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Music Monday, She's Far From Hollywood, The Writing Life

Music Monday – Some Love Songs are Sad

My romance writing playlist contains a lot of songs about the power and joy of love. But we all know that true love isn’t always sunshine and roses. There are dark times and bumps in the road. Sometimes there are even endings (although we know those endings never last in romance novels!). But I don’t think any of my characters, even in the darkness of the “black moment” in their story, ever regrets falling in love.

So this is my first sad Music Monday song – Break Up in the End by Cole Swindell. It stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it, because the bittersweet heartbreak of Tennyson’s “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” feels so real in the lyrics and in the simple, heartfelt delivery.

I think especially of Cole and Bree from She’s Far From Hollywood. Cole ends up in residential rehab for his PTSD. Bree goes back to California to deconstruct the life she used to think mattered to her. They’re hurting. But they’re also stronger people at this point than they were in the beginning, and they’re grateful for the impact they’ve had in each other’s lives.

And, of course, since it’s a romance novel, there is a Happily Ever After that occurs after Cole and Bree’s black moment, because I believe in Forever Love.

Excerpts, Nora's Guy Next Door

Beginnings: Nora’s Guy Next Door

Nora's Guy Next Door HPG2What could possibly be more romantic than a grocery store, right? Hey–I don’t argue when inspiration hits me, and the opening scene for Nora’s Guy Next Door came to me as I was fighting my way through a crowded grocery store. I went with it, and it may be my favorite story opening.

I’m spending April revisiting the openings of each of my romances. Nora’s Guy Next Door is part of The Lowery Women series, but this book also inspired my upcoming Gallant Lake series with Harlequin Special Edition.

………………………………………………

Nora Lowery Bradford didn’t come close to losing her good Southern manners until the third time someone smacked their grocery cart into hers, nearly toppling a package of fancily frosted cupcakes. She spun on her heel, but the angry words died on her lips. The offender was an elderly lady, even shorter than Nora, pushing a cart loaded to the brim with Thanksgiving fixings.

Bless her heart.

Nora smiled and was about to wish her a happy holiday, but before she could speak, the woman rammed her cart into Nora’s again–on purpose!

“What’re you doin’, sightseeing or something? Move over! Other people got things to do.” With that, the woman pushed on by, scraping her cart along Nora’s to drive home her point.

Nora stood there for a moment with her mouth open, then rolled her eyes and pushed on. With Thanksgiving just two days away, the grocery store in Gallant Lake, New York, was mobbed with people. And the mob was cranky. Maybe she was biased, but people seemed just a bit more genteel back home in Atlanta. Unless, of course, you went grocery shopping on senior discount day–then all bets were off, Southern or not.

…………..

The produce section was even more crowded than the aisles, and Nora slowly worked her way through the veggies, taking in the dramas unfolding around her.

A woman threw a round head of pale lettuce into her cart, glaring at the balding man by her side. “Of course your mother thinks iceberg lettuce is the best. Your mother wouldn’t know a romaine leaf if it bit her in the ass!”

Two men leaned intently over a tomato display nearby. “Derrick, trust me. Vine-ripened tomatoes are better for salad than that monstrosity you picked up.” He gave his partner a wink. “I know you love the word beefsteak, honey, but bigger isn’t always better.”

Just a few minutes later, the drama jumps up a notch when Nora runs into a gorgeous, furious man cursing to himself in the fruit section of the produce area. They don’t exactly hit it off, but they can’t seem to stop running into each other…especially once they find out Nora’s daughter is having a baby…with Asher’s son. 

Excerpts, She's Far From Hollywood

Beginnings: She’s Far From Hollywood

She's Far From HollywoodLast month I shared “first kisses” from my books, and it was so much fun that I wanted to do something similar this month. Since April is a time of renewal and new beginnings, I’m going to share the beginning of each of my stories every Wednesday. If there are any you haven’t read yet, maybe you’ll be intrigued and want to know more (psst – just follow the link!).

I’ll start the beginnings with my beginning – the opening of my debut romance, She’s Far From Hollywood.

……………………………………………………….

Brianna Mathews hated North Carolina.

Seriously.

She hated it.

She’d left the cosmopolitan appeal of Charlotte a couple of hours ago, and now it was just field after field of…what? Corn? Tobacco? Cotton? What did they grow in North Carolina, anyway? Cotton, right?

Some of the fields looked like golden-green grass and were undulating prettily in the wind. Was that wheat?

…amber waves of grain…

Wasn’t wheat a grain?

