Sneak Peek: Mind Games

My latest novel, MIND GAMES, is available now on Amazon. It’s the first book in my new Fox County Forensics series blending romance with a CSI-style dive into forensic investigation.

Read the first chapter below.

“Today is the day,” Kelsey Granger told herself as she put her hand on the door of the Fox County Coroner’s Office.

She was alone in front of the building, her light brown hair pulled back in a professional ponytail and the top of her head growing warm in the late afternoon sun the longer she stood still.

It had only been a minute or two and she was pretty sure no one had seen her lingering there – inside the glass door there was a small lobby where the day shift receptionist, Reese, sat. She was always gone by the time Kelsey arrived for the night shift, but today she had come in early.

Today was a special day.

Reese’s desk was off to the side of the lobby and she’d have to lean over the counter to see Kelsey standing there like a dork with her hand on the door, doing her little ritual.

Better safe than sorry, though.

Kelsey put her hand back down at her side and took a deep breath, filling her lungs with hot summer air. It was a big day for her and she wanted everything to be perfect. She put her hand on the door one more time and said, “Tonight is the night. You can do this.”

There – that time felt right.

She tilted her chin up and pulled the door open, then went inside. The air conditioning hit her immediately, chilly against her bare arms in a short-sleeved button-up blouse. She smiled toward the desk. “Hi, Reese. Were we busy today?”

“Not particularly,” the girl said with a shrug.

She was in her early twenties like Kelsey, but unlike Kelsey, Reese didn’t seem fazed by anything other than office gossip. There could have been a mass casualty today and she would probably still have answered Kelsey’s small talk question with that nonchalant Not particularly.

Today, though, she gave Kelsey a second glance on her way through the lobby. “Slow days usually mean busy nights. You ready?”

Kelsey clenched her teeth to keep her smile from fading as a ripple of nerves rolled through her midsection, but she kept her chin up. “Sure am – I can’t wait for my first solo case.”

“Give ‘em hell, Kel,” Reese said, smiling back at her even though she was probably more amused by her own rhyme than at Kelsey’s unconvincing answer.

Kelsey went to the door on the back wall of the lobby. It led to the rest of the building and there was a keypad on the handle to keep members of the public – or the media – from wandering into the labs or, God forbid, the morgue.

Kelsey punched in her code, then headed to the forensic investigators’ cubicles.

She’d been working the night shift at the coroner’s office for about six months, shadowing and learning from the veteran investigators. During her job interview, the lead investigator, Maya, told her that most rookies needed about six months of training before they were ready to fly solo on death scenes.

“You’re right where you ought to be,” Maya had reassured her last month when Kelsey asked her about her progress. She’d given the same answer the month before, and the month before that.

Those words were meant to be encouraging, but Kelsey had always been at the top of her class. Sometimes it felt like the word overachiever was a flashing neon sign above her head, and she liked it that way. She didn’t take much comfort in being ‘right where she ought to be’ because her life already hadn’t turned out like it was supposed to.

A year ago, she was on track to go to medical school. She should have been dissecting cadavers in anatomy labs with her roommates right now, not investigating deaths for the Fox County coroner. But here she was, and whether it was med school or death investigation, Kelsey was determined to be the best. She just needed one last reassurance from Maya before she went out on her first death scene, and that was what brought her to the office several hours early for her shift. She had to catch Maya before she clocked out.

“Granger,” one of the other day shift investigators, Tyler, called when he saw her. “Are you pumped or what?”

Kelsey smiled. “I am.”

Tyler came over and clapped her on the back. He was a few years older than her and he’d been the rookie investigator before Kelsey was hired on. He’d only begun solo casework himself a few months ago and he used to work the night shift with Kelsey. They’d quickly become work friends and Tyler was always nice to Kelsey, unlike some of the more senior investigators.

They tended to be matter-of-fact or even blunt when she asked too many questions she already knew the answer to, or asked them to double or triple-check her work.

Tyler had transferred to the day shift last month and Kelsey missed him, but he had a wife and a kid at home so the move made sense. Kelsey had nothing waiting for her but a couple of messy roommates and a never-ending sink full of dirty dishes.

Kelsey set down her work bag at her cubicle. “I re-read my copy of the Death Investigator’s Handbook over the weekend, then I made myself a checklist just in case I forget anything,” she said.

Tyler laughed as she pulled the laminated list out of her bag to show him. “Isn’t that book, like, 500 pages?”

Kelsey shrugged. “I had nothing better to do, unless you count the investigation I conducted in my own kitchen on Sunday night to figure out which one of my roommates keeps leaving empty jars of peanut butter in the pantry.”

Tyler snorted and handed the laminated sheet back to her. “You’re more than ready. Relax – you’ll do fine.”

“I know,” Kelsey said, setting down the checklist and trying to be inconspicuous about lining it up with the edge of the desk.

“So?” Tyler asked. “Don’t leave me hanging. Who was the peanut butter culprit?”

Kelsey laughed. “Who else? Danica – she said it was not empty. According to her, there was at least a tablespoon of peanut butter clinging to the sides of the jar.”

She rolled her eyes – her roommates were both busy and stressed because of school and Kelsey wasn’t even supposed to be living with them in university housing after she dropped out. They were doing her a favor by keeping their mouths shut and letting her squat there while she saved up the money for a security deposit on a place of her own. So she let a lot of their bad roommate behavior slide and took on maid duties because she was the only one who actually cared how much peanut butter was in the jars in the pantry. In the grand scheme of things, she was lucky that was the worst she had to deal with.

She sat down to check her email and Tyler headed back to his cubicle, ready to end his shift. The room held about thirty investigators who, on three different shifts, served Fox County – population two million.

“Are you ready for this, Granger?”

Kelsey looked up from her emails and found Maya walking over to her cubicle. She balanced one arm on top of Kelsey’s cubicle wall, giving her a stern look.

Maya’s long, dark brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail just like Kelsey’s – pretty much the only appropriate hairstyle for a job that involved regularly coming into contact with dead bodies. But that was where Kelsey’s resemblance to Maya ended.

She was about ten years older than Kelsey, without so much as a wrinkle to prove it, and at least forty pounds lighter with prominent muscles beneath her crisp white shirt and black slacks. If she wasn’t investigating a death scene or grudgingly giving Kelsey her monthly pep talk, Maya was lifting weights or running on the treadmill in the gym she and a few of the other investigators set up in the building’s basement.

She was beautiful, strong, intimidating, and if she wasn’t so mean, Kelsey might have had a crush on her. But it would simply be masochism to be attracted to someone who consistently tore her confidence to shreds.

“Do you think I am?” Kelsey asked. “I re-read my handbook-”

“You gotta stop trying to be so damn perfect all the time,” Maya said. “Just relax. You’ve been trained well, lord knows you’ve studied that handbook enough, and if you get in any trouble, you can call one of the other investigators. Aaron’s working tonight – he’ll help you out.” She let out an audible sigh and added, “And if push comes to shove, you’ve got my cell. You can call me if you get in trouble – but try not to get in trouble.”

“Okay,” Kelsey said. She stood up and adjusted her posture, looking Maya in the eyes. “I’m ready to go solo.”

“Attagirl,” Maya said, adjusting the gym bag that Kelsey noticed was slung over her shoulder. She looked impatient to clock out. “Unless you need anything else, I’m heading out for the night.”

“No,” Kelsey said, her hand going reflexively to the laminated checklist on her desk. “I’ll be okay.”

Maya nodded, rapped her knuckles on the top of Kelsey’s cubicle wall, then headed for the time clock near the door. It was a few minutes after five and the day shift was about to clear out – the afternoon shift was already hard at work, and Kelsey planned to spend the next couple of hours mentally preparing herself for when a call came in for her.

It was usually quieter at night, but not always.

Just as Maya reached the time clock, one of the autopsy assistants ran into the room in a blind panic. She nearly knocked Maya off her feet.

“Who’s on shift?” the girl, Jordan, asked loudly, a wild look in her eyes.

Kelsey’s heart skipped a beat and she looked around the room. The two afternoon investigators weren’t at their desks. Kelsey looked to Maya, who was watching quietly – waiting to see if she’d step up.

Tonight’s the night – you can do this. Kelsey repeated her mantra, then stepped into the aisle. “I am. Did a call come in?”

“Yes,” Jordan said. “There’s been a boating accident on the lake – at least a dozen bodies. Should I tell them you’re on your way? You better take the big truck.”

“What?” Kelsey asked, all the courage draining out of her. “A mass casualty? Maya–”

“You told me you were ready,” Maya said. “Are you?”

“Yes,” Kelsey squeaked. “Okay…” She glanced at her checklist, trying to collect her thoughts. “Where’s my handbook?”

She was just reaching for a thick black paperback, praying she could quickly and efficiently refresh her memory on mass disaster protocols, when Jordan sputtered behind her and started to laugh.

Then she heard Maya cracking up, too.

Kelsey turned around, hoping she didn’t look as pale and drained as she felt. “Was that a joke?”

Jordan wore a broad smile, her pearly whites on full display as she cackled, amused at her own sparkling sense of humor. “You should have seen your face! I thought we were going to have to call a hearse for you.

Kelsey scowled, then looked at Maya. She could see from the smirk on her lips that they’d planned this together – a little practical joke to kick off the most important night of Kelsey’s budding career. And she’d fallen for it completely, just like she’d fallen into every other trap that Jordan the jokester had set for her over the last few months.

She was so hilarious.

Kelsey sighed and leaned against her cubicle wall, trying to catch her breath.

“Relax,” Maya said. It sounded like an order, and somehow that did calm Kelsey down a little bit. “We wouldn’t send a rookie to lead a mass casualty investigation – you know that. Now do whatever you gotta do to chill out before you get called out to a scene – nervous investigators make mistakes.”

Kelsey nodded, doing her best to keep her composure while Maya and the other day shift investigators clocked out and left one by one. On her way out the door, Jordan let out another guffaw and said, “That was too easy, Kelsey. Thanks for the laugh.”

Tyler mouthed the word breathe as he passed Kelsey on his way out. She nodded, wondering if he’d known about the prank and didn’t have the decency to warn her.

When she was finally alone in the office, Kelsey sank back down in her chair. She tried to take Tyler’s advice, putting one hand on her stomach and drawing in three long, deep breaths. She closed her eyes and felt the air inflating her belly. It was a strategy Kelsey’s therapist taught her – inhale to a count of four, hold for seven, exhale for eight. Repeat.

It worked little by little, bringing Kelsey’s heart rate down to a reasonable level, but it wasn’t quite enough. She needed to feel in control tonight so she went to the cabinet that held all the investigation kits – large, black plastic briefcases that weighed about twenty pounds each and held all the forensic evidence collection tools an investigator needed at a death scene.

Kelsey grabbed the kit that had her name printed on masking tape across the handle and carried it to a long conference table that doubled as the investigators’ break room. She grabbed a paper towel from the sink nearby and wiped the table down, then carefully lay out every item in her kit.

There were plastic evidence collection bags, swabs and vials, a gunshot residue kit, luminol for blood detection, a digital camera, latex gloves, and dozens of other specialized items. Spreading everything out neatly in front of her, taking inventory and putting it all back exactly as she liked it to be organized always made Kelsey feel better.

She carried out this unpacking and repacking ritual at the beginning of her shift almost every afternoon and sometimes when she had a rough one, she’d do it again before she clocked out. No one in the office knew she had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and she wanted to keep it that way, so it was lucky that they all just considered this ritual to be further evidence

of her fastidious personality.

She needed all the pieces to be exactly where they should be, packed precisely to make sure that once she got out on the scene, she’d have total control of her investigation. Tonight was more important that all the investigations she’d shadowed before, so Kelsey counted everything in the kit twice.

She retrieved her laminated checklist and added it to the kit, then counted it all one more time just to be safe.

Keep reading – get MIND GAMES on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited now

Lessons from the Coroner’s Office

My latest novel, Mind Games, is available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

This is the first book in my new Fox County Forensics series and if you enjoy shows like CSI and Rizzoli and Isles, I think you’re gonna love it.

Kelsey is an energetic rookie investigator determined to impress her boss despite struggling with OCD. Zara is the seasoned police officer who reports to Kelsey’s first death scene… and she just so happens to be terrified of dead bodies.

I had a ton of fun researching the forensic side of this romance. I’m lucky enough to have a little bit of personal experience – I interned at my county coroner’s office during high school, worked closely with the chemist and got to watch an autopsy.

But I also relied heavily on my dad for forensic details – he was an investigator for 30 years and he was really enthusiastic about being the ‘subject matter expert’ for Mind Games. I did a formal interview with him to get the basics down, and I thought it would be fun to share his answers!

Check that out below, and check out Mind Games on Amazon today.

What personal protective gear (PPE) do you wear during a standard autopsy?

Normally when doing an autopsy the PPE is linen type gown, plastic apron, gloves, shoe covers, and mask with eye protection. Also, under all of this is scrubs, top and bottom.

How long would it take for the investigation, autopsy and toxicology to be completed?

The autopsy a few hours, investigation at the scene from 1 hour up to 6 or 8 hours depending on complexity of the case. Tox could take a few hours up to a few days depending on what you are looking for. The more common the drug the less time the more exotic the drug the longer it may take. It may be that the drug you are looking for you don’t test in house and you may need to send out a sample for outside testing at a reference lab.

How long for the coroner to make a ruling and close the case?

It could take anywhere from 6 weeks (that’s a short time period), up to months. Again it depends on what you are waiting on. You could be waiting on further drug testing, more investigation, etc. It depends on the answers you get to what info you have requested. For instance you may ask the police to do further investigation depending on what you found at the autopsy. So, if you find blunt trauma on the body and want to know if there is anything at the scene that could have been used to make that mark, you would inform the police and ask them to do more investigation to see if they could find a weapon matching the mark on the body.

Are toxicology reports done for all cases? If not, what prompts the coroner to request it?

Normally tox is not done in all cases as a matter of protocol. But due to the drug epidemic we are in there is more emphasis on tox today than ever before. Tox will always be done in the case where the autopsy does not show a cause of death. Also, tox will be done if the person is a known drug user or there are drugs or drug paraphernalia found at the scene. Or just to rule out a drug overdose. Also, tox may be done as a matter of protocol in homicide cases.

If an investigator got bodily fluids on their clothes at a scene, what would they do?

I don’t think there is any protocol for that (although I may be wrong), but what I would do is to immediately change my clothes upon leaving the scene. And depending on the case, I may destroy the clothing. If the decedent is a high risk of communicable disease I would definitely trash the clothing at the office in a biohazard bag/container.

Can family members request copies of the coroner’s reports?

They can. Reports are public record.

What if the police are still investigating other aspects of the case?

If there is an ongoing investigation the case would not be closed, or signed out. And we would not release anything until it is signed out. We may speak with the family member to try to answer questions. Also, if there is potential litigation, such as in a homicide death we would be very careful in releasing any information including any reports. In that case where a request is made for reports in a homicide case we would confer with the Prosecutors office and let them make the call.

How many officers would respond to a death scene like the one in Mind Games?

Normally you would get the patrol officer responding initially. Then in the case of a death the patrol officer would call the detective bureau and on average 1 or 2 detectives would respond. This would depend on the complexity of the case and size of the police jurisdiction. Larger jurisdictions may have more people on hand to respond.

What about a scene where there’s a home invasion in progress, the suspect is fleeing on foot, there’s one resident injured and another dead? Would the police wait until the suspect was dealt with and the injured resident removed before they called in the death investigator?

Yep, that is usually the way it goes.

What do the police do to assist the investigator at the scene?

Normally the police do a criminal investigation and the ME investigator does a medical legal death investigation. Both sides work together to come to a successful conclusion. The police may answer questions the ME investigator has. For instance, if a gun was involved and it has been moved you may want to know who moved it and why. You may need to know who first found the body and where they are so you can interview them, etc. There are a host of questions you may have for the police regarding the investigation.

