It is a saga of love, care and affection between two species of different kinds.
It is a story of romance with a difference.
Lost amid the wilderness of the Adirondacks- the writer explores a strange world, a world away from the hustling modern city life- where still the gradual blooming of a wild flower excites the young heart, the chirping of the birds sends a message to the listener, beautiful flashing of butterfly wings fills the young mind with imagination.
Where human still cares for others- even in this age, where nobody has enough time to take a bit from the rat race and think about others.
Welcome to the world of Vivienne Harris- the young protagonist of our story-‘Raising the Stakes’ by Karen Rock– a Harlequin Heartwarming series novel.
the story begun with a bit of drama where our young protagonist – alone in her farmhouse with only a deaf dog and a nearly blind cat as her only companions, was alarmed by the slink movement of something or somebody. A burglar? A thief? Or a wild beast?
Soon she found out her intruder-
“The pan dipped and a pair of fearful, velvety-black eyes met hers. Dark fur puffed around a tiny triangular face, the petite snout ending in a quivering black nose.
A bear cub.
Her muscles loosened, her insides melt¬ing. Oh. Adorable. And frightened, despite the “terrifying” noises it emitted to scare her off. Poor thing. After eating half a pound of sweets, it should be in a sugar coma by now.”
A terrified black bear cub…. separated from her mother, dejected…….perhaps looking for the haven of her mother’s breast-
‘How scared it must be. Motherless, hungry and now chased by a human. No living thing should feel such terror. She fingered the scar that snaked across her throat.’
And soon she discovered with her horror that the young cub was not cent percent fit-
“For the first time, she had a good look at it and noticed something wrong with its jaw. The lower half seemed off-kilter, swelling making it bulge sideways. Was it injured? She had to get help for this button-eyed cutie.”
Karen has painted the character of our protagonist with precision of an artist- depicting her love and affection for the non-human. But she is helpless- what she can do with a motherless wild animal? So she called the Department of Environmental Conversation- a department with which she had had bitter experiences. It was her last ditch effort………
And soon the man from the Department appeared-
“A powerfully built man, well over six feet, stood on her front porch. His green uniform stretched across broad shoulders and a wide chest that tapered down to a lean waist. Matching pants went on forever, ending in black boots bigger than Jinx.”
it was virtually a tug of war about the future of the cub-to be or not to be? And it was eventfully discovered that her mother was a prey of the greed of human, killed mercilessly.
Now what? What to do with the wild animal who may never return to her wild habitat? Will the young handsome officer be compelled to the act of killing the animal only because she might never return to her natural abode, especially with a dislocated jaw? Will he make an effort to save the animal? The dilemma within the mind of the officer has been portrayed beautifully by the author-
“An image of the mother bear hanging from a similar maple flashed in his mind. Vivie’s comparison of Liam to the poachers had struck a chord, but he acted within the law, while they broke it. Their illegal actions had started this and now he had the horrible, de¬spicable task of finishing it.”
In their unconsciousness our young protagonists started developing a magnetic force of attraction towards each other. They may not disclose it-but it was silent –silent and golden. Soon two minds were to open up to each other and nothing was hidden
“He put his arm around her and she rested her head on his shoulder. His breath stopped as he waited for her to move away. Instead she stayed, and pleasure, sharp and sweet, filled him. In the distance, lanterns glowed and bobbed in the woods as campers made their way to their tents, calling their good-nights. Soon, all was quiet again and it felt as though he and Vivie were alone in the vast wilderness, finding their way in the darkness, to each other.”
A young cub had acted as the catalyst in blooming of two beautiful minds. But where is she?
What fate awaits the innocent cub? Will she be able to adjust herself to the wild? Or she has to be a pet of human for the rest of her life? Or she simply perished- losing the struggle for existence?
Where destiny will take our two protagonists?
There are some minor and some major characters in the story that had been made alive by the writer through her narration- and it was jingle all the way. The concluding part of the story that truly amazed me- a voyage towards a new hope, towards a new direction…….
Where the barrier between human and non human gets erased………
Raising the Stakes
by Karen Rock
Excerpt One: Guitar:
Liam kissed his mother’s damp cheek and eased his guitar from her grip. Her clear-eyed happiness soothed the deep burning inside. Vivie had a point. His music did make a difference. If it made his mother feel better, smoothed over this bump in the reception, then it was worth reliving the past. And maybe the past was something he needed to face, as Vivie had last night.
When he and Vivie approached the band area there was brief applause followed by an attentive hush.
He plucked two notes and felt the audience lean toward them. He touched a string and began to tune the instrument. It was not the finest guitar. He hadn’t been able to afford a better one at the time. Its neck was nicked. One of the pegs was loose and prone to going out of tune, he recalled.
