Christmas Tango is live!

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Looking for something short and exciting to read over the busy Christmas season? Well, you’re in luck, because Christmas Tango just went live!

There’s action, romance, AND Christmas, so a little something for everyone. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

A Soldiering On Novella

It’s nearly Christmas, and the last thing Duncan wants is to be dragged to a fancy party and made to play nice. And yet Mandy—his business partner and bane of his existence—somehow convinces him to attend a charity auction with her so they can scout potential clients.

Duncan is looking for an escape from the festivities when vicious armed men take over the building, trapping Mandy in a deadly situation. With no way to call for help, Duncan is the only one that can save her.

No weapons, a bad leg, and a growing realisation of his feelings for Mandy.

Yippee-ki-yay.

Author’s note: This novella can be read as a standalone, but may be more enjoyable to those that have read the previous Soldiering On books. This book ends in a HFN for Duncan and Mandy. Their story will conclude in the final Soldiering On book in late 2017.

If you want to have a sneak peek, I posted chapter 1 here!

Please consider leaving an honest review. They help authors more than you can know.

 

Finally, did you know that if you sign up to my newsletter, you now get a FREE short story? Well, it’s true! Sign up today for sporadic news and release information, and get a short romantic suspense story delivered straight to your inbox.

What Are Your Favourite Comfort Reads?

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In times of trouble, I often turn to my favourite books and films to soothe me.

I don’t reread, or rewatch things much any more, since there are too many new things for me to consume and not nearly enough time.

But when times are tough, and I really just need something to cheer me up, or give me hope, I have a few old standbys that I go to.

Usually, I don’t need to read or watch the whole thing. Favourite scenes will do—often the ending. I have usually seen the film, or read the book, enough times that I know it by heart. So, it isn’t about discovering something new. It’s about returning to the emotional place I was in when I first read that book. The feelings I have during the reread are echoes of what I felt then. Even if, between the first time I read the book and the present day, I intellectually begin to notice the issues with the story or characters or whatever, chances are my nostalgia will over ride that.

Sometimes, though, a comfort read doesn’t have to be an old favourite. Sometimes I will take a chance and pick up something new. And it’s always a romance.

There’s something about the emotional release and coming together in romance novels that is very cathartic for me—it is a genre that’s perfect for a comfort read. I know when I pick up a romance novel that whatever happens, the characters will triumph. I won’t be left with an ending just as—if not more so—depressing as the reality I am trying to escape.

People call romances formulaic, but I think that there isn’t that much difference between rereading a favourite book and reading a novel that a reader will know must have a happy ending. Either way, the comfort and the trust comes from knowing what will happen.

 

Some of my favourite comfort reads include:

The scene at the end of Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward, where Zsadist and Bella finally come together. I have so many problems with this series in general. But when he hands her the note? I tear up every time.

A few scenes in Cry No More by Linda Howard. It’s my favourite of hers. There are a few lines in particular that really get to me.

Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye – despite the technical issues I now see in that book, I still get the warm fuzzies from reading it. The sequel was better written but not quite as memorable.

The ‘You are my country’ scene from Connie Brockway’s As You Desire. So fucking romantic.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Just in general. Jessica is just the best.

Big chunks of Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it.

 

So, what are your favourite comfort reads?

Knowing When To Cut

With bonus deleted scenes from Guarding Sierra!

 

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The decision to cut a scene from a book is one of the hardest a writer will make—surpassed only by the agonising decision to scrap everything when you realise it just isn’t working.

I had to do both in the process of bringing Guarding Sierra into existence. I originally started the novel in a very different place. When I realised it was completely the wrong beginning, I was so annoyed with myself for the time wasted. But I accepted it, started again, and the book is much better for it.

I also deleted and changed a number of scenes. Sometimes it can take a while to realise that it’s the right decision to delete—and longer still to work up the nerve to actually do it. To help me feel like I haven’t wasted my time, before I cut a scene I copy it into a document I label ‘Spares’. Then, I can come back to it later if I really need to. Sometimes I end up mining it for content—a descriptor or character beat—but generally I don’t, and the decision to cut is the right one.

When editing Guarding Sierra, there was a small scene that lasted through a few drafts. I didn’t want to cut it—it was a good character moment for Sierra, if a little heavy-handed. The problem was, it sped up her character development too much, leaving the last 1/3 of the book with nowhere for her to grow. Her realisation that she’d misjudged Blake happened too soon in the arc of the story, and it made her bland as a result.