Does all evidence go with the investigator to the ME’s office, or does the police take some of it to the station? If it is split up, how do they decide what goes where?

Some goes to the police and some to the ME. This all depends on the jurisdiction. All are different. We usually let the police take any weapon but they are required to bring that weapon to the autopsy. We would take all medications and/or drugs. To decide who takes what that depends on what is going to be done with the evidence. Some evidence will be submitted to the BCI lab, that’s the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation. If it’s going to BCI the police would take it because they would submit it. No sense of us taking it then having to receipt it to the police so they can submit it to BCI.

When does the medical examiner (ME) release their evidence to the police?

That depends. If we do fingerprints, hair samples, nail clippings, body fluid collection that is done at the time of autopsy. When the police attend the autopsy we would release that evidence at the end of the autopsy. If the evidence is bloody clothing it needs to be hung up and dried before it can be bagged. If it is bagged wet it will produce mold. This drying process would take a day or two. Once dry we would contact the policed and let them know it can be picked up.

Under what circumstances does the ME retain evidence indefinitely?

Evidence that is retained is usually evidence that we have collected as a matter of protocol and may not be deemed evidence by the prosecutor. For instance we routinely collect Gun Shot Residue (GSR), this is a kit. We collect it routinely in the case if a suicide in case there is any dispute concerning the manner of death in the future. Fingerprints also fall into this category as well as hair samples, nail clippings and biological swabs.

Do all investigators use a communal set of investigation kits or is each investigator issued their own kit?

Our investigators all have their own investigation kit with standard items included. GSR kits, forms, blood tubes, camera, gloves, plastic apron, syringe, needles, etc. Big thanks to my dad for answering the thousand-and-one questions I had, and to everyone who’s been reading and reviewing Mind Games since its launch!

Grab your copy now

Lesfic Book Club: Strawberry Summer

For our June meeting of the Lesfic Book Club, we discussed Melissa Brayden’s novel, Strawberry Summer. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the transcript below.

A couple of notes on the transcript:

If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels every month at http://lesficlove.com (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading next). Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see that everyone has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc

I saw @Melissa Brayden sign up a little while ago, not sure if she’s back yet but just in case… hi, Melissa, we’re over here

Melissa Brayden

Hi, guys! I’m here!

Super excited to chat with you.

Reader 1

hey @Melissa Brayden good to have you!

Reader 2

Hi

Reader 3

Hi

Reader 4

Hi!

Melissa Brayden

Just finished a birthday party for my sister and snuck away to my childhood bedroom for book club!

Reader 5

Welcome Melissa.Everyone has been so excited to have you here.

Reader 6

Welcome, thanks for joining us!

Reader 7

Welcome @Melissa Brayden !!!!

Reader 1

Awesome lol

Reader 8

Hello and welcome!!

Reader 9

Hey @Melissa Brayden

Reader 5

You have the honour of Strawberry Summer being my first ever lesfic book.

Reader 10

Hello!

Reader 3

Melissa, how hard was it to kill off a popular character in SS?

Reader 11

@Reader 5 wow

Melissa Brayden

Oh yeah? That’s very cool. I still remember my first lesfic book VERY fondly. I was so amazed to have found int.

it*

Reader 3 – great question!

Reader 3

I’m having trouble getting mine to argue

Reader 5

Clay was the lovable big brother everyone wants!

Melissa Brayden

It was a tough decision. I’d been known as an author who was fairly light and fun in her work. So the concept of a death in SS felt like territory I wasn’t allowed to cross into. However, I knew it was the right thing for the story, despite the fact that I was stepping outside of my own comfort zone. I think it was the right decision.

Reader 12

I’m curious as to what inspired you to go with the strawberry theme.

Reader 1

I cried so much when Clay died. It broke me

Reader 6

Which book was it?

Reader 9

Right he was great

Melissa Brayden

Reader 6, the book was Behind the Pine Curtain by Gerri Hill.

Reader 1

I love Gerri Hill

Reader 12

Oooh… that’s a good book.

Melissa Brayden

Reader 12, the strawberry theme was inspired by a convo with my friend, Georgia (Beers). Shall I tell you the convo?

Reader 12

Sure.

Reader 3

Ooh I read that Pine Curtain recently – good book

Reader 9

Yes please

Reader 1

Of course it was haha that’s great ! I love Georgia she’s great!

Melissa Brayden

Georgia was writing a beer book at the time, and needed a title. She asked if we could bounce ideas. So I just started riffing. I do that without thinking, just off the top of my head. I knew that in sampling beer you encounter a lot of different flavors so I was tossing out titles with cinnamon and lemon and strawberry and offered up Strawberry Summer. She didn’t snatch it up by I fell in love with it. From that title, the whole strawberry concept came to life. She wound up calling her book A Little Bit of Spice (twisting my suggestion of A Little Bit of Cinnamon)

Reader 3

We’ve all done Georgia 2 months ago

Melissa Brayden

Oh, good!

Reader 12

Phrasing!

Reader 6

Not sure we should talk about her like that without her here to defend herself

Reader 11

I love it.

Reader 1

That’s awesome! It was a really good book!

Reader 2

That was a wonderful book too!

Reader 13

That’s such a fantastic title inspiration hahaha

Reader 8

That’s so cool!

Melissa Brayden

It was really fortuitous for me.

Reader 6

Do you often start with a title and go from there?

Reader 3

Just read Spice one too (sorry 9pm here can’t type)

Reader 9

That’s great title inspiration

Reader 5

I actually worked on a strawberry farm for 3 consecutive summers when I was at university. It was a much smaller operation than the Beringer farm though!

Melissa Brayden

Not generally, but this one really worked nicely. Titles are generally second to the story for me.

Reader 11

I love how so much of the community is so positive and supportive of each other

Melissa Brayden

But I take inspiration wherever I can get it.

Peri, I love a happy small town!

Reader 8

Yes! Agreed @Reader 11 – I liked that the stereotypical high school popular guy turned into one of the nicest characters

Reader 9

And the mean girl turned into a pretty nice woman

Melissa Brayden

NortherGirl – that’s awesome!!!

Reader 1

Yes loved that too! Even Melanie was spot on

Melissa Brayden

Lilly Craig – I think it’s important to me that my characters feel three dimensional and no one is all good or all bad.

Reader 2

As hard as Clay’s death was, I feel like it was the only way I’d believe them breaking up.

Melissa Brayden

Reader 2, agreed. It was necessary.

Reader 10

I grew up in a small town of 7,000 (though moved away before I came out)… and I felt that your town reminded me of growing up in my hometown. Do you (or have you ever) live(d) in a small town yourself?

Reader 3

I liked how you started the book. Lots of tense drama. Then suddenly we’re into sweet times and you’re thinking eh?

Reader 8

Can ask about your influences as a writer? I think your dialogue feels a lot like Buffy dialogue to me – I love it!

Reader 6

Agreed, the dialog was so fun in this book!

Reader 1

Bully’s are bully’s for underlying problems they themselves internalize so it was great.

Reader 9

I loved the way it was set in the past to reach the present had me on the edge of my seat the whole ride

Reader 1

I caught that too Reader 8

Melissa Brayden

Reader 10, I have’t and maybe that’s one of the reasons I romanticize them so much in my head and love to write them. I just finished a book with a small town and each time I go there with the setting, I just long for that slower paced life a little bit. Where everyone knows everyone .

Reader 4

Since I think I’m the only high schooler here, I’ll have to agree that all the descriptions of high school hierarchies are still spot on. Completely relateable.

Reader 5

Where did you get the idea of the department store? Here in the UK department stores and high streets in general are dying a death.

Reader 3

Does small town = village?

Melissa Brayden

Lilly – My influences are mainly rooted in romance novels themselves. I’ve never seen Buffy but I hear great things! Judith McNaught, Danielle Steele, Reader 10 Higgins, Jill Shalvis, Nora Roberts (specially Nora)

Reader 4, I’m thrilled to hear that!

Reader 1

Love Nora Roberts!

Good influences!

Melissa Brayden

Northergirl – I just love malls and the crisp air you encounter in the pristine department stores. Also one of my favorite romances, Paradise by Judith McNaught, has two feuding department stores so it stuck in my head.

Reader 3 – I think so (village)

Reader 3

My village has 1220 and I know a handful only

Reader 6

Hehe by choice or because everyone just keeps to themselves?

Reader 1

Where’d you get the idea for the House that was built over the lake? That was so cool

Reader 9

Right I was like I need that house hahah

Melissa Brayden

I think mainly I just wanted to live in one like that. I researched what was possible and went with it!

Reader 1

Same!

Reader 9

It was great

Reader 1

That’s awesome!

Reader 3

Although more people know me- are you that fruitloop with the 3 dogs? Er yep

Reader 6

Haha that’s a fun thing to be known for tho

Melissa Brayden

That’s awesome.

Reader 1

Reader 6 is the Bunny Whisper I’m sure!

Reader 10

That is a small town danger: I was a musician, so even if I didn’t know somebody in town, there was a distinct chance they knew who I was!

Reader 1

I feel like everyone knows me for they know my mom (she’s bartended for like 20yrs lol)

Reader 2

Yeah, a lot of people knew me, from all my extracurriculars, but I didn’t know that many people. Now I’ve been gone so long who knows?

Waiting in the Wings was my first lesfic, and also a second chance romance. Do you have a favorite trope, or sets of tropes?

Melissa Brayden

I’m a big fan of friends to lovers and enemies to lovers – and of course, reunion romances. I just finished one of those as well.

Reader 12

Have you ever thought of writing a romance set in a fantasy setting?

Melissa Brayden

I haven’t. I worry I’d be bad at it!

I’m always soooo impressed with those that do. Barbara Ann Wright comes to mind!

Reader 4

Reader 3 – Did you grow up there? If you grow up in a small town, everybody knows everybody. If you move there later, it’s actually pretty easy to remain “the stranger” for quite a while. Little opportunity for social interaction like clubs, etc.

Reader 3

I read the soho lift backwards would you recommend reading them in order. I guess there were spoilers from page 1 of book 3

Melissa Brayden

While I think you can read them in any order, you’ll get more out of the progression and character growth if you read them 1-3.

Reader 1

Which Is why I also read series in order even if they can be standalone lol

Reader 3

I did that with 7 shores. Only just read KTG today then immediately started on JTW because I wanted to follow on properly

Reader 1

Lol

Melissa Brayden

Reader 3, perfect!

Reader 5

I ask this at every book club Melissa but if it was made into a film who would play Courtney and Maggie?

Melissa Brayden

Hmmm….that’s really hard. I think a Reader 16ie Holmes type (but the younger version, maybe Dawsons Creek time period) for young Maggie. There’s sooooo many choices for Courtney, would be hard to pin down a favorite. A young Amanda Peterson, Reader 16e Hudson….Reese Witherspoon…..on and on and on.

Reader 1

I saw Reader 16ie Holmes and Reese Witherspoon for sure lol glad I pegged them right

Reader 13

Wow I would love to see this happen

Melissa, do you think we might see Maggie and Courtney pop up in any of your future work?

Melissa Brayden

I would like for them to! I really do miss those characters. They are on a short list of favorite characters Ive ever written.

Reader 1

I would love a sequel that would be great!

Reader 3

Do you have a dog and which out of the ones in your books is it? If any?

Melissa Brayden

I have two Jack Russell terriers. Apple, a girl, and Ryder, a boy. I don’t think I’ve written them in yet. Someday…..

Reader 5

I loved that you made Maggie’s mum a bodice ripping writer of romance!

Reader 9

Right that was epic

Reader 8

Agreed! And that Maggie cringed about it so much haha

Reader 6

Seconded – her little asides about what her characters were doing were fantastic

Melissa Brayden

Those were such fun scenes to write. It was important to me that she be warm and kind as a mom, but a total romance fanatic about her job. I like the dichotomy.

Reader 1

Loved that! It brought her mom to life for sure!

Reader 5

The characters all felt so rounded with their own quirks, such as Maggie’s Beatles obsession. Are you a Beatles fan?

Melissa Brayden

I am! I love the play, John Lennon and Me, and directed it once. It inspired that little piece of SS.

Reader 6

What’s your favorite part of the romance story to write?

Melissa Brayden

I really love writing the middle 2/3 section because the characters generally already know each other well and are HAPPY. The happy, playful, in love scenes are the reason I get out of a bed. They come to me fast and I end the day with a smile.

Reader 1

Loved those scenes! Makes me want to make out in the strawberry fields

Reader 2

Do you then struggle to write the conflicts, since happy is easy and fun?

Reader 6

You definitely excel at it – Maggie and Courtney’s chemistry was so immediate and intriguing

Reader 1

All because of Abraham Lincoln

Melissa Brayden

Reader 2, I think more so when I was a new writer. I wanted everyone to be happy all of the time. I’ve learned that’s now always the best thing for a romance arc, along with gentle prodding from the editor who worked on my first three books.

Reader 13

You’re sooo good at writing those happy scenes, they always feel warm & fuzzy but also like meaningful moments, beyond just fluffy filler (which is nice sometimes too!)

Reader 12

What were the easiest and the hardest things to research for the book?

Melissa Brayden

The hardest was definitely learning how a strawberry farm worked, because it can work a lot of different ways! The easiest was the department store, because those facts are soooo interesting. The shopping from left to right? Yeah…..

Reader 3

Yeah mollydollys went past me on the soho series but now I’ve read the sweet one I get it

Melissa Brayden

Aha, you caught that, huh? There was another secret How Sweet it Is reference in this book as well, but not many people caught it.

Reader 3

Give me a mo, I remember seeing something. Then of course there was Mal and Hunter (H mentioned) in7 shores.

Reader 2

Where do you fit on the scale of pantsing and plotting?

Melissa Brayden

I know the big plot points only and pants the other 80%. So I would say panther for sure.

For example, I knew Maggie was going to suffer a loss, but as I wrote it, I thought it would probably be Travis. But I pants my way to Clay, because that’s where the story took me.

Reader 2

impressive! I will remember that every time I wish I plotted more. haha

Reader 9

Wow interesting and impressive

Reader 2

Wait, so did you write the back story first and come back with the opening, or start with the present day and fill in the back story?

Melissa Brayden

I wrote this one entirely in order, so I started with the present day scene, then jumped backward – still not totally knowing how we got to that present day anger/angst.

Reader 6

Ooh interesting. That makes me wonder when you knew what Louis was going to do because I was on the edge of my seat about him for a while.

Melissa Brayden

I knew about Louis only as I went!

I didn’t have him planned in advance.

Reader 2

This is so much more impressive now!

Reader 5

Louis kinda made me feel uncomfortable.

Reader 3

It would have been so easy to kill him off instead

Reader 4

aw. Poor nerd.

Reader 2

He was a challenge, but I also liked that arc.

Reader 8

Holy, that’s so impressive!

Reader 6

I agree, @Reader 5 – an unpredictable, unstable person

Reader 1

I got that from Louis too. He was obsessive with Berta something bad had to happen because of him

Melissa Brayden

And killing him off wouldn’t have had the punch packing that a beloved character did. I really needed to upset the balance in place.

Reader 1

I got that too Clay was the right choice for the story.

Reader 2

Wait, so did you write the back story first and come back with the opening, or start with the present day and fill in the back story?

Reader 12

Who would be your favorite authors, both for lesfic and for non-lesfic?

Melissa Brayden

Lesfic would be Ann McMan, Georgia Beers, Robin Alexander. Non lesfic: Chevy Stevens, Nora Roberts, Reader 10 Higgins, Jill Shalvis

Reader 6

Did you befriend Georgia through lesfic or know her from elsewhere?

