Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lara Temple: Unconventional Heroines in Art

In every corner of the Regency world I always come across some amazing women. While doing research for my third book with Harlequin, The Duke’s Unexpected Bride (out next month), I ‘visited’ the 1819 Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts which at the time was based in Somerset House. During my research I came across two female artists who reached their peak at the turn of the 18th/19th centuries – Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser. They are perfect examples of the kind of unconventional historical heroines that fascinate me.

My own heroine, Sophie, loves painting but is well aware of her limitations when she enters the amazing exhibition room where the likes of Turner, Constable, Reynolds and other British greats exhibited. She is content merely to be inspired and to be given the opportunity to paint and to buy her art supplies at the famous Cheapside art store, Reeves.

The Duke of Harcourt takes Sophie ‘backstage’ to the Royal Academy Council Chamber in order to show her Kauffman’s famous allegorical ceiling paintings. Sophie however, manages to find her way even further backstage where Academy members exhibit their nude paintings away from public (and female) eyes. I was using a little artistic license here – there were indeed rooms where Academy members could sketch nude models and where a young woman like Sophie (even women like Kauffman and Moser) were not accepted, at least publicly.

This distinction is made abundantly clear in the famous painting by Zoffany which shows the 168 Academy members observing male nude models – the only two Academy members missing ‘in person’ were founding members Kaufman and Moser (the two were also the only female members of the Academy until 1861)! Zoffany at least gave them a presence by adding portraits of them on the wall on the right, looking down on the male models. Here is a section of that painting:

I’m not a great fan of artists from this era other than Turner (and I have to admit Reynolds has a special gift with portraits) but I found the story of the rise of these two female artists fascinating – both had artist/artisan fathers who taught and promoted their girls’ talents very early on (Mozart style) and far from being excluded by the male environment, they were highly regarded at the time (Kauffman had Reynolds as a personal champion). Kauffman’s story is particularly exciting – she travelled all over Europe, was invited to England by the English Ambassador’s wife in Rome, was conned into marriage by a scoundrel, whom she promptly left, and when he died she married a Venetian artist and continued to travel and receive commissions from the high and mighty.
In my own story, The Duke’s Unexpected Bride, Sophie is ambiguous about her talents – she is acutely visual and painting is an important part of how she sees and interacts with the world but she has no great ambitions and no dramatic conviction in her skills. I think this would have been the case with many creative women of the time – unless their talent overpowered them or they grew up in a highly artistic or literary environment women of moderate or even above moderate skills were often willing to regard themselves as mere amateurs. Their best hope was to find someone who saw this additional aspect to their character as positive rather than negative – this is one reason Sophie is drawn to Max. Here is the scene where they discuss Sophie’s artistic talent:

‘I know you would prefer me without all the nonsense about the painting.’
‘I don’t know what you would be like without the painting. It’s not just something you do, it’s how you see the world.’
Sophie’s eyes widened.
‘No one has ever said that to me before.’
‘Is that good or bad?’
‘I…good, I think. It’s like those dreams where you are going about and suddenly realise you are only in your petticoats, you know?’
Max threw back his head and laughed.
‘No, I don’t. Not petticoats.’
‘Well, not petticoats, but you know what I mean. Finding yourself exposed.’
‘That doesn’t sound very enjoyable, then, and that is not what I meant to do. It was just a thought. Why did you think it was good, then?’
‘Because it means you see me.’
His smile faded slightly as he looked at her, but he kept his voice light.
‘Right in front of me. Hard to miss.’

Summary of The Duke’s Unexpected Bride:
When Sophie becomes her reclusive aunt’s companion she also finds herself nursemaid to a pug, stalked by an embittered artist, and the fiancé of the thoroughly unsettling Duke of Harcourt, a man she has dubbed the Stone Duke. Ten years after his disastrous engagement, Max knows he must choose his bride with caution. Sophie meets none of his criteria – she is impulsive, funny, talks to animals, and her compassion leads her perilously close to danger. Their inevitable clash of wits, passions, and private pain lead to near tragedy and to the realization that the irrepressible Sophie and the Stone Duke are perfectly matched.

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Author Contact Links
Twitter: @laratemple1
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Saturday, March 18, 2017

An introvert's nightmare...

