Big shout out to all of our doctors and nurses fighting the good fight, as well as all the essential workers out there allowing so many of us to live in lockdown. We literally couldn’t do this without you!
In my world, me and the mine are all safe, but I’ve been more focused on keeping the high-risk members of the household wrapped in bubble wrap than on writing. However, now that we’ve got a system down, I’m hoping to get back to it – I have adventures in Bright’s Ferry and holiday magic to finish, and I’ve been dipping a toe into some seriously hot historicals. Stay tuned – scheduling is a little erratic, but I’ll try to get some excerpts and shorts up soon.
Meanwhile, here’s one of my favorite hot docs to cheer up your morning. Stay safe and take care!
It’s truly unfair that the start of summer doesn’t automatically mean vacation in the way it did when I was a kid (stupid adulting), but I still have a knee-jerk reaction to the start of long summer days. In the same way that September finds me buying school supplies and seeking out cute fall clothes, summer finds me stacking up the beach reads, stocking up on sunscreen, and plotting to spend the majority of my evenings hanging out by the BBQ.
I’m in the middle of the umpteenth edit for SAFE FROM THE STORM, but this weekend I’ll be working on it from the deck, red pen in hand, watermelon smoothie by my side. Yes, there will be some glorious napping, though I really need to buckle down and get through this. Should have a Pre-Sale date nailed down by the end of next week.
Meanwhile, have a wonderful Summer Solstice, and take a few minutes to daydream about the season of beaches, camp, BBQs, and fireflies ahead.
It’s Monday! I’m unprepared, but I just put the coffee on, so I should feel more human in a bit. While I wait for the nectar of the gods to finish brewing, I thought I’d write up a little about SAFE FROM THE STORM (Bright’s Ferry #3), which I’ll have up for Pre-Sale sometime next month – date TBA. I have to admit, this book has been the thorn in my paw for quite some time – not because I don’t love it, because I really, really, really do, but because a) it’s probably been the toughest to write emotionally, and b) I started working on it just when family illness turned my life upside down, which is not a winning combination for getting a book done.
Suffice to say, there was a lot of starting and stopping. However, there’s been an unexpected benefit – plenty of time to think about it. One of the concerns I’ve always had is with Nora’s story, which includes a pretty horrific abuse situation, and trying to write it with care and delicacy has been tough. There are certain lines I still agonize over – is it the right approach? Is it too far? Is it too dark? Am I going to get hate mail?
There’s a great line in BULL DURHAM about playing the game with fear and arrogance, and I’ve always thought it applied nicely to writing as well. You just have to dive in and do your best, and it’ll all come out in the wash, or so the mixed metaphor goes.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom – Nora and Tony are incredibly hot together – he’s very much the moth and she’s very much the flame, and watching them dance around each other as the situation escalates is a lot of fun! The villain here is also someone I love to hate, so that’s been fun to chew on as well.
Hope you have a great Monday – scroll down for an excerpt from the first chapter – if you’re a regular reader here, you might remember it from way back when, but I thought it would be a nice place to start. There’ll be a brand new excerpt in July’s newsletter in a few weeks, so stay tuned for that!
TONY ARNETTO DIDN’T BELIEVE in ghosts.
Especially not when they came in the form of tall, curvy redheads who moved like heaven and were dead ringers for his wife. His dead wife.
“Hello…Sheriff,” said the vision in front of him, smiling hesitantly as she twisted her gloves between slender fingers.
Not a ghost, thought Tony, if only because Deputy Evie Asher was looking over her very corporeal form with cool, gray, somewhat suspicious eyes, and because the sound of her voice hit him like a body blow.
There was a frayed hole in the thumb of one purple glove, Tony noticed inanely, even as that voice washed over him. Nora’s voice, soft and sweet, that always made him think of bells when she laughed. The voice he’d heard in his dreams as memories of their life together refused to leave him alone, night after night for the last five years – her trembling vows at their tiny garden wedding, her gentle reprimands whenever he fucked up or worked too late, and the soft, sexy cries she made as she came for him again and again, unraveling in pleasure under his hands and mouth as she took him to the hilt.
Tony forced the air back into his lungs as the implications sank in, and with them came relief, amazement, and more rage than he had ever felt before in his life.
“I see you’ve met Evie. Evie Asher, this is Nora. She’s my wife.”
