Excerpts, Meet Me in the Middle, The Writing Life

Beginnings: Meet Me in the Middle

Meet Me Meme Home (1)I’m visiting “beginnings” with this month’s excerpts, and today is a peek at my October novella, Meet Me in the Middle, which is part of the Falling For You anthology of small town romances. Meet Me in the Middle is set in the small town of Gallant Lake, which is also the setting for my upcoming Harlequin Special Edition series called…yup, you guessed it–the Gallant Lake Series.

Schoolteacher Sarah is feeling bad that breaking up with her ex has messed up her best friend’s wedding plans, since they’re still both in the wedding party. She doesn’t anticipate her friend’s solution to the problem, though, which puts Sarah much too close to her old high school crush–bad boy Ben Conway.

Ben’s only in town long enough to see his kid sister get married, then he’s hopping back on his bike and following the sun to Florida, determined to maintain his rolling stone lifestyle despite the loneliness he’s been feeling lately. But sweet Sarah Lowery makes him rethink his plans, and his life.

…………………………………………….

Sarah Jones dropped her head to her desk with a thunk and a groan.

“The full moon got to your monsters, too?”

She rolled her head just enough to open one eye and see her best friend, Jacqueline Conway, standing in the classroom doorway. They both taught at Gallant Lake Elementary School. The small resort town of Gallant Lake, nestled in the Catskill Mountains of New York, had seen better days, but it was working hard to make a comeback. Kind of like Sarah.

“Just kill me now, Jackie. No, don’t bother—I’m already dead.” Sarah raised her head, rubbing her temples with her fingertips. “I’m trying to teach them about the Middle Ages, and all they want to talk about is Game of Thrones and whether Westeros is a real place. I lost control completely once someone mentioned dragons.”

“At least sixth-graders can discuss something interesting. My little minions revolted shortly after lunch, and I swear for a minute there they were plotting to lock me in the closet and take over the school.” Jackie kicked off her stylish pumps and sat on the corner of Sarah’s desk, hiking up her skirt to cross her legs. “I was trying to explain the difference between odd and even numbers, and that rotten little Billy Johnson started labeling everyone in class as odd or even. There were tears and a general meltdown of decorum, including mine. I dread the emails I’ll be getting this weekend.”

Sarah winced. Technology meant teachers were available to parents 24/7, and those ranting emails that mommies and daddies fired off at midnight were so much fun to wake up to. She nodded in sympathy. “Yeah, I used to think your second-graders would be more controllable because they were smaller, but…”

Jackie finished the thought. “But they have the attention spans of gnats.” She brushed her long, dark hair back over her shoulder, looking like a poster girl for Hot for Teacher. “So about the wedding…”  

Sarah grimaced. Jackie was getting married in a week, and Sarah felt responsible for messing up a year’s worth of careful planning.

“You know I love you…” Jackie hesitated. They’d been best friends since kindergarten. Long enough for Sarah to know there was always a “but” coming when Jackie said those words. “…but I don’t have a lot of options. The only solution is to have you with Ben…”

“Ben? No. No.” Sarah was not sitting with Jackie’s big brother at the wedding.  

“It’s not that big of a wedding party, Sarah. Carl and Nicole are best man and maid of honor. I planned on having Lashonna sit with Ben, and you with Aaron. But unless you want to spend my wedding sitting with your cheating bastard of an ex, I have to put Aaron with Lashonna, which leaves…Ben.” Jackie patted Sarah’s arm. “It’ll be fine, as long as you don’t mind being with a shaggy-haired biker. He’s probably forgotten all about you following him around like a puppy dog when we were kids.”

Note: Ben definitely did NOT forget about Sarah, or the two kisses they shared way back when. Maybe the third time will be the charm….

 

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!]

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.

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.

 

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.
Excerpts, Nora's Guy Next Door, Teaser Tuesday, The Writing Life

Teaser Tuesday: Two Days Before Thanksgiving

Nora's Guy Next DoorToday is the exact day my romance novel, Nora’s Guy Next Door, begins – two days before Thanksgiving.

The book opens with Nora (a Southern belle) in a crowded grocery store – you know how crazy they can get, right? I originally come from “Wegmans Country” in the Northeast – if you live anywhere near a Wegmans grocery store, you know how amazing they are (it’s like the Disney version of grocery shopping), and yes, I miss them. I don’t think the little town of Gallant Lake is big enough for a Wegmans, but I did envision their produce section while writing this scene.

I am partying up a storm today over at the Facebook group Coffee, Cupcakes and Contemporaries, with some fun giveaways to celebrate “Two Days Before Thanksgiving” – come join us!

……………………

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 miserable weather wasn’t helping anyone’s attitude. Three inches of snow were on the ground when she arrived in the Catskills yesterday, and she was not happy about it. Oh, sure, the stuff looked like sugar frosting on the rooftops and tree branches, but the air was cold and raw.

The forecast for the week was snow, rain, wind, more rain, then snow again. Her cousin Amanda assured her that was typical for November, which was little comfort. No wonder people were so grumpy here in the North! She’d tried to convince Amanda and her  husband, Blake Randall, to fly south for Thanksgiving with their kids, but they owned a large lakeside resort here and couldn’t be gone during a busy tourist weekend. So the family was gathering at their historic castle-turned-home, Halcyon, located right next door to the resort.

