Friday, March 10, 2017

**GIVEAWAY** Someone to Love Showcase Donna Alward's Darling VT #2

I'm so psyched to be able to bring you my interview with Donna Alward about her new Darling VT series that I'm reviewing for RT Book Reviews. I'll be showcasing #2 in the series Someone to Love and share my review. Plus Donna's publisher St. Martin's Press is sponsoring a giveaway, details below.

ISBN-13: 9781250092663
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: 03/07/2017
Length: 320pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndieBound

Ethan Gallagher is a firefighter in Darling, Vermont, who followed tradition and pledged his love on the Kissing Bridge to ensure lifelong happiness. A few years later, he’s a widower with two rambunctious boys who no longer believes in magic. But even he has to admit that free-spirited Willow Dunaway fills him with wonder…and an attraction he cannot deny.
Willow’s come back to Darling a different girl than the one who left after high school. Overcoming her past and owning her own business has made her into a strong, independent woman. Single dad Ethan appeals to her in a way she didn’t expect, even though settling down is the last thing on her mind. But after fire destroys the local food bank, the town rallies, and a fling between Ethan and Willow leads to unintended consequences. Can they find a way out of their heartbreak to make a home in each other’s hearts?

Giveaway is for one print copy of
Someone to Love US ONLY
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Read an excerpt courtesy St. Martin's Press:


Bright July sunshine soaked through Willow Dunaway’s bamboo T-shirt as she took a bite of her veggie wrap. The lunch rush at The Purple Pig Café was over, and she’d snuck out for twenty minutes or so just to enjoy a bit of fresh air and a snack. The “Green,” as the locals called it, was a park that ran alongside Fisher’s Creek. The town kept the grass neatly clipped, flower beds watered and weeded, and had installed several benches both in the sun and in the shade of trees. Willow loved it. Sure, it was more manicured than wild and natural, but it was still calm and restful. Even when, like today, the tourists came to take their turn on the Kissing Bridge that spanned the creek, guaranteeing that their love would last forever. It was a cute, if somewhat silly, concept that played a major part in the town’s economy.

Willow had been back in Darling, Vermont, for just over a year. After six years in Florida, she’d come back to northern climes and had to adjust to the change in seasons. She’d stayed through the cold winter, deep snow, frigid temperatures, and the ski season that brought downhillers to the inns and bed-and-breakfasts in town. Through the pale green of early spring, when the snow melted, tiny sprigs of grass poked up through the earth, testing to see if winter was truly over, and crocuses and snowdrops carpeted front yards with the first bursts of color. Through the warm, lazy summer beside the lake and a bright, cozy autumn filled with colors and the scent of fallen leaves in the air.

She’d liked living in Florida. And it had served its purpose. She’d had to get away—from memories, mostly. Someplace neutral where she could sort out her thoughts and feelings and get her feet beneath herself again. Clearwater had done that for her. But in the end, Darling had beckoned her back. And when she’d checked realty listings and noticed the café up for sale, she’d known it was time to come home. Now, a year later, some of the new-business pressure had eased as the café was a resounding success. For the first time in many, many years, Willow felt everything was just as it should be.

She took another bite of her wrap and watched a young couple trot along the path to the stone bridge, the town’s number one tourist attraction. Willow had heard at least three versions of how the Kissing Bridge got its name, but there was one consistency in every single story: when a couple kissed on the bridge, it was said that their love would last forever. She thought it was cute, and she smiled a little as the pair reached the top of the arch, looked out over the sparkling creek, and then kissed.

On a less sentimental side, no one could deny the revenue the Kissing Bridge brought to Darling. Whether it was a simple kiss, a proposal, or posing for wedding pictures, the bridge was a huge draw. Heck, her best friend had just been married there a month ago. Laurel and Aiden had surprised everyone with the impromptu ceremony disguised as a publicity photo shoot for the town’s new tourism campaign. Now the two of them were cozied up together in Laurel’s house, acting like newlyweds. Willow missed seeing her friend, but she wouldn’t begrudge Laurel this happiness for the world. She’d earned it.

The bridge kept The Purple Pig busy, too. Willow put the lid back on the container she’d used for the wrap and dropped it into her tote bag. She really should get back. There was supper prep that needed doing.

