With springtime beckoning, nothing beats a terrific book tucked in purse or pocket for reading in snatches between work tasks. These romantic escapes are perfect if spring showers keep you inside and all the better for lolling in the warming great outdoors.

Serving up love
When life seems to have totally betrayed Hallie O'Rourke, she seizes her twin seven-year-old daughters and flees in Linda Lael Miller's enriching tale of contemporary frontiers and family fulfillment, The Last Chance Cafe.

Her stepfather murdered, Hallie believes her ex-husband is responsible, but the burden of protecting her daughters is one she's afraid to share. Rancher Chance Qualtrough tempts her to rely too much on him for the sanctuary of her family, for giving her the love and sharing she has always craved.  Revealing her secrets could make him as much a target for her ex and his cohorts as she is. But Hallie didn't reckon on Chance's warrior instincts; he's as willing to take on human marauders as the cougar stalking the Nevada countryside.

Linda Lael Miller brings to life the modern-day descendants of her popular Primrose Creek settlers with the vivid clarity and rough-hewn beauty of Nevada's rugged terrain bathed in sunglow. Working at The Last Chance ranch pales for Hallie compared to the strength and sanctuary of her true last chance at enduring love.

Here comes the bride
Gavin Elliott faces murder from a different view in Mary Jo Putney's compelling historical, The Bartered Bride. The one-time merchant sea captain looks out upon his destiny from the Tower of London, waiting to be executed after being convicted for killing his wife, Alexandra.

In the mysterious East Indies, Gavin risked his own life to save Alexandra from a slaver's control, only to become entangled in the complications of falling in love with a woman enslaved by the traumatic secrets she carries.

With all its aristocratic gamesmanship and intrigues, 19th century England is the perfect crucible for the fascinating complexities that are a hallmark of Mary Jo Putney stories. The Bartered Bride concludes Putney's Bride trilogy, and sustains the gold standard of The Wild Child and The China Bride.

Hollywood hijinks
Visualize Sandra Bullock doing Gosford Park and you'll grasp the challenge facing Tracy Collins, a spunky, sparkly romantic comedy actress on her way to England for a challenging dramatic role in Joan Wolf's Silverbridge.

While visiting the historic Silverbridge estate, Tracy is drawn to its enigmatic earl, Harry Oliver. The thoroughly modern Hollywood actress discovers Silverbridge is aptly and scarily named when she realizes the ghostly figures she encounters are not her acting colleagues, but a bridge to the past. Tracy and Harry team up to save the estate and their own lives as murderous mayhem stalks the movie set. Joan Wolf deftly draws her familiar Regency realm into contemporary times to deliver a charmer of a romance with just the right touch of suspense.

Daughters know best
Daddy needs a wife, and these Regency moppets decide in their own unique ways that youthful matchmakers know best. A Kiss for Papa is a sprightly collection of three charming tales by Jo Ann Ferguson, Valerie King and Jeanne Savery.

Fathers come in all temperaments, and these storytellers render each one irresistible: Ferguson's The Best Father in England, King's A Father's Love and Savery's A Father's Duty are daddies to die for. They may not know best when their own love lives are on the line, but their children are determined that happily ever after will include new moms for all of them.

Sandy's short take
These days, one name shines brighter than most in the romantic comedy heaven. Millie Criswell continues to tickle the funny bone in The Trials of Angela. The last thing attorney Angela DeNero believes she needs in her newly un-engaged life is a hard-charger like John Franco. The raucous, vibrant Italian-American world of Baltimore's Little Italy is about to get even livelier when this pair starts sparring. Millie Criswell is a treasure and an original.

Sandy Huseby writes and reviews from her homes in Fargo, North Dakota, and lakeside in northern Minnesota.


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