Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review & Tour: At the Heart of the Stone by Roxanne D. Howard


Title: At the Heart of the Stone
Author: Roxanne D. Howard
Genre/Age: Romance/Erotica
Series: None
Publisher: Loose Id
Format: ebook via Bewitching Book Tours
Rating: ✺✺✺
LinksGoodreads
SynopsisDreams are the perfect shelter for our fantasies, safe havens to step inside without changing our daily lives. For Lark Braithwaite, all that is about to change. During the last six months, Lark has dreamt of a mysterious Irish lover, who knows what she wants, and gives her exactly what she needs. In her waking life in busy London, things aren’t as ideal, as her long-term relationship with Charles, her controlling fianc√©, has hit a dry spell.

When Lark is called home to Oregon for her father’s funeral right in the middle of a high-stakes corporate merger, she heads back to face the demons from her past. What she doesn’t expect is to meet her dream lover in the flesh. Niall O’Hagan steps straight out of her fantasies and right into her life, and the powerful connection they share rocks her foundation. Although she's dealing with the bitterness of being betrayed by Charles and his jealousy, Niall soon stirs Lark’s awareness of the superficiality of her existence and reawakens not only her sexuality, but her soul.


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If the kiss had stayed careful and guarded, she might have continued to question it. But the blindfold disappeared, and she realized she’d fallen asleep. Her eyes flew open, and he was there. Oh my God. He was there! Heated eyes watched her. Rakish dark hair fell over his forehead as he breathed hard, and the morning sun lit up the world behind him. She took a deep, shuddering breath to speak, but his hands moved to cup her face. He held still and closed his eyes as his lips took her mouth. Right then and there, it was very clear that this was real. That was the weight of a real man on top of her, clothed, and smelling citrusy and clean. What in the hell is happening here?
How did he get here? He was only her dream lover.
Or was he?
Confused beyond all comprehension, Lark didn’t have any time to contemplate what was really going on. His lips delivered a breath-stealing, soul-shattering kiss, and then they were all over each other. This, ah, this she knew. Lark hooked her ankle over his and put a hand on his shoulder, trying to rid him of his jacket and draw him closer. She clenched her hand in his hair as he devoured her mouth. He tasted the same as her dream lover, and she put her tongue in his mouth to savor more of that tangy sweetness.
They were both making noises they never had in her dreams, little breathy gasps and blasts of air as their mouths met and separated as they sought new angles and depths to their passion.
He made a disgruntled sound as he tried to get more comfortable in the cradle of her hips over the hindrance of clothes, and she realized she really wasn’t dreaming anymore. He nibbled on her lower lip as she opened her mouth to tell him to stop, but then she was carried away in the undercurrent of his large, warm hands, which were caressing the skin of her stomach beneath her hoodie and T-shirt. She continued to accept his kisses but pawed down her still zipped-up sweat jacket. Okay, so she was still clothed. He was rock hard against her, and he ground his hips into her, a disbelieving grunt escaping his lips. Lark rolled her eyes back, shivering at the jolt that went through her.
“Wh-- Mmm. Whoa. Stop!” She finally managed to say against his mouth. She furrowed her eyebrows and scrutinized him as he breathed in and out, bracing himself on the weight of his hands above her, his bright green eyes bearing into hers. His face was the face of her dreams--the sensual, bowed lips and cleft chin, the built body, and the thick hair. His hair... She blinked. It was cut at the nape and styled for a day at work. She glanced down at what he was wearing.
“Um, why are you wearing a suit and tie this time?” she asked, squinting against the sunlight. Please, God, let this be a dream. He moved his head, putting her in shade.
“This time?” He lifted an eyebrow, perplexed. “You’ll have to forgive me, lass, but I’ve no idea what the devil you’re talking about.” He maneuvered himself off her and sat upright at the end of the swing.
She tucked her feet against her and sat up, unable to do anything more than blink at him in utter disbelief.
“I was coming up to knock on the door when I saw you lying here, and given how you were tossing and the noises you were making, it looked like maybe you were having some sort of a seizure.”
He seemed contrite, and he turned his head as he licked his lips, full and abused from her kisses. Something close to mortification bloomed inside her.
“Erm, you...begged me to kiss you, and then you yanked me down. One thing led to another and, well, that was pretty much the way of it. I am only human, though I know that’s no excuse.” He swallowed and stared at her, his Adam’s apple moving in his throat. “I apologize. I shouldn’t have gone down when you pulled me, but it was strange--like you knew me or something.”
Lark leaned forward and rubbed her eyes. This couldn’t be real. She was hallucinating. She had to be. When she opened her eyes she’d see a man in his fifties with a receding hairline, glasses, and a beer gut. She reopened her eyes, and there he was: The full package. In the flesh. There was an air of intelligence in the way his eyes scrutinized her. She sat up and planted her feet on the porch, then put a hand to her head. The vertigo from earlier returned. “No, I’m sorry. I was dreaming...”