Reader 1

Robin is my new favorite right now. Working my way through her books about to start Scaredy Cat

Reader 5

Ooh I’m just on with the Jericho books. More small town charm.

Melissa Brayden

We met in 2010 at the GCLS conference. We wound up sitting next to each other for the keynote address and struck up a conversation. Then I saw her at each event that year and we really hit it off as friends. Now she’s my best friend.

Reader 1

That’s awesome!

Melissa Brayden

Northergirl – I love Jericho.

Reader 6

That’s awesome

Reader 12

That’s really awesome.

Reader 2

Now I’m even more curious about your writing process. Do you have anyone reading along or working with you during the process, like your editor? Or do you wait until you have a completed first draft?

Melissa Brayden

I do not let anyone read my manuscripts – only my editor. No beta readers or family or friends. Just me and her.

no one reads it until it’s in proofing.

Reader 8

Can you tell us a little about upcoming projects?

Melissa Brayden

Sure! My next release is another small town romance – Beautiful Dreamer. Similar to Strawberry in some ways and then not at all in others. After that in November, I have Back to September which is a small book shop owner and a famous romance novelist.

Reader 6

Ooh, fun!

Reader 8

Suuuper excited for Back to September

Reader 13

Pre-ordered on Amazon! Counting down the days until July 16th!!

Reader 3

I wondered if the cousin ballerina from KTG is mentioned in your ballet one. That’s one of the only ones I’ve not read yet

Melissa Brayden

Yes. She is.

Reader 3

Ha ha, I love how they all tie up

Reader 5

Could you ever see yourself doing a collaborative book?

Melissa Brayden

I think that might be hard for me. Never say never, but that concept makes me a little nervous. Im a bit of a control freak when it comes to creative endeavors.

I know Kris Bryant, Maggie Cummings, and M Ullrich had success with theirs.

Reader 2

I suspect it’s a lot harder when pantsing too.

Reader 14

I enjoyed the inclusion of the book club scene. Are you, yourself, part of a book club?

Melissa Brayden

No, but I DESPERATELY WANT TO BE. Another thing I romanticize. Sitting around and talking about books with wine. I would join their book club in a heartbeat.

Reader 1

Same

Reader 9

Most definitely seemed like a great book club

Reader 3

I’m in, come to the U.K.?

Reader 6

Agreed, sounds like heaven

Reader 12

Do online book clubs count?

Melissa Brayden

A little! But I do want to sit on the floor, in the evening, and drink wine.

Reader 2

probably wouldn’t hurt to get some adult conversation that doesn’t revolve around a little one too.

Melissa Brayden

EXACTLY

Reader 6

Which one of your books was your favorite to write?

Melissa Brayden

Waiting in the Wings, Kiss the Girl, and Strawberry Summer are tied.

Reader 6

Anything in particular about them that made them faves?

Melissa Brayden

Waiting in the Wings because I’d never written anything and it was so exciting to jump back into a STORY each day. Kiss the Girls because I loved the friends and it was my first time meeting the four of them. And Strawberry because the romance and it’s unravel pulled me in. I liked developing it.

Kiss the Girl***

Can’t typo my own book!

Reader 3

I love the books on the sets of friends. They seem such cool people to know

I even felt like learning to surf

Even my dog can surf

Reader 6

That is adorable!

Melissa Brayden

Yes, writing friends is so much fun. I have a new three book series coming up set on a vineyard.

Reader 3

Ooh if you need someone to taste test brands….

Melissa Brayden

Right? Planning on this being the best research ever? Maybe a wine trip is called for.

Reader 3

I gave you the idea therefore I should be in on this

Reader 15

Did I miss everything?

Reader 3

How hard do you find it to write with a toddler?

Melissa Brayden

It’s impossible! I only write in the first half of the day when he’s at daycare. The afternoons and evenings are reserved for him. If I have any loose ends, I tied them up after he goes to bed for the night. Writing with him present will just not work I’ve learned.

Reader 2

It won’t get better for a while either. But then he’ll go to school.

Has your writing approach or schedule changed since becoming a mom?

(on the same page @Reader 3! lol)

Melissa Brayden

Yes, I used to be able to take all day to hit my word count. I have to be more structured now and have my count hit before 1pm.

Reader 5

Of the other couples you’ve written which is your favourite? I loved Hunter and Samantha.

Melissa Brayden

That tends to change. I do adore Sam and Hunter. Brooklyn and Jessica rank high for me too. As do Maggie and Country and Jenna and Adrienne.

Courtney*

Reader 6

Do you have any particular process for choosing character names?

I liked the Maggie/Margaret duality depending on who she was talking to (and how she felt about them)

Reader 3

Just finished Sam & Hunter, on p203.

Yeah she gets Hunter an awesome name and her siblings are Claire and Kevin ???? WTH

Melissa Brayden

I think they need to fit the character. For example, Courtney. I wanted to find a name that felt softer, and girlish because that’s how the character felt. I have to LIKE the name or I can’t work with it.

HAHA. Yes, Hunter was COOLER than her siblings. That’s why.

Reader 6

Haha sometimes it just works out that way

Meant to be from the time she was named

Reader 5

Hunter was effortlessly cool!

Reader 1

I find it extremely hard to write with a toddler lol

Melissa Brayden

It’s near impossible.

Reader 1

It is. Mine thinks she needs to help with everything I do so… It’s nearly impossible. (I also own my own business and I’ve slacked a bit because of her lol)

Reader 3

Good news, as they grow they bring new challenges. Terrible twos, they seem bliss compared to the answering back, rebellion, slamming doors etc etc and that’s just me

Reader 2

All ages were easier than 4 and a quarter. This one might break us.

Reader 3

Yup, you survive… then hit the next hurdle that flattens you again … and repeat

Reader 1

Pretty much! Potty training is hell

Reader 5

Do you get much of a chance to interact with readers like this? Do you enjoy it?

Melissa Brayden

I do! I do a book club about once a month, it seems. Sometimes in person, sometimes on Skype, or sometimes typing like this. I love it! Beyond that, I do about 4-5 author/reader in person events each year (my favorites being the Golden Crown Literary Conference and Women’s Week in Provincetown each year. I did Clexacon this year, which was new, but. loved it!)

Reader 6

That sounds kind of scary haha Would you consider yourself an extrovert?

Reader 3

Do you do worldwide tours?

Reader 16

Courtney seemed so cosmopolitan and sophisticated and Maggie was always in awe of how our together she was. What was the inspiration behind her character?

Melissa Brayden

I think we always look to the popular girl in high school and wish she noticed us more (Whether romantic or not. I think straight girls do that too). And I wondered, what if she did? What if she were popular, and kind, and NOTICED the other MC who’d never really been noticed before? That got me excited to write.

Reader 1

That’s what I loved the most she was able to be in both worlds and bring them to the other side. And then Melanie became one of Maggie’s best friends it was nice to see. Which is what happens after high school.

Reader 16

*put

Reader 3

Ooh just remembered a question. Back to soho on the KTG cover its Brooks, but which of the two is it meant to be on JTW? I’m thinking Sam but then the tan?

Melissa Brayden

I think you can choose, but for me, it’s Sam.

Reader 3

Yeah Hunter has black hair. I find her the hardest one to imagine. Is she based on anyone I can google

Melissa Brayden

She is not based on anyone in real life, no.

Reader 3

Shame I like to picture everything in my head as I read and I hate not getting a visual of an mc

Reader 2

What got you started with writing?

Melissa Brayden

I’ve always been a storyteller. I worked in educational theatre (directing shows), I ran a small production company (editing stories), and I was a TV news reporter (also constructing stories) – so this was just another extension of that skill. I had a summer off and had never written anything before in my life. I gave it shot with Waiting in the Wings and submitted just for fun. I never thought it would get accepted. After that, I thought it might be some nice vacation money. When my full time job’s salary was overtaken and then doubled, I knew it was my new full time gig.

Reader 2

Impressive debut!

Melissa Brayden

I was very lucky.

I think it’s harder now.

Reader 2

Because of how many books are available? I still think that book would have stood out no matter what.

Melissa Brayden

Yes, even if you write a fantastic book now, the self publishing model Amazon offers has allowed so many titles to flood the genre, that my fear is that good authors are having trouble being seen

Reader 3

I’ll let you know, I’m working on my debut

Reader 2

To some extent. It also is easier to find readers, thanks to twitter and fb groups

Reader 6

Coming up on close to an hour, Melissa I don’t want to keep you too long if you have to get back to the party? Does anyone have any unasked questions?

Reader 5

Thanks for joining us Melissa.

Reader 1

Thanks for talking to us Melissa!!

Reader 13

Thank you so much Melissa!!

Reader 3

Thanks Melissa. I am a true fan and this has made my month/year

Reader 16

Thank you so much Melissa!

Reader 4

ess, Thank you!

Reader 10

Thank you!

Reader 8

Thank you for joining in and answering questions!

Melissa Brayden

I had the BEST TIME!!!

I love talking about books!

Reader 2

Thanks for sharing and giving us panters someone to idolize.

Melissa Brayden

(they say some of the best characterization comes from pantsing)

Reader 2

I shall use this forever hahahaha

Reader 12

Thanks for writing all these awesome books.

Reader 6

Thanks for joining us, Melissa – it was great having you and feel free to pop by the Slack channel if you ever want to chat or promo a new release

Melissa Brayden

I think I will, now that I know where to find it. Have a great Sunday everyone!

I wrote a novel with Anna Cove!

Keep your lover close and your enemy closer… especially if they’re the same person.

Madison Blackstone is a lone wolf thief on a mission to win back the only family she has left. When a rare book surfaces on the black market, it’s just the thing to buy her brother’s love. The only thing is, she has to quit the heist lifestyle to earn his trust. Madison has planned her final job meticulously, but even in her wildest dreams she could never anticipate a rival like Cass.

Cass Hartley is fallen swindler royalty… fallen ever since her foolish heart got her legendary parents caught and jailed. A rare book with a hefty reward to pay back old debts should go a long way to clearing her conscience, and it should be an easy job – if Cass was the only one going after it.

When Cass and Madison meet, it’s inside a bank vault at midnight and they’re both reaching for the same safe deposit locker. Things go sideways fast as crew rivalries, double-crosses and vicious guard poodles foil their plans.

And then there’s the undeniable attraction building between them in tight spaces, dark rooms and adrenaline-fueled adventures. It has Madison questioning her choice to go clean, Cass wondering if she’s falling into the same old traps, and their crews wondering what the heck got into them.

Working together is the only way to get the book, but can they trust each other with the most precious treasure of all – their hearts?

From the bestselling Cara Malone and Anna Cove comes a fun, flirty book heist with twists, turns, and an unexpected romance.

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited on March 25th!

Sneak Peek: Fairest

My latest novel, FAIREST, is available now on Amazon. It’s the latest in my contemporary fairy tale series, and while the setting will be familiar if you’ve read Seeing Red and Cinders, it’s a Snow White story that can be read as a standalone novel.

Read the first chapter below.

I can’t believe he took my phone.

That was the detail Luma White was focused on as she sat in the passenger seat of her Audi, hands bound in front of her and a blindfold slipping down around her nose. Her phone – how much of an eighteen-year-old girl could she be? That was what she was most concerned about, but on the other hand, it was easier to fixate on the phone than on everything else.

She’d been in the car for about three hours now. The blindfold – made of some ridiculously silky fabric, definitely not kidnapping-grade – had begun sliding down her nose about an hour into the trip and she was grateful for that. Riding in a car with her eyes shut always made her feel sick, and when her captor noticed that she could see again, she convinced him not to cover her eyes again.

“I’m already lost,” she said. “Isn’t that why you blindfolded me? So I wouldn’t know where we’re going? Mission accomplished.”

The man driving Luma’s car was her stepmother’s bodyguard, Antonio. Slave would have been a more appropriate word for how that woman treated him, but he’d always been nice to Luma.

Well, until today.

At least she was going to get through this without being sick. Silver linings and all that.

They were driving on a narrow, somewhat primitive road with tall, evergreen trees on either side. It was dark thanks to the forest’s dense coverage even though they started driving around noon. Antonio had appeared in the doorway of Luma’s room and told her he needed help running an errand for her father – that was a little unusual, but nothing to raise her suspicions. By the time he was opening the passenger door of Luma’s car for her, telling her they were going to pick up some files at her father’s office, Luma started asking questions.

How did you get my car key? was the first one, but she never got an answer to that.

Once she was in the car, Antonio locked the doors and told her to put the blindfold on. Luma objected, and that’s when things got scary. He’d forced the blindfold over her eyes and she’d spent the first whole hour of the trip frantic.

The errand to her father’s office was a lie and Luma should have seen it coming – Antonio worked for her stepmother, and her father was out of the country. Luma hadn’t even questioned it when Antonio said it was for her father.

If Luma was thinking clearly, she should have been memorizing the turns of the car, paying attention for sounds outside that could help her, and keeping better track of the time. But she’d known Antonio ever since she was a kid – since her stepmother, Tabitha, did her Vogue modeling spread and picked up a stalker in the process. She hired Antonio to keep her safe, and Luma always felt safe around him, too.

Now, she was just scrambling to try and figure out what had changed.

Was he kidnapping her?

“Where are you taking me?” she’d asked before she realized the futility of demanding that sort of information from someone who’d blindfolded her. When she got her wits about her a little more, she asked, “Why do I have to be blindfolded? Did Tabitha ask you to do this? What are you going to do to me?”

Antonio didn’t respond to any of her questions. He was deadly silent from the driver’s seat, and when Luma’s blindfold began slipping down her nose, she could see that his eyes never strayed from the road ahead. Please just look at me, she thought. What are you doing?

Her last-ditch attempt to snap him out of whatever had overcome him was a threat that sounded weak even to Luma’s own ears. “Wait until my father hears about this.”

“Shut up,” Antonio said. “Please, just keep your mouth shut.

It wasn’t a favorable response, but at least he’d said something. His words sounded almost as pleading as Luma’s own questions, like he was frantically trying to find a way to justify all of this. Tabitha had to be behind it. Of course – Tabitha had always hated her.

So Luma shut up, and she waited.

She tried to be patient and wait for Antonio to come to his senses. He’d do the right thing – she just had to give him time to come to his senses. He’d abducted his boss’s stepdaughter while her husband was out of town on business. Antonio was probably just trying to figure out how to take Luma home without letting her father know what he’d done.

Or rather, what Tabitha had ordered him to do.

It had to be the stupid modeling contract, Luma thought while Antonio drove them deeper and deeper into the woods. Damn it. I don’t even want to be a model.

Tabitha had blown up at her yesterday. She’d gone downtown in the morning to get her lips plumped and the aesthetician had used a new type of filler. Tabitha’s lips had blown up like balloons and she came home looking like she had a pair of plump red hotdogs beneath her nose. They looked painful and she was irritable, and then she’d seen the contract that Luma had left on the desk in her father’s study.

Luma wanted him to review it when he came home from his business trip. She’d never imagined herself as a model, never wanted that kind of attention, but people kept saying she was beautiful and it was a natural fit for her. She’d gone to the modeling agency mostly to humor the agent who kept trying to recruit her, and because she was eighteen now and she still didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Why not a model? she thought when they offered her the contract. So she brought it home and promised the agency an answer just as soon as she had a chance to discuss it with her father.

Then Tabitha saw the contract and lost it. Luma had never seen her so angry, actual spittle flying from her over-puffed lips as she slammed the contract down in front of Luma.

“You don’t even want to be a model,” she said, narrowing her eyes at Luma. “You don’t want your trust fund, either. You don’t appreciate anything you’ve got, and it’s all just been handed to you. Ungrateful girl!”

