Sunday, July 31, 2011

International Heat gets Naughty: Naughty or Nice, Round 1

Thank you to the Naughty Nine for having International Heat over to play. *grin* I'm Rhian Cahill and the girls said I could be in charge. lmao I think they're sorry for that lapse in good judgement. ;) We're going with a Naughty or Nice theme for our visit. Each day one IH member will answer questions and you guys get to tell us who's Naughty and who's Nice. At the end of our stay we'll be giving away two prizes, a GC and an International Heat goodies tote. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment. Leave a comment on every IH guest post and you'll get an extra two chances to win.

Our first IHer up for question time is......

Jambrea Jo Jones. You can read her official bio HERE but let me tell you what I know about Jambi. She's queen of Jambiland and resistance is futile. Well at least that's what the t-shirt she gave me says. :) She writes across genre and fast. It seems every other day I'm saying congrats for her latest release. You can check out all her books on her WEBSITE.

Now it's question time! I gave each IH member a list of 'things' and they had to tell me if they were naughty or nice, with the stipulation that they tell me WHY they thought each item was naughty. Let's see what Jambrea had to say:-

Bath Mat - I think the bath mat could see the naughty. Think of how many showers characters like to take. I mean--I know I've written my fair share of shower scenes and a bath mat is a good thing to have. Safety and all. Don't want them to slip and fall. It might help the knees a bit when kneeling down for that fantastic wet blow job. So I'll go with naughty on this one.

Park bench - Naughty. The fact that it could be in a secluded place, it's night. No one is around and the thrill of maybe getting caught. It starts off slow and you don't want to get completely naked and don't know how far you should take it. A skirt lift here and a zipper pulled down there...ahhh...bliss...

Sun lounge - Warm naked bodies sunning around the pool at a clothes optional private resort. No one else is around, but you and that hot guy you've been eyeing all week. You haven't seen him with anybody until now. His man walks up and give him a kiss. They're both naked and hard. You are turned on and would love to join, but watching is just is nice. So I'm going with it being naughty. But fun! hehee

Whipped cream - Hands down naughty. I'm not a big fan of whipped cream unless it is used during sex so yeah...naughty.

Pearls - OMG--um...naughty. I have no idea why this thought popped into my head but I see a woman worrying the pearls around her neck. She's waiting for her boyfriend and he's late. He rushes up and apologies giving her a wicked grin. She smiles back, forgiving him instantly. He holds out a hand for her to take and she'd follow him anywhere. He has her get naked on the bed leaving only the necklace on. He wants to try something a little different if she's game. Of course she agrees. He asks if she has any lube from the last time. She flushes red and gets it for him before laying on her stomach and then he asks for the pearls....and then....*sigh* Shoot...I might have to use this. heehee

Duct tape - first this product seems harmless, but what's a guy to do when he doesn't have any rope and the idea of bondage has him so turned on he is about to rip out of his pants. The only thing he has is duct tape. And do you know that they make that stuff so it isn't think I heard that somewhere...heehee So I'm going with Naughty.

Washing machine - Naughty. Yep...the handy man you've hired is so hot your panties are wet and you are so turned on. You're vibrators are upstairs and you can't wait. You've heard stories about how nice it might feel as the washer rumbles along, cleaning your clothes. Maybe if you're lucky the man will come and spot you with your pants around your ankles and take over. *sigh*

Leather belt - Ten lashes and count them. Just say please sir may I have another...I vote naughty

Pen - You know...this could TOTALLY be naughty. Sitting in a meeting and you see someone you're attracted too. You lick you lips and their attention is on you. This is your moment. You slip the pen into your mouth running your tongue along it...hoping no one else sees, but you need to take this chance...yeah...naughty.

Candles - Deliciously naughty. A man strapped to a bed, tied ankles and wrist. A woman hovering over him with a red candle burning. Hot wax dotting the man's chest as he moans....ahhh...naughty.

Sunscreen - I would say naughty, but my idea here might hurt so I'll go with nice. As in wow it would be nice to have a hot body rubbing sunscreen over me---okay, I changed my mind--naughty. lol

Wooden spoon - I'm not sure on this one...if it was Lila...I know she'd say naughty...heck...I think she's used it as a naughty tool...hmmm...yeah...naughty because I'm sure it would leave a nice little mark on a bubble butt ready for a smack.

Dining chair - Ohhh...naughty if used when two lovers are so hot for each other that they can't finish dinner without being naked. I can see it now, two men in suits sitting down for a nice dinner. They've had a long day at the office. One guy--we'll call him Paul--looks over at the other guy--we'll call him Matt--Matt is licking something off his spoon. Paul's cock gets hard and he licks his lips. Matt catches Paul and stands up, going over to Paul taking clothes off as he goes. He straddles Paul in the chair and--well you get the idea--naughty. heehee

Um...what does that say about me that I find these all so naughty....heehee Thanks to the Nine Naughty Novelists for having us over!

Wow! Well what do you think? Is Jambrea naughty or nice?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Eye Candy

It's the middle of's Friday...if anyone's expecting a serious post from me today, forget about it! Who's up for some summer eye candy?

Now that's what I'm talking about! There's more to come, so if you're in the mood to relax while you enjoy a refreshing drink...

... and watch someone else work hard in the hot sun...

Hunky Mowing 1

... then this is the place to be!

Sigh. I love summer.

Official Disclaimer: I hereby promise the Naughty Nine that my next post will be less shallow and frivolous, or at least contain more words than pictures.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Love's Savage Whiplash Chapter 11A: A Gluten-y Mutiny

In which wheat flour is discovered on board, messages from afar are received, and Colin learns to never smile at a crocodile.

Quinn strode across the deck, trying to keep her mind on the impending storm instead of her hard nipples chafing across the roughspun shirt she wore.

Silk shirts were for pussy pirates, she always thought. Like that Captain Morgan they took down a month or two past. But pussy or not, they did relieve him of some delicious spiced rum. The crew’s morale had definitely improved at that point.

Staring through the amber spyglass she’d stole—er, inherited—from another captain, she barely resisted wincing when she witnessed the fury of the upcoming storm.

She could feel its power tingling across her skin, as she had the night of the fateful storm that stole away her family. Her hands shook as she returned the spyglass to its perfectly positioned pegs on the wall—no pirate-ninja could function without complete order on her ship—and lightfooted away from the bow of the ship.

Her captive had nothing to do with her nerves jangling, nothing at all. It was the storm, or the crocodile, who, for some reason, always tempted her to smile back at him.

But pirates didn’t smile. Ninjas even less so. She scowled over the railing at the scaled ten-foot monster.

A crash from behind had her turning faster than a speeding bullet, or something speeding that existed in her time, as bullets still traveled rather slowly by comparison.

The nicest ass she’d ever seen, attached to a nicer body, caught her eye as it ran around the corner.

Blast and damnation—the pirate escaped!

She drew her katana, thinking he needed a good spanking with the side of it, and followed him down into the bowels of the ship.

At the bottom of the stairs she paused, moving with deliberation only when she heard shouting from the galley. Sword aloft, she crept forward like a creepy crawly…ugh, she shuddered to think of the six- and eight- legged monsters she found on land…and peered around the doorway.

Colin, bare-assed, held two of her men at sword point. She should have been more concerned, but her thoughts had traveled to wondering how well a gold doubloon would bounce off his tight behind. A warm glow, like sunrise, filled her and lifted her heart.

