Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pitches and contests and.......waiting. Oh my.

by Sharon Lathan

Yep, now comes the hard part! You thought it was smashing your 90,000 word story into 50 words, didn't you? Ha! No, the really tough part is sitting back for the next two weeks and letting fate - or in this case Deb - decide what will happen. Oh, the agony!

Seriously, for all that I may sound flip, believe me, we feel your pain. Because each of us Casablanca authors (and everyone else) had to play the waiting game. No matter how we pitched or queried, even if we were lucky in some fashion and were miraculously 'discovered,' at some point in the process there was the wait. Waiting for the agent to decide yea or nay. Waiting for the editor to get back to us. Waiting for the contract to arrive while sure someone important would change their mind. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

And then, even after the contract is signed (and we finally believe it is real and not a wonderful dream) there is more waiting. It takes a LONG time to get a book on the shelves! I guess what I am trying to convey is that we do understand how tough these next two weeks are for each of you who compressed your creation into a handful of sentences, and then boldly stepped forward and pitched. Guts are required to put yourself out there, and we do appreciate that. Yet at the same time my point is a cautionary one. Because 2 weeks is nothing in this business!

Now some of you may be real good at waiting. Maybe this contest is just another page in the extensive book that recounts your personal quest to get published. In that case you have probably learned patience. Or perhaps patience naturally comes easy for you. Bless you! You are a huge leap ahead right off the bat if that is the case. I am a terribly impatient soul. The waiting has nearly driven me mad at times. But patience is a requisite so if you have learned it or possess it already, awesome! Publishing life shall be easier for you.

Unfortunately, the other aspect of this contest opportunity - the part that is so tragic and sad that I did not want to list it in the title - is the necessary rejection. We are thrilled to be able to offer our blog and the keen judgment of our editor. However, we also knew, (as surely most of you did as well) that the vast majority will face a rejection of sorts. *wince* Sorry about that, but hopefully the experience will benefit is some way.

None of us doubt that each of you put your heart and soul into your story. It's your baby. Each of you thinks it the best of the best; more than worthy of getting published. Fantastic! Good for you! That is the spirit! Confidence is essential. Because like waiting, rejection is part of this business as well. It is the belief in yourself, the assurance that your novel is beyond incredible, that will keep you going even after we announce the winner and it isn't you. I was confident in my novel. So much so that it stunned me when I was rejected! I'm still not sure if I was ignorant or just plain stupid to expect folks to climb over each other to sign me, but whatever the case, I did not give up. And, here I am on the cusp of seeing my debut novel on shelves. Yippee!! If it can happen for me, it can happen for you.

Thanks for joining the Casablanca Authors in our contest. Encouraging fellow authors is important to us since each of us knows how it feels to want the dream. Don't forget to check back!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Why I Love Being An Author


by Malena Lott

Last Saturday I participated in a local author book fair. While I thought it was strange that a bookstore (we have a great indie) didn't handle the book sales, I bought the books from said indie and schlepped them to the event and managed to sell 7 (seven) in three hours. Why would *that* make me love being an author? Well, here's the deal. Out of the thirty+ authors there, only four were published by a recognized publisher.  I pitched my book to every white-haired sweetie that passed my table (no one over 70 bought my book), but I sat there feeling REALLY happy that I didn't have to do book fairs and hand-sell my books every weekend like the self-published authors. The recent article on self-publishing services flourishing while mainstream publishers falter proved itself in 3D. I was outnumbered 10-1. 

I admire their perseverance and passion. To PAY to get your book published, you'd really have to believe in it (the story) and yourself, let alone be able to handle the demands in cover art, distributors, marketing and sales. As much as I wanted to be published, I can tell you I never even considered going down that road. I was enthralled - and overwhelmed. Each author is not only competing with books in regular bookstores, but against e-books and all other Publish-on-demand books, too. Wow.

Which gets me back to that Magic Seven.  One aspiring author (youngish) bought my book and I swear I got an e-mail from her the NEXT DAY saying she had stayed up until 4 a.m. to finish the book. She loved it. She went on to tell me all the reasons she loved it.  She had paid close attention to all the nuances in the book. I ate it up! Ego Monster, nom, nom, nom

Then the next day I get two more great e-mails: one from Single Titles.com, a book review site telling me Dating da Vinci was named a Reviewers Choice Best Book of 2008.  And another from a reader who thanked me for sending the Book Club Questions because she picked Dating da Vinci for her February book club so her friends could read it during the Valentine month. 

Yes, it's an uphill climb. What isn't these days? But for me, being an author is just WHO I AM. It's not really about ego; it's about identity. I always believed deep in my soul, as far back as the sixth grade, that I would have books on bookshelves with my name on the spine. I'm just happy to be here. 

CONTEST! Want your name in a book? Submit names for a health spa (mind/body/spirit retreat) that will be featured in the current WIP I'm writing and if i pick yours I'll name a character at the retreat after you! Either send your names in the comments here or at malenalott@mac.com. I'll announce the winner on Valentine's Day! Thanks for playing! 


Thursday, January 29, 2009

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT JUDGING CONTESTS AND READING SUBMISSIONS

From our acquiring editor, Deb Werksman

Reading submissions is my favorite part of my job--every one of them has the potential to be something truly extraordinary.

I also love judging contests, because who doesn't love being asked to judge and evaluate?

The interesting difference between the two activities is that in a contest, the entries are judged against each other, while with submissions, it's purely about the marketplace. The best of all possible worlds is to find a contest entry that I think is going to work in the marketplace--and that does happen.

Here's what I'm acquiring now!
Single-title romance (including trilogies and single-title series)
90,000 words, please
Any subgenre (historical, contemporary, paranormal, erotic romance, romantic suspense)

I'm really excited about this contest, and I can't wait to read your pitches!


To enter your pitch of fifty words or less simply post it to the blog as a comment.The winner will be invited to send Deb a full manuscript and two runners-up will be invited to submit synopses.

Honorable mentions will win a one-chapter critique by a Casablanca author.

Winners will be announced in the February 14 Casablanca Authors blog. For full details and the complete contest rules see the January 24 blog.

Let the pitching begin! Good luck, everyone!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fast Pitch Frustration

Well, tomorrow's finally the day! Hope to see lots of new faces and intriguing ideas at tomorrow's pitch contest, where the trick is to hook our lovely editor Deb Werksman in fifty words...or less:-) Sound impossible? It's not. But man, does it take some creative editing!

Writing up a quickie blurb, the fast pitch, is always a challenge for me. It can also be fun, in a sick-and-twisted, semi-painful sort of way, but it has never been easy. You see, I'm what is nicely described as *ahem* somewhat long-winded. Meaning my most frequent writing sin is that I stuff so much information into my drafts that they then require a machete to free the good stuff from the, er, voluminous extra. So I figure having to write blurbs is good for me, though I'm like Cheryl in that no one should expect me to be able to rattle off a snazzy pitch verbally. You'd only have me gaping at you in silent horror, totally floored without a glowing screen and about an hour to whittle the description down.

It's an excellent skill, though, the fast pitch. And you know what? I still have to do it. Deb always asks for a blurb for each of my books to use for various things, and besides that I'm still writing, still trying to get new contracts. The quest for the perfect hook never dies:-) My blurbs for Deb are considerably longer than fifty words, but I can pick a few lines from them and create a fast pitch if I have to. Here, I've just opened up the file with my Wild Highland Magic blurb, so let me see what I can come up with. Okay, check it out:

She's a werewolf searching for her past. He's a Drakkyn fighting for his future. Together, Cat and Bastian will confront the ancient secrets that could destroy them both. And they're about to discover that no matter how impossible love may seem, the Highland moon weaves a magic all its own.

Okay, that may or may not be a shining example of The Bestest Pitch Evah, but it is a pretty fair distillation of the concept of my (shameless plug!) May release, Wild Highland Magic. Plus, it took me a pretty arduous half hour even though I initially thought I knew just what I would do, so please feel obligated to pretend you like it:-) And hey, it's EXACTLY fifty words! Okay, I'm not even entering the contest and I'm psyched I managed this.