Tabitha hadn’t spoken to Luma since yesterday, but the longer Antonio drove, the more certain she was that this was all Tabitha’s doing. Am I ungrateful? she was wondering for the hundredth time when the car hit a pothole and she could no longer ignore the fullness of her bladder.

“Antonio?” she asked softly.

“Don’t talk,” he said.

“Antonio,” she insisted, trying not to anger him. “I really have to pee. I can’t hold it much longer.”

She looked at him, and for once, he looked back at her. She was begging him, wordlessly. Please. On top of everything else, please don’t put me through the humiliation of wetting myself. He hadn’t listened to anything else she said so far, but the desperation in her eyes was what finally cracked him.

He sniffed, then looked at the clock on the dashboard – probably trying to figure out how far they’d come from the house. Far enough – Luma’s father loved to be in the middle of the action and he’d built his mansion in the center of the city. Luma had never even been this far into the wilderness and it might as well have been a whole other country.

“Fine,” Antonio said. “Hold on a minute.”

“Thank you,” Luma said. “Thank you, Tony.”

He scowled at her. Was that too much, calling him by his nickname? He never minded it before, but he’d never abducted her before, either. Antonio found a dirt road that branched off the two-lane highway and turned onto it. Road was pretty generous, actually – it was barely more than a couple of grooves worn into the dirt. He drove the car just far enough so that it wouldn’t be seen from the road, then turned off the engine.

The passenger door unlocked automatically and Luma reached for the handle, but Antonio locked it again with the push of a button on the driver’s side door. “I’m coming around to get you.”

“Okay,” Luma squeaked. When he opened the door from the outside, he extended his hand to help Luma out – probably more through instinct than anything else. She took his hand, shaking her head so the blindfold fell all the way down to her neck, and she said hopefully, “You know, Tabitha gets in her moods all the time. I bet by the time we drive home, she’ll have forgotten what she was mad about.”

“Do you have to pee or don’t you?” Antonio asked.

“Yeah, I do,” Luma said. “But-”

She wanted to know what he was thinking. There was a wild, cornered look in his eyes that she really didn’t like, and things suddenly felt a whole lot more dire now that the two of them were standing alone in the great silence of the forest.

“Go, then,” he said. “There’s a bush right over there.”

“Okay,” Luma said meekly.

Her bladder really was aching – she’d just finished a pretty big smoothie when Antonio came into her room and she’d been squirming in her seat for quite a while. Trying not to think about how badly she had to go was the only thing that had been distracting her from the awfulness of the situation, but she couldn’t ignore it anymore.

She went behind the bush, the heels of her shoes sinking into the soft earth and pine needles poking her bare legs as she lifted her skirt. Just as she was beginning to feel a bit better – about one thing, at least – she heard the Audi’s engine roar to life.

Oh God, he’s leaving me out here!

Luma rushed to rearrange her skirt and darted out from behind the bush just in time to see Antonio floor the gas pedal. The tires spun in place for a moment, kicking up dirt and moss from the forest floor, and then the car gained traction and Antonio drove it straight into a tree.

“What the hell?” Luma shouted as the hood crumpled slightly and the engine died. A small tendril of steam was rising from the car and Luma ran around to the driver’s side. “Antonio, are you okay?”

She got there just in time for him to open the door – he had to put his shoulder into it since the collision had bent the frame of the car. He got out, unscathed, and Luma looked at him wide-eyed and speechless.

Antonio put his hands on her shoulders, their eyes locking as he said, “Your stepmother ordered me to bring you out here and kill you. I’ve been going over it in my head for the last three hours, trying to imagine a world in which I could do that, and I just can’t.”

Tabitha wants me dead?

A jolt of fear ripped through her, followed by a twinge of relief. Antonio said he couldn’t do it – so where did that leave them? Standing next to the smoking remains of Luma’s car, that was where. No matter what else happened, they weren’t going to be driving out of there.

“Listen carefully,” Antonio said. “You met with the modeling agency yesterday. They sent you on a go-see and that’s where you were going today – you were driving alone, a deer jumped in front of your car and you crashed. You must have been disoriented – maybe you hit your head. You wandered into the woods and no one heard from you again.”

“But Antonio-”

“Tabitha has her eyes on your trust fund,” he continued. “You know that, right?”

“I know she hates getting an allowance from my father,” Luma said, swallowing hard. “But this is about the modeling contract, isn’t it?” He shook his head and Luma had never seen him so serious. “She really wants me dead?”

“I’ve been her right hand for ten years,” Antonio said. “I know her better than anybody and I know when she’s serious about something. Luma, you have to disappear or she will kill you.”

“What about my dad?” she asked. “Let’s call him, or-”

Or the police, she thought.

“I can’t do that,” Antonio said, glancing at the car. “You don’t know what she’s capable of.”

“I think I have some idea,” Luma said, crossing her arms over her chest. She had no phone, no money, and no idea where she was. If she screamed at the top of her lungs right now, no one but the birds and other forest animals would hear her – and Antonio, who’d already made up his mind.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “You really don’t. Trust me, Luma, for your own safety – and mine – you have to let Tabitha think you’re dead. If you come home, she’ll kill you and then she’ll kill me for not doing the job myself.”

Luma’s mouth dropped open as she attempted to process all of this, trying to formulate a response that never materialized.

“Just disappear, Luma,” he said. A tear ran down his cheek and he added, “I’m sorry.”

He turned and started walking back toward the road, and Luma called after him, “Antonio.”

When he turned around, she asked, “Are you planning to walk home?”

“I’ll figure something out,” he said. “So will you.”

Shit. Antonio turned around and headed back up the dirt path to the highway, and Luma just stood in the forest for a minute, trying to wrap her mind around what just happened.

She tilted her head back, feeling a headache coming on. The forest was actually kind of beautiful, shafts of sunlight breaking through the evergreens and highlighting the pine needle-carpeted forest floor.

A bird chirped, unseen, in a tree somewhere close and Luma thought it sounded like a cuckoo. Her high school biology teacher had been obsessed with birdsong and Luma had a lot of them memorized even though she’d rarely heard them in real life. Cuckoos weren’t city birds.

“What the hell am I supposed to do now?” she asked the forest, and because the trees didn’t talk and birds rarely sang their songs in English, she received no answer.

She went over to the car and tried the key in the ignition, but the engine was shot and it wouldn’t turn over. She went through the glove compartment and the trunk, looking for anything that could help her, but she’d never been more than a phone call away from AAA.

The glove compartment held nothing helpful and Luma was all but useless without her phone, anyway.

She was stranded and she had no choice but to start walking. Her heels kept sinking into the loamy forest floor as she picked her way back up the overgrown dirt path and she was actually relieved when she got to a paved road. Her kitten heels weren’t made for hiking, but at least she could get her footing on the road.

At least I’m alive.

That was not a thought she expected to have that day. She kept walking, trying not to focus on all of the questions stretching out on the road in front of her. Where am I going? What will I do when I get there? Do I go to the cops? Will Tabitha retaliate against Antonio – or even my dad – if I do?

They were all unanswerable, insurmountable problems.

And then Luma started to hear pine needles crunching in the forest beside the road. She turned her head and for a fleeting moment, she wondered if Antonio had a change of heart and was coming back for her.

Or coming back to finish the job. Tabitha always did have an otherworldly ability to know when her demands were not being met. She was a woman of means and beauty – or at least she used to be – and it was pretty rare that anyone dared to disobey her. Did Antonio call her after he crashed Luma’s car? Did he cave already and admit that he hadn’t done what Tabitha asked of him?

Then all of those worries dissipated and Luma’s heart arrested in her chest.

A fat black bear was lumbering toward her out of the forest, no more than thirty feet away. It turned its head sideways at her, wondering how it had gotten so lucky that its next meal had delivered itself to the woods. Its mouth opened, a hint of long, sharp teeth poking out from under its lips, and then Luma was running.

The bear emerged onto the road, looking like it didn’t mind chasing down its dinner. Luma ran as fast as her feet would carry her, and when one of her heels fell off, she barely gave it a thought. She limped a few steps and then kicked off the other shoe, hardly losing speed.

She made it about fifteen yards away and then a second bear emerged from the woods, standing in front of her. If a bear could speak, this one would have said, Gotcha.

Are you freaking kidding me? Luma thought.

When the bear in front of her growled, she ducked off the open road and through a tangle of what turned out to be pricker bushes. They cut into her bare arms and legs, but Luma fought her way through them. Her stepmother put a hit on her, her father was away on business, and Antonio had just smashed her car. She was not about to be eaten by bears on top of everything else.

Luma didn’t turn around to find out if the bears were giving chase. She didn’t acknowledge the pain of each pine needle stabbing into the tender soles of her feet, or the scratches and pinpricks of blood covering her arms and legs. She just ran until her lungs burned and her thighs ached, until she had to stop or else she’d fall down in exhaustion.

When she finally did stop, leaning against a tree and panting to catch her breath, Luma looked back. There was no bear, and there was no visible path back to the road. She couldn’t see the road at all anymore, and she couldn’t even say with any certainty which direction she’d come from.

“I’m lost,” she said to the forest, tears springing to her eyes. “I am lost in the woods.”

She might not have spent much time in the forest before, but Luma knew from her schooling that it went on for hundreds of miles. People got lost in the forest every year, some of them died, and Luma was no Girl Scout.

She sank to the ground, her skirt riding up her thighs as more pine needles jabbed into her skin. She put her head back against the tree and her long black hair snagged against the rough bark. She looked up. The only thing she had going for her was the fact that it was spring, the days were getting longer, and she still had a good five hours of daylight left – not that she had any idea what to do with it.

Then, above the tall trees, she noticed a thin tendril of smoke in the distance.

Luma watched it for a minute or two, expecting it to disappear, but it persisted – it was a sign of life and her best shot at survival. She got up, brushed the pine needles off her skin, where they were stuck to her by a thin sheen of sweat, and started walking.

Limping was more like it, and she winced with every step. Her shoes were lying on the side of the road, or perhaps had become the bear’s new chew toys. She had no choice but to pin all her hopes on that tendril of smoke.

If she was lucky, it was the smoke from someone friendly’s fireplace.

What she found, at least an hour and many, many painful pine needles later, was a cottage in a clearing. It was all by itself in the woods, no sign of civilization nearby, and the smoke trail Luma had followed was coming from a large brick structure outside the cottage. It was about six feet square – a fireplace of some sort, closed on all sides with a large steel plate on the front that looked like a door, plus a chimney on top.

“Hello?” Luma called. Her voice echoed softly against the trees but no one answered.

She left the fireplace and walked around to the cottage door. Someone had swept the dirt around the perimeter of the building, a welcome reprieve from the pine needles that had rendered Luma’s feet numb.

She knocked on the door, waited and listened for a minute, then called, “Hello? Is anyone home?”

No one answered. Luma tried to peek in the windows, but they were covered with a film of dirt and she couldn’t see inside. If it wasn’t for the smoking fireplace, she would have thought the cottage was abandoned.

She knocked again, then tried the doorknob.

It turned easily and the door swung inward. Luma called again, “Hello? I’m sorry to intrude, but I could really use some help.”

There was still no answer, and she glanced back toward the forest, then down at her own scraped and dirty limbs. It was either stay outside and risk another encounter with that bear, or go inside and hope the cottage had a telephone. At the very least, she could get cleaned up and dig the pine needles out of her feet.

Luma inched her way inside.

Read FAIREST on Amazon now

Lesfic Book Club: A Knight to Remember

For our April meeting of the Lesfic Book Club, we discussed Bridget Essex’s novel, A Knight to Remember. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the transcript below.

A couple of notes on the transcript:

If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels every month at http://lesficlove.com (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading next). Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see that everyone has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc

Bridget Essex [4:01 PM]

Howdy, lovely folks! :heart: Happy to be here!

Reader 2 [4:01 PM]

Happy to have you!

So let’s kick things off… what’d everybody think of A Knight to Remember?

Reader 1 [4:02 PM]

Loved it!

Reader 3 [4:02 PM]

My first foray into lesbian+scifi/fantasy (les-fi?). Really enjoyed it!

Reader 4 [4:03 PM]

I give it an F for fantastic. And fantasy. And fun.

Bridget Essex [4:03 PM]

Yay! :dancer::dancer::dancer:

Reader 2 [4:03 PM]

Les-fi, nice

Reader 5 [4:04 PM]

Loved it! I want my own Virago!

Bridget Essex [4:04 PM]

Ha, yeah, I like that–and an “f” for all those fantastic words? Pretty much the greatest right there. :slightly_smiling_face:

I’ve been writing my fantasy books since I was a teenager, and I was told *so* many times that no one would want to read fantasy with a lesbian lead. So not true! :heart:

Reader 6 [4:04 PM]

I like the bedroom scene

Reader 5 [4:06 PM]

The bedroom scene was amazing!

Reader 7 [4:05 PM]

Lesbians certainly will 😉

Bridget Essex [4:05 PM]

*sweeping bow* Hooray! Thanks, Reader 6! ;D

Reader 5 [4:05 PM]

Do they not know us! Haha fantasy lesbian is the best way to go!

Bridget Essex [4:05 PM]

Exactly!

Reader 7 [4:05 PM]

I think people also need to learn to separate traditional fantasy like tolkein from other fantasy

This stuff I love! Epic fantasy not so much.

Reader 8 [4:06 PM]

I also think that sometimes genre-labeling gets in the way of me finding good books, because I think I won’t like the genre.

When I actually give them a chance, I find gems I normally wouldn’t pick up

Reader 2 [4:06 PM]

So glad you just wrote them anyway!

Bridget Essex [4:06 PM]

Aw, you folks are slaying me with happiness. :heart: Thank you!

:heart: Thank you so much, Reader 2!

What I wanted to do, when I set out with A KNIGHT TO REMEMBER, is teach folks that fantasy isn’t necessarily scary. I start with something really normal, then gently ease you into it.

Reader 4 [4:07 PM]

I was reading a manga a while back that dealt with a female knight that was transported to another world (part of the isekai or “other world” genre in Japan) and the government there discovered the existence of someone from another world along with the existence of magic. The first thing they did was quarantine her and run all sorts of tests on her, including getting her to demonstrate her magic repeatedly. Do you think something similar would happen to Virago if the government had found out about her existence?

Reader 3 [4:08 PM]

Reader 8 – Agreed. I avoided one of my favorite books just because it sounded like a “lesbian with super powers” book.

Bridget Essex [4:08 PM]

Oh, lordy, probably! Virago would suffer in silence during this for a little while, and then she’d say her mission was too important and break the chains, so to speak! :slightly_smiling_face:

Oh, what’s your favorite book, @Reader 3, that sounds really good!

Reader 3 [4:09 PM]

Colorblind, by Siera Maley. Maybe not “favorite, but really good.

Reader 5 [4:08 PM]

Exactly fantasy doesn’t have to be scary! Which is what is great with yours!

Reader 6 [4:08 PM]

Bridget, you write great shifter stories. I guess those are fantasy, although For some reason I only think princess and knight when I think of fantasy.

Bridget Essex [4:09 PM]

There’s this enormous umbrella, and it’s called Speculative Fiction. Underneath that, you have paranormal, horror, fantasy, science fiction. :slightly_smiling_face: I write spec fic!

Reader 2 [4:09 PM]

I loved how confident and awed Virago was the whole time – if I got transported to another world I’d probably be hiding and crying :joy:

Reader 9 [4:09 PM]

Did you nearly kill off Shelley the dog? My heart was in my mouth

Reader 2 [4:09 PM]

Same! If it had been any other author I would have been afraid to finish the book.

Bridget Essex [4:09 PM]

OH HELL NO! :heart: My solemn promise to all my readers is I will NEVER kill an animal! :heart:

Reader 7 [4:11 PM]

If you did I’d think someone stole your name to publish.