She cursed softly behind the wheel of her rented red Mercedes. She was completely out of her element driving through farm country, and she laughed at her reflection in the rear-view mirror.

“You’re a long way from Hollywood, girlfriend.”

This seemed like such a good idea last night. But last night she was still in the civilized world. She’d been happily ensconced at her cousin Amanda’s palatial stone castle, Halcyon, in the Catskill Mountains of New York, sipping pink champagne at Amanda’s baby shower. Then she got the news that upended her tidy little world. The concensus was she needed a place to stay that was out of the public eye. Amanda’s best friend, Caroline, offered her mother’s rural farm as the perfect place to avoid both paparazzi and crazed stalkers.

“‘Go to North Carolina,’ Caroline said. ‘You’ll be safe there.'” Bree glared at her reflection as she continued her one-sided conversation. “‘Mom has a cute little cottage you can use.’ Didn’t that all sound delightful last night at Halcyon? And look at me now. Driving down country roads in the middle of nowhere. Me! Miss California!” She shook her head. “I haven’t been here three hours and I’m already talking to myself. How am I supposed to last a month?”

[HINT: The hot, grumpy farmer next door makes Bree’s time in North Carolina a lot more interesting than she ever expected!]

Meet Me in the Middle, Music Monday

Music Monday: Heaven (Ben & Sarah)

One of my favorite new singers is a young artist who doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a typical country artist. But Kane Brown can really sing a love song. And he’s one good-looking dude, too! I can’t get enough of his very intimate song, Heaven.

In fact, Kane reminds me of Ben in my novella, Meet Me in the Middle, which is part of the Falling For You anthology. Ben doesn’t exactly fit into any mold, either. He’s a biker with a gentle heart and an impossible-to-ignore attraction to his kid sister’s best friend.

I can easily picture Ben and Sarah slow-dancing to Kane’s song on a Friday night at The Chalet in Gallant Lake. Yeah, that could definitely happen.

The Writing Life

Welcome to Gallant Lake!

Gallant Lake SeriesIt’s official! I have a brand new series coming in 2019! With the unfortunate demise of the Harlequin Superromance line (the final Supers will be out in June, including my The Life She Wants), I wasn’t sure where I’d land. But I’m thrilled to announce that my Gallant Lake Series will be published by Harlequin Special Edition, starting in 2019.

If you’ve read Nora’s Guy Next Door, you’re familiar with the fictional Catksill Mountains town of Gallant Lake, home of the Gallant Lake Resort. Gallant Lake is also the setting for The Life She Wants. I’ve basically fallen in love with this little town of faded storefronts along the lakeshore. It’s a town left behind by progress as the old resort (think Dirty Dancing) fell into disrepair. But it’s also a town full of close-knit individuals who care about each other and the place they call home. When the resort is brought back to life, along with the historic castle next door to it, Gallant Lake begins to feel hope again. As the town rebuilds, new people and new challenges come along. And….so does love.

First up are Nick and Cassie, both new to town and both employed by the Gallant Lake Resort. Both are trying to leave troubled pasts behind, and they dare each other to make some changes. Nick shows Cassie how to be more adventurous, while Cassie gets Nick to relax and breathe once in a while. Cassie’s past is threatening to catch up with her, but if she runs, she’ll leave behind her one chance at forever love.

Next come Sheriff Dan (who appears in Nora’s Guy Next Door and The Life She Wants) and his best friend’s little sister, Mackenzie, back in town to help her dad. The last thing Mack needs is Dan bringing up memories of high school and all the dreams she failed to achieve. Dan was always the bad boy as a teen, and Mack was the sweetest little kid. These days the single dad enforces the law instead of breaking it. Sweet Mackenzie is looking for a walk on the wild side, and Dan can’t let her do that with anyone but him. But how much is he willing to risk?

And then we have Nate (who appears in Nora’s Guy Next Door) and Brittany. Nate owns the local hardware store, which has been in his family for generations. Nate’s not big on change. Brittany is in Gallant Lake for one reason — to change everything. When the hard-charging real estate developer meets laid-back Nate, she figures her job just got a lot easier. She has no idea how wrong she is, because there’s nothing easy about Nate. Including leaving him behind.

So what do you think? Are you ready to read the stories of Gallant Lake? Because I’m already busy writing them!

 

Excerpts

A First Kiss: From a Work-in-Progress

Halcyon Ghosts

One last week in March – – – one last first kiss. And this one is from a book that doesn’t even have a final title yet. Or a publication date. Or a publisher. It will probably be independently published as a digital book in time for the holidays. It will probably have a title like…Her Castle in the Catskills. Or maybe not – – – haven’t decided that yet.

