Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cooking up Hot Romance and Delicious Humor--Guest Sophia Knightly!

Sophia Knightly is a fellow Samhain Author who writes fun, hot romance. Like me, she mixes comedy and romance with other elements, and as you'll see, she gets a yummy result! Please welcome Sophia Knightly!

Thank you for hosting me on your blog, Mary! My romantic comedy, Grill Me, Baby, combines two of my favorite things: hot romance and TV cooking shows. Hunky Argentine chef Paolo Santos is as masterful in the kitchen as he is in the bedroom, and he's used to winning in both. But cool, perfectionist Chef Michaela Willoughby is determined to win the TV cooking spot for which they're competing against each other. It gets hot in the kitchen as the two competitive chefs cook...and fight the constant urge to make love, all for the sake of winning the Miami Spice cooking competition.

The heat is on...
Raised among women who taught him to cook at his family's Buenos Aires restaurant, master chef Paolo Santos deftly works his culinary wiles--and his gypsy charm--on posh Flamingo Island's female clientele. The tastiest tidbit on the island, though, is cool, elegant Michaela Willoughby. The redhead's slender curves are as enticing as her rabbit-food menus are maddening. And she's his main competition for the chance of a lifetime.

Michaela overcame her own weight issues to become Flamingo Island's premiere spa chef. Now she has a chance to share her innovative recipes for healthy living on a new cooking show--if she can somehow outshine Paolo. His sizzling, Latin-lover looks are more heart stopping than his decadent cooking. And she'd love nothing better than to stick a fork in his outsized ego.

When the stage lights ignite, so does the competition...and a sexual chemistry no one--least of all Paolo and Michaela--saw coming. Suddenly, separating business from pleasure is as impossible as separating a scrambled egg. And the big question isn't whose knife cuts fastest...it's whose heart can take the most heat.

Warning: Contains two hot chefs duking it out in a lively showdown of sexy rivalry. Mix in family drama, luscious recipes and spicy mischief, and there's more than just steam rising out of the kitchen. May cause lusty cravings for midnight indulgences.

Enjoy an excerpt from Grill Me, Baby, coming May 7 in paperback!

So this was the infamous Paolo Santos.

 Michaela sized up her opponent in the waiting area of the producer’s office. The seriously hot Argentine seated across from her looked so relaxed, nobody would have guessed he was vying against her to host the hottest new celebrity chef TV show, Miami Spice. A confident smile spread over Paolo’s rugged face as she assessed him. His large, muscular body was sprawled across the sofa, with one tanned arm draped across the sofa back and long legs stretched before him. A crisp white linen shirt revealed a hint of hard chest beneath a tailored buff suit. He looked like a perfectly caramelized Argentine churrasco steak. Good enough to eat—damn him!

Michaela’s stomach growled so loudly that Paolo raised an amused eyebrow. A gentleman would have acted like he hadn’t heard it and discreetly looked away.

"Hungry?" he asked with a brazen grin. His deep voice and sexy Latin accent sounded as delicious as he looked.

"Maybe just a little," she replied breezily. She was trying to relax before her meeting with the producer, but cocky Paolo Santos was doing his best to disarm her with steady, smoldering looks.

She smiled coolly and looked away. Focus, she told herself. In a few minutes, she would have to sell herself to Mr. Blumenthal, the producer, in order to land the host spot. If she did, she’d become an instant celebrity chef and her almost finished cookbook would rack up lots of sales. She would also be able to pay back her parents every cent they had shelled out for her education. Her parents, two successful partners in the same law firm, still hadn’t forgiven her for dropping out of Duke Law School in her third year. Adding insult to injury, she had chucked it all to become a chef. Their grimace of shame when friends asked about Michaela’s new career never failed to make her stomach churn. At thirty years of age, it still felt awful being a failure in their eyes.

She needed to use her nervous energy to show she could hold her own alongside celebrity chefs Paula Deen’s zaniness or Rachael Ray’s perkiness or Bobby Flay’s wise guy banter. But she wasn’t the only one competing. She had Santos to contend with, and for the life of her, Michaela couldn’t help staring at his mouth. It wasn’t just the pair of deep-slashed dimples that drew her attention; it was his full lips that were probably great at kissing…Stop, she told herself, concentrate on the upcoming interview.