Anyway, my point, and I do have one, is not to be intimidated by the word count. If you've got a great story, and are a lover of lotsa-lotsa words like me, you can still get out that machete and have something eye-catching and interesting for our contest tomorrow. It's a great prize! Give it a shot! You can dooo eeet! If somebody like me can squish a book into fifty words, anyone can, believe me.

Best of luck to our entrants, and may the best blurb win!

-Kendra

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More queries and pitches and blurbs, OH MY!!!

February 12, 2007

Dear Ms. Werksman,

I am a new author seeking publication of my erotic romance novel, THE RESCUE, a futuristic story of 72,000 words. The heroine, Jacinth (Jack) Rutland, is a tough, independent space trader in search of her kidnapped sister, Ranata. To aid her on her quest, she buys Carkdacund (Cat) Tshevnoe, a slave who is one of the last of a race of feline humanoids with some rather remarkable sexual traits. Their quest takes them to a planet where all women are enslaved, and where Cat must pose as Jack's master. Along the way, they encounter strange aliens, harrowing adventures, joy and laughter, a truly unique romance, and sex beyond your wildest dreams.

This is one of fifteen novels that I have completed to date, and I am currently working on a prequel to this story.

Enclosed are a synopsis, the first four chapters and a SASE. I look forward to hearing from you.


That was my query letter for The Rescue, which later became The Cat Star Chronicles: Slave. Don't know if it's any good or not, but Deb did say there was something about it that made her want to keep reading. Interestingly enough, there was a mistake in the version I sent to her, and though I don't recommend putting one in on purpose, I guess it just goes to show you that even a small error won't completely destroy your chances.

The funny thing is, I didn't put a whole lot of effort into writing that letter. I'd sweated bullets over so many of them that I'd sent to agents and other publishers, only to be rejected, that when I saw in RWR that Sourcebooks was a newly approved publisher of romances and that they were taking erotics and paranormals, I thought, what the hell, I'll send them The Rescue. It was too short, but Deb liked it enough to accept it when I rewrote and resubmitted it.

I've never pitched a book to anyone in person, and even over the phone my explanations of other books just fall apart. I do better when I can write it down and and then edit it to death before anyone sees it. If I were to pitch something in person, I'd probably have to read it off an index card, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

I may have never pitched a book, but I have written some blurbs, and the writing style is very different from writing a book. You have to use superlatives, and if you're as shy about self-promotion as I am, that won't come easily for you. Though I've never tried it, it might be best to think of it as a book someone else wrote and you're the agent trying to sell it.

It takes a lot of courage to submit a book and for those of you entering this contest, it will take even more courage because it's out here on the Internet where anyone can see it and comment on it. Even so, you have very little to lose and everything to gain by entering, and I wish each of you the best of luck. Something tells me the competition will be fierce!

Monday, January 26, 2009

PITCHES GALORE!

by Danielle Jackson

In light of our little focus on pitching—I thought I’d talk about what essentially I do all day:


PITCH YOUR BOOKS!


Really, I do! I’m presenting your books to reviewers, bloggers, etc., making sure they know what makes your books special and different and worth reading. And that’s what I do. I try to pick out that one thing that makes your book special, so whether it’s humanoids with interesting capabilities in the bedroom or a Navy SEAL with a heart of gold, I’m going to hone in on that unique trait, and expand on that!


Now of course, that doesn’t always work the first time around. Generally, I write more than one pitch for every book—some only need one—but others need different angles for the various intended audiences. For example, let’s take Sharon’s book: Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Now Sharon, don’t think I’m singling you out for any reason—your book just lends itself easily to this demonstration. Sharon’s book is great because it is continuing the story of probably the most famous romantic couple in history (next to only Romeo and Juliet, I’d say). But of course, not everyone is interested in reading that…but what about historical fiction? A lot of people are interested in learning about the day to day life of women and men in the regency! BUT, some people just want to read the sexy stuff! From one general pitch, though, the historical fiction fans might not know about the elements of history, or the romance fans might not realize that this Mr. Darcy is the most romantic one out there… So I make a point of sending a more history based pitch to the history lovers, and a more romance based pitch to the romance fans. This way, they know what they want is in this book, and they go in knowing that what they want is coming to them loud and proud.


I’ve said this before—but the way I see my job is to find the right people to read and review your books. And if I don’t find them the first time around, I’m going to go out again and again and again (and again, if necessary) to make sure we find the appropriate audience to read and enjoy and give the GLOWING reviews you all deserve.


SO—now do you see why I’m always asking for your input for ideas? Even the CRAZY ones? Or I ask you to take on a project with a specific focus? And I know it took a big leap for all of you to send pitches, queries, etc. to agents and editors, but I think you should all know, when you’re pitching something that isn’t yours, but belongs so deeply and much to another person who is proud of what they write—it’s TERRIFYING! But I think I do a good job, and we all collaborate and get the job done!


Good luck to everyone who plans on participating in the contest!


PS

Sorry for the late posting—I was away from a computer all weekend and was incredibly busy…

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Queries (and Pitches and Blurbs) -- OH MY!

posted by Aunty Cindy aka Loucinda McGary

BIG THANX to Mary Margret for her instructive post on Saturday sharing her process of coming up with alternate 50 word (or less) pitches.

Another good source for pitches (especially if you have more than 50 words or 30 seconds in an elevator) is your query letter. In my case, I have usually revised and polished my query letters to within an inch of my life, so I like to use them (in whatever form) at every available opportunity. Below is the query letter I used most often for the book that eventually sold and became The Wild Sight:

Cursed with the Irish clairvoyance known as “The Sight,” Donovan O’Shea fled to America to escape his “gift.” After fifteen years, his father’s illness has forced him to return to the family homestead. Decades earlier, Donovan’s mother disappeared into the encroaching fens and was never seen again. Now the same fens are offering up secrets, both ancient and recent, and restoring a terrible legacy that just may drive him mad. And if this is not trouble enough, a beautiful woman walks into his life, claiming to be his half-sister.

Rylie Powell never knew her real father. Her mother would only say he was a charming Irishman who seduced her, married her, and then abandoned her and his baby daughter. But after her mother’s death, Rylie finds tantalizing clues about her father that send her off to Northern Ireland and an archeological site on Dermot O’Shea’s property, the man listed on her birth certificate as her father.

-Did Dermot O’Shea father both Donovan and Rylie?
-What is Donovan’s connection to the Celtic High King Niall of the Nine Hostages?
-And what secret do the fens hold that invites murder?

I have been writing full-time since 2004. In 2005, I was a finalist in the Daphne du Maurier contest for unpublished writers, and in 2006, I was a Golden Heart finalist in romantic suspense. I have traveled extensively and have relatives in Northern Ireland who helped inspire this story. I would be happy to send you the first three chapters and a synopsis.

If some of this looks vaguely familiar, portions of it have been used on Amazon, in various interviews I've done, and even on my back cover blurb. Oh yes, and I've used it more than once when someone asks, "So what is your book about?"

Hope this has been helpful for all you writers out there who are gearing up for our contest on Thursday! On of the critiques given as a runner-up prize will be from Yours Truly.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Break Up The Winter Doldrums With a Contest From the Casablanca Authors and Our Acquiring Editor Deb Werksman!

Deb will make her monthly visit to the blog on Thursday, January 29. The Casa Authors invite you to submit a 50-word pitch for your book in the comment section of Deb's blog. If we like yours the best, Deb will request your full manuscript and provide feedback. Two runners up will be asked to submit a synopsis to Deb. As an added extra, several of the Casa Authors have offered critiques of a first chapter and synopsis (up to 50 pages) to selected runners-up!

What is Deb Looking For?

Single title romance (series/trilogies too!) in all sub-genres:
*paranormal
*historical
*contemporary
*romantic suspense
*erotic romance
minimum 90,000 words, please
*a heroine the reader can identify with
*a hero she can fall in love with
*a world is created
*a "hook" Deb can use to sell the book in 2-3 sentences

Contest Rules
--The contest will run from 12:01 a.m. on January 29 and end at noon on January 30. All pitches must be entered into the comments section of Deb's blog by noon on Jan. 30. No pitches may be emailed to the blog, to individual authors or to Deb. Emailed pitches will be automatically disqualified.

