Jake got up. He was almost in the hallway when he turned and said, "I'll just bet if you sent those stories to a magazine, they'd pay you for 'em."
Two years later, when I was fourteen and Jake was twelve, I packed my cardboard suitcase with those stories Jake read that day—and dozens more I'd written since—and prepared to leave Dexter. He walked with me to the big iron gates. "You'll do fine out there, Homer."
"Did your angel tell you that?"
Smiling, Jake said, "You always seem to know what's important, and that'll stand you in good stead, no matter where you go or what you do."
"That's good to hear," I said, meaning it.
"Promise me something?"
"If I can."
"Don't quit writin' them stories of yours. One day, they're gonna make you rich and famous."
I laughed. "Yeah, and you're gonna be a comedian."
"One more promise?"
This time I didn't hesitate. "Sure." I liked the kid. Fact was, Jake was the closest thing to a brother I’d ever had.
"If anything happens to me, will you take care of my angel? She means a lot, bein' she's all I have to remember my maw by, so...."
The idea of a world without Jake, well, it wasn’t a place I cared to live. "That’s just crazy talk. You’re gonna live forev—"
"We hafta stay in touch, and not like them others who leave here sayin' they's gonna." Winking, he socked my shoulder. "It'll be like we're brothers."
"Sure," I repeated.
And then I left Dexter for good.
I hitched a ride from Jersey to New York City, and got a job as a short order cook in a diner near the theater district. Every night, alone in my room above the kitchen, I scribbled on blue-lined tablets....
I saw Jake just twice after that, but every now and then, when I got a yearning for that feet-on-the-ground, Jake Donnelly brand of common sense, I'd pick up a phone, knowing even before hearing his slow southern drawl that I'd feel better about my life, about myself, when we said goodbye. Because Jake meant to make a difference in people's lives. In his presence, fat girls felt thin, ugly girls felt pretty; dumb boys felt smart, and scared boys felt brave. And boys who didn't believe they had the talent or the courage to show their stories to publishers, tried.
I was still fourteen when I got up the nerve to mail one of my stories to a magazine. By nineteen, I'd been published dozens of times. And since then, I've enjoyed material success like most men only dream about.
Couple of years back, I got an invitation to Christmas at the White House. There were trees everywhere, but not one could compare to my first one at Dexter Domicile for Displace Juveniles.
I owe you a big one, Jake, and that's never more clear to me than at Christmastime.
The End

With 105 books (5,000,000+ copies in circulation!), best-selling author Loree Lough's stories have been compared to those by Nicholas Sparks, and she has been dubbed by readers and reviewers as “a gifted writer whose stories touch hearts and change lives.”

With a long list of industry awards, it isn't likely this prolific author will ever retire...not even to her cozy li'l cabin in the Allegheny Mountains. She loves to hear from her readers and personally answers every letter sent to

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