He brushed a soft chord and tipped his ear to the strings. As he glanced up, he glimpsed Vivie’s face, clear as the moon. She smiled excitedly and the soft light in her eyes made his heart squeeze.
He touched the loose peg gently, running his hands over the warm wood. The varnish was scraped and scuffed in places, but that didn’t make it less precious to him.
So, yes. It had flaws, but what did that matter when it came to things you treasured? Vivie had called herself damaged goods and he could say the same about himself. Yet, did that mean they couldn’t be loved…find love…together?
Anyone could love someone perfect. Whole. That was easy. But to love someone scarred. Wounded. To know the flaws and love them too. That was rare and pure and perfect. Could he and Vivie share that?
He adjusted another string and pictured his old bunkmate, Roger, asking him for some Bon Jovi, Pete wanting more Journey. How both of them, and the rest of his unit, had sung along or closed their eyes, remembered better times. He had brought them peace at the end and the thought soothed a jagged part of him that had scraped his heart raw.
At last, he moved a finger and the chord went minor in a way that sounded a bit sad. He moved his hands again and this time two chords sang with each other. Then, without a plan, he began to play.
The strings felt foreign to his fingers, like old friends meeting up again. He played soft and slow, sending notes to the edge of the circle gathered around them. Fingers and strings worked together carefully, as if this tender bond might be broken at any moment.
Then he felt something inside him open and music poured into the quiet. His fingers danced, intricate and quick. The music moved like a maple key spinning to the forest floor, dandelion fluff floating on a summer breeze. It felt as if it carried his time in Kunar with it, along with the anguished waiting, the heart-stopping fear, the despair that he’d never make it out.
At last, he slipped into a familiar tune, a love song Mary Ann had played endlessly when they’d grown up. Her eyes smiled at him and Vivie joined him in a duet. Her voice was honey-smooth, a light soprano that complemented his baritone perfectly. They sang as though they’d done so together forever, each one taking turns weaving harmonic lines, supporting the melody and sometimes carrying it for the other. The moment was the sharpest, sweetest, he’d ever known.
He felt the heat of her beside him. Breathed in the summer rain and meadow-flower scent of her. Listened to the tender fluttering of her voice. It was beautiful. His eyes kept returning to her as she sat on a stool, arms hugging her knees.
At last the song ended, the final chord ringing in the silence, and after a bit, it slowly began to dawn on Liam that he’d been staring at Vivie for an awkward amount of time. But she didn’t seem offended or amused. She studied his face, as if she was waiting.
He wanted to take her somewhere private. Brush her cheek with his fingertips. Tell her that she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. That the sight of her was enough to drive the breath from him. How sometimes he missed out on what she said for the soft lilt of her voice. He wanted to say that if she were with him then nothing could ever be wrong in his world again.
In that moment, he considered asking her to come with him to Yellowstone. He felt the question boiling up in his chest. He drew in air, then hesitated. What could he say? Come with me? Leave your work, your friends, home, everything you know and love?
Sudden certainty tightened in his chest. He couldn’t promise her anything. He closed his mouth and smiled instead at the applauding crowd and his beaming mother.
Whatever he said couldn’t guarantee her permanence or stability, and after all she’d been through she deserved at least that.
Excerpt Two: Mamma Bear
“What about the cub?”
His gaze swerved to hers. “I’ll have to put it down if I can’t find the mother.”
Vivie clutched the back of a chair, lightheaded and nauseous. “What? No!” How could he say that so casually?
“I’ve called around and our wildlife rehabilitators are overloaded. Since the cub is too young to fend for itself, the humane thing to do is—”
“Kill it?” she stormed, interrupting. “How is that humane?” The cub’s frightened eyes came to mind and she backed up against the pantry door. Officer or not, he wouldn’t take the bear. Stop her from helping. It’d come to her home. Had sought refuge here.
He pulled off his hat and rubbed his forehead. “Ma’am, I don’t expect you to understand. But you need to trust me and move aside so that I can do my job.”
“Not a chance,” she ground out, wishing her pepper spray wasn’t across the room.
“Please be reasonable.” He raised his eyebrows, looking harmless. His holstered weapon told a different story.
Maybe she could reason with him, though she’d failed before. There had to be a way to save the cub. “How do you become a wildlife rehabilitator?”
He drew in a long breath and crossed his arms over his chest. “Pass a certification test then work under the supervision of a rehabilitator for six months.”
Tests. She hated them. Had only ever done well on presentation-style exams in culinary school. Still, for the baby bear…anything. “And when is the next one?”