I just attended my very first reader event: Angels & Sirens in Washington, PA. That might not sound like a big deal but when you're an introvert, the prospect of putting yourself "out there" in the middle of hundreds of strangers can be a little daunting. 

It's not that I can't "turn on"--in addition to being in the fire department, I also worked retail, so I can generally flip my internal switch and make it work. That doesn't make it any less daunting…or less exhausting. But I committed and yes, a small part of me was actually excited about it.
Of course, I stressed the two weeks prior, wondering what to bring. Swag? Check. Chocolate? Check. Author banner and table runner? Check. Books?

Okay, yeah, that should be a no-brainer. Of course books. I mean, that's the whole purpose of going to a book signing, right? But how many? Should I bring copies of each title (that's 16 titles in case you're wondering)? If so, how many of each? Just focus on the new release? On the last two releases? Five copies? Ten copies? Eek!

The better plan: just throw a bunch of books in several boxes and load up the truck and be done with it. Okay, maybe not the best plan around, but I made it work. Mostly.

So I loaded up my truck and headed west, arriving entirely too early on Friday. Unloaded the truck (and I swear those boxes of books and swag multiplied during the 4-hour drive!) then…then what?  
Well, I surprised myself by not hiding in my room. I actually went to the lobby, grabbed a coffee, and got in some writing. Sounds brave, huh? Not really: a handful of my hockey romance buddies were also attending, so I was hanging out, waiting for them.

We had already made plans to grab dinner Friday night then go to the Pens game. Part of me thinks that was harder than playing extrovert! Why? Because I'm a Caps fan and felt like I was going deep into enemy territory! I still had fun, because I got to hang with my fellow authors and even a few readers who joined us, which made it worthwhile! 

(L-R): Representing my Caps deep in enemy territory; me and Cat, my uber-awesome PA, before the game; yes, I brought way too much stuff!

Then it was Saturday, the day of the event. I lugged all my stuff over to the signing room (making a mental note to never bring so much crap with me again!) and, with the help of my uber-awesome PA, Cat Parisi, got everything set up so it looked nice and pretty.

Then I sat there, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Would anyone buy my books? Would anyone stop by to say hi? Would people just blow by my table, carefully avoiding all eye contact? 
Thankfully, no. And after the first hour, I was finally able to bury my inclination to crawl under the table, curl up into a little ball, and hide. And I had a blast! It was so much fun meeting fans (who knew I actually had real fans!!) and talking with everyone. Was I exhausted afterward? Absolutely. But it was a good exhaustion, the kind where you're tired but it's the kind of tired you get from being busy and having a successful day. So yeah, I'd count my first reader event as a success. And yes, in case you're wondering, I came back with quite a bit less stuff! 

Would I have been as comfortable if not for my hockey romance buds? Hard to say. Maybe, maybe not. But having them there certainly helped--we're a team, helping each other out, just being there to support one another.

Kinda like the hockey teams I write about! And speaking of hockey teams…

I recently launched a new hockey series, The York Bombers. Book 1, PLAYING THE GAME, came out last month and is receiving some great 5-star reviews (hooray me!). The next title in the series, PLAYING TO WIN, releases next week. The hero in PTW was so much fun to write. Jason loves to win, on and off the ice, but he doesn't always notice what's right there in front of him--until it's almost too late. When he meets Megan, he realizes that winning isn't always easy…and fighting to win makes the prize that much sweeter!

Playing The Game is on sale now for 99 cents, so you can pick up your copy here. And, of course, you can preorder Playing To Win by clicking here

So how about you? Are you an introvert or extrovert? Any tips or tricks to surviving those social situations? I'm all ears and eager to learn…because yeah, I have a few more author events to attend this year (you can check out my scheduled events here). Maybe I'll see some of you there! Don't be afraid to stop by and say hi--I'll have lots of chocolate and goodies to pave the way, and I'll be eternally grateful for the company!

Until next month!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Feeling Lucky?

St. Patrick's Day is tomorrow, which I know very little about aside from you're supposed to wear green and if you find a four-leaf clover, you're lucky.

Frankly, after what has felt like a very long winter, I would feel insanely lucky if I saw any clover of any variety. Our lawn is still white, white, white.

But even in the height of summer when I was a kid with nothing but time on my hands, I never found a four-leaf clover.