--Please enter pitches ONLY for finished, polished manuscripts that are at least 90,000 words in length. No works in progress please.

--Winners will be announced on Saturday, February 14 on the Casablanca Authors blog. No individual messages will be sent to winners. The winner and runners up have until 5 p.m. on Monday, February 16 to send the full manuscript/and or requested synopsis to Deb's assistant Lisa Acosta at lisa.acosta@sourcebooks.com. If the winning MS is not received by the deadline, a runner up will be chosen. Deb will respond within three to four weeks. Critique runners up will be notified as to how to proceed.

--Decisions of the judges (Deb, our publicist Danielle, and the Casa Authors) are final.

--Winning this contest does not in any way constitute a guarantee of publication or further consideration by Sourcebooks Casablanca.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Queries and pitches and blurbs--oh my! (and a new cover)



by Mary Margret Daughtridge

January 29, our Casablanca editor will be with us to take your fifty-word pitches for your book, so I hope your pencils are sharpened and you're polishing away already. Marie's going to tell you all about it tomorrow, and she'll answer all your questions.

When I suggested to the other Casababes we have this little pitch-party, and maybe offer some tips for success, several admitted they had never pitched. Well, neither have I. True. And then, I wondered if I could.

Evey author needs a couple of sentences they can respond with when someone asks, "What's your book about?" So I decided to offer a warm-up to the Deb's blog by writing some pitches for SEALed With a Promise, the SEALed book that will be in the stores in April.

I played by the rules: fifty words and under. We learn by doing and then getting feedback. Tell me which pitch you think is most successful. I'd also welcome suggestions. Here goes:

1. Caleb, a Navy SEAL must enter a senator's world if he hopes to fulfill his promise to make the senator pay for his mother’s death. A dowdy daughter of missionaries can be Caleb's ticket--if he can persuade a woman who’s not used to masculine attention, she’s worthy of his.

2. As a trailer-trash kid Caleb swore he’d make Senator Calhoun pay for his mother’s death. Someday. Now he’s a SEAL and ready to bring Calhoun down. Emmie, a spinsterish PhD, has the entrée he needs into Calhoun’s upper-crust world. Caleb’s next step: make Emmie believe they’re in love.

3. As a trailer-trash kid Caleb blamed Senator Calhoun for his mother’s death. Now Caleb’s a SEAL. Emmie, dowdy professor, has the entrée he needs into Calhoun’s upper-crust circle. Once there, he’ll bring the senator down. But first he must convince the family (and Emmie) they’re engaged.

4. Caleb, a Navy SEAL, and Emmie, a dowdy professor, team up to bring a “Family Values” Senator who’s also a deadbeat dad his comeuppance. But Emmie doesn’t know how deadly in earnest Caleb is. When fate offers Caleb perfect eye-for-an-eye revenge, only love will decide which promises they keep.

Since I just know you're dying to read more by now, here's a back-of-the-book blurb I wrote for inclusion in ARC(Advance Review Copy) letters to go out with SEALed With A Promise.

The maid of honor has connections.

Bookish blue-blood, Emmie Caddington, all beige hair and baggy suits, fades into the woodwork most to the time—even when she’s maid of honor at an Eastern North Carolina society wedding. Few men notice her, fewer still want her.

The best man is a SEAL.

But Navy SEAL Caleb Dulaude, aka “Do-Lord,” is trained to see what others miss—in this case: fey beauty, a killer bod, and quirky charm. When Emmie needs his covert operative skills to switch the cakes at the wedding, he knows just how to turn her quixotic scheme to his advantage. She isn’t immune to the attraction between them. Emmie can be his ticket into Senator Teague Calhoun’s upper-crust world.

Caleb was just a trailer-trash kid when he promised to make Calhoun pay for his mother’s death—someday, somehow. Now he’s a SEAL, battle-hardened, subtle and crafty. He hides his genius IQ under country-boy charm—and someday is finally here. All he has to do is convince the world (and Emmie) that they are a couple.

They both have promises to keep.

Emmie’s no fool. He wants entrée into Calhoun’s extended family? Okay. But Emmie has promised herself she’ll never again drift into a one-sided relationship. With a makeover to boost her confidence in her attractiveness, she insists on commitment.

Hot passion and the increasingly bright hope of a real future together make it easy for Caleb to promise Emmie anything she wants, and hard to remember his desire to make Calhoun accountable.

But when fate hands Caleb the perfect eye-for-an-eye justice, will either be prepared for what keeping their promises is going to cost?

All I know is, I went looking for Teague Calhoun, and I found you. That’s enough for now.—Caleb Dulaude.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wolves 'R Us

While writing my wolf tales, I do a lot of reading up on wolves and recently I found a true life story with a tragic ending for one wolf's mate, but the wolf found another to love, my favorite happily-ever-after wolf tale. So I hope to include it in a story soon.

Right now I'm writing more blogs and author interviews about wolves, werewolves, and the like for the upcoming release of Destiny of the Wolf.

So the question that invariably comes up--where do you get your ideas?





From research on werewolves, wolves, and the areas my books are set in, werewolf legends and mythology, body language, both for humans and wolves--and pictures like these that tell their very own story. :)

But the wolves are only part of the story. The tale wouldn't be complete without the human part of the equation.

So here's the human side of the story. :)
Next up is
Temptation of the Wolf, due out in the fall, and I can't wait to see what the art department comes up with for a new cover. :) And following that is Allure of the Wolf, (title still under discussion), but it's about Arctic wolves, so the first picture above shows what our hero/heroine might look like in their Arctic fur coats. :)

Terry Spear

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cruising for Love -- The End!


“Run!” Marcus took off at warp speed.

“Yikes!” Tricia yelped as he grabbed her hand and dragged her down the hallway. Realizing running in spike heels wasn’t working, she kicked them off and snatch up the hem of her gown as she scrambled to keep up with Marcus’s longer strides. “Shorter person here.”

“Kill them all!” Eric Leif, the Red, bellowed, as he raced after them with a heavy duty, and extremely sharp, sword in his hand and a wave of followers on his heels.

“This was supposed to be a fun cruise!” Tricia panted, as Marcus, along with Mustafa and Jean Pierre as human bookends. “I was only supposed to walk around in pretty gowns and expensive jewelry!”

“Sometimes we don’t get what we want.” Marcus flashed her one of those bone-melting grins. “And sometimes we do.”

“Hurry!” Merry called out from ahead of them, her gown billowing around her with brilliant sparkles and her wand dancing in the air.

“What are –?” Tricia’s question faltered as the four of them seemed to swim through an invisible wall of Jell-O. She looked behind her to see Eric literally bounce off the Jell-O wall. She pulled free of Marcus’s grip and did a quick victory dance.

“We’re not safe yet.” Marcus reclaimed her hand and turned her to face him. “How brave are you, my love?”

She gulped. “Brave as in not screaming when I see a mouse or brave as in not going all hysterical because my life has been in danger and I could have been sold as a sex slave?”

He smiled. “Brave as in leaving this world for another. Leaving all you know behind.”
Her eyes widened with the implication of his words. “

“It’s time to go,” Jean Pierre reminded him.

“Quickly!” Mustafa seconded his words.

“Marcus.” Merry put in her own two cents. She smiled reassuringly at Tricia. “It’s beautiful in our world.”

Tricia was at a loss for words. “You’ll be there? You won’t just take me there and suddenly take off for another alternate world or come back here?”

He brushed the back of his fingers across her cheek. “Why would I when you would share my life and my world?”

“I’m not an impulsive person,” she admitted, feeling an odd rumble under her feet.

Merry waved her wand and the end of the hallway seemed to expand. At the end of the hallway was a roiling swirl of color.

“Uh.” Tricia’s stomach suddenly took a nosedive.

Marcus lifted her hand to his lips.

