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Hot Chocolate    by Laura V. Hilton order for
Hot Chocolate
by Laura V. Hilton
Order:  USA  Can
Treble Heart Books, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

Cocoa Tanner's husband died under mysterious circumstances leaving her with no financial support. Determined to make her own way in the world and to provide for her young daughter, she moved to Michigan and opened a coffee shop called 'Common Ground'. On her first day of business, Cocoa meets Bill James, a local businessman who is also a widower and father of a young girl.

Cocoa rushes up to Bill and envelops him in a big hug. This catches him off-guard, as he's avoided contact with people since the death of his beloved wife and their twins. Though his grief is a constant companion, Cocoa is a breath of fresh air. Much to his surprise, Bill wants to spend more time with her, and begins to make daily stops at Common Ground. Their daughters become friends, and although Bill and Cocoa are wary of love, they become close, with stirrings of something deeper. Both have pulled away from God, and are trying to find the way back. Will their relationship survive a threat on Cocoa's life?

Laura Hilton, has written a warm and lovely romance in this debut offering. The cozy story envelops the reader with delicious emotions and the development of a sweet love relationship. Cocoa and Bill are quite similar, both very unsure about pursuing more than friendship. Bill's marriage was romantic and ideal, but Cocoa's was fraught with turmoil. Although they come from opposite experiences, neither wants to take the risk to trust and love again. The realistic development of their friendship into something more is appealing and makes the characters accessible.

The suspense portion of the story, which comes in almost as an afterthought, could have been more developed. Readers never do get a sense of the real motivation behind Cocoa's stalker. Though explained, it seems to come from left field. But the romance, the spiritual development, and the coffee shop angle are all appealing and well written. One other thing worth mentioning: often books from small publishers are poorly edited. This is not the case with Hot Chocolate. The editing and proofreading are tight, adding to the reader's enjoyment.

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