My grandmother often did. She was an avid gardener and would leave them to dry in a dish on her kitchen table. It always seemed so magical to me that she could just be weeding away and--oh, there's one! Lucky.

My husband has found them. He would say it's because he's one-quarter Irish, but I know it's because he has infinite patience. (That's also why we're still married.)

Our daughter seems to have inherited the ability from both sides. She finds them quite easily. It's very annoying for someone like me, who is, apparently, four-leaf-clover blind.

Have you ever found one? Comment below with your story. I'll check back in on March 24th and draw one lucky winner. The prize is a print copy of my March book, Pursued By The Desert Prince.

Draped in the Desert Prince’s diamonds…
To ensure his sister’s successful marriage, Kasim, Crown Prince of Zhamair, must stop Angelique Sauveterre’s alleged affair with his future brother-in-law. But when Angelique denies any involvement, Kasim can’t resist the chance to make the feisty beauty his!
Angelique is tempted by Kasim’s offer of a fling—always compared to her twin sister, she’s never allowed to just be herself. They couldn’t be from two more different worlds, yet Angelique blossoms under Kasim’s touch, and surrenders to the desert Prince. But can he give her more than passion and precious jewels?

Dani Collins is the USA Today Bestselling Author of thirty books for Harlequin Presents, Montana Born and herself. 
Join Dani's newsletter and receive a link to download Cruel Summer, a short ebook romance, as a welcome gift. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Priviledged Childhoods

A privileged childhood. It is a tricky word as many people these days associate it with class, creed or colour. It is why it was so refreshing to read an interview with Peaches Golding, Britain’s first black woman lord lieutenant. Peaches grew up in South Carolina and has slavery ancestry but she married a British man (they bonded over a passion for  poisonous snakes) and has spent many years in Britain. The position of Lord Lieutenant is a position founded by Henry VIII and is largely ceremonial – she becomes the Queen’s representative in Bristol.
 In the interview, she stated that she wanted to talk about the privileges that come from  books on the wall, a dedicated place to do homework and parents who believe in education. These privileges transcend class, creed and colour but are absolutely vital to the future success of children. They are aspirational in the extreme and yet we so often take them for granted.
Her words made me think about the things that I took for granted growing up that are truly privileges. For example, my library card. I can remember the pride I had when I could get my very own library card. It was orange and I practised signing my name so many times so it could be perfect.  Then when I grew up enough, I was able to exchange it for a yellow adult card and all the books in the library were open to me (at which point I discovered Harlequins). Several years ago, I was struck at how lucky I was to have an excellent library when I heard Sharon Kenyon speak about her experiences growing up and how she lived for the library and how having reference books made it possible for her to go to college as she couldn’t afford the textbooks. It is why in the past I have fought to keep my local library. I am a big believer in the power of libraries.
The first place I ever drove on my own was to the local library, once I had my driver’s license. And having a driver’s license is another privilege – something that is denied to many, including all women in Saudi Arabia.  Hopefully my youngest son has passed the driving test he was due to take as I write this. He has funded the lessons after the initial few, sometimes privileges  mean more when you have to work for them.
I may have hated my mother making sure that I did my homework but it taught me many things — such as self discipline and the fact that she did care. It also taught me that I needed to study and learn things. Some of her lessons did not  go strictly to plan – for example learning how to quickly and efficiently unload the dishwasher because she was about to return from picking my brother up and I had spent far too long reading but we can draw a veil over such things. The important thing is that she taught me that an education matters.
I could go on and on about the many small advantages I had and took very much for granted.
So when I look about, I did have a very privileged childhood and I am very grateful for it and for my parents who ensured that these things happened. And I am very grateful for Peaches Golding’s interview and how it made me think about what is important. I hope everyone who reads this also had lots of books and reading material in their childhood. And if not, that they do now.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romances for Harlequin Historical. Her latest Sold to the Viking Warrior is out now. You can learn more about Michelle and her books on

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Christina Hollis: A Cure For The Homesick Blues?

