WHAT’S MISSING?

So you want to be an author. You read avidly. You love shifter or vampire or historical or…whatever genre it is, there’s always a book open on your lap under your desk when you’re supposed to be working on those spreadsheets your boss asked for. It’s ok, it’ll be our little secret. But the point is, you’ve been reading for years, absorbing all the nuances of the stories you love; words are beginning to stream through your mind; characters are talking, moving, demanding their stories be told…

It’s time to sit down and write your book, right?

Slow down just a sec, because I’ve got a bit of advice you’re completely free to ignore…but if I were you, I wouldn’t – because I’m one of those people on the receiving end of aspiring authors’ hopes and dreams.

My advice is simple. Corporate spying. Well, not really, but what every aspiring writer should do is start researching the publishers of their favorite books, in fact all publishers of the type of book you want to write. See who’s writing them. How they’re writing them. What elements have they included? Get a true feel for what is already being published. And then write your book, right?

Wrong. What you need to do next is realize that those publishers already have those books, and some of them are selling really well. So why would they need yours? Hmm…good question, right? Now you need to figure out, within the genre you love and wish to write, what’s missing. What haven’t your favorite authors done? What fresh angle can you bring to the genre? How can you bend or change the rules in a way that will make an editor suddenly sit up straight, blink twice, and experience that surge of adrenaline that only comes from discovering something exciting. And new. And special.

As I said at a writing conference last week, don’t build your book around something that’s already being done. Begin your world-building from the ground up. Make new rules. Surprise us. Thrill us. It’s what we live for.

Oh, and please remember to give the manuscript a good proof before you send it. :-)

As an acquisitions editor,  I see a wide range of submissions both in subject matter and writing style, but one thing in particular really perplexes me sometimes.

It’s getting a manuscript I absolutely love, but can’t offer a contract on because there are just too many issues, often minor, but that would add up to quite a headache for our copyediting department. I’m talking about things like word/phrase repetition, grammatical errors, and, more importantly, plot holes that would bring readers to a screeching halt partway through the story.

You might be wondering how I could love a manuscript that had issues like that. Well, because there are other areas where the author did a fantastic job: premise, characterizations, emotions, dialog, pacing. Those can all be wonderful and make me long to accept the work, but if there are too many issues that  need to be addressed before the book can “go to press” as it were, the bottom line is I have to say no, at least for the time being. And that actually breaks my heart a little. 

So yes, grammar matters - in each and every sentence you write. Active phrasing and concrete nouns matter – in every case. Knowing how to tag dialog matters. And please, PLEASE, learn the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, and when to use them. And when not to use them. You definitely don’t want technical stuff to be why an editor rejects your work…but trust me, it happens. If you don’t know grammatical rules, learn them. I personally have a subscription to the Chicago Manual of Style, but there are free sites as well, such as http://grammarbook.com.

Finally, when a manuscript is finished, rather than race to submit, the author needs to take take four steps back, breathe, and then view the work with her most critical eye, because that’s how an editor will view it. If the conflict doesn’t quite feel believable, dig deeper into your characters’ backgrounds to strengthen it. Motivate their actions, or their actions just won’t feel believable. Give them goals. Make them proactive rather than reactive.  And keep them talking and interacting with each other. I’ve found the best way to develop a plot with good forward momentum is for the characters to be constantly playing off one another.  Every scene should propel your story forward, never backward (yes, I’ve seen scenes that do this). And never let the story resolution come too easily – make the characters work for it. You always want to sustain the romantic conflict till the end, or readers might stop turning pages.

 These are all things that can stop me in the middle of an otherwise engaging story, and regretfully decide that, despite a world of potential, it has to be a no, at least for now. Sending those emails is the hardest part of my job – it’s proabably as hard for me to hit send as it for the author to receive it.

So don’t sabotage your own career – don’t let the little, easily-fixable things keep you from realizing your dream!

Last weekend I traveled up to New York for a reason that drew a few eyebrows when I mentioned it to people. It was the 40th reunion of my sixth grade class. Although, in my mind it was a reunion classmates I’d known since kindergarten or first grade, because our elementary school was organized in such a way that we pretty much were with the same kids every year, and we became like a family – a large one!

Before I went, I wondered if meeting these people, who I’d only known as children, would be awkward. Would we stand around inquiring politely about one another’s careers and families, after which an uncomfortable silence would descend crushingly upon the party because, after all, we really had nothing in common anymore and therefore nothing to say.

