How brilliant is that. April is here and instantly we have the kind of warm, balmy days that make me want to forget about work and rush into the garden and start clearing out the pots, cutting back the stuff that's out of control and flinging weedkiller on the lawn. I dare not actually do the last of those. It's only the moss and weeds that's holding the thing together!
Okay, competition winners. Lois has won last week's guest blogger, Julie Cohen's book, ONE NIGHT STAND. And Christy has won the jigsaw puzzle. I just loved a Scribble of Romantic Novelists.
I still can't tell you my lovely piece of news, but I can direct you to the A Bride for All Seasons blog where you can see all the pictures, the background, and some extra snips from The Bride's Baby, my 50th Harlequin Romance which is OUT NOW!
You'll also find all the latest Harlequin Romance news here as well as a chance to win Claire Baxter's latest book.
But now to this week's guest. Michelle Douglas is one of Harlequin Romance's newest authors. She burst on the scene at the end of last year with a 4.5 stars from Romantic Times for her delightful debut novel HIS CHRISTMAS ANGEL. It's always wonderful to welcome a new author into the series and I know that Michelle is going to steal hearts wherever fine books are read.
It is such an honour to be asked by Liz to help her celebrate her 50th book. 50 books! Yay, Liz! I’m blowing up balloons and throwing streamers and pouring champagne as we speak. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here. Ever since I picked up my first Liz Fielding romance, I was hooked. I mean, seriously, can you imagine a nicer fate than being a Liz Fielding heroine?
Thanks for having me here, Liz!
The “What If...” Game
As I was sitting in my armchair, staring aimlessly out the glass sliding door at my jungle of a garden, I idly wondered (as you do) – what if I saw a tiger? I’m talking Bengal, orange with black stripes here, not a snarly little Tasmanian number. Maybe it’s because my garden IS a jungle that led me to thoughts of tigers. But... What if I was outside in my backyard when I saw that tiger? What would I do? How could I get away from it with life and limb intact?
Aha! My eyes lit on the big, old-fashioned rotary clothesline that every Australian backyard is equipped with, and knew I had found my solution – I’d shinny up the clothesline.
Oh my, thought I. What an interesting thing to do in a story – strand a character in a clothesline – and the beginnings of THE LONER’S GUARDED HEART were born. I had to dispense with the tiger, of course. I couldn’t see how I’d get away with a tiger prowling the Australian landscape. And if I could, mightn’t it prove just a tad too distracting? Okay dispense with said tiger.
So... how to get my heroine up a clothesline? And c’mon, Michelle, why is this such a good idea anyway? Isn’t it a bit... gimmicky? But the image kept pestering me, nagging away at me, and wouldn’t let go. Somehow I had to get my heroine up a clothesline. [By the way, it had to be the heroine. No matter which way I looked at it, I couldn’t find myself even remotely attracted to a hero stuck in a clothesline.]
This is where the “What If...” game becomes useful rather than plain, idle fun.
What if my heroine is a city girl and she’s forced to spend a month on a remote property? I do like a good fish-out-of-water story. I love watching characters pushed outside their comfort zones.
What if – like me, my sister, my mother and most of my girlfriends – my heroine is a bit wary, or downright scared for that matter, of dogs that growl, and not too keen on goannas, ticks and spiders?
Don’t forget you have a hero to create, Michelle...
What if my hero is tall, dark and reclusive? (Ooh, I love a tortured hero)
What if it’s his clothesline the heroine takes refuge in? (Of course it’s his clothesline!)
Time to start thinking conflict...
What if the hero is the heroine’s only neighbour for miles around?
What if the last thing my heroine needs is time to brood and endless solitude?
What if solitude is the only thing my hero seeks?
I think the stage is set for plenty of conflict there. This is my heroine’s reaction when she finds herself alone, at a seemingly deserted farmhouse, miles from anywhere.
In her hunger to clap eyes on a friendly face, Josie rushed around the side of the house to open the gate. Her fingers fumbled with the latch. Need ballooned inside her, a need for companionship, a need to connect with someone. The gate finally swung back to reveal a neat yard. Again, no garden beds or flower pots broke the austerity, but the lawn here too was clipped and short, the edges so precise they looked as if they’d been trimmed using a set square.
