No. A book CAN’T be a romance without a HEA. Stop asking.

I apologise for this rant, but I’m frustrated.

Without fail, every month or two, a book blog will inevitably ask the question ‘Can a book be classified as a romance if it doesn’t have a happily ever after?’ (The latest from Heroes and Heartbreakers, who I’m sure have asked this question at least once before) And the answer, from romance readers and writers alike, will be a resounding ‘Hell No’.

It’s literally the one constant in the romance genre. It even says it right here on the Romance Writers of America website. I’ve written before about why it’s so important here. So why do people keep asking the question?

Mostly it’s from people trying to make romance money, without adhering to our most sacred tenets. Like this person. And the person that wrote this book. They ask the question to legitimise their decision to end the book without a HEA—and still market it as a romance.

And for all the authors talking about how they have to follow their muse and end it the way they feel the story must go, they still choose to disrespect our genre by marketing it as a romance. Even when knowing PERFECTLY WELL that Romancelandia wouldn’t consider it a romance at all. If you want the romance money, then you have to write an actual romance – ie, a book with a HEA. If you want to write the book you want to write (without a HEA), then market it as general fiction with romantic elements. Simples.

So why do well-respected ROMANCE bloggers still ask this same question? It’s baffling to me. Stop legitimising an author’s decision to mess with our genre by asking this question again and again! It makes them think they can get away with it, as if the answer might one day be yes. (Spoiler alert: it won’t ever be a yes. No HEA = not a romance. Forever and always)

Bloggers – stop asking this question. Please. I beg you. The discussion has been had. It’s done. Over. I know you like the click-baity question, because romance readers and writers will jump to defend our genre against all the trolls that pop up – and we’re a passionate bunch when Romance is threatened. And the trolls like the question, because at any excuse to shit on Romance as a whole, its “predictability”, and the women that read the genre, they are going to show up and rub their misogyny all over us. But despite the page views and retweets I’m sure you get, it does nothing to serve our community to have this discussion yet again.

So, how about we put it this way: Every time you ask the question ‘can a book be a romance without a HEA?’ a fairy loses its wings. So stop.

Hotel Hideaway Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 Gun.

The sight was so incongruous in the busy coffee shop that Sam blinked to make sure her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. But, no. A 9mm Glock was tucked into the back of the man’s jeans and mostly hidden by his tan jacket. Her heart jumped once, then kicked into high gear, pounding hard.

Sam ran her eyes over him, assessing the threat level. Short—maybe as short as her—and almost as wide as he was tall. Not law enforcement, or he’d have the gun in a holster. She could only see him from the back, so she shifted her eyes to his companion. His hair was the same light brown as the guy with the gun, and he had the same stocky build, though his ran more to fat than muscle. Brothers, she guessed.

The two men tried to look inconspicuous, but they hadn’t ordered any coffee before they’d sat down—the second red flag after the gun. The third red flag was the way their eyes kept darting to a tall man in line to order his coffee, impeccably dressed in what she guessed was a tailored suit and a coat that looked like it would cost her a month’s rent.

His profile was strong, the planes of his face sharp, his black hair shining with health, and Sam noticed dispassionately that he was probably handsome.

He was also in danger. If her instincts were right, and they usually were, the two guys with at least one gun between them planned to use it on the tall businessman. Sweat beaded at the back of her neck.

Luckily their target had two bodyguards on either side of him. He expected the threat. So Sam settled back in her chair to watch the proceedings. She didn’t need to get involved, despite the adrenaline flowing through her.

After a minute of covert observation, a sick feeling pooled in her gut. The bodyguards hadn’t even clocked the two men. They stared stoically ahead, trying to look intimidating as a deterrent to any potential attackers. Instead, they looked incompetent and completely unaware of their surroundings. Still, maybe it was for show. Maybe they had seen the men, and were waiting for the two guys to make their move.

She shifted uneasily. She could call the cops—chances were these two didn’t have a concealed carry permit, because those things were damn hard to come by, Sam knew from experience. But she didn’t know what was going on. Those men could, theoretically, be undercover bodyguards. Or even undercover cops waiting to bust the guy for some horrible crime. She didn’t want to blow an operation.

