MothersDay_ForBlog

The Motherhood Dynamic

Relationships with parents can be tricky. For many, Mother’s Day is a happy occasion, but for many, it’s bittersweet or downright painful. I love exploring family dynamics in my stories, and I understand that the relationship that each of my characters have with their parents greatly effects who they are as an individual.

So, let’s dive in and talk about the motherhood dynamic with each of my characters.


Tori and Maureen.

Trigger warnings: Miscarriage, car accident, death, grooming, infertility.

I’d say that it’s safe to assume that Maureen (Tori’s mom) is probably one of the most tumultuous relationships I’ve written. We learn in Chasing Fire that her father is dead, and her mother is an addict. Tori had to be “mom” to her younger sister Jane, and when Tori finally leaves the house, she shakes off that responsibility and just lives for herself for quite some time.

When she meets Scott’s mother in Smoke and Mirrors, it stirs up all kinds of emotions about her relationship with her mom, and we peel back the onion that is Tori a little more. It takes us all the way until book three to realize what is truly going on with Tori and her mom, and just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

In Chasing Fire, motherhood is the last thing on her mind, and she fears she’d make a terrible wife and mother, due to her past. But once she realizes that her chances of motherhood could be robbed from her, she starts to yearn for it.


Scott and Judith

Trigger warnings: Infertility

We only meet Judith briefly in Chasing Fire, but in Smoke and Mirrors she is a central character to the story. Mamma Harris stole my heart and the hearts of readers. She’s a little intrusive at times, but so loving, kind and wise. She loves everyone exactly where they are at, even if she may not agree with their choices. She’s the epitome of a nurturing Southern mamma. “Come in, take your shoes off, let me cook you something, this is HOME.” (But don’t you DARE take a bite of food without saying grace first).

With the solid upbringing of two wise, loving, parents, its shaped Scott to be the good man that he is. Tori is nervous about meeting his family, due to her sordid past, but Scott knows she has nothing to worry about. If she’s good enough for him, his folks will see that, and they do.


Blaze and his mamma issues

Trigger Warnings: Violence, child abuse, drug abuse.

Blaze has another horrible past. (Oh the torture I put my main characters through). He doesn’t remember much about his mother. She was an addict who ran off and left him with his abusive father. He doesn’t even know if she’s alive or dead to be honest.

Much to his dismay, Mamma Harris takes Blaze under her wing. Mamma Harris immediately has a soft spot for him, due to the fact he served with Scott, and saved his life on several occasions. She does not like his womanizing ways, but she loves Blaze in spite of all that. And when all hell breaks loose in Blaze’s life at the end of this story, Mamma Harris is the one person he knows he can turn to and she will accept him with loving and open arms.

“I like cookies too.” (One of my favorite lines that caused me to break down in tears when I wrote it). You’ll have to read the book just to see why.


Keith and Jonathan’s mothers

Trigger warnings: mental illness, alzheimer’s, drug abuse, death of a grandparent.

Jonathan’s mother died when he was very young in a car accident, and he was raised by his father until he passed on 9/11 (Pentagon). But really, the one who truly raised Jonathan was his Nana Ollie. When we first meet Jonathan, you think that Nana Ollie is dead, but turns out, she is in a nursing home with dementia, and her time is growing to an end. This shapes a lot of the heaviness that is on this single father’s shoulders. (Oh yeah, Jonathan has a kid…) We see glimpses of Nana Ollie through Jonathan’s eyes, and just how deep of an impact she had in his life. Like Mamma Harris, the woman was wise, loving, kind, a killer cook and loved Jesus with all her heart. She suspected early on that Jonathan was gay, and it didn’t matter to her one bit. All she cared about was his character, and that woman instilled good morals into Jonathan.

Keith is a mamma’s boy through and through. His mother, Tilly, was a kind and loving woman, a wonderful mom, but she suffered from bipolar disorder. Keith, being the giver he is, always took it upon himself to take care of his mom, to be there for her on her bad days/weeks/months. So much so, that he neglected his own mental health over the years. Keith’s own anxiety and mental illness finally boils over in this story.


Tanner and Gia’s family

Trigger warnings: Death of a spouse, loss of a child, domestic violence.

Tanner was born hard of hearing/Deaf to two Deaf parents. His mother, congenital, and his father who lost his hearing in Vietnam. He was raised around Deaf culture, and takes pride in who he is. I don’t talk a lot about his parents, but they are good, solid people who helped shape Tanner into the gentle soul that he is.

Gia lost both her parents as a teen, and spent time in foster care, but again, good people. The later part of her life is where things got rough. Bounced from foster home to foster home, she winds up falling for a bad man, and when her abusive husband impregnates her, she knows she has to go on the lam, not just for her, but for the safety of her child. We know right away that Gia is willing to do anything for this kid, including starting all over in a new country. She’s a GOOD mother, and is ready to raise this child all on her own.

But she doesn’t have to…because, well, she meets Tanner of course.


Silas and Kennedy’s family

Trigger warnings: substance abuse, death of a parent, death of a sibling, abortion.

Kennedy is the epitome of mother issues. She lost her mother to cancer at a very young age, and wound up with a stepmother who only used Kennedy for her own advantage. I lost my mother too at a young age to cancer, (thankfully, no evil stepmother, mine was pretty awesome). But like Kennedy, the pain and loss I buried has put me at times on a slippery slope with substances. I have to watch myself VERY carefully, and not over indulge.

Silas was a mamma’s boy. So much so, he never wants to cause his mother any pain. He can’t stand to see her cry. And that’s what she did when he got his diagnosis. Cried, and prayed. Cried, and prayed. So much so he couldn’t take listening to her pain. The thing he hasn’t realized though, is by shutting her out of his life so much, that’s exactly what he does…wounds his family. He feels it’s easier to not have them involved so they don’t have to know how much his vision is declining, but that is the furthest from the truth.


So, like my characters, I understand that my readers may have complicated feelings on Mother’s Day. As someone who has lost their mother, I know from experience that this day can be bittersweet for many. Praying for those today whom this day is difficult for. Celebrating with the ones that are joyous today. Sending love to all.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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MeetKennedy_ForBlog

Meet Kennedy

Kennedy was a tough nut for me to crack. I have to say, she’s been one of the toughest heroines that I’ve had to write to date.

The first reason, I decided to make her British. Since Silas is losing his vision, attraction to him is not the physical. I wanted to give her a saucy accent that would instantly pique his interest.

I couldn’t tell if she was mildly irritated and teasing, or downright pissed. Had to be the accent. Brits always threw me off. They had this way of packaging snarky comments in pretty paper with an enormous bow on top. “I left a note above your box,” she added.
“I didn’t see it.”
“You should check your post more often.”
“Noted.” I offered a salute, flashed her a grin, and winked. “I’ll try to mind my volume.”
“That’d be fab.” So frosty. So cold, and yet still sexy as hell because of her damn fucking dialect.

I learned a LOT. Like fanny does not mean backside, but actually well, the vag. So, when I said “He smacked me in the fanny…” I had to quickly change it (thank you beta readers!)

I knew I wanted her to be a prickly pear. Because, Like Silas, I’m a sucker for the prickly ones. I like a woman with some grit to her.