“You are my soul mate, Tricia. I promise you will never regret your decision. I will love and cherish you for all of my life.”

What could she do? No man had ever made her feel the way Marcus did. Plus, what man tells her they’re soul mates?

“We must hurry,” Merry urged them. “The Gate cannot stay open much longer.”

Tricia took a deep breath and laced her fingers through Marcus’s.

“I’m going to need a wardrobe.”

He grinned. “Not for awhile.” His low growl brought a blush to her cheeks. He wasted no time leading her toward the Gate that hummed away.

Tricia felt an odd sensation as they stepped into the Gate.

“You do have Nordies and Sephora on your world, don’t you?” she asked, as the Gate started to close after Mustafa who entered last.

“What is Nordies and Sephora?”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cruising for Love, Part 14

by Sharon Lathan

“We have a few minutes to spare, Aunt Merry,” Mustafa said, halting their slow steps down the apparently never-ending corridor. “Go on and set the path while we wait for Olav.”

Merry Joyful nodded. She floridly waved her wand at the glowing object that was no longer a cleaning cart. Her wings fluttered and body jauntily bobbed as she urged the sparkling green and orange – carriage? pinnace? – along what was clearly a corridor too wide for the lower levels of an ocean vessel. And, Tricia suddenly realized with a jolt, devoid of doorways or the cheap carpet covering the…..glass? What the heck….?

Marcus chuckled lowly in her ear, bringing her back to, um reality, with a warm rush of desire surging to her toes. “Ah, dear Aunt Merry. Every since she saw Cinderella she had to have a blue ballgown. Said the image suited her.” He chuckled again, pausing for a swift, searing kiss to her cheek. “It is all about the image, you know,” he finished with a smile and penetrating gaze that really did make it hard to think coherently. Especially when he was clutching her so close to his hard body.

“So, um, images huh? Is that why the Lucius Malfoy thing?” She jerked her head toward Jean Pierre, who was leaning languidly against the wall and actually studying his fingernails, if you can believe that!

Marcus chuckled yet again – “Damn, I wish he would stop doing that!” she thought as her knees turned to mush and heat coiled in her belly – speaking in an amused tone, “You noticed. He will be pleased. He works hard on the affectation, you see. Joanne was smitten from the start. Suppose that was why she had to write him into the story. Quite smug about it, Jean Pierre is.”

“Jo-Joanne? As in JK Rowling?”

He grinned, melting her further, “Indeed. They have been friends for years. Quite the storyteller, my cousin. More than a few of his tales of home made their way into the books. No Voldemort though,” he added, noting the alarm in her eyes with mirth. “Lord Tybalt is a nasty fellow, but not that bad. The information that the Aldontal brothers sailed the same ship as the arranged Perudinian ‘treaty’ was never taken as a coincidence. We have the upper hand, have no fear of that.”

And oddly, she felt no fear. She felt many other things, vague curiosity and raging lust among them, but no fear. As truly bizarre as it all was it seemed….right. She shook her head, trying to clear it of residual drink-induced haze or hormonal stupor, only to recognize that she had never in her life felt more complete and rational. She had no idea what was going on or where they were going, but it no longer mattered.

“Jean Pierre said you marked me. What did he mean?”

The expression crossing his face was a stunning mixture of wanton passion and fathomless love, his blue eyes electric as they bore into hers. “Ah! You see, where I come from we know our life-mate upon first sight. Admittedly I initially noticed the necklace.” His fingertips traced the string of diamonds, touching and burning skin more than gems, “These are part of the royal House of Black jewels that Armand stole, after all. But as soon as I looked into your eyes, I knew. You are mine and I am yours, even if you do not yet know it for certain. I marked you so none on this ship of devils could harm you.”

Whoa! Too much information! Brain overload! “So,” she stammered, “you are taking me with you to your planet? Beaming me up and all that?” Her attempt to laugh was a bit wobbly; I mean it isn’t every day a girl meets her true love, three navels and all, and gets swept into an interplanetary coup with Vikings and pirates!

Marcus laughed. “Not quite. It is more of an inter-dimensional world. We exist on another plane, outside of your time, beyond the boundaries of the sea; take your pick from whichever sci-fi/fantasy novel you wish.” He shrugged. “Any will explain it well enough. We occasionally visit your world, interfering as little as possible, but the theft of the Dagmorvanian jewels could not be ignored. Tracking Armand and Alistair Aldontal, reclaiming the lost property they sold, has been a lengthy undertaking, leading to this vessel for the final recovery. Finding you was a bonus and has made it worth my while.”

He leaned for a kiss, Tricia feeling faint merely at the idea, only to have the spell harshly broken…

“I am falling asleep here! This is the most boring conversation ever recorded!” Jean Pierre interrupted with a disgusted sigh. “Mustafa, if Olav does not arrive soon we will be forced to leave him. Brother or not, he knows the risks and can take care of himself. Let him and the other soldiers take care of the mess. One security officer is enough to get us safely home, and I am at my wits end with this primitive place!”

“Just a few minutes more,” Mustafa pleaded from his vigil several yards away. “You know how determined Olav has been to permanently end Armand and Alistair trafficking in stolen women. He abhors how it sullies our world and has never been content to merely retrieve the jewels.”

Jean Pierre yawned hugely, the wave of his hand leaving no doubt as to his disinterest in that problem.

Marcus did not seem to be overly concerned either, as he had instantly turned his lips from their intended target – her mouth – to her neck. The havoc he was wrecking made it extremely difficult to for her to remain upright or to pay attention to what was going on around her. Thoughts of lavish staterooms with enormous satin sheeted four-poster beds aboard magical ships sailing through time warps wrapped around her mind. So pellucid was the vision, prompting her to wonder if he was implanting thoughts as easily as he apparently read them, that she almost missed the increasing racket echoing from the dark corridor they had recently escaped down.

Marcus heard it though, tearing his lips away – double damn! – and pivoting with her tightly clutched in his embrace. Even Jean Pierre had reacted, the lazy indifference gone, as they collectively stared at the man running toward them.

“Olav! Finally!” Mustafa exclaimed.

Identity confirmed, Tricia thought. But it had not really been necessary as the man was nearly a clone of the trumpet-playing-Turk-turned-alien-ship-security-officer. Yet, that registered barely as the real surprise was the group of men running a dozen yards behind Olav, led by an angry, sword wielding Eric Leif, the Red.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The No-Matter-What Goal


by Malena Lott
Once upon a time, four days ago to be exact, I was having a very pre-Cinderella moment, cleaning the cluttered playroom/office upstairs. The reason for my cleaningfest was because a camera crew would be here the next day to shoot a photo for a magazine article on "how color enhances a room." My playroom/office is apple green and the style is fun and contemporary with some vintage mod chairs thrown in for good measure. I got the chair pictured herein at a used office store. Three of them for $6 each. They were real office chairs from the 1960s. The Ugly Dolls are supplied by my daughter. I assured her they prefer to be in my cool chairs than at the bottom of her stuffed animal pile in her room.

I'll be honest. I'm feeling pretty cocky about the clean-up in that moment. I'm down to one pile of papers (mostly trash) and my toddler, TinyHulk as I like to call him, is spinning in my office chair waiting for me to finish so I can tuck him in - again. Then it happens. A crash. The chair stops spinning. My eyes dart to the ground where my laptop is in a triangle on the carpeted floor.

"My computer!" His spinning chair had clipped the computer, sending it to the floor. I pick it up, sit in the chair and stair incredulously at the screen. Cracked. The bottom right corner is black with a crack line from the top left corner like a strike on a bowling game. Red, green and yellow lines cover the screen, making it mighty tough to read the screen.

"What's wrong with your computer?" TinyHulk asks.

"It's broken. You broke it," I whimper, tears starting to fall down my face. I feel stupid for crying, but the laptop is like my fourth child. It goes everywhere with me and it's the reason I get so much writing done throughout the day and still manage to keep an eye on my busy toddler.

"Mom, let's send it to Santa."

"Santa? Why?"

"Because he'll know how to fix it."

"No, I don't think it can be fixed."