“Excuse me for saying so, but it must’ve been one hell of a dream.”
Lark nodded and tried not to black out as a wave of dizziness came over her.
“You look like you’re dehydrated. Hold on.”
The lilt of his familiar Irish accent soothed her like warm milk. He stood and walked over to a black laptop case propped near the front door that had several thick manila folders sticking out of its open center, one of which she could see said BRAITHWAITE in large, capital letters on an index label. He crouched down and unzipped the front pocket, extracting an unopened plastic water bottle.
“Here,” he said, unscrewing it and holding it out to her.
“Thanks.” She accepted the bottle and took a long sip of the cool water. It almost instantly revived her. She wiped a little water off the corner of her mouth with the top of her knuckle as he watched her. She offered it back to him, but he shook his head and reclaimed his seat next to her.
“Keep it. Drink.”
“Thank you.” She closed her eyes and took several large gulps, the cool liquid a balm to her throat.
“My name’s Niall O’Hagan.”
His voice was deep and pleasant. It sounded different, lighter than the sultry bedroom voice she was used to from her dreams.
“I’m the Braithwaites’ attorney.”
Lark paused in midsip and lowered the bottle in her hands. “You--no.” She laughed, glancing at him.
His mouth lifted at the corners, as if it were dawning on him he was the butt of a joke he wasn’t aware of. “I...what?”
Oh, the irony of dreaming about her father’s lawyer this whole time. Oh my God. She started giggling. This was it; she was officially losing it. She got up and walked over to the top step of the porch, put a hand over her face, and plunked herself down. “I am so messed up.”
A sudden, unwanted flash of Gemma saying “darlin’” to Charles yesterday surfaced, and tears stung her eyes. She went silent and willed them not to fall. It was no use.
After a moment, Niall sat down on the step beside her. “I’d offer you a drink, but I quit ten years ago.”
Lark laughed, despite the tears. “An Irish attorney who doesn’t like Guinness is like an Englishman who doesn’t like fish and chips or something.”
“I know; shameful,” he said with mock contrition. “Don’t hold it against me. I’m doing the world a favor. Trust me. I was a horrible drunk. Seriously, though, are you okay, miss?”
Lark scoffed and gesticulated with her hands to the sky. “It’s Lark. And what a loaded question of the day.” She couldn’t look at him, not after what happened. She clenched the edge of the step on either side of her and stared out at the trees.
“Well, considering we’ve already gone to second base, we might as well be open with each other. Forgive me if I’m candid, but it seems you were having an alleged, eh, intense dream, and you woke up and believed I was him. Is that right?”
Horror dawned on her at what she’d done, and her jaw dropped. “No!” Yes. She glanced at him, and his knowing expression said he knew that was exactly what happened.
“I see,” he said, his tone careful but persistent. “Then why did you kiss me like that?”
“I-I don’t have to answer that.” She lifted her chin with defiance.
He scooted closer to her. “No, you don’t. But I wish you would.”
She scratched her head in frustration and jumped up, moving toward the door.
“I’m sorry to embarrass you,” he said, and she paused with her hand halfway to the doorbell. “I’m decent. I would never-- I never meant to take advantage of you at all, please know that. When you kissed me like that, so familiar, I...”
It occurred to her Niall was being a lot more of a gentleman about the whole thing than most men would be, given how horrid the situation was. And she, meanwhile, was being a total bitch. And the poor guy had no clue as to why.
He met her in two quick strides, and his proximity alarmed her. They’d never both been standing in any of her dreams. He was at least a few inches over six feet, well built with wide shoulders and a lithe, muscular frame to complement the height.
He assessed her as well, and his eyes widened with realization. “Wait. Lark? Rick’s daughter? But you’re so little,” he said, surprised. “From the pictures, I assumed you’d be, erm-
“Fatter?” she asked, glad she was at least back on sure ground. She could always toss jokes around about her heavy days. “It’s okay. You can go ahead and say it. I’ve lost a lot of weight.”
Niall put a hand to the back of his neck. His eyebrows rose. “I think ‘a lot’ is an understatement. Good on you! My mam struggled with her weight too; I know from growing up with her how hard it is to lose it. Well, you look amazing. Wow.”
He rolled his eyes at himself and glanced away. The bizarreness of seeing him act misplaced and common, and not at all like a sex panther, was messing with her.
“I’m sorry.” He laughed. “I sound like an idiot. Listen, I hope you don’t think I’m some leering wanker. This is...awkward.”
“You can say that again,” she murmured with a small smile, wondering what he would say if she told him she’d been having erotic dreams of him every night for the last six months. It was bad enough she’d just made out with the guy.
She held out her hand but didn’t make eye contact. “So listen, how about we forget it ever happened, okay? I’m Lark Braithwaite. I flew in a couple of days ago from London.”
He took her hand and closed his long fingers over hers. “Niall O’Hagan. Pleasure.” He stepped a little closer. “And I’m all for a clean slate, but forgetting’s not on my agenda, lass. I’m taking that one to the grave. Hands down the best snog I’ve ever had in my life. Client’s daughter or no, you can’t take it back.”


