Title: Deadly Valentine
Author: Jenna Harte
Date Published: 8/2012
Tess Madison walked away from her two-timing fiancé, a multi-million dollar trust fund and a cushy corporate law job to pursue the single life indulging in chocolate and fancy French underwear. But her newly reordered life comes unraveled when she reluctantly accepts an invitation to a dinner party and stumbles upon the host’s dead body. Now Tess is in the middle of a murder investigation pitting her wannabe-boyfriend police detective against Jack Valentine, a man from her past with blue-green eyes and sinful smile that causes her to rethink her self-imposed celibacy. Tess has many reasons to avoid Jack including the fact that he’s the prime suspect in murder. But Tess doesn’t believe Jack’s the murderer and with an honest attempt to keep her hormones in check, she agrees to represent him. With Jack’s help, she uncovers a 30-year-old secret someone is killing to keep hidden and discovers sensual delights that don’t include chocolate or French underwear. But when her professional and personal relationship with Jack threatens to ruin her career and end her life, Tess has to decide if Jack, is worth the risk.
Read an excerpt:
**My thoughts**Chapter OneI think I'm going to puke. Tess studied her face in the nineteenth-century Louis XV style mirror in Asa Worthington's foyer. Pale but not green. Still the rolling in her stomach told her things could get worse. Why she'd let Daniel Showalter talk her into attending his uncle's dinner party she didn't know. It had disaster written all over it even before her stomach threatened to embarrass her in front of the town's most elite family.Recently, Daniel's actions suggested he wanted more than friendship. Not that Daniel was a bad guy. He was handsome, down to earth and Tess loved his parents as if they were her own. But she was as committed to celibacy as one could get short of joining a convent. She'd given up on the idea of love ever after, preferring the sensual delights of chocolate, Marvin Gaye tunes and couture French underwear instead.But it wasn't Daniel's affection for her that threatened to ruin the night. It was his uncle. Asa Worthington was a volatile, intolerant, self-serving man whose gatherings usually involved patronizing or humiliating everyone in attendance. Even Asa's sister, Helen, found him so distasteful that she hadn't been to a family function in over twenty-years.The night was proving worse than Tess anticipated when Daniel's cell phone rang calling him back to duty as a police detective just as they arrived. So she stood abandoned and stranded in the foyer hoping her lunch didn't reappear and mess up the beautiful Italian marble floor. The things one did in the name of friendship.She pushed a tendril of chestnut hair out of her face and hoped that the glass of water the butler was bringing would settle her stomach until she could figure out how she was going to get home."You look beautiful."Tess lifted her gaze to find a pair of brilliant blue-green eyes reflecting back at her through the mirror. She hadn't thought the night could get worse. She'd been wrong.Was it too much to hope to go through the rest of her life never seeing those eyes again or anyone else from her old life? After all, Jefferson Tavern, Virginia was a long way from Washington, D.C., not so much in distance as in social importance. There was no reason for him to be so far from home. Perhaps the man whose reflection she watched move toward her was an apparition. Maybe the mirror was one of those commonly found in historic homes in which ghosts appear through the reflection. The only problem with that idea was that most ghosts in Virginia were from the revolutionary or civil wars. This man was very modern.So maybe her brain was as addled as her stomach and conjured up the vision. Her head was feeling a little foggy. The only way to find out for sure was to turn around and face him.Gawd! He was even more stunning than she remembered. "Jack."He grinned displaying a single dimple. "I was beginning to think you forgot who I was."That was laughable. No one ever forgot Jack Valentine. Particularly women. Even a woman like Tess who'd given up on men. He was a romance novel's alpha male come to life; gorgeous, rich, arrogant, and yet somehow endearing. There was a time she would have liked to indulge her attraction to him. That time was long gone."What are you doing here?" she asked.His brows drew together. Clearly he expected a different reaction. He probably thought she'd throw herself at him like she did the last time they were together. She wouldn't make that mistake again.He gave her an affable smile. "I'm doing well. Thanks for asking. You look good. Really good.""Still a charmer, I see.""You don't believe me?"She smirked at him. He should have been a politician the way he could talk and make you feel it was genuine. She didn't look good compared to when she last saw him nearly three years ago. Aside from the fact that she felt like the crypt keeper, she'd also put on ten pounds, which on a five foot three inch frame was significant. "I think you're being nice to an old friend.""I'm glad to hear you still think of me as a friend. I was worried you were still mad about the last time we -""What are you doing here?" she asked again impatiently.She saw a flash of annoyance on his face. It was so fast that she would have missed it if she wasn't staring at his mesmerizing eyes."Asa invited me.""I didn't know you knew Asa.”