Michaela focused on the stark, modern painting on the wall before her, but the image of Paolo’s white teeth gleaming against his bronzed olive skin invaded her thoughts—strong teeth poised to take a bite out of her chances for the job. From the corner of her eye, she caught his black-as-sin eyes giving her a slow and thorough once-over.

Were all Latin men so forward? Could be a cultural thing, but he might be trying to seduce her into losing her focus. She had to be on her toes around this one. From the moment he’d stepped off the airplane from Buenos Aires and burst upon the scene at Flamingo Island, an exclusive country club residence island, Paolo had built up quite a rep as a player. Oh, she’d heard plenty of gossip about the executive chef’s prowess, but today was the first time she’d seen him in action.

During the past half-hour, Michaela had watched Paolo chat and flirt with the young, blonde receptionist, and then with the producer’s middle-aged secretary, Ellie. His sexy accent and exotic looks had captivated both women, as he charmed them with his impressions of Miami and its beautiful inhabitants—meaning them, of course. They hadn’t even met yet and Santos’s attitude was a bit too familiar this morning. She already knew about his magnetic appeal, especially with the wealthy socialites of Flamingo Island who had standing reservations at Bella Luna. But bad boy types didn’t tempt her anymore, not after her break-up with Jeff Convers, tennis bad boy extraordinaire. That regrettable part of her life was behind her. Don’t think about Jeff, the two-timing player, she told herself. She took a deep breath and forced her thoughts back to meeting Edwin Blumenthal.

"Don’t look so worried, Maki." One corner of Paolo’s mouth quirked up as he regarded her with interest. "Relax."

"If I were any more relaxed, I’d be asleep." She gave him a raised brow look. Usually that squelched the over-confident types. Distance was needed with this one. His smile alone could charm the shell off an escargot. "My name is Michaela. Maki sounds like a girlie cocktail, and I’m anything but."

He cocked an eyebrow and she took instant note of the twitch at the corners of his lips. Paolo had glossy, jet-black layers cut like Keith Urban’s, except he wasn’t an Aussie country star—he was a hot chef and a major player.

"Michaela?" he repeated, drawing her attention to the shrugging gesture of his upraised hands. He gave her hair an assessing glance. "You should have been named Penny, it suits you better. Your hair shines like a new copper penny."

"Are you a hairdresser too?" she asked, smoothing the sides of her long hair that were pulled half up.

Paolo flashed a dazzling grin. "No, just a chef." He leaned forward and gave her a hearty handshake. "Paolo Santos." Strong grip. Nothing wrong with that, Michaela thought as she snatched her hand back the moment it touched his warm, callused palm. "Nice to meet you."

"Encantado, likewise." He leaned back on the sofa looking a little too pleased with himself. "I can’t wait to tell Mr. Blumenthal about my gimmick for the show."

She eyed him suspiciously. "Nobody said anything about coming up with a gimmick. Did you just make that up?"

His brow furrowed. "Why would I do that?"

She shrugged as if it didn’t matter. "No gimmick can substitute for fine cooking."

Grill Me, Baby available now!


Bestselling author Sophia Knightly loves to cook up hot romance and delicious humor in her feel-good stories. Whether it's romantic suspense, romantic comedy or chick lit, her books are fun and sexy contemporary romances that feature hot alpha heroes and strong, smart women. Her popular Tropical Heat Series books, Wild for You and Sold on You, have consistently been on multiple Amazon bestselling lists.

A two-time Maggie award finalist and a P&E Readers' Poll finalist, she believes in love-at-first sight and happy endings, and she always enjoys a good laugh. When not writing or reading, she finds pleasure in walking the beach, exploring museums, going to the theatre, enjoying good food, and watching movies. One of her favorite pastimes remains simply watching people, especially those in love!

Write to her at: sophiaknightly@gmail.com
Follow her on Twitter @SophiaKnightly
"Like" her Facebook author page at: http://on.fb.me/vGfJ5t
Visit her website at: http://www.sophiaknightly.com
Sign up for her "new release" newsletter at:

WILD FOR YOU Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/XtVlFBdaHvs
SOLD ON YOU Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/X20NbJElrvM
GRILL ME, BABY Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/6Y07iUPt3rg

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hero Out of Water--Guest Valerie J. Clarizio--Plus Giveaway!

Valerie and I met through WisRWA and I love her take on heroes. But after you finish reading and commenting here, you should totally check out her post on "Deskercize" :) Please welcome Valerie!