She must be insane to feel such passion for this captive she’d just barely met.A captive who would be wreaking havoc on her ship if she did not intercede.

She prepared to make a dashing, daring, ninja-like entrance when Colin’s voice stopped her colder than a witch’s titty in a brass bra.

“How dare you plan mutiny against your captain!” he growled. “I thought about going to warn her, but decided to take care of you two scalawags myself!”

Mutiny? Aboard her ship? Her heart deflated from its new former glory. She worked so hard to keep her ninjas happy. They even had dental! She peeked around the corner, needing to watch their traitorous expressions!

Jack and Sparrow, her two men, looked at each other. But no devious smiles passed between them.

“Look here, boy,” Jack started, “I ain’t heard nothin’ about no mutiny. Pirates,” he sneered, “might work like that. But if we wanted to off Captain Quinn—”

“Which we most certainly do not!” Sparrow cut in.

“—then we would just kill her in her sleep, all ninja-like.”

Both men looked impossibly smug with their logic. Colin’s shoulders drooped. Quinn watched as he gathered himself and thrust his sword under Jack’s chin. “Then why did I hear you talking about mutiny outside her cabin door? I heard you saying ‘heads would roll if the captain found out about this.’”

Her pirate-in-training looked so triumphant, even in his naked state.

Jack and Sparrow scratched their heads, pulled on their beards, and narrowed their eyes at Colin. Then Sparrow snapped his fingers and pointed at her captive. “I get it now—you’re daft!” His voice changed, as if he were speaking to a child. “That explains the nudity, too, and why our hardened ninja warrior princess has gone so easy on him,” he stage-whispered to Jack.

Jack’s face melted into an innocent grin. “Aw, poor lad, m’cousin was afflicted with the same. Would you like some milk and chocolate biscuits, lad, and we’ll explain the whole thing?”

Colin’s face lit up. “You have biscuits aboard the ship? I’ve seen nothing but rice and seaweed and that raw fish business.”

Jack and Sparrow looked to each other and nodded. “Yes, boy, we do. But you mustn’t tell the Captain.” Jack reached out and pressed one finger to the flat of Colin’s sword to lower it. “She does not like us to keep them aboard.”

Colin nodded eagerly and moved to put his sword up, shoulders slumping when he realized he had no scabbard.

Then his back went rigid and his pale, fair skin, white like milk or a dairy maid, blushed a becoming pink.
Even his sweet little butt flushed, drawing her attention to an odd-shaped birthmark on his left cheek.

She tilted her head and squinted. It almost looked like…a duck. How ridiculous! But that didn’t stop her from wanting to nibble on it.

Her stomach grumbled. Where in the name of O-Wata-Tsumi was that rice-flour hard tack? She would karate chop whomever was responsible, then make him wax on, wax off the whole deck in punishment.

The men looked around furtively, then Jack pulled up the top of his bar—a top that should not have been able to move! He pulled out a biscuit tin and she gasped—those had been confiscated from the ship full of culinary masters they’d captured sailing between France and America! She’d ordered all the pastries given to the children on the island where they often docked for respite.


She drew her sword and charged into the room just as the three men had taken bites of their chocolate-covered glutinous delicacies. Her stomach protested at the mere sight of them. “Traitors!”

Jack gasped and went into a coughing fit, but none moved to help him, as they were frozen like stalks of grass without a breeze. Just like her favorite haiku.

Colin’s averted eyes were wide with terror, but his lovely manroot wasn’t afraid. In fact, it was the only thing in the room eyeing her at the moment.

To take him again right then, she’d consider overlooking this transgression. But where would it end? Biscuits today, then petit fours tomorrow, then they’d be having croissants for breakfast!

“Aiiya!” She charged the men with her O-Wata-Tsumi war cry, slipped past them, and brought her blade across the side of the tin. It dented and fell off the counter, spilling the biscuits.

“I’ll not tolerate this munity!”

The men behind her cried out their objections, but did not interfere as she crushed the offending food under her shoe. Her men didn’t understand the burden of being gluten-free!

Colin dashed to her side and wrapped his arms around hers, pinning them to her sides and lifting her into his arms and away from the flour dust now coating the wood floor. “I knew you had mutiny planned!” he shouted at the other men as he carried Quinn from the room. “Your captain and I will discuss your punishment!”

She would have struggled, but she was too shocked to move. Her fair, sweet Colin, giving orders and manhandling her? It was almost too much to bear.

She would never admit to swooning, but she might possibly let that her knees were a little weakened by his behavior. Moreso when she felt the hardness of his sea snake rise against her hip.

He toted her to the captain’s cabin, raising eyebrows the whole way. The door slammed shut behind them and he dropped her onto the bed.

Quinn pulled at his wrist, wanting him to follow her down onto the mattress, but he resisted.

“What is this gluten-free, Quinn?” His voice was dark and rumbly, like the thunderstorm they’d barely survived weeks past. She might barely survive his questions if he continued looking at her with such passion and fire in his eyes.

“I…I can’t eat food with wheat in it.”

His gorgeous brown eyes widened and his lush lips parted. “That’s a travesty! Whyever not?”

She ducked her head, hating to admit her one weakness. Not ever her crew knew the repercussions of such an event. “I break out in a pox. It is not contagious, but it occurs on…on—”

To be continued...

A Word to you, Our Dear and Gentle Readers: If you enjoyed this small offering, please do us the honor of returning to grace our humble blog with your presence one week hence, when we shall be delighted to bring to you the next installment of our little saga, which is to be entitled, Chapter Ten, A Conspiratorial Interlude.

And please partake of our Love’s Savage Contest. Leave a comment here or go to our Facebook page (link in the column on the right) and quote your favorite line from this week’s episode to be entered in a monthly drawing for a giftcard at the bookstore of your choice and a grand finale drawing for a signed e-reader cover.

The Naughty Nine

Click to read Chapter Ten

Click to read Chapter 11B

Click to read from beginning

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Small Town Girl in the Big City

Right up front I’m going to say that I love my home state of Iowa. If anyone else wrote this post I might even be offended but it’s one of those things that I can get away with because it’s mine :)

At the moment, my kids, husband and I are vacationing by doing the tourist-thing in Washington D.C. We’re having a great time and while I’ve been here several times before, it’s fun to see it through my kids’ eyes. Almost better than seeing their reactions to the Lincoln monument and the American History Museum is seeing their reactions to the differences between our wonderful small town home in the Midwest and the big city. I thought I might run down the top ten differences between D.C. and Iowa that we’ve encountered. What? You don't think there are differences? Well, read on!

10. Corn and cows. Iowa has a lot of both. The only corn I’ve seen was the corn we had for dinner and the cow was on the side of the ice cream carton at the grocery store. Maybe there are cows and cornfields in D.C. but I haven’t seen any real ones yet.

9. Food vendors on the street. This just doesn’t happen in Iowa. At least not where we are. The closest thing we have is lemonade stands. Yep, little kids sitting in front of their houses and selling cups of lemonade and/or Kool-Aid for 25 cents.

8. How close we are to New York City. NYC is a place my kids are both dying to see and seems like some magical far off place where we live. In less time than it would take for us to drive across the state of Iowa we could go from D.C. to NYC for the day!