Reader 4 [4:10 PM]

The threat of other world viruses is probably not something that either Holly or Virago were thinking of I am guessing.

Bridget Essex [4:10 PM]

@Reader 4 In my book universe, Agrotera and Earth are sister worlds–there have been constant folks coming back and forth since the beginning of humanity. :heart:

Reader 3 [4:15 PM]

@Reader 4 We read books the same way! “What if…” I kept thinking that Holly should have asked more questions about Virago’s home world. She only sees female knights, the only knight she knows only mentions girlfriends…what if men are kept as slaves and breeding stock on her home world!?

Reader 2 [4:16 PM]

I have not read more in the series yet but I was thinking that too – all-female world, please 🙂

Reader 3 [4:11 PM]

Question – you describe Holly’s “comfort book.” Do you have one, Bridget?

Bridget Essex [4:11 PM]

@Reader 3 Aw, yes, I have lots! Probably my favorite one is written by my wife, Natalie Vivien–DRAWN TO YOU. :heart: I’ve read it a million times!

Reader 7 [4:12 PM]

Oh, I haven’t read that one yet. Will need to.

Bridget Essex [4:12 PM]

It’s just so fun, Reader 7–when I’m sad, it always makes me feel better. :heart:

Reader 7 [4:14 PM]

Random question but do the names ever get confusing when you go out to do a book event, since you both have pen names?

Bridget Essex [4:15 PM]

@Reader 7 I’m not sure if it is for Natalie–I’m in the middle of legally changing my name to Bridget, so everyone calls me that, so for me, it’s easy! :heart:

Reader 1 [4:15 PM]

When you set up the knight’s society, what was your biggest influence?

How did you decide the rules and social order?

Bridget Essex [4:16 PM]

My biggest influence was what I wanted to see in the world! And ha, no, @Reader 3 no slaves! :stuck_out_tongue: There are men in other countries, but I say it in a later book–folks tend to go to places where others like them exist. Arktos is special because a lot of lady loving women got together.

Reader 6 [4:16 PM]

Doesn’t Virago talk about her brother?

Reader 7 [4:17 PM]

Basically, everyone now needs to read Date Knight. You learn all about Arktos

Reader 3 [4:17 PM]

Father, wasn’t it? But she doesn’t get specific.

Reader 7 [4:17 PM]

And meet so many different knights, so if Virago isn’t exactly your type, you’ll likely find one among the group 😉

Bridget Essex [4:17 PM]

There are two versions of my book floating around out there. One of them was when I thought the book *wouldn’t* sell, so I set it up as a one off, and didn’t put my world stuff in it. The other version is the correct one! It slays me that there are still old ones floating around!

Reader 2 [4:18 PM]

When you’re working on something new, do the characters or the world generally come to you first?

Bridget Essex [4:18 PM]

It’s always the characters, first! They appear, fully formed in my head, and I want so badly to tell their stories!

Reader 1 [4:18 PM]

How long did it take to create Arktos?

Bridget Essex [4:19 PM]

I’ve been working on my Agrotera world since I was a teenager! :heart:

It’s been a part of me for so much of my life–it’s my happy place. :heart:

Aw, Reader 6, that makes me so happy! :heart: I’m sure you’d make a great knight!

Reader 5 [4:19 PM]

Im reading date night now I love this world

Reader 6 [4:19 PM]

I want to be a knight on Arktos.

Reader 2 [4:19 PM]

That origin story for the goddesses… :ok_hand: So good!

Reader 5 [4:20 PM]

Yes love the goddess story! So beautifully told

Reader 5 [4:19 PM]

How did you first get the idea of Agrotera??

Bridget Essex [4:20 PM]

I was a very avid fantasy reader when I was a kid. I knew I was a lesbian by the age of fifteen, and I read–voraciously–looking for someone like me in the stories I read. They were never there. It broke my heart. I wanted to read a story about someone like me. So I decided that I was going to create one. :heart:

Reader 10[4:22 PM]

Thanks to all of you authors for doing that

Reader 3 [4:22 PM]

I’m glad so many of you did that, Bridget! It worked. Starting at 14 I was reading tons of lesfic books. None of them from the school library, but it was a start!

Reader 9 [4:22 PM]

Do you and your wife have separate offices so you don’t distract each other from working?

Bridget Essex [4:23 PM]

It’s not so much distraction…I know this is sappy, but we want to be around each other all the time and talk, so we have to shut ourselves up in our separate towers to get stuff done! :stuck_out_tongue: :heart: We also have different collections and want places to display them! :heart:

Reader 4 [4:24 PM]

If you were to make a TReader 10series off of your Knight Legends series would you want it to be live action or animated (2D or 3D)?

Reader 6 [4:24 PM]

Did you name your house or was it already named?

Bridget Essex [4:25 PM]

Live action!!!! I *love* animation, but I think actresses are amazing and I’d be so happy to see it in real life!

We named it, @Reader 6! :heart: We’ve always named every place we’ve lived in, and this beautiful little cottage needed a magical castle-y name. So Lion Hall it was! :heart:

Reader 2 [4:26 PM]

Did you have a particular actress/person in mind when you were writing Virago? We were talking about that earlier in the week 🙂

Bridget Essex [4:26 PM]

No, I didn’t! I hope she exists out there, though, because I want it to become real someday!

Reader 7 [4:26 PM]

It totally does…somewhere. We just need to find a portal

Reader 7 [4:28 PM]

I must find who made the portal and tell them they need a storm to go with it. And probably a full moon. 😉

Reader 11 [4:29 PM]

Hey Bridget. I always wonder how books like yours transfer to the big screen and who would play the lead characters. Any thoughts?

Bridget Essex [4:29 PM]

@Reader 11 I didn’t have any actresses in mind, but I definitely have filming locations in mind!

Reader 2 [4:30 PM]

Ooh, so where on Earth is closest to Agrotera?

Bridget Essex [4:30 PM]

Everywhere, since technically they occupy the same space, just on different dimensions. #Nerd

Reader 3 [4:30 PM]

A couple of lines stuck out to me. I wonder if you knew they stood out when you wrote them? like p141 “We don’t often want what we know we can have.”

Reader 5 [4:31 PM]

Love that line!!

Reader 9 [4:31 PM]

That’s so true

Bridget Essex [4:31 PM]

I was crying when I wrote that line. I remember it very well. :heart:

Reader 1 [4:31 PM]

Can you be a knight and be afraid of horses? Asking for a friend

Reader 3 [4:31 PM]

Reader 1 – Sure, but you have to ride a dragon.

Bridget Essex [4:31 PM]

Of course! In JUST ONE KNIGHT, I explore that. :stuck_out_tongue: :heart: You don’t need horses to kick ass, I promise!

Reader 1 [4:32 PM]

I would totally be OK riding a dragon.

Or, my friend would be

Reader 6 [4:32 PM]

No but you need one to get around – no cars

Reader 2 [4:32 PM]

You could take a small dragon to the grocery store

Bridget Essex [4:33 PM]

It depends on where you want to go! I think your own two feet can get you pretty far.

OMG, @Reader 2 I just did a spittake. :stuck_out_tongue: :heart:

Reader 9 [4:34 PM]

We call nasty people dragons here therefore your comments are amusing

Reader 4 [4:34 PM]

Excuse me sir knight, I would like to report a dragon theft.

Reader 2 [4:34 PM]

I imagine dragons are a lot harder to steal than cars, what with the fire breathing and all

Bridget Essex [4:34 PM]

(Immediately thinking about how dragons breathe fire, so they would probably be theft proof? *again taking notes* )

Reader 1 [4:35 PM]

I guess dragon theft would be dependent on the dragon’s loyalties

Reader 5 [4:35 PM]

I wouldn’t worry about dragons being stolen

Reader 7 [4:35 PM]

I’m thinking about a character using meditation to accidentally stumble on a world…

Reader 2 [4:36 PM]

Oh yeah, I love that. And you apparently have to be pretty powerful to open a portal so it’s probably going to be a monk who’s about to reach nirvana, but falls into Agrotera instead

Reader 7 [4:35 PM]

What if it’s a young dragon and they don’t have control of their fire yet?

Reader 4 [4:35 PM]

Depends on the world. Not all dragons breath fire. Some breath ice. Some breath lightning. Some breath poisonous or corrosive gas or vomit acid. Some don’t breath anything.

Reader 7 [4:36 PM]

Or, an entirely too docile dragon who loves everyone and thinks everyone is it’s new friend?

Reader 9 [4:36 PM]

Do dragons have fuel tanks in their tummies so they can always breath fire

Reader 5 [4:36 PM]

Ice breathing dragon would be nice

Reader 3 [4:36 PM]

I picture getting stuck with an eeyore type of dragon. “Someone’s stealing me. Oh well. Nobody’s gonna miss me anyway.”

Reader 7 [4:36 PM]

I think this shows that @Bridget Essex needs to write a story involving dragons.

Bridget Essex [4:36 PM]

I did, @Reader 7! JUST ONE KNIGHT has a prettttttty sexy dragon lady! :heart:

Reader 11 [4:37 PM]

Who are some of your favourite authors Bridget? And what genres do you enjoy reading?

Bridget Essex [4:38 PM]

Oh, lordy, so many! In lesbian fiction, I’ve read most and love most! :heart: In fantasy, my favorite is Terry Pratchett. :heart: Followed closely by Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Andre Norton, Anne Macaffrey, all the greats. :heart:

I had a really rough time growing up. Whenever the world would become unbearable, I’d read a Pratchett and it would always make me feel better. He had the power to make me feel safe. :heart: Magic, right there. :heart:

Reader 11 [4:41 PM]

Literature does have that power to take you somewhere else completely, especially needed in these uncertain times.

Reader 1 [4:39 PM]

What is your favorite Pratchett book?

Bridget Essex [4:40 PM]

My absolute, absolute favorite is A HAT FULL OF SKY. :heart:

Reader 1 [4:40 PM]

50 years from now, please don’t do what Pratchett did; all of your creations need to be published and not destroyed.

Reader 2 [4:40 PM]

Was he the one that burned his unpublished works?

Reader 7 [4:40 PM]

That will be hundreds of stories by then too

Bridget Essex [4:40 PM]

It’s heartbreaking, the reason he did it…most of it was garbled because of his illness. I understand

why, though it breaks my heart. :heart: Hopefully I’ll be all right as I age, but that’s not a guarantee!

Reader 9 [4:41 PM]

Alzheimer’s shows no mercy :pensive:

Reader 7 [4:41 PM]

Did you create at least rough backstories for each knight once you realized it was a series, or did that develop as you wrote more?

Bridget Essex [4:42 PM]

I had a lot of ideas for each one, but things have definitely evolved for each one, too, like Kell! What is going to happen to her wasn’t original, but now it’s exactly what needed to be! :heart:

Reader 1 [4:43 PM]

Of all your series, which took you the longest to come up with?

Reader 7 [4:43 PM]

I love so many of the books, but I felt Charaxis’s story affected me the most. It’s such a powerful book.

Bridget Essex [4:43 PM]

:heart: Charaxis is so special to me. She’s the one character I based on my wife. :heart:

Reader 7 [4:45 PM]

Speaking of names, how do you come up with them?!

Bridget Essex [4:46 PM]

Names are SO IMPORTANT to me! I’m such a nerd–they have to have eighteen different levels of meaning! :heart: I do SO MUCH RESEARCH and then do background research, so the origin of the name would make sense in a place the knights would have visited in our world!

Reader 9 [4:45 PM]

Are the other knight books the ones in the bottom of the portal?

Bridget Essex [4:45 PM]

Yes, several of them!

Reader 7 [4:45 PM]

Wait, which book is Kel’s because she intrigues the hell out of me?

Bridget Essex [4:47 PM]

Kell’s book hasn’t come out yet.

Reader 2 [4:48 PM]

Is this going to be your next release?

Bridget Essex [4:48 PM]

No, it’s somewhere down the line! :heart: I’m not sure what my next release will be right now. :heart:

Reader 6 [4:48 PM]

Your wolves are my favorite. Any of those in the future?

Bridget Essex [4:49 PM]

Aw, thank you so much, Reader 6! I’m working on about five different wolf books right now. :heart: There are definitely some coming soon! :heart:

Reader 2 [4:50 PM]

Haha oh wow, so you are definitely not a one-project-at-a-time kind of author, huh?

Bridget Essex [4:51 PM]

And ha, no, Reader 2, I’m definitely not! :stuck_out_tongue: :heart: I’m like a bunny–I like to nibble on lots of different things at once. :stuck_out_tongue: :heart:

Reader 9 [4:51 PM]

Do you write a bit of one, then a bit of another or just plan them but focus on just one for writing

Bridget Essex [4:51 PM]

I’m planning tons, outlining a lot, then usually concentrating on writing the first draft of one at once.

Reader 3 [4:52 PM]

I have a question – I devoured quite a bit of YA lesfic over the last few years, and it was pretty much exclusively fem/fem. The more “mature” lesfic (you know, with dragons and monsters and stuff!) seems to be skewed butch/fem. Is there a reason for that?

Reader 1 [4:52 PM]

How many do you usually have going on at one time in various stages?

Bridget Essex [4:53 PM]

@Reader 3 I think it’s about author preference! As time goes on, it’s getting more robust with lots of different types of ladies across the spectrum of queer–I’m really noticing an evolution of that. :heart:

SO many, Reader 1! Hard to say how many–I think I’m working on about twenty right now.

Awww, Reader 6, thank you! :heart: I LOVE that one. :heart:

Reader 1 [4:54 PM]

20…..twenty….Wow!! :star-struck: :star-struck:

Reader 9 [4:54 PM]

I wouldn’t be able to remember who was who and what was what if I did that lol (edited)

Reader 2 [4:55 PM]

Well you’re not going to run out of ideas any time soon :joy: Great news

Bridget Essex [4:55 PM]

I don’t really remember once they’re released, which is bad! But when I’m writing I’m so laser focused!

Reader 7 [4:56 PM]

I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to all of the books I’ve read from you, and you’ve done a wonderful job finding narrators. I think a good portion is because your books are well written, making the narrator’s job easier. I’m currently in love with Marina Barrett though!

Reader 4 [4:56 PM]

If you were given the chance to live life on another world and the god or goddess of that world decide to give you a blessing, what kind of blessing would you choose of given the choice? It could be anything. A power or ability, a magic sword, immortality, a companion, or anything else you could think of.

Bridget Essex [4:56 PM]

OH, LORDY, I LOVE HER SO MUCH. :heart: That makes me so happy, @Reader 7! :heart:

Ooh, I love that! I’d want to be able to talk to animals, definitely. :heart:

Reader 7 [4:57 PM]

She’s only done your books (with one exception). Do you hide her in your basement? lol

Bridget Essex [4:57 PM]

*laughing so hard* She’s the nom de vox of Maria Marquis! :heart: She narrates mostly YA and wanted to separate romance from YA.

Reader 11 [4:59 PM]

How much do you enjoy events like this, interacting with readers?

Bridget Essex [5:00 PM]

Aw, I love them so much! :heart: I love talking with folks, and I love your questions so much! :heart:

Reader 1 [5:00 PM]

And we love you and your creations!

Bridget Essex [5:00 PM]

I always talk with my readers and have a really wonderful relationship with them! :heart: If you haven’t already, please friend me on FB to see lots of cute animals! :heart: https://www.facebook.com/bridgetessexauthor

Reader 6 [5:02 PM]

Lots of animals…a bird that bites, a majestic dog, a rabbit that sleeps with the dog

Reader 9 [5:31 PM]

So you have a bird, a bunny, a dog…, what else?

Bridget Essex [5:31 PM]

Lordy…um….

