San Francisco during the roaring ’20s comes to vivid life in Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett. Aida Palmer is a spirit medium who performs around the country. When she’s summoned after hours to the speakeasy where she’s currently engaged, she’s not expecting to meet attractive bootlegger Winter Magnusson—or the ghost following him around. Winter’s in desperate straits. Not only can he suddenly see and attract ghosts, but he’s also been poisoned. Thanks to Aida, he recovers from the latter, but Winter knows he’s still in danger—and at risk of falling for the beautiful and independent Aida. Together, they try to figure out who might be out to harm him, exploring the corners of Chinatown and encountering some of its mysterious inhabitants. There’s danger all around, and the two bump up against it more than once in this action-packed tale. The time period and setting are depicted superbly; Winter and Aida are smart yet vulnerable; and the story offers both shivers and steam.

A young beauty is forced to make a desperate choice in Joan Johnston’s Western historical, Montana Bride. Hetty Wentworth is traveling westward on the Oregon Trail in the company of a mail-order bride, her two children and the manservant of the groom-to-be, when an accident befalls the mean-tempered fiancée, leaving a daughter and son orphaned and penniless. The servant suggests that Hetty take the identity of the woman his employer is expecting to marry. The deception will save the children, and Hetty—an orphan herself—vows to be a good wife to the man she’ll meet in the Montana Territory. Karl Norwood can’t believe his luck when he sees his breathtaking intended. But he’s puzzled that her children don’t look like her and wonders why the “widow” seems so skittish about kisses and other marital pleasures. Still, he falls for her, and they become a family through adventure and hardship. Hetty wants to confess her true identity to Karl, but it’s not just the fate of the children on the line—so is her love. Fast paced and full of heart.

Taut suspense and tender romance come together in Jill Sorenson’s Badlands. At a political event during her father’s presidential campaign, single mother Penny Sandoval, her 5-year-old son, Cruz, and their bodyguard, Owen Jackson, are abducted and driven to the California desert to await the ransom demand. Terrified for herself and her child, Penny clings to the fact that Owen—whom she trusts and is secretly attracted to—is by her side. Then she learns that the leader of the kidnappers is none other than Owen’s older brother, who doesn’t appear to have much affection for the younger man. When opportunity presents itself, Penny and Cruz escape. Desperate to help the woman he longs for and the boy he adores, Owen manages to get free as well. What follows is a desperate flight through barren terrain that brings Penny and Owen closer together—and closer to confessing their feelings for each other. Will they survive to act upon them? Owen may see himself as a tarnished man, but he’s a remarkable hero, and readers will be rooting for him to get the good woman he’s dreamed of for so long.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Jill Sorenson for Badlands.

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