The couple on the bridge kissed again and stood with their arms around each other for a while. Willow watched for a few stolen seconds, feeling a wistfulness open up inside her. She hadn’t had a real relationship in so long. She’d tried, once, in Clearwater. He’d been in her yoga class. An ex-soldier with a soft spot for animals and meditation. At first he’d seemed perfect. But then Willow had discovered that he carried even more baggage than she did. Instead of healing wounds, they’d ended up bringing each other down. Walking away had been the right, if painful, decision.

Life was good now. She had the business. She had good friends. She was at peace with a lot of things from her past, and those she wasn’t, she’d at least accepted. She should feel perfectly happy. Not like there was something missing.

It was past two thirty, so she shouldered her bag and stood up, knowing her assistant manager, Emily, could use the help making sure things were ready for the supper rush. She’d just taken a step when a soccer ball came out of nowhere, bouncing between her feet.

She looked up and saw a boy, maybe five years old, running at her full tilt. “Whoa,” she ordered, laughing. “Slow down, buddy.”

“Sorry, lady.” Brown eyes flashed up at her, full of boyish charm. He looked familiar somehow. Maybe he’d come into the café before or something.

“No worries,” she replied, giving it a light kick with the side of her foot. “Here you go.” He trapped it—rather expertly for such a small boy, she thought—beneath the toe of his sneaker.

The kid squinted against the sun as he looked at her. “How come your hair is pink?”

She laughed again, enchanted by his honesty. It wasn’t the first time she’d been asked that question since she’d added the pink stripe. “Oh, I felt like doing something fun with it.” She squatted down in front of him. “Do you like it?”

“It’s all right, I guess. ’Cept I like green.” He peered at her closer. “And you have a thing in your nose.”

God, the little guy was charming. Dark auburn hair with just a hint of curl and eyes that were guaranteed to break a girl’s heart someday. She pointed toward her nose. “My stud? It’s a real diamond.”

“No way.”




The boy’s head shot up as a masculine voice called his name. “That’s my dad,” he said, biting his lip. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. Have fun.”

He smiled and turned around, only his dad was walking toward them with purposeful steps. Another boy, a little younger, raced behind, trying to keep up.

Willow stood and tried hard not to gawk. He was tall—over six feet for sure, and in jeans and a plain T-shirt she could tell he was in good shape. When he looked at her it was as if she’d suddenly taken a blow to her chest, pushing out all the air so she couldn’t breathe. Even with the stern look on his face he was stunning in a rough way. Strong jaw, seriously blue eyes, and auburn hair, a little on the long side, unruly with a bit of natural curl. It wasn’t hard to imagine him in shorts and cleats, sweaty from playing soccer. Or in a kilt, like one of those highlanders in the books she’d been reading lately.

She had to get a grip.

“Connor, it’s time to go. Next time I tell you, you listen, rather than kicking the ball in the other direction, you hear?”

Alas, Willow thought with disappointment, there wasn’t a hint of a Scottish brogue in his terse voice. The boy’s face fell at his father’s sharp tone … Had it really been necessary for him to be so snappish? Any lingering romantic notions fizzled completely as she realized he was assessing her. From the look on his face, he didn’t like what he saw.

Wait. He seemed familiar. He … that was it. He was one of Aiden and Hannah’s brothers. But which one? She frowned. She and Aiden were the same age. He had a younger brother … Rory. Hannah was a few years older than Willow. And there were the twins and then … that meant this was the older brother. Try as she might, she couldn’t remember his name. What she did remember, however, was Laurel and Aiden’s wedding reception. She’d caught the bouquet. He’d caught the garter. And he’d slipped it onto her calf in one of the most awkward, uncomfortable moments of her life. As soon as the elastic had snapped onto her leg, he’d extricated himself from the embarrassing situation. More like run away, a little voice in her head chided. As fast as he could manage it.

“Connor,” he said, only slightly softer, “take the ball and your brother and go put your stuff in the backpack.”

“Yes, Dad,” Connor said, the earlier ebullience gone from his voice. “Come on, Ronan.” He held out his hand and the other boy took it. Willow watched them and couldn’t help the little smile that curved her lips. The brothers were cute, and it was clear that the younger one idolized the older. He had similar hair and eyes, but he looked up at his big brother like he ruled the world.