7. Culture. I think it goes without saying that the museums and “things to do” in Washington D.C. seem better. And maybe they are. They’re better than a lot of places. But Iowa has its own entertainment and cool stuff. Like Mount Rushmore. No wait, that’s South Dakota. Well, I’ll think of something. (just kidding, we have fun too. Just… different… fun).

6. National Monuments. Okay, this is a given I realize. But come on. These things are awesome.

5. Subways. Yeah, Iowa has the sandwich shop. But the closest “real” subway is 7-8 hours away. In fact, here we barely car pool. (That’s not necessarily a good thing, I realize).

4. Population. There are a lot of people here in D.C. There aren’t this many people where we live. Enough said.

3. Diversity. There are so many cultures, languages and colors here. It’s really a great experience for my kids who are growing up in a town where there are a lot of wonderful things- wide open spaces, clean air, and a non-existent crime rate. However, seeing people in wheelchairs, with seeing eye dogs, speaking a plethora of languages, wearing bindis and turbans is wonderful.

2. High heels and suits. It doesn’t matter if they have to walk a mile or that it’s 95 degrees outside, the people who work in D.C. look good. Especially the women. They’re all in shape from walking all over, they can run on subway platforms in high heels and their hair is apparently impervious to humidity. Iowa women just put pony tails in and are much too practical to run in heels. At least most of us.

1. Family 24/7. We love each other. We’re a happy family. I often wish I had more time with my kids when I’m working. But wow, 24/7 is really a lot for us. We all like our space, we like our alone time and we’re not used to seeing each other this much :)

Anyway, we’re having a fantastic time. We’re learning a lot and we really are enjoying the uninterrupted time together. Washington D.C. is a great place and I love that my kids are enjoying it as much as we’d hoped they would. We’ll be home in a few days, happy to sleep in our own beds (though I have to say, these are fantastic) but with lots of great memories (and several souvenirs!)

This whole trip is leading up to two things… the print release of Just My Type (the third Bradford book) and… um… oh, yeah, my hubby’s birthday! Both happen on Aug 2nd (the first day after vacation is over). So, for fun I’m going to give a gift away to someone! It will include a print copy of Just My Type and some of my hubby’s favorite things! An 80’s compilation CD, popcorn and a koozie to keep your beer (or whatever) cold!

All you have to do is comment here. Anything. Tell me about your favorite vacation. What you love about your own home state. Whatever.
I’ll choose a winner on August 2nd!

For now, I have more sites to see! Erin

Just My Type

Secretly wanting her—no problem. Her not-so-secretly wanting him—big trouble.

The Bradfords, Book 3

There’s only one problem with the woman Jason “Mac” Gordon wants: his best friend’s little sister is off limits. Way off limits, and too young and innocent for the likes of him. From past experience, he’s learned to hide his not-so-nice preferences from the nice girls he seems to attract. That definitely includes the woman he’s always thought of as a sister. At least until recently.
Sara Bradford always gets what she wants—which is partly Mac’s fault. After all, he helped spoil her. So she has no intention of taking his no for an answer on anything—least of all his refusal to sleep with her. He thinks she’s too innocent? Fine. She’ll simply get un-innocent and show Mac that she wants him—the good, the bad and the nipple
When Mac’s plan to drive her away works too well, he’s forced to follow her to a tropical paradise, determined to make sure she doesn’t find her wild side with anyone but him. Once she gets a real taste of what he likes, he’s sure everything will go back to normal.
That’s until he discovers a slight kink, er, flaw in his logic…
Product WarningsContains hot sex at the beach, kinky online shopping—and yes, cotton-candy-flavored
body powder does exist.

He was absolutely not going to have sex with Sam’s little sister.

Okay, so some people would say they’d already been pretty intimate. He wasn’t going to promise that wasn’t going to go a little further. It had to in order for him to show her he was way to wild for her. He just wasn’t going to kiss her. Not unless it was absolutely necessary. He wasn’t going to touch her any more than that. At least, he was going to try not to touch her. He definitely wasn’t going to bury himself as deep as he could go, over and over and over.

Yeah, that one he wasn’t going to do.

He turned around a moment later, feeling as in control as he was likely going to get with the knowledge he was going to see every beautiful, naked inch of Sara Bradford before he left that condo.
She hadn’t had much to remove. Just her dress, since he had her thong in his pocket. She still hadn’t listened to him. She was lying on her back, propped up on her elbows, her smooth tanned legs dangling over the edge of the bed, mostly covered. At least as much as she had been since being in St. Croix. He stopped in front of her and looked down at her.

On a bed. Like a wet dream come true.

Even if he hadn’t seen in the cab she wore no bra, there was obviously nothing between her breasts and the thin white satin of her top as the hard points of her nipples were evident.

He’d wanted women. He’d felt heat and passion. He’d never felt burned alive from the inside like he did now. He knew, even as he gazed down at her, once he saw her, saw every inch of flesh on this woman, he would never want another. Ever.

This had the potential of making him a very lonely, sexually frustrated person from here on.

Still he said, “Take it off.”

Her eyes widened. “I’d rather you did it.”

He frowned. She was going to be difficult even now? “Sara, take it off.”

She reached her hand behind her neck and pulled on the end of the tie that held the top up. The material gave and the front slipped down to reveal the smooth peach colored skin of her chest and upper swells of her breasts. Not far enough.

“More,” he said hoarsely.

She grasped the satiny material between her thumb and first finger just above her belly button and tugged. The fabric slipped down, tortuously slow, until her beautiful breasts and hard nipples were fully revealed.

His mouth went dry as if it was the first time he’d seen her. Somehow, this felt different. This was premeditated. This wasn’t a spontaneous painting or an attempt to shock her in a public place. This was a private showing. All for him.

She was tiny all over. She wasn’t more than an A cup and he’d heard her bemoan that fact in the past. Right now, though, she didn’t look upset. About anything. And he sure as hell wasn’t complaining.

“Now what?” A mischievous smile teased the corner of her mouth.

“All the way. Off.” He was already beyond the ability to make full sentences.

She lifted her hips off the mattress. She looked at him expectantly as if waiting for him to pull the skirt down. There was no way he was touching her.

Being by a bed with her was a bad idea.

Watching her undress was a terrible idea.

Thinking about all of the things he wanted to do to her was a horrible idea.

But touching her? Putting his hands on the woman he’d been comparing every other woman to for five years? Running his palms over the curves and silkiness of the woman he’d been depriving himself of, purposefully, for five years?

No way in hell. That would be out of control.

He’d had bad, terrible and horrible ideas before and survived them. He’d always been in control.
“Take it off.”

She wouldn’t leave him alone. If he didn’t do this, do something, she would not leave it alone. He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t take having her flirt and tease and try to seduce him. So he was going for the shock factor to shut her up. At least long enough to get her back to Omaha, dump her back on her siblings and then disappear for a while to get over her. Shouldn’t take more than a decade or two.

She shrugged, like it didn’t matter to her one way or another, and lay back, grabbing some material in her fingers at each hip and tugging it down, shimmying as she did it. The motion caused her breasts to bounce a little.

Mac bit back a soft curse and closed his eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he said tightly.

“You’re not going to look?”

He shook his head. He couldn’t. Not right now. Maybe ever.

Buy it now

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guest Blogger Maia Strong - Symbiosis

Hello, folks! First off, big thanks to the Naughty Nine for being such lovely hosts! It's nice to hang out in someone else's backyard once in awhile. I even brought drinks to share. :-)

I was torn about what to write for this blog post. I could talk about how I build my worlds (make it up as I go and try to make sure it's at least remotely viable). Or how I develop my characters (make it up as I go and try to listen when they tell me I'm wrong). Or my routine (make it up as I go, and write whenever I can squeeze in the time).