The elevator chimed and she moved toward the doors as they squeaked open. “Have a good workout, Kennedy.” I jutted my chin toward her as I adjusted the bag on my shoulder.
She snorted. “Cheers, 28B.”
Well, there you had it. Didn’t even bother to use my name.
And why the fuck did I care? I was breaking my rule number one—you don’t shit where you sleep. But for some stupid reason, she’d piqued my interest. Ever a sucker for the prickly ones.

Third, there needed to be something else that made him emotionally connect to this stranger. Silas, being artistic himself (a thespian and radio personality) and going blind, music is important to him. It’s more than his career. Music speaks to his soul. So, I made Kennedy an artist as well, a cellist.

I’d always loved the cello and thought it never got the respect that it deserved. Some would consider it melancholy, isolated, dark, and miserable—like listening to a reading of a eulogy, but not me. I found it deep, silky—like a long, seductive moan. And Kennedy made that cello croon.

Next, came Kennedy’s backstory. This was the most difficult for me to write, and the most personal. Kennedy is an addict who is two years sober.

Typically, I have a LOT of drinking in my books. A LOT. (Hell, my author banner reads, “Whiskey and Bad Decisions.”).

I always put a lot of myself into my characters. Like me, if I plop a drink into their hand their inhibitions lower, and you see more of their authentic self start to emerge.

Time to get real with you readers. In my early twenties I did a LOT of things I shouldn’t have. I did some HARD drugs. It took me quite some time before I felt comfortable to have a drink in my hand. Yes, I drink now. I also occasionally use medicinal marijuana, but never ever will I touch hard drugs again.

Even with my history, I struggled writing Kennedy. Everyone’s experience with substance abuse and addiction is different. For me, I easily walked away from the hard drugs when I was younger. I never went to rehab. I never had any withdrawals or cravings. I never had a sponsor. I never went to group meetings. Still, like her, I truly know what it feels like to long to be the person you aren’t. I know what it’s like to beat yourself up for the mistakes of your past.

I opened the fridge and found the dressing next to several beers and a couple bottles of wine. My heart sank. This was the type of setting where a normal person could sit down with their lover and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, but not me. I wished I could have just one. But no, I was a binge drinker. Once I started, I’d drain the bottle. Honestly, I didn’t crave the drink as much as I craved rebirth.

Drinking was never really an issue for me. Still, I try to keep myself in check. Then 2020 happened. Like many others stuck at home, I started drinking more. Life was rough personally. It was just one thing right after another that hit us.

“Stepmom cut me off and kicked me out, since I was not going to uni. I moved into my boyfriend’s dinky flat. He never loved me. Just used me for my composition skills, while he toured the UK and fucked groupies. Left me with a mound of bills and addicted to alcohol and drugs. Eventually, I found a job as a teaching aide while I put myself through uni. Tried to stay sober. Then life would happen.” She ran her fingers through my hair and sighed. “My telly would break, my car would need a new radiator, setback after setback. That, of course, caused me to self-medicate heavily.”

I struggled to write. Even though I was vaxxed, I got covid, twice. I’m still suffering long-term issues from it. I’ve faced depression, crippling bouts of anxiety, panic attacks and many sleepless nights. The more my anxiety ramped up, the more I was drinking. The harder it became to write.

“Do you think that artistic people are more drawn to addictive behavior? The musicians, writers, actors…”
“Drugs don’t make artists, they break them.” She set her mug down and leaned back. “And yes, I do.”
I bobbed my head. She was right. The further I withdrew into drugs and drink, the harder it was for me to feel the music.

So, I took some time off from drinking during writing her. I’ve done this before. If I notice my tolerance is too high, and I’m drinking more than I should, I’ll take weeks, sometimes months off just to make sure I have it under control. I never want to go back to the woman I used to be.

What this did was help me relate to her better. How can I be comfortable in my own skin, without the push of liquid courage? How do I control the anxiety and self-doubt without a glass of wine or whiskey to relax?

Silas trusted me, blindly, and I nearly betrayed him. Last night after we shagged it was written all over his face, and again, at the table. It was more than him straining to see my physical beauty. It was deeper. A lovesick hopefulness in his expression, as if I alone held the keys to something extraordinary.
And it scared the bloody hell out of me.
I was not extraordinary. I was nobody. I wasn’t brave. I wasn’t strong.

Like me, Kennedy shows a brave face to the world, but inside, she’s trembling. Scared to lose control. Scared of what people will find when they see her for who she really is. She’s lonely, isolated and longs for people in her life, but after being burned so much by others, she’s guarded herself and built a fortress around her, absolutely terrified of rejection.

The fortress I’d built for self-preservation had thick, concrete walls lined in barbed wire and a sniper on the roof. When trespassers came too close, I’d maim them. But the more time passed, the more it felt like a prison instead of protection.

I wouldn’t say I’m as prickly as she is, and I like to think I control my mouth MUCH better than she does, but I am just as damn awkward. People don’t always get my sense of humor. I’m crass, and downright irreverent at times.

I lingered, shoving pastries into my mouth, glancing around the room, trying my best to look approachable. I’d never been great at striking up conversations with strangers, and something about me never gave off a friendly vibe. Typically, my social anxiety would get the best of me, my mouth would run amok, and I’d wind up saying something sarcastic, rude, or awkward.

She may not always say the right things, but I will say something about this girl, she’s witty. And thankfully, my hero is a sucker for a girl with wit.

Cello From the Other Side @CelloThere
@TheMorningReaper is either harboring a hooker, watching a porn marathon, or performing an exorcism in his flat. One thing I do know for certain is what it sounds like when another girl fakes it. #Fakingit #yesyesyes

“Damn. Shots fired,” Kay laughed as she read the Tweet. “She’s got the When Harry Met Sally fake orgasm gif underneath the image.” Her cackles grew louder. “I like this girl’s style.”

You and me both, Kay.

At the end of the day though, this girl is all heart. No matter how scared she is, no matter how much she wants to run, she can’t run from him.

Because Silas and Kennedy have something very special.

I’m excited for you to meet her.

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Meet Silas. Image of pensive man in leather jacket, wearing sunglasses leaning against a wall. Image bottom right, book cover, Take Me Down

Meet Silas

As authors, we are constantly pulling inspiration from some of our favorite stories, movies and television shows. I can’t ever seem to watch or read something without an idea spinning up in my mind how I could twist it and make it my very own.

Take Me Down was no exception. I’ve had this idea in brewing the back of my head for decades. It all spawned from an episode of Charles in Charge (one of my favorite shows as a kid). Without giving you too many spoilers, Charles gets stuck in an elevator with a woman who is blind, and he has no idea that she’s blind.

Since I’ve already written a blind heroine, it was time for me to do a blind hero. The first issue, how do I write his condition, and give it a new spin? Instead of making it a traumatic accident (what happened to Tori was EXTREMELY rare) I decided to go more toward reality of what many visually impaired people face—a degenerative condition.

“I have retinitis pigmentosa—RP for short—and there’s no cure. Other than my fading eyesight, I’m healthy. There isn’t anything else wrong with me.”

“Subjective, but go on.” I couldn’t help but get that dig in. 

“At what point of knowing someone do I tell them I’m going blind?” He scratched his brow. “No matter when I decide to say it, it’s always fucking awkward.”

Silas doesn’t like to talk about it, considering he deals with it so much daily. He just wants to be seen as a man, not a blind man.