His voice sounded odd and far away, and there was a rushing in his ears as though he were underwater. His feet were glued to the spot, his fingers clutching the file folder with firefighter Matt Harris’ handwritten report closing the book on the arsonist that had recently terrorized Bright’s Ferry. He couldn’t have moved if someone had taken a two by four to his head. Outside, the rain had finally stopped, but Tony still heard the drip, drip, drip of the runoff from the drainage pipe to the window ledge.
“Can we talk?” asked Nora, her blue eyes wide and anxious.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Tony, the words tumbling out even before he realized they were absolutely true.
Nora had an explanation, no doubt, a reason that she’d disappeared and let him and everyone she knew think she was dead, a reason that she’d stayed away for five years. It was probably practical and well-thought-out and sane, like everything Nora did. With a pang, Tony recalled her neat little piles, her organized desk, and even the way he used to tease her over alphabetizing the spice rack in the kitchen.
He didn’t want to hear it.
He couldn’t hear it. Not now.
“Please, Tony – ”
She set her gloves down on the desk and withdrew a bundle of envelopes from her purse, neatly bound with a blue ribbon.
“I wrote to you. All these years. I wanted to tell you – but I couldn’t mail them. You have to let me explain, Tony.”
The word ripped out of him as the first fangs of pain ripped into his soul, took a big bite, and started chewing while the floor seemed to tilt. For years, all Tony Arnetto had wanted was a measure of peace – once he’d accepted that Nora had drowned on that fateful day when the Allen-A-Dale went down, once he’d realized that the woman he loved more than life was gone forever, he’d only wanted to be left alone, to forget. But it had never happened.
At first, it was Bright’s Ferry, the town he loved, the town he protected and cherished, whose townpeople trusted him to keep them safe. Everywhere he looked were reminders of Nora – in her kindergarten classroom, in all the neat little touches around the house, and in her closet, where her clothes still smelled like strawberries and Nora. Tony wasn’t too much of a man to admit he had cried like a baby when the scent finally faded. After a year, when he finally started to feel like he might be able to see a future someday beyond his mechanical wake, eat, work, sleep robot impression, that fucking lawyer showed up to reopen the wound, with his accusations and demands and shocking revelations that had made the last four years of his life hellish.
Nora held the letters out.
“If you read them, you’ll understand,” she whispered.
Tony made no move to take them, and Nora finally set them down on Evie’s desk. The defeat in her pose was a knife to the gut, but Tony could feel his hands trembling. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if she stepped closer, if her skin actually brushed his.
“I’m staying at the motel if you change your mind,” said Nora, and Tony frowned.
There was only one motel in Bright’s Ferry – a crumbling dive down by the marina. It was generally a stopover for passing merchants or fishermen who wanted a night on dry land with a willing woman, and far enough from the picturesque affluence of Main Street that it almost qualified as a “bad part of town,” if such a thing could exist in Bright’s Ferry.
Why is she staying there?
There were B&Bs galore in town, practically a new one every week. Dryer Morton, the richest man in town, fancied himself a real estate mogul and had no trouble treating Bright’s Ferry like his own private model town to be developed and arranged at will. Nora didn’t need to stay in some seedy motel where the walls were thin, the amenities nil, and the men who passed through somewhat questionable.
Not my business, Tony reminded himself.
“It’s good to see you, Tony,” said Nora, and turned to go, pulling her thin coat closer around her body, sorrow in every line of her lovely frame.
He watched the door close behind her, then pulled his keys out of his pocket and tossed them to Evie.
“Do me a favor? Send Zeke over to my place. There’s a blue file folder in the top drawer of my desk in the study.”
“Tony – ” began Evie, but he held up a hand, cutting her off.
“I need to check with the National Weather Service. If that storm gets any closer, we’re going to have our hands full.”
Hurricane Ripley had been making its way up the coast for two days now, keeping the entire Eastern seaboard in a constant state of anxiety. It was going to make landfall at some point – the question was whether it would hit Bright’s Ferry, or just spank them a little and head north. Tony and the rest of the town had been keeping a close eye on it, and Colin Daniels, Bright’s Ferry’s charismatic mayor and Evie Asher’s boyfriend, had already started disaster relief preparations in case the situation took a turn. Worst case, the town had been known to flood.
Thank God the Harvest Festival is over, thought Tony.
The annual celebration brought in tourists by the truckload, but now that they were past that and just a couple of weeks shy of Thanksgiving, tourist season was winding down. There would be a surge again around Christmas, and then Bright’s Ferrians would settle down for a long New England winter.