Are you sensing a theme?

I thought you might.

And in the end, it really all boils down to the writing process. Mine, as far as it can be called a process, follows this general pattern:

"Oh! That's a new character in my head! I like him/her. I wonder what universe s/he belongs in?"

"Oh! That character belongs in this universe. I wonder why."

"Oh! That's the story s/he needs to tell! I suppose I ought to write it now."

There can be huge gaps between each of those discoveries of character, world, and story, of course, but the stages are that simple. The complicated part, once I have all three, is the actual writing and storytelling. The part where I have to listen when my characters talk, and figure out what they're hiding when they don't. And sometimes I have to let go of where I think a story needs to go and let the characters take me along for the ride.

This is what happened with the most recent book I contracted with Torquere Press (, Rose & Thorn. I had my boys, Eamon and Jasper (neither of whom, by the way, started out with those names). I had my universe; I've been writing in it for a long time and it was definitely where these two belonged. I knew they were actors who were hot for each other while at the same time competing for a job. What I found out along the way was that the company they wanted to work for was cursed, and that someone was stealing from it. Oh and that there was this really cute girl named HJ who worked there whom both of them sort of fancied. That was when my usual m/m erotic fantasy romance got the added tags of mystery and m/m/f ménage. (Could I possibly have more subgenres? I asked myself. Only if I added shape-shifters or clockwork robots, and that was not going to happen. This time, anyway.)

Despite this change from my norm, I let the story take me where it needed to go. I figured out the curse and the theft right along with my heroes and heroine. Sometimes I'd point them where they needed to go; sometimes they led me. Writing is a solitary and yet oddly symbiotic process for me, and I've found the best, and hardest, thing to do is learn to get out of my own way.

Here's a bit of blurbage for you about Rose & Thorn:

Eamon Quinn is an actor with designs on a position with Rose & Thorn Theatrics. As a new university graduate, he's up to the acting challenge, but he's not so sure he's up to facing life in the big city. Fortunately, he quickly finds a friend in Jasper Davison. Jasper is intrigued by Eamon, sure that he's a fellow mountain-born soul, and that's something Jasper's been missing in coastal Yanuk. When both men are hired by Rose & Thorn, the kindred spirits soon become lovers--and catch the eye of the company's head apprentice, troupe musician, and animal wrangler, the pretty and precocious HJ Greenhills.

Bad luck plagues the theatre--accidents, injuries, and a sudden death--leading to rumors of a curse. Weaving sexual energy with Druid magic, Eamon and Jasper seek the truth behind the rumors. But confirming the curse is only the first hurdle. They need figure out who cast it and how to end it before it causes more harm. Even together, the two men aren't strong enough. Druid magic works best in threes, and so they seek HJ's help to lift the curse. The three put their bodies and energies together to call up the magic they need to set things right.

I'd love to give you a cover and a release date, but this is a brand new contract so I don't have either of those yet. I do hope you won't mind waiting, though, and that you'll pop over to my own blog once in a while to see if I've posted updates. I will post them, of course. The only question is when.

In the meantime, here's the pretty, pretty cover of my latest novella (also from Torquere Press), Compass Hearts. If you want to learn a little about the world of Rose & Thorn, this book will give you a few hints.

Maia Strong lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two wonderful kitties. When not working on writing, she can be found working in theatre, both onstage and off. She can also be found rock climbing and belly dancing -- although not at the same time. She likes maple bars, lemon bars, and snickerdoodles, but a good soy latté trumps all three.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Love's Savage Whiplash Chapter 10: A Conspiratorial Interlude

In which the Lady Chastity and The Honorable Mr. Wickham conspire to cut short the Duke of Earl’s happiness (to say nothing of his neck), while the duke’s ward, Ward, demonstrates the usefulness of being neither seen nor heard.

Lady Chastity took yet another circuit of the Netherloin portrait gallery, practicing some of the saltier phrases she’d picked up from her grandmother, the former opera dancer and originator of the Feelsgood Bosom Extender, the corset that was responsible for the family’s rise to its current prominence. Queen Anne had been so taken by the corset’s possibilities that she’d promptly elevated Chastity’s grandfather to a rather minor earldom—still quite enough to make him a leading light in the county.

It should have been more than enough to make Chastity the leading candidate for Duchess of Earl too. Until the duke had apparently decided to abscond in pursuit of his other fiancée, the governess.

She paused to kick the nearest item of furniture, a pedestal upon which rested a bust of some distant ancestor, looking remarkably like Willoughby Wickham. The pedestal trembled but stayed in place. Chastity resisted the urge to grasp her toe and hop around the hall, howling.

Footsteps sounded on the marble floor behind her, and she drew herself to her full Amazonian height. She felt like giving whoever it was a thorough tongue-lashing, except for the rather unpleasant mental image that term conjured up.

“Lady Chastity,” the Honorable Mr. Wickham intoned from behind her. “Well met.”

“Well met?” Chastity whirled about, balling her hands in fists. “Well met? I’ll give you well met, sir. You idiot nephew has run away with a penniless governess. Then again, since I understand the duchy is also penniless, that should make them admirably well-suited. I’ve sent for my carriage. My solicitors will be contacting you quite soon about the return of my dowry after my own return to Bosom of the Hills, my family estate. We Feelsgoods do not respond kindly to insult!”

She had the great pleasure of seeing Mr. Wickham’s face turn pale. But then again, given the pasty nature of his complexion, the journey to pale wasn’t far. He raised his hands, palms outward. “My lady, I beg you to reconsider. Young men have their quirks, their wild starts. I assure you my nephew will return posthaste. My men have already been dispatched to find him and…er…return him.”

Chastity folded her arms across her own, not inconsequential bust (the Feelsgood Bosom had reference far beyond corsets, after all), tapping her uninjured toe indignantly on the marble floor. “And what makes you think I want another woman’s leavings, sir? I have reconsidered my previous consent to your offer of marriage in your nephew’s behalf. I have no intention of wedding someone with so little taste as to fancy a…a servant!

“Suppose”— Mr. Wickham leaned forward, his voice dropping to a murmur—“just suppose that the current Duke of Earl were to meet with…” His glance flew quickly right and left. Seeing nobody in the hall but Chastity, he continued. “Suppose he were to meet with an untimely demise. The estate would then pass to another branch of the family. The Wickhams, to be precise.”

Chastity blinked. “The Wickhams? Your own branch, sir? It was my understanding that you were related to the duke through his mother rather than his father.”

The Honorable Mr. Wickham’s smile took on a faintly smug tinge. “As it happens, I am related through both matrilineal and patrilineal lines, as I have only recently had confirmed by the royal genealogist. My late sister was the late duke’s second cousin as well as his spouse. I myself am the only surviving sprout of this branch of a sadly truncated family tree. A tree I hope soon to graft to much more bountiful stock.”

His gaze dipped significantly to Chastity’s prow. She considered upbraiding him, but the possibilities he proposed seemed far more interesting. Her toe tapping slowed to a toe tipping. “Are you proposing a new alliance, sir? With yourself? Yet doesn’t such an alliance depend upon the present duke’s meeting with a fortuitous accident?”