The progression of her character development is much smoother now that the moment is gone, but I really liked the conversation between her and Blake. It hints at some of the bigotry that Blake has experienced because of his sexuality, and it forced Sierra to confront some of her own preconceptions about him. Part of me regrets not being able to find a place for it later on in the book, but by the time it would have been appropriate for them to have the conversation, the tension was ramping up and it would have slowed down the pace.

I just like to imagine it happening off-screen. J

But, now I can share it with you guys! It’s rough, since it never went through the final drafting/editing stages. But it gives you an idea of what I was trying to achieve. (Context for those that haven’t read Guarding Sierra: They’ve recently slept together, and Blake has told Sierra it can’t happen again. She’s pissed off, with both him and herself, because she figured him for a player and slept with him anyway. She feels she should have known better. For those that have read it: This originally appeared in the kitchen scene, before Duncan shows up to give Blake a talking to.)

Blake stared down at his sandwich, a muscle ticking in his jaw.

“Here’s the thing,” he began, then glanced up at her. “I have a habit of doing this.”

“Yeah, I figured you for a bit of a player,” Sierra interrupted. Nausea rolled in her gut. At least she could take comfort in the fact that his inability to stay faithful most likely didn’t stem from sexism, since it sounded like he treated his male lovers the same. She would lose even more respect for herself if it turned out she’d slept with a misogynist.

A frown tugged at his brow. “That’s not what I meant. I don’t sleep around, I prefer to be in relationships.” He paused. “Though it is a common stereotype that bi- and pan- people are incapable of being in a committed relationship.” His look was reproachful.

Her cheeks heated with shame, but she didn’t back down quite yet. “To be fair, I thought you were a player before I knew you were Pan.”

“You aren’t helping your case.” He seemed amused by her defence.

“You are an incorrigible flirt. Most people would think the same about you as I did.” She had no way of knowing if he was telling the truth now. Though whether he would lie to make her feel better or for some reason she didn’t understand, Sierra couldn’t be sure.

He raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Sierra clammed her mouth shut, frustrated with both him and herself. Blake obviously chose not to continue down that conversation topic, but whether out of pity for her or not, she couldn’t tell.

As you can see, it was quite heavy-handed. That could have been smoothed out later if I’d kept the scene in. However, having Sierra confront her own assumptions about Blake made her reassess her opinion of him far too soon. It threw the rest of her character development off balance. Once it was cut, I tweaked what came after, and I think the book is stronger for it.

 

Now, something a little more fun:

This is an alternate version of the scene where Sierra calls Mandy after having spent the night with Blake. I changed it because it didn’t fit the tone I needed in the scene, but it was an enjoyable little exchange.

“No wonder you’re cranky. I don’t think this is the disaster you’re claiming it is,” Mandy told her.

“Hey, you’re meant to be on my side here!”

Mandy chuckled, unrepentant. “I am on your side. The serial killer aspect is admittedly worrying, but I trust Blake to keep you safe. Even if he can’t seem to keep his pants on.”

Sierra sighed. “I’m at least equally responsible for that part.”

Mandy snorted, then grew serious. “If you’re really worried, you should get out of the city. Have a vacation, and hide away.”

“No way. I can’t leave work now. And being away somewhere with Blake sounds like a terrible idea.”

“Afraid he’ll come onto you again?”

“No, I’m afraid I’ll come on to him.” She ploughed on without giving Mandy a chance to reply. “So, does this raise any ethical issues for you? Or the company? I can definitely promise it won’t happen again.”

Mandy hummed in thought. “I mean, it isn’t generally something we would encourage, but I don’t really think punishing you would help. You’ve been through enough already and frankly, I just don’t want to. I’m glad you let loose for a little while, even if it was only for a night.”

“Blake seemed to think he’d get in trouble.”

“Well,” she replied. “I never said anything about not punishing him.”

I like writing friendships between women, so this was a fun scene. It was just totally wrong for what the moment needed, particularly once I realised that Sierra had to hold her grudge against Blake for a bit longer.

 

So, the moral of this story is, don’t be afraid to cut! Just because you put a lot of time into something doesn’t mean it is right. Be honest with yourself about what your story needs. Trust your instincts. Get feedback from others if you have to.

Ultimately, you have to do what the story needs.

