Friday, September 30, 2011

The Brain You Save

I’ve noticed this weird thing about my husband. (Husband, I have a husband!)

Yes, I just quoted Love’s Savage Whiplash. So sue me.

My  husband can only do one thing at a time. If he’s on the phone, he has to finish the phone call before he can answer the teeniest tiniest question about whether the spaghetti is done. When he’s working, he’s totally focused – no chitchat, no listening to the radio. If he’s watching a movie, I could dance naked in front of him and … well, that would probably work, but nothing short of that would get his attention.

Meanwhile, I often have several windows open on my computer. One’s my WIP, then there’s Twitter and Gmail and maybe a blog I’m working on. If someone calls I cruise my email while I’m talking to them. Often I’m making supper at the same time, or helping my 7 year old shroud herself in blue fabric so she looks like an Avatar. You know … juggling. 

If you’re a woman, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Women multitask more than men, in my experience. No doubt there are exceptions. (And of course, I could be wrong. There’s usually a strong possibility of that.)

In my secret heart of hearts, I always figured my ability to multitask made me superior somehow. I could accomplish more, right? I could handle everything anyone threw at me. Switch from one task to another in the blink of an eye.

Multitasking was my own personal superpower.

Until I started reading articles about how it can cause neurological damage. Yes – apparently it forces the body to release extra hormones and adrenaline, which causes actual chemical changes in your brain. Bad changes, like short term memory loss. The study was done by Dr. Russell Poldrack at the University of California. Here’s more about it. It also affects how you learn, because multitasking sends information to a different part of your brain that doesn’t retain it as well.

Not only that, but multitasking isn’t even effective! A Stanford University study showed that chronic multitaskers are less productive, more easily distracted and less able to focus. They have worse recall so they can't remember as much about the task they just did. And, believe it or not, they're actually worse at switching gears than the low multitaskers such as my husband. Which was the whole point of multitasking in the first place!

So I guess my superpower was just an illusion. All that time I was actually harming my brain chemistry. Oops! Now that I’ve been enlightened, I try to follow my husband’s example and just do one thing at a time. If I’m writing, I write. If I’m checking email, I check email. And so forth.  

Oh, I nearly forgot the worst part. Just thinking about multitasking apparently causes your IQ to drop 10 points – temporarily.

So sorry, everyone! Don’t worry, it’ll come back. And hopefully you’ll remember this post and save your brain. (It might be too late for mine.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The blurb.

It’s such a little word. Funny sounding really. It seems innocuous. It’s like two hundred words. Nothing compared to an 80,000 word manuscript.

Yet, I would argue (and I wouldn't have to argue too hard, I'm sure) that it’s one of the most important parts of a book. For me, it’s also one of the hardest parts to write.

As a reader I totally depend on those two hundred words to tell me if this story is one I want to pick up or not. For instance, if the word zombie is one of those two hundred, I’ll probably pass on it. On the other hand, if Navy SEAL shows up, I’m there.
Imagine a book without a blurb. What’s left when you’re deciding to buy—or not?
The cover? Sure, that can be important. It can tell you a few things.

For instance, I think this Kelly Jamieson cover

and this Juniper Bell cover tell you a few things about the books.

How about the title?

This PG Forte title gives hints about the story for sure.

And, of course, this title is very descriptive ;)

But how can I decide based just on those things? I guess I could read the first page.

Lines like this More than a few residents of Wynette, Texas, thought Ted Beaudine was marrying beneath himself. It wasn’t as if the bride’s mother was still the president of the United States (Call Me Irresistable, Susan Elizabeth Phillips) give you some flavor of the story.

How about She had a choice to make. To go or to stay. To have an incredible adventure or to stay snuggled in the soulless crypt of her comfort zone (Insatiable, Cari Quinn). Sets up this story so well, makes you want to read more.

How about last pages?

His hand closed automatically around the fake Horcrux, but in spite of everything, in spite of the dark and twisting path he saw stretching ahead for himself, in spite of the final meeting with Voldemort he knew must come, whether in a month, in a year or in ten, he felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace left to enjoy with Ron and Hermione (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling)


“Well, then I’ll tell you what.” He tipped her over onto the couch cushions and rolled to prop himself over her. “Whata’ya say we practice makin’ babies?” Hands moving with speed and skill, he began to divest her of her clothing. “That way, when you’re ready, we’ll know exactly what we’re doin’.” “It’s very important for one to know what one is doing,” she agreed solemnly, as she unbuttoned his shirt and pushed it off his shoulders. “Oh, yeah. Absolutely. My thoughts exactly.” (Be My Baby, Susan Andersen).