For me, there’s nothing like a manly man hero who when forced out of his comfort zone discovers the sensitive and caring man below the surface, and then actually allows that man to emerge.  Here’s my hero, the tough Detective Spinelli, showing that trait as he’s forced to go undercover as Santa Claus to help catch a killer and protect his new love interest.  Playing Santa Claus is certainly not Spinelli’s thing, but when he recognizes three children in line waiting to see him his heart swells to twice its normal size.  These three children are those he and Caseworker O’Hara had removed from the home of their drug addicted parents only a couple of days prior.  

Detective Spinelli's life is tossed sideways when he is reassigned from the Homicide division to assist in the Child Services division of the Social Services Department for the holiday season. From the beginning, Spinelli and Caseworker Shannon O'Hara generate their own kind of fireworks, causing more than the normal workplace stress. They both have their own philosophies for dealing with the clientele. However, the forces of nature have their own plan for Spinelli and Shannon.

Shannon moonlights as Santa Claus' little helper at the mall, and when Santa and an elf turn up dead Shannon appears to be next on the killer's list. Spinelli is placed back on homicide and goes undercover as Santa to help capture the killer. He catches a great deal of grief along the way but will he capture the heart of his little Santa's helper as well?

Spinelli hurried to the employee locker room, strapped on his fat suit and buried it under his Santa suit and then hustled to the North Pole display where he found a line of children at least a mile long waiting for his arrival. He dreaded the next four hours. He hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as the previous day. He took his seat in the velvet chair and nodded in the direction of the two elves. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his little Santa helper appear from behind the candy cane field. Just like the day before, the sight of her in her short little red dress sucked the air right out of his lungs and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t seem to fill them.

Shannon walked up to Spinelli, smiled softly and placed her hand lightly on his shoulder to get his attention. “Are you ready Santa?”

The touch of her hand sent a ripple of warmth flowing throughout his body. He worked hard to find a controlled voice. “Yes, I’m ready.”

Like the day before, she strolled over to the eager children and began moving them toward him.

Spinelli glanced over the line. There were so many kids. Where did they all come from? A familiar face caught his attention. It was Lesha Washington. Her brother Darius stood next to her. The tall dark-haired woman he’d met two days earlier at the foster home held baby Christina on her hip. A young boy he didn’t recognize stood next to her. Was that her child or another foster child as well?

Shannon plopped a little boy on Spinelli’s lap. The enthusiastic little fellow rattled off his wish list before Santa even had a chance to ask for it.

Children came and went. With each passing child, Spinelli felt a bit more comfortable in this new role. It wasn’t so bad. All he really had to do to make the kids happy was let out an occasional mighty “Ho, ho, ho” followed by a belly jiggling laugh, and the kids did the rest.

The Washington kids drew closer. They were laughing, all of them, even the foster mom. They seemed happy. Spinelli wondered if those kids had ever been truly happy in their short lives. If not, now maybe they stood a chance. The foster mom crouched down in front of Lesha. Lesha whispered something into her ear. The woman smiled, kissed her on the cheek and hugged her before she stood up again. Lesha reached out and took the woman’s hand. Darius held Lesha’s other hand. They’d only been in foster care for a couple of days, yet something already seemed different about them.

A few more kids passed by Spinelli. Now it was the Washington kid’s turn.

As they approached, Lesha zeroed in on Shannon. “Hi Ms. O’Hara.”

Shannon smiled. “Well hello there Le…”

Spinelli cut her off, “Don’t tell me. Is that Lesha Washington?”

Lesha’s eyes widened and she flashed him a humungous smile. Darius slid behind her.

“Where did that little brother of yours go?” Santa asked as he leaned over and peeked around Lesha. He caught Darius’ gaze. “Come on over here Darius and tell Santa what you want for Christmas.

“Go on, go tell Santa what you want,” Lesha urged her little brother.

Darius walked up to Santa. Shannon lifted him up and placed him on Santa’s lap. Spinelli caught and held his gaze. The fear in Darius’ eyes faded. He smiled and asked for a fire truck before he slid off Santa’s lap and ran back to his foster mom.

Spinelli looked at Lesha. She pointed at the other little boy with them. “Samuel can go next. He’s been so excited all day to see you.”