Clifton Suspension Bridge, via Pixabay
This year, I’m going back to my roots—and in more ways than one. I’ve been writing all my life, but my first published pieces were non-fiction work for local papers and national magazines. These were written in my spare time, while I was employed in a huge office in Bristol. Sat behind a desk, I
was bean-counting all day then writing at home until late at night. Once I began to get paid for my writing, I left my job in central Bristol and joined Rolls-Royce. Their offices are on the outskirts of the city. The move made commuting a lot faster and easier, as my new full-time job was closer to the country cottage on the Welsh border OH and I bought just after we got married. 

Only a couple of years later, OH suggested I give up office work and become a writer full-time. Trying to make it on my own was scary, but exciting. I’ve always been grateful to my husband for supporting me in what everybody said at the time was a reckless venture. It turned out to be the best investment he could make, and the second best thing I ever did (the best thing I ever did was to marry him).
Find out more at
The Romance genre has been very good to me. I’ve made loads of friends and sold a lot of books, but I’ve been so busy writing fiction, there’s been no time to do anything else. I’ve missed non-fiction work—and Bristol too, if I’m honest.

That’s why I’m so excited to be starting a new non-fiction project. Women's Lives is a series of books to be published by Pen And Sword Books next year. The release will coincide with the centenary of the successful Votes For Women campaign during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Each volume of Women's Lives is devoted to a single city in the United Kingdom. I was born only a few miles away from Bristol, in what was then the Somerset countryside so I was keen to get involved with the Pen And Sword project. My family’s strong ties with Bristol go back hundreds of years, although we’ve always preferred living in the country and “just visiting” the city—usually to find a life partner! 

I've started work on the Bristol edition of Women's Lives: Women of Bristol 1850-1950, and I’m really enjoying it. The research it needs means I’m spending a lot of time combing through archives, but there’s nothing to beat the real-life anecdotes I’m gathering from women far and wide who have stories to share. Can you contribute any information about life in the City of Bristol in the years before 1950? I’m particularly interested to hear about women who left the city for life in America, Canada and Australia. Were you or your mother a war-bride, or an evacuee sent abroad from Bristol?
Find out more at
The work on Women of Bristol is absorbing, and I’m unearthing a wealth of stories. They are a mixture of the happy, the sad, and the alarming. There are one or two really tragic tales, such as the new mother desperate to soothe her constantly crying baby. Not knowing any better, she followed her landlady’s dubious advice, and ended up giving her baby a fatal dose of laudanum. We’re so lucky these days, with qualified advice for all sorts of problems at the other end of a telephone, and support groups online. 

Bristol is a fascinating place. Its women are, and always have been, tough, loyal pioneers. They give as good as they get, and they’re always looking to the future. Despite the love I still have for my almost-birthplace and its people, going back there to work makes me appreciate the peace and quiet of our cottage out here in the bluebell woods. Tottering Towers may lack the conveniences of city life, but with its wildlife and tranquility, there’s no place like home…

When she isn't cooking, gardening or beekeeping, Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women.  Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and she’s sold nearly three million books worldwide. Catch up with her at, on TwitterFacebook, and see a full list of her published books at

Her current release, Heart Of A Hostage, is published by The Wild Rose Press and available at  worldwide.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Goals. Habit. a good way.

I'm going to confess, I am horrible at taking selfies.  I watch my kids take gorgeous photos of themselves and marvel. Sigh. I was out for a walk yesterday in 22 degree weather and wanted a pic of me all bundled up with the very picturesque Mercyhurst University in the background.  Well, you can see half of me bundled, and a very nice shot of the Hirt Academic building in the background.

But the good news is, despite the 1/2 selfie and cold weather, I managed to get in a four mile walk.  I'm still on my 10,000+ steps a day kick.  It's been a few years and I think it's time to admit, I'm a step-addict.  I traded my Fitbit Flex for a Fitbit Charge 2 this year.

I haven't missed my 10,000 step goal since I started January 1, 2014.  Just looked up my totals:

15,582,975 steps

6,814.95 miles

I wore my FitBit in Disney last  week and there were extra hours at the Magic Kingdom one night.  As I followed the excited kids, I glanced at my Fitbit and saw I was at 28,000 steps.  I felt this surge of excitement  myself, despite being exhausted (the family tends to keep me running at Disney...their mantra is Hurry Up, Mom!!)...I was going
to break 30,000!!  I've broken 25,000 steps, but 30,000 has been illusive. As I was tiredly basking in my breaking-my-record glow I glanced down again and...I was at zero steps.  I realized it was midnight.  Like Cinderella, the clock struck and messed up my night.  The good news is...I had a few thousand steps when I woke up the next morning.