The little guy's face is white with shame. "Oh. I'm going to bed now." He knows what he's done because he broke our new plasma TV last year by throwing a toy at it. This time it was most definitely an accident, but still. He races out of the room. A tiny miracle that he would put himself to bed, but he doesn't. I hear big steps coming up the stairs. My husband.

"Did he really break your computer?" The tears streaming down my face answer him.

Thing is, a few moments later I was over it. It's not cancer, I think. It's better than the hard drive crashing, which happened to me last fall. And I'd rather my laptop crack it's skull than my toddler.

Isn't that what happens in life? Things are going along really well. I was feeling that On Top of The World feeling. I knew I'd be more imaginative and focused in a de-cluttered room. And I am. I just had to adjust and bring up the big Mac from downstairs to do so.

The biggest lesson I learned (besides the obvious: don't leave my laptop near a moving object) is that we all have our No Matter What goals. We'll do anything - absolutely anything - to make them happen. Since my laptop cracked, I've written 6,000 words on my WIP. I'm writing this blog post on it right now. I'm not letting any setback, big or small, get in the way of my writing. And you shouldn't either.

P.S. Happy Obama Day!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Story Continues...

By Kendra Leigh Castle
Jean Pierre wrinkled his nose. “Do you know, I really detest that word. We’re Dagmorvanian royalty. Leave it at that, please.”

“Sure, no problem. I mean, sorry.”

Tricia looked at them, trying not to be overwhelmed by the sight of three gorgeous extraterrestrial men with their pants undone, all looking at her like they’d like her to remove what scant clothing she was still wearing. She wondered, fleetingly, what it would be like if all three of them really did want to ravish her, a faint flush rising to her cheeks. Then Merry spoke, a welcome distraction from strange and heated thoughts.

“All right, boys, that’s quite enough,” she said, wagging a finger at the grinning trio.

“Boys?” asked Tricia, eyebrows raised. Whatever else she might have called them, she doubted that was a word she would have picked.

“Merry was our governess for many years,” Marcus said, turning Tricia’s attention with his deep, honeyed voice. There was humor in his deep blue eyes when her gaze met his.

“Indeed. And she’s never stopped trying to make us behave,” Jean Pierre added with a smirk at Merry. “Lost cause, really, but she gets points for effort.”

Merry sighed, stomping one foot impatiently, and Tricia was immediately put in mind of a frustrated faerie. All the woman was missing was a sparkly pair of wings and a wand. Well, and one pair of frilly pink bloomers, Tricia thought, casting another glance down at her ensemble, which now consisted of the aforementioned bloomers (drooping dangerously around her hips), her strapless push-up bra, and Mustafa’s white jacket.

“This really will be a lost cause if we don’t get moving. Now come along, all of you. The portal should be activated by now, but we’ll have to find it, and we don’t have much time. Lord Tybalt’s men will be securing the rest of this ship as we speak, and I won’t see any of you run through with that damned taurini rapier of his. It’s spilled enough blood.”

Then, as Tricia watched wide-eyed, two glittering wings sprouted from Merry’s back, and she swooped away ahead of them down the corridor.

“Wow. Well, that figures,” she murmured, unable to miss it when the woman pulled a long slender stick from a hidden pocket in her gown and began prodding things along the way with its lit tip. She felt a strong arm slide around her waist, and allowed herself to be pulled against Marcus’s cool strength with something like relief. She still wasn’t sure whether this whole adventure was the result of an actual alien invasion or just hallucinogenic tequila, but it was wearing her out.

“I did warn you that nothing on this ship was what it seemed,” he murmured, breath caressing the ear he’d nipped earlier. Tricia turned her head, unintentionally bumping noses with Marcus. And suddenly, she cared much more about a certain promise he’d made her earlier. His sudden grin, utterly wicked, took her breath away.

“I haven’t forgotten. And I believe you’ll find my quarters on the royal vessel much more to your liking than this ridiculous tin can. I didn’t give my mark lightly, Tricia. You’re coming with me.”

“You’ve marked her? Honestly, cousin,” Jean Pierre’s tone was a bit like that of a petulant child. “The first worthwhile human we run across, and you insist upon keeping her all to yourself. If I were in your position and not first in line to be king, I would have killed you ages ago. You’re no fun at all.”

“And you never shared well either,” Marcus replied, turning his head to fix Jean Pierre with a pointed stare. “Nearly bit off my finger over a toy hovercraft, if I remember correctly. I still have the scar.”

The memory seemed to cheer Jean Pierre considerably, and Tricia shook her head. She didn’t know Jean Pierre very well, but the thought of him as a monarch was more than a little scary. She leaned into Marcus as they turned and made their way towards Merry, who was poking intently at a wheeled cleaning cart that had been left in the corridor. As Tricia watched, the little woman waved her wand in triumph, and the cart began to glow with a strange light.

“Ah-HA! I’ve found it! Now come along, all of you! It’s time to go!”

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cruising for Love Part 12

by Cheryl Brooks

Tricia looked at Merry Joyful in frank disbelief. “A coup? Pirates?” she echoed. “From where? I've never heard of Dagmorvania. Must be pretty tiny—you know, like Monaco?”

Merry Joyful's burst of laughter was spontaneous and musical, but Marcus's expression was merely amused. “I know this must seem strange, but believe me, it will seem even more strange before we're through.”

Tricia didn't see how that was possible. “I'm already suspecting that you're all vampires or something. You all seem very. . . odd.”

“Well, some of us may seem like vampires,” Marcus admitted, “but trust me, it's more complicated than that.”

Tricia gave him another moment or two to elucidate, and then glared at him. “Is that all you're going to tell me?”

He glanced at Merry Joyful who shrugged and said, “You might as well tell her.”

“Perhaps once we're aboard the ship,” he said. “It might be more believable then.”

“Ship?” Tricia echoed. “In case you haven't noticed, we are aboard a ship.”

Marcus smiled sardonically and he cast a disdainful glance at their surroundings. “If you call this. . . thing. . . a ship, then perhaps you aren't ready to hear the rest.”

“Try me,” said Tricia.

Just then, Mustafa returned with Jean Pierre. “The enemy has taken control of the ship,” Mustafa reported. “We must depart. Your safety is far more important than signing any treaty.”

Jean Pierre wrinkled his nose in distaste. “I agree, my dear Mustafa, but must you bring us to the absolute bowels of this vessel to do it?” Pulling a elaborate lace handkerchief from his pocket, he held it to his elegant nose and shuddered.

“It was the best way, Your Majesty,” Mustafa replied. “But we must depart before the ship goes down.”

“It's going down?” Tricia echoed. “Then by all means, let's get going!”

Jean Pierre turned toward her, and Tricia felt her body stiffen. Where Marcus made her want to melt, this man chilled her to the bone.

“Ah, so the lovely lady is coming with us?” Jean Pierre drawled. “How nice.”

“We couldn't very well leave her here, Jean Pierre,” Marcus protested. “Armand had her up for sale to those—” He broke off there as though unable to think of anything bad enough to call them.

“Never mind,” Jean Pierre said with a dismissive wave of his handkerchief. “Summon the ship and we'll be on our way.”

Mustafa smacked his name pin and muttered something into it that Tricia didn't catch.

“How are you doing that?” she asked as she heard an audible, though unintelligible reply. “Is it a walkie talkie or something?”

“Oh, my dear,” Jean Pierre chuckled. “How quaint!”

“I believe some explaining is in order,” said Marcus. “Don't you agree?”

Jean Pierre's lips curled into a devilish grin. “Do you know, I do believe I'll enjoy this,” he murmured.

As Tricia watched in speechless horror, all three of the men began unbuckling their belts.

Backing away, she stuttered, “I—uh, d—don't think I need that kind of explanation.”

“Oh, but I believe you do,” said Marcus. “After all, actions speak louder than words.”

With a wide grin, he unzipped his fly and pulled his out his shirttail.

“No, really,” Tricia said, doing her best to remain calm. “You can just tell me.”