Definitely different feels, different types of stories, but reading the ending does give you an idea about the book.

Yeah, there are other ways to decide to buy or not buy, I suppose. But nothing is as important as that blurb.

As an author those two hundred words describing my books are even more important. I want readers to know what they’re getting. For the ones who would love a story like mine, and for those who wouldn’t. I do want them to know that there will be sex scenes, hopefully pretty hot ones. There will be one hero and heroine. The most shifting anyone will do is into a different sexual position. And if there’s a third person involved… no, never mind, that’s probably not going to happen. What I’m saying is that I want those words to really matter, to capture the story, to give a feel for why someone would want to read this book.

The pressure!

Seriously, it’s tough. At Samhain, I’m lucky enough to have quite a bit of say in my blurbs. In fact, my editor Lindsey has me write a rough blurb to get things started. Now, I’m the first to tell you that I’m not great at this. I have a hard enough time writing a synopsis (a 3-5 page summary of the book that tells the editor if she/he wants to read the full manuscript). Condensing the book into a good blurb can be really hard! But it’s nice to have a chance to get the important highlights in there. Then she sends it to a blurb writer (well, I think she does other things too but she’s got a knack for blurbs) and she uses mine and tweaks it. Then they send it to me and ask what I think. And we go back and forth until it’s perfect. Or as close as we can get.

So, all of that is a long way of saying we’re still working on the one for my upcoming release Hotblooded. I can tell you a few things though (which won’t surprise my readers ;)) It’s set in a small town (Honey Creek, Texas), both hero and heroine are medical professionals, there are some steamy sex scenes, there are some funny scenes, there’s a cappuccino machine and there’s a happily ever after.

I don't have an official blurb yet but... I do have a title and a cover!!!

Finally, I’ve come up with five things that, if they’re in the blurb, I’ll definitely give it a try and five things that are definite put-it-back-on-the-“shelf” items for me.

Yes to:
1. Navy SEALS (mentioned that one right? ;))
2. Friends to lovers
3. Reunion story
4. Firefighters, doctors, paramedics, cops, etc. Love those heroes!
5. Pretend to be lovers (for some good reason) then fall in love

No to:
1. Zombies (still :))
2. Vampires (unless your name is PG Forte. I’m serious.)
3. Settings in space or aliens of any kind
4. Kidnapping of a child, death of a child (in the story—in the past I can usually deal with)
5. Hmmm… can’t come up with a 5th. I try to be open-minded. :)

How about you? What should or should not show up in a blurb to really get you excited about a book?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Florida Bound

This November I'm headed to the sunshine state for the first time. Orlando to be exact. Anxiety over travelling (not the actual flying but not knowing exactly where I'm going) aside, I'm really, really excited.

Travelling isn't something I've had the opportunity to do a lot of, so a trip to sunny Florida, especially when we may or may not have snow up my way by then, is going to be fantastic. Already I'm envisioning fun-filled day trips, pool-side relaxation and lots of the fruity, umbrella-loaded drinks. Did I mention this is an adults-only trip? :)

We'll forget about the fact I'd like to wrap up my current wip and be at least halfway through my next one by the time mid November hits. Thinking about work leaves a lot less time to be thinking/researching for my upcoming trip. This is where you guys come in. I could search out all the must-see places on the net, but I'd much rather hear from people who've been there and know what is really worth seeing, what isn't worth the hype or any hidden gems I might not discover on my own.

So what do you think I should definitely check out while I'm in Orlando?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guest Blogger Barbara Meyers - The Forever Kind Of Guy Quiz

Is he A FOREVER KIND OF GUY? Take this quiz and find out.