But first, they had to get through the storm, and Nora Allen would have to wait until Tony had finished dealing with keeping his town safe.
“She left her gloves,” said Evie abruptly, and Tony noticed the purple knit swatches lying on the desk.
He picked them up, still slightly warm from her hands, and emotion clogged his throat along with a desperation he hadn’t felt since the Harbor Master had come to tell him that the Allen-A-Dale had been lost in the storm.
The gloves dropped from his nerveless fingers.
“Be right back,” he managed, and bolted out the door.
Good morning! Hope you got a chance to read yesterday’s excerpt – and you can request the longer version by dropping me an email or leaving a comment below. I’ve got some fun stuff planned for July’s newsletter, so stay tuned for that.
Today, I’m working on edits for SAFE FROM THE STORM and renaming a few characters. I have this weird rule that I don’t like giving characters the names of people I know. I have trouble divorcing the name from the identity, and then the characters take on certain recognizable characteristics, whether they’re real or not, and then I get emails from my weirded-out friends, wondering why I’m writing about them.
There are all sorts of expectations that come with a character name, and (don’t tell anyone, but) most of the time, those names are pulled out of a hat, or from someone they’re talking about on TV, or from a license plate or a billboard or a brand name. As a writer, I’m always a little desperate to find good names – baby naming sites are the best, if occasionally overwhelming.
However, let’s say I have a hero named Jack, and Jack is hunky and muscled and has the most beautiful, capable, strong hands and can play the piano and the MC’s lusty form like a virtuoso. That’s all good, right? Absolutely, until Lily’s friend Jack, who is a perfectly great guy but cannot play the piano to save his life, finds out from a friend of a friend (because Jack refuses to read romance, alas) that Lily’s been writing trashy (ahem, FABULOUS) scenes about him.
And then I have a headache and have to explain the disconnect between reality and fiction and then it’s a thing. Ever run into that problem?
So, long story short, if you ever wonder how some of my characters acquire names, it’s not because I’m mining from life. Which is too bad, because I know some truly interesting people.
Time to get back to Tony and Nora! Have a lovely Tuesday!
One of the things I’ve been working on is the start of a seriously spicy Regency novel called His to Pleasure. I’m aiming for a winter release, which I’ll lock down sometime this fall. This is less an excerpt and more a prequel to help me get a handle on the characters – though I might wind up including it as part of a prologue or even a later scene.
If you’d like the longer excerpt, it’s available in this month’s newsletter. If you haven’t received it, just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll make sure to forward it to you.
Let me know what you think!
HIS TO PLEASURE
CECELIA LANDON, THE COUNTESS of Hargate, was relieved that no one expected her to attend her husband’s funeral. After all,it wouldn’t do for a gently bred lady to be seen in something so common as a cemetery. Why, she might scandalize Society with an unseemly display of emotion. Or — Heaven forbid — splash the hem of her gown in mud. No, better for all concerned to leave such things as the entombment of the stately Everett Landon, Earl of Hargate, to the menfolk of the household, sparse though their number might be.
When young Felix Landon, the newly christened Earl of Hargate, had left this morning under the watchful eye of Captain Egan, Everett’s closest friend and the nineteen-year-old’s new guardian, he’d been shaking like a leaf. Cece had kissed the lad on the cheek, whispered to him to ignore his Aunt Evelynne’s lecture on how earls conducted themselves at funerals, and sent him on his way. She was fond of the boy, had been since the day he’d arrived on the steps of Hargate House at the age of thirteen, all arms and legs and frightened eyes. His parents, an estranged and impoverished younger brother to the earl and his wife, were no more — lost in a house fire at one of the smaller Hargate properties far to the north. With no children of her own, Cece had taken him under her wing, though he was a scant eight years younger than herself.
If anyone suspected the boy had any ambitions to grow up to take Everett’s place, they would have been put to rest upon seeing Felix’s reaction to the news that he had inherited the earldom. He’d gone sheet white and had to be fortified with copious amounts of brandy. Cece had expected it – though not for several decades yet, as Everett had been barely a man of forty upon his untimely demise. While Evelynne wrung her hands about her brother’s death without issue, Cece had kept the secret to herself…there would never have been any children.