Was this how it was? Already the little mother hen at only seven years old. Spinelli’s heart went out to her. He hoped she would get a childhood, the normal kind, where kids laugh and play, and where parents take care of their kids and love them. Something he never knew.

Samuel darted over to Santa and hopped up onto his lap and offered his Christmas list. Samuel finished quickly and scooted back down.

Spinelli looked at Lesha. She seemed to be studying him. She shifted her gaze to Shannon. Shannon stepped toward her, took her hand, and led her to Santa. Spinelli pulled her up onto his lap. Shannon stood by their side.

Lesha caught his gaze and held it, her eyes inquisitive. Did she know who he really was? How could she?

Spinelli softened his voice, “Well Lesha, I’ve had my eye you. It seems you’ve had a pretty tough year and through it all you’ve been a very good girl. And you’ve kept an eye on your little brother and sister, and took care of them. I’m very proud of you. Now tell me, what do you want for Christmas?”

She looked up at him with her big brown eyes. He decided in this instant that whatever this little girl wanted she was going to get. He’d run out tomorrow and buy it and make sure it made under her tree on Christmas morning.

Lesha brushed his hair back and whispered into his ear. A lump formed in his throat. He wasn’t sure how to respond. He glanced at Shannon and caught her curious gaze. He’d tell her what Lesha asked for later, she’d need to know. He turned back to Lesha, “I’ll see what I can do, Sweetheart.”

She kissed him on the cheek and slid off his lap.

Spinelli stared after the foster family as they walked away. He’d give anything to make good on her Christmas wish, he knew how she felt. He’d been there himself in the past.  

Four hours later, he wished for toothpicks to prop his eyelids open. He rose from his chair and sauntered toward the elves that stood by the display’s Christmas tree as they ogled Shannon and made small talk with her. Spinelli’s pure exhaustion did not prevent his jealous juices from finding their way to the surface.

Buy at Amazon, Lulu,  print  at BN.com

Cookies for Santa is the first title in the Nick Spinelli Mystery Series. The second novella, Craving Vengeance, A Nick Spinelli Mystery, is scheduled for release by Melange Books in fall of 2013.

Valerie's giving away a copy of Cookies for Santa (pdf version) to one lucky commenter! Through Friday, winner picked by random number Saturday. (Please leave your email if you want Valerie to contact you directly if you win.)

Valerie Clarizio lives in beautiful Door County Wisconsin with her husband and extremely spoiled cat. She loves to read, write, and spend time at her cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She's lived her life surrounded by men, three brothers, a husband, and a male Siamese cat who required his own instruction manual. Keeping up with all the men in her life has turned her into a successful hunter and fisherwoman. 

Valerie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. 

Visit Valerie online!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

3T Writing Tidbit

Published since 2009, over the years I've accumulated various items of writing wisdom. The Third Tuesday Writing Tidbit showcases these items in no particular order. Click here to see all 3T Tidbits.

If you're stuck for a THEME, find a book or website of proverbs or quotes, and let the keywords/index words inspire you.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Soulgirls--Las Vegas paranormal--Guest Heather Long

Warm welcome to Samhain author Heather Long, whose new Soulgirls series gives the lights of Las Vegas a paranormal spin... 

Paranormal romance comes in all shapes and sizes. From her Soulgirls series partying in a paranormal Las Vegas to the Fevered Hearts struggling for survival in 1850s Texas, Heather Long loves to build rich worlds populated by colorful characters. April is Heather’s birthday month and she’s celebrating a lot of new releases including A Fistful of Dreams, book four of the epic adventure series featuring the Kane and Morning Star families as well as the audible release of book 2 of her Always a Marine series, Retreat Hell! She Just Got Here. April also marks the month that Taking the Stage went on pre-order.

Don’t miss out on one exciting minute!

Take a break at the Arcana Royale with Into the Spotlight, available now and pre-order Taking the Stage, coming in August.

Destiny doesn't like to be messed with. And the House doesn't always win.

Into the Spotlight
© 2013 Heather Long
Soulgirls, Book 1

Fifty years ago, Jeannie Williams made her way to Las Vegas seeking fame and fortune. Instead, she lost her soul and wound up performing nightly shows at the Arcana Royale. Every day, she straps on her feathers, her glitter, her stilettos, and she dances. Every day, it’s the same.

Until the day he walks in.