1. Your car breaks down on the freeway. When you call your guy for help he:

A. Tells you to lock the doors, sit tight, he’s on his way

B. Suggests you call AAA for a tow and a ride home

C. Can’t be reached because he’s in jail for DUI. Again.

2. There’s a death in the family. Your guy:

A. Lets you cry on his shoulder while he makes all the travel arrangements so he can attend the services with you.

B. Calls your best friend so she can help you through this difficult time

C. Is annoyed with your tears and the interruption in his television viewing schedule.

3. You’re frantic because your purse was stolen with your wallet and cell phone inside. Your guy:

A. Consults his back-up list of credit card numbers, cell phone companies and driver’s license bureaus and helps you make the appropriate calls. (After he attempted to catch the thief at great peril to life and limb and called 911 when the guy got away.)

B. Is bent out of shape because you’d offered to pay for dinner. Again.

C. Watches the thief escape and says, “Wow, look at that guy go.”

4. You invite your guy home to meet your parents. He:

A. Arrives on time, appropriately dressed, with flowers for your mother and a bottle of 12-year-old Scotch for your dad.

B. Arrives 45 minutes late and slightly inebriated. Later passes out on your mother’s new sofa.

C. Doesn’t show up because he’s playing pick-up basketball at the park with his buddies and forgot.

5. You’ve discovered you’re pregnant. You’re ecstatic. When you share the news your guy:

A. Hugs you like he’ll never let go and says the timing couldn’t be better.

B. Buys another pregnancy test and suggests you repeat it because it could be a false positive.

C. Decides he needs his space and wants a paternity test before you see a dime of child support.

6. You receive two tickets to a performance of Swan Lake: Your guy:

A. Asks where you’d like to go to dinner before the performance.

B. Agrees to go with you if you’ll go to the Extreme Wrestling finals with him.

C. Apologizes for missing it but there’s a rerun of Law & Order on TV that night.

7. You ask him if your new outfit makes you look fat. He replies:

A. Everything you wear looks good on you

B. Not any fatter than usual

C. Yes. Especially your butt.

8. You have the flu and can barely lift your head from the pillow. Your guy:

A. Brings you tea and toast and fluffs your pillows for you

B. Refuses to come near you in case you’re contagious

C. Breaks up with you because he’s not good with sick chicks

9. In a sports bar, another man makes an inappropriate comment to you. Your guy:

A. Insists he either apologize to you or step outside

B. Doesn’t hear it because his team just scored

C. Says, “Good one, man.”

10. You’re short on cash until payday and need five dollars for gas money. Your guy:

A. Takes your car to the gas station and fills it up as a surprise. Then gives you cash so you can stop for coffee on your way in to work.

B. Grudgingly gives you $3 and makes you sign an IOU.

C. Wishes he could help you out but his unemployment check’s late.

11. The last time your guy brought you flowers was:

A. Last week. No occasion. Just because he knows you like them.

B. Last year. Because he forgot your anniversary and/or birthday.

C. Never. He thinks flowers are stupid and a waste of money. After all, they just die.

If your answers are mostly A’s, congratulations. You’ve found A Forever Kind of Guy who knows how to treat a lady.

If your answers are mostly B’s, you’ve got a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, this guy might be untrainable.

If you answered mostly C’s, get out now. It’s better to be alone than to be with this guy.

When not writing fiction, Dr. Seuss-like poetry or song lyrics, Barbara Meyers can be found at the local Starbucks culling story ideas from customers while masquerading behind a green apron as a shift supervisor. A native of Southwest Missouri, Meyers has called Southwest Florida home for more than thirty years. Her hobbies include tormenting her long-suffering husband, interfering in the lives of her grown children, sneaking into gated communities to walk her almost perfect dog, and long bicycle rides which function as both exercise and meditation time. A Forever Kind of Guy, the second in The Braddock Brotherhood series, is an October 2011 release from Samhain Publishing. Her other books include A Month From Miami and Not Quite Heaven. Previews available at

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist-slash-contest

To celebrate my September 20th release of His Only Hope from Samhain Publishing, I'm giving away three naughty prize packs, filled with flavored body oil, massage oil, a play collar, and other goodies. Readers can earn points by (a) liking my Facebook page, (b) tweeting about the book (don't forget to add @skylarkade to the message!), (c) signing up for my quarterly newsletter (through the Facebook page or by sending an email to, and (d) sending me proof of purchase for His Only Hope and/or Maison Domine ( Winners will be selected and notified on Halloween.
So I just finished watching Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and I'm still trying to decide whether I liked it or not. Help me cure this terrible waffling!! Let me know if you liked it, hated it, agree, or disagree with the following pros and cons.