Marcus shook his head slowly and unbuttoned his shirt, starting at the top and slowly working down to the last button. The other men followed his lead.

Tricia's mouth went dry. They were going to ravish her! All three of them!

“Are you ready?” Marcus drawled.

“I believe she is,” said Jean Pierre.

In perfect unison, the three men pulled back their clothing to reveal perfectly sculpted torsos with six-pack abs and three navels—each.

“You're aliens!” she gasped.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What Would Your Heroine Do?


In my latest romantic conquest (of which there are so many, ::rolls eyes::), I found myself out to dinner with a lovely gent at a dee-lish restaurant talking about may different topics, when our food arrived and I exclaimed over my pasta, “There’s so much CHEESE. I LOVE cheese.” He looked back at me kind of like I was insane, but then proceeded to begin what became a lengthy discussion of our favorite types of cheeses, when different cheeses are appropriate for different foods, cheeses we dislike—we talked a lot about cheese. And guess what? I’m going out with him again.

Why am I talking about cheese and dates? Because believe it or not, Casa ladies, this very cheese discussion was influenced by YOUR books. I know, none of you have written a scene about two people learning about a common affection for dairy, but you all have written about women, who, at some point or another, speak their mind, don’t hold back, and are not shy about who they are as a person. They’re confident (or become confident) in their own skin, which includes their insecurities and idiosyncrasies that eventually, the heroes realize make them each special and incredibly sexy. Let’s hope cheese works to my favor. ;-)

As authors, I wonder this—how much do you think about the influence the characters you create have on your readers? Sometimes, these characters are direct reflections on you the author (intentional or not—looks like my Psych 101 class did come in handy) or possibly reflection on how you would like to have acted in a situation, or your subconscious peaking it’s head out to remind everyone that it’s there. Whatever the reason, I hope you know that even on your busy publicist (who is taking the time to read everyone’s books, tee hee) finds herself wondering what Susannah Sanderson would do on her first date with Ryan, or how Tisana would react to the proposition of inviting Leo inside after an awkward pause, or what spell Jazz would cast if Nick decided he needed a night with the boys…or what would Rosalie Ronaldi would say if her “Romeo” thinks Provolone cheese is the most boring of all (seriously though, I love provolone cheese).

I think, even though it’s just me and my over-analytical brain, that the one thing Deb always talks about in her blogs, having a heroine women can relate to, is perhaps most important—I know it’s had an influence on me!

**Please be forewarned that I will only answer questions pertaining to mentioned date in the most vague of terms, because I know I’m going to get grilled. But you are all friends, so I hope you won’t make me blush too much all day…Bring it on!**

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cruising for Love Part 11

posted by Aunty Cindy aka Loucinda McGary

The loudspeaker crackled and a strained voice spoke, "Attention all passengers and crewmembers, this is the first officer speaking. We have been boarded by pirates. They have..."

Screams, shouts, and general noise reverberated behind him and across the room as he choked, then continued hoarsely, "They have incapacitated the captain and at least 4 other officers. Please remain calm--"

Total and complete pandemonium erupted. Tricia stumbled and fell to her knees as people ran screaming in all directions. Covering her ears, she crawled toward the nearest wall.

"This way deary!" She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and saw the kindly face of the woman dressed as her Fairy Godmother. Tricia shook her head in confusion while the woman gave her a few soothing pats. "It's me, Merry Joyful Britewell, and we'll get out of here, don't you worry."

Tricia was still debating whether to ask, "How?" Or "What the heck kind of name is Merry Joyful?" when Mustafa rushed over to them.

"Aunty Merry, Miss Ivy! Follow me!"

Before Tricia could ask if they should trust the trumpet playing Turk, Merry Joyful pulled her to her feet and said, "Don't worry, deary. Mustafa is my second husband's grand nephew, and he's actually part of the ship's security team."

Oh well, that explained... SOMETHING anyway!

Tricia stumbled after Mustafa and Merry Joyful as more shots sounded in the corridor.

"Down here!" Mustafa ordered, pointing to the orchestra pit.

The stairs were steep, so Tricia pulled off her strappy sandals and hiked up her skirt. At the bottom, Mustafa opened a trap door in the corner and pointed to a ladder.

Then he gave her a scowl and said, "Get rid of your dress and shoes."

"Excuse me?" Tricia cried indignantly, as the young Turk handed her his white jacket.

"You can wear my pantaloons," said Merry Joyful from somewhere behind her.

A pair of pink ruffled bloomers suddenly appeared in her line of vision.

"Hurry up before anyone sees us!" Mustafa hissed as he helped Merry Joyful onto the ladder.

She struggled into the bloomers and jacket while simultaneously shimmy-ing out of the antique gown. The little old lady crawled down the ladder with surprising speed, while the ballroom above them went deathly quiet. Heart in her throat, Tricia leapt onto the ladder and started down the metal rungs, Mustafa right after her.

When he pulled the trap door closed, the ladder plunged into darkness so that Tricia had to feel for the next rung, and the next. Much to her relief, when she neared the bottom, dim emergency lights cast a faint illumination along the hallway. Mustafa continued to lead them around several twists and turns and down one short flight of stairs.

And at the bottom of the stairs stood a tall, dark-haired figure...

None other than Marcus Black! Tricia couldn't stiffle her gasp of surprise. Of course, that made him turn and look right at her, his blue eyes moving up and down her ridiculous outfit.

"You're almost to the rendezvous point, Your Highness," said Mustafa with a curt bow of his head. "Can you take the ladies? I'll rejoin you as soon as I am able."

Your Highness???

Tricia could feel her mouth hanging open and her eyes were undoubtedly bugged out too.

"You didn't think this was a real pirate attack, did you deary?" whispered Merry Joyful. "Not with Jean Pierre, the Prince of Dagmorvania and his cousin Marcus, third in line for the throne both on board the ship. This is an attempted coup."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cruising for Love Part 10

by Mary Margret Daughtridge

Boom!

The sound, followed by a long screeching, scraping scream of metal, punched at her eardrums and shuddered through the dance floor beneath her feet. Eric widened his stance with the seaman’s instinct to keep them balanced on the rocking deck, while his arms tightened around her. On all sides, dancers were knocked off their feet.

As people reacted according to their temperament a babble of moans, curses, and sobs replaced the lilt of the orchestra

“We’ve hit an iceberg!” a woman’s voice carried above the confusion of sound.

Iceberg! The word traveled through the room, unstoppable as a bad smell. Repeated in different accents, it escalated into panicky screams.

An elderly woman in a voluminous blue robe, carrying a wand tipped with a star, tapped with the wand on Trish’s arm. “What did she say?” the woman demanded, cupping her ear. Despite the querulous tone, a life time of good humor had molded the woman’s face into a permanent smile, and her faded blue eyes sparkled with kindly intelligence.

As if by magic the hormone induced fog—a symptom of testosterone intoxication as well she knew—vanished from Trish’s brain, and she thunked back to reality. She was on a cruise ship for Pete’s sake, and the woman’s question was the most normal thing that had happened this evening.

Forget having hair and teeth, male passengers who walked without a cane were a rarity aboard a cruise ship. Why hadn't she seen the stud muffins before tonight? They should have stuck out, as she did, no matter how large the crowd. The average passenger was over seventy-five, anyone under forty stood out like a spot light was trained on them.

Where was her intelligence? She had been reacting instead of choosing goals for herself. Had she accomplished nothing in her six months of celibacy? Without questioning who they were or why they were suddenly there, or even what she wanted, she'd flitted from one to the other like a drunken homing pigeon.

“Did she say iceberg?” the old lady prompted, poking Trish lightly with her wand.

Trish rubbed the tingly spot where the wand had touched. Her mind was clearing rapidly. She could almost feel her IQ rising. “There is no iceberg!" she asserted.

"You're sure?"

"Pretty sure. We’re in the Gulf of Aden," she explained. "The water temperature here is seventy-three degrees!”

The grey head bobbed in amazement. “Imagine that. But I'm certain we hit something. What do you think we should do?” the woman asked with another kindly smile, just as if she thought Trish knew.