The fence was painted white to match the house and the obligatory rotary clothes-line sat smack-bang in the middle of it all. An old fashioned steel one like the one Josie had at home. Its prosaic familiarity reassured her. She stared at the faded jeans, blue chambray shirt and navy boxer shorts hanging from it and figured her landlord must be male.
Why hadn’t she found out his name from Marty or Frank? Though, everything had moved so fast. They’d popped this surprise on her last night and had insisted on seeing her off at the crack of dawn this morning. Mrs Pengilly’s bad turn, though, had put paid to any early start. Josie bit her lip. Maybe she should’ve stayed and–
A low vicious growl halted her in her tracks. Icy fingers shot down her back and across her scalp. No.
Please God, no.
There hadn’t been a ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign on the gate. She’d have seen it. She paid attention to those things. Close attention.
The growl came again followed by the owner of the growl and Josie’s heart slugged so hard against her ribs she thought it might dash itself to pieces before the dog got anywhere near her. Her knees started to shake.
‘Nice doggy,’ she tried, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth slurring her words and making them unintelligible.
The dog growled in answer. Nuh-uh, it wasn’t a nice doggy and, although it wasn’t as large as a Rottweiler or a Dobermann, it was heavy-set and its teeth, when bared, looked just as vicious. She could imagine how easily those teeth would tear flesh.
She took a step back. The dog took a step forward.
She stopped. It stopped.
Her heart pounded so hard it hurt. She wanted to buckle over but she refused to drop her eyes from the dog’s glare. It lowered its head and showed its teeth. All the hackles on its back lifted.
Ooh. Not a good sign. Everything inside Josie strained towards the gate and freedom, but she knew she wouldn’t make it. The dog would be on her before she was halfway there. And those teeth...
Swallowing, she took another step back. The dog stayed put.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Another step. The dog didn’t move. Its hackles didn’t lower.
With a half-sob, Josie flung herself sideways and somehow managed to half climb, half pull her way up until she was sitting on top of the rotary clothes-line.
‘Help!’ she hollered at the top of her voice.
Something tickled her face. She lifted a hand to brush it away. Spider web! She tried to claw it off but it stuck with clammy tentacles to her face and neck. It was the last straw. Josie burst into tears.
The dog took up position directly beneath her. Lifting its head, it howled. It made Josie cry harder.
‘What in the devil–’
A person. ‘Thank you, God.’ Finally, a friendly face. She swung towards the voice, almost falling out of the clothesline in relief.
Her heart all but stopped.
Then it dropped clean out of her chest to lie gasping and flailing on the ground like a dying fish. This was her friendly face?
Fresh sobs shook her. The dog started up its mournful howl again.
‘For the love of–’
The man glared at her, shifted his feet, hands on hips. Nice lean hips she couldn’t help noticing.
‘Why in the dickens are you crying?’
She’d give up the sight of those lean hips and taut male thighs for a single smile.
He didn’t smile. She stared at the hard, rocky crags of his face and doubted this man could do friendly. He didn’t have a single friendly feature in his face. Not one. Not even a tiny little one. The flint of his eyes didn’t hold a speck of softness or warmth. She bet dickens wasn’t the term he wanted to use either.
I love playing the “What If...” game. I also love blowing my too-confident heroes’ expectations out of the water. Kent, the hero of THE LONER’S GUARDED HEART, is convinced Josie is a mouse who can’t look after herself, someone he continually has to rescue. But when they find themselves on Josie’s home turf... What if it’s her turn to rescue him?
Josie finds herself stranded on this remote property because her brothers have sent her there for a holiday. She’s been dreaming of poolside cocktails. She gets a rustic cabin in the wilderness instead. A copy of THE LONER’S GUARDED HEART is up for grabs. All you have to do is leave a comment sharing with us your idea of the holiday from hell.
Once again, thanks for having me here, Liz. Congratulations on 50 books! Glass of champagne anyone?