As is tradition, I researched a LOT. I read tons of autobiographies, message boards, and every piece of literature on RP that I could. I recruited a friend and beta/sensitivity reader who is visually impaired to try and get it right. Despite all the effort I put in, writing about disabilities always leaves me fearful. I want to represent the community as best as I possibly can.

That helped me think a lot about Silas, his backstory, and how I could put some of myself into him. I decided to make him an actor. A man who must get into a character’s head, understand who they are, where they came from, and why they do the things that they do.

Because of his failing vision, he “sees” more than most. Beauty and ugly are no longer visual for him, but emotional.

“Don’t think because I’m blind that I can’t see people for who they really are. I see far more than most. You have pain on the inside, and that’s not ugly. That’s human.”

Loss is a central theme in this book, and how different people deal with grief in different ways. Some people ignore it. Some people wallow in it. Some people drink it away. Because of his condition, acting roles got stripped from him. He had to step out of the limelight. He went from the stage to the screen, and from the screen to the sound booth.

“I like the morning show. It’s like a mix of journalism and theatrics, in a sense. The stage was my first love.”

“You performed?” He was damn good looking and charismatic enough to be on screen or stage.

“I used to. Not anymore.” He cleared his throat, shifting next to me. 

He’s desperately trying to hold onto the career he’s got left. Does he always handle it well? No. He gets bad advice from friends and those close to him.

During my four-year run on Secrets We Keep, my agent advised me to keep my visual impairment under wraps. Yes, I see the irony there, but the acting industry was brutal, and work not easy to come by. So I kept my mouth shut and found workarounds for my blind spots. It worked, until I fucked up to the point the producers thought I had a substance abuse problem, and my character was given the axe.

Not only did I make him an actor, but I had my straight character, play someone on television who was gay. In doing so, he faced both criticism and praise. Something I also am very accustomed to.

“Let’s circle back to the industry. There isn’t much disability representation in film and television. How do you feel about able-bodied actors being cast into roles of people with disabilities, considering you, a straight man, took some heat when you stepped into a queer role?”

There is a lot of drama in this book. Like all humans, Silas and Kennedy deal with some heavy issues. It’s what makes them real. But there are so many LOL hilarious moments. I wouldn’t call this a rom-com, but it’s close. More like a romantic dramedy. Silas is not all doom and gloom. He’s come to acceptance of his condition, where he is headed, and he just wants to move on with his life and find someone to share it with. Honestly, he’s one of the funniest, most theatrical characters I’ve ever written.

“I’m not a fucking circus sideshow.” 

“No. You’re a blind man who refuses to own it.” Her tongue clicked. 

“Does this look like I’m not owning it?” I cleared my throat. “Step right up, ladies and gents,” I hollered, tossing my cane in my grasp like a ringmaster, “and come watch as a blind man does menial, everyday tasks, like using a computer, crossing the street, and wiping his own ass.” I gave a half-bow and a tip of my nonexistent top hat.

 I’ll introduce Kennedy in another blog post, but once he meets her, she teaches him to feel again. To trust his instincts. To stop listening to the crowd and follow his heart.

Kennedy made me feel every damn color of emotion. Anger. Irritation. Curiosity. Beauty. Amusement. Excitement. Desire. In a world where you can’t see, feeling is everything.

 I knew from the get-go that I wanted this to be an enemies-to-lovers book. It’s my favorite trope to write. It creates such wonderful banter and off the chart’s chemistry. So, I pitted them against each other as nemesis neighbors. Kennedy, is a cellist and teaches lessons from her home. Silas, my resident manwhore, spends his evenings…well…making a LOT of noise.

“Do anything fun?” His feet shuffled behind me. 

Did he just snicker? I turned my head to him and raised a brow. “It was a lovely, quiet, relaxing weekend, for the most part. Well, other than Rey meowing all night.”

“You gonna turn me into the landlord for her, too?”

“No.” I rolled my eyes. “Rey’s meows are cute, unlike the other howling catcalls I’ve heard coming from your flat. Thankfully my ears were not privy to that this weekend.” 

He laughed boisterously. “Yeah, I flew solo the past few days. Had to tug my own rope.”

I blanched. Granted, I’d done some maintenance myself, but I wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops. You’d think living under him I’d crave a drink, since he was driving me mad, but really, I was just craving him.

“FYI, trying to whack off with a cat around, not the easiest. Rey kept trying to attack my hand under the sheet.” 

“You’re vile.” I held in a laugh. I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction.

“Hey, don’t be calling me disgusting. You got yourself some bean-flicking action this weekend, too.” A smug smirk tugged at his lips as he stared straight at the elevator doors.  

My jaw dropped open. “I did no such thing!” I lied through my teeth. 

“If you can hear me, I can hear you. Just sayin.” His grin grew wider. “Who’s Johnny?”

I wanted to sink into the floor. I rubbed my temples, saying nothing. 

“How many batteries does it take to make that kind of humming?

You get such a wide range of emotions to play with, anger that morphs into desire. You’re building and building to that moment when they finally succumb to their feelings and that creates heat, and passion.

But even better than that was her scent. The first thing that drew me to her. I was right up in it, breathing it in so close I could taste it. The sweetness, the spicy, it was exotic and decadent, consuming me with lust and need—working me into a hungered frenzy. If it was the last thing I ever inhaled, I’d die a happy man.

My erection strained painfully against my jeans and with each thrust of my tongue into her mouth I pressed forward into her heat, practically dry humping her in the elevator, which did nothing to relieve my aching cock and only increased the pressure building in my pants.

“My place or yours?” I asked, biting on her earlobe. I could tell from her signals it wasn’t a question of if, just where.

She moaned. Sweet God Almighty. She was killing me. “Silas,” a throaty whisper came from her, followed by another moan. God, her voice, that accent breathing out my name. It was so fucking sexy. 

“I need to fuck you, Kennedy.” I peppered kisses down her jawline. “Now,” I growled, nibbling at her neck. “You choose, or I’ll take you right here, right now.”

Silas is a very complex character with many layers to him. His vision loss is his current story, since it’s taken a nosedive, but once you peel back the onion you see there is so much more to him than his visual issues. A talented actor. A loving brother. A loyal friend. A mamma’s boy who likes cats. The geeky drama kid that grew into a hottie. But don’t let that fool you, he’s tender, but not soft. His sport of choice is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and he’s totally capable of throwing down. Trust me. You’ll see it.  He’s masculine, fatherly, protective, gentle and a good man at his core (despite all the mistakes he makes).

I can’t wait for you to meet him.

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meet_blaze

Meet Ian

Ian Hodges, a.k.a. Blaze.

Blaze has served up some amazing comedic relief in past novels, so much so that readers were begging for his story. Well, lucky for them, I knew his story the moment I began writing him.

This fucker snaked his way into my heart right away. He’d wake me up at night shouting for his story to be told.

Blaze was a character that jumped right off the page. Larger than life, he seemed. Boisterous, loud, obnoxious, crass, irreverent…with an IDGAF attitude.

Not a care in the world.

So it seemed.

But you see… I knew it all.

I will tell you, the name “Blaze” started out as a silly placeholder in Chasing Fire, until he told me his name. But it STUCK. Once I’d named him that it just FIT. But I didn’t want him to be Blaze just because he was a weed smoking, houseboat living, beach bum hippie. I wanted the name to have more meaning than that. I wanted there to be a purpose to WHY he’d become Blaze.