“I think the crew will tell us…” Trish’s voice died away as she looked around the ornate ballroom. Gone were the ubiquitous red-coated stewards. Ubiquitous, not because there were so many of them, but because they worked incredible eighteen-hour days, performing two, three, and four jobs, giving the impression that they were everywhere.

Gone too were the far less-visibly-hard-working officers in their spiffy white uniforms.

Present were the hotties. Every single one. Marcus, Pieter, Mustafa. Even the Malfoy-clone whose dark aura had chilled her. And Eric. Oh, and Armand. He wasn’t her type but he had a hot reputation, and he’d gotten it somewhere.

She hoped in the buff assortment there was at least one man she could trust. The Cinderella Godmother was right. The passengers of this boat needed a plan and needed it now.

Because the popping sound she’d been hearing intermittently—she suddenly realized was gunfire.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cruising for Love--Part 9



As soon as she laid eyes on him, her breath faltered, her heart hitched, “a-Viking-we-will-go” settled into her foggy brain. Eric Leif, the Red, that’s who he had to be—tall, broad-shouldered, muscular arms shown off by the fur vest he wore. No tux for this guy. In fact, she doubted he could find one to fit that kind of a build. Hoisted striped sails for a living on the Seven Seas, took damsels wherever he landed, the only thing missing was a broadsword to go with his broad shoulders. Eyes the color of the stormy blue sea studied her, his mouth as generous as the rest of him, slightly curved upward.

His gaze shifted to her, uhm, necklace, probably figuring it looked like a good piece to rip off if he was in the market for plundering. Or maybe his gaze shifted a bit lower. She fought jerking up the bodice of the gown, in front of him, but if she ever found that darned restroom…

“Armand told me to check on you.” The Viking cast a deadly glare at Jean Pierre, effectively telling him to cast off or he’d make mincemeat of him, probably with his bare hands.

Jean Pierre gave Tricia a little bow with his head. “Later, my dear.” His eyes sparkled with devilment as he looked back at the Viking, not intimidated, too much. Then he moved away.

“And you are?”
“Eric Leif.”

Her mouth gaped a little.

“For the masquerade. We aren’t really supposed to give our true identities, are we? Not until after the new year has begun.” He offered his arm to her. “Care to dance?”
“Vikings dance?”
Pearl white teeth gleamed in the chandelier light. “I have been here long enough to observe a few dances to know how it is done.”
Okay, she couldn’t resist. Her favorite romance heroes were roguish Vikings. Why not? With a roomful of dancers, she couldn’t go wrong.

She reached out her hand, but Romeo, uhm, Eric Leif, rather, pulled her into his hard embrace. She should have objected, she should have pulled away—after all, she didn’t even know him—but nah, he felt good, warm and the right kind of hard, and smelled like the fresh sea. She took a deep breath and relaxed in his arms and was swept away across the floor with visions of passions unleashed, until…

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cruising for Love -- Part 8


“Well, well, well, what have we here?” Cool hands smooth as glass encircled her upper arms.

While Tricia was happy for the help to keep her upright. The last thing she wanted to do was fall at anyone’s feet; she quickly realized the idea of this man’s hands on her wasn’t welcome.

“I apologize,” she murmured, pasting a smile on her lips as she lifted her head to gaze at her combination victim and savior from an embarrassing fall. “I should have watched where I was going.”

Eyes the color of midnight gazed at her with the same intensity that Marcus Black had given her, but this look was more disturbing than Black’s had been. She stared at a man with the unusual combination of snowy white hair that tumbled to his shoulders and black eyes and the face of a man who couldn’t have been any older than thirty-five, although she’d swear he was even older. There was something about him that was a lot more dangerous than she wanted to contemplate.

“It’s rare for such a lovely morsel to literally fall into my arms,” he said. “Who are you and please tell me you are available.” His dark eyes lingered on the diamond necklace before sweeping his gaze across her chest. She felt an impulse to return to her stateroom and change into a turtleneck sweater. Too bad she hadn’t brought one on the cruise.

“Actually I’m meeting someone.” She was positive this lie wouldn’t mess with her karma. Not when she wanted to be away from this man as in NOW.

“A pity.” He trailed his finger across the curve of her cheek. “I am Jean Pierre and I know I have all you would require. Perhaps you would share some champagne with me.”

All she’d require? The last thing she wanted to do was even look at a bottle of champagne with him much less drink any. Right now, she only wanted to be gone, but he was blocking the hallway in such a way she couldn’t move past him without touching him and that was the last thing she wanted to do.

“That’s very kind, but as I said I’m meeting someone and I don’t want to be late.” She froze as his fingered lingered over her throat.

“Lies are unbecoming to one so lovely,” he murmured, stepping even closer.

Okay, that did it! Tricia was past being polite. If need be she’d be pushing this guy back on his ass, because no one treated her like merchandise!

“There you are, love. I was looking for you.”

Tricia exhaled a sigh of relief and turned around to face her rescuer. Right about now, she wouldn’t have cared if he was the devil himself. Of course, with all the insanity going on this night, he very well could be.

Linda

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cruising for Love - Part 7

by Sharon Lathan

Tricia's heart thudded painfully. Armand's voice, usually pleasant and musical, sounded harsh and grating as it penetrated the hypnotic haze that enveloped her. The dizzy bubble disintegrated; the suddenness of reality even more surreal than the strange encounter with Marcus Black.


Or had that merely been a dream? It did seem unreal. If not for the trail of fire still burning her skin wherever he had touched her, a faint tingling around her ear, and the lingering aroma of his spicy cologne she may have believed it a hallucination.


"That's what happens when you abstain from sex for six months - or has it been eight? - and then surround yourself with a ship-load of stunning rich men while the accessible one you came with would rather shag one of them too!"


"Tricia? Are you ill? You are flushed and shivering! If you vomit just make sure
you keep it off the dress. It wasn't cheap."

"I..."


His eyes narrowed, plump lips pursing. "What are you doing in here anyway? Did Anita come in here? Did you talk to her? Did she see the necklace?" His eyes brightened momentarily, greed infusing his voice. But just as quickly he shook his head, frowning in disappointment. "No, that couldn’t be the case. You were only gone five minutes and are alone."


Tricia jerked, his words restoring full clarity. "What are you talking about? Five minutes? And did
n't you see...? I mean, you had to have seen him when you walked in!" She indicated the only other door - the stage entrance recently used by Mustafa - a good thirty feet across the room and in plain view.

She barely noted his shocked gasp since her gaze was implausibly riveted to the door she was leaning against: a door as solid, closed, and locked as it had been when she escaped through it a good twenty minutes ago. She did, however, feel Armand's painful grasp on her arms as he spun her about.


"Hey!" She yelped.


"Him who?" Armand growled. He grabbed her chin, turning her head back and forth as his frightened eyes scanned her neck.


"What the hell?" She shouted, really angry now. "Let go!" She twisted her body away, but he held on with an iron grip.


"Was it Black?" His voice was a whisper, fear evident in the question that was not really a question. “Did he touch you? Did he," gulp, voice falling even lower, "kiss you?"


"That is none of your business!" She pulled away, seriously indignant, but he was no longer holding her. His eyes were wide in terror, staring at her earlobe and apparently seeing something she couldn't.


"This is bad. This is really, really bad." He shuddered, running a trembling hand over his face, and beginning to pace in short, jerky steps. "Why didn't Alistair warn me? Olav here is trouble enough, but Black? And now he has branded her. Sweet Spirit of Travelers, what am I to do?"


He halted, pivoting back toward her. Gone was the slightly loopy, cavalier hairdresser who so brilliantly styled her blonde locks with a skill that was almost magical. In his place was a high-strung madman with fear etched in his eyes.

"Listen to me Tricia. From here on out you have to stay glued to my side. I'll move you into my stateroom and you must stay away from Marcus Black!"


"No, you listen to me Armand,” she flared. “All the intrigue and lies are getting on my nerves! I know you are paying for this excursion, and after only one day I have surely earned my fare. Those ruby earrings and that sapphire ensemble sold yesterday were enough. I am doing my required part and it does not include harassment like this. I'll be damned if I let you tell me who I can and cannot be with!"