Mr. Wickham’s lips quirked upward into something approaching a smirk. “Would such an alliance be pleasing to you, my lady? If, of course, such an accident were to occur?”

Chastity really had to think about that, an experience that she normally avoided. The Honorable Mr. Willoughby Wickham was hardly a prepossessing figure. In fact, he ranked high on the list of Most Unattractive People Encountered Thus Far In a Lady’s Life. On the other hand, holding a significant title did increase a man’s appeal enormously, if not his stature, which reached somewhere in the neighborhood of Chastity’s shoulder. While she much preferred the current duke in terms of both appearance and presumed virility, he was rapidly becoming unavailable. And, when all was said and done, the title was perhaps equally attractive, even if it came attached to such a puny package.

“You would be Duke of Earl,” she said carefully since in her experience it was always best to spell these things out, “should your nephew become the victim of any unforeseen fatal occurrence?”

“I would.” Mr. Wickham’s pale eyes took on a sinister gleam that was almost, but not quite, enough to make up for the fact that his chin was virtually non-existent. “I have the warrant of the royal genealogist to that effect.”

“What do you expect to happen to the current duke?” Chastity wasn’t sure she really wanted to know, but then again, always best to be clear.

“His grace has unfortunately returned to his earlier profession, one that no decent society can countenance. I speak, of course, of highway robbery.” Mr. Wickham’s smile seemed to have moved into the indecent category as well. “Moreover, there are certain quite troubling indications that the earlier disappearance of his twin brother was not, perhaps, the accident it was originally supposed to be. In fact, said accident seems to have been less accident than design. The duke has certainly profited by the loss of his twin.”

Chastity studied Mr. Wickham’s Spanish leather boots, his fine wool coat, his deerskin breeches, and his bejeweled quizzing glass. “Profit,” she murmured. “Do tell.”

“Highway robbery, not to mention murder, are both capital offenses,” Mr. Wickham continued. “Should my men be unable to persuade His Grace to return, they have orders to proceed to the sheriff and inform him of the duke’s…proclivities and the grave suspicions surrounding his brother’s death. The penalty for capital crimes, of course, is hanging. Although in the duke’s case, that penalty will be exacted with a velvet rope.”

“And after that…” Chastity narrowed her eyes.

“After that, I, Willoughby Wickham the Fourteenth, shall become Duke of Earl. And I beg you, my dear, to consider my suit.”

Chastity blew out a quick breath, considering. It was indeed a fine woolen suit. But even within its fine lines, Mr. Wickham looked remarkably like a garden slug. However, the Feelsgood women were made of sturdy stock. They took their husbands where they found them, and soon thereafter they took them for everything they were worth. “I would be delighted to do so, Your Future Grace.”


Ward sat silently in the carved wooden chair on the far end of the portrait gallery. He’d long been accustomed to adults ignoring his very existence, but he’d never before found it an advantage. He only wished his governess were somewhere about so that he could share the very disturbing news he’d just heard.

Then again, given Miss Fitzgerald’s general ability to absorb and act upon important information, perhaps not.

Still, he couldn’t help feeling some responsibility to warn the duke about the plot being hatched upon his life. Of course, first he’d have to decide which duke was being threatened since he’d already deduced that the duke who was chasing Miss Fitzgerald was most decidedly not the duke who had run away to be a pirate.

However, the possibility of twins was certainly intriguing. Neither of the dukes had ever mentioned it in Ward’s hearing, but then he was frequently left out of the most interesting conversations.

Given that the runaway still appeared to be missing and the one who was after Miss Fitzgerald had been in residence until that afternoon, Ward assumed he was the duke in question and in jeopardy. A highwayman, no less.

He drew his brows together in thought. After he succeeded in saving the erstwhile duke from the hangman’s noose, he’d have to prevail upon him to explain the details of his profession. Given that Ward had yet to deduce any source of future income for himself, any more than he’d been able to deduce the names of his parents, he needed to give all possible future professions careful consideration.

But first, he needed to locate the current duke-in-residence and set about saving him. He sighed. Seemed simple enough.

A slight movement at the side of the portrait gallery caught his attention. He frowned. It appeared to be an animal of some sort. Long, furry body, pointed snout, small shell-like ears. Quite attractive, really. Assuming it wasn’t some exotic sort of rat.

He dropped to his knees, crawling slowly across the cold marble floor so as not to frighten the beast. It turned its head to consider him with eyes like peppercorns.

“Here…thing,” he whispered. “Nice…whatever.”

The animal considered him for another long moment, then scuttled toward his outstretched fingers. Ward stroked its long, soft back, then gathered it gently against his chest. “Well, beast,” he murmured, “shall we go and try to save his temporary grace from the velvet rope?”

The animal snuggled more securely against him in apparent assent. Ward sighed. At last. Someone to confide in who would neither pat him on the head nor threaten him with warm milk. Perhaps things really were looking up.
A Word to you, Our Dear and Gentle Readers: If you enjoyed this small offering, please do us the honor of returning to grace our humble blog with your presence one week hence, when we shall be delighted to bring to you the next installment of our little saga, which is to be entitled, Chapter Ten, A Conspiratorial Interlude.

And please partake of our Love’s Savage Contest. Leave a comment here or go to our Facebook page (link in the column on the right) and quote your favorite line from this week’s episode to be entered in a monthly drawing for a giftcard at the bookstore of your choice and a grand finale drawing for a signed e-reader cover.

The Naughty Nine

Click here to read the Prologue
Click here to read Chapter 9-B
Click here to read Chapter 11A

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Living Dangerously

I had several topics in mind for this post, but sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind, re-write your plans and risk alienating the people you care about (yes, even your blogmates) by giving voice to unpopular opinions. Or by ranting on, for a thousand words or so, about something that other people might love that you do not...kinda like boxed wine, ya know?

So here goes...

It's not a secret that I have a love/hate relationship with Harry Potter. And Deathly Hallows Part Two? Yeah...not a fan.

The love part of the love/hate thing is easy to understand: big books about magic that taught an entire generation to love reading. Where's the bad?

I have fond memories of taking my daughter to bookstores at midnight to buy each new book when it first came out. Of staying up all night reading.  Of going out to breakfast afterwards. They were good times and I miss them.

I loved the characters and I loved the world they inhabited and, for the first few books, when everything was hanging together and mostly making sense, it was golden. As the series went on, however, inconsistencies crept in, plot holes opened up. More and more frequently I found myself asking, "wait. what happened to this or that magical rule? Does it no longer apply?" More and more frequently, characters began to meet with random and entirely too gratuitous ends. I'm not a fan of any of these things.

Real life may be full of senseless tragedies, of inconsistencies and people whose lousy memories prevent them from remembering things that you might think would be really hard to forget, if you actually lived through them. But fiction is not real-life and the one thing it really shouldn't be is senseless.  And if you're going to kill off major characters, do it with style. Do it with purpose. Give them some closure and a death (and death scene) that's worthy of them.

But that's the books. The movies...ah, now that's another subject. The first few movies were probably not the best from a cinematic standpoint, but they followed the books so slavishly--I loved that about them. Also, there was Alan Rickman.

I don't have to explain that last part--right?

So, okay, sure, it might be true that those early movies were something of a mystery to people who hadn't read the books, but I was okay with that. The movies weren't for those people anyway. They were for us--the faithful. They were lovely little gifts: a chance to watch the characters we loved so well brought to life just for our  enjoyment. Something to tide us over until the next book came out.