1. Kat Dennings
2. New York City
3. Good story tension--I stayed engaged the whole movie.
4. Kat Dennings' lipstick--Laura Mercier lip stain in Mulberry. Yes, I am buying it tomorrow.
5. The sountrack.

1. Michael Cera. He's the same character in everything, and I just can't take him seriously.
2. The tight metro emo pants that all the guys wore. Tight pants on football players = hot. Tight NON-leather pants on skinny boys = not. Amirite?
3. Michael Cera. Sorry, he goes on here twice, I just can't see him as romantic hero material.
4. High schoolers getting it on in movies. I know its always been done, but it still squicks me out. They're just so...jailbait.
5. The plot somewhat relies on the characters driving around New York city, and not ONCE do they hit traffic.

If you've seen this movie, please leave your comments! If you haven't, for the sake of science, check it out and let me know what you think here, via email/Facebook/the twitter.

This time, he’s not giving her up without a fight.

The Maison Chronicles, Book 2
After two grueling years caring for her terminally ill mother, Hope O’Shea is eager to start fresh. Except her first interior-decorating job is for a popular BDSM club—part of her kinky past she misses, but had to leave behind.

Worse, she somehow ends up in the arms of her ex-Dom, Gabriel Cassidy. The one man who could strip her emotions bare, so bare that rather than reveal her painful history, she ran.

Gabriel never understood why Hope left without even a goodbye. Determined to get answers, he entices her to Maison Domine for a weekend on the promise of meeting the owner for another decorating job. Except being with her again reminds him why he loved her in the first place—and why she shouldn’t trust him as her Dom.

As their attraction reignites, Hope is transported back to the sub-space bliss she felt only with Gabe. Then a nightmare from her past shows up at the club, and with no other safe place to turn, she has no choice but to trust Gabe with her shame. Leaving Gabe with a devastating choice—reveal his last secret…or lose his Hope.

Product Warnings: This book contains a feisty interior decorator, a dominating leather worker, heart-wrenching sex and redemption.
Hope O’Shea thought she’d never set foot in The Sunset Strip ever again. She’d been out of the scene for two years, which had been good for her. She shivered, remembering the handful of times she’d come here.
On her return to LA, Melina, the Mistress who owned the popular BDSM nightclub, contacted her to redesign the whole place. Dammit, the things she did for old friends and new clients.

This Saturday night, like most, the club’s otherwise inconspicuous entrance saw an overwhelming amount of foot traffic. Housed in a ’50s-era office building, it was impossible to guess what the dark brick walls held, so long as one ignored the interesting mix of characters entering and exiting.

Hope shook her head, exorcising thoughts of the past. Strands of newly cut and dyed auburn hair flew into her eyes, and she brushed them away. She missed the convenience of ponytails, but her stylist assured her the shorter hair was “chic and professional”.

“It’s now or never, Hope.” She nodded at her reflection in the visor mirror and used the lure of a giant paycheck to shore up her courage before leaving the safety of her SUV.

Her spike heels, three inches high and fire-truck red, clicked on the pavement from the large parking lot across the street to the club entrance. Clammy hands smoothed invisible wrinkles out of her new black pantsuit. It wasn’t proper scene attire, but it would have to do, because even if her old corsets and lingerie hadn’t been too big on her, she wouldn’t have worn something seductive for a business meeting.

The red French doors loomed ahead and an invisible weight settled on her chest. Despite her work with a therapist and her progress, panic attacks still loomed like storm clouds.

Too tense, that was her. She poured herself into work, eschewing any distractions in order to build her client list. Maybe once she had her business up and running she could try to find vanilla recreations.

But no more BDSM. No more vulnerability.

She eyed the club and appreciated the irony. Myriad outlets for her anxiety could be hers for the night, if only she asked.

As nice as one night of submission might be, it would be a step backward. It would be her relying on someone other than herself.

One of Melina’s security team, decked out in leather pants and black T-shirt, opened the door for her. A quick thanks and she was inside, heading down the short hall to the main office. She wanted to get this over with as soon as possible, before temptation overruled her better sense.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Read a Good Book Lately?