For six centuries, Malcolm Reynolds has been the go-to guy for anything his family needs: warrior, diplomat, wrangler, researcher, and now an attorney. He enters the Arcana Royale Casino, intent on negotiating the release of his cousin’s bad debt, but one look at the golden-skinned showgirl ignites a fire of need that he’s never experienced. When the fantasy come true sits at his table, words he never expected to hear come out of her lush mouth: “I need your help.”

Now he’s in for the toughest battle of his life, because the Overseers own both his cousin’s debt and her soul. And he’s not planning on leaving the Royale without either one.

Warning: Contains high-stakes games, sexy showgirls, and a powerful showdown between a vampire that can’t lose and the House that never does. Spells, slots, sirens and sex, oh my!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookstrand | Kobo | Samhain Publishing

Enjoy the following excerpt for Into the Spotlight:

“Ladies! Five minutes. Move your asses!” Heidi swept through the room, slapping bare bottoms as she passed. “Into those costumes. Let’s go.”

Jeannie flicked a glance at the stage manager’s blonde reflection striding toward her in the mirror. It was just another night. Another endless night tagged onto the caboose of an endless string of endless nights.

She didn’t bother even keeping count anymore.

Tiny black lines, ticks counting down the days of her sentence, marked the mirror. Somewhere around one thousand, she’d added a second layer. After three thousand, she’d stopped counting.

What was one more night?

“How you doin’, chere?” Heidi leaned against the side of the mirror, her gaze critical, her mouth pinched and her forehead puckered with frown lines. Their dressmaker-slash-stage manager-slash-backstage mother hen nursed headaches more often than not. The pain rippled across her facial muscles, tightening them in spasms.

But Heidi never commented on them.

Jeannie had long since stopped asking.

“I’m fine. I know. Five minutes.” She painted a line of glitter around each eye. Her stage makeup was heavy, dense stuff, saturating every pore and bleeding away her color for the face of the Midnight Mystery Lounge.

The swathe of glitter, crystals and diamonds decorating her eyelashes reminded her that she wasn’t Jeannie.

She was Pandora.

She was the showstopper.

God, I am so bored.

“Just another set, chere.”

“I know, Heidi. Just another set.” She didn’t even bother to inject enthusiasm into the words. Heidi didn’t care. Jeannie didn’t care. They could not care together. It worked.

“Dearly beloved!” A voice boomed from behind them. Heidi snorted, but Jeannie kept painting lines of glitter on each of her features, thickening the lines around her eyes and her lips. She would sparkle in the smoky darkness.

At least that was the goal.

“Dearly beloved!” Three mirrors down, Roseâtre clapped her hands together over her head, her silver and gold bangles jingling together in musical accompaniment. The chatter in the dressing room died, and all eyes turned toward her. Roseâtre’s real name was Ruthie, but as with Jeannie, no one cared about real names at the Midnight Mystery Lounge, the Arcana Royale’s premier revue. Their audience would only know her as Roseâtre.

“Does she even remember her real name anymore?” Jeannie murmured and Heidi shrugged. Somewhere after a decade, the dancers forgot. Some forgot on purpose, deliberately blotting out memories of a past before the Arcana Royale and whatever mistake landed them in the revue. Others just faded, forgetting that life existed beyond the smoke and the glamour.

And some just stop caring altogether...

Jeannie sighed and set the glitter brush down. Heidi moved on cue to help her don the weighted headdress with its red and white foxtails and diamond beads. It weighed over thirty pounds, and her head and neck would be in brutal pain by the end of the third number.

But she would look spectacular.

“Everyone forgets,” Heidi whispered, as her fingers worked through the headdress. Behind them the girls bounced up, adjusting arm sleeves of foxtails, which drooped to the ground. The golden lamé dresses hugged every curve, chains of crystal, diamond and pale-colored gems peeked out from beneath the fabric. The girls checked each other’s headdresses. Their foxtails were weighty, but only about ten pounds to Jeannie’s thirty.

Kiki danced in place at the head of the line, her hips bumping to a song only she could hear. The gyration warmed her up. She would be the first up the stairs and out onto the stage. She would burst through the door, potential energy unleashed, a payload delivering a megaton of enthusiasm, lift and sensation.

Jeannie sighed.

Heidi adjusted another strap, testing it against pull and murmured. “Two minutes.”

“I know.”

Two minutes to become Pandora.

Two minutes to let go of Jeannie.