The businessman ordered his coffee and waited as the young barista frothed his milk. The two men at the table were on edge, ready for whatever happened next. The bodyguards were still oblivious.

Sam drained her coffee cup and slowly slipped her book into her bag. She had to be ready.

The coffee was finally made, and the man grabbed it before the barista could even call his name. He gestured to his two bodyguards that he was ready to go, and one led the way from the coffee shop with the other bringing up the rear behind the well-dressed man.

The brothers with the gun immediately stood and followed the trio, so Sam picked up her bag and shuffled after them, remaining inconspicuous. It was just before 9am, so the streets teemed with people rushing to get to work on time. Sam weaved through them, trying not to lose sight of the men ahead of her.

She caught glimpses of the trio even farther ahead of her. The lead bodyguard knew the route without needing any direction from the man he guarded. A bad sign, since it meant they likely took this route often.

Blood zipped through her veins as she stalked these men through the concrete jungle of downtown Portsboro. The three in front came to a crossing as the countdown reached five. The two guys with guns jogged a little to get onto the road before the countdown hit zero, but Sam was too far back. She squeezed past a group of colleagues holding large takeaway coffee cups and stopped as the cars eased forward on the road in front of her. She stood on tiptoes to see the two guys with the gun following the man and his bodyguards around a corner.

Panic hit her. What if they planned to kill or attack this man right now? She had to get to them. She couldn’t bear it if she had a man’s death on her conscience. But the traffic still moved past her—slowly, since it was peak hour. The sharp honk of a horn made her jump.

Too much time had passed. She needed to get across the road.

The traffic slowed enough that Sam risked stepping in front of a taxi. The driver leaned on her horn and yelled something aggressive. Sam held up an apologetic hand but kept going, ignoring the insults the woman yelled. She focused on the road ahead, while the other waiting pedestrians took advantage of the traffic she’d stopped and followed her across in a wave.

She darted across the road and took off at a run—as much as she could with her bad lung and the calf muscle in her right leg that would never fully heal. She ducked through the flow of pedestrians and turned down an alley.

Empty. Sam swallowed. Had she not seen what she thought? She’d been convinced they’d come this way.

She surveyed the alley. Dirty, as most were in this part of the city. A sign indicated parking ahead, but no car could fit through the narrow street, not with all the rubbish strewn about. Unless it was a back entrance?

A coffee cup resting on top of the trash caught her attention. The logo from the coffee shop she’d been in five minutes earlier was emblazoned on its side. They must have come this way.

She strode onward, her ears straining for any sound, her hand itching for a gun that wasn’t there. Her lungs ached, both from her exertion and the added fear of what she might find. The scent of garbage clogged her nostrils and the high walls of the surrounding buildings pressed in on her.

She rounded the corner, and stopped dead when the scene she’d been dreading materialised before her. She absorbed the tableau in an instant. The two brothers each held guns on the tall businessman. He had his hands up in surrender while the two bodyguards shuffled at his sides, doing nothing to protect him. That went beyond incompetence and into sabotage. They should be throwing themselves in front of those guns and instead they looked as if they didn’t want to know.

Fingers tightened on the triggers of the guns.

“Hey!” she said, to draw the gunmen’s attention. They spun around, both so surprised that their guns wobbled in their hands.

Sam took advantage of the inattention and stepped forward, ducking and twisting out of the line of fire. She grabbed the gun hand closest to her—belonging to the heavier brother—and aimed it towards the alley above them and out of danger, and then she swung the man around until he shielded her from his brother.

She kneed him in the balls with all her might, keeping ahold of his gun arm. He crumpled with a grunt of pain, knees not quite hitting the ground before he righted himself. But Sam didn’t let him gain the advantage. An uppercut, an elbow to the temple, a sweep of the leg and the guy sagged to the ground. Sam made sure to prise his fingers off the gun as he fell and immediately aimed it at his brother.

The man was furious, glowering at her as he readjusted the gun so it pointed directly between her eyes.

Sam didn’t flinch.

“You pull that trigger and you’ll go down with me,” she said, edging forward.

A sick smile crossed his face. “Might be worth it to put a bullet in you,” he sneered.

Sam shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been shot.” She shuffled forward again. “Probably won’t be the last.”

The man’s eyes widened in surprise, and he had nothing to say to that.