If I had worried about that – boy would I have been wrong! Last weekend was as close to perfect as a weekend could be. From the moment my best friend from those days picked me up at the airport, to the moment we hugged and said goodbye, the days passed in a thrilling headwind of excitement, discovery, affection, and well…just sheer joy. I discovered many of us really did still have things in common, and in each of my old schoolmates remained something of the child I had known. Being together again felt so natural, so easy. It was truly an experience of reconnection, but also of newly forged connections and friendships. Because let’s face it, weren’t there kids in grade school you hardly ever talked to? There were for me, but I came away from NY with new dear friends along with old dear friends. You really can go back, if you go with an open mind and an open heart and a smile on your face.

To kick off the reunion, A few of us met for a walking tour of our old neighborhood…
 

Our elementary school, P.S. 32 in Flushing

In front of my old house with two dear friends

Another view of the old house. Why did we ever move? It was a beautiful neighborhood.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A house away from mine, where another good friend lived. I loved playing here – she had the best dolls!

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Our class picture at the reunion party. I’m in turquoise, and the woman to my right was our 4th grade teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t wait for next time! I should add that the miracle of this reunion only happened because of facebook. We now have a way to keep track of each other and share whatever life throws at us from now on. I’m so happy to have my old family back!

Reemerging…

Never thought of myself as a butterfly before, but beyond a doubt for the last few months I’ve been inside my own special cocoon, reshaping and reinventing myself. Does that mean I was formally a caterpillar? Hmm…not one of my favorite creatures. Maybe I didn’t think this metaphor through properly. However….

Beyond a doubt, for the past several months, since the release of RECKLESSLY YOURS, I’ve undergone something of a transformation, or maybe an evolution. First I got word that my publisher had decided not to continue with my series, Her Majesty’s Secret Servants, meaning Willow would not be having her own story – which is why Recklessly Yours ended the way it did, rather than with Victoria asking her to embark on a mission. Now, before you feel sorry for me – and Willow – there are two things to remember: 1) this is a common theme in the publishing industry. It’s not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last. And 2) there are so many publishing options nowadays that when the mood strikes me, I will write Willow’s story and get it out to readers.

In the meantime, as part of my reinvent I’m trying my hand at writing an American-set historical mystery. Despite always calling myself a “closet mystery writer” (anyone who has read my books will get this), writing a pure mystery has not been easy! I had to learn so many new plotting techniques – in fact I’m still learning. The book isn’t finished yet, but I’ve been enjoying every step of the journey. We’ll see what happens….

But even more profound a change for me has been taking on the position of acquisitions editor for Silver Publishing. Silver is going on two years old now and I joined them after they’d been up and running only a few months. They’ve grown, and continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and I feel fortunate to be part of that. I have to say, I love my job – I love reading submissions, helping authors strengthen their work, and the fact that even when I have to say no (which is always so difficult!), I can still offer insight into what worked and what didn’t, and why.

And if all that weren’t enough, I’ve also taken on the board position of Member-At-Large for my writing chapter, the Florida Romance Writers.

So the temporary end of Her Majesty’s Secret Servants (oh, I doubt those ladies can be held down for long) has meant new beginnings and exciting challenges for me. I’m still very much a part of the publishing industry, still learning, still growing as an author and an editor, still looking forward to whatever surprises the future will bring.

Have you ever had to reinvent? Was it difficult, or did you spread those wings and let the wind carry you where it will? And did you reemerge better than before?

The winners of the three signed copies of RECKESSLY YOURS are:

Joan O., Kimmie L., and Betty L. Congratulations, ladies, and I’ll send you each an email so we can arrange delivery of your books.

The winner of the $15 e-gift certificate goes to Julie (SailorRose)! Again, congratulations and I’ll be emailing to make arrangements.

Many thanks to everyone who read the excerpts and left such encouraging comments all week long. Your interest and your support is much appreciated!

However you celebrate, may the holidays see you healthy and happy, and be filled with friends and family, delightful surprises, and wonderful reading!  

 

RECKLESSLY YOURS – Her Majesty’s Secret Servants book 3, on sale tomorrow, Dec. 6th, online and bookstores everywhere!