We have three dogs, six cats, four bunnies, one conure, two cockatiels, one parakeet, nine finches, one lovebird, six guinea pigs, two gerbils, one mouse, many fish, lots of shrimp. :heart: They’re all rescues except for Zelda, our sheltie. :heart: :heart: :heart:

Rescue and animal activism are my and my wife’s greatest passions–besides writing. :heart:

Reader 9 [5:32 PM]

And a partridge in a pear tree

Bridget Essex [5:32 PM]

Ha, totally! *peeks at pear tree* :heart:

Reader 1 [5:33 PM]

How do you do all of that, have 20ish books in process, and ….everything else?

Bridget Essex [5:33 PM]

I drink a LOT of coffee. 🙂 :heart:

Reader 6 [5:37 PM]

Bridget Essex, I’m a true blue fan and Patreon. I love your books and your spirit. Don’t be sad if you can help it. Thanks for the hours of escapism you have given me. Thanks for coming to talk to us.

Reader 2 [5:38 PM]

Thank you so much for joining us, Bridget!

Bridget Essex [5:38 PM]

You have all been a dream, and I adore you. Thank you for the laughter and lovely welcome–it was wonderful. :heart:

Reader 1 [5:39 PM]

Thank you for…being you!!! :star-struck:

Whoot. I didn’t faint.

Lesfic Book Club: Blend

For our March meeting of the Lesfic Book Club, we discussed Georgia Beers’s novel, Blend. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the transcript below.

A couple of notes on the transcript:

If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels every month at http://tinyurl.com/lesficlove (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading next). Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see that everyone has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc

Reader 1

Hello, thanks for joining us!

Georgia

Thanks for the invite!

Reader 1 So, what did everyone think of Blend?

Reader 2

I loved it.

Reader 3

It was very warm and soothing

Reader 5

I love it… It went together like a nice rose sweet n sassy

Georgia Thanks for all the kind words

Reader 4

Its very warm and soothing and they gradually grow together which is hard to do so gradually as you’ve done it.

Reader 5

So I got a question…. Why kayaking?

Georgia

I needed something solitary, yet soothing. A workout, but something that would allow for deep thought.

Plus, it didn’t seem to fit Piper and I liked that

Reader 3

If Piper and Lindsay were wines, what would they be?

Georgia

Hmmm……good question. What do YOU think they’d be?

Reader 3

haha oh no, I don’t know enough about wine to answer that!

Reader 1

hehe and are you asking for the traditional or the celebrity descriptors?

Georgia

Lindsay would be a rosé, kind of light, maybe a little fruity and playful. Piper would be a Zinfandel…deep and complex and robust and hard to figure out

Reader 1

Perfect answer – did you already think about that or was that off the top of your head? I’m impressed either way

Georgia

I did not think of it. LOL. It stumped me for a second there

Reader 5

You sure know a ton about wine n had me on a wine kick for a good minute so far lol

Reader 7

Did you have to drink a lot of bottles to research your book properly?

Georgia

I absolutely did.

Still am.

Reader 8

How did this story come about? What inspired you?

Georgia

I’ve always been a fan of wine and I’ve always been interested in learning about it. I found a local wine bar that had a great atmosphere with sort of an idea that I might want to do a wine book. Turns out the owner and I became fast friends and after that, it just seemed inevitable

Reader 1

Were you Mr. Can I Taste That while you were researching?

Georgia

Ha! No, I’m much too polite to be him

Reader 4

That guy irks me how does Lindsay stay so calm lol

Georgia

She’s a better person than you or I.

Reader 1

Anyone else get thrown off the ending because of Mr. Can I Taste That? I thought he was up to something.

Reader 3

Totally – like he was very important in reviewing or something

Georgia

Nope. He’s just a guy without manners

And an actual customer at the wine bar here

Reader 2

I’m curious as to how Edgar and Rocket might have got along if things got to the point that Lindsay and Piper moved in together.

Georgia

Reader 2 – they’d have come to an understanding. Eventually…

Reader 6

Oh! So, question. The characters both ask this question in some way, but I wonder if there’s an answer. Was the friction because of the underlying chemistry or was the chemistry enhanced by the initial friction?

Georgia

Reader 6 – yes

Reader 6

Hahaha dammit

Reader 8

If you could change one part of the novel, what would you change?

Georgia

It’s too recent to want to change it. Ask me again in a year or two!

Reader 8

But that makes me want to ask you things about older books….I will refrain.

Reader 1

Also, you better expect her to come knocking in a year or two now that you said so

Georgia

I’d better start rereading my older stuff then!

My memory ain’t what it used to be!

Reader 2

I’m also curious as to what happened to Zack.

Georgia

He got fired

Reader 6

I wanted them to sue his ass

Georgia

Piper tells Lindsay that she saved his firing for her

He didn’t do anything illegal, though. Just uncool

Reader 6

True. Then blast his ass on social media

Reader 1

Very uncool, Zack.

Reader 3

I was wondering what his motivations were… money?

Georgia

Greed, sure. He probably would’ve gotten a better position at the other restaurant

Reader 10

Hey Georgia. Did you mean to make Piper such a bitch or is she just misunderstood?

Georgia

Haha! Don’t sugarcoat it for me, Reader 10

I didn’t think she was a bitch. I thought she was a control freak who had issues she couldn’t deal with properly and that had her out of control.

Reader 10

That’s fair. I am a bit blunt

Reader 6

I was glad that Piper’s mom and sister owned up to the setup in the end. I kept thinking that Ellen had to plan this from the beginning

Reader 2

I thought it was quite obvious what Piper’s mom was up to from the beginning.

Reader 4

Control freak covers her perfectly they tend to be on the bitchy side lol

Reader 9

Yeah, I found with Piper that I could understand _why_ she acted the way she did, but… I found it difficult to find any reason to care about a character that reacted in the way she did. I finally became comfortable with Piper about the time Lindsey did.

Georgia

It’s a fine line to walk when writing an ice queen.

Reader 6

I feel like, because we saw glimpses of her humanity, I would absolutely give her leeway

Georgia

That’s always what I shoot for, Reader 6. I’m glad you felt that. It doesn’t always work, unfortunately

Reader 1

I think she definitely comes off as cold in the beginning, but I understood her throughout. Then again I think I’m more of a Piper than a Lindsay so it’s probably all perspective

She’s one of those people who you can count on to make the right decision eventually, even if it takes her a while to come around, like with the layoffs storyline

Reader 5

I loved the protectiveness at the graduation party piper showed

Georgia

I was hoping that the party would get people to connect with Piper a bit more

Reader 2

There were still a few times I wanted to slap Piper though.

Reader 9

And… I don’t like _everybody_ I meet in real life; so it isn’t a surprise when some characters aren’t quite right for me

Reader 6

It’s hard. And I’m sure there are people that would have cut her off. But that’s why Lindsay is who she is. Or you don’t have a book

Reader 3

I actually thought Piper and Lindsay would have clashed more than they did

All things considered, they weren’t too mean to each other

Georgia

Truthfully? I have trouble with conflict. I don’t like to make people clash. It’s a problem. LOL

Reader 6

I totally get that. I am way too kind to my characters sometimes.

But I liked the balance in this book

Georgia

Right? We’re supposed to put them through the wringer. And I’m always all, “But I LIKE them!”

Reader 3

oh, it’s so lovely in the story though! don’t get me wrong, I love some fiery enemies to lovers, but this book was charming!

Reader 1

Haha yes, killing your darlings is so hard

Reader 4

I have the opposite lol i like the conflict the bleeding heart i guess you can say

Reader 6

And at the same time, when it’s the right person, how can you not forgive when the other is genuine?

Reader 8

I was about to ask if you enjoy writing “enemies to lovers” into your novels.

Georgia

I do like enemies to lovers, yes. I like to write office romances and more often than not, they start as enemies

Reader 5

I loved the turmoil piper had to face within her in order to open her dang eyes n see she messed up

Reader 1

So speaking of redeeming Piper, I loved her grand gesture, signing Lindsay up for sommelier classes.

Grand gestures have come up in previous book clubs and it seems like there’s a wide range of author feelings on them. Georgia, do you like writing them? Do they come easy to you?

Georgia

I love writing them (because I am a romantic and *I* would make a grand gesture). But they’re hard because what *I* consider a grand gesture might be totally lame to you. You know?

Reader 4

A grand gesture is supposed to show you listen and know the person you nailed it!

Georgia

It also has to reflect the character. It can’t be totally out of left field. Or if it is, it needs to be discussed that it is so it’s not completely out of character

Reader 8

I think big gestures are in the eye of the beholder. Not to be too predictable, but How I Met Your Mother (the tv show) said it best. Gestures are defined by those receiving them. Something could be wonderful to one person, yet creepy to another.

Reader 3

Yes – and I loved the grand gesture of the sommelier classes, too, because they were something Lindsay hadn’t even thought of doing for herself

So it’s Piper knowing and seeing her

Reader 9

Right. That felt so Piper and so much the best proof she could offer Lindsey in that moment of her recognition.

Reader 10

I think it was a moment that showed that Piper understood what was important to Lindsay and therefore a perfect gesture.

Reader 8

What was the hardest part of writing this particular book? Aside from the research you had to do on wines.

Georgia

I think it was making Piper icy, but not totally unlikeable. I always have trouble with that

Reader 4

I love piper! Her icyness is justified

Georgia

Thank you, Reader 4! I glad you thought so

Reader 8

I think you always humanize the “ice queens” in such a way that we can see beyond the stereotype.

Georgia

Thank you. That’s the goal, always

Reader 4

She was always the control freak and her father her sounding board with him gone it makes sense she would retreat a bit

Reader 10

Blend was my first GB book. What should I read next?

Reader 8

ALL OF THEM.

Reader 8

Too Close To Touch was the first I read, but that was…a long time ago. Lol

Reader 6

I really appreciated starting from scratch. Lesfic has relatively few moms and kids, especially believable ones. There are times when I know an author has never had a kid. Lol that wasn’t a problem with your books

Reader 5

shape of you had me trying cycling…

Georgia

Good for you! Spin is HARD

Reader 8

Of your collected works, What is the one you’re most proud of? ( you can say you’re proud of all of them…)

Georgia

That’s a tough one, but I’m going to go with Starting from Scratch

Reader 1

What’s your favorite part of a romance to write?

Georgia

The first kiss

Reader 8

Not the first…time?

Georgia

Nope. The first kiss

Writing the first sex scene is HARD

Reader 4

Why the first kiss?

Georgia

Because to me, all the tension/flirting/arguing has built up to that moment, that first physical, sexual contact

Reader 7

Do you have to do research for the sex scenes like you do for the wine?

Georgia

Haha! I’ve been around a while. I think I have the hang of it…

I mean, I *think*…

Reader 10

Research is important lol!

Reader 2

If you have a chance to make one of your books into a movie which book would you most want to see become a movie?

Reader 4

Blend!!! Hands down is my favorite type of love story lol

Reader 4

I loive hallmark just needs to be more lesfic love then hetro

Georgia

I watch a lot of Hallmark, too

Reader 10

Do you enjoy this type of interaction with your readers?

Georgia

I do. I’m always a little nervous, but yes, I enjoy it

Reader 11

Do you ever worry you’ll run out of stories? I’m impressed how you keep coming up with new ideas.

Georgia

Every single day, yes.

But I have learned to remind myself that an idea always comes along eventually. And that’s been true so far.

Reader 6

With so many books, how do you come up with character names?

Georgia

I have a list of names that I keep on my phone. Whenever I hear one I like, I jot it down.

I have used some over again, but not for main characters.

I also tend to decide what year my character was born, then check “most popular baby names” for that year

And I have a name book

Reader 6

Not a question, but an observation. I think of you as a writer that never has an awkward sentence.

It just blows me away.

Reader 1

Agreed – definitely a wordsmith!

Georgia

Thank you for that, Reader 6!

And Reader 1! I really, really appreciate that!

I do love words. Numbers? They hate me. But words and I are pretty good friends

Reader 3

Thank you for joining us!

Reader 1

Yes, thank you Georgia! We appreciate you chatting with us

Georgia

No problem at all! I’m so honored you asked me

Reader 8

I cannot believe we just chatted with Georgia Beers. THANK YOU!!!

Georgia

Hahahaha! You flatter me. Thank YOU

This was a lot of fun.

Bonus Scenes: Labor of Love

My novel, LABOR OF LOVE, is available now on Amazon. In the latest novel in my bestselling Lakeside Hospital medical romance series, pediatrician Lily meets visiting obstetrician Mercedes. They know from the start their relationship has an expiration date, so what’s the harm in a little fling?

Read a bonus scene below.

The following is a deleted scene from my latest novel. In it, Mercedes is helping her mother clean out her house and struggling with guilt after discovering a secret – her mother has been without running water for some time.

Mercedes didn’t have the promise of a date with Lily to distract her that weekend, so she had no choice but to finally make her way home.

It still took her until Sunday morning to work up the nerve, but she got up, dressed in the plainest clothes she’d brought to Illinois – a bulky hoodie and an old pair of jeans that were so worn that she didn’t consider them appropriate for public use anymore, plus a pair of running shoes that had outlived their purpose a few months ago but were still good for wading through her mother’s hoarder house.

She arrived around eleven, full of caffeine and resentment, and walked up the unstable porch steps to ring the bell. The wood gave under her feet with every step, rotting no doubt after years of neglect, and Mercedes added that to her list of gripes.

I know she wouldn’t let you in the house, Jewel, but could you not have fixed up the porch, or sent Michael over to do it? She thought while she waited for her mom to come to the door.

This wouldn’t be Mercedes’ first time seeing her since she came back to Evanston. She’d been sufficiently shamed after her first dinner with Jewel to call their mother on her way home that evening, and she’d taken her mom out to eat a few times since then.

Twenty years had taken their toll on her. The woman Mercedes remembered had been imposing, with a big personality and a temper that could turn on you when you least expected it – especially if you broke one of her cardinal rules and told someone the family secret. The woman that pulled Mercedes into a hug outside the Arby’s in her neighborhood – refusing to eat anywhere nicer or travel into the city – was thin and the flesh around her neck hung more loosely than it used to.

She was getting older – nearing seventy – and it was hard to see all those years piled on at once.

She still had that personality though, and that temper. When Mercedes told her the reason she was back in Evanston, and that she intended to help her clean up her house, her mother had pounded one fist on the cheap pressboard table they were eating at and said, “You’re not getting rid of my stuff.”

“Mom, you don’t have running water,” Mercedes said, catching herself midway through the sentence and lowering her voice so no one in the restaurant around them would hear. “It’s not sanitary.”

“No, it’s not,” she’d insisted. “What do you think they did a few hundred years ago? They got by.”

“They got cholera,” Mercedes said. “This is non-negotiable. I came all the way out here from Seattle and I had to stop my research to take care of this for you.”

“You’re turning this into a bigger deal than it is,” her mother had said. “I’ve gotten by just fine for the last two years-”

Two years?” Mercedes said, and this time she wasn’t able to keep her voice down.

She wanted to stand up right then and there and throw her hands up. How could anyone survive two years without running water. A thousand questions ran through her mind, and most of them were hygiene related. Do I really want to know? She thought, but she was here now. She was in it.

“Jewel didn’t say it had been that long,” Mercedes said, forcing calmness into her voice. She’d gone to the hospital’s library and picked up some literature on hoarding after her conversation with Jewel, and spent the last month pouring over everything she could get her hands on. The more she read, the grimmer she felt about the whole trip, but getting hysterical wasn’t going to help anyone.

“She doesn’t know,” her mother said. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell her.”

Great, another secret.

“How can she not know?” Mercedes asked.

“I may have fibbed,” her mother said. “When she found out about the toilet not working, I told her it had just been a week or so. She was getting so upset, and she’s got so much on her plate already – I didn’t want to add another thing.”

But let’s just pile it all on me, Mercedes thought. Because I’ve got nothing better to do than clean up your messes – literally.