Roxanne D. Howard is an author with Loose Id. She has two titles published and one series coming out over the holidays. She is a U.S. Army veteran, and has a bachelor's degree in Psychology and English. She loves to read poetry, classical literature, and Stephen King. She is also an avid Star Wars fan, musical theater nut, and loves everything related to marine biology. She resides in the mid-western United States, and is the proud mother of two beautiful girls, several pets, and loves to spend time with her husband and children when she's not writing. Roxanne loves to hear from her readers, and she can be contacted at author@roxannedhoward.com.

To find out more, please visit her website at www.roxannedhoward.com

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**Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for honest review.** 

And now I have a new book boyfriend!

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Oh, Niall! How my heart pitter-patters just for you. My poor husband was thoroughly ignored while I escaped into Oregon and met this amazing Irish lad. I am still smiling!

Lark receives a phone call at the worst of times, informing her that her estranged father has died and she needs to come as quickly as possible. Her destination happens to be an ocean (and continent) away from her new life in London. But Lark manages to pull herself together just in time for a plane ride to Oregon.

Upon returning to her childhood home, Lark tries to reconnect with her family and put her father to rest. However, the strangest thing happens when she has a spicy dream and wakes to find that the object of her slumbering affection is standing before her. And Niall is more than willing to bring Lark's fantasies to life.

It's just too bad that Lark is already engaged, lives on a completely different continent, wants nothing to do with Oregon, and has some serious daddy issues to resolve. Even the patient Niall has his work cut out for him, but he feels a connection to Lark that he can't ignore and he refuses to let her sabotage her own future out of guilt or fear.

This was a great book. There was very little for me to dislike and whole lot for me to love. Niall was humorous, caring, and determined. Lark faced strife from her past and her present and I was easily able to connect with her struggle. The secondary characters added depth and a few surprises along the way.

Also, this was one insanely steamy read! I lost count of the number of love scenes. Between the fantasy/dream sequences and the real life rendezvous, I was fanning myself for hours as I read this book.

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In closing... 
I can't believe the story is over and Niall is gone! I will definitely be re-reading this one in the future. Five amazing suns!