Romance novels heat up this winter

New York Times bestselling author Joan Johnston returns to her mail order bride series in “Wyoming Bride.”

Hannah is the oldest of the siblings left behind at an orphanage after their parents were killed in the Chicago fire. Her older sister, Miranda, took the youngest ones with her when she answered an ad for a mail order bride. Hannah’s youngest sister convinces her to do the same, and that’s how Hannah finds herself as the young bride to Mr. McMurtry, an older man looking for a bride to take with him on the Oregon trail. But when Hannah’s twin, Hetty, gets into trouble by causing a deadly fight between two men, they find themselves kicked off the wagon train and alone when Mr. McMurtry dies from cholera. And then the women are attacked by Indians…

Hannah wakes up alone among the wreck of her wagon. She is rescued by handsome rancher Flint Creed, who is looking for a bride of his own since his brother, Ransom, is marrying the lovely Emaline. Hannah, who has just discovered she is pregnant, sees no better offer coming and agrees to marry Flint. And while she knows his heart belongs to Emaline, she soon falls for her dashing husband. Does she stand a chance at winning his heart?

There’s plenty of romance in this story of one courageous woman and her hard-hearted but handsome husband and lots of Old West charm and danger. And you can find out what happens to the other sisters in the upcoming books, “Montana Bride” and “Blackthorne’s Bride.”

“Wyoming Bride” is published by Dell. It is $7.99 and 404 pages long.

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A small island town near Paris is the setting for a lush modern-day fairy tale in “The Chocolate Kiss” by Laura Florand.

Magalie lives on the Ile Saint-Louis, working in a tiny salon de the called “The Witches House,” renowned for both its tea and chocolate with her two aunts.

Her Aunt Aja makes tea that can change your life, and Magalie herself has a gift with chocolate. They work serving their exclusive clientele, their “princesses,” and Magalie enjoys finally having roots after spending her entire childhood between France and America. But when spoiled “prince” Phillipe Lyonnais, a renowned pastry chef, decides he’s opening a shop literally down the street, Magalie worries his business will bankrupt theirs.

While sparks fly between Phillipe and Magalie, they get off to a bad start immediately and seem to want to torment each other, daring one another to try their world-famous treats. Magalie knows it will never work out between them, witches and princes don’t fall in love – or do they?

This is a lavish confection of a romance, with sweet and spicy chemistry between Magalie and Phillipe, the “witch” and the “prince” and enough treats to tempt your sweet tooth. I stayed up until late in the night reading because I didn’t want the magic to end!

“The Chocolate Kiss” is published by Kensington. It is $14 and 352 pages long.

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For fans of “50 Shades of Grey” comes another story of a seductive and wealthy businessman and the young woman he seduces in J. Kenner’s “Release Me.”

Nikki Fairchild is the young assistant to a technology company whose boss is hoping to woo funds from wealthy and very successful businessman Damien Stark. She and her boss are sent to a party to try to network with him, and thanks to a socialite Nikki makes friends with, she does just that. But what no one knows is that Damien has met Nikki before, years ago. At first, he doesn’t seem interested in remaking their acquaintance, but when he gets her alone, the chemistry between them sizzles. But Nikki has a dark secret from her past, one that she isn’t sure she wants to share with Damien and he is the kind of man that wants to possess all of her. When Damien makes her an offer of a million dollars to be his for a week and pose for a painting, will she accept?

I was not a fan of “50 Shades,” but I enjoyed this book. The characters were well-developed, including the supporting cast. Damien manages to be domineering, yet charming and Nikki has plenty of fight in her to stand up to him and put him in his place, something that attracts him to her. And there is plenty of plot besides the “mature content” scenes.

The ending is vague, which seems to leave it open for a sequel.

“Release Me” is published by Bantam. It is $15 and 343 pages long. It is for a mature audience.

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Contact Amy Phelps at aphelps@newsandsentinel.com