Blaze was obviously a nickname, and Tori could only speculate how he acquired such a ridiculous name. 

How he came to be Blaze is actually a heroic yet heartbreaking story. It’s from the song by Bon Jovi, “Blaze of Glory.”

His reason for singing that song had been two-fold; one was his sick, twisted sense of humor to make his teammates laugh, and the second was to keep the nothingness from swallowing him whole.

We learned in Smoke and Mirrors during a fantastic game of “Never Have I Ever” that Blaze was once married. And for those that know military, I can’t have a book without mentioning Jody.

“Was married once. Young, in love and so very naive and stupid.” He paused for a moment. “She left me for Jody while I was on deployment.”

“Fuckin Jody.” Scott sounded disgusted.

“Who’s Jody?” Tori asked.

“Jody is the shit-bag who sleeps with your girl while you’re deployed. Just a phrase we use in the military, Blondie.” Blaze laughed a little too loud.

Tori detected so much hurt in that sad chuckle.

In “Fighting the Blaze” we get the whole drama. You see first-hand the moment that Ian’s wife, Amber, left him. And let me tell you, it’s heartbreaking.

Abandonment is not something that’s foreign to my hero. He was abandoned when he was a kid as well.

“My meth-head mom ran off when I was eight and landed her ass in prison, leaving me with my goddamn bastard of a dad. By the time CPS figured out the shit that was going on in my home, I was way past the cute phase to get adopted by a nice suburban family. I was bounced from one foster home to the next as a teen. If there is some higher power up there, I learned way before I ever went into the military that He didn’t give a shit about me.”

So, all this history, pain and anguish has left my hero in a place where he does NOT give a fuck anymore. He lives the way he wants, because nothing seems to work out for him anyway.

So he walks around, seemingly unfazed by anything in life. Sleeping with whomever he wants, living life by no rules. (Cue my “Blaze” song by Steve Miller Band “The Joker”). He walks around, being crass and funny, it’s his defense.

I know all this sounds like a lot of melodrama, but trust me, there are so many classic laugh-out-loud quintessential “Blaze” moments in this book.

So of course, I had to make this an opposites attract enemies to lovers romance. I honestly think this book has some of the best dialogue I’ve ever written, some of the funniest scenes with chemistry that is off the charts. Pairing this “bad boy” with the sweet “good girl” was wildly entertaining to write.

“I have a very hard time believing that you watch the Golden Girls.”

“Love me the girls.” His choices had been very limited for daytime TV back in the days he was holed up in the hospital. He spared her that tidbit of depressing info though. It was either Golden Girls or a daytime soap, and he sure as shit wasn’t about to watch one of those.

“I bet Blanche was your favorite.” Her mouth pinched as she rested her chin on her hand. “She seems like your type.”

“Nah, I always liked Rose. I guess you could say I have a thing for the sweet, naïve ones.” He winked.

“I’m not naïve!” She slapped the counter.

“Oh, don’t flatter yourself. You’re no Rose, sweetheart. You’re totally Dorothy.”

Yes, these two just grate at each other at first, but regardless, the sparks are flying and the chemistry is undeniable.

The thing is though, deep down, he’s a GOOD man. Brandi realizes this after some time with him. And it takes a very GOOD woman to bring this bad boy to his knees.

He could talk all day about complications. How he had to go through the entire recovery alone while dealing with a messy divorce. How the physical pain combined with the emotional pain had sent him down a hole he had to fight to crawl out of. How he’d lost far more than he could have ever imagined. And lastly, how he’d spent the last several years numbing the misery with women that didn’t ask questions, required nothing of him but to scratch an itch, and didn’t make him feel anything.

Until now.

Now he found a woman that he cared enough about to let her in—someone that was gonna have to see the shame hiding under the bullshit.

So. Bad boy meets good girl, she makes him see the error of his ways, they fall in love and live happily ever after, right?

Um. Hello? Have we met?

Anyone that reads my books know I’m a sucker for the gut wrenching, make-you-chuck-your-kindle-at-the-wall drama. I’m a terrible, terrible author and my characters probably want to kill me for all the twists and turns I make them navigate before they get to that HEA.

But doesn’t it make that HEA all the more satisfying? To know that these characters have survived hell and back and still find their way to one another? That in spite of all the flaws, fuck-ups and shit life throws at them that they are strong enough to make it through?

Does Blaze evolve? Yes. Does he become something he’s not? No. Does Brandi collar the beast and turn him into someone my readers won’t recognize? No. Brandi allows him the freedom to be the man he always wanted to be. The man that had been beaten down and buried within.

My biggest thing is with ALL my characters is that they need to come into their own and evolve as individuals. We don’t lose ourselves when we become a couple. My characters are always strong enough on their own to make it, but once they find “the one”? Well, then they are unstoppable.

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halloween

First Halloween

Last year I posted a deleted scene/flashback of Scott and Tori on Halloween. In this flashback we find out that Halloween is Tori’s favorite holiday.

I thought this would be a fun tradition to carry on this year, and post a little short story about their first Halloween together as a REAL couple in their new home.

This story would fit into the timeline in my upcoming book Burn For You between Chapters 4 & 5. I did my very best to not give spoilers for what is coming in that novel. (Yes, they get a dog in Chapter one of my upcoming novel, and my readers will learn ALL about Kahn there.)

For those that haven’t read, this gives you a little glimpse into the lives of Scott and Tori. After years of being friends with benefits (this story is in Chasing Fire) they finally have committed to each other. They’ve promised forever and are engaged (this story is told in Smoke and Mirrors) Burn For You will pick up right where we left off in Smoke and Mirrors. Scott and Tori happy, committed and starting their home and family.

So, without further explanation here it is:

Scott eyed Tori as she wandered downstairs, their German Shepherd, Kahn, hot on her heels. Only two weeks together and those two were best buds. Mainly because his bride to be spoiled him to no end. 

 “You’re up early,” he remarked. It wasn’t like her to wake up early, especially after the past week of her not feeling so swell. “You going back into the office today?” 

 “Nah. I’ve still got some leave so I’m gonna take a couple more days.” She ruffled her fingers through her disheveled platinum locks, shook her head and pattered into the kitchen as the dog followed.

 “I can work from home today,” he hollered to her.

 She was quiet for some time while he listened to the opening and shutting of the cabinet doors. “Good, I can use your help,” she shouted back as her mug hit the counter with a clank. 

 “My help?” 

 She emerged from the kitchen a few moments later, coffee in hand. “Me being down this past week has put us on a time crunch.”

 Kahn came over to him and rested his head on Scott’s thigh. “Time crunch?” He gave the pooch a good rub on the head.

 “Today is Halloween, goof.” When she got close to the sofa she reached out for him. 

 “Ah, I’d lost track of the date.” He grabbed her by the hand and gently pulled her down next to him.

 “We need candy for trick-or-treaters, costumes—”

 “Costumes? That sounds like a lot to put together last minute.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe we should just kick the porch lights off and pretend we’re not home.”

 She snapped her head in his direction and scowled as if he’d just suggested to a kid they cancel Christmas. 

 “I mean we already decorated the front of the house…” She’d done that before they were even finished unpacking boxes from the move. He knew that Halloween was her favorite holiday, and he obliged to her whims. It took hours for them to get it just like she envisioned when there were so many things higher on his priority list. They decked their porch out in skeletons, spiderwebs, bats and they even had tombstones littering their yard. 