“In a week.” He made a vague motion in the air with his hand. “Look. I’d be happy to discuss that with you another time, but the cub might be suffering. Please step aside so that I can take it.”
She raised her voice over her drumming heartbeat. “I’ll pass the test. Get certified.”
He ran a hand through his hair, making the curl-tipped ends stand up. “You’d have to study hundreds of pages of online material. It’s not easy. Trust me. I took it and barely finished my apprenticeship before my academy training started.”
“So you’re a certified wildlife rehabilitator? You could care for it.”
His chin jerked. “I already have a job.”
Her mind shifted into overdrive, churning up possibilities. “Not next week. You said you’re on vacation. You could take her while I study for the test.”
He blew out a long breath. “I don’t have an enclosure—something you’ll need along with someone to supervise you.”
She tried to come across as commanding, though at five-foot-three inches that was always a challenge. “You could help with both.”
He shook his head, his earnest expression replaced with a wash of annoyance. “Out of the question. There are too many ifs in that idea.”
She tried keeping the heat out of her voice. The DEC. Always so difficult. Especially Walsh. “Why? I’m sure you could call in a favor. Ask one of the rehabilitators to find temporary space for the cub. Then I’ll pass the test and, with your help, be approved to care for it. Don’t you want to do the right thing?”
Wasn’t that his job?
“I do. Which is why I’m taking the bear. Now.”
“Not a chance. You’ll have to go through me first.” She hated to sound dramatic, use a cheesy line from bad TV, but there was no other way to say it.
A crease appeared between his brows, his eyes scanning hers. Finally, he released a long breath.
“How about this—I’ll take her to the vet where they’ll check her jaw, give her some food and a safe place to stay, temporarily, while I continue investigating.”
She considered, wishing she could trust him. But after her dealings with him before, her faith was on the short side.
“Let’s try this,” she countered. “I’ll go with you and stay with the bear until you come back. Then we’ll talk about what happens next.”
He settled his hat back on, pinching the indented top. “There’s no reason to get more involved, ma’am.”
She pulled out her cell and tapped in Maggie’s number. Someone could come by and pick up the pies. Another worker would be called in for an extra shift. The Homestead would manage without her today. She wasn’t leaving the cub’s side until she knew it’d be safe—from nature and the DEC.
“It’s much too late for that, Officer Walsh.”
She studied him for a long, heavy moment, then moved aside. If the cub’s mother was dead, then she’d take on the role.
And nothing was more ferocious than a mama bear…
Excerpt Three: First Kiss
He lifted her chin with a gentle finger and gazed down at her. “You’re always safe with me.”
For some odd reason, her eyes welled and a tear clung to her lashes.
He brushed the wetness away with his thumb, his hands lingering and cupping her face.
“I’m never safe,” she whispered, her voice so low he had to bend closer to hear.
“I’ll protect you,” he found himself saying, a gallant and reckless offer considering his planned move. Still, a fierce urge to reassure her filled him. A need to kiss her full lips followed.
He captured them with his own, tasting berries, and something sweeter still. He buried his hands in her silky hair and brought her close, an insatiable hunger taking hold. The wildflower smell of her enveloped him and her mouth tantalized his. He nibbled on her lower lip, loving her soft exclamation of pleasure. Or was it surprise? She was early spring sunshine, a spring-fed pond, a mountain peak and everything that’d ever made him glad to be alive.
Without warning, she jerked away and sprang to her feet, backing away until her legs brushed the bushes.
Her face had lost all color and she looked as if she might faint. She shook her head, her hand rising to cover her mouth.
Regret snuffed out his elation. He shouldn’t have moved so fast. Or at all, darn it. “Did I offend you? I’m sorry. Blame it on a beautiful day. A lonely bachelor. A stupid one.”
Button appeared at Vivie’s feet. She stretched up on her hind legs, put her paws on Vivie’s sides and pressed her face against her caregiver’s stomach. If Button wasn’t a wild animal, he’d think the young bear sensed Vivie’s mood. Was trying to console her. He’d comfort Vivie, too, if she didn’t seem ready to bolt.
“I’m an idiot, Vivie.” He got to his feet, feeling like a consummate jerk for kissing her without any signs she’d welcome it. But for a moment, when she’d kissed him back, it’d seemed as though…
He shook his head. Women had the final say when it came to what they wanted. He should have been more sensitive. Not given in to impulses. “Please. It won’t happen again.” And he meant it. She was upset. Had a right to be. If he had any sense, he’d know kissing her was wrong for him, as well. Soon he’d be across the country. His attraction to Vivie was irrational.
“Vivie, talk to me.”
She stumbled away, Button stuck by her side, the cub’s turtle dangling from her mouth.