“They’re very cute,” she said, hoping the pleasant tone would ease the stern look on the dad’s face.

“They’re very energetic. And stubborn.”

“Aw, don’t be too hard on them.” She tried smiling again. “It’s a beautiful day on the Green. You can’t blame them for wanting to play a little longer.”

He was quiet for a moment. She saw his gaze slide over the pink streak in her blond hair, and a tiny lift of his eyebrow telegraphed his disapproval. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. People put color in their hair all the time.

“I’m Willow,” she said, holding out her hand, determined to be polite.

“Of course you are,” he replied, and he shook her hand. Briefly. “Laurel’s … friend.”

Willow bristled at the dismissive way he said “friend.” She kind of wished he hadn’t opened his mouth. The fantasy of him being … well, different, was pretty much gone. Instead she got the impression that he didn’t know how to smile.

So she made her smile bigger and said, “And you’re one of Aiden’s brothers, right?”

“Ethan Gallagher.”

That’s right. Ethan. “I knew you looked familiar. It’s the Gallagher hair and eyes.”

His stern expression didn’t change.

“Come on, it’s a compliment. Hannah’s gorgeous.”

He sighed, then looked over his shoulder to check on the boys. “And she knows it, too. I’d better get back.”

Wow. Would it have killed him to say thank you? “Me, too. I’d better get back to work.”

“At The Purple Pig,” he said.

She frowned. She was sure he hadn’t been in before when she’d been working. “How did you know that?”

“It’s on your shirt?”

His tone was dry and condescending, and he voiced it as a question so that the word “duh” echoed in her head. She’d forgotten she was wearing the T-shirt that the employees wore in lieu of a uniform. Her shirt today was lilac with a darker purple pig embroidered on the left chest. He could have pointed it out without being so rude. Aiden and Hannah were warm, friendly people. Ethan, it seemed, was cold and pretty unapproachable.

“Oh. Right.” She was annoyed to realize that a stranger could make her feel small and a bit stupid, and so she couldn’t resist coming back with a bright smile. Just because he was unfriendly didn’t mean she had to lower herself to his level. “You should bring the boys in for a treat sometime.”

His lips finally curved, but his smile was patronizing and not warm, as if he were saying, “Yeah, right.” He wouldn’t be the first to roll their eyes at the café’s philosophy: local, organic, and fair trade food. Willow felt heat rise in her cheeks. It had been a long, long time since she’d allowed anyone to make her feel inferior, but Ethan Gallagher had managed it in a few short sentences and one down-the-nose look.

“The Pig isn’t really my style,” he said.

Yep. She was starting to feel sorry for his kids. Hopefully they had a kind and gentle mother who at least smiled once in a while. Something else twigged in her mind, from her conversations with Hannah and Laurel. Something about Ethan’s wife. She really needed to start paying better attention.

“You’d better get back to your boys.” Willow stepped back, done with trying to be nice. “Enjoy the afternoon.”

She turned her back on him and walked away, her sandals crunching on the fine crushed gravel of the pathway. Her brows pulled together as she frowned. Resemblance aside, it was hard to believe that man was Hannah Gallagher’s brother. Willow was pretty sure she couldn’t have done a single thing to offend Ethan, but there’d been no warmth whatsoever in his manner.

She left the Green and walked the block and a half back to the café along Main Street, shaking off the encounter and taking deep breaths. There was a reason she’d come back here. Darling was, simply, home. The little shops, the small-town vibe of familiarity, the personal touches to the storefronts that showed care and pride. The buildings in the town center were more often than not constructed of reassuring red brick, with lots of white trim and colonial design. Color was added in the form of shutters and doors, and one of Willow’s favorites was at the florist’s, where the red door boasted a heart-shaped window, and the trim around it was painted with vines and leaves.

The Purple Pig stood out from several other businesses. The building itself was newer, a three-unit row-house constructed in much the same colonial style, but with siding instead of brick, and two large storefront windows. The Pig’s siding was a muted shade of pink, with a white awning over the front door and the logo—a fat, curly-tailed, happy purple pig—painted on the bay window in the front.