 “I will not be those kind of Halloween people.” She sucked in a breath then lifted her mug to her mouth. “My mom always tried to pull that kind of shit and it pissed me the hell off,” she mumbled behind the mug before taking a sip. Finally after a long swallow she lifted her chin and set her mug down. “I want us to be the Halloween house. The house that people talk about in the neighborhood.”

 He snorted and rolled his eyes. “I think we’ve got that covered already.” Between him doing yard work in his prosthetic blade and his blind bride-to-be coming and going with her cane, they’d drawn plenty of stares from rubberneck neighbors. A few had introduced themselves, but many whispered and kept their distance. This was par for the course in their world. People feared the unfamiliar. Some teens in the neighborhood had taken to pranking them. They loved to ring the bell to see how long it would take for them to get to the door, only to run at the last minute. It just solidified the fact to Scott that teenagers were awful creatures. 

 “Which is exactly why we need to make a show.” A wicked smile morphed on her face. 

 “What evil idea do you have brewing in that sneaky brain?” 

 She threw her head back and cackled like a madwoman. “The neighbors want something to talk about, let’s give them something to talk about.” 

* * *

 They spent the day running all over town to gather the items on her list. Shopping included a trip to the thrift store where they’d purchased a used dress for her, and a suit and tie for him that she planned to rip to shreds and trash. 

 “Do you really think this is a wise idea? To freak out the people in the neighborhood?” He pulled the big bottle of faux blood out of the package and set it on the kitchen counter with the other makeup items they’d purchased. “I mean, fuck those awful teenagers, but what about the younger kids?” 

 “Listen, you big softie.” She crossed her arms and turned to him. “Getting scared as a kid is a rite of passage on Halloween. Also, parents aren’t idiots. Our lawn already looks like a graveyard, so it gives fair warning. If their kids are too freaked out, they’ll just pass us on by.”  

 A knock came at the door, followed by a bark from Kahn. 

 “That’s Keith!” Tori clapped her hands and jumped up and down. “Come in!” She shouted. 

 The door creaked open and Keith popped in, with Jonathan, his latest fling behind him. Kahn emitted a snarky, low growl. 

 “Kahn hush!” Scott snapped at the dog who lay on the floor obediently. 

 “Oh shut the fuck up you beast.” Keith reciprocated with his own snarl back at the dog and a middle finger after he shut the door. “Why does he hate me so much?” 

 “Because you won’t pet him in fear you’ll get fur on your pristine pants.” Scott chuckled looking at Keith’s very tight, white, skinny jeans.

 “I love the yard. You two really go all out for Halloween,” Jonathan said as they wandered into the kitchen. “Amazing kitchen!” He eyed the large kitchen with the white cabinetry and ran his fingers over the double-door stainless-steel fridge. “I can’t wait to get to work in here!” He pulled items out from paper sacks. 

 “Have at it Jonathan. My kitchen is now yours!” Tori grinned and turned in Keith’s direction. “Did you get ahold of your friend at the theatre, Keith?” 

 “Yup. Got what you ordered.” He dug into his messenger bag and pulled out several vials of what looked like fluid.

 “Woah. What’s this?” Scott picked up the vial and eyed it.

 Keith laughed and jostled his shoulder. “Look at you examining it like its heroin or something.” 

 Scott read the vial that had Theatrical Lenses imprinted on it and raised a brow. “Contact lenses?” 

 “Scott you’ll get the zombie, icy ones and our little blind bat gets the creepy as hell black ones…”

 He cringed at the thought of something going into his eye. He couldn’t even do eye drops. He placed the vial down and caught Jonathan quietly holding back his giggles. 

 “Oh put on your big-boy pants and suck it up buttercup.” Tori patted his back. “What about Kahn’s costume? Can you hand sew some items on it for me quick?” 

 Scott held his hands up. “Wait. What? We’re dressing the dog now? Is that what the stupid dog sweatshirt was for?” He just figured that was to keep him warm. She spoiled that dog rotten.

 “An un-dead family need a zombie dog.” She shrugged. “That’s also why I got the huge bone.” 

 “What are we doing with the bone?” Scott assumed that ginormous bone was to keep him occupied while they handed out candy. 

 “We’re sticking it into one of your sneakers for him to chomp on, of course.” Tori threw her head back and laughed like a crazy person. “You’ll be going sans-prosthetic tonight, babe.” She patted his shoulder. 

 She had the sickest, most twisted sense of humor. He scratched his brow and mumbled. “We aren’t just going to scare the neighbors, we’re going to traumatize them.” 

* * *

 Two hours later after having makeup slathered all over his face Scott sat on a chair in their bathroom, growing impatient. 

 “Ok. You have to stop blinking every time I get near your eye,” Keith huffed after trying to get the contact in his eye the millionth time. 

 “I got them in just fine, babe.” She turned to him and blinked a few times. She looked positively terrifying. Keith had done a phenomenal job with her makeup and Scott was seriously impressed. The way he drew the black lines from her lips made the corner of the mouth extend into what looked like a fully slashed open cheek. The contacts she was wearing were something Keith called “sclera” lenses. Whatever they were, they were all-black, freaky as hell and covered her entire eyeball. That haunting look added with dripping black and red lines her lids was horrifying. He shivered a bit looking at her.

 “I’m sorry, but that’s an unfair comparison. She can’t see it coming for her. I see something coming for my eye, I blink!” Scott barked back. They’d been at this for thirty minutes and they’d only managed to get one contact in. “Just let me try it myself!”

 “But I don’t want you to see my masterpiece until I’m finished!” Keith whined. “Come on, you’ve been through getting your leg blown to bits. I assume you’re tough enough for this.” 

 “Fine.” He took a deep breath and leaned back, tilting his head to the ceiling. He zoned out and thought about the boring contracts at work sitting on his hard drive, anything to get his mind off the fact a finger was coming toward his eye. 

 As soon as Keith neared him again though, his natural reflex took over and he once again blinked. 

 “Oh for fucks sake. You promised!” Keith stomped his foot. 

 “I’m sorry.” He shook his head and could only laugh. Finally Scott cheated and turned to look at himself in the mirror. “Holy. Fucking. Shit.” 

 “I told you not to look!” Keith scolded him. “We still haven’t got the contacts in!”

 “Dude, this is excellent even with just the one in!” He tilted his jaw side to side, admiring Keith’s handiwork. 

 His skin was a blanch shade of reddish-purple, and his eyes were huge, dark circles perfectly blended into the skin. Lines were drawn on his face to give the impression of veins underneath the paper-thin looking skin, and his lips were blackened. Keith had sprayed his hair and beard full of grey to give it a dulling, dying look. The one eye that had the contact in was a whitish-blue with a small, black pupil. 

 “Fuck it. I’ve got a contingency plan. I give up on the other lens.” Keith waved his hands. He then turned and opened the linen cabinet that had their medicine on the top two shelves. “Oh, come on, tell me you’ve got some gauze in here.” 

 “Top shelf left-hand side there is a tackle box that’s a first aid kit,” Tori chimed as she tucked her hair up under a wig cap. 

 “Leave it to Scott Fucking Harris to use a tackle box as a first aid kit.” Keith chuckled.

 Just then Jonathan came into the room. “Any luck with the lenses?”