I've got no new books to pimp, nor nothing of profundity to expound upon, so I thought I'd share some good books I've been reading lately - one steampunk romance, one urban fantasy with romantic elements, one grittier urban fantasy with no romance, one Carl Hiaasen-like caper, and a very weird book about an emotionally disturbed teenage werewolf girl.

I've squeed over The Iron Duke everywhere else but I don't know if I've sung Meljean's praises here, so: OhMyGodthisisthebeststeampunkever!!!!

I'm not exaggerating. Best. Steampunk. Ever. The alternate history is well-plotted, the characters are fascinating, the world they live in is just as fascinating, the hero is a dashing and uber-sexy ex-pirate, the plot is dense and complicated and Brook writes beautifully.

And I've only read half of it.

When I realized that bits of Brook's world were leaking into mine (my hero suddenly began exhibiting very Rhys Trahaearn-like traits), I had to put the book down. I won't let myself finish it till my steampunk is done.

You don't have to take my word for it, though. Jayne Ann Krentz says Meljean Brook has defined the genre. I don't think I'll ever define a genre.

I am very, very, very envious of Meljean Brook.

I picked up A Brush of Darkness at the RT book signing back in April, just because I liked the cover and the back cover blurb and I hadn't read anything with faeries in a while. Now I'm eagerly awaiting the next in the series, which will be out early 2012.

Pang has taken the whole universe of paranormal beings--werewolves, vampires, zombies, faeries, angels, incubi, succubi, you name it, they're in here -- and she's managed to come up with something fresh. AND she does it in the first person POV, which I normally can't stand, but here it works.

Abby, the heroine, is vulnerable and tough and smart and damaged, and her inhuman friends are sexy, funny, scary and interesting. Pang's built a believable and original world, and I fell in love with the characters in it.

The Naming of the Beasts is actually the fourth or fifth title in Mike Carey's Felix Castor series, which I'm hooked on. It's gritty urban fantasy set in our world, if in our world ghosts were visible and demons not unheard of. Felix Castor is a London exorcist who's always short of cash and in need of another client. And most of the jobs he ends up taking turn out to be a lot more complicated, and deadly, than he expected going in. He's sometimes assisted by his old friend and landlord Pen (who's in love with Castor's other old friend Rafi, who's possessed by a very big, bad demon, and it's Castor's fault), his zombie data cruncher/fence Nicky, and the deadly succubus Juliette, who tried to eat Castor's soul but ended up befriending him and is now happily married to Susan, an Anglican verger.

It's really not like anything I've read before.

If you like Carl Hiaasen's books you'll probably like Mark Haskell Smith; Booklist says he writes like Hiaasen's oversexed cousin. Delicious is my favorite book of his so far, though Moist and Salty are a lot of fun, too. (None of the titles refer to cooking or eating, although the protagonist of Delicious is a chef.)

Joseph is a native Hawaiian who works for his uncle's Honolulu catering company. When a nasty, greedy old man from Vegas tries to move in and take over the catering market, his uncle and cousin drag Joseph into some bizarre and hilarious situations as they try to protect their ohana from the completely unscrupulous haole.

Smith writes character-driven capers--fast paced, complicated, funny, absurd. His protagonists are sweet, well-intentioned souls (even Moist's Anglo computer slacker turned novice Mexican gangster) who are trying to do the right thing in a complex world full of people who are up to no good. His books are like potato chips - I can finish one in a sitting.

And lastly is one of the weirdest books I've read in a long, long time. Lonely Werewolf Girl is about the youngest daughter of a royal werewolf family from Scotland--they're among the richest and most illustrious werewolf clans in the world, and they're ashamed of the teenage Kalix, because she's a little bit nuts, and addicted to laudanum and has serious rage issues (she killed her father, for one thing.)

So Kalix is taken in by two young British university students, who feed her and clean her up, thereby eventually attracting the attention of Kalix's older sister, a world famous fashion designer who, besides being a werewolf, is a talented sorceress; the Queen of a fire elemental clan with a serious haute couture addiction and a niece who likes to spike her hair and wear duct tape; Kalix's oldest brother, who's determined to take over the Pack and kill Kalix for killing their father; Kalix's cousins, a couple of talented but constantly drugged-up, falling down drunk rock musicians, and a lot more.