“I don't very well. It's business.”“You're doing business with him?”"Not yet. I probably won't." He shifted, moved closer. "Are you here alone?""No...Yes..."One dark brow lifted."I came with someone, but he was called away," Tess clarified."Too bad for him.""He'll be back.""Too bad for me."He was standing close, too close. He was studying her and she did her best to hold his gaze without giving away her unease. Or worse, blushing. He didn't need to know that after all these years he still made her insides flip-flop."There you are!" Asa Worthington’s booming voice echoed through the foyer followed by his immense body. "Appointed yourself the official greeter of beautiful women, eh?""Only this one," Jack said maintaining his gaze on Tess.Asa laughed and like everything else about him it was large and loud. His blue eyes twinkled with delight as he reached out and slapped Jack on the back. "That’s what I like about you. You see what you want and you go after it.""Tess! You’re here. Good. Where's Daniel?" Tom Showalter asked of his son as he came to stand next to Asa. The two men were complete opposites. Asa’s presence in a room remained even after he left while Tom could go unnoticed in a crowd of two. He was average in every way from his lackluster mud-colored eyes, to thinning brown hair. It always struck her as odd that as different as they were, Asa and Tom were good friends. Perhaps Tom being married to Asa's sister, Helen helped. Or maybe it was that Tom was Asa's lawyer."He got called away as we got here," she said."Oh. Well hopefully he won't be long. I see you’ve met Jack Valentine," Tom said."Jack is thinking of expanding his business in this area in anticipation of a joint venture we’re negotiating," Asa said. "He’ll certainly want someone local to represent him when he does. If Ms. Madison is as good a lawyer as you say she is Tom, perhaps she’d be up to handling Jack here.“"I’d enjoy being handled by Ms. Madison," Jack said, his gaze still on her.Tess' eyes grew large, then narrowed with suspicion. It wasn't unusual for Jack to be brazen. What was disturbing was that it was directed at her. "Have you ever been handled by a woman, Mr. Valentine?" she said with bravado she didn’t feel.A wicked smile spread on his face. "Not one like you."
The first thing I thought of while I was reading this book was Hercule Poirot. I am a big fan of the PBS series starring David Suchet. Many of them start out like this one does, with a group of prominent, wealthy people gathered in a house in which someone is brutally murdered. I had to chuckle late in the book when one of the characters made a comment about it being like an Agatha Christie novel. I haven't actually read any Agatha Christie (I know, shame on me), but I don't think there is as much romance in her books as there is in this one.
The storyline is interesting, as the characters are trying to figure out why Asa was murdered and how Jack is connected to the whole thing. Jack swears he is innocent, though so many others think he is guilty. Tess believes in his innocence, yet is extremely drawn to him. They have a past. I have to say that I am not really clear on their past connection, nor why Tess is having such a hard time with him reappearing in her life. There is talk of a sort of scandal with her ex-fiance, so I understand why they broke up. I just wish this part could have been fleshed out a bit more. Or, perhaps it would make for a great prequel to the series!
The chapters are short, so you can easily read it in bursts. Love scenes are hot, but don't get into all of that cheesy dialogue that so often accompanies detailed sex scenes. You also get just enough detail to allow for your own imagination to take over the minute details of the act, which is fine with me. I like to leave a little to my own imagination. ;-)
I've always had a romantic streak. Even as a kid, my favorite characters on TV were almost always happily married and as a twelve-year-old, I'd write stories about them (this was before fan fiction or the Internet were invented).
I love to read romantic suspense or mystery, but am disappointed that romances don't follow up on the happily ever after and mysteries rarely provide the sexy, romantic elements I enjoy. So I decided to write my own.
Like the character of Tess Madison in Deadly Valentine, I love chocolate, old R&B tunes (especially Marvin Gaye) and J.D. Robb books. I haven't yet been able to afford Carine Gilson underwear to know if I love it, but I look forward to finding out.
When I'm not telling stories, I work by day as a freelance writer and blogger. I live in central Virginia with my husband, two teenage children and two cats.
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