 “No.” Tori frowned, as she slipped on a pair of grey tights over her lacy, black underwear. Even with the gory makeup the site of her prancing in next to nothing made him a little stiff. He adjusted himself. 

 “Are you seriously getting an erection?” Keith huffed as he walked back over, gauze in hand.

 “I can’t help it. She’s hot.” He shrugged. 

 “Not my cup of tea.” Jonathan set a large bowl on the counter then wrapped his arms around Keith from behind. “But she does have a pretty decent rack, for a girl.” He winked at Scott who could only chuckle inwardly that Tori was practically naked in front of three men—two of whom her smoking hot body was totally lost on.

 “Yeah, yeah. Vic’s tits are a work of art.” Keith rolled his eyes. 

 “What’s in the bowl?” Scott nodded to the counter. 

 Keith yanked his chin toward him. “Hold still.” Keith wrapped his head in the gauze, covering one eye. 

 “Jello eyeballs.” Jonathan flashed a pearly-white grin and held them out for him to see. 

 Scott belly laughed looking at the bowl full of eyeballs. “So fucking gross.” 

 “Which just helps my plan here!” Keith cackled. “With her all black orb’s and you patched up, this works perfect!” 

 “Seriously, you don’t think this is all too much?” Scott looked down at his residual leg poking out from under the ripped pants. Keith had bloodied it up and added some bite marks. The scarring and stump alone was probably enough to frighten small children. 

 “Nah.” They all chimed in unison. 

 “Babe, this isn’t any scarier than the stuff people see when they walk into the Halloween store.” She waved her hand. 

 “What about you two?” Tori asked as Keith as he dabbed some faux blood to the eye covered in gauze. “You two should get zombiefied with us.” 

 “We’ve had our costumes ready for weeks now.” Jonathan chimed. “Ya, know for the big party.” 

 Scott winced. Jonathan was not supposed to mention that. Keith shot him a shut-the-hell-up look. 

 Tori stopped dead in her tracks and turned to him. “What party? Do you mean Natalie’s party? As in my boss Nat?” 

 “I…I…I’m not sure.” Jonathan grimaced and rubbed the top of his shaved head. His brown eyes pleaded with Scott and Keith for help. 

 “I didn’t’ think she was having it this year…” The wig clutched in her grasp fell to the ground as she swallowed hard. “Guess I wasn’t invited.” She reached to the ground and swiped her hand across the floor, looking for the lost wig. 

 “Here, baby.” Scott picked it up and handed it to her and helped her slip it on.

 “Vic, Nat was just worried about you, she didn’t know if you’d be up for it this year.” Keith rubbed her shoulders. “You’ve been through a lot, and she didn’t want to pressure you.” 

 “No, what she didn’t want was the embarrassment of having me there after the bad press I gave them. God forbid I have any other embarrassing mishaps in front of her hoity-toity DC friends.” Tori stood and straightened her wig. “I should consider myself I’m lucky I’ve still got a job.” 

 “Vic, you know that’s not true. She gave you the entire private event area for your exhibition next month and—” 

 “Just stop.” She held up her trembling hand. “Scott, did you know about this?” 

 Scott reached out and clasped it in his grasp, rubbing it. “I didn’t want to upset you. I’m sorry, baby.” 

 She lifted her chin, and a silence fell over the room, and he waited on her backlash. Finally, she lifted her chin and spoke. “I’m not gonna let this get under my skin. This is my first Halloween in our home. I don’t need her fancy, snobby party. I’ve got all I need right here.” She squeezed his hand tight. “Now, where is my fur baby? Kahn!” She whistled, and the dog came charging into the bathroom. 

 Scott laughed as the dog ran into the room, breaking the tension. “Holy shit babe, he looks fantastic.” Keith had given him a dog onesie and sewn and open rib-cage to the side, covered in blood. “He looks like one of those damn hellhounds from Resident Evil. It’s epic.” 

 She reached down, and felt the side of the costume, taking it in. “Perfect. Just what I wanted.” A grin morphed on her face as Kahn gave her cheek a good lick. 

 “Don’t let him lick you, Vic!” Keith shrieked. “He’ll fuck up that makeup.” 

 “Well, then let’s give him Scott’s leg.” She made air quotes with her fingers as she said the word leg.

* * *

 Before the guys took off Scott made Keith snap some photos of their little family—him, Tori and Kahn—on the front porch. Then they said their goodbyes and took off. 

 He exhaled as he slumped down onto the porch swing, and his crutch hit the deck with a thud. “Dammit, I forgot the bowl of candy…” 

 “I’ve got it. You’re in worse shape than me right now.” She chuckled and disappeared into the house. 

 It was true. With only one crummy wooden crutch—she wouldn’t let him use the metal one—and only one eye he could barely see out of, he was feeling very disabled at the moment. 

 His phone chimed in his pocket and he yanked it out. Keith had quickly texted all the photos to him. He grinned wide looking at the megawatt grin on his girl’s face. All the agony of the exhausting day was worth it to see that smile. Honestly, this was the best damn costume he’d ever had. The certifiably looked dead and decomposing. The lack of his leg helped…a lot. He posted them quick on Facebook and tagged Tori. His mom was gonna have a fit when she saw them. He was never allowed to wear gory costumes growing up. He chuckled at how irked she’d be as he tucked his phone back into his pocket. 

 He laughed louder as he looked down and saw Kahn chomping on the leg bone shoved into his sneaker. It was positively gruesome. 

 Tori came back out with the bowl of candy in hand and sat next to him. 

 “Now what?” he asked. 

 “Now we wait and see who’s brave enough to come to the creepy house.” She smirked and rifled through the bowl, unwrapped a piece of candy and popped it into her mouth, looking quite satisfied. 

They sat there quietly for a few moments as the street lights flickered on. In the distance he could see their first wave of trick-or-treaters heading down the sidewalk. “We have our first.” He nudged her in the side.

“How old?”

“About thirteen.” That was his best guess based on the height. “There’s a big group of them. I think it’s the teenagers.” The ones that loved to Ding-Dong-Ditch them.

“Perfect. Follow my lead.” She plopped the bowl of candy in his lap and exchanged it in her for the bowl full of Jello-eyeballs sitting on the patio table next to her. Scott stifled his snicker watching her zombie walk across the porch, dragging a foot behind her.

Whispers came from the kids and one pushed their pack leader out toward her.

“Trick Or Treat!” the boldest one chimed through his vampire teeth as they walked up. Tori slowly extended her arm with the bowl. The kid went to dig his hand in and froze.

“My eyes!” Tori moaned and clawed under her left eye with her free hand.

The teenager looked over his shoulder at the kids cowering behind him. His eyes shifted to Kahn mowing on the “leg bone” and that’s when the kid squealed and jumped back a few feet.

Scott stood and leaned into his crutch, grabbed the bowl of candy with his free hand, and groaned as he limped over, offering the candy.

The kids all exchanged side-eyes debating if the candy was worth it. Scott grunted and nudged the bowl closer to them and flashed a wicked grin.

A smug grin morphed on the kids face and their eyes locked in mutual respect for the payback prank. The kid jutted out his chin. “Sweet costumes, dude.” The kid palmed the candy and shoved it into his bag. The others shoulders relaxed and followed suit, then they turned and left.

“Holy shit, did you see that?” Scott could hear their whispers as they ran down the sidewalk. “Those people are crazy!” He grinned in satisfaction at the street-cred he just earned with the kids.