It added a sense of whimsy to the street, to Willow’s mind. As she approached it, thoughts of Ethan Stick-Up-His-Butt Gallagher faded away. Running the café was like her particular talents and philosophies finally all blended together into one perfect job.

A little bell dinged overhead as she stepped inside to the aromas she loved: cinnamon, chocolate, tea, bread. There were two kinds of soup on special today, and a variety of sandwiches, all handmade to order from fresh, organic ingredients. She planned the menus on a simple principle: nourishing the mind, body, and soul.

She stowed her tote in the office and put her apron on, returning to the front to help her part-time employee, Steven. Willow and her assistant manager, Emily, both agreed he was doing great, so she was going to increase his hours to full time in August. He could use the money for college and he was a fast learner. Plus he was a fantastic up-seller. If someone came in for a scone, he’d sell a bowl of soup with it. A sandwich? Have a tea and cookie to round it out. She wasn’t sure how he did it, but customers had a hard time saying no to him. It showed in his tips, too.

He was currently making a turkey and cranberry sandwich for a customer, so Willow went to the next person waiting and took her order. It was Shelley Burke, a former nurse who spent a good deal of her time volunteering around town. Willow slid a blueberry scone into a bag and handed it over the counter along with a cup of licorice mint tea. “Here you go, Mrs. Burke. What are you up to today?”

“I just finished at the food bank.” She smiled widely. “And tomorrow’s book club.”

“That sounds like fun.”

“It is. We even talk about the book sometimes.”

Willow laughed.

Shelley took the food and drink and frowned a little. “I wish you could join us, Willow. Maybe for next month’s meeting?”

“We’re right in the middle of tourist season. It’s hard to get away.” She genuinely felt disappointment at having to say no. The café kept her so busy that she didn’t have much time for anything purely social, and a book club sounded like fun. The kind of thing you did when living in a small town. Then she had an idea. “But if you want to hold it here, I can set up a little area for you in the corner, and you can have tea and treats. Then maybe I can sneak in for some of the discussion. Just let me know what the new book is.” Maybe that was something they could look into. Shouldn’t a café be a gathering place too? And for more than the occasional Chamber of Commerce meeting.

“I’ll ask the girls.” Shelley smiled. “Thanks for the offer.”

“See you soon,” Willow replied, and she slipped the change Shelley had left on the counter into the tip jar.

Emily came through the swinging doors of the kitchen to the front of the café, two trays of baked goods in her hands. “Brownies and cookies coming through.”

“Those smell delicious,” Willow said, sliding open the display case.

“Black-bean brownies and honey-oat trail-mix cookies. The apple muffins are coming out shortly.” Emily stood and brushed her hands down her apron.

Willow looked at Emily, and wondered yet again what it might be like if she joined the business as more of a partner rather than assistant manager. “Are you happy here, Em?”

“Are you kidding? I love it.”

“I know the pay isn’t great.”

“It’s the food service industry. I wasn’t expecting to get rich.” She laughed. “Good thing. Not that I’m asking for a raise or anything…” Her eyes widened and a blush crept into her cheeks.

Willow laughed. “That’s not what I was getting at. After the fall rush, we should sit down and talk. Think about expansion. Think about whether or not you want to join the business in a more permanent way.”

Emily’s face broke into a smile. “Oh my gosh. I’d love that. And I’m flattered. I have a bunch of ideas for the menu, and if we had more space…”

“Slow down,” Willow said, laughing again. “Let’s get through the next few months first. We work really well together, you know? I’m sure we can come up with some great plans.”

They always had another rush between five and six, when the commuters came home and stopped off for a quick meal. Em, who’d worked the breakfast and lunch crowd, left at five, after ensuring the kitchen was prepped for the evening. Willow and Steven handled the dwindling crowd.

Hannah Gallagher came through the door, her crown of red hair and bright smile announcing her entrance.

Willow smiled back. Hannah was wearing jeans and red wedges, with a short-sleeved cobalt-blue top that suited her Irish coloring and gave Willow a bit of style envy. Since seeing Ethan this afternoon, Willow saw the resemblance and also marveled at the disparity between brother and sister.

Willow finished wrapping up the roasted vegetable and goat cheese panini she was making, then turned to greet Hannah at the counter. “Hey, stranger. Did you come for dinner? Emily made a tomato basil soup this afternoon that’s to die for. We might have some left.”