The story is told in omniscient third person, which kind of makes the reader feel distant from the characters in a weird way. Millar has a very dry sense of humor, even for a Brit, and he tells the story in a completely deadpan fashion. I never laughed out loud, like I did with Haskell Smith, but I snorted a whole bunch. Even as I kept thinking, "Wow. This is really, really odd," I couldn't put it down. I've just started the follow-up, Curse of the Wolf Girl, and it's just as good. If you're looking for something extremely different, and you like werewolves, check this one out.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Loves Savage Whiplash Chapter 17 - Happily Ever After?

Wherein a Parrot, A Pirate, His Ninja and her sister (and too many other people to name) discover that Love’s Savage Whiplash hurts so good.

Two Years Later

“Hold still.”

A rather unmasculine squeak rose in Wickham Willoughby’s throat, and faced with the possibility of having his gentlemanly jewels skewered by one of the long pins within his wife’s reach, he did his best to comply. “It is rather impossible to sit still when you are jabbing pins into such a delicate region.”

Lady Chastity tipped her head in much the same manner he imagined the exotic Black Widow spider did before devouring the male foolish enough to mate with her. “I assure you, this will be the latest in men’s fashions.”

“Should I endeavour to point out you said much the same about both the Feelsgood Abdomen Artisan and the Bottom Beautifier?”

A pin stabbed his thigh, and he clapped a hand over his mouth to contain another choked squeal.

Looking smug, she tugged on the material between his legs. “Yes, but those who failed to appreciate the genius behind both creations will be crawling over each other to secure themselves one of these.”

Not completely ignorant to the way she innocently rolled a pin back and forth between her fingers, Wickham hastily agreed. “Of course you’re right. I do hope you don’t mind me pointing out that most gentleman would, however, prefer to retain feeling in their—”

The material pinched his skin. “Suck in.”

“I am.” Wickham gritted out, perhaps too harshly, as Chastity instantly dropped her pins and tears worthy of a Shakespearean production ran down her cheeks.

“Really, Willoughby. You must know how hard I’ve been working.” She held up her hands. “Do you see the toll my hands have taken to return us both to the status we deserve?”

From Wickham’s point of view there was no evidence Chastity had done more than dismiss their last seamstress after the woman pointed out she hadn’t been paid in weeks. He was wise enough not to say as much to the female still much too close to the pins.

“Forgive my thoughtlessness, my dear. Please continue.” The sad fact of the matter was that this was the only way he stood a chance of reclaiming the fortune he’d stood to gain had he managed to marry Lady Chastity and get his hands on her dowry before she’d been disowned.

His plan to become the next Duke of Earl had been perfect, and he would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling twins and their parrot. Although he’d been lucky to escape the debacle at Netherloin with his body parts (especially the one currently at Lady Chastity’s disposal) intact, he could hardly contain his disappointment at losing the title and being forced to flee from his home.

He’d thought he had gotten away scot free when he’d been awakened in the dead of night by that nefarious ninja. Only the sight of Lady Chastity in his bed, after drowning herself in drink at the inn where they’d taken refuge following their escape, gave the ninja pause.

Wickham had readied himself to challenge her to a dignified duel when she merely laughed and said marrying Lady Chastity was likely punishment enough for his crimes. In the next moment he’d found himself alone, but on many an occasion since then wondered if he would have been better off meeting the ninja at dawn with pistols.

A servant entered the room, drawing Wickham from his thoughts. The only servant left in their employ took one look at Wickham’s state of undress and Chastity on her knees in front of him, and fled the room.

“There.” A satisfied expression on her face, Chastity rose to her feet.

“It is rather…snug.”

Lady Chastity rolled her eyes dismissively.

“You mock my pain.”

“Life is pain, Willoughby.” She dusted her hands off on her skirts, gave the material one more tug and stood back to survey the overall affect.

“I daresay the Feelsgood Gentleman’s Extender is going to be a smash.”

Somewhere in the Caribbean

Practising her ninja stealth skills, Quinn slid silently from the jungle and lowered herself onto a piece of driftwood at the edge of the sand.

Colin stood with his back to her, his sword poised to slash someone from neck to navel (though she’d never witnessed Colin cut anything but the chunks of meat served to him at mealtimes) and a rather queer looking piece of wood secured to his leg with two pieces of rope.