She just wished Everett had taken more time to prepare young Felix for the role that would someday be his, but as with everything else that wasn’t pressing, Everett simply dismissed him, leaving him to Cece’s capable hands while he amused himself with his clubs and the horses he was so mad about.
Cece stifled an unladylike huff of frustration as the carriage jerked forward, and then stopped.
“At this rate, we won’t be home for ten thousand years!” exclaimed Isadora, fuming as she flopped back into the overstuffed blue cushions, her ire taking up more space than her diminutive frame, golden curls bouncing in indignation.
Her sister craned her neck for a better look at the problem ahead, where two merchants’ wagons had collided in a mess of boxes and upset horseflesh. A posting carriage had attempted to steer around the chaos, only to become entangled.
“Cordelia! Pull your head inside the carriage this instant! What on earth are you thinking, child?”
The girl obediently sat back at her mother’s retort, wincing as her sister elbowed her for more room in the cramped space. Flaxen-haired like her twin, Cordelia lacked the sparkle that would someday make Isadora a force to be reckoned with in any Society ballroom. She was also far less of a shrew, Cece often thought to herself uncharitably, but it was a shame the girl had the personality of blancmange. Cece had hopes they would both grow out of it, remembering that fourteen was a wretched age for anyone.
Evelynne fanned herself, though the flapping did little to assuage the stifling July heat, and every flick of her wrist enveloped Cece in the heavy scent of lavender, which was better, she had to admit, than the rotting fish and stale saltwater drifting from the nearby docks.
“Today of all days,” said Evelynne, resettling her voluminous skirts over her awkwardly tall frame, “My brother lies dead and here we are, trapped.”
“Calm yourself, my dear,” said Cece, “Just a few more minutes and we’ll be on our way.”
“Thank goodness I had the foresight to send our things on ahead.”
Cece barely held back a retort, recalling the scant twenty-four hours that had passed after her husband’s death, when her sister-in-law had decided, assumed, that the best way to mourn her brother and provide comfort to his widow was by moving into the house. This trip – a visit to the modiste for her mourning clothes – marked Cece’s last public outing until her mourning period was over.
Cece swallowed a lump at the thought of the mountain of black dresses that would take up residence in her wardrobe.
It isn’t fair.
The thought was disloyal and filled Cece with guilt and sadness over her secret sham of a marriage. But there it was. A year of mourning ahead of her. A year in practical exile, with only Evelynne, her daughters, and Felix. Another year where the servants kept secrets from her, loyal to her husband, but not his young bride.
Yet another year without being touched.
And oh, how Cece longed to be touched.
She turned to the open window to hide the tears that sprang up as Evelynne began a long and droning lecture to her daughters about the virtues of patience.
The carriage had slowed to a stop near the docks, and as Cece tried to compose herself, she watched the crews load and unload boxes and trunks from the tall ships that crowded the port.
The shout came from a grimy lad working with two burly men to hoist a huge crate down from the deck of a gleaming ship called The Black Orchid that teetered ominously and threatened to crash to the dock.
Cece missed what happened next, and how the crate was maneuvered safely to solid ground, because he appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. One minute there was shouting, cursing, and general panic, and the next, a giant of a man had stepped in to take control. He was bareheaded, dark hair ruffled lovingly by the wind, his profile sharp and slightly sunburned as he barked orders, his magnetism clear even from Cece’s view from far across the wharf.
His clothes marked him a gentleman, though Cece felt she might have to revise that impression as he began tugging at his cravat and shrugging out of his coat and waistcoat.
He’s disrobing. Oh, heavens.
In shirtsleeves, the man seemed even larger, the thin linen plastering itself against wide shoulders, an impressive chest, and a firm, muscled torso. Even his legs were lovely, with sculpted thighs that spoke of horsemanship.
He probably has a fine seat, thought Cece, and blushed, her mouth going dry as he turned, giving her a glimpse of his most excellent seat.
The stranger got to work, giving his crew a hand – for there was no doubt this man was the Captain, this ship his own, and Cece watched, mesmerized, as he hauled cargo from deck to dock with his men, uncaring of the stifling heat as he toiled. Sweat dampened his hair and shirt, causing the material to cling to all those muscles.
Would he feel hot to the touch? What would it be like to feel those hard muscles moving beneath warm skin?
Pressed against her.
Cece felt unsettled, her corset tight, her breasts full. Her stomach fluttered as her eyes drank in the fine male specimen in front of her, and she pressed her thighs together to assuage the sudden spear of desire.