Here's my point.  (Yes, I have one. LOL)

I set a goal in 2014...10,000 steps every day.  And some days it was tough, but I stuck to it.  I made myself walk even when I didn't feel like it.  And somewhere along the line, I didn't force myself any more.  I wanted to get out there and get those steps in.  My goals had become my habit.  And now, I've realized that my goal/habit has become an addiction.  LOL

Goals. Habit. Addiction.

That's how my writing came about.  At first I wanted to write, so I decided I had to write something—anything—every day.  Pretty soon writing was a habit.  And now, all these years later, it's an addiction.  LOL

It's no longer January, but it's never too late to make a resolution and set a goal! And when you do, I hope it becomes something you enjoy and make a permanent part of your life!


PS On Sale Today:

Just One Thing

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Friends and Readers

It’s been one of those rather special weeks.  A week when I have enjoyed the unexpected, sideline
joys of being a writer.

When I first started writing, all I focussed on was the hope of getting published.  I  wanted  a publisher to buy my story, put it into  book form and put it out on the shelves in the bookshops.  I remember I said to the Senior Editor I met on my very first trip to London to meet someone from the Mills and Boon Editorial team, ‘I just want to see my name on a book and I’ll be happy.’
Of course there’s more to it than that.  When you hope to be published you also hope that people will read your  stories. You hope that people – lots of people! – will buy  your book and read it, and enjoy it and buy the next one.  . .  You hope for readers out there in the world.  But I have to admit that I never got to thinking about those readers  - and other writers  - and that they might become friends and  maybe even part of my life.

I also never thought, back in those early days, when The Chalk Line  was first published,  that I’d get to know other writers, or that the internet, email,  Facebook,  Skype etc would make the world seem so much smaller and people so much closer and  communication so much easier.
This was bought home to me in the first couple of weeks of March as it seemed that every day brought another connection, another communication, with a friend  I had made  as a result of being a writer. Someone I would never have met up with, or even communicated with  if it hadn’t been for this unique job I have.  

March has the birthdays of a couple of  friends – Irish author,  Abby Green  has her special day on March 3rd , and then  Tote Bags ‘N’ Blogs  own Lee  has her birthday a day later – on the 4th.   Next up was a special visit from a  dear friend  from ‘across the pond’ as  AnneMcAllister was always described in the past when my  cat Sid and she were great friends. This time Anne came to stay for a few days while she’s in England researching  a new book in  a quartet for Tule that she’s 
writing.   Sadly, Sid the Cat is no longer with us but she had two new felines to get to know – Ruby the black and white rescue cat is always friendly and welcoming, but unexpectedly Charlie the Maine Coon, who is usually rather stand-offish – decided to become her best friend. This can be a double-edged privilege as  Charlie is a very large cat  - and when he decides to sit on your knee . . .well, look  at the photo of him and Anne together!

Another  friend this week let me know that she is embarking on a big adventure later in the year. Rachael Thomas, who was once one of my students at the  Writers’ Holiday Fishguard course and is now multi-published in her own right, has signed up to  walk the great wall of China 
forcharity.   Go for it Rachael – I’m so happy to support her in this.

And talking of courses, I have another one coming up in Cirencester in April – and then a get together  for my birthday in May with some one of the students who have become ‘regulars’ on my courses and are affectionately known as Walkers  Stalkers. When I first started writing, I never even dreamed of doing any teaching but now  I meet up with ‘stalkers’ regularly  - and   their company is another joy I never expected to receive as a result of my writing.

Then there are so many people, more widely flung, sometimes known, sometimes never ever met in any way -  the hundreds, thousands of readers who have bought and enjoyed my books  so that I can continue to write more for your enjoyment. I have had a lot of emails since the publication of Indebted to Moreno  and recently one of these was a reader who has been in touch with me since way back when.  15 years or more I think.  I love it when readers get in touch with me – and just lately  people have been asking just when my next book is coming up.  So I’m happy to be able to say that  this new story – current working title is Claimed by The Corsican – will be out in February 2018/ I know, it’s a
long time to wait, but in the meantime I have to get on with and complete the second part of the duet. These two linked books I’ve called The Scandalous O’Sullivan Sisters  - the first one is  Imogen’s story and now I’m at work on her  sister, Ciara’s romance. I need to get it finished so that they can come out close together.

