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Forever With You

Forever With You, January 2015
Bayou Dreams #5
by Farrah Rochon

Harlequin Kimani
Featuring: Gabriel Franklin; Leslie Kirkland
224 pages
ISBN: 1460375688
EAN: 9781460375686
Kindle: B00O92QAFO
Paperback / e-Book
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"School issues and a lonely single mother combine in this romance"

Fresh Fiction Review

Forever With You
Farrah Rochon

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted March 26, 2015

Romance | Serial

The town of Gauthier, Louisiana is home to this series called 'Bayou Dreams' with some continuing characters but each book is a standalone. The town's school is examined in this lively and warm-hearted tale FOREVER WITH YOU.

Leslie Kirkland has two little girls whom she's raising alone since her soldier husband died. She doesn't have time to get roped into community projects at the Baptist Church, putting in an appearance at the social hour for politeness' sake. This time the good ladies have another topic in mind though - they introduce her to Sawyer Robertson, having first emphasised to her that he comes from good people and he's divorced. Poor Sawyer doesn't want to be railroaded into a date either, having recently returned to live in town and with a new job. He wouldn't be disappointed if the lovely Leslie accepted his dinner invitation, on the other hand, but she has the girls to consider, financial analyst work, and no time.

I liked the school science class and the SmartBoard - the teacher can email the homework assignment direct to the parents. Gabriel Franklin, teaching this class, knows Leslie already. She's on the Parents' Board. Gabe, a new man in town, is currently the interim assistant principal, and this dedicated teacher wants the promotion permanently. He's going to need the support of the Board, and asking Leslie out would not be smart, much as he wants to. Then small-town politics arise, with a proposed merger of two schools, and Gabe needs Leslie's backing more than ever. Which is why it's a pity that the two of them have just silently realised their mutual crush exists. How inappropriate would that be?

I enjoyed visiting Gauthier and the atmospheric setting, with lavender tea, pecan pie and jazz evenings. The weather is changeable and the folks are respectable. Leslie's job sounds high-powered, but she still hates the commute and getting stuck behind school buses or tractors. With two interesting single men in town, this lone parent has her hands full. However, first she has to work through major issues of her own, making her a rounded character and all the more admirable. FOREVER WITH YOU is the latest book by Farrah Rochon who loves featuring her fictional town. This is a short adult romance novel with lots of heart, and some hot behaviour inappropriate on school grounds, I warn you.

Learn more about Forever With You

SUMMARY

New life. New love?

The tranquil bayou town of Gauthier is the perfect place for widowed single mother Leslie Kirkland to raise her two daughters. Until she's elected president of the elementary school's Parent-Teacher Organization. Caught in a clash between the community and progressive science-teacher- turned-assistant-principal Gabriel Franklin, Leslie vows not to take sides. But it's hard to be objective when a sexy younger man is awakening such an irresistible desire.

Years ago, a teacher saved Gabriel from a one-way path to destruction, and now he is dedicated to his students and the Louisiana town he calls home. But the chemistry sizzling between him and Leslie could ignite a scandal. And when the gathering firestorm threatens both their dreams, Gabe is ready to take a stand. Can he convince Leslie that it's time to move on and make a bright future… with him?

Excerpt

Chapter 1

The frenetic whir of post-Sunday service gossip floating through the Mop & Glo- scented air of the New Hope Baptist Church hall intensified the throbbing behind Leslie Kirkland’s eyes. She slid into a cubby between the water cooler and a multitiered plant stand, her cheeks demanding a respite from the constant smiling at well-meaning church members determined to impart their gratitude for her singing at this morning’s service.

Leslie took a sip of lukewarm fruit punch, the drink of choice during the church’s fellowship hour, and glanced at her watch. She was counting down the seconds until she and her girls could leave without garnering judgmental stares from the deaconesses who considered the fellowship hour sacred. She’d faced her share of raised penciled-in eyebrows when she walked into the sanctuary this morning after being absent the past two weekends. That was more than enough censure for one day, thank you very much.

“Leslie Kirkland, I swear you are an angel sent down from heaven.”

Frustration at being discovered tightened the skin around her mouth, but her expression softened when she saw it was Nathan Robottom, owner of the hardware store in Gauthier, the tiny dot on the Louisiana map that Leslie had called home for more than a decade.

Nathan clasped her hands between his roughened palms and gave them a gentle squeeze. “That solo this morning was the loveliest thing I’ve heard since the last time you sang a solo in church.”

“That’s so nice of you to say, Mr. Nathan,” Leslie said, her lips stretching into a genuine smile. It was impossible not to love this old man. “How is Ms. Penelope? I noticed she didn’t join you this morning. I hope everything is okay.”