He ducked in front of her, unwilling to let the moment end badly. “What can I do?”
She wiped her nose and met his gaze. “Just stay away.” Without another word, she returned to the trail.
It took all of his willpower not to chase after her. He’d follow at a distance instead, staying far enough behind to ensure she got home safely. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted things back to normal again. If that was possible.
Strange that she’d said the same words he repeated to himself whenever Vivie came to mind—stay away.
Yet the more time he spent with her, the harder that became. His emotions for this complicated woman deepened every day. He could deny it all he wanted, but he cared about her.
The job in Yellowstone came to mind. He wouldn’t put off his decision any longer. As soon as he got home, he’d let them know. Escape before his feelings lashed him down forever.
Vivie was right.
Except when it came to Button, he’d stay away.
Excerpt Four: Whitface Castle Romantic Moment
In a few strides he closed the distance between them and gathered her in his arms.
“You’re right. It’s both of us. Let’s take this one day at a time. See if you feel differently in the next three weeks.” With his head lowered, his words flowed over her lips.
“You might be the one to change your mind… But either way, we can at least enjoy the time we have left together,” she whispered back, and in an instant he was pressing his firm mouth to hers, sucking gently on her lower lip before capturing it fully. She breathed in his scent, the fresh pine smell that made her head swim. She clutched his shoulders as his kiss strengthened, her fingers twining in the thick hair that brushed his collar. He moaned low in the back of his throat and his hands slid up her back, cupping her head as he deepened the kiss until they both gasped for air.
His heart drummed against her chest and an electric lightness rolled through her. She’d never felt so vulnerable, yet empowered, in a man’s arms before. Intoxicating. When his mouth trailed down her jaw, her head lolled back. She shivered when his lips nibbled along her neck, lingering at its base.
“You feel so good,” he growled when he pulled away at last.
She grabbed the back of a nearby seat, feeling dizzy. “So do you.”
“Have I convinced you yet?” The excitement in his eyes was infectious. But how could she be anything but honest? Yes, he made her feel things no other man could. Still…it was a big decision.
“I need time.”
He lifted her off her feet and gave her another breathless kiss before setting her down again. “We have three more weeks and I’m making the most of them. You see…I love you.”
Her breath evaporated in her lungs and her heart somersaulted. He loved her. It was beyond imagining. Wishing. Did she dare say it back given her doubts about their future?
She put a hand against his chest. “Liam. I don’t want you to get your hopes up.” There was so much to consider…and would a refuge in Yellowstone be available for Button? One she could volunteer at perhaps? Would she be able to keep her family together? So many questions to work through. Three weeks might not be enough. But the thought of losing this…these moments with Liam…it hurt, too.
“Too late.” His mischievous grin was contagious and she returned it, pushing him away to return to her dinner.
“Impossible. That’s what you are.” She pointed her chopsticks at him before scooping up a California roll, her heart full to bursting.
“It’s all part of the charm,” he said with a wink before picking up his chopsticks.
And it was…that strong, thoughtful man who’d entrusted her with his deepest hurts, his hidden insecurities. It only made him more special to her.
She brushed away the last shred of her doubts. They had three weeks together and a lot could change. Better to enjoy this time and worry about the future when it happened. For now, she’d let go and live— for Liam, for her pet family, and most of all, for herself.
This is my stop during the blog tour for Raising the Stakes by Karen Rock. This blog tour is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The blog tour runs from 1 till 7 April, you can view the complete tour schedule on the website of Lola’s Blog Tours.
Hiding from the world…
Tucking herself away in the Adirondack woods was supposed to keep Vivienne Harris safe. From dark memories of the Bronx, from danger, from entanglements. But when an orphaned bear cub raids her pantry and conservation officer Liam Walsh appears with news of poachers nearby, her private, peaceful world is turned upside down!
Suddenly two forces are drawing her out—Button, the cub who needs her help, and Liam, the man who’s dead set against her rehabilitating the bear. If she can just win Liam’s support, Vivie knows she can give Button a good life. And maybe find the courage to embrace a future with Liam…
You can find Raising the Stakes on Goodreads
About the Author:
Karen Rock is an award-winning YA and adult contemporary romance author. She holds a master’s degree in English and worked as an ELA instructor before becoming a full-time writer. Currently she writes for Harlequin Heartwarming and her first novel for the line, WISH ME TOMORROW, has won the 2014 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, the 2014 Golden Quill Contest and a finalist in the Published Maggie Awards. The first novel in her co-authored YA series, CAMP BOYFRIEND, has been a finalist in the Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards.
There is a tour wide giveaway for the blog tour of Raising the Stakes. These are the prizes you can win:
– a 100$ Amazon gift card (INT)