Somewhere along the line, however, things changed. I think Hollywood figured out that a lot of people who were going to see the movies hadn't read the books, were never going to read the books, and really didn't care if the movies stayed true to them or not.

It made good economic sense to start playing to that audience. An audience that might very well decide to skip the next movie if something better opened at the same time. After all, why waste time worrying about the fans of the books, when it was obvious they'd got to see the movies regardless? Why not make movies, instead, for the people who might not even realize there were books?

I get that. I do. Doesn't mean I have to like it.

Realistically, I think, for me, the series peaked at the third book. After that, she began killing key characters off with depressing regularity. After that, the movies began to depart more and more from the books. And not in a good way. Entire scenes, subplots, seasons, characters disappeared somewhere between the page and the screen.  Other scenes (sadly, they were occasionally some of the better scenes) appeared in the movies that weren't in the books at all--a fact I most frequently noticed upon re-reading the books and really wishing they'd been included.

But the worst idea, IMO, was splitting up the last book into two movies. It wasn't the longest book--which might have made some sense. And the way in which it was done...that didn't make much sense to me either. In the first movie, we got a lot of camping. In the second movie, we got really crappy makeup, odd beards, disturbing visuals (am I the only mother who wondered what they did to that poor child who played baby Harry to make him look exhausted and half-dead from crying?). What we didn't get was most of our  much-loved characters, many of whom barely even appeared. Maybe they had a scene or two. Maybe they had a line or two. Maybe they just got to lie around dead for a minute or two.

Sigh. I don't know about you, but it wasn't enough for me. 

Now, those of you who don't like spoilers might want to close your eyes. My biggest problem with the last movie (and the book as well, to a smaller extent) was the end. The epilogue, if you will.

I thought the book arrived at the epilogue much too abruptly. I thought there was more to be said--a lot more, in fact--about the mess in the ministry and how the wizarding world was going to adjust to the aftermath of all this chaos (not to mention the untimely and largely senseless deaths of so many seemingly key players). I felt cheated out of those 19 missing years. I wanted to see more of what went on.

For me, the worst thing about the movie epilogue (besides that strange-looking ferret one of the actors was obliged to wear on his face in lieu of a beard) was the way in which the characters did not interact with each other at all. It was almost like they hadn't seen each other for the past 19 years either. Given what a close-knit group the Weaseleys always seemed to be, and given how Harry always seemed to want to be part of a big, happy family, one might presume that they'd have spent the intervening years socializing with one another, maybe spending holidays together. One might expect that their children (being first cousins and all around the same ages) would have grown up together and be friends or, at the very least, actually recognize one another if they happened to come across each other somewhere--say in a crowded railway station, perhaps.

It aggravated me, in that last scene, that almost no one made eye contact with one another or even seemed to acknowledge anyone else's existence. Where was the affection they all used to have for one another? Where was the friendship? Where was the love?

It put me in mind of the end of Peter Pan. Peter and Wendy hadn't seen each other in a whole bunch of years either, but you knew they'd never once forgotten what they'd been through together. You knew their feelings for each other hadn't changed.  Now here they both were again. She was all grown up, he wasn't. It was all exactly as it should be. It was nostalgic and bittersweet and completely perfect.

The end of Harry Potter, on the other hand, left me feeling flat. I missed those children who I'd watched grow up. They were bold. They were courageous. They were larger than life. And I didn't see a trace of any of that in the adults they had become.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Guest Blogger Phillipa Ashley - Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Like all novelists, people often ask me, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

Some authors dread the question, but I don’t mind. The only problem is that the answer could be a very long one! That’s because most writers of contemporary romance draw their inspiration from almost anything and anyone.

Sometimes, the “hook” comes first for me. In It Should Have Been Me, one of my other books, I heard the old Yvonne Fair song on the radio and thought, “What if a jilted bride really did stand up in the church and try to stop the wedding?”

The idea for my book, Just Say Yes, came along when I heard about a man who’d proposed to girlfriend during an ad break in Veronica Mars. What if she’d said ‘no’ live on TV and humiliated him?

Fever Cure
Fever Cure is my brand new book released by Samhain this week. Here’s the cover which I think was designed by Kanaxa. I cried when I saw it, it captured the feverish feel of the book so well!
I first got the idea for Fever Cure when I was 18! I’m much older now and only started writing fiction six years ago. Yet the small experience that inspired the book made a deep impression on me.

It was way back when I was an undergraduate at Oxford. One day, I was in the library sitting opposite a handsome medical student. My friend told me that he was The Honourable X and the son of an earl. I was fresh from a state school, a working class girl, overwhelmed by the world of dreaming spires, grand colleges and my fellow students, many of them very wealthy and confident.
I was fascinated that such a privileged young man as the earl’s son wanted to be a doctor when he probably didn’t have to work at all.

I’m a lot older now and, I hope, a little wiser but the image of the aristocrat surrounded by medical textbooks never left me. So when I did start writing, I just had to tell ‘his’ fictional story.

Fever Cure is the story of the Honourable Doctor Tom Carew and a young teacher called Keira Grayson who’s taken some hard knocks in life. They are on fire for each other from the moment they meet at a friend’s wedding but both of them have very good reasons why taking the relationship further, let alone falling in love, would be disastrous.

This book is an emotional, intense read and probably my "hottest" story so far. There’s a lot of humour in it, like all my books, but I also hope it will make you cry before you get to the HEA.

Here’s the blurb

The road to heartbreak is paved with honorable intentions…

After a year dealing with her mum’s health scare and the end of a bad relationship, Keira Grayson was looking forward to kicking up her heels at her best friend’s wedding. Until she kicks off her (spare) knickers in front of the trifecta of perfection. Tom Carew. Son of an earl, honorable doctor and possibly the hottest man on the planet.

One look at Keira’s delightful embarrassment, and Tom’s hormone meter spins off the charts. Trouble is, his bags are already packed to return to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. He has patients waiting—and amends to make for a terrible choice that left devastation in its wake.

They both reason that indulging in a one-time dinner date won’t hurt…until their inhibitions melt away in the heat of their lethal sexual chemistry. Leaving Keira wondering if a sizzling fling is just what the doctor ordered, or another prescription for relationship disaster. And Tom fighting a battle against inner demons that could shatter both their hearts.

Product warnings
This book contains a hot aristocratic doctor, sparky heroine, new uses for a chaise longue, a steamy shower scene and a knicker-ripping encounter in a four-poster bed.
You can read an extract here at the Samhain site
Follow me on Twitter @PhillipaAshley

Monday, July 18, 2011

Music To Shop By

I recently spent a pleasant 45 minutes shopping at Kohl’s. Like a lot of stores, they have music playing all the time you’re there, usually pop and, I assume, current (I never recognize it). It’s always there in the background, sort of like white noise. And sometimes I can go through a whole shopping experience without ever once stopping to listen to it.

The thing is, I hate music like that as a general rule. I want voices I can recognize. Take Emmylou Harris, for example. Her voice is so distinctive that every time I hear it, even if she’s singing backup for somebody like Willie Nelson (and she frequently is), I know instantly that’s Emmylou. Nobody else sounds like that. Same thing with Rosanne Cash. Ditto James McMurtry and Steve Earle and Joe Ely. Nobody else sounds like them.