If you want to find out what the final (and better!) versions of these scenes looked like, Guarding Sierra is available to purchase below:

Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (AU)

Amazon (CA)

Kobo

Barnes and Noble

Christmas Tango – Chapter 1

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Here’s a sneak peek at my upcoming Soldiering On Christmas Novella – Christmas Tango. I hope you enjoy it!

Duncan tugged at the unfamiliar noose around his throat—also known as a bow tie. He was trussed up in a penguin suit, suffocating in the restrictive clothing.

The grand ballroom was stifling, though whether that was reality, or a hallucination brought on by lack of breath, Duncan couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that he didn’t belong in this place.

The room was fancier than any he could remember being in. The roof above them was at least three stories up, and made entirely of glass. Balconies stretched across the upper portions, giving a perfect view of the mingling crowd. Instrumental Christmas music drifted from hidden speakers, and sconces dotted the walls, simulating flickering candlelight like a ballroom of old. Wreaths and bells hung the walls, adding a festive cheer to the dull proceedings.

A sharp elbow jabbed his side. “Smile,” Mandy hissed. Her fingers tightened on his arm, pressing her point.

Duncan plastered on a smile, but even he could tell it probably looked more like a grimace. Mandy rolled her eyes at him, but he just shrugged, unrepentant. He hadn’t wanted to come. She should be thankful that she got that much. Pretending to enjoy the stuffy occasion was one step beyond.

Mandy Lennox, bane of his existence and his business partner—in that order—had, in her infinite wisdom, forced him to come to this Christmas fundraising auction. Despite his stark refusal to accompany her, he had still somehow found himself in a custom-made tuxedo, escorting Mandy around a room full of rich people. She claimed it would be a good networking opportunity, wanting to find wealthy clients for their joint business.

Soldiering On was his pride and joy. He’d started the security company—with Mandy’s help—over a year ago to give veterans injured in the line of duty an opportunity to continue using their skills after being discharged. But the best part of the job was that they could help people that needed it—people that needed protection, or expertise. Duncan and his team were doing something that mattered.

He could admit to a need for at least a few well-paying clients like Mandy wanted, but it wasn’t his priority. The people that needed their help were. But it was Mandy’s mission in life to find high-paying clients for Soldiering On, and the only thing she seemed to care about. As long as it didn’t interfere in his life, he didn’t mind what she did. But playing nice with a bunch of wealthy people hadn’t been on Duncan’s agenda.

At least Mandy looked stunning in a thin sheath dress the colour of midnight. Her creamy shoulders were left temptingly bare, and her blonde hair was twisted up into a complicated knot. He had never felt their stark differences more keenly than he did in that moment. She was sleek, breathtakingly elegant, and clearly belonged in this crowd in a way he never would, despite his expensive tuxedo. He was a rough soldier with a bad leg and barely a dime to his name.

A man with teeth like a lighthouse beacon moved into Duncan’s field of vision, grinning unnaturally wide. Duncan blinked, bringing his thoughts away from his business partner and onto the intruder.

“Mandy,” he said, eyeing Duncan’s companion with an unsubtle appreciation. “How lovely to see you again.”

Since no one looked his way, Duncan felt safe rolling his eyes.

“Charles,” Mandy purred. “You’ve done a lovely job with the decorations. So festive. It seems like the evening will be a real success.”

She bent forward to kiss the man’s cheek, oozing charm.

Charles lapped it up. “Thank you. I hope you’ll stay for the after-party.” He winked—actually winked!—at her.

Mandy wasn’t fooled. Duncan was sure he was the only one that noticed the imperceptible tightening around her eyes that showed her displeasure. But her smiled stayed in place.

“That will depend on what my date wants to do, since he’s my ride. This is Duncan.” She nudged Duncan, who obediently stuck out his hand.

Charles’ gaze shifted to Duncan for the first time. The disinterested look told Duncan that Charles had already forgotten his name. “Hey, pal. Welcome to the party.”

They shook hands and let go before it was polite.

“Well, I better do the rounds,” Charles told them. He disappeared into the crowd, which consisted mostly of men and women between the ages of 60 and 103 from the looks of things.

Duncan felt old most days, now that he was pushing forty and had retired from the military. But this lacklustre crowd made him feel positively sprightly.

“Your date?” he asked slyly.

Mandy rolled her eyes. “I had to put him off somehow. He’s obscenely wealthy, so I like to keep him onside. But he’s persistent.”

“Well, I’m happy to run point between you and any men tonight. They really should learn to take a hint.”