Nora unfolded the store flyer she’d picked up at the door, trying to remember where the produce section was. The only good thing about being in Gallant Lake this week was that her favorite person in the whole world, her daughter Becky, would be arriving later today. Somewhere along the line, Nora had failed as a proper Atlanta mother, because her debutante daughter had inexplicably fallen in love with the Catskills the first time she came here after Amanda and Blake’s wedding. It was disappointing, but not surprising, when Becky hopped the first plane out of Georgia when Vassar offered her a scholarship.

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.”

A young woman pushed a cart past Nora with a toddler in the seat and a little boy and girl in tow, all three complaining loudly. The girl stomped her feet.

“I don’t wanna eat turkey! I wanna eat ice cream!”

“You gotta eat turkey on turkey day, dummy.” Her older brother gave her a shove. “And you can’t have ice cream. You gotta eat pie!”

The littlest one, sitting in the cart, started to scream. “No pie! No pie, Mommy! No pie!”

The mother’s face was pinched and tired. Nora reached out, resting her hand on the woman’s arm. “Don’t worry, darlin’, these days will pass. Enjoy these babies while they’re young. Before you know it, they’ll be off to college like mine.”

She got a tight smile in return. “Right now, it feels like that can’t happen soon enough, but thank you.”…

 

A deep voice started cursing behind her as she reached for a bag of lemons. She glanced over her shoulder and spotted a tall, lean man in jeans and a faded flannel shirt. His gray-blue eyes were frosty with anger, but she couldn’t tell where it was directed, since he seemed to be alone.

“Damned idiots. They’re nothing but stupid-ass idiots.” He roughly tossed a bag of apples into his cart, making it rattle, causing a few heads to turn. “Stupid, stupid, stupid…” Another bag of fruit landed in his cart with a bang, and he pushed it closer to hers.

She couldn’t see a Bluetooth device in his ear, so he seemed to be having this conversation with himself. Flat out raging at himself, from the sounds of it. His face was sharp and angled, but the dark stubble along his jaw softened those lines just enough to make him strikingly attractive in a rough-hewn way. Layers of dark brown hair brushed his shoulders, and he reminded her of an aging rock star getting ready to smash a guitar somewhere.

Nora gave herself a mental shake. She hadn’t looked twice at anyone since Paul’s death, much less ogled someone in a small-town grocery store. And this bad-tempered stranger was very much not her type. But still, she couldn’t take her eyes off Hot Produce Guy.

Excerpts

Excerpt: She’s Far From Hollywood

Getty Images/istockphoto

For a few heartbeats, neither of them spoke or moved. The only sound was the chug-chug of the hay elevator. She raised her head and met his eyes, which were just above her own. Instead of the usual cold slate blue, his were dark and intense. Without moving his head, he slowly lowered her legs until she was standing, but still trapped tightly in the circle of his arms. The suffocating heat of the loft now felt cool against her skin compared to the fire burning between them. Every nerve ending was on high alert.

His mouth was right there. Right. There. She could feel his breath moving across her cheeks, and she closed her eyes at the delicious sensation of it. She opened them again when she heard a low moan from deep in his throat. Whatever was happening, Cole was feeling it, too. He took a deep breath and blinked, his eyes flicking away from hers briefly. His hold loosened ever so slightly, and she felt a sharp pang of disappointment.

She could stop him. She could reach up and kiss him and stop him from letting her go. His lips were still just inches away. He shook his head slowly, as if he’d read her mind. His voice was raspy and labored when he broke the feverish silence.

“You and me are a bad idea, Hollywood.”

She nodded, and whispered the words back at him.

“Bad idea.”

He released her and stepped back, putting more space between them. His voice was stronger this time.

“A very bad idea.”

She suspected he was trying as hard as she was to convince himself of the truth of those words. His hand lifted toward her face but he stopped before he touched her. It didn’t matter. She felt the zip of energy between his fingertips and her skin. Her lips parted as she closed her eyes and sighed. This bad idea was starting to feel really good.

Excerpt from “The Hide-Away” (working title only) to be published by Harlequin SuperRomance in 2016. Stay tuned here for a release date! Winner in the 2015 Four Seasons Windy City Romance Writers Contest.

Excerpts

Excerpt: She’s Far From Hollywood

Twitter 10.25

He meant to wake her without startling her. Really, he did. But the porch swing rocked unexpectedly when he put his hand on the chain, nearly sending Bree to the floor and causing her to sit up with a jolt. Their eyes met, and he couldn’t help but admire the fire he saw flaring up in her emerald glare. She was like a wild horse just looking to be tamed, and he wanted to be the one to tame her.

What?

He scolded himself mentally for thinking such a stupid thing, and her voice sliced into him to remind him why.

“What the hell are you doing here? And why are you trying to throw me on the floor? What do you want?” She blinked, trying to catch her bearings.  

“I’m an invited dinner guest, Hollywood. I’m sorry for startling you, but dinner’s ready.” He couldn’t resist giving her a jab. “And real farmers don’t sleep while the sun’s still up.”

Her eyes narrowed as she stood. Even in flat sandals, she was only a few inches shorter than him. What little she lacked in height, she made up for in spirit.

“Don’t give me that crap.” Her lips curled in anger. “I’ve worked my ass off since I got here, and I’ll keep working as long as I stay. Now excuse me, but I’m going to see if Nell needs my help with anything. I didn’t know we were having company tonight, but it figures you wouldn’t turn down a free meal.” She brushed past him with her head held high, looking like god-damned royalty as she slammed the screen door closed behind her.

Well…shit...

It seemed as if all their conversations ended with her storming off mad as a hornet. But she sure put on a fine show while doing it. He followed her into the house in bemused silence.