Likely Mori had tied the knots. Although an enthusiastic pupil, which Colin attributed to his many years under the tutelage of Headmaster Sidebottom—Quinn grinded her teeth at the thought—the unvarnished truth was that her brawny buccaneer couldn’t tie his way out of a shredded paper bag.

“…and then the dashing pirate drove his sword right into the beast’s long snout.” Colin punctuated the climax of his favourite story by driving his blade into the ground. He crouched down, his fingers digging into the sand as he continued, “Only by clinging to the twisting, thrashing reptile did he escape being thrown against the ship and sent to a watery grave at the bottom of Donald Jones’s Locker.”

Quinn rolled her eyes but didn’t interrupt to correct him. She was too engrossed in her beloved’s exaggerated tale. Each time she overheard him telling this particular story, the events became more fanciful and daring.

To hear him tell it, Quinn was naught but a defenseless maiden who had the poor misfortune to fall into the clutches of a band of plundering pirates and made to walk the plank. Only at the last minute did brave Captain Colin Darcy realize he wanted to keep the daft woman—daft since she was apparently unable to tell port from starboard—as his captive, and jumped over to side of the ship to rescue her.

Colin lowered his voice to a near whisper she barely heard above the late afternoon breeze. “And if you listen very, very carefully, you can still hear the same tick-tock tick-tock echoing over the waves whenever we venture into the beast’s territory. The end.”

His audience of two stared up at him and clapped their chubby hands as Colin dropped into a sweeping bow.

“So you didn’t slay the beast?”

Colin jumped at the sound of her voice, spinning around so quickly he nearly knocked over the two tiny bodies at his feet, their angelic faces held captive by the tale weaved by their father.

Absently patting both Jane and Austen on their blond heads, he strode toward Quinn. Twice he stumbled, the stick tied to his leg dragging in the sand.

Grinning, he took Quinn’s hand. “One day I shall again cross paths with the beast and dispatch the four-legged fiend, as I would have if there had been more than a wine bottle at my disposal.”

Because she’d come to love listening to Colin’s stories, she hadn’t the heart to tell her buccaneer bard that she’d caught her leathery-hided nemesis a short while after their return to the sea. She doubted his somewhat delicate sensibilities would appreciate hearing that the special ingredient in the cook’s stew (the very same he’d raved about for weeks afterward) had been crocodile.

After tripping twice more, she peered down at his leg. “What is the stick for, my love?”

“Stick?” Colin frowned.

She gestured to the wood and rope.

“All proper pirates have peg legs.”

Pemberley flew out of the jungle at that precise moment and landed on Colin’s shoulder. “Awk. Peg leg. Awk.”

Colin waved at the bird. “Stop trying to pretend it was your idea.”

“Proper pirates?” Quinn arched a brow.

“Er…that is to say…” He straightened. “Well, blow me down.”

“Colin,” Quinn admonished, feeling a blush creep up her face. “Not in front of the children.”

Confusion drew his dashing dark brows together. “Yes…quite right.” He cleared his throat. “Look there, my little landlubbers. There be pirates stormin’ the beach.”

Shielding her eyes from the sun, Quinn followed Colin’s gaze to where Jack and Sparrow were coming ashore. “Mori says the tides are turning and we best be off if it suits you, Captain.”

“Aye.” They were leaving their island paradise for an overdue visit to Netherloin. By the goddess O-Wata-Tsumi it would be the briefest voyage to England yet, and their previous one had been unnaturally swift.

Jack and Sparrow collected the twins, Jane and Austen giggling as they were carried off to the waiting vessel.

“Ready my nautical ninja?” Colin held out his hand, but laughingly swept her up into his arms at the last second instead.

They made it three feet before Colin’s peg leg pitched them onto the sand.

Dazed, Colin lifted his head. “How do you suppose they walk with a peg leg?”
Reaching over, Quinn slid her katana from its scabbard and cut through the ropes.

“Perhaps you would be better suited to just a parrot.”

“Perhaps you’re right.” Colin leaned up on his elbows, gesturing to the boat riding over the waves toward the waiting ship. “Suppose they’ll be back for us?”