Now before you assume that I’m getting ready to launch into a diatribe against Today’s Pop Music, let me say that this isn’t a particularly new phenomenon. Walk around a mall at Christmas. Just try to identify that male singer who’s crooning “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Steve Lawrence? Tony Bennett? Jack Jones? At least if it’s Brave Combo, you’ll recognize it.

I guess that’s the point about music that’s played in malls and grocery stores—it’s supposed to be anonymous. You’re not supposed to actually listen to it. No, you’re supposed to let it lull you into pleasant relaxation so that maybe you’ll buy a little more than you thought you would.

But I really think retailers are missing a bet here. Places that cater to teens and subteens, like Hot Topic, always have current pop blaring from the speakers to put their customers in a reckless, what-the-hell frame of mind. Why not come up with musical selections that make you want to listen, and maybe to buy? Hearing
McMurtry sing the praises of a red dress might make you more prone to buy an outfit that’s outrageous. Guy Clark’s song about Texas cooking always makes me hungry—play it in the grocery store and see what happens.

Maybe they could go even further than that. I wonder what would happen if stores decided to make you feel happy instead of rushed and broke. Something that would make you want to dance while check out the charcoal lighter. Think of it. Shoe shopping to Smokey Robinson. Doing a second line to Dr. John at the Mall. Or bopping up the aisles to Sing It when you’re looking for CD’s. Something to make you boogie around the store, singing along while you look for frozen peas.

Or maybe not. Given some of the people I’ve seen in stores lately, it might be best that we just keep it bland. But then, who am I to say? Maybe that eighty-year-old who’s taking her time reading the soup labels would really love to hear some Elvis.

So what do you think? Whose voice would you like to hear while you’re picking out lingerie or tomato sauce or varnish? Or would you prefer (sigh) silence?

Friday, July 15, 2011


Well, I'm hoping that I end up with three books out this year, but that depends on whether I finish my steampunk by the end of the summer. Looking doubtful...

Anyway, the release date for my new novella, Ready to Run, kind of snuck up on me. It drops on August 9 and I don't even have an ad ready yet. In fact, it's not back from the proofreaders and line editors, so I can't send it out for reviews yet.

Ready to Run is the third book in the Werewolves in Love series, and it features (as secondary characters) the folks from Kiss and Kin. Taran and Lark have small parts, Nick and TJ have somewhat bigger parts. And the very bad werewolves of Dominic Kuba's gang? Yep, they're back too.

The heroine is 22-year-old Sara Hedges (named for the lovely woman who won character naming rights in the auction we did for Fatin (@mad4rombooks) - thanks again, Sara!). She hails from the Apocalyptic backwater of Luxor, Texas, about an hour away from Dallas in the armpit of northeast Texas. (What's an Apocalyptic town? You'll have to read to find out!) All Sara's ever wanted to do is get the hell out of Luxor, and she's finally about to do it. In two months she'll be moving to the big city of Marshall, Texas (pop. 28,000), where she'll attend college.

The hero is Bryan Keeton, a wolf in Nick Wargman's Houston pack. Bryan's in Luxor for an important, and top secret, reason. He and Sara have been out a few times. He planned to keep it light and casual so that when the time comes for him to leave, he can slip out of town without a word to her.

Naturally, things do not turn out as either of them expects.

I love the tagline for this book: "Sometimes, a girl's gotta save herself."

Here's the blurb:

Vickie Slater had planned to escape the backwater, bigoted town of Luxor, Texas on the wings of a college degree—not on the back of a Harley, riding for her life.

Just a couple months shy of loading up her Miata, however, betrayal bares its ugly fangs. Her scumbag uncle has sold her to a pack of werewolves willing to pay any price for her special bloodline and it looks like there’s no way out. She never expected the new-in-town, sex-on-a-stick loner to come riding to her rescue. Or to discover he’s a werewolf, too. A good one...with one too many secrets.

Bryan Keeton waited two months deep undercover for the chance to get his hands on one of the gangster Eurowolves wreaking havoc across the South. After calling in the FBI to blow the lid off Luxor, he’d planned to leave town before he did something he might regret—like get involved with the suspect’s niece.

But Vickie makes him stupid. And now they’re on the run from the Feds, who aren’t interested in her innocence, and from the wolves who want her for their own personal squeaky toy…

And here's the gorgeous cover from the amazing Kanaxa:

I like that it has the same "feel" as the cover for Yours, Mine and Howls (also by Kanaxa:):

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be plotting out the rest of the books in the series - I think it's 3 more novellas (Seth, Dec and Wendy (Wendy's in Ready to Run) and 2 full lengths (Michael and Nick). Vickie and I will be discussing story and character arcs, interrelated plot points and what needs to happen to whom. She wants me to put it all in a spreadsheet. Ay yi yi. It's going to be a lot of work.

Check back here on August 10 for a chance to win a free copy of Ready to Run.

I'll close with an excerpt, and then I'm going to go drool at Richard Armitage for a few hours because hey, I just finished some very heavy final edits and I deserve a reward.

[Disclaimer: remember, folks, this manuscript has not been through final edits yet. Subject to change, correction, etc. etc. etc.):

The Café was the finest dining establishment in Luxor, which was only one of many reasons Sara couldn’t wait to leave her hometown of seven hundred and thirty-six.

She knew every person in the place. She’d waited on all of them in the four years she’d been working here. Having dinner at the Café was as interesting as eating in her own living room, except that she couldn’t do it in her pajamas.

“What is it?”


“You’re making a face like something smells bad. Is it me?”

“Oh. Sorry.” She smiled guiltily. “I was just thinking that I wouldn’t miss this place. When I get to Marshall, I won’t be working anywhere that serves chicken fried steak.”

“Chicken fried steak’s one of my favorites.”

“I smell it everywhere, no matter where I am. I swear I smell it on myself when I’m getting out of the shower. I probably smell like it right now.”

“Wait. Hang on.” He got up and came around to her side of the booth, sliding in and pressing her all the way up against the partition.


He buried his face in her neck and took a deep, loud sniff. It tickled and she giggled, both embarrassed at the attention they were attracting and, at the same time, proud of it. The hottest guy to come through Luxor in probably forever wanted her. And he was from Houston, home to shifters and people of fae ancestry, so everyone in Luxor viewed him a little suspiciously despite his fancy motorcycle and topnotch hunting skills. Dating him made her feel like she was saying “screw you” to Luxor—something she’d dreamed about for years but would never have the nerve to do.

He sniffed again. “I don’t smell any chicken fried steak in there. Just some girly perfume. I like it.” He kissed her neck.

“Stop!” she squealed softly, not really meaning it. “Everyone’s staring!”

“All right, all right,” he said with mock sadness. He sat up straight but didn’t return to the other side of the table.

“You two need a room?” Susan asked with a smile. Neither of them had heard her approach the table.

“Nah. We’ll get a room later.” He twisted away as Sara jabbed her elbow into his ribs. “Meantime, Susan, we’d love a pitcher of Shiner. That all right with you?”

Sara nodded.

When Susan left, Nash turned to face her with his arm across the back of the booth. “So. Marshall. You still on track for that?”

She nodded. “Yep. Sent in my apartment deposit this week. Classes start the first week of January.”

Texas State Technical College, where she’d been taking online courses for three semesters, had approved her for financial aid. She’d be moving right after Christmas.

“It’s gonna be here before you know it.”

“I know. I can’t wait.”

Susan dropped the pitcher and two glasses and promised to come right back to take their order.

