*The books eligible could be published in any year, they simply had to be read by me in 2016.
Clicking on book cover brings you to my review if I wrote one or Goodreads page if I didn't.
1. Finn and Olivia - Maximum Exposure by Alison Kent
"Who hurt you?" Finn asked his voice pitched low and coming from just behind her.
She kicked at a cloud of bubbly foam. "A friend of my father's. He said I invited his advances. Told me I'd asked for it with the way I flounced around half undressed."
"You know you didn't. No woman asks for a sexual assault."
She tried to shrug off his words. "He didn't really hurt me---"
"Of course, he did. If not physically, then emotionally. How old were you?"
"Fourteen. Old enough to know better."
"He was right. About that much, anyway. I'd seen him looking at me. I knew what he was thinking." She lifted her face, letting the breeze cool her. "But he wasn't going to have any say in what I wore. I had the right to wear anything I wanted to, damn him, to expose as much of my body as society said was decent. I'd show him. And I did. Until he showed me." She wanted him there. Wanted the comfort he offered when he stood behind her and wrapped her up in his arms. She closed hers on top of his and held him there, sinking into him, needing the support of his body, but needing even more the emotional rock he offered.
These two built each other up, calmed each other's demon, and had hot chemistry.
2. Rosalind and Nathaniel - A Gentleman's Game by Theresa Romain
"You push back every time I come close, but not so hard that I think you want to break. Just hard enough that I think you want to see if I'll stay." He lifted his head to press a kiss to her temple. "I'll stay."
The best part of this book was our couple's relationship and their slow growth. Their relationship forms from a friendship and had a wonderful gentleness to it.
3. Elizabeth and Dysart - To Lure a Proper Lady by Ashlyn MacNamara
To hell with the fact that she was a lady and he was hardly a gentleman.
What was this story's strong point and worth the price of admission was Lizzie and Dysart's chemistry. When they first meet, there is an instant spark but their coming together was gradually moved along in some pretty perfect steamy scenes.
Sweet God in heaven, she'd never known a kiss like this. Any of the gentlemen who'd tried had been just that---gentleman. Not Dysart. He'd learned the hardness of the world, and it came through in this intimate moment. But she drank in every last drop of the darkness he offered her and thirsted for more.
4. Katarina and Aodh - Claiming Her by Kris Kennedy
Then, soft and menacing, he whispered by her ear, "You want to fight, Katarina?"
If you want sizzling chemistry, push and pull, and desire spilling off the pages, you'll get it in spades from this couple. I also loved the inclusion of a lighter side to the couple that were living and going through a fairly dark time; they were playful.
She leaned her head forward until her forehead touched his. "You are mad. I do not know what to do with you."
"Aye, mad. Join me."
5. Samantha and Sam - The Dimple of Doom by Lucy Woodhull
"Did you just say to me that you kidnapped me as a favour because evil men were after me because you caused them to be after me?"
This couple's back and forth was delightful but you're going to have to like your humor a bit left of center to enjoy the ride; it's a bit comparable to Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer's Agnes and the Hitman.
"You wouldn't hurt me, you're a nice boy from North Carolina."
He flipped me over and licked my nipple, peeking through the lace of my bra. Deft fingers peeled the cup back so he could take me in his mouth. I whimpered and held his head there.
"I'm a boy from North Carolina who went bad, and don't you forget it."
6. Abby and Axel - Axel by Grace Burrowes
To blazing hell with what ladies did and did not do. With Axel Belmont, at least, Abby need not be a lady. She need only, finally, be herself.
The emotion between our hero Axel and heroine Abby, felt so incredibly real; I was swept away into their lives and relationship. They were both widowers who found a commonality with each other. Their relationship from budding to longing to inseparable will warm the coldest of hearts.
"His hands, warm and callused, traced the sides of her neck, his thumbs brushing over her cheeks. "You are daft if you think I was avoiding you, Abigail. I had to walk past your door to leave my room. A drunk forgoes his gin, a lotus-eater his opium, more easily than I passed your door."
7. Moira and Gideon - The Right Kind of Trouble by Shiloh Walker
He could hear the threads of his control snapping---only these weren't threads. They were tension wires, holding back the weight of his need and hunger, one that had been building for years.
Y'all, if you want tortured depths, this couple and the hero's 20 year wait for the heroine to work through her issues will deliver more than you could ever ask for. The word soulmates is often bandied about in terms of hearts and puppies, but the author gives it to us here in all its soul crushing glory; soulmates where life, pain, love, and human frailty get the best of it.
She held out her hand. For the longest time, he didn't move. Then he did---toward her.
8. Penny and Rafe - Heated Pursuit by April Hunt
She looked seconds away from blowing steam out her ears. Rafe was lost, completely. "Let me make sure I'm following you here. You're pissed off at me for being nice...and for caring about you? Is that right?"
"And it would make you feel better if I started acting like a sexist asshole?" What in the actual hell?
"Now we're getting somewhere."
I loved these two together, whether they were engaging in back and forth dialogue, running for their lives, or having trouble keeping their hands off each other, their chemistry was always front and center.
9. Aida and Winter - Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
He stuffed his hands into his pockets as he lowered his head and spoke to her conspiratorially in a teasing voice. "Let's just pretend that you needed my help. It will make me feel useful."
A thrill flowed through her like an electrical current. "Would you have actually hurt him?"
"In a heartbeat."
"How foolish of me to find that exciting."
While the first half may have felt a little more like insta-lust between the couple, they had a really fun back and forth that made them a delight to read. The second half improved with their emotional connection with Aida sharing more of herself and Winter acting out an incredibly moving and romantic gesture.
10. Charlotte and Max - When All the Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz
He caught her chin on the edge of his hand. "I'm not good with the subtle approach. I need to be sure. I need a yes or no."
She was still in free fall, she realized, about to spread wings she didn't know she possessed. "Yes," she whispered. "But only if you want me, too."
He smiled a slow, intimate smile that left her breathless. She could have sworn his eyes got a little hotter.
Even with their past hurts keeping them cautious, it was obvious from the moment they met, our couple had chemistry. They weren't so much a hot and cold drama, angst couple but a cool, calm, and sexily belonging together partners.
Katarina and Aodh
You think I have no choice," she said to his back.
He turned, his painted hand curled around the edge of the door. "If I wanted what came from a woman with no choice, Katarina, we would not be having this conversation."
"Come to me willing, or do not come at all."
Frankly, he wouldn't have been able to finish his sentence and I would have been on him like white on rice but I digress. I loved how the hero valued and respected the heroine and how they challenged each other while still giving and taking. This couple was heartrending and hot.
Lilias and Alistair
What couple was your favorite from the year?
Next time the final installment, Best Contemporary, Best Historical, and Best Book of 2016