After the kids were gone they sat back down. A wide grin was plastered on Tori’s face.

 “You seem happy.” He patted her thigh.

 She swallowed. “Stoooopp.” 

 “What?” He feigned ignorance.

 “That whole droop in your voice. Just don’t.” She shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about my boss, and the fact I wasn’t invited to her party. I don’t want tonight to be about worry over me. I’m glad I wasn’t invited. Honestly. There’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be than right here, on our front porch, with you, scaring kids.” She reached up and touched his cheek, then grimaced. “Ew, your skin feels nasty.” She giggled and rubbed the smudged makeup between her fingertips

 “Yeah, I’d kiss ya, but you’re pretty nasty yourself, woman.” 

 They both erupted in laughter. His heart swelled with adoration for this amazing, strong woman that he was going to spend forever with. Every day he fell harder, deeper and more in love with her. 

 “Aw fuck it. I love your nasty ass.” He leaned in and kissed her. 

  

 

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My Sophomore Book – Smoke and Mirrors

I’ve been busy putting the final polish on Smoke and Mirrors, my sophomore book, the second in my Fire and Fury series.

This book. Oh, where do I even begin?

Of course THE week that I sent over to my editor for the final proofing would be the week that I decided to read not ONE but TWO amazing books that make me doubt everything about myself.

This book… oh this book… I’ll be honest. This book has about KILLED me.

Have I mentioned before that I re-wrote this book not once, oh, not twice, not even three but FOUR (yes four) times?

Draft one of Smoke and Mirrors was a mess. Originally I’d ended Chasing Fire on a cliffhanger and I felt that I was doing a huge disservice to my readers by not giving Scott and Tori their HFN. I didn’t want a gimmick. I wanted readers to read on because they love these two as much as I do. So before I published Chasing Fire I fixed the ending. Then I knew I had to fix the second book. I had this huge weird mystery plot in book two that just didn’t work for the first half, and the second half Scott and Tori went off to Texas to meet his family. It was like two different books jammed together and it was NOT working. I really loved the second half of the book, and that is where most of their growth was as a couple. I knew that THIS is really what I wanted Smoke and Mirrors to be about.

So I rewrote it. Then I rewrote again. Finally it began to take form. It turned out to be a much more laid-back type of book.

Chasing Fire was this fun, flirty (and yes angsty) will-they-won’t-they, I’m-gonna-yank-my-hair-out type book. For some it was a frustrating read. For others, they loved the angst. I started writing Chasing Fire as a fun hobby between my husband and I. We’d write these sexy scenes/snippets about these two friends with benefits back and forth while he was on military orders. I somehow managed to make it work as a romance. I took three years to mold Chasing Fire into a novel that actually made some sort of sense. It took time to give these characters motivation for WHY they circled each other for so many years without committing. I was certain it was doomed to fail. It wasn’t the typical romance novel. I broke all the rules writing this thing and followed no formula. BUT it was Scott and Tori’s story and they eventually told me WHY they did the things they did, and for them, it made sense.

Guess what? It did hella better than I ever expected it would. Readers GOT my characters. They understood that it was really a novel about two people loving each other in the wrong place at the wrong time with life constantly getting in the way. They saw how human Scott and Tori were and loved them in spite of their glaring faults and terrible decisions.

Smoke and Mirrors was much more the romance novel I wanted to write. A novel about two broken people learning to love in a committed, monogamous, relationship. I really wanted to crack Scott and Tori open and see what happens when you put these two damaged people together for real.

It’s VASTLY different from Chasing Fire. So that of course leaves me with much lingering self-doubt. Now that they don’t have the will-they-won’t-they to keep the pages turning… are my characters enough to keep readers engaged?

Of course I hear all the rules screaming in my ear as to why my series is doomed to fail. Things like:

“You can’t have a sex scene in the first chapter… you have to build to it.”

Sorry, this is kinda my signature thing with these two. I did it in the first, and second and I plan to do it again in the third. Because admit it. Scott and Tori have some seriously HOT boinkage.

“Readers will not stay engaged and follow a series about the same couple.” 

Um, ever heard of Twilight? Fifty Shades? Outlander? I mean, I could go on and on about all the RULES. Ya know what? Screw the rules. (That’s me channeling my inner Tori). I’m going to write the story in me that is screaming to be told.

Personally once I fall for a couple I could read about them doing laundry together and be completely satisfied. Not everyone is hard wired this way. But, like I’ve said before I set out to write the type of romance novels I would want to read. I guess this is because I wanted to mirror what I have with my husband in Scott and Tori. TV shows like “This Is Us” inspire me to write about real couples going through the drama of life together, and somehow still staying strong. If you ask me, a couples story doesn’t end at the HEA or HFN. Things happen. Life goes on. Trials come. The romance keeps blossoming. People grow deeper in love. I wanted to show what it was like when people try and work through their issues to grow stronger and become better people.

Scott has to really battle his nature to lead men and control. Control is what keeps others around him safe.

His ability to be in control kept him and others around him safe. It was his creed that he’d lived his life by and prided himself on. Leave a situation to the device of others and they’d fail the mission, or wind up dead. Just like the day of his explosion. He’d known that the CO’s plan was shit. He was right. If he’d been in control he wouldn’t be walking on a peg and Jones wouldn’t be six feet under.

As a soldier this is his thing. He barks orders and men just are expected to fall in line.

“I have a permit.” Scott shrugged.

“A permit?” Tori’s brow went up.

“An I-can-do-whatever-I-want permit,” Scott said with arrogance.

Isn’t that the damn truth?

Harris did what he wanted and nobody was ever allowed to bat an eye. They all were just expected to fall in line. Except Tori it seemed. Harris’ girl seemed to march to the beat of her own drum.

Of course fate would pair him up with the ONE WOMAN who refuses to submit. This is the essence of their conflict in book two. His father wisely points this out to him:

Scott took a pull from the beer. “I never want her to feel trapped. Ever. I love how free spirited and wild she is, but I hate it at the same time.” Scott scratched his brow. “I’ve been in some dicey situations. Bullets have flown by my head. I’ve been blown up. I’ve seen my brothers die in front of me, but nothing terrifies me more than the thought of something happening to my girl.”

“I suspect she fears being out of control and loss as much as you do.”

“Oh I’m certain she does.” His eyes widened.

“Funny thing, isn’t it? How we somehow manage to end up with the one that forces us to look in the mirror—reflecting all our faults and fears.” Wayne let that hang in the air for a moment. “Makes us have to work on our shit. We have to become better men.”

This is what Smoke and Mirrors is. It’s all about growth. Growth as a couple. Growth as individuals. Scott needs to learn there is a fine line between control and keeping her safe. Tori needs to learn to trust him, grieve her losses and figure out the woman she now is without sight.

Tori has lived her life closed off. She keeps people at a distance to protect her heart from further loss. She hides behind the walls of her sexuality because honestly, deep down, she’s not near as confident as what she portrays to the world. Pairing her up into a monogamous relationship brings all these fears to the surface, and it forces her to deal with her junk that she’s stuffed down. She never really had a chance to deal with her grief in book one. I think women are going to relate to Tori much more in the second book. We get to see a much softer side of Tori in Smoke and Mirrors:

“I’m so fucking angry. The one thing that I was good at was stripped away from me.” She sobbed into Keith’s chest. “I just want my art back. Even if I can’t see it, I need to feel it in my soul, and I’m so exhausted from having to think so much, I can’t even do that.”