“Lower your gun,” she ordered.

“You first,” he replied.

She moved forward again. Nearly there.

“Why did you target this man?” Sam ask him as a distraction.

The man’s glower deepened in reply. “He looked rich,” he replied sullenly. Sam didn’t believe him for a second.

She didn’t have time to ask a follow-up question because he gave her an opening. Just a slight moment of inattention, but it was enough. His gaze shifted to her left for an instant. She used the opportunity to get in close and drive her fist into his solar plexus, the shock of hitting his muscled chest sending recoil through her arm. The air rushed from his lungs the moment she connected and he doubled over, so Sam elbowed him in the back of the skull.

He fell to his knees, gasping. She gripped his gun arm and wrenched it behind him, dislocating his shoulder. It popped with an audible crack, and Sam saw her audience flinch from the corner of her eye. She used the pain in the man’s arm to drive him flat onto his stomach and snatched the gun from his grip. She placed a booted foot solidly on his neck and pressed.

“Do you call mercy?” she asked him, not expecting a reply.

A flash of movement caught the corner of her gaze and she looked up as the businessman yelled, “Look out!”

The second attacker rose to his feet and lowered his head like a charging bull, ready to attack.

Sam didn’t need to be told twice.

She aimed the gun in her right hand and fired, grazing the man’s thigh. The report of bullet discharging echoed down the alley, and Sam’s ears rang. The man kept charging as if he hadn’t felt the shot, no doubt consumed by anger and adrenaline.

She fired again, this time hitting him in his right shoulder. The bullet had enough force to send him staggering backwards. He glared at her, still furious, not noticing the blood blooming at his shoulder.

“Stay back,” she said. “You don’t want the next one to go between your eyes.”

Some reason must have penetrated his fury-filled mind, because his gaze finally moved from her to his brother.

“You’re choking him,” he growled.

“He’s fine,” Sam replied, but eased off a little. “Now, have a seat, and wait for the cops to arrive.” She kept her gun trained on him as he reluctantly lowered himself to the ground.

Sam turned to the targeted man. He stared at her with something like awe. Sam shifted uncomfortably at the admiration in his gaze. The man was even more handsome straight on than he had been in profile. Sharp cheekbones, artful stubble, piercing grey eyes. Maybe he was a model. It would explain the nice clothing.

“The police are coming, right?” she asked him.

He held up his phone. “Yeah.”

“Good. Would you mind using your tie to bind this guy’s wrists?” she asked, gesturing with her gun towards the sitting guy.

She ignored the two bodyguards while keeping them in her sight. Nothing worse than a bad bodyguard—it gave the rest of them a bad name.

The man undid his tie with a practiced movement and stepped gingerly toward his attacker. They glowered at each other for a moment before Mr. Well-Dressed stepped behind him and looped the tie around his wrists.

“I’m Cameron, by the way. Cameron Lawrence,” said the businessman.

“Uh-huh,” Sam replied. She wasn’t particularly interested. She wanted to wrap this up so she could get to work.

Sirens sounded in the distance.

“And you are?” he asked pointedly. Sam resisted rolling her eyes.

“Sam,” she replied. Let him think it stood for Samantha. Everyone else did. Her real name was Angelica Samson, but no one called her that if they wanted to live.

“Well, Sam, thank you for saving my life.” He stood and slowly prowled towards her. Sam’s hackles raised. A man that prowled was a man on the hunt. And she definitely wasn’t prey.

“You’re welcome,” she muttered. “Hot tip, though. You might want to get better bodyguards. These guys suck at pretty much every aspect of the job.”

“Hey!” cried one of the bodyguards in protest. Neither she nor the businessman paid any attention.

His eyes darkened. “If you’re angling for a job, I’d be more than happy to offer it to you. You’ve amply demonstrated your skill.”

Sam raised a brow at him, annoyed by his presumption. “I already have a job, but thanks.”

“Well, the offer is open.” He handed her a card, which Sam was tempted not to take. Instead, she tugged it from his grip and pocketed it without looking at it.

She didn’t have to offer another brush-off because the police chose that moment to arrive.

Cameron gave her a last, lingering look before heading over to the police. Sam breathed a sigh of relief. As much as she wished otherwise, she had an awful feeling she wasn’t done with that man yet. Or, worse, he wasn’t done with her.