Hannah grinned. “Of course I came for dinner. I haven’t eaten in…” She checked her watch. “At least two hours.”

Willow was always teasing Hannah about her metabolism. Hannah had announced a few months ago that her newest “thing” was training for a triathlon. She had the running and biking down cold, and now that summer was in full swing, she’d added swimming to her schedule. Plus she was a realtor two doors away. It was an odd day when Willow didn’t see her at least once.

“You want me to surprise you?” Willow asked.

“Of course. You always make the nicest things.”

“Go sit down. I’ll bring it out. I might even be able to take a quick break and have a tea with you.”

Hannah sat at the one vacant table left and Willow went to the kitchen. “Hey, Steven? I’m going to grab a cup of tea with Hannah.”

“No problem,” Steven replied, pushing the start button on the dishwasher. “I’ve got this.”

Willow grabbed a green tea, then took out a flax tortilla and filled it with free-range chicken, spinach, feta, and a few of the roasted vegetables. Knowing Hannah’s emphasis on protein, Willow also filled a bowl with her special bean salad and sprinkled a little fresh parsley from the herb garden on top. It smelled so good when she was done that her stomach was growling with hunger as she took the tray to the table.

“I could eat a horse,” Hannah said, as Willow sat down.

“Sorry. No horse here. But good fuel.”

“I know.” Hannah took a bite of her wrap and closed her eyes for a minute. “What is that?” she asked, licking her lips.

“It’s the marinade for the roasted vegetables. If I use those, I don’t need to add any extra dressing. Olive oil with a little garlic, lemon, and oregano.”

The combination was her basic go-to for just about everything, including the bean salad. And the easiest thing in the world to whip up or modify.

After a second bite, Hannah pinned Willow with a sharp look. “You’re really making quite a splash here, you know. Especially with the Kissing Bridge bringing in so much traffic. Couples from all over the world come here to say I love you and all that crap.”

“I hope so,” Willow replied. “And gee. Aren’t you the sentimental one.”

Hannah laughed.

“I’ve worked in the service industry for a long time. This place has the added benefit of, well, matching my life philosophy. I was just talking to Em today about expansion.”

Hannah pointed a finger at her. “If that’s true, come see me. We can look at leasing more space.” She raised an eyebrow. “Or if you want to take on any investors.”

Willow didn’t know what to say. On one hand, it all seemed very exciting. On the other, she tried to keep her life calm, peaceful. There were days that running the café tested her tranquility. What would happen if things got out of hand? She’d already seen her best friend, Laurel, work crazy hours trying to get her garden center up and running. The last thing Willow wanted was to become a workaholic.

Like her mom.

“You know my thoughts on eating clean,” Hannah said, breaking into Willow’s thoughts. “It’d be a fabulous opportunity. Of course, my folks aren’t quite as crazy about it as you and I are, but I grew up having a vegetable garden and fruit trees and stuff. Way better than processed. Speaking of, Sunday’s the weekly family dinner. I think you should come.”

“Sunday?” Willow had met Hannah’s parents at Aiden and Laurel’s wedding. They were nice enough, but like Hannah, they were all a bit “larger than life,” with big personalities. The idea of being a guest at a family dinner made her a bit nervous. It would be all of the Gallaghers together in one place. Including Ethan. Mr. Friendly.

“Yes, Sunday,” Hannah replied, wiping her lips with a napkin. “It’s my birthday. Mom wanted to throw a party but…” Hannah shuddered. “I’m a bit old for that nonsense. So I got around her by promising I would bring a friend to dinner. She kind of hoped it would be a friend of the opposite sex, but I’m not into picking up random guys off the street, you know?”

Willow laughed. Hannah was assertive, professional, a real take-charge kind of woman. But Willow knew from their conversations, and ones she’d had with Laurel, that the matriarch of the Gallagher family had the ability to put all the children directly under her thumb. Willow was glad she’d already met Moira. If Willow was any judge, Moira Gallagher was big-hearted and had a great sense of humor. She also commanded a great deal of respect from her kids.

“Please,” Hannah pleaded. “It’s all the birthday present I need. Save me.”

Willow laughed. “Wow. You make it sound so fun, how could I possibly refuse?”