So while I’m thinking about all these wonderful friends and readers I’ve gained as a result of being a writer – I just wanted to say  a great big thank you to all my friends and readers out there, wherever you are in the world. I value you all and appreciate  your support and  the lovely emails you send me.  After all, that’s why a writer writes-  to be read and the sales of the books means I can keep going, write some more romances – so I couldn’t do it without you!

Thank you to all my friends and my readers (and Student Stalkers!)   Wherever you are,   I’m so glad you’re there.

You can keep up to date with all my news on my web site blog page  or my Facebook page  which is where you can also find details of my courses with    Writers' Holiday  or Relax and Write

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Carole Mortimer: Happy Spring!

Hi, Everyone,

I’m currently on the island of Majorca, taking a much-needed holiday after a very busy winter. It isn’t hot on the island yet, but all of my favorite restaurants are now open again, so no cooking for me for three weeks. I’ll still be writing, of course, and will be starting on Seducing Ethan, the 7th and last book in the Knight Security series. The pre-order for this ebook will be available at the end of March, with a publication date of May 26th.

March 31st is publication day for Enticing Ian (Knight Security 5). My editor tells me this is the best book in the series so far! I have to say I really enjoyed writing Ian and Evie’s story. Evie needs Ian to help save her brother, but it isn’t easy convincing Ian of that. The two of them knew each other three years before this story takes place, so this is a love revisited. Will they stay together this time or will the past tear them apart?

As promised the pre-order for the first book in my new Regency Sinners series, Wicked Torment, is now available, and the ebook will be released April 28th. The heroes in each of this eight book series are linked through friendship from their schooldays and years spent together in the army. There is a mystery linking all eight books which I hope you will find as intriguing as I do.

The stories in my Regency Unlaced, Regency Sinners, Knight Security and Alpha series, are more explicit in their language and sexual content than my other books. In other words, they’re hot, so you have been warned!

Happy Spring!
Carole xx

This ebook is also available on B&N, iBooks, Kobo, & Smashwords

This ebook is also available on B&N, iBooks, Kobo, & Smashwords.

Carole Mortimer has written over 220 books in the contemporary and Regency romance genres. She is 2015 Recipient of the prestigious Romance Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award. A USA Today Bestselling Author. Entertainment Weekly Top 10 Romance Author—ever. 2014 Romantic Times Pioneer of Romance. In 2012 Carole was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II for her ‘outstanding service to literature’.

She is very happily married to Peter, they have 6 sons, and live on the beautiful Isle of Man.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Donna Alward: The Purple Pig Café Black Bean Brownies

This month the second book in my Darling, VT trilogy, SOMEONE TO LOVE, hits the shelves. I loved writing this one…from the yoga and meditation to all the yummy food that my heroine, Willow Dunaway, cooks up in her café. The Purple Pig Café is pretty popular on Darling’s Main Street, and early on in the book the hero, Ethan, gets stuck with having to try a black bean brownie. You see, The Purple Pig uses locally sourced, organic ingredients, and emphasizes Fair Trade policies.

I had to do some searching around for a good Black Bean Brownie recipe, and of course I had to try it out first! I found this one on Pinterest: and pinned it to my Darling, VT series board.

I had a blast coming up with menu items for the café, many based on some of my favorite foods. One of my daughters is a vegetarian, so I’ve learned to cook (and enjoy) a lot of different foods, particularly those made from legumes. The bean salad in the book is a fave, and I also learned to make black bean burgers, homemade falafel, and lentil curry.

Here’s a snippet from SOMEONE TO LOVE:

His chest tightened in a strange way, but Ronan was tugging on his hand, anxious to get to the glass display case. Willow smiled—a small, sweet smile—and the tightness squeezed.

What the heck was that about?

“Well, hello,” she said as they approached the counter. “What a nice surprise.”

Ethan tried to smile, but his face felt tight as he looked at her. She looked so relaxed and comfortable and pleasant. It was damned intimidating. Other than his sisters, he’d avoided conversations with the women of Darling since Lisa died. He’d quickly learned that they either ended up looking sad and pitying, or worse, prospective. He was definitely out of practice in the art of everyday conversation.