The fact that Charles had completely ignored Duncan and the proprietary hand Mandy had on his arm irked him. Why would it be so out of the question that they were an item? Or had Charles just not cared either way?

He also realised something else. “Am I the only Black guy in the room?” he asked Mandy under his breath, bending down to her so that his words couldn’t be overheard.

Mandy huffed. “I admit the crowd is rather monochrome tonight.”

“Why am I even here?” he asked her. He obviously didn’t fit in, and not because he had inherited his father’s dark skin. These people were born into money. He was career military, like his father before him. He didn’t have centuries of wealth and power behind him.

Mandy narrowed her eyes at him. “If I have to suffer through this evening, then so do you.”

Duncan blinked. “What are you talking about? You love this stuff.”

“It’s a necessary evil. I see the benefits, and they outweigh the inconvenience to myself.”

Duncan never knew quite what to expect from Mandy.

“You’re a constant surprise,” he told her.

“I do actually like the dancing, when they have it,” she admitted with a shrug. “But the rest I could take or leave.”

Duncan’s mood soured even more. Of course she liked dancing. One thing he could no longer do now that his leg was so badly banged up from the war.

Not having noticed his reaction, Mandy scanned the room, her gaze landing somewhere behind him. Her expression lit up.

“The food’s out,” she said and dragged him in the direction of a white table-clothed sideboard loaded with dishes covered with silver lids. The only other person that seemed to have clocked to the food was a man in a suit a few levels below what most of the other guests were wearing.

Duncan smiled briefly, glad he wasn’t the only one completely out of place at a ritzy event.

The guy frowned when he saw Duncan eyeing him and backed off. Duncan sighed. He didn’t mean to glare. It was just his face, and size. But he tended to make people nervous.

“I should check in with the office,” Duncan murmured as Mandy loaded up a plate full of tiny, complicated-looking pieces of food.

Mandy glared as she munched on something that resembled a mushroom with leaves on it. She swallowed. “It’s nine o’clock at night. No one is there.”

Duncan took a breath, but she interrupted him before he could get a word out. “I know that Blake is on call, but don’t bother him. He’ll let you know if he needs you.”

“Why are you so concerned that I not call him?”

She smiled sweetly. “Sierra has something special planned for tonight. You don’t want to interrupt.”

Duncan shuddered. That was more than he’d wanted to know. Still, he pulled out his phone—just to check the time—and saw that the battery was dead.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered.

“I told you,” Mandy said, peering at his screen upside down. “You need to get a portable charger. Or a better phone.”

It was a familiar argument. “It’s fine, I just forgot to charge it.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a technophobe.”

“It’s functional,” he told her. “It does what I need it do.”

She gave him an unimpressed look. He didn’t see much point in explaining to her that the simpler the device, the better it usually was. Blake, Sam, and Paul were the ones that liked the newer, fancier equipment. Duncan was old school.

“Whatever,” he said, in lieu of what he really wanted to respond. “I’m going to hit the head. I’ll be back.”

He needed to cool off, get some fresh air. He couldn’t even take off the bow tie for a spell, because there was no way he’d get it back on.

He wished he had a weapon. At least then he’d feel like himself. But with the cut of the custom-made suit Mandy insisted he get—at her expense—it would’ve been far too obvious.

He pushed his way through the double doors at the back of the ballroom and into a carpeted service corridor. The kitchen lay at the far end, but no aromas of cooking emanated from that direction. Evidently the food was catered from an outside source. A number of doors and corridors came off the one he was standing in, and a staircase on each wall led to the upper levels. Based on the building’s size from the outside—of which the ballroom the auction was in barely took up half—there must be a whole warren of rooms that were not for the party guests. Perhaps he should go up and see if he could find the way to those balconies; get a better lay of the land.

But first, more pressing matters. The bathroom was bigger than his entire apartment, and far fancier. Duncan’s foul mood grew worse as he took care of his business. He had to get out of this place; find an excuse and escape the rest of the evening. Who cared if the expensive ticket Mandy had bought for him was wasted before they even got to the main event of the evening? It wasn’t like he could buy anything at the auction, which would start any moment.

He finished washing his hands and reached for the paper towels. Maybe if he—

His thoughts were interrupted by the lights shutting off. The room was in total darkness, without even a window to filter in some moonlight. Must be a blackout.

Duncan’s hand was on the door handle, ready to return to Mandy to see if she was okay.

That’s when he heard the gunfire, followed by screams of terror.

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