Jack and Sparrow, having witnessed her and Colin fall into the sand, likely assumed the pair were in need of a private moment. Seeing as her katana was so conveniently in hand, she would be loath to miss such a timely opportunity.

Quinn straddled her husband. “Not before I’ve had my way with you.”

Seeing the katana in her hand, Colin wiggled excitedly beneath her.

“Now, pirate,” Quinn began. “Prepare to be boarded.”

Pemberley circled above them. “Awk. Prepare to be boarded. Awk.”

Netherloin Park

“Oh no. It’s the Dread Highwayman, Firth.” Julia clutched the reins of the horse behind her, careful to avoid meeting the masked man’s gaze.

Appear helpless, demure, frightened. Those has been her husband’s instructions before they’d left Netherloin’s stables and ventured away from their home at such a late hour.

Dressed entirely in black, the highwayman muttered something under his breath.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Westley. The Dread Highwayman Westley. Who would ever surrender to the Dread Highwayman Firth?”

Praying her husband was not about to suffer another episode where he couldn’t decide what he should be called, Julia frowned. She did not look forward to further weeks of “Your Grace” while he again debated the advantages of using his birth name versus the one given to him by his mentor.

Before her highwayman husband could reflect again on his choice, she raised her chin. “You’re blocking the road.”

“And where might a comely creature such as yourself be headed without an escort?”

“I don’t believe that’s any of your business.”

He edged his horse forward until beast and man towered above her. “And if I make it my business, sweet governess?”

Feeling a chill and wishing she was already snuggled beneath her covers (where it was much warmer than mentioned in the books she so loved about just such an adventure) she sighed. “We both know I’m not headed anywhere—”

Westley/Firth made an exasperated sound.

Deciding it was in her best interest to play along if she desired to have her husband snuggled beneath the covers alongside her, Julia sidestepped the man in black’s horse. “My business is my own.” By sheer coincidence a cool breeze made her shiver, adding a layer of fear to her voice.

The man in black slid off his horse, landing before her. “If you wish to pass my lady, then you must pay the toll.”

Julia frowned. He’d failed to provide her with any tokens to exchange during their game. Had he forgotten or had anticipating his role tonight triggered another bout of
“What’s My Name?” and she hadn’t noticed?

Assuming the lapse had been intentional, she shook her head. “I have no riches to pay. Nothing of value.”

His gaze ran over her from head to foot in a most brazen fashion, and a surge of unladylike jealousy swept through her. Had he stared at other women he’d robbed like that?

“Then the price of passage,” he continued, “is a kiss.”

“A kiss,” she repeated slowly, suddenly thinking of him stopping a coach with some strumpet the likes of Lady Chastity inside. The thought of her highwayman (nevermind that he’d long ago turned in his mask for a duchy) exchanging kisses with anyone but her… “Close your eyes.”

He blinked in surprise, but complied, giving Julia just enough time to pull her horse forward in time to meet her husband’s waiting mouth.

The very sight of his lips smushed up against her mare’s dissolved Julia’s anger and she spun around, laughing as she fled. Her feet left the earth moments later as she was lifted off her feet and lowered to the ground.

Her man in black hovered above her. “Perhaps a different game would be more to my duchess’s liking?”

She thought it over. “How do you feel about playing a farm boy?”

Westley/Firth scrunched up his nose, then his expression brightened considerably.

“The stables would be warmer and much closer to home.”

Pleased, Julia snuggled closer. “I must admit I’m not nearly as cold now.”

It was well after midnight by the time they returned home. They stopped at the nursery when they noticed the light spilling into the dark hallway from the door left ajar. Inside the sound of Ward’s voice carried above two sleepy giggles.

From the half open doorway they watched Ward read to the year-old twins with dark hair like their father and their mother’s cerulean blue eyes. Both sweet Nora and a rambunctious Roberts kicked their feet at Ward’s tale. Brigid perched on the boy’s shoulders, occasionally darting over to the twins and then back, lest he miss a minute of the story.

Without disturbing them (and sparing herself the hours it might take to settle the pair back down when everyone was excited about Colin and Quinn’s upcoming visit) Julia tugged her husband back into the hallway.

She wrapped her arms around the highwayman of her dreams. “Kiss me, husband.”

Happy to oblige, he lowered his mouth to hers. “As you wish.”