Sara took a sip of her beer, suddenly self-conscious and very aware of his face so close to hers.

He ran a finger through the hair at the back of her neck. “You’ll kick ass in Marshall. Matter of fact, I bet after a year it’ll be too small to hold you. You’ll be moving on to Dallas.”

She basked in his praise. No one but her cousin, Wendy, ever praised anything she did. He really seemed interested in her, not just her body. “Well, I don’t know. It might take longer than that to get used to a city that size.” Marshall had a population of twenty-eight thousand. “I do want to transfer to a four-year college. But not in Dallas—that’s too close. I’m going to Houston.” Belatedly fearing it might sound like she was dropping hints about a future with him, she hastily added, “Or, you know, San Antonio, or Austin. Someplace with freeways and buildings taller than four stories.” She looked around the Café. “A place with restaurants you have to dress for.”

Those deep dimples reappeared, but this time his smile was serious. “Wherever you wind up, you’ll do great.”

His words made her feel all warm inside, like she was glowing.

“Okay, what are y’all having tonight?” Susan asked.

“Oh yeah, right, food,” Nash said. “We haven’t even looked at the menu.”

She elbowed him again. “Oh, shut up.” Anyone who’d eaten at the Café more than three times had the menu memorized.

“Okay. Guess I’ll have the chicken fried steak.”

“Fine, but I won’t be kissing you.”

“Oh, I think you will.” He waggled his eyebrows and leered at her.

Susan giggled like—well, like Sara had been giggling just a minute ago. Nash had that effect on women.

“I’ll have the mushroom burger, Sue.”

“Onion rings, right?”


“And another pitcher, please,” added Nash.

“All righty.”

They talked about the last couple of charters Nash had taken out on the lake. The guys at JP’s Outdoor Expeditions said he had some sort of mystical rapport with nature. And since he’d arrived in Luxor two months ago, Dallas and Fort Worth businesswomen were showing up, suddenly interested in hunting and fishing.

Their order came up quickly, but Susan didn’t leave after she dropped the plates. Instead, she looked around to see if anyone was listening, then leaned in a little bit, propping her tray against one hip. “Hey. Did y’all hear about those folks out by Wake Village?”

“Huh? No. What folks?” Sara asked. Nash was already digging into his dinner.

“Five of ’em—three men and two women. Young—or at least they think they were young. It’ll probably take dental records to ID them.”

“Oh my God.” Leave it to Susan to start a story like this while people were eating. But Sara was curious in spite of herself. “What happened?”

“Well, they’ve managed to keep it out of the papers, but you know Bobbi’s boyfriend is a Bowie County deputy.” Susan, a semi-pro gossip, repeated everything her daughter told her.

“Okay, but what happened?” asked Sara.

Nash looked up from his plate.

“They were cut to ribbons. Susan paused for effect before dropping the real bomb. “Sheriff says it was werewolves.”

“Wait a minute,” Nash said. “I heard the vics had knife wounds.”

“Listen to you,” Susan scoffed. “What are you, a cop? How did you hear about it?”

“Some guys on one of my charters know the cops who worked it,” Nash snapped. “But if they were stabbed, it wasn’t werewolves.”

“Yeah, wolves don’t use weapons,” Sara blurted. “It’s not honorable.”

It was out of her mouth before she knew she’d said it. Now both Susan and Nash were staring at her. Susan looked shocked, and maybe a little disgusted.'

Nash looked intrigued. “How do you know about werewolves?”

She shrugged. “Something I read on the Internet once, I guess.” Her hands had started shaking, so she picked up her burger. “I mean, everybody knows that about werewolves.”

I sure don’t know that.” Susan was looking at Sara like she’d just announced her conversion to Satanism. “Since when do you know so much about werewolves, Sara Mae?”

Nash grinned. “Sara Mae?”

“Don’t start,” she muttered, sill staring at her burger and willing Susan to shut up and go away.

But shutting up was not something Susan knew so much about.

“Well, all I know is Lanny Coe says it looks like werewolves done it. He’s issued silver bullets to all his men and he wants them to be on the lookout.”

“Who the fuck is Lanny Coe and what are his men supposed to be on the lookout for?” Nash asked in exactly the mocking tone of voice Sara often wished she had the nerve to use. “Is he hoping these werewolves stay furry so he can spot ‘em, or does he have some super-secret trick for recognizing them when they’re on two feet?”

Susan’s mouth had stretched into a prim, tight line at Nash’s profanity. Now her eyes narrowed to angry slits as she snapped, “Lanny Coe’s the Sheriff of Bowie County. And he wants his men to catch the creatures that did this, before the FBI shows up and tries to cover for them.

“Creatures?” Beside her, Nash had gone very still. His tone was mild, but Sara heard the contempt behind his words. It was the contempt of a cosmopolitan big city dweller for an ignorant, small town hick. What really appalled and shamed her—although it had nothing to do with her, so she couldn’t understand why she was so embarrassed—was that the contempt, in this instance, was deserved. Yes, some big city folks could be assholes. But most people in Luxor—well, as far as Sara knew, everyone in Luxor but her—thought exactly the same way Susan did. And that made Sara want to slide under the table and crawl out of the Café.

The worst part was that she just sat there and listened. She couldn’t summon the nerve to tell Susan to shut the hell up.

“And what would you call something that could do what was done to those poor folk?” Susan was asking Nash. She’d set her tray down on their table and crossed her arms, apparently in no hurry to tend to her other customers. A few people at nearby tables were watching the scene unfold. Sara’s face burned.

“I’d probably call them people,” Nash said, still in that mild, almost amused tone. “Then again, I call werewolves people, too. Seriously, Susan, humans can cut people up. Happens all the time. How does Sheriff Coe know it wasn’t a drug deal gone bad?” Susan gasped in shock, but Nash didn’t seem to notice. “Drug dealers can be pretty vicious, and I know y’all have a meth problem up here.”

Oh, dear Lord. Why did he have to bring up drugs?

Susan looked ready to spit. “If it was a drug deal, then it had to be werewolves. We’re good Christian people round here. We don’t take drugs, and we don’t suffer evil things to go upon the earth unchallenged!”

Susan paused as Sara broke out into a strangled, half-hysterical giggle. She couldn’t hold it in. The way Susan said “We don’t take drugs!”—like she really, truly believed it—was bizarre.

Sara’s English professor had talked about “cognitive dissonance,” but she’d never really understood what it meant. Now she did. Though she had to admit—in a town as small as Luxor, cognitive dissonance was probably a survival mechanism.

“Sara Mae, I don’t know what’s got into you,” Susan said, her mouth still pulled into that thin, tight, bitter line. “I really don’t. If your grandmother saw the kind of company you’re keeping, I just know she’d be worried sick.”

The giggles vanished as hot anger rushed in. Sara jerked her head up to stare at the woman she’d known all her life and never really liked. A minute ago, she’d been too afraid to speak. Now she was too furious.

How dare the self-righteous old cow threaten her?

Her hands were shaking again, and so was her voice, as she said, “Nash, I’m not really hungry anymore. Can we go now?”

He looked from Susan to Sara, and then he seemed to finally realize that people were staring at them.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--”

“No, it’s okay. Let’s go.”

“All right. Susan, I guess we need the check.”

“No we don’t. Susan, put it on my account.” She gave her fellow waitress a look that said, loud and clear, “No tip for you, bitch.”

She felt the eyes on her back all the way out the door.