Read the rest!

My Favourite Romantic Suspense Films

Despite being a popular subgenre of books, very few movies are made that would classify as Romantic Suspense. Obviously, this is a genre I love since I write in it, and I’m constantly hunting for new films that will satisfy the requirements, but there are so few.

To qualify, under my definition of the genre, you need a few things.

  1. Equal time devoted to building the romance as the action/thriller elements
  2. Not have characters already in a happy marriage when the story starts
  3. A happy ending (the couple together and the bad guys defeated)

Now there are quite a few action films that have love interests in them, but very few of them take the proper time to build the relationship. Usually, they’ll meet, and then right at the end they’ll get together, because the hero always gets the girl. That’s not the kind of movie I’m talking about.

Also, in action movies in particular, often the hero will have a wife, who dies or is kidnapped so he can rescue her. This also doesn’t count for obvious reasons.

And then there are those that don’t have a happy ending. Movies like The Terminator (which I love) which does take the time to build the romance along with the action plot, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. I’d also classify The Bodyguard along with this (though I often forget they don’t end up together in that film!).

And this, of course, does not include bait-y “romances” where they take all the time to build the couple’s bond and then nothing happens at the end – I’m talking everything from Aliens, to Romeo Must Die. Blech.

So, without further ado, my top 7 romantic suspense films, in chronological order (because why not?):

 

Laura (1944)

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When I first started getting into movies (in a serious way) in my teens, I watched a lot of classics. Laura was always one of my favourites. The witty dialogue, the urbane characters, the intriguing mystery, and of course the romance.

The IMDb summary says it all: “A police detective falls in love with the woman whose murder he is investigating.”

First, he falls for her image—a painting of her—and the stories he hears from those that knew her. When she turns up alive, he starts falling for the real thing. But they also need to solve the mystery of who tried to kill her, because that person still wants her dead.

It’s an imminently rewatchable film.

 

Nowhere to Run (1993)

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Anyone who knows me knows about my love for Jean-Claude Van Damme films. I think he’s pretty underrated as an actor (even in terrible films—see Derailed for what I mean), and his action sequences are usually pretty top notch.

This film is my favourite of his. Probably because it errs more heavily on the romance than most of his others.

Van Damme plays an escaped convict hiding from the police. He stumbles upon a home with a widow and her two children, and she invites him to stay, not knowing who he is. He falls for her quickly, but keeps his distance. But then an evil land developer starts threatening her and the other townsfolk, so JCVD steps in to protect them.

I’m cheating a little here. At the end, he gets taken away in handcuffs, after promising to find a way back to her. And she and the children promise to wait for him. It’s not a traditional happy ending, but it’s close.

I just really dig this one. I like the tropes and the story, I like the actors. It just really works for me.

(Side note: If JCVDs character had definitively got together with his brother’s wife at the end of Lionheart/A.W.O.L/Wrong Bet (whatever you know the film as) I might have included that as well. Because that was CLEARLY a romance. Ugh.)

 

Army of One/Joshua Tree (1993)

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I have also expressed my love for Dolph Lundgren films more times than I can say. Physically, he’s more my type than Van Damme, but he’s a much worse actor, and his fight scenes are often clumsy-looking. (He’s got hella long legs!)

But I LOVE this film. It’s low budget, and it shows in some parts. But that John Woo-esque fight sequence at the end is pretty great. And the hotel scene has such great sexual tension.

In this film, Dolph plays a (you’ll sense a theme here) convict, who escapes from the police and takes a woman hostage. The woman happens to be an undercover cop. And she slowly starts to realise that he’s innocent and wants to help him, and he goes from wanting to use her to wanting to protect her.

In some ways this is another cheat. There are two versions of this film. One ends with him being taken away in handcuffs (again. Though to be fair he did kill a LOT of people to prove his innocence, so…) but the other ending shows him out of prison and the two in a happy relationship. And as long as I don’t think of the logistics of that (like I said, he killed a LOT of people) then I’m counting it as a happy ending.

I have this on DVD, but it’s a terrible release. The blu-ray isn’t available here in Australia, but eventually I will reward myself and buy it from Amazon so I can get the proper widescreen release.

