My guest this week is the fabulous Presents author Anne McAllister I first met Anne at a Mills & Boon "Author Day" in London when I was a very new author. She was one of those characters who stood out in a room crammed with authors, editors, publishers and it was a delight to meet her again a few years later in Washington, the year she won a RITA and became a grandmother in the same night.
I just love her books. Her characters are so real. Her heroes are unforgettable and her heroines women you yearn to have as a best friend. If you haven't read her yet, read on and check out that excerpt. I can't wait to read this one.
But here's Anne to tell you more.
Fifty books! It's a lot. Understatement of the year. Especially because Liz's books are always terrific books. Quality books. Books that make you want more . . . and more . . . and more.
So if you're reading this, Liz, stop. Get back to work. Don't waste your time reading praise or anything else. Just put your nose to the grindstone and your fingers to the keyboard and WRITE!
I think it's actually very clever of Liz to ask so many of her friends to be guest bloggers. It reminds me a little of Tom Sawyer and the fence he had to whitewash -- the fence he got all his friends to pay him to be allowed to whitewash for him! (Don't think we aren't onto you, Liz -- if you're still reading this).
(Really? You've worked out that I'm getting a whole bunch of other brilliant authors to write my blog for me? Oops...)
But thank you for inviting me and for being such a great friend as well as great writer -- and thank you for sharing your blog and the Here Come The Grooms! Contest with me for the last two years.
This year, as many of you know, Liz and Kate Walker and I have turned our grooms loose to have another contest. The Here Come The Grooms! contest seems to be becoming an annual feature. It may or may not be over by the time you read this (it ends February 29th). But it was very well explained by Liz's hero, Tom, in his blog back on February 17th. He also introduced you again to my hero, Flynn, who has an unexpected second chance with the girl he left behind, Sara McMaster.
Their book, ONE-NIGHT LOVE CHILD, is a spin-off of THE GREAT MONTANA COWBOY AUCTION, a single title book I did for Silhouette six years ago. In that book sane and sensible no-nonsense eldest daughter of the heroine, Polly, is nineteen going on thirty. Sara has always been The Voice Of Duty And Responsibility in the McMaster household. Everything in Sara's life is black-and-white, and going according to plan -- until she meets Flynn.
Footloose Irish journalist, Flynn Murray, is in tiny Elmer, Montana covering a human interest story when he meets Sara. She's the right woman in the wrong place and the wrong time. And he knows it. And he's honorable enough to walk away -- or try to. Sara, though, has other ideas. She doesn't quite see how confused and messy things can become. It seems perfectly sensible to her.
Which just goes to show what Sara knows!
Six years later, Flynn is totally in her past. She's a hard-working, no-nonsense single mother who realizes that things aren't always as simple as they seem. She's been burned once. She's determined NOT to be burned again. Ever.
Since Flynn has had more than his share of attention on my blog (where he actually gets to write his own pieces occasionally) I thought I'd rather introduce you to Sara here. This is where she's coming from when the book opens:
It was Valentine's Day.
Sara knew this because last night she had helped her five year old son Liam print his name laboriously on twenty-one Valentine cards complete with cartoon art mutant creatures saying, "Be Mine" and "I'm 4 U."
She knew it because together they had covered a shoe box with white paper and red hearts to be his own "mailbox" at kindergarten and because she had baked cupcakes – chocolate ones with chocolate frosting and red and white candy hearts on them – as right before he went to bed Liam remembered he had volunteered to bring the cupcakes for the class party today.
And she knew because – for the first time since Liam was born – she actually had a date.
Adam Benally had asked her to dinner. He was the foreman out at Lyle Dunlop's place. He had come to the valley a few months ago from Arizona. A widower with a past he didn't often talk about, he was at least candid about "trying to outrun his demons." He'd brought the ranch accounting work in for Sara, and that was how they'd got to know each other.
No stranger to demons herself, Sara thought she and Adam might have a lot in common. He at least was getting past his demons. It was about time she got past hers.
"You can't be a recluse forever," her mother Polly had told her more than once. "Just because you had one bad experience . . . "
Sara let her mother talk because that's what Polly did. A lot. And her mother was probably right about the recluse part. It was the "bad experience" part that was the sticking point.
It hadn't been bad. At least not while it was going on. While it was going on it had been the most amazing three days of her life. And then . . .
That was the bad part. That was the part that made her gut clench every time she thought about it. The part that spooked her, that made her hesitant to ever open up to another man, to ever try again.
But finally she'd said yes. She'd made up her mind to try again with Adam. A dinner date. A first step.
"About time," Polly had said when Sara told her the plan. "I'm glad. You need to banish some ghosts."
No. Just one.
One Sara saw in miniature – right down to the tousled black hair and jade green eyes – every time she looked at her son.
She shoved the thought away ruthlessly. Now was not the time to be thinking about that.
Liam might be a reminder, but his father was past. Ordinarily she went whole days without thinking of him at all. It was just today – because it was Valentine's Day, because she'd accepted Adam's invitation, determined to kill two memories with one night out – that he kept plaguing her thoughts.
"Don't," she told herself out loud. The past was over. She'd rehashed it often to kill it from over scrutiny. It had done no good. Now she needed to concentrate on the future – on Adam.
What would Adam expect? She paced the kitchen, made tea, thought about what to wear, how to be charming and make conversation. Dating was like speaking a foreign language she had no practice in. It was something she'd done very little of before –
No! Damn it. There she went again!