The Exmoor Pony is the oldest breed of native pony in Great Britain, first domesticated by the Celts. They are  stocky, sturdy animals, known for their hardiness and resistance to many of the diseases that affect most other breeds of horses. I first read about them years ago, and the notion of an ancient, almost mystical breed of pony running wild on the moors and mountains of Devon captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go. The seed of Recklessly Yours was planted then. In the story, Colin is protecting a herd of Exmoors, although in his own words, he belongs to them much more than they could ever belong to him. His fate, and that of his family and those who live on their Devonshire estate, is closely tied to his ability to do right by these exquisite creatures.

If you’d like to read more about Exmoor Ponies, here are some links:

www.exmoorponysociety.org.uk
http://www.exmoorponies.co.uk/
http://www.horseshowcentral.com/ponies/exmoor_pony/376/1

Excerpt: (In which Holly is attempting to avoid a gang of angry villagers outside Colin’s estate on the Devonshire Moors…)

Beyond a doubt, she had taken a wrong direction. As she raced around the rheumatic twist of a dead rowan, the stream, foaming furiously, wound its way across her path and brought her to an uncertain halt. Some dozen yards to her left, a very different footbridge from the one she’d first crossed spanned the flooded banks. This one, made of wood, appeared much older and narrower than the other. She sprinted to it only to discover the planking to be faded and splintered, even broken in places. The structure hardly looked trustworthy.

Another glance behind her revealed no sign of either the villagers or the man in the greatcoat. Had they given up their pursuit, or slipped into hiding to await her next move? She scanned the horizon ahead of her and to her great relief detected the corner of a chimney scraping the sky. The rain began to fall harder, obscuring her vision.

Grabbing hold of the rail, she gingerly placed a foot on the first plank. The bridge trembled slightly but otherwise seemed solid enough. The way across couldn’t be more than a dozen yards, a stone’s throw. If she went quickly and remained light on her feet . . .

Halfway across, the bridge sagged beneath her weight. The stream lapped at her feet, shocking her toes with frigid water and making her afraid to move in either direction. Logic demanded she continue forward, but her next step produced a resounding crack.

The slat splintered in half and one foot fell out from under her, plunging calf deep into the racing water. She gripped the rails with both hands and for several seconds clung to hope. Then the bridge shuddered and broke apart. Holly felt herself falling, splashing into the frothing, frigid water, engulfed in her own terror and the relentless current.

#

Deep into the valley a mile and a half from Briarview, Colin shortened Cordelier’s reins to slow the stallion’s pace. The Exmoor ponies coursed around him and pounded past, their ranks narrowing as they surged between the rocky granite tors that ringed the valley’s eastern rim. Cordelier came to a restive halt, snorting and pawing the ground while the last of the herd disappeared at a gallop.

As the trembling of the ground stilled and the air quieted, the euphoric thudding of his heart eased and the rush of blood through his veins calmed. They were his responsibility, those ponies, and his duty to protect them brought him joy he never spoke of, not to another living soul. However much his father believed he owned the herd that roamed his land, Colin knew the ponies belonged to no man. They belonged to the earth, to tradition and legend. They were free, and only by the dictates of their collective will did they tolerate an outside presence among them.

As they tolerated Colin and Cordelier. As a boy he’d discovered that all he needed to do was ride out across the moors, and the ponies would gallop with him, accepting him as one of the herd. He didn’t understand it, but the realization had dawned that he belonged to them far more than they could ever belong to him. True, they needed his protection from those who would separate or abuse them—men like his father—or those who would destroy their native habitat, but he needed them just as much, for it was only with them that he felt truly alive.

He laughed out loud at the notion, a bitter sound bitten off by a rainy gust. Ironic that it took a herd of wild ponies to remind him that he was a free man with passions and dreams of his own, and not merely Thaddeus Ashworth’s heir. Here, on the upper reaches of the Devonshire moors, with the ground coursing beneath him and the sky stretching above, the pounding of hooves drowned out the cynicism and self-doubt his father had planted inside him at an early age.

At least, all that had been true as recently as two days ago. Now, however. . . .

The conviction had filled him that with Holly at his side, he had the power to break free of whatever curses, real or imagined, held him and his family. With her in his life, he might finally know happiness.

Sucking a draft of soggy air deep into his lungs, he swung Cordelier about and headed for home. Bringing Holly into his world would more likely change her life for the worse, than his for the better. It was not a chance he’d willingly take.