Her grandly dramatic exit was not as regal as she might have wished. What with fumbling to locate the knob and then forgetting how easily the door swung on its well-oiled hinges so that it smashed into her toes. But she did manage a defiant toss of her head and queenly sweep of her voluminous skirts. She was feeling pretty smug about her uncharacteristic backbone, walking down the corridor with a definite swagger.

Then, typically, it went to pieces when for the second time that night she rounded a corner and barreled smack into a hard male body.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cruising For Love...Part Six

By Kendra Leigh Castle

Tricia tucked an errant lock of hair behind her ear, feeling her curiosity beginning to overtake her fear. She glanced around quickly, and decided that she was safe enough from being either ravished or dragged off somewhere for the time being. There were bound to be other band members wandering through. Still, for the moment, they were alone.

“So you’re telling me Armand is lying?” she asked, arching a skeptical brow at him. “I mean, the sex slave dealer was a new one on me, but still. I know Armand. I don’t know you.”

Not, Tricia silently amended, that I wouldn’t like to fix that problem. The dark, handsome stranger was even more compelling close-up, his fair skin a striking contrast to close-cropped ebony hair and eyes such a dark blue they were almost black. His mouth, a hard yet somehow sensuous line, curved slightly upward.

“That, I'm happy to fix.” He put his hand out, and Tricia let her small hand be enveloped in his large one. His skin was surprisingly cool to the touch, but that didn’t stop her mind from wandering immediately to inappropriate, and far warmer, places.

“Marcus Black,” he said, giving her hand one firm shake before pulling his own away with a long stroke that felt like a caress. “And you?”

“Tricia. Um, Tricia Ivy,” she said, her entire arm tingling. The longer Marcus Black looked at her, the odder she felt. He seemed to be looking not just at her, but into her. Not that the feeling made any sense. She probably should have skipped the bolstering shot of tequila on her way out of her stateroom. It helped with the uncomfortable dress, but in dealing with a disconcertingly gorgeous man who seemed determined to be in her company, not so much.

“Tricia,” Marcus repeated, his voice like warm honey. She wondered where he was from—there was a faint lilt in his voice that was almost certainly British, but some of his words carried a hint of somewhere even more exotic.
“Tell me, how do you know Armand? You don’t seem the type to get tangled up with his kind.”

Tricia smirked. “You don’t really know me well enough to judge, do you? But yeah,” she admitted ruefully, “this cruise hasn’t exactly been a picnic so far. I apparently didn’t know him as well as I thought.” At the questioning tilt of Marcus’s head, she continued, “He’s my hairdresser. When he asked me to help out with his jewelry business on this trip, it seemed like a complete no-brainer to say yes. I mean, how much safer does it get?”

To her surprise, Marcus drew her even closer…and, Tricia realized, she’d been close to plastered up against him as it was. There was just something so magnetic about him, it had seemed natural not to step away. Now, when Marcus pulled her to his chest and pressed his lips against her ear, she wondered whether that had been a wise decision. Then again, she thought as delicious shivers coursed through her at the velvety rumble of his voice, it might have been the best decision she’d made since coming along on this stupid cruise.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing safe about this cruise for you, Tricia,” he purred, and Tricia melted against him even though his words had fear blooming anew in her chest. “I will never understand why that piece of shit Armand is allowed access to our world, except that he knows very well how to choose his wares…and how to showcase them.” She felt his cool fingers trail along the edge of her necklace, and without thinking tilted her head to the side to allow him better access.

“Your neck is as lovely as the rest of you, I’ll give him that. I might almost consider paying for you myself…but then, Armand knows better. The only kind of payment he’ll ever get from me wouldn’t be at all to his liking.”

Tricia’s eyes slipped shut as Marcus’s arms slid around her, steel bands trapping her neatly. What was he talking about? Danger? Her neck? Wanting an intense make-out session right here behind the stage?

No, wait…that last one might have been wishful thinking.

She felt his smile against her ear, followed by a quick nip that had her legs threatening to go to Jello.

“Not here. But later, absolutely,” he said. It took a moment for his words to register, but once they did, Tricia’s eyes flew open and her blood ran cold. Had he heard her thoughts? Before she could ask, however, Marcus tensed. His next words came in a rapid whisper.

“Be careful. Don’t go anywhere alone. And for God’s sake, don’t trust anything Armand says. Nothing on this ship is as it seems. But I’ll get you out of here before long.”

In the blink of an eye, Tricia was alone, her arms clasped loosely around…air. And a very familiar, increasingly unwelcome voice sounded behind her.

“Didn’t I tell you to follow Anita? What are you doing, slow dancing by yourself?”

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Story Continues . . .

Cruising for Love
Part Five

By Cheryl Brooks

His smile broadened as he knelt down and captured her foot in his warm hands. “I'm Mustafa, and I've never met such a beautiful blonde American before.”

“First time for everything, I suppose,” Tricia said, glancing nervously over her shoulder. At least that horrid man hadn't followed her. Had he known it wasn't the ladies' room? Would he be waiting outside when she left? Tremors shook her entire body as she realized she'd never been more terrified in her life.

Mustafa drew her attention back to her sandal with a deft tug on the strap. “It simply became unfastened,” he said. “There is no damage done.”

“Th-thank you,” Tricia stammered. “I would have felt really stupid limping through that crowd of elegant people with a broken shoe.”

“I assure you, madame,” he said, his dark, expressive eyes peering up at her through a tangle of dusky curls. “If you were to walk through that room, no one would be looking at your shoe.”

“What?” she said distractedly. “Oh, you mean the necklace.”

“No, I did not.” Mustafa's hands had never left her ankle, and they now slid up her bare calf, sending messages that Tricia would have understood even if his English hadn't been quite so fluent. “Sparkling jewels mean nothing to a man in search of other treasures.”

She was gaping at him in disbelief when she heard a subtle click behind her, and then his voice saying, “There's just no safe place for a lovely woman anymore, is there?”

Whipping around so quickly that she accidentally kicked Mustafa in the chest, Tricia took in his slow smile and steady gaze as he folded his arms and leaned back against the closed door. He dispatched the young Turk with a quick nod of dismissal, and Mustafa scrambled to his feet, muttering apologies before snatching up his trumpet and fleeing through stage door.

“You don't trust me, do you?” he said.

“Is there any reason I should?”

“Is there any reason you shouldn't?”

“I, uh, don't know—” How on earth could you look a man in the eye and tell him you know he is in the business of selling young women into sexual slavery—and still keep a straight face? “Armand,” she said, grasping at straws. “Armand warns me not to—”

“Let strange men corner you for fear they might be jewel thieves?” His soft chuckle was disarmingly sincere. “You know, it's really not that much of a calling these days. Most people wear fakes and keep the real stuff in a vault—which is a pity for the ladies who have to wear cubic zirconia when they have the money to pay for diamonds, but a real boon for the insurance companies.”

Tricia could find no words to reply to that, and simply stared at him. He looked like the kind of man who would grace the cover of GQ, and yet he was the worst kind of devil she could imagine. She pitied the women who had fallen into his clutches, and shuddered as she realized she was about to become one of them.

Noting her tremor, his eyes sharpened, but his voice remained pleasant. “I have to wonder what a girl like you is doing with a snake like Armand.”

Her eyes widened. “You know Armand?”

“Let's say I know of him,” the man replied. “We're old adversaries.”

“Adversaries? How could someone like you—”

“I'm curious,” he said, continuing as though she hadn't spoken. “Just exactly what did Armand tell you about me?”

Tricia swallowed hard, deciding that the truth was easier than making up a lie, and besides, he had her cornered anyway. In one last act of defiance, she lifted her chin and shot him a look filled with disdain. “That you were a predator who sells women as sex slaves.”

His smile never wavered; only the flick of an eyebrow registered the fact that he had heard her at all. “Well, now,” he began. “That's very interesting. I've been accused of many things, but never that. I have to give Armand credit for originality.”