“Aw, she’s fine,” he said, waving off Leslie’s concern. “Her gout flared up and she didn’t want to come limpin’ in the church. She’ll be sorry she missed your pretty singing.” He gave her hands a good-natured pat before heading to the other side of the church hall where day-old doughnuts were doled out after Sunday service.

Leslie glanced at her watch again and decided that twenty minutes of fellowshipping should more than satisfy the deaconesses. She left her safe cubby in search of Kristi and Cassidy. Based on the trouble her daughters had given her when she’d woke them for church this morning, they should have been scratching at the doors to leave. As usual, they’d met up with friends and now she had to play Find the Kirkland Sisters.

As her eyes roamed the crowded hall, Leslie spotted Clementine Washington and Claudette Robinson sitting at the church ministries sign-up table. She averted her gaze, trying not to make eye contact, but she wasn’t quick enough. The Two Cs rose from the table simultaneously and started straight for her.

What would happen if she made a run for it? Just dashed right through the doors?

“Leslie!” Claudette called, waving her arms to get her attention.

Too late.

“Ms. Clementine. Ms. Claudette,” Leslie greeted with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “How are you two doing this morning?” Please don’t ask me to join the Ladies’ Auxiliary. “I hope you’re both doing well.”

“Oh, yes. And especially after hearing you sing,” Claudette said. “Girl, I know the spirit was moving in you.”

“Amen,” Clementine added.

“Thank you.” She smiled. Leslie just knew her cheek muscles were on the verge of staging a revolt after the workout she’d put them through today. “Well,” she said, clamping her hands in front of her. “I really need to find my girls. We have plans for this afternoon.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’re out there with the youth ministry,” Claudette said. “Marsha and Lewis Marcel donated popsicles for the little ones.” She slid a step closer to Leslie and leaned toward her, “And speaking of people who live out on Willow Street…”

Confusion tugged at the corners of Leslie’s mouth. Huh?

“Did you notice the way Sawyer Robertson was looking at you while you sang this morning?” Clementine asked.

Leslie couldn’t prevent her eye roll even if the Eye Roll Prevention Wizard had granted her special powers. And her eyes were rolling. Hard.

She should have known these two had something much more intrusive up their sleeves to ask her than joining the Ladies’ Auxiliary. In the month since Sawyer Robertson had moved into the charming colonial on Willow Street—only a few streets from where she lived in the residential area of downtown Gauthier—Leslie had encountered no less than a dozen people who were all too eager to make introductions.

According to the gossip she’d overheard while browsing the produce section at the supermarket last week, the handsome divorcee, who had left Gauthier about three years ago, had just started a job with the state, though the gossipers had not been sure in what capacity. He hailed from one of Gauthier’s more prominent families, and both of the ladies had agreed that he probably didn’t have to work if he didn’t want to.

Despite the town’s small size, Leslie had never had much interaction with Sawyer in the years before he’d hightailed it out of Gauthier. She hadn’t seen him much in the month since he’d returned either, though she sure had heard his name enough.

“Sawyer comes from good people,” Claudette said. “Rich as sin, but not uppity.”

“Nope, never was uppity,” Clementine agreed. “I went to high school with his momma, Cheryl Ann. Cancer took her a while back.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Leslie said. “Didn’t his father die of cancer, too?”

She knew at least that much about him.

Clementine nodded. “Sawyer took care of Earl until he passed, then he sold the house, married that girl from New Orleans and moved somewhere up north.” Clementine clucked her tongue. “Don’t know what happened, but that marriage sure didn’t last long.”

“You know what I heard,” Claudette started.

Leslie held up her hand. “This really isn’t the place for that, is it? And I should really go—”

Claudette’s face brightened. “Well, speak of the devil.

Leslie turned and just barely held in her groan at the sight of Eloise Dubois— another pillar of the church—and Sawyer Robertson walking toward them. Sawyer looked as though he’d been hit by a hurricane.

Or three very determined deaconesses.

“Look who I found in the parking lot,” Eloise said.

“Why, Sawyer, you remember Leslie Kirkland, don’t you?” Clementine asked in the most pathetic attempt at subtly known to mankind.

If only the floor could open up and swallow me…

Or, better yet, let it swallow up the deaconesses.

Leslie hid her frustration behind a smile as she stuck out her hand. “Nice to see you again, Sawyer.”

The shimmer of understanding that flashed in his eyes put Leslie at ease. He sympathized. Of course he sympathized. They were in the same boat, being thrust together by a community of meddlesome, though well-meaning, people.

“It’s nice to see you, as well,” he said.

So, he had a really nice voice. And strong, yet soft hands. He wasn’t bad on the eyes, either. His smooth dark skin was practically flawless, and those obsidian eyes practically dared you to look away from him.

But a pretty face had never been a selling point for her.

“I was sorry to hear about Braylon,” he said. “All of Gauthier was proud of him when he joined the military. He served our country well.”

Leslie nodded and smiled. The old nod and smile had become her rote response whenever talk veered in the vicinity of her deceased husband.