“Thank you,” Hannah breathed the words like a benediction.

“That wasn’t a yes. I was being sarcastic.”

“Too bad. You said it and now it’s out there. You’re in. I’ll pick you up at five. Dinner’s at six.” She pointed her fork at the plate of bean salad. “And bring this. My youngest brother Rory will go crazy for it. Besides, I think Mom is making a big baked ham and I’m trying to avoid extra salt.” She puffed up her cheeks.

“Everyone’s going to be there?” Willow’s nervousness returned. She was fine behind a counter, when she had a job to do. A purpose. There was a reason she always kept busy. There was a comfort zone thing and making small talk wasn’t exactly it.

“Yep. My parents, three brothers, two sisters, two nephews, one set of grandparents, and you and me.”

“Awesome,” Willow muttered under her breath.

“I’m not letting you back out now. Besides, if I pick you up, I have an excuse to bug out early. We can always say you have to get up early to open the café.”

“This is sounding better and better.” She hesitated. “Three brothers? And nephews? That means Ethan is going to be there, right?”

Hannah lifted her chin. “Of course.” Her eyes narrowed. “I didn’t realize you two knew each other. I mean, other than crossing paths at the wedding.”

Willow felt her cheeks heat beneath Hannah’s direct gaze. “Actually, I ran into him by accident today. On the Green.”

“Really? He must have had the boys out. Connor is crazy about soccer since Ethan signed him up this spring.”

“Sounds right. A soccer ball went astray and landed at my feet. The oldest one … Connor? He’s a cutie.”

“He’s full of it, for sure.” Hannah grinned. “Like his dad.”

“Is Ethan always so crabby?” Willow asked, and Hannah choked on her food.

She gasped for air for a few seconds and then answered. “Oh my God, you nearly killed me.” She patted the middle of her chest. “Ethan wasn’t always so grouchy. But the rest of the family is fun, I promise. Ethan’ll come around. And he’s much mellower around the boys. I don’t know what he’d do without them.”

“He was kind of rude,” Willow admitted. “He must have a patient wife.”

A shadow passed over Hannah’s face, and her voice quieted. “I forget sometimes that you haven’t been back here for long. Ethan’s a widower, Willow. Lisa died a year and a half ago. Being a single dad … well, it’s taken a toll on him.”

Willow put down her tea and felt ten kinds of stupid. “Oh, Han, I had no idea. I mean, I know a lot of people by name by now, but not, well, not a lot of personal details. I’m sorry. That’s terrible. It must have happened just before I moved back.”

“I should have said something ages ago, since you and I started hanging out.”

Willow shook her head. “You’re not a gossip, and I appreciate that. I’m sure it’s not easy to talk about.”

“No. We all help out when we can with the boys. Ethan’s shift work makes for an extra challenge. But there’re lots of us to lend a hand.” Her smile came back. “You’ll see. He’s really a great guy. He just dotes on the boys, making sure they don’t miss out on anything, even though he works shift work with the fire department.” She finished her wrap and wiped her mouth with her napkin.

Willow thought back to their meeting. It shouldn’t have made any difference in regards to his behavior, but it did anyway. Those adorable boys had lost their mother. He’d lost his wife. His heart must be utterly broken. And yet he’d been out on the Green with them today, playing soccer. She had no idea what it was like to have a parent do something like that.

“Fine,” she agreed. “Just this once I will enter the lion’s den of the ginormous Gallagher family. And I want a code word that I can use that means I have an escape route.”

“No problem.” Hannah’s eyes sparkled. “Trust me, you’re going to have a great time. Besides, there’ll be cake.”

“How could I possibly turn down cake?” Willow answered, getting up from the table.

“That’s sarcasm again, right?” Hannah’s smile was so wicked that Willow couldn’t help but laugh.

“Hey, Hannah?” She stopped, holding the dirty dishes in her hands. She hadn’t forgotten Han’s enthusiasm about the business. “The landlord’s not in a hurry to rent out the space next door, is he?”

“Not right away, no. Is that what you’re thinking? Making this place bigger?” Hannah was also the property manager for the building, which was why they’d become such good friends to begin with. They seemed to be in each other’s orbit quite often.