“The boys had their pick of a treat today. They wanted to come here.”

He realized he’d put it all on the boys, making it sound like he would have rather gone somewhere else. Which was, well, the truth, but he could have been more tactful. Tact wasn’t exactly his finest skill.

But Willow didn’t seem to even notice. Instead she looked over the counter at the boys. “You did? Awesome! Why don’t you come back here and pick a treat?” She looked up at Ethan. “Any allergies to be aware of?”

“No,” he answered. “Though Connor isn’t fond of raisins.”

“What?” She raised her eyebrows and looked at Connor. “But raisins are delicious! And full of good stuff. I think they’re nature’s candy.”

Ethan tried not to roll his eyes.

“I like them in cookies,” Connor admitted.

“Oh, well then. That’s okay.” Willow grinned. She turned her head and Ethan saw the nose ring wink in the light, and the pink stripe that ran along the side of her head since her hair was pulled back in a braid. She looked about twenty.

She moved to the end of the counter and waved them in. “Come on, boys. You can come back here and pick something out. It’ll be our secret.”

Ethan had to admit, his boys seemed smitten. And she was genuinely nice, that was clear. Too nice, maybe. Or maybe he was just a big old crab. Thinking it just made him crabbier.

He stood back and watched as the boys picked a sweet from the refrigerated display. Willow got them each a little plate and when they came back around he saw that Ronan had a huge chocolate chip cookie and Connor had two plates. One held a square of blueberry cake and the other a fudgy looking brownie with thick icing on the top.

He remembered what Connor had said about the beans and hoped to God that the blueberry cake was for him.

“Daddy, look! I got you a brownie cuz chocolate’s your favorite.”

Shoot. “Gee, thanks Connor.”

Connor beamed up at him.

Ethan reached for his wallet. “Boys, why don’t you go find a table and I’ll be right over with something to drink.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

He looked at Willow. She seemed far too pleased with herself, as if she could read his mind. Right then and there he determined that he’d eat every bit of that brownie if it killed him.

“Milk,” he said quietly. “A glass of milk for each of them, if I could.”

“And for you? Did you want a coffee or tea, Ethan?”

He focused on pulling bills out of his wallet. “A coffee with milk, please.”
When she told him the tally, his jaw nearly dropped and his head came up. “How much did you say?”

It was the better part of twenty dollars. He supposed because they were a specialty market, they could charge through the nose. He added a five to the bills he’d already taken out and handed them over. “Thanks,” he said.

“I’ll bring your drinks out. You go sit with the boys.”

He nodded and went to the table, where Connor and Ronan were already munching on their food. It surprised him that Connor had gone for the blueberry cake, instead of the cookie he’d been talking about. His boy was growing up . . . too fast.

He was poised to take his first bite of brownie when Willow came out with a tray of drinks. She put two small glasses of milk before the boys, and carefully set Ethan’s coffee in front of him. “So, how is it? Do you like the carob chips, Ronan?”

His mouth was full so he nodded, his brown eyes sparkling. She laughed lightly and looked at Connor.

“Good cake.” He waved with his fork. “Almost as good as my mommy’s.”

Ethan froze. Connor had been Ronan’s age when Lisa died. How could he possibly remember what his mother’s cake had been like? Was he making it up? Pretending? Trying to hold on to fading memories or creating his own reality? Funny how a simple observation made Ethan question whether he’d paid enough attention to his son’s grieving process.

More than that, though, the simple words had brought forth a memory. Blueberry cake had been Lisa’s favorite, usually with a warm, lemony sauce for the top, and she asked for it every August for her birthday.

There would be no more birthdays.

“Are you okay, Ethan?” Willow’s voice was soft and her hand touched his shoulder.

He swallowed tightly. “Sorry, yes, I’m fine. Just getting ready to dig into this brownie.” He forced the memory away and picked up his fork.

“Are you sure?” She squeezed lightly, and his throat tightened.

“I’m sure.” To prove it, he valiantly stabbed the brownie with his fork and guided the piece to his mouth. He would eat it. He would pretend to like it, the boys would finish their snack, and they’d go to the playground as planned.