“I really enjoyed your singing this morning,” Sawyer added, his tone lighter. “It’s been a long time since I stepped foot in a church. Your voice was a lovely homecoming.”

He had that charm thing down pat. She was a sucker for a charmer, but still, no cigar.

“Thank you,” Leslie said with another polite smile.

He shifted from one foot to the other. So did she. The awkwardness was so tangible that Reverend Allan would demand it add money to the collection plate if it hung around much longer.

Of course, it was hard not to notice the palpable awkwardness when the conversations around them had all but ceased, making it painfully obvious that she and Sawyer were the focus of every eye in the church hall.

Where in the heck were her daughters? She needed rescuing from this charming, handsome man before the dozens of people watching them—all of them failing miserably at being covert—got the wrong impression. Leslie knew that if even one person thought there was a spark between her and Sawyer the sweet, well- intentioned matriarchs of Gauthier would wage an all-out campaign to get the two of them together.

Why couldn’t the people in this town mind their own damn business?

It was as if a green light had been turned on the day after the first anniversary of Braylon’s death. Once the acceptable grieving period had passed, all of Gauthier had been on a quest to find her a man, as if she was on the verge of collapsing from loneliness if she wasn’t paired with someone soon. Because, of course, she had all the time in the world to be lonely.

She was a single working mother with two daughters determined to take part in every extracurricular activity they could sign up for, and a full-time job that demanded more from her than she had to give. She barely had time to breathe.

But that didn’t stop the fine people of Gauthier from foisting their single friends and relatives on her.

Sawyer Robertson was just one in a passel of men who had been paraded before her, all of them the perfect man to help her raise her poor little fatherless daughters. But Sawyer had proven to be more dangerous than any of the other men thus far. She had been introduced to her share of visiting nephews or friends of a friend of a friend, but the full court press she’d faced since Sawyer’s return was unprecedented.

And unlike the visiting nephews, Sawyer wasn’t just passing through town. He was in Gauthier to stay. In a house just a few blocks from hers. All of Gauthier was determined to see this love connection happen.

This town! These nosy, prying people! She needed a break from it all.

“Mommy!” Kristi, her youngest, who had just turned five and was no longer her little baby, came running up to Leslie, the front of her white dress stained with purple popsicle juice. “Mommy, are we still putting the swinging bed in the backyard after church?”

“Yes, we are!” And Kristi would get extra dessert for rescuing her from this painful situation. “Why don’t you get your sister so we can leave?” Leslie turned to Sawyer and explained, “It’s a hammock. I promised the girls we would finally hang it today. “

“Sounds like a lovely way to spend a lazy afternoon.”

Yeah, that smile was really nice. There was no way to deny it.

“Do you need any help hanging the hammock?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” Leslie said quickly. “The instructions are pretty straightforward. My girls and I can handle it.”

A perfectly shaped brow arched before he asked, “Are you sure? I wouldn’t mind coming over to help.”

Leslie heard an excited gasp come from somewhere just over her shoulder. Lord, she needed to leave. Now.

“Yes, I’m sure,” she said.

More silence. More awkwardness. More reasons to get the heck out of here.

She pointed to the double doors of the church hall. “I should probably go.”

Sawyer nodded and stepped aside so she could pass. As she skirted around him, he called, “Uh, Leslie?”

Her eyes darted to him and she held her breath.

Please don’t ask me out. Please don’t ask me out.

Sawyer stuck both hands in his pockets and quickly glanced to the side where Eloise, Clementine and Claudette were staring openly. He lifted one shoulder in an indelicate shrug and said, “I was wondering if maybe you’d like to grab dinner some time?”

Oh, good God. He asked me out.

The effort to keep the pained expression from taking over her face was a valiant one, but it was impossible to stop it. She mentally cursed every interfering busybody in this town. Sawyer was a perfectly nice man. He didn’t deserve this.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” Leslie said. “I’m so busy with work, and my girls, and I’m also president of the PTO at the school this year. I just can’t spare the time. Thank you for the invitation, though.”

He did a fantastic job of hiding his disappointment, but Leslie still caught a glimpse of it in the way his mouth pinched at the corners.

She hated this. She hated being this perpetual stick-in-the-mud who constantly shot down advances from genuinely nice men. But finding a man was the very last thing on her agenda. She didn’t care that the people in this town thought it was time for her to jump into the dating pool again. She was not putting herself out there until she was good and ready.

“Maybe some other time,” Sawyer said.

Leslie didn’t give him an answer, only another of those half-smiles before she quickly made her way toward the door. She caught sight of Clementine, Claudette and Eloise standing off to the right. All three looked shocked and agitated, as if she’d messed up their well-laid plans.

That was too bad. She didn’t need a matchmaker.

Unfortunately, she was living in a town that was chock-full of them.


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