“It’s something to think about. I just … well, if someone wants to lease it, is it too much to ask to come see me first?”

“Of course not. It might help if you had a business plan, too.”

“I was planning on sitting down later in the fall and working on that,” Willow admitted.

“I can’t promise anything. But I’ll mention it.”

“Thanks, Han.”

“No problem.” Hannah reached inside her purse and took out a twenty. “Here. For supper.”

“I’ll get you your change.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just throw one of those black-bean brownie things in a bag for me for later. And I’d love a raspberry tea to go.”

Willow laughed. “You’re a bottomless pit,” she said, reaching for a take-out cup for the tea.

“One day it’s going to catch up with me,” Hannah acknowledged. “But not today.”

After Hannah was gone back to work, Willow put her apron back on and went out front. She served coffee and sweets and made the odd sandwich, but her thoughts kept slipping to earlier that afternoon. It was hard to reconcile the irascible Ethan with what Hannah had told her about him being mellow around his kids. Her initial impression had been based on his raw physicality, but that flicker of awareness had been snuffed out by his, well, cold behavior. Seeing his stern face had stirred memories she tried not to think about that often. Willow’s mother had brought her up alone, but there’d been no fun and games in the park. She’d always been too busy to be bothered. Willow had always felt like she was an inconvenience.

His wife had died. That gave a man an excuse to be grouchy, didn’t it? And Hannah knew him better than anyone, probably. Her face had softened, talking about him and how he loved his kids.

Willow’s heart ached for him. He had to be hurting so much. She knew what it was like to feel you’d lost everything.

On Sunday, she decided, she would be the epitome of kindness and tolerance. No matter how condescending he was. In her experience, a good dose of kindness went a long, long way.

Copyright © 2017 Donna Alward

Donna Hi! I’m so excited to chat with you about your new Darling Vermont series that I am enjoying so much. I love the fact that they read well as stand alones but as with all series read much better in order.
First tell my readers a bit about the series.
Are there a set number of books?

Thanks for having me over to visit! We initially started with the trilogy, but I’ve “built” it so we can add books to the series – the Gallagher family is a big one, and each book introduces a new character or two. Hopefully I’ll have news to share about future books soon!
Tell us about the series conception.
My editor and I had a phone call about what to do next. I’d done four books in the Jewell Cove series, and they were looking to do something different. We talked about a final holiday novella to wind up any Jewell Cove threads, and then a new small-town trilogy. I honestly can’t remember all we talked about in that conversation, and the proposal was a collaborative work, really, as she helped me brainstorm a lot. The Kissing Bridge became a unifying element for the series, and then she sent me this cute real-life story about a flower girl and ring bearer and poof! Inspiration.
Why Vermont?
I like to keep things a bit familiar. As a Canadian writing US settings, I often look for places where I’ve spent time or places that are “close” to Canada. Darling is, geographically speaking, close to Quebec. Jewell Cove’s rugged Maine coastline is very similar to Nova Scotia (where I live now). I also LOVE New England – especially trees, lakes, fall colors. Vermont just seemed like the perfect place.
As you know I gave a Top Pick to Somebody To Love, both Ethan and Willow were such complex characters yet you kept them genuine, interesting and very grounded.
When you started writing the series did you already know who goes with whom?

Funny about that. When I first proposed the series, Willow was going to be a different character transplanted from Jewell Cove. But then we decided that having fresh, new characters would be better, and clearly it worked out well. But yes – I knew which hero went with which heroine. 
J I lay all that out in the series proposal and we go from there.
Willow runs the Purple Pig café, great name.
How did you come up with that?

There’s a small town in New Brunswick (Petitcodiac) that has a garden stand/business called The Green Pig. I’ve always found the name amusing, and when I was struggling to come up with a name for the café, that Green Pig always came to mind. I made it purple, and a café, and loved thinking about the logo for the business (which I’m having someone actually design!). Plus I’m a sucker for alliteration. Remember the old Sesame Street thing with the letter “P” and the picnic? Peach Pie. Pineapple. Pizza. LOL!
Are you a health nut foodie too?
Sort of? We have a big garden and I grew up on an apple farm, and I do make a lot of things from scratch as well as freezing and preserving. I also try to sneak in extra nutrition to recipes (hemp hearts, anyone? Flax seed?) and one of my daughters is a vegetarian, so I’ve tried all kinds of stuff that I like a lot that I might not have otherwise tried. Homemade falafel and bean burgers, for instance – yummy! And I actually made the black bean brownies before putting them in the book. They were pretty tasty, though the texture is a little bit different. I also have the Thug Kitchen cookbook, and my fave thing so far is the Quinoa Oatmeal. It’s delicious.
Book three in the series is about Rory Gallagher the vet.
I read in your bio that you’re also a pet parent and was wondering if you often put animals in your novels?