He neared Briarview’s forested acreage, preparing to jump Cordelier over the stream that looped around it. He leaned low over the stallion’s dark mane just as a tangle of rotten, broken boards rushed by on the water. Screams pierced the wind. Colin lurched upright in the saddle, prompting Cordelier to bounce to a stop. Colin pricked his ears, and another desperate cry sent Cordelier rearing up on hind legs, his front hooves thrashing.

Colin’s blood ran cold. The old footbridge. With a tap of his heels he and Cordelier set off at a gallop.

In less than a minute he came upon a half-submerged flurry of dark skirts and white petticoats; a pair of hands groped frantically at the air. Holly’s desperate face appeared briefly in the foaming waters. The current closed over her, flipped her around, and thrust her upward again. All Colin could see of her now were glistening, streaming ribbons of red hair. His heart rocketed into his throat. Oh, God . . . oh, God.

“Holly!” he shouted, “I’m coming!”

He turned Cordelier again and urged him to a full-out gallop along the bank of the stream. As he went, Colin slid free of the stirrups and slung a leg over the stallion’s neck so that both his feet dangled toward the water. Holding his breath, he waited until he rode up even with Holly, and then passed her by several long paces. In a few more yards the watercourse would narrow slightly—enough, he prayed, for what he intended.

A tightening of the reins slowed Cordelier to a canter. Colin mentally counted to three, then propelled himself from the saddle, hitting the bank with a force that clacked his teeth together. Using the momentum, he slid down the bank into the water. Submerged chest deep, he fought past the chill and battled the current to reach the middle of the stream.

His arms outstretched and his feet braced as solidly as possible against the rocky stream bed, he waited as swirling fabric, streaming hair, and Holly’s white, terrified face rushed closer. She hit him with an impact that knocked the breath from his lungs. His feet threatened to slip, his legs to swing out from under him. He closed his arms around her and she went limp against him, her own arms hanging slack, her legs tangling with his. The water clawed at her saturated skirts, almost prying her loose from his arms.

Clutching her tighter, he called on all the strength he possessed to hug her to his chest. He sidestepped toward the far bank, where the overhanging branches of a willow tree skimmed the current. Limbs stiff with cold and muscles aching from the exertion, he fought his way closer to the tree and chanced lifting one arm from around her. Reaching out, he gripped a branch and hauled himself and Holly out of the water and onto the muddy bank.

Her eyes closed, her body wilting against the ground, she showed no signs of consciousness. On his knees beside her, he swept the sodden snarls of hair from her cheeks and cupped her face in his hands. “Holly. Oh, God . . . please . . .”

He rubbed her cheeks, hands, and arms in a desperate attempt to force the blood to flow. Hunching over her, he slipped an arm beneath her shoulders and lifted her against him, pressing his lips to her forehead, to her mouth. Then he remembered something vital. As her sister had once done for Simon after an experiment had nearly killed him, he opened her mouth and breathed into her, forcing air in and out of her lungs. All the while he prayed and raged and promised God anything . . . anything. . . .

A sputtering cough sent dizzying relief all through him. Her eyelids fluttered, and a racking cough shook her frame. Over and over she coughed, cringing from the force, her shoulders wrenching.

Twisting away from him, she doubled over, her face hanging low over the ground as she gagged and purged the stream water from her lungs. Helpless to provide relief, Colin thrust an arm across the front of her shoulders to support her while with his other hand he gathered her hair and held it back from her face. Each convulsion echoed through him until the tension flowed from her body.

“What . . . happened?” Her head hanging, her voice came as a tremulous flutter. Wiping shaky fingers across her lips, she gazed feebly up at him. Her image blurred before his eyes, obscured by tears he couldn’t prevent. He felt her cold palm against his cheek. “You saved me.”

Then her hand fell away and she collapsed against him in a dead faint.

~

Last chance to leave a comment to be entered in my giveaway. There are three copies of RECKLESSLY YOURS and a $15 e-gift certificate, and I’ll be choosing the winners Monday with Random/org. Check back to see if you’ve won!

And if not, click on the covers below to see where you can find Recklessly Yours, and books 1 & 2: Most Eagerly Yours and Outrageously Yours…

It’s the weekend and we’re busy decking the halls here for Christmas. So no facts today…just danger and urgency and the spark of passion…in my favorite room of any great house – the library. I hope you enjoy this one!

Excerpt:

“Whatever you want, I have no interest. I demand you let me go this instant.”

His only response was his obscene laughter.

“Sir, you are in your cups.” She tugged for all she was worth. “Come morning you will regret your actions.”