She took a deep breath and said, “I’m here for one reason – to help you get your water turned back on so that Jewel doesn’t go into a downward spiral. She’s really upset about all of this, and I want to make sure your living environment is safe. That’s all the skin I have in this game – I don’t care how much stuff you have as long as we can make a path to whatever a plumber needs to access to fix the water. Can we make a deal? I won’t throw out anything more than I need to, and you’ll let me do what I have to do.”

That was a lot more generous than Mercedes was actually feeling – she wanted to evict her mother for a week, back a dumpster right up to the house and start flinging stuff out the windows. This was the best compromise she had in her.

“Okay,” her mother had said. Then she picked up a curly fry, popped it into her mouth, and asked Mercedes about her research as if the 700-pound elephant in the room had up and disappeared.

And that was what brought Mercedes to her childhood home on a bright Sunday morning, waiting for her mother to open the door so she could assess the magnitude of the task.

Opening the door turned out to be more of a process than Mercedes expected. First, she heard her mother moving around inside the house, then the door opened an inch or so and stuck.

“Hold your horses,” her mom said through the crack, giving another yank on the door.

Mercedes felt panic rising in her throat. Was it really that bad? “Do you have stuff piled in front of the door, Mom? That’s a fire hazard.”

“No,” she said. “It’s just that there was some water damage and the door swelled. When it’s cold, it’s hard to open.”

Relief washed over her. That was another problem that she’d need to fix before she went back to Seattle, but at least it was a normal one. “Do you want me to push?”

“No,” her mother said. “You’ll knock me over. I’m almost there.”

She gave another good yank and the door popped open, squeaking against the doorframe. Mercedes’ mother had to look behind her to take a step backward and then around the door, pushing the screen door open for her.

Mercedes looked inside the house for the first time in two decades and all the air rushed out of her lungs. For a moment, even though she was standing in the fresh air and objectively, she could feel a cool breeze on her cheeks, there wasn’t enough oxygen in the world. She looked past her mother and saw that the living room had disappeared, swallowed under twenty years of stuff.

The pathways that Mercedes remembered, plenty wide enough to get from room to room, had shrunk to thin little spaces no wider than five inches in some places, and there was just heaps and heaps of stuff stacked everywhere, some of it approaching the ceiling. The couch had disappeared a long time ago, from the looks of it, and the TV was buried as well.

“Don’t judge,” her mother said as she stepped back and made room for Mercedes.

Mercedes just gave her a withering look as she came inside. She knew she’d get farther with her mother if she put on a fake smile and pretended that what she saw didn’t absolutely horrify her, but that intrusive thought had come back, vivid as ever. My mother is mentally ill.

Jewel tried to warn her about how the house had changed. Even if Mercedes had listened, no words could have prepared her for this. She wasn’t sure whether to cry or laugh or be sick.

“Where do you sit?” she asked, gesturing to where the couch used to be. It was probably best to stick to mundane topics right now – anything else would be too much.

“Oh, I don’t use this room much anymore,” her mother said. Her tone was so casual, as if what she was looking at didn’t match what Mercedes saw at all. She just shrugged and said, “I mostly hang out in my bedroom.”

Mercedes tried to take another deep breath, but the air wasn’t good inside the house. There were so many years and layers of dust, and stuff was stacked against every wall, blocking the air vents. It’s okay. You can breathe – not well, but you can breathe, she told herself to keep from panicking. In the back of her mind, she noted the vents as another problem.

“Let’s just deal with the water for right now, okay?” she said. “Which toilet is the broken one? Upstairs?” “Well,” her mother said, looking bashfully at a stack of magazines near her feet. “It’s not so much the toilet – I know that’s what I told Jewel, but I just didn’t want to alarm her.”

She should be alarmed,” Mercedes said, feeling the urge to grab her mother by the shoulders and shake her as she added, you should be alarmed, too! But she was doing a pretty good job maintaining her composure so far and it would be a shame to ruin that streak now. “Sorry. What’s the actual problem with the water?”

“It’s the main,” her mother said. “Two winters ago, we had a cold snap and as best I can figure it, the pipe going from the street into the basement froze. It was old anyway, and ever since then if I turn on the water, it leaks like a sieve, so I just had to turn it off.”

Mercedes closed her eyes. “How much water damage was there? Is there mold, too?”

“No, no,” her mother said. “Nothing like that. I cleaned it all up. I’m not one of those filthy people that can’t clean up after themselves – you know that, baby. I just have a lot of stuff.”

Mercedes nodded. It was the understatement of the century, but in some small way she was right – the house could have been a lot worse. “Can we get to the basement from inside?”

“Yeah, I keep the stairs clear,” her mother said. “Come on.”

She led her through the living room, both of them having to turn sideways and squeeze past a mountain of storage tubs at one point. It was like exploring a landscape that Mercedes was once familiar with, only to find that everything was not quite the same as she left it. The house she’d known as a kid was still here, just magnified by a factor of at least ten.

They went through the kitchen, having to take a circuitous route around the dining table that Mercedes and Jewel used to eat their Pop Tarts at every morning before the school bus came. Now, the table was no longer visible, and its perimeter had grown by several feet where her mother had stacked boxes upon boxes of every type of kitchen gadget and small appliance imaginable, as well as at least twenty gallons of bottled water.

Well, that’s what she’s doing for water, Mercedes thought. She noted that the refrigerator was inaccessible and didn’t sound like it was plugged in, and she saw a single foot of counter space that was cleared, with paper plates and bags of plastic flatware stacked near it.

“Is that where you eat?” she asked.

“It’s where I prepare my meals,” her mother answered. “I eat in my room.”

I don’t want to see it, she thought, spontaneously adopting it as her mantra to get them both through this ordeal with a minimal amount of trauma. I don’t need to know. Then they walked past the stove, which Mercedes nearly missed because there looked to be a year’s worth of newspapers stacked on top of it.

“Mom! That is so dangerous,” she said, reaching for the newspapers to move them… somewhere.

“It’s fine,” her mother said, waving her hand dismissively. “That range hasn’t worked in years.”

“How do you cook?” Mercedes asked before she could help herself.

“I eat fresh fruit and veggies, mostly. I follow a raw diet,” her mother said, puffing out her chest like she was proud of herself.

Except for the curly fries and roast beef sandwiches, Mercedes said, but she let it slide. “Let’s just get downstairs, okay?”

The basement was unfinished, just one big room the same size as the 1,000-square foot house above. It was a damn good thing the house wasn’t any bigger or else the problem would just be more insurmountable. The basement had been a wreck even back when Mercedes lived at home. It was the first place to become a disorganized storage unit for her mother’s unchecked collecting and Mercedes remembered taking Jewel down there when they were in elementary school, excavating their way through the maze of junk as if they were treasure hunters.

It had been fun back then because sometimes they really did find a treasure in all the stuff – a toy they’d forgotten about, or a Christmas present their mother had lost track of and forgot to give them. Those were the good old days when Mercedes had no idea that wasn’t normal.

She followed her mother slowly down the stairs – there was a narrow path there just like everywhere else – and saw that the junk level in the basement had risen by about two feet, coming up to her waist when her feet finally found firm concrete. Her mother headed toward the water shut-off and Mercedes stood at the base of the stairs, frozen for a moment.

She looked at the joists above her head, trying to decide if they were sagging. How many more years of stuff could this house hold before the first floor became the basement, taking her mother with it as it fell?

And she was just wading through the mess, oblivious to the weight of it all – above her, around her, because of her.

Mercedes was leaning significantly closer to the sob end of the spectrum and away from be sick, although she hadn’t discounted that possibility. She spotted the furnace in the opposite corner from where her mother was and asked, “Does your heat still work?”

“Yes,” her mother said.

“Really?” she asked. It was like interacting with a child, and she wasn’t sure she’d be convinced until her mother actually turned on the furnace to demonstrate it.

“Yes,” her mother said, testy this time.

Mercedes started to pick her way across the basement in the direction of the furnace. She had to see it for herself. The stuff was piled much more chaotically down here, and she found herself climbing over things for most of the journey – good thing she was wearing her oldest jeans and worn-out sneakers.

“You don’t have to look at it,” her mother snapped from across the room. “What are you, an HVAC technician?”

“No,” Mercedes grumbled under her breath while her back was to her mother. “But I do have a vested interest in you not setting yourself on fire.” It took her a couple minutes to get to the furnace and then she turned around, snapping at her mother, “There are cardboard boxes stacked all around this thing!”

“Those are the Christmas decorations,” her mother explained, making her way to Mercedes’ corner of the basement. “They go up right after Thanksgiving so they wouldn’t be there when the furnace kicks on.”

“If you don’t mind, I’m not going to take any chances,” Mercedes said, grabbing the nearest box.

“Put that down,” her mother said, climbing more frantically toward her. “You said you weren’t going to move anything today.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Mercedes said. “But this is a ridiculous fire hazard. Your whole damn house is a fire hazard and if you’ve got yourself barricaded in your bedroom like I’m imagining, you’d never get out in time. I’m moving these boxes.”

“Stop,” her mother demanded. “I didn’t give you permission to come in here just to let you ransack my house.”

“I can’t possibly make it any messier than it already is,” Mercedes snapped at her, setting the box down hard on the first flat surface she could find – the washing machine. Nobody’s going to be using that anytime soon, she thought as she grabbed another box.

“I know where all the stuff is,” her mother said. “If you move it, I won’t be able to find it.”

She tried to wrestle the next box out of Mercedes’ hands and Mercedes snatched it away and stacked it on top of the washer, too. She could hear the panic in her mother’s voice, and she knew from all the literature she’d read that this wasn’t the way to handle someone like her. She was making it all worse, but it was either cry, vomit, or focus all of her energy on getting those damn cardboard boxes away from the fucking furnace.

When her mother tried to bar Mercedes from picking up the next box, she shoved her away. Her mother stumbled back a few steps, her heel caught on some piece of junk or another – probably a toy that should have been pitched or donated decades ago – and she sat down hard on the pile.

Mercedes and her mother just looked at each other for a long minute, sizing each other up, and then Mercedes turned back to her task and her mother crossed her arms in front of her chest like a pouting toddler, watching her work and making sure she didn’t move a single thing that wasn’t necessary.

It took Mercedes almost half an hour to clear a two-foot space around the furnace. Half of that time was just trying to find places to stack the boxes that wouldn’t cause a cave-in, but she got there eventually, and then she turned back to her mother.

“There,” she said with finality. “Nothing got thrown away – just moved. The furnace is safe now, and I’m not even going to look at the water main today. We’re going to have to clear a path to it before a repairman can come and do something about it, and I don’t have the energy to think about that right now. Do you need anything else from me today?”

“No,” her mother said. Her arms were still crossed in front of her chest and she still sounded like a petulant child.

Mercedes gritted her teeth and brushed past her. “I’ll call you in a couple days and we’ll come up with a game plan.”

She left her mother pouting in the basement and got out of the house as fast as she could. By the time she was finally on the front porch again, she was breathing heavily, leaning more toward the being sick end of things. She had to stop and put her hands on her knees, taking a few long, deep breaths. Fresh air never felt so good filling her lungs and she couldn’t seem to get enough of it.

My mother is mentally ill, and I haven’t been here.

When she could breathe again, she got in her rental car and drove away as fast as she could. Seattle had never felt farther away.

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.

Lesfic Book Club: Atramentum

For our January meeting of the Lesfic Book Club, we discussed MJ Duncan’s novel, Atramentum. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the transcript below.

A couple of notes on the transcript:

If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels every month at http://tinyurl.com/lesficlove (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading next).Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see that everyone has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc

Reader 1 Book club time! So we normally have the author pop in to answer questions during book club, but MJ had a prior obligation today and couldn’t make it – that means this time around we’ll run it more like a traditional book club and just talk amongst ourselves What did everyone think of Atramentum?

Reader 3 I loved it. MJ Duncan is fantastic at developing her characters beyond the 2 dimensional her stories have deep, meaningful plot points.

Reader 2 And I loved it!!  Never cried so much in my life

Reader 4 Loved it, so cute and wonderful

Reader 2 Lol I agree with you Reader 3 for sure I hate when authors are horrible about expanding their characters beyond 2 dimensional which is why i think i love lesfic so much

Reader 4 I was seriously worried it would be super angsty for some reason and was just super sweet

Reader 1 Just a random feeling or were you expecting the angst based on something in particular?

Reader 2 Why the super angsty?

Reader 3 I worry about super angsty in most lesfic. I’m a little high strung, if you don’t know. lol

Reader 2 The moment George knocked over Joss I was like that dog is amazing at matchmaking lol

Reader 3 we all deserve a dog like that

Reader 4 I don’t know. Something in the blurb pinged me as potentially angsty

Reader 2 Lol whats a story with out a little angst it keeps the readers engaged which is why I think I love Cara’s books she has the perfect angst ratio

Reader 1 Okay so basic question that as an author I should already know the answer to lol… how are you guys defining angst? What makes a book super angsty?

Reader 4 Normal angst is necessary. But a constant back and forth is torture

Reader 1 Okay, so angst is basically the “will they, won’t they” rollercoaster?

Reader 4 Where I am screaming “just talk to each other already”

Reader 3 To me, it’s drama that is unnecessary. or, the fear of the unknown.

Reader 5 A bumpy road, misunderstandings…………

Reader 4 Or “get some therapy” lol Yes, unnecessary is a good word

Reader 5 Or just “be honest with each other “!

Reader 2 Yes that leads to more angst then needed for me lol

Reader 4 And doing that well is hard. It’s done well when the writer shares with us why the character isn’t talking or getting therapy. So we can be frustrated but understand

Reader 2 The struggle of knowing what you want but turning around and running from it just because yur more scared then you need to be..

Reader 4 Yeah I love romance/contemporarys that deal with heavier, darker stuff… But the kind of angst that’s just drama for dramas sake is not welcome.

Reader 4 The reason for the drama shouldn’t be “because romancing the beat says I need a conflict 33% of the way in”

Reader 6 Angst for me is when I feel like I want to cry or shake the MC but have to trust in the HEA

Reader 2 Thats how most of it is though Reader 4 lol

Reader 4 And that’s when you read story genius so you know how to find the real drama instead of artificially creating it 😉 Also a good explanation

Reader 6 So it’s the tension of knowing they are being knuckleheads but it will work out

Reader 2 Exactly and not many have concured that as well as others

Reader 4 In this book it felt natural

Reader 4 And a bear attack is completely realistic for the mountains of colorado

Reader 3 for me, angst is unnecessary pain.  Characters need to grow and live and such. But, I dont feel it needs to be to the detriment of the reader’s emotions.

Reader 2 Defiently is specially where they live by the lake

Reader 4 And I always love stories set in Colorado:-)

Reader 5 But it’s great to see how differently you all write the ‘tension’. Great description @Reader 6. Not knowing the US the bear attack was a total shock to me.

Reader 1 I live in Ohio and I was not expecting a bear either haha

Reader 4 I constantly forget bears are a problem. We are so screwed when we move to the mountains eventually bc we will forget food in the car and a bear will get in. I already know.

Reader 2 Its more common in Colorado shockingly then you would think i live in Wyoming and it could happen here.

Reader 4 There are so many videos of bears here. In cars. Wandering the streets.

Reader 3 What’s a bear? Oh, those things at the zoo. gotcha.  (I’m kidding…city life is spoiling me. i miss missouri and “wildlife”)

Reader 4 I am glad she mentioned they didn’t find the bear. It didn’t deserve to die

Reader 2 As long as you know te precautions for if there bears you will be fine.  Most of the time they aren’t confertational really unless a cub is involved lr feel threatened like any animal

Reader 5 Worst we’d get is a fox here lol, but they don’t generally attack.