He put it in his mouth, steeling himself against the taste, determined not to show his dislike, and then he stopped in surprise.

It was delicious. Really, really delicious.

He looked up at her. “This is beans?”

She grinned. “Yessir. Black beans, and organic cocoa, free-range eggs . . .”

“It’s moist. And rich.”

“You’re surprised.”

“Well, yeah.”

She smiled at him, a big smile that seemed to warm the whole room. He found himself smiling back. The boys continued to eat, totally unconcerned, but for Ethan it seemed like an important moment. He didn’t like being bad-tempered. It wasn’t who he was, deep down. She’d prompted an honest-to-goodness smile from him, and it felt awesome.

“Did you think all ‘healthy’ food was tasteless and dry?” Her lips twitched.

“Well . . .” He chuckled. “Hannah always raves about the food here. I should have had more faith, maybe.”

SOMEONE TO LOVE is OUT NOW! “The latest offering the Darling Vermont series is an emotionally poignant, can’t-put-it-down, opposites-attract tearjerker. A true treasure from page one to the beautiful, touching ending. Alward’s witty dialogue drives this powerful tale, but it’s her little boy costars and her paradoxical, damaged hero and heroine that make hearts sing and rule every page of this sweet and steamy love story.” – RT BOOK REVIEWS – TOP PICK!

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Sea side stories — Kandy Shepherd

There’s a stretch of the New South Wales (Australia) coastline, about 250 km south of Sydney, that is special to me. Not just because it’s a beautiful place with glorious beaches, expanses of natural bushland and quaint small towns, but also because it’s the inspiration for my fictional town of Dolphin Bay and its surrounds.

Ulladulla Harbour on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia

 Dolphin Bay was the setting for my first three books for Harlequin Romance and they have recently been published as a Dolphin Bay collection entitled Heart of the Bay. It was exciting to see my three linked but self-contained stories put together in one big “beach read”. And quite the coincidence that the cover model looks rather like my daughter!

I just returned from a short visit to the area, and realised I hadn’t actually been there since my first Dolphin Bay book The Summer They Never Forgot was published. It felt kind of surreal to see again areas which had been my inspiration, that I had then twisted and turned and embellished to become fictional places for my stories. The settings in my head had become more real that the places that inspired them!

The beach at Mollymook, again on the New South Wales South Coast

 The imaginary settings were top of mind because my May release for Harlequin Romance, Conveniently Wed to the Greek, starts off in Dolphin Bay. It tells the story of food blogger Dell Hudson, one of the supporting characters in the third Dolphin Bay book, A Diamond in Her Stocking. I’d really liked Dell and it was great fun to get reacquainted and to give her own story and—gorgeous man of course!

While my new story opens in Dolphin Bay, by Chapter Five it has moved to Greece, when Dell accepts a job with her former adversary, the hotelier Alex Mikhalis. Again I was heavily inspired by real-life locations for this story, in particular the beautiful islands of the Ionian Sea in northern Greece.

The beautiful islands of the Ionian sea in Greece: wonderful inspiration!

I visited there for the first time in 2015, loved it, and immediately knew I wanted to set a book there. I actually wrote the final chapters of the book while on vacation (writers never really rest!) in Greece last year.

Inspiration for settings for Conveniently Wed to the Greek

 Here’s the blurb for Conveniently Wed to the Greek:

A marriage for the sake of her baby...

When luxury hotelier Alex Mikhalis encounters the blogger who once nearly destroyed his reputation, he wants to get even. Only Adele Hudson isn’t exactly as he remembers. She’s pregnant and alone, and he can’t stop his protective instincts kicking in!

After a difficult breakup, Adele is very wary of all relationships. She has no choice but to accept the Greek tycoon’s offer of a job, despite their complicated past. But his next suggestion is much more intimate: becoming his convenient wife!

Conveniently Wed to the Greek will be published by Harlequin Romance in May 2017.

Like Dolphin Bay, my Greek island setting takes me again to the sea, a place I like to visit in real life as well as in fiction. Do you have a favorite place, country, town for a novel? Or one you don’t care for so much? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment for a chance to win a paperback copy of Conveniently Wed to the Greek.

Kandy Shepherd is a multi-published, award-winning author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She lives on a small farm in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, with her family and a menagerie of four-legged friends.

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