Determinedly she carried her mug of tea to the table and laid out files so she could work. If she could get the hardware store accounts finished before Liam got home from school, then she could take a break, maybe go out and build a snowman with him, have a snowball fight. Do something to distract herself.
Liam was going to spend the night at her aunt Celie's who lived up the street with her husband, Jace, and their kids.
"Why all night?" she'd demanded when Celie had offered. "We're only going to dinner. I'm not spending the night with him!"
"Well, you might want to invite him in after," Celie said innocently. "For a cup of coffee," she added with a smile. It wasn't what she meant.
Sara knew it as well as she knew that she wasn't up for anything beyond dinner. Not now. Not yet.
How on earth could she have let six years go by without a single date?
Well, really, she rationalized, when had she had time?
She'd spent the first three years after Liam's birth finishing a degree in accounting, then setting up in business. Between her son and her schooling and the jobs she'd taken to make ends meet, she'd had no time to meet eligible men.
Not that she'd wanted to.
Once burned, twice shy and all that. And while she supposed there was wisdom in the notion of getting right back on a horse once you'd been thrown, there was also wisdom in being a damn sight more caution the second time around.
She'd been too reckless the first time. This time she was taking it slow and easy and that meant dinner, perhaps a quick peck on the lips. Yes, she could do that.
But first she had to get to work.
One of the pluses of her job as an independent certified public accountant was that she could set her own hours and work from home. That made it easier to be home when Liam was. The downside, of course, was that it was easy to get distracted – like today. There was no boss to crack the whip, to make demands. o think about checking her closet to see what she wanted to wear or to put in a load of laundry, make a cup of tea and talk to Sid the cat when she really needed to focus on work.
So she started again, made herself settle down at the kitchen table, which was also her desk, and spread out the accounts from the hardware store. Adding columns of figures required that she pay close attention and didn't allow her mind to wander, to anticipate, to worry.
A sudden loud knock on the front door made her jump. She slopped tea all over her ledger sheet. "Damn!"
She went to the sink and grabbed the dish rag, mopping up the spill, cursing the delivery man who was the only one who ever came to the front door. He left her office supplies when she ordered them. But she didn't remember –
Bang, bang, bang!
Not the delivery man, then. He only knocked once, then, having awakened the dead, he always jumped back into his delivery truck and drove away. He never knocked twice.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Let alone a third time.
Hold your horses," she shouted. "I'm coming!"
She stalked to the door and jerked it open – to the ghost of Valentine's past.
She was hallucinating. Panicking at the notion of dating again, she'd conjured him up out of the recesses of her mind.
And damn her mind for making him larger than life and more appealing than ever. Tall, rangy and narrow-hipped, but with shoulders even broader than she remembered. And just for reality's sake, her brain had even dusted his midnight hair with snowflakes. They should have softened his appearance, made him seem gentler. They didn't. He looked as pantherish and deadly as ever.
"Sara." His beautiful mouth tipped in a devastatingly appealing lopsided grin.
Sara knew that grin. Remembered it all too well. Had kissed the lips that wore it. Had tasted his laughter, his words, his groans, his passion.
Her face burned. Her whole body seemed suddenly consumed by a heat she'd tried to forget. She glanced at her hands knotting together, astonished that they didn't have steam coming off them, the memory of him was so powerful.
"Speechless, a stór?" His rough baritone with the light Irish inflection made the tiny hairs at the back of her neck prickle. It felt as if a ghost had run a finger down the length of her spine.
"Go away," she said fiercely, closing her eyes, resisting the hallucination, the memories – the man. It was agreeing to go out with Adam that had done this to her. It had tripped a trigger of memories she'd bottled up, stored away, refused to take out and look at every again.
She screwed up her eyes and shut them tight. Counted to ten Opened them.
And felt her stomach plummet to her toes at the sight of him still standing there.
He wore jeans, a black sweater and a dark green down jacket. He hadn't shaved in a day or two. His cheeks and jaw were stubbled. His eyes were bloodshot. But his impossibly long lashes blinked away snowflakes as he watched her with amusement. And when he grinned a little more at her befuddlement, she saw that he had chipped a tooth. She didn't think she would have hallucinated the chipped tooth.
So he was real. He was everything she remembered.
I had a lot of fun researching Sara and Flynn - especially the part where I got to go visit a stately Irish manor house and turn it into Flynn's five hundred year old castle.
Love that research. Tell me where you'd go if you could go anywhere in the world. Inspire me for upcoming books.
I'll let Flynn pick the winner from those who participate. I'll send her (or him) a copy of my last book (which took place in the tropical paradise of Fiji)!
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Thanks so much for sharing that excerpt, Anne, and some of the background to the Sara and Flynn's story. (What, you thought I wouldn't take time out to read it?) I can't wait to get past my own RITA reading pile so that I can read this one! There is just something about an Irish hero...
Also, having read the Fiji book, THE BOSS'S WIFE FOR A WEEK, I'm urging everyone to leave a comment telling us all about their own fantasy dream retreat before Monday morning, UK time, so that they have a chance to win.
And for three other chances to win this book, plus Kate Walker's SPANISH BILLIONAIRE, INNOCENT WIFE and my THE BRIDE'S BABY, there's also one more day to enter the HERE COME THE GROOMS! competition that Anne already mentioned.
And if you can't wait, you can buy ONE-NIGHT LOVE CHILD here at Amazon, US.