Reader 4 Bears like to get i to cars for snacks. Not people snack but the food people eat lol

Reader 2 We’ve had a moosed loose in town before that was fun

Reader 4 There was a video last week of a moose charging skiers here

Reader 6 I think that’s what I like about all her books, her sense of place is so clear and on point

Reader 6 Colorado, boat in Caribbean, it’s always enough to sound true but not so much I feel I’ve stumbled into a history book

Reader 7 Bears aren’t that unusual actually even for the city. I live in Los Angeles and although you hear about the bears on the outskirts our real problem is the mountain lions and seen coyotes very frequently here in the valley.

Reader 3 We have snakes and alligators. That’s about all that happens where I am. outside of town…we don’t discuss.

Reader 1 Alligators in town?!

Reader 4 I saw a mama and 2 cubs cross in front of the can on a field trip. Far enough away to be safe. In the waterways. Have you seen scorpions? That was the most shocking for us in Houston.

Reader 1 I once got between a mama bear and her cub in the Smokeys and it was terrifying. Kind of cool since I lived to tell the tale tho.

Reader 3 How did you live to tell the tale??!

Reader 1 We were on a hiking trail with a hill on one side and a cliff on the other. Mama came down the hill in front of us, then down the cliff. I had no idea baby bear was following behind her so we kept walking, then baby started to come down and I ended up in the middle of them. Mama came back up on the trail and backed us up slowly until we were out of her way, then baby came down and they left.View newer replies Meanwhile this hysterical woman on the other side of the trail was watching the whole thing and screaming, and I was pretty sure *she* was going to be the reason I got mauled by a bear.

Reader 2 Oh damn Reader 1!  Some people just dont get it do they you can’t t freak out with wildlife its what sets them off I can honestly say I’ve never come across a bear thankfully though coyotes are horrible

Reader 4 Same. This was my first of hers.

Reader 3 Spectrum was brilliant.

Reader 2   It definitely set the bar for her other books but ibve heard great things from all her books so im excited to read more

Reader 8  I really liked her newest one Heist. It was a little different.

Reader 3 That’s the one I havent read. shows you how behind I am

Reader 2   I will start reading them all once I’m done will Cara’s and Saxxons lol I should get to MJ’s around maybe march… Layce Saxxon have a ton

Reader 4 Are her other books similar angst levels? Or are any super sad?

Reader 3 Her other books are pretty even. I haven’t read her most recent (TBR list is huge), but the rest are the same. nothing as dramatic as the dog getting hurt, though. scary.

Reader 6 I don’t consider them super sad

Reader 7 Similar level I would say but they are different.  Different locations and still have the humor that gives it the character the realistic feel

Reader 4 Perfect

Reader 3 and the lovey gooey stuff that makes me happy.

Reader 6 I think angst also translates to reader worry for MC and huge win for writer if we’re that invested in the character (edited)

Reader 2 I love the lovey gooey stuff

Reader 1 Oh, different locations – interesting. I assumed MJ was from Colorado because the setting was so vivid.

Reader 4 When angst is done well (casting lacey for example) it’s amazing.

Reader 3 Agreed. Or in Jea Hawkins’s novels.

Reader 4 Exactly

Reader 3 They never stress me out, but they keep me glued to the page. it’s amazing and intimidating.

Reader 4 Oh i get stressed out. Lol

Reader 4 Which is why I do my best to make sure the conflict makes sense and is necessary. Not torture for torture’s sake. I am a wimp

Reader 5 Anyhow back to George. Great character canine or not. I have a big personality dog too. A great introduction.

Reader 4 Perfect doggie character She was lovely

Reader 1 Yeah she really was a third MC and not just a token animal

Reader 4 And she kept things moving literally and figuratively

Reader 1 Absolute favorite line in the book – “Fuck the cheesecake, Joss needs help!”

Reader 2 She really was the best!  I don’t think I’ve read a dog so well written before it was very enticing

Reader 4 Hahahaha yes!

Reader 1 I feel like this could easily work its way into my regular vocabulary.

Reader 2 Haha mine too!!  It was the perfect time to break the tension for a minute

Reader 4 Yes. And wtf animal control?! Priorities please

Reader 1 Although in general, that sentiment toward cheesecake… :scream: But in that moment, it was justifiable.

Reader 3 George was the most well developed canine character I’ve read. which is a weird thing to say, now that I think about it.

Reader 2 Animal control is a joke sometimes specially for emergencies if they are preoccupied as they were so yeah pretty straight on there

Reader 2 Yes cheesecake is amazing lol but I would’ve said the same thing

Reader 1 I have a friend who has Great Danes and they’re really cool dogs, but I never thought about what you do if your dog isn’t able to move on their own with a breed that large. :disappointed:

Reader 4 Yeah definitely a challenge

Reader 2 Its not something you want to think about honestly.  So you tend not to

Reader 3 Max has a wheelbarrow-like dolly. and he is considerably smaller than George.

Reader 6 Neighbors had bull mastiffs, they needed like a gurney thing they slide into their back seat But no idea if single person

Reader 4 Doubtful one person could

Reader 3 holy cripes, those are *huge* dogs.

Reader 7 Not sure about all locations as truthfully I sometimes mix my authors but this was a reread for me but I had read previously one that took place I think in Hawaii but she is very good at describing locations and one of the things I enjoy about her writting

Reader 4 So I find this interesting. No one brought up the sizzling chemistry?

Reader 3 Their chemistry was so wonderfully written. That’s just how much I love this book, that I first read it 2 years ago and am still obsessed.

Reader 6 I’d like to know if there was any order for the books because there are cross references to characters

Reader 3 Not officially. Unlike some other’s series (achem), there is no need to read in order. I love the flirting and teasing. and the bookstore, obviously.

Reader 4 What characters?

Reader 2 From the moment George knocked Joss over it was on point!  I was wanting to hit Joss in the head for not noticing it sooner who else would wake up so early just to let there dog run after a girl lol

Reader 6 The vineyard one has my fave chemistry

Reader 1 For those of you who have read other MJ Duncan books, which one would you recommend next for those of us who have only read Atramentum?

Reader 6 Toss up between symphony in blue and spectrum

Reader 2 Yes!  I was thinking of reading Symphony in Blue next of hers

Reader 6 But I love them all, second chances felt lightest of her books so far, but still loved

Reader 3 I read spectrum first before Atramentum, so I agree that symphony should be next. Yeeesh, I love mj. only the teensiest bit happy she isnt on here cause i would be freaking out.

Reader 7 Read them all in a weeks time so not sure I would put in any particular order. But perhaps Second Chances

Reader 2 Do they all coincide  with each other though which is what determines that for me lol

Reader 4 Yes what characters are cameos

Reader 2 Hmm it doesnt matter lol i read for the story im reading not thw background people lol

Reader 1 It sounds like the MJ books are the same, from what someone further up-thread said So I guess you’re safest to just read them in chronological order?

Reader 2 Im gonna have to find from her very first book written then and go from there

Reader 3 They are more casually mentioned than in Lakeside (only because there is less cross-over). I believe the first is spectrum. Ugh. googling.

Reader 4 I’m already out of order on both then But i knew i was out of order on lakeside

Reader 3 Veritas.

Reader 4 I didn’t know this was connected to any others

Reader 3 Veritas was written…holy crap. in 2014. Damn, i feel old. Not that long ago in terms of publishing, but….still

Sneak Peek: Labor of Love

My latest novel, LABOR OF LOVE, is available now on Amazon. In the latest novel in my bestselling Lakeside Hospital medical romance series, pediatrician Lily meets visiting obstetrician Mercedes. They know from the start their relationship has an expiration date, so what’s the harm in a little fling?

Read the first chapter below.

“Now’s the moment I think you’ve all been waiting for,” the Chief of Medicine said, his voice reverberating into the podium microphone.

He was a short, portly man in his sixties, and he’d been nice enough when Mercedes approached him about a temporary job. Most chiefs wouldn’t be interested in a doctor who opened her request with, I’ll only be in town for six months, but Dr. Ross didn’t bat an eye – he happily hired her on as a visiting obstetrician.

No doubt, her reputation was a contributing factor in his willingness.

That was why Dr. Ross had called a full-blown staff meeting to introduce Mercedes to the rest of the Lakeside Hospital staff, although by the looks on everyone’s faces – tired and impatient at seven in the morning – she thought there was a chance Dr. Ross was overestimating her reputation. She was, indeed, a big deal in obstetrics, but why should the entire staff of a mid-sized hospital in Illinois know or care about her?

Mercedes was sitting in a padded, rigid-backed chair at the front of the room, six rows of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff behind her. She straightened her posture and put on a smile as the chief introduced her.

“I’d like to welcome Dr. Mercedes Stone to the Lakeside family,” Dr. Ross said. “She’s a native Illinoisan who comes to us by way of Seattle, where she’s been doing some very exciting research on preventative measures against preeclampsia. We’re fortunate to have her talents at Lakeside for the next six months before she returns to Seattle. Dr. Stone, would you like to say a few words?”

Mercedes stood, running her hands down the front of her thighs to smooth the wrinkles from her pants. Approaching a podium was nothing new for her, nor was addressing a large crowd. Ordinarily, though, she was sharing her research with her colleagues at high-profile medical conferences – not introducing herself to a hospital staff in a town she never expected to return to.

Lord, get me back to Seattle soon, she thought as she approached the microphone and put on a smile.

“Thank you, Dr. Ross,” she said.

The chief was definitely overestimating her reputation outside of her specialty – there were a lot of blank faces staring back at her. It was early – or for those just getting off the night shift, late – and her audience looked sleepy, their eyes glazed. That was another thing Mercedes wasn’t used to – when she gave talks about her research, the doctors in the audience were always on the edges of their seats, fascinated with her work.

Most of these people were shift nurses, orderlies, and doctors outside her specialty – they probably didn’t even know the name Mercedes Stone until five minutes ago.

“I’m looking forward to working with the obstetrics department here,” she said – a lie. All she wanted was to go back to her real life, and the research she’d had to put on hold, but she was stuck in Evanston.

And there was nothing she could do about that.

She talked for a few minutes about her background – fancy colleges, a prestigious residency, and a coveted fellowship that sure felt like it was all for nothing now that she was right back where she came from. She kept it short – the first rule of public speaking was to know your audience, after all – but there was one face in the crowd that stood out.

There was a woman sitting in the front row, leaning slightly forward in her chair and looking at Mercedes with glossy, golden brown eyes like a tiger’s eye gemstone. She wore a long white coat with a pretty floral dress beneath it, and her dark skin reminded Mercedes of the color of rich caramel.

Mercedes recognized her.

Lily Thomas, a pediatrician who was making a name for herself in the treatment of adolescent burn patients. Their professional circles had intersected a few times over the last few years, although they’d never had occasion to speak, and it was at a conference that Lily first caught Mercedes’ eye. She’d been giving a talk about a new debridement method that she’d had success with, and in addition to being intelligent and driven, Mercedes couldn’t help but notice Dr. Thomas was a very attractive woman.

By the end of her short, introductory speech, Mercedes found herself talking almost exclusively to her. Dr. Thomas was the only one in the audience who was listening anyway, and Mercedes took great joy in observing the way the color in her cheeks deepened the longer Mercedes maintained eye contact with her.

So Lakeside Hospital might be fun after all.

***

When Dr. Ross dismissed the meeting, it was like a stampede of staff charging out of the conference room. Mercedes was no stranger to the workings of a hospital – all of these people had patients to see, or families to go home to, or beds to crash into. They cared about those things much more than the new obstetrician on the team, and she didn’t blame them.

Mercedes, on the other hand, had thirty minutes to kill before her orientation meeting with the head of her department. She also had a powerful craving for a good, hot cup of coffee.

She weaved her way through the crowd to a long table spread with every type of pastry and breakfast beverage imaginable. That was the real draw of early-morning staff meetings, and a lot of people were snagging donuts and paper cups of coffee on their way out the door.

Mercedes grabbed a paper cup, too, and started filling it from one of the coffee carafes as doctors and nurses breezed by her with the pastries they’d earned for their attendance.

“Mercedes?” someone said behind her, a soft and friendly voice that made her eager to turn around.

When she did, she found Lily Thomas standing nervously in front of her. She stuttered, “Err, Dr. Stone. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to presume-”

“Nonsense,” Mercedes said, setting down her coffee and holding out her hand. “You should call me Mercedes – I’m sure our departments will be intermingling quite a bit…”

“Our departments?” Lily asked as she took Mercedes’ hand. Her grip was surprisingly firm – Mercedes had expected something a little limper based on the admiring schoolgirl look in Lily’s eyes.

“Pediatrics and obstetrics,” Mercedes explained. “In a hospital this size, they’re practically the same department, right?”

Something fiery flashed in Lily’s eyes – pride, maybe? As she released Mercedes’ hand, she said, “I didn’t know you knew who I was.”

“Lily Thomas,” Mercedes said, taking particular pleasure in the obviously smitten look in her new coworker’s eyes. Now the only question was, did Lily have a professional crush on her work, or was it something more? It would be a fun diversion to find out. She continued, “You’re doing important work in burn patient care and I read your paper in The Journal of Pediatrics last winter. You’re a force to be reckoned with, Dr. Thomas.”

“Lily,” she said, glancing at the buffet table. It was pretty much picked over, but she found a plain cake donut and bit into it, then with charmingly stuffed cheeks, she said, “We’re not that small, though. Lakeside is ranked number three in the area, and our cardiology and surgical departments are among the best in the country.”

“And the pediatrics department?” Mercedes asked, taking a sip of her coffee.

“We’ve got Lurie Children’s Hospital to compete with in Chicago, but we’re slowly but surely making a name for our pediatric burn center,” Lily said, and the look in her eyes that time was definitely pride. She polished off the cake donut, making short work of it, then said, “If you don’t mind my asking, why did you come back to Illinois? You were in the middle of such important research.”

Mercedes set her jaw, irritation bubbling up in her involuntarily like it had every time she thought about her work lately.

“I was,” she said. Her research partner, Dr. Knowlton, had said putting the study on hold would jeopardize the findings. Mercedes had exchanged some harsh words with him about that, because he was right and she had to leave Seattle anyway. “I hope to get back home before the patients in our trial start to give birth, but you know how unpredictable pregnancy can be – multiply that by twenty-five patients.”

She gave a little laugh to keep from screaming at the frustration of it all, and noticed a worry line forming on Lily’s forehead. It was there for just a second, then gone again.

“Anyway,” Mercedes said, “I had some family matters to attend to here, and Dr. Ross was kind enough to grant me privileges at Lakeside because I can’t stand not working.”

“Oh,” Lily said, her expression clouding slightly. “I hope everything’s okay.”

“Sure,” Mercedes said. “Thanks.”

There was no good answer to that, so she just occupied herself with another sip of coffee while she surreptitiously studied Lily a little more. There was no ring on her finger, and the looks she kept giving Mercedes – up through her eyelashes, a seductive move that never failed to turn her to putty in a pretty girl’s hands – were not suggestive of the presence of a girlfriend or, God forbid, a boyfriend.

Lily looked away first, grabbing a paper cup and pouring herself some orange juice. Mercedes couldn’t help poking a little fun. “OJ, really? I thought all doctors had caffeine in their blood.”

“Orange juice is healthier,” Lily said. She glanced at a large, fashionable watch on her wrist and said, “I have to get upstairs to begin my shift now. I just wanted to introduce myself to you, but I guess that wasn’t necessary after all.”

She gave Mercedes a crooked little smile that was definitely flirtatious and Mercedes grinned back at her. She had just about decided that Lily would prove to be another good distraction from her troubles while she was here.

“It was nice to meet you, Dr. Thomas,” she said.

“I look forward to working with you,” Lily said, her cheeks coloring once again as she turned and headed for the door.