She didn’t need two minutes anymore.

“Kiki!” Heidi yelled over her shoulder. “Go!”

“Holla!” Kiki whooped and charged up the steps, graceful in her five-inch heels. Sparks shot in every direction as the twelve bejeweled women bounced up the stairs.

Jeannie followed, but without the click-clack of running on the stairs. She ascended, shedding her humanity with each step. Years of practice shuttered her emotions, smothered her soul and silenced her sense of self.

At the top of the steps, Jeannie vanished.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Arcana Royale and the Midnight Mystery Lounge present Pandora!”

The music, velvet pulsations, squeezed her heart in time to the rhythm, and she surrendered. Across the sea of night, blue eyes blazed in the darkness. Pandora stared at them. Her heart paused, startled, and then the sluggish, ho-hum beat pounded, a descant bass to the sameness of the night.

She barely hit her first mark, waiting almost a full count from the first bars of the music. With every pop of her hips, every twist of her shoulders, every kick of her legs, she sought out those blue eyes, burning like icy flames in the blackness.

Her abdomen cramped, the chill of desperation quieting only when she found those burning eyes in the cold, empty dark.

Maybe tonight wasn’t the same after all.

When the tiger meets his tamer, “hot” doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Taking the Stage
© 2013 Heather Long
Soulgirls, Book 2

Roseâtre takes one look at the white tigers that the stage manager has brought in to shake things up at the Midnight Mystery Lounge, and nearly has a heart attack. It doesn’t matter that the beautiful creatures’ handler raises her pulse and makes her want to purr. The tigers are sure to recognize her—and arouse her need for the hunt.

Pride outcast Anthony diNapoli wasn’t expecting to encounter an Amazon princess when he brought his white tigers to the lounge. The lucrative show will go a long way toward securing his future, but not if he gives in to the urge to make her submit to his dominance, and claim her as his mate.

No matter how desperately her body aches for the sun-kissed stranger and his completely lickable abs, Roseâtre is no man’s prize. Yet she finds herself hungering for Anthony to defeat her and take her for his own.

It’s show time in the Arcana Royale’s Midnight Mystery Lounge and all bets are off.

Warning: Contains sword fights, shackles, sexy showgirls, and a game of dominance between a determined weretiger and an Amazon who refuses to submit. Blades, bliss and battles, oh my!

Releasing August 13! Pre-order now!


Enjoy the following excerpt for Taking the Stage:

“Not the toes.” Roseâtre refused to squeal. As lead dancer for the Arcana Royale’s Midnight Mystery Lounge, she would never squeal or scream, but her voice pitched high enough that the syllable at the end of toes cracked.

The great white tiger snuffling her feet through the five-inch strappy black-and-sapphire Louboutins rolled his head away. Instead of obeying, he stroked a whiskered cheek down her bare leg.

“Cut!” Voice booming, the show’s stage manager hustled out from the wings. Heidi was a brisk woman with a quick temper and a stout body, dedicated to creating the best shows. After Pandora’s escape from her contract, she relied on all of her girls to have the same dedication to the performance, Roseâtre more than most.

Pandora. She’d always made the lead look easy. She’d walked out on the stage and owned the audience. Roseâtre believed Pandora could have shared the stage with twelve chimpanzees and it wouldn’t have mattered. Gazes would have been riveted to the tawny nymph.

The white tiger stretched out his neck and yawned, showing off a mouthful of glistening teeth. He flexed his paws, claws scoring the stage. She wasn’t fooled by the sleepy-eyed expression or house-cat similarities. Big cats weren’t pets.

The rest of the dancers relaxed from their poses, some even dropping down to coo and stroke the cats whose arrival had elicited a long round of awws and aren't they sweets. Roseâtre, however, shifted away from the cat with his tickling whiskers and raspy tongue.

“Rose?” Heidi beckoned, a pen behind one ear and a notebook tucked under her arm. She pursed her lips in a you’re-not-in-trouble-yet moue, but the wrinkles knitting her brow told an entirely different story.

“Yes, ma’am?” Roseâtre didn’t drag her feet. One certainly never dragged Louboutins, but she couldn’t quite resist displaying her mutiny with an uplifted chin and wrinkled nose.


Her nose twitched. Her sinuses burned. Her eyes threatened tears. But she maintained her composure.

Damn cats.