 

Blink (1993)

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Clearly 1993 was a great year for romantic suspense films!

This one features Madeleine Stowe and Aiden Quinn. He’s a police detective (and a bit of an ass), and she’s recently had an operation to restore her sight (and gives him back as good as she gets!). She witnesses a murder, but her brain is still processing the images because she hasn’t been able to see for so long. So he sticks around her until she can identify the killer.

These two have great chemistry. He’s one of the few brash, asshole heroes I can stand, probably just because she doesn’t let him get away with it AT ALL and it’s fun watching her take him down. This is probably the sexiest entry on this list, too, coming out in that short period where erotic thrillers were all the rage. (Alas, it ended too soon).

 

Fair Game (1995)

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I considered putting Cobra (1986) on this list, which is based on the same book that this film is. But a) I have another favourite Stallone romantic suspense, and b) I think I like this version a little bit more. More focus on the romance!

This features William Baldwin (an underrated Baldwin brother, tbh) and Cindy Crawford. She’s a lawyer, and people want her dead for reasons she doesn’t understand. He’s a police detective who saves her life. When the cops are compromised, he takes her on the run with him while they figure out what the bad guys want.

This film is trashy, I’ll admit, but I’ve never minded that. This is one of the films on this list that most obviously fits within the romantic suspense genre. It has a lot of the tropes, the story beats, and a surprisingly decent sex scene.

I know it was reviewed on the ‘How Did This Get Made?’ podcast, and from memory I pretty much agreed with them. It’s one of those trashy, so-bad-it’s-good films that’s ACTUALLY fun to watch, as opposed to just boring as hell.

 

Avenging Angelo (2002)

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An underrated Sylvester Stallone gem.

This action/comedy/romance again features Madeleine Stowe as the daughter of a mob boss—only she never knew her real father. Stallone plays her (real) father’s bodyguard. When the old man gets whacked, Stallone must protect his daughter from the killers coming after her. But he also has to keep away, because he’s secretly been in love with her for a very long time.

This film is just a comedic delight. Stallone is so FUNNY in it. It really makes me wish he did more comedies, because his timing and facial expressions were perfect in this. And Madeleine Stowe manages to be on the likeable side of shrill and paranoid, which is a tough balance to pull off.

They take time to develop the romance between them, even while a series of hitmen try to kill her. And I laugh my arse off throughout, even during the fart humour scene (and I HATE fart humour). Just so good.

 

Smoke Screen (2010)

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The last entry on this list. This is based on a Sandra Brown novel, and frankly I liked it better than the book. (The hero isn’t such an ass, from memory.)

A television reporter, played by Jaime Pressley, wakes up next to a dead body with no idea what’s happened. Her investigating puts her in the path of someone she used to know—who blames her for his life falling apart. Turns out he had a similar thing happen to him all those years ago, so they team up to figure out what’s really going on.

I’ll be the first to admit that Raley, the hero played by Currie Graham, starts off the film as a total jerk. He is a Sandra Brown hero, after all. But, if you can get past the kidnapping and the aggression of the first part of the movie, he turns out to be totally delightful.

I really just like the way he looks at her, always, with this slight smile on his face. He doesn’t disguise how into her he is, and it’s refreshing. And she’s great—so feisty and determined.

There have been a couple of movies based on Sandra Brown books, but this is by far my favourite. White Hot came out last year and was OK. Though because it was a Hallmark movie they really toned down the sex and suspense. Ricochet, which I know I’ve seen but don’t remember much about, was also alright, but this time I don’t think they softened the hero’s jerk tendencies at all.

I really wish more TV stations or film companies would adapt romantic suspense books, because frankly I think it’s a vast untapped financial market. And I don’t just say that for selfish reasons, though I absolutely will watch them all if they come out.

 

So, do you have a favourite romantic suspense film? Anything you’d recommend to me?

Filter Words and Crutch Words – plus, how to get rid of them

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Filter words and crutch words are a more recent discovery of mine with writing. Learning what they are, why they’re bad, and how to get rid of them has really changed my style for the better.

Distancing words are things like: felt, heard, saw, touched, looked, etc. They put a barrier between the reader and the book, rather than immersing them right into the action or description.