This book is connected to my current series with Harlequin Superromance, The Lowery Women. In fact, it will be a prequel to the series. This is the story of Blake Randall and Amanda Lowery, who appear in all of the other books as an existing couple. But the story of how they met is a favorite of mine, and I’m hoping it will be a favorite of yours, too.

He’s a successful man who doesn’t believe in love, and she’s a damaged woman who’s afraid to trust. A slightly haunted American castle, along with a lonely little boy, bring them together to create a thoroughly modern family.

And, just as in any other romance, there’s a first kiss. And because it’s a real-life romance, it happens at the kitchen sink. And because there’s a little bit of magic in this story, the kitchen is in a castle….

……………………………………………………………..

 

Amanda’s hair tumbled off her shoulders and down her back in golden curls. Before he knew it, his free hand was slowly twisting into those curls. She didn’t pull away. Didn’t look away. Blake lowered his head until his face was just above hers. He felt her breath on his skin. She smelled like citrus and spice and blueberries and red wine. Her lips parted and she stared up at him.

His voice was a raw whisper. “Please let me kiss you.”

His words came out as a plea, and he closed his eyes. He’d never begged for anything before in his life. But here he was, begging this sweet little thing for a kiss. Ready to drop to his knees if that’s what it took. He heard his father’s voice in his head, mocking his weakness. That’s when he started to straighten; started to come to his senses. Then he heard her whispered answer.

“Yes.”

Was there any sweeter word in the world? Adrenalin surged through his body, and his hand tightened in her hair. His eyes opened to meet those two oceans of blue. Dangerous blue. Deep enough to drown in.

She was trusting him. And that realization scared him to death. He raised his hand to cradle the back of her head as his lips brushed back and forth against hers. She shuddered in his arms and his mouth pressed to hers.

She stiffened for a heartbeat as his tongue ran along her lips. One hand slid down her back and he pulled her into him. He groaned, trying to be careful with her. But he wanted this so bad. A soft sound rose from her throat and, wonder of wonders, she opened her mouth to him. He was almost afraid to go further, but his body had a mind of its own. He tried to hold back, to take it easy, but there was just no damned way to do that. Her hands fluttered nervously at her sides, then moved up to clutch his shoulders. And her tongue…her tongue was pushing into his mouth now. Brave, beautiful girl. He growled and pulled her closer. He didn’t want to let her go. Ever.

When she finally pulled back, she was nearly gasping for air. He was surprised to realize he was, too. She looked at him in amazement.

Right there with you, sweetheart.

Music Monday, Nora's Guy Next Door

Music Monday – Like I’m Gonna Lose You (Asher & Nora)

Of all my couples, Nora and Asher of Nora’s Guy Next Door are the two who truly understand how fragile life can be. Nora lost a husband. Asher lost a son. And while their story is all about moving on and embracing life and love, the reality of losing someone is surely never far from their minds.

So I can picture the two of them sitting out on the wide covered porch of the log home Asher built on Gallant Mountain, with Meghan Trainor’s beautiful song, Like I’m Gonna Lose You, playing in the background. They’ve watched the sunset together, talking about their day and enjoying a a glass of wine for Nora, whiskey for Asher. The song comes up on Nora’s playlist, and Asher stands and pulls a surprised Nora out of her chair and into his arms. And there, on a warm spring night (spring will get warm eventually, right?), the two of them dance together in the moonlight. Nora’s head rests on his shoulder, and when Meghan and John Legend stop singing, Asher leads her upstairs to continue their slow dance…

Excerpts, The Life She Wants

A First Kiss: The Life She Wants

Life - Checklist

Time for another First Kiss! This one is from my upcoming Harlequin Superromance, The Life She Wants (June 2018). Shane Brannigan is a brash go-getter – he’s a sports agent who’s driven to be the best of the best. Melanie has already seen the view from the pinnacle of success, and it wasn’t all that great. All she wants now is to settle down and feel safe and healthy again. She doesn’t need a complication like Shane in her life, but there he is, every time she turns around.

They don’t pick the most private spot for a first kiss – they’re walking Mel’s dog in a public park. But one thing leads to another, and they end up stepping off the path and into each other’s arms. Fearless Shane is suddenly hesitant, but not for long….
…………………………………………………..
A furrow appeared between her brows.

“Shane…” His name was a whisper on her lips.