“Look, I know you’re not thrilled with this idea.” The opening gambit was classic Heidi, softening her up for the too-damn-bad often attached to those statements.

Closeted together at the far end of the stage, Roseâtre was glad to be out of earshot of her shield-sister Cerveau, the other dancers and thankfully, the damn tigers.

The Midnight Mystery Lounge was closed for an entire week so the dancers could learn this new act. She’d woken to the bad news that the diNapoli Tigers—tigers—were joining the show for a three-month trial to drum up business in the magical casino and resort.

“But you’re just going to have to get over it. The apothecary will provide you with a tea for your allergies. We need this show and you’re the headliner. That means you and the tiger will be all over each other on that stage and you’re going to love it.”

And there it was, the verbal slap demanding submission. The command chafed. But a promise was a promise and she was as bound by her oath as her shield-sister Cerveau was by her curse.

“Is there any way we can do this without cats?”

“Not really, no.” The sympathy was real, but from Heidi’s compressed expression, the stage manager was plainly not on Roseâtre’s side. “I’m sorry, Rose. But the diNapoli Tigers were an enormous success in Monaco and Paris. We need them for resurgence of interest or the Overseers may very well break up the show.”

“Really?” Panic drifted under the surface of her skin, sending her heart puttering. The Overseers controlled the Arcana Royale, the sprawling complex where meta-humans of all types were welcome and could be themselves. They controlled the shows, the people and in the case of the dancers, their souls. Breaking up the show meant the dancers with varying leases on their souls could be placed elsewhere at the Overseers’ discretion.

Worse, Roseâtre and Cerveau could be separated. Roseâtre couldn’t allow that to happen. She’d sworn an oath. Pride could be sacrificed. Honor could not.

A shield-borne oath was an oath.

“I’ll try. It’s not just the allergy, though.”

“What is it?”

No simple answer existed. Roseâtre glanced over her shoulder to where the great cats lounged. Some groomed themselves while yet another rolled over on its back, presenting its belly to Peppermint for attention. Of all the dancers, Peppermint was the most gracious, the most loving and the most likely to enjoy gamboling with the tigers on the stage.

“I assure you, nothing is wrong with my cats.” The dark, deep masculine tones teased up her spine. She jerked her attention back to discover a bare-chested, bare-footed blond god had joined them.

Oh my. Who did he kill to get those abs?

She snapped her jaw shut with a flicker of irritation, and forced her gaze up from the hard six-pack of clear-cut muscle to roam over the ripped planes of his chest and shoulders.

Dear gods, does it end?

The cool dislike in his blue eyes slapped her back to the present. Everything about the man seemed larger than life, from his thick thighs, easily three times the size of hers, to his wide hands and square, chiseled jaw.

“Roseâtre, Anthony diNapoli.” Heidi’s snapped introduction rebuked her. “Anthony, this is our headliner, Roseâtre.”

Be professionalShe extended her hand and kept her gaze focused above his chin. Despite the five additional inches her designer shoes added to her considerable height, topping at around six foot, the man towered over her.

And he inspected her with an air of detached amusement, his gaze clearly dipping below her chin to where her breasts strained against the confinement of the black leotard.

“Your pleasure, I’m sure.” The bastard smiled and ignored her hand.

“Anthony’s cats are in high demand, and he’s graciously consented to this trial contract so we’re going to do the best we can to make the most of this situation.” Heidi turned to Anthony as though unaware of the icy drop in Roseâtre’s regard. “We’ll add extra rehearsal time so Roseâtre and her cat can get used to each other.”

We will? Incredulous, Roseâtre could barely pull her eyes away from Anthony to look at the stage manager. “More rehearsals?” Tired of holding her hand out to the air, she let it drop.

“Absolutely.” Heidi nodded briskly, clapping her hands and striding away to gather the dancers, completely ignoring the cats with the poise of one who was likely more dangerous than the wild animals. “Ladies!”

Cerveau stood next to Kiki, Peppermint and Amber, the question in her expression obvious, but Roseâtre shook her head, waving her off with one short hand gesture. She didn’t need backup.

“So what’s your problem with cats, princess?” The words shivered up her spine. Anthony’s voice prowled behind her, his body heat brushing against her in challenge and invitation.

“Does it matter?”

She didn’t have to play nice. The bastard couldn’t be bothered to shake her hand.

“It might. You’re going to be riding my tiger every night for the next three months.” The words dripped with mockery and some other indefinable emotion.