For example this sentence: She looked up to see dark clouds in the sky and heard the distant rumble of thunder. She felt a chill run down her spine.

Can become: Dark clouds rolled across the sky and thunder rumbled in the distance. A chill ran down her spine.

Fewer words and more powerful and immersive, right?

Crutch words are slightly different. They are words we use too often, and pause a sentence unnecessarily. They are fine for speech, but aren’t needed in writing!

Examples include: Just, like, obviously, that, etc

Search and replace these words in your manuscript and you’ll find many that don’t need to be there!

Since I’ve just finished edits on book #4 in the Soldiering On series, I thought now would be a good time to share my list of words that I comb through my manuscripts for. I don’t worry about these two much when I’m actually writing, because it would slow me down too much. But when I’m in the edit phase I can be ruthless! I cut out over 1,500 of these words and phrases from my manuscript over a period of two days, so I definitely mean business.

able to – can usually be replaced ‘can’ for a cleaner sentence  
Almost – often this can reduce the power of what you’re trying to say
Began – as in ‘began to’. Get rid of this and just say the character did the action
Decided – again, the character can often simply do the action
Down – As in ‘sat down’. Usually just ‘sat’ is needed
Felt – describe the sensation without using ‘felt’
going to – can usually be replaced by ‘will’ or similar
Heard – A distancing word. Usually not needed.
Just – This one is a weakness of mine. It’s often not needed
Looked – (as in ‘she looked at’) Often, you can just describe what they are looking at
Out – eg. ‘Stepping out in front’. Often just ‘stepping in front’ would work
Quite – Like almost, it’s a weak word
Realised – This word can be useful, but sometimes it can be overused and unneeded. Use your judgement.
Really – Like ‘very’ it’s better to use one word rather than qualify with ‘really’. Eg. ‘Really big’ should be ‘enormous’.
Saw – Like ‘heard’, just describe what they see.
Seemed – Like ‘realised’, this is one to use your judgement on
Speculated – Words like this are often better written as a question. Eg. Instead of ‘she speculated whether he was evil’ simply write ‘Was he evil?’
Started – Like ‘began’ it’s often not needed
That – The general rule of thumb is, if the sentence makes sense without the ‘that’, then you don’t need it. It’s amazing how many of these I find.
there were/was – eg. ‘There were three people in the room’ can become ‘three people stood in the room’
Thought – Like ‘speculated’, it is often better, particularly if you write in Deep POV, to get rid of many of your ‘thoughts’, but they can also be useful.
Touched – Like ‘heard’ or ‘saw’, this is a filter word.
Try – ‘Tried to’ is one of those things that creeps into my writing a few times when it’s simply not needed.
Up – Same issue as ‘down’. Often redundant.
Very – See ‘really’
was _ing – this is one of my favourites! For example ‘He was leaning’ becomes ‘He leaned’
Watched – Like looked or saw, this can be a filter word.
Went – ‘Went to’ like ‘began’ and ‘started’ is often not needed.
were _ing – A sister of ‘was _ing’
Wished – This is a tricky one, but again there’s often a simpler way.
Wondered – Same as above

So there you have it! What are some of the filter and crutch words you watch out for? I’m always on the lookout for words to add to my list!

Hesitant Love Now Available!

Hesitant Love

My cute, fun, and sexy romance is out today! If you like awkward heroes, single mothers that don’t trust men, comedy, and romance, this is for you!

Colin Partridge can hold down a conversation with his nine-year-old students, no problem. Beautiful women, on the other hand? Not so much. So when he bumps into Britt Endicott, the single mother of one of his students, he barely manages to get through the conversation with his dignity intact.

Britt Endicott hasn’t dated since her ex-husband left her and her daughter Abigail seven years ago. She doesn’t trust men, and with good reason. And even if she did–which she definitely doesn’t–dating her daughter’s teacher is totally against the rules.

Can they get around school rules, meddling children, and most of all themselves, to find their happy ending?

It’s a little bit different to my usual fare, but for anyone who’s read the Soldiering On books, you know I like to add a bit of humour to my work–even into my romantic suspense. Now I have a novella chock full of it! (This also has what is probably the sexiest sex scene I’ve written, if that’s your thing…)

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited if you want to give it a try!

Click here to find the novella on Amazon!