“Say that again.”

Her eyes darkened, and the furrow faded as a smile teased her lips. Her voice was stronger this time.

“Shane. What are we doing?”

“Damned if I know, but I’m not stopping unless you tell me to.”

He waited, and she didn’t say a word. His head dropped until his lips touched hers. He waited again, until she tipped her head up to meet him. Her lips parted for him with a sigh, and still, he hesitated. Was he afraid for her? Or for himself? This moment…this moment felt big. She murmured his name against his lips, her arms wrapping around his neck. And he was a goner.

He held her face in his hands, holding her still while his mouth took control. A soft moan rose from her throat, and his heart started banging in his chest. He had to hold back or they’d be naked on the ground in a heartbeat. She wasn’t making it easy.

One of his hands slid down her neck, his fingers wrapping around the back of her head, his thumb tipping her jaw up. She tilted her face just enough to let his tongue reach places he hadn’t managed to explore yet. His chest vibrated with a low growl and he pulled her closer.

He didn’t know how long it lasted. He didn’t care. He had no intention of stopping.

Until the dog barked.

 

The Writing Life

She’s Far From Hollywood – FINALIST!

She's Far From HollywoodI’m so excited to share the news that my debut romance, She’s Far From Hollywood, is one of four finalists (in its category) in the New England Chapter Romance Writers of America Readers’ Choice Contest! Winners will be announced in April, but just being a finalist in this prestigious romance novel contest is a thrill.

If you haven’t read She’s Far From Hollywood yet, and you like snarky dialogue, grumpy  military heroes, strong heroines, and sexy small town romance all wrapped up in one book….then you should probably check it out!

Hollywood Checklist

Excerpts, Meet Me in the Middle, The Writing Life

A First Kiss: Meet Me in the Middle

Meet Me GraphicYes, I’m still sharing First Kisses this month! This one is from my novella, Meet Me in the Middle, which was part of the anthology Falling For You. The anthology features ten small town romances from me and fellow award-winning and best-selling Harlequin Superromance authors. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should!

And here’s a special announcement…Meet Me in the Middle will soon be available as a stand-alone novella. Stay tuned over the next month or so for a cover reveal and release news. Ben and Sarah’s story takes place in Gallant Lake, the same town Nora’s Guy Next Door was set in (and the same town June’s The Life She Wants will be set in). While the anthology was released a few weeks after Nora’s Guy Next Door, the events in the novella technically take place a few weeks before Nora arrives in Gallant Lake for Thanksgiving.

Technically, this is Ben and Sarah’s third kiss, because this is a second chance romance. Ben just came cruising back into town on his motorcycle for his sister’s wedding, and schoolteacher Sarah’s not ready to face her bad boy high school crush again. Those first two kisses years ago didn’t stick, but this one (in the coatroom) just might…..

……………………………………..

       The logical thing would be to go back to the wedding reception and finish the night with their friends and family. That would be the safe choice. Her shoulders straightened. Maybe Ben was right. Maybe it was time to take a risk.
      “Well, I think we need to communicate more clearly about what we’re planning. No more blindsiding. We need to meet in the middle. To have a mutual agreement…”
       “And what exactly are you planning, Miss Sarah Jones?”
       She swallowed hard. “I’m planning on walking toward you. And I hope you’re planning on walking toward me. And when me meet, I’m thinking we should have a mutually agreed upon kiss.”
        She took a step, and he did the same. Then another. Until they were just inches away from each other. His hands cupped her face, his eyes so intense she could hardly bear to look into them, but she couldn’t look away. His head lowered and his lips brushed back and forth across hers. They’d never kissed like this before—tentative, careful, tender. He pressed his mouth against her and his tongue teased her for a moment before she let him in. A groan vibrated through her body, and she wasn’t sure if it came from Ben or her. She reached up and buried her fingers in his hair, while his hands slid down her body to pull her hips into his very obvious arousal.
      Those kisses in the past had been all about pent-up desire and an explosion of passion. This kiss was more like a furnace slowly being turned up until the heat could melt steel. Their moves were slower and more measured, but no less intense. A tremble started in Sarah’s chest and rolled out to her skin until her whole body shook with it. Ben must have felt it, because he growled and wrapped his arms around her, pressing her against the wall so she no longer had to worry about her legs holding her up.
        Their mouths came apart only long enough for a ragged breath, then crashed together again. This felt more like old times—heads twisting, hands moving quickly over bodies, frantic incoherent whispers. The two of them were combustible together.