Roseâtre shifted away, sparing him a dismissive look. She’d practiced the art of cool disdain for years under her mother’s tutelage. He might call her princess in his low, rolling sexy voice as a jest, but it didn’t make it any less true.

“What’s the problem now, princess?”

“You’re getting sarcasm on my shoes.” She lifted one, taking great care to inspect it.

Anthony threw his head back and laughed, a deep belly-trembling shout of amusement.

The noise drew the dancers’ attention like children to free chocolate. Cerveau’s face twisted comically, a mixture of censure and curiosity reddening her cheeks. She wouldn’t approve the tone, but she would appreciate the cause.

“You still haven’t told me why you don’t like my cats.”

“They’re cats.”

Head canted to the right, he studied her. The deep blue of his eyes was enhanced by a circle of darker blue along the iris. His pupils seemed to blink on their own, but that wasn’t possible. Roseâtre forced her gaze back to his dimples, just barely disguised by the thick rush of blond beard coating his cheeks.

“Cats are magnificent, bold and affectionate creatures. They are slow to trust, but have unshakable loyalty.”

“Until you’re dead and then they just eat your corpse.” She shuddered.

He laughed again. “You don’t need your body when you’re dead.”

She was missing everything Heidi was saying to the other dancers. Clearly, the stage manager didn’t care because she wasn’t even looking in Roseâtre’s direction, much less shooting her with her optic laser beams of impatience.

“I’d rather my body was undisturbed, thank you very much. The idea of anything feasting after I’m dead is unappealing.” Not to mention sacrilegious. A warrior’s death should be honored with blades and flame, never teeth.

Or, the gods forbid, a hairball. Roseâtre grimaced.

“Would you prefer they do it while you’re alive?” The silken whisper brushed against her ear. Tingles raced over her skin from the sweep of his beard on her cheek.

Heart leaping, Roseâtre barely managed to suppress her startled scream and settled for smacking his chest. The hard muscles didn’t even budge as her hand made contact, leaving a vivid, white mark against the golden tan.

“You really need to stop doing that.” Enough is enough. The man might be here at Heidi's request or the Overseers', but his job was to deal with the damn cats.

“Stop what?” The mock innocence coating his teasing grin reminded her more of the tiger yawning than it did a conciliatory gesture.

“Invading my bubble.” She rolled her hand in the air between them. “You haven’t been invited into my bubble.”

The coolness in his gaze warmed considerably, his grin widened. He was obviously enjoying the hell out of her irritation.

“How does one get invited into your bubble?” He batted the air in front of her, a downright playful gesture that sank its claws into her belly.

Nope. Not going to be turned on.

Heather Long lives in Texas with her family and their menagerie of animals. As a child, Heather skipped picture books and enjoyed the Harlequin romance novels by Penny Jordan and Nora Roberts that her grandmother read to her. Heather believes that laughter is as important to life as breathing and that the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are very real. In the meanwhile, she is hard at work on her next novel.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April 1T Olio--Who's Driving Here?

This month I'm sharing a helpful insight that I got from writer and editor James Hughes. He sent me Bitter Gertrude's "A Common Problem I See In Plays By Women Playwrights. It’s Not What You Think." The article, which is from a theater perspective, is on women early-career playwrights, but it applies to authors too.

Here's my question for you writers--in writing a story where the central character is a woman, how much does she drive the action?

This article rang a bell inside me--this is a push-pull I think a lot of women writers are saddled with, especially in romance. In the action/scene vs. reflective/sequel tug of war, romance falls heavily on the sequel side. Lots of emotion and thought. (Not so much for paranormal.) So romance is especially susceptible to a heroine who is reacting to the hero who actually drives the story.

How much does your heroine drive the action? Not respond to the action. But how much of the story is driven by what your heroine wants and needs?

Hughes sent me the article because he was editing the second novel I wrote, a dark paranormal about a man who sees the future and the woman who redeems him. It made me see the heroine in a new light--she spends a great deal of time--no, wastes a great deal of time--reacting to events, instead of meeting them head-on.   

Don't get me wrong. In a romance, you need reaction. Emotional reaction is a biggie. But I want that emotional reaction to drive my heroine to solve problems and take action. My heroine should not throw her forearm to her forehead and emote while the world does things to her. My heroine should step up to the plate.