“Shall I, mon amie?”

“Indeed, yes!” She lashed out with her hand, her palm striking the side of his head and not the cheek she had aimed for. But she was not Laurel Sutherland’s sister for nothing, nor Aidan Phillips’s sister-in-law, for that matter. They had taught her how to fight, to defend herself. If this man refused to behave like a gentleman, then it was time for her to stop behaving like a lady. She lifted her foot. . . .

Her knee hit squarely in the man’s groin. He let out a yelp, his arms loosening and opening a fraction of space between them. As he bent over, she seized the opportunity and swung her fists, jabbing at his throat, and something fleshier—his cheek this time? When he howled and lurched backward, she ran, blindly, having no notion in which direction she went. She only hoped she would end up at the library where she could escape to the terrace and the safety of the ballroom.

“Miss Sutherland, is that you?”

She collided with a torso—solid like the stranger’s yet familiar, protective. Arms closed around her, wrapping her in safety. “Lord Drayton? Please let it be you this time.”

The bravado that had saved her from that drunkard’s lascivious intentions now abandoned her in a torrent. Sobs choked her voice, strangling the syllables of his name. Until this moment, she had not realized how frightened she was. Who had accosted her? Could it have been Mr. Fenhurst, who had always been kind to her and her sisters? Or Lord Arnold, whose youthful wife proved he had a penchant for younger women? The man in the corridor had seemed larger and stronger than either of those two, but could her fear have magnified his size and strength?

She buried her face against Lord Drayton’s shoulder.

“What is it? What happened?” The questions came sharply, penetrating her fear, demanding an answer. “And what did you mean, by ‘this time’?”

She pressed her cheek to his coat front. “There was a man. At first I thought he was you following me . . . but . . .” She raised her face, taking in the firm lines of his chin, his jaw, the stony contour of his cheek. “It wasn’t you.”

“I did follow you, Miss Sutherland, but when I heard you stop in the corridor, I assumed—” He broke off. His hand cradled the back of her head, his fingers gently stroking her hair. The library door stood open beside them. Lord Drayton held her tightly, his lips tickling her ear as he made soothing sounds to calm her. She relished the reassurance of masculine superfine, and the muscle beneath, against her cheek.

“It was my own fault,” she said. “He must have seen me leave the ballroom and followed me. He must have assumed I went looking for . . . for . . .”

He framed her face in his hands and raised it from his chest until their gazes met. His voice, when he spoke, was as steely as a knife-edge. “What did he do?”

“He . . .” Now that she was safe, it all seemed a blur. He had seemed to materialize out of nowhere, from the shadows themselves.

An ill sensation rose, wrapped in layers of shame that forced her head down. There were reasons decent young women didn’t wander alone through dark corridors. She drew a steadying breath. “He seized me and refused to let go.”

The earl’s hands tightened until she could feel the calluses, acquired from years of riding, against her cheeks. “Did he take privileges with you?” When she didn’t answer, he spoke more loudly, more fiercely. “Did he hurt you?”

“He didn’t hurt me exactly. In fact, I may have injured him. I struck him and kicked him as hard as I could. Then I ran.”

She couldn’t be quite certain, but she thought the corners of his mouth lifted in what might have been a smile.

“Come.” His strong arm looped about her waist. As he walked her into the library, she didn’t know if it was lingering fear and shock that made her knees wobble, or the intimacy of his hold. But if not for his steadying arm and the solidness of his side against her, she would have toppled. He brought her to the settee before the fireplace and gently handed her down onto the cushions.

He crouched at her feet. His hand closed around hers, disconcerting and heavenly. “Did you recognize anything about him?”

She tried to focus on his question, rather than on those calluses across the base of his fingers, or on how she might lean over and press her lips to the silky hair at the crown of his head. “It was too dark. I could make out only that he was older than . . . than you. Not quite elderly, I shouldn’t think. Middle-aged.”

“Did he say anything?”

“Very little. He said . . . that he wasn’t you.”

The earl responded with a curious lift of his eyebrow, making her regret the disclosure. Don’t ask. Please, don’t ask.

He drew back a little. “Of all things, why would he declare that?”

“Because . . .” She sipped her sherry, wishing she could crawl into the glass and drown.

He grasped her wrist, and gently lowered her arm. “Why, Holly?”

The echo of her Christian name reverberated through her, then settled with a heated thrum deep in her belly. She had often heard him speak her sisters’ names, Ivy and Willow, even Laurel. But never Holly. Never once had he looked at her and allowed his lips to form her name.