Sometimes I do, but not always. But man, Buster really worked his way into my heart. I had a dog growing up, but no cats. Now we have two cats and a senior dog. When Rory tells Oaklee that pets add to a person’s life, that’s pure personal experience. There is nothing like a cat curling up in your lap after you’ve had a bad day. It’s just 100% acceptance and love. And also nothing like dog breath in the morning (gross).
On your website the banner says Contemporary romance.
Has your muse ever whispered in your ear to try another genre?

So… yeah, but I ignore that voice, at least mostly. She could cause all kinds of trouble! I could see myself moving into something a little more Women’s Fiction, but truly, my fave genre to read is Regency Historical. I just LOVE it like nobody’s business. But I’m not brave enough to try it. I have mad respect for historical authors and all that detail!
So let’s get a little personal and talk about your social media habits.
Are you the type who enjoys posting, tweeting, linking and chatting or is it more of a OMG not this again?

It truly depends. To be honest, I’ve found social media a bit overwhelming over the last year, and I’m sure many people can relate. It’s hard to strike a balance between preserving your sanity and remaining informed, and that could be a whole huge discussion on its own (where we get our news, etc). Here’s what I do love: My
Amazing Readers group. It’s a fan group where we can chat and just be social and talk about books – not necessarily mine, but whatever we’re reading. I kind of hope it’s the same as when people drop by my house: informal, welcoming, nothing fancy, but always good for a cup of coffee or glass of wine and a few laughs. Plus I give away free stuff. J
Donna it was so nice having you visit the blog, don’t be a stranger!
Good luck with the new series and all the wonderful novels that are still just a spark in your imagination.
Will you be attending any author/signing events in the near future?

Yes! Life is truly crazy at the moment, but for sure I’ll be at the Romance Writers of America conference this July in Orlando, and signing at the Literacy signing on the Saturday afternoon.   Thanks for having me over for a visit and for all your kind words about the series!
 My Review courtesy RT Book Reviews

Other books in the series
out now                  Available in April

Connect with Donna Website - Facebook - Twitter

Meet Donna:
While bestselling author Donna Alward was busy studying Austen, Eliot and Shakespeare, she was also losing herself in the breathtaking stories created by romance novelists like LaVyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Nora Roberts. Several years after completing her degree she decided to write a romance of her own and it was true love! Five years and ten manuscripts later she sold her first book and launched a new career. While her heartwarming stories of love, hope, and homecoming have been translated into several languages, hit bestseller lists and won awards, her very favorite thing is when she hears from happy readers!
Donna is the author of the Jewell Cove series and Somebody Like You, the first book in the Darling, VT series with St. Martin's Press. She lives on Canada’s east coast with her family which includes a husband, a couple of kids, a senior dog and two crazy cats. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading (of course!), knitting, gardening, cooking…and is a Masterpiece Theater addict.

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  1. It is always good to write what you know about. ;) Great interview and thanks for showcasing this! Have a lovely weekend Debbie!

  2. I love the small town romances, as that is where I would love to move!!! There is something about small towns....romance...and being happy!

  3. I love small town romances and getting a sense of the community and townsfolk..not to mention all the meddling!

  4. Small Town Romance is old fashioned, meaningful,and captivating. So special and unforgettable.

  5. I love small town romances because of how close everyone always is, and the I am SO loving the Darling series!

  6. Enjoyed the interview and your review. I just have to read this series!! Vermont and New England area are ones that attract me too. For some reason the scenery always sounds so amazing.

  7. I like the charming setting and the laid back attitude.

  8. I like small town romances because they offer a more intimate look at all the residents.
    Theresa N

  9. Small town romance is the best, love the sense of family within the community