How sweetly it rolled off his tongue, making her pulse leap, her heart swell. His presence suddenly filled the room, her world, and each breath she drew came laden with his musky scent, fueling a sudden longing to toss her sherry aside and throw her arms around his neck.

“Holly?”

She shut her eyes, blocking out the tempting sight of him. “I told you, I thought he was you. I thought you had been following me, and when he caught me, I . . . cried out your name.” Good heavens, she kept digging herself in deeper. What questions would he ask now? What answers would he demand?

“I was following you,” he said quietly but harshly. His subdued fierceness quickened her pulse. He rose higher on his knees, his hands sliding along her thighs to settle at her waist. His palms cupped her hip bones, raising an ache between them that nearly made her cry out his name all over again. She shut her eyes.

He swore under his breath. “I heard you running down the hall, and I followed until I realized you weren’t alone.”

Her eyes snapped open. “You heard him?”

“Yes, dammit. I could have spared you the entire unsavory experience had I not deemed my interference less than welcome.”

“You thought I’d gone to tryst?” Her stomach tightened into a ball of dismay.

It was his turn to lower his face in silent rumination. Holly slipped a hand beneath his chin, his evening bristle rough against her fingertips, disquieting and oddly reassuring at the same time.

Reassuring? By his own implied admission, he had believed the worst of her. The fact of it stung, but she couldn’t help repeating her question, though this time it came out as a statement. “You thought I’d sought an assignation.”

His nostrils flared. His eyes flashed defiance, but beneath it, uncertainty. Apology. “Yes. I am sorry. But yes.”

“You think that because I enjoy riding fast, I am fast.”

He seized her wrist. “Dammit, no.”

#

“I came back,” he said, the words both an avowal and a plea. Her wrist was small and warm, so delicate in his hand. He gazed down at it, then upward to the satiny whiteness of her arm, the skin so much paler, purer, than his own. “If I had believed you to be fast, I would not have come back to stop you. I would not have wished to save you from a grievous error.”

The error of giving herself to an undeserving boor like Bentley, or for that matter any other man on the face of the earth.

Any man that wasn’t him.

Never mind that he was the one man who couldn’t have her, not now, not at any time in his foreseeable future.

“You came back for me. . . .” Her voice melted to a soft little whimper that undid his remaining composure . . . and his resolve.

“Yes. God yes, Holly.”

He released her wrist and rose onto the settee beside her. Then she was in his arms, sinking into him, her fragrant warmth spreading across his shirt front. Months and months of standing firm fell away like a house of cards in a sudden draft, leaving him exposed, vulnerable, wanting.

He tried telling himself he’d allow nothing more than a brief touch of their lips, a small taste of what he could not have. But her lips were full and moist and at the slight prod of his tongue, they parted for him, invited him in, and sent him spiraling headlong into pleasure. She tasted of sherry and sweetness with a dash of spice, and every irresistible thing he could think of.

Until he could no longer think at all…

His hands began moving, exploring… His fingertips trembled over long, elegant lines and tight, exquisite curves. He had been correct about the riding. Where other women were soft and malleable, she was firm and sculpted, an artist’s masterpiece, but warm, alive, unknowingly seductive.

His lips followed his fingertips down the curve of her chin, the underside of her jaw, and down…but he tamped down every urge to proceed any further. If it killed him—which he feared it might—he would take no more from her than could be winked at in the morning.

For he knew—beyond a doubt—that Holly Sutherland would wink at none of this. She was no experienced paramour, and this was no conquest for her, no game of seduce the earl with which she would regale her friends afterward.

He would have bet a piece of his soul that each kiss, each touch, held meaning for her, or she would not be here, would not be kissing him back. All the more reason to let her go before another of their heartstrings tangled. He would not be like his father, a man who dallied with innocence, taking what didn’t belong to him without a qualm.

But he didn’t let her go. He held on and inhaled the fragrance of her skin and hair so deep as to never, ever forget it. He kissed every part of her that he dared—her throat, her shoulders, her lips—so he would always remember the feel of her, the taste of her on his tongue.

Then a thought, a prayer, sprang to his mind: perhaps someday . . .

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in my drawing. There are three copies of Recklessly Yours and one bookstore e-gift certificate to be won. Winners will be chosen on Monday!

One more excerpt tomorrow…

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