“Honey, I’m so sorry I called it a fun challenge. I didn’t—”

She shook her head and pulled back. “You only said that because I’ve said that a hundred times in the past several months trying to remain positive. It’s my damn suit of armor. I’ve fooled everyone. It’s all smoke and mirrors; an illusion. Reality is, I’m still really pissed.”

My worry about how Smoke and Mirrors will be received has left me up at night in a sweat of panic. I guess because Chasing Fire did so much better for a debut than I could have ever hoped for. I want to deliver a satisfying read to my loyal fans for the next book. I still give my readers the smoking hot love scenes. We still have the dashes of humor that I love so much. Tori is still as reckless as ever and it drives Scott insane. The thing is, it’s just not near as gut wrenching as the first. I felt my readers, myself and my characters needed a break from all the major drama and angst. I wanted some time to enjoy Scott and Tori as a couple before all hell breaks loose (and trust me, it does in book three). But don’t worry. It all works out in the end. That I promise.

So yeah, Smoke and Mirrors is a transition book. It’s a lot of growth and really digging into my characters issues. I’m hoping my loyal fans that fell in love with Scott and Tori in the first book will enjoy their journey in this second book. I know I’ve enjoyed writing it (even if it took me four times to get it right).

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judith

Meet Judith

Happy Mothers day to all the mamma’s out there! I decided in celebration of mother’s day, I’d share my favorite book mamma, Judith Harris with the world.

In book one of the Fire and Fury series (Chasing Fire) we briefly met Judith Harris (mother to Scott Harris). We get a LOT more of Judith in book two (Smoke and Mirrors).

When I set out to create Judith I didn’t want her to be the southern, Christian mamma that you see Hollywood portray with the crummy accent and the southern bible thumping stereotypes. I didn’t want her to be the monster in law like many books and movies paint the hero’s mother to be. I wanted her to be a realistic image of what a Texas, southern mamma was like. I wanted her to invite Tori into her family with open arms. I wanted her to “Love Jesus but drink a little.” (Best quote EVER).

Judith’s husband (Scott’s dad), Wayne, says the following when Tori slips out a curse in front of him:

“Judith sings sweetly with the choir on Sunday, but can cuss like a sailor Monday through Saturday when the preacher ain’t around. Just don’t ever say the big F word in front of her. She will whack you upside the head for that one.”

Judith is a fiery red-head southern mamma that takes shit from no one. When she says jump, you can really only ask how high. You don’t argue with Mamma Harris.

Tori’s fork dropped out of her hand and clanked loudly on the plate. “Church?” Tori swallowed her mouth full. Scott didn’t say anything about church being on the agenda.

“Well of course, it is Sunday after all,” Judith said as if it was normal practice for Tori to go to church on Sunday. “Pastor hasn’t seen Scott since he was a teenager and I would love to show you off, Victoria.”

Tori knew she had to look like a deer in the headlights. She dug her nails into Scott’s thigh.

“Oh, dear I’m sure they’re exhausted from the flight, we don’t expect you two to go.” Wayne came to her rescue. Tori was not a hugger but she could have jumped across the table and flung her arms around the man at that moment.

“Yeah mom, we’re pretty worn out, maybe another time.” Scott squeezed Tori’s hand on his lap.

“Fine, but next Sunday I’m not taking no for an answer,” Judith said adamantly. Tori knew there was no way they were going to get out of it the following week. She was learning one thing, you don’t argue with Scott’s mom. Judith was already displeased that they were sleeping in the same bedroom. Tori thought it was ridiculous. They were in their thirties after all.

The woman has grit and a strong backbone. She’s also very nurturing. She will go above and beyond for her kids (to a fault… she can be a bit smothering at times), but she does it from the bottom of her heart that is the size of Texas.

“And look here at this sweet girl you brought home!”

The next thing Tori knew she was getting a bear hug from Scott’s mother. “Oh!” Tori flinched and chuckled in surprised amusement from his mother’s ambush. Tori politely returned the warm embrace around Judith’s small, yet strong frame. The hug lasted a few moments longer than Tori was comfortable with.

“Well my goodness.” Judith pulled back and held onto Tori’s shoulders. “Aren’t you a pretty little thing?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Harris.” Tori gave a genuine smile. Although the welcome was a bit much, it made her feel warm all over. She’d never been hugged that tightly before even by her own mother. How on earth could she have been afraid of this woman with the sweetest voice she’d ever heard?

Family is not really Tori’s thing. Her father died when she was very young and her mother turned to self-medication with booze and drugs. She’s never had anyone that she could really count on to be in her corner. She knows that Scott comes from a good, wholesome family. So heading to Texas to meet Scott’s very large family is going to bring a lot of issues to the surface. Without getting too into spoilers, my goal was even through the turmoil and self discovery that Tori has to do while on this trip, this was to become a very healing process. Finally, Tori gets the family she never had growing up. Judith fills a little of the gaping hole that was left in Tori’s heart.

Judith’s hand reached over and squeezed her leg. “Oh honey! I didn’t mean it like that. I know you’re quite capable. I just care about you. Lord, I bet people question you all the time. That must feel awful…” Judith sounded so upset with herself. “I should know better, when you need help you’re smart and bold enough to ask. I just…” she let out a heavy breath, “I just wanted to mother you a bit.”

Tori put her hand on top of Judith’s and squeezed it. There were about a thousand emotions that filled her with that statement, but they all clogged in her throat. Finally, Tori managed to croak out a meager, “Thank you.”

Judith isn’t perfect. That’s my number one rule about characters, they MUST have flaws. Judith is a bit nosy, and overbearing, and controlling (ahem, now we know where Scott gets it from). She tends to smother the ones she loves a bit too much.

Scott leaned in and gave her a deep kiss. “Now let’s head inside. Mom’s peering out the window being nosy, as usual. I can see her wild red hair poking over the frame.”

Here is a little from Blaze’s perspective on Mamma Harris.

He may have never met the woman face to face, but he’d know her for certain if he passed that red head on a crowded street. The woman that sent him not only letters, but dozens of cards with sky filled doves and bible scriptures scrawled on them when he was in the hospital. Oh, and cookies. Yeah, he appreciated those. He read every word she wrote, trashed the scripture filled cards, and ate every last crumb. The woman could bake a mean ass chocolate chip cookie.

I could go on and on about Judith. My inspiration for her was a mash up of all the mother figures that have poured into my life. My mom, like Tori’s dad, passed when I was very young. Judith has a dash of my mother’s willingness to go above and beyond for those she cared for. My husband’s mother is the same way. My very kind, loving mother in law will constantly inconvenience herself for all us kids. My husbands grandmother is a very wise woman who loves without condition and will always give you big hugs, AND tell you exactly how it is as she heaps you up spoonfuls of her home cooked roast on Sunday. And as far as her mouth, well, Judith gets her no-filter will say anything that pops in her head mouth from my Nanaw. My nanaw was also a bit of a southern gossip. That woman never knew when to keep her flap shut, but she was a RIOT. If I had a birthday party and the kids were playing musical chairs, you better believe my Nanaw was right in there with the kids being a total goofball. As far as her backbone and grit to take anything that life throws at her, she gets that from my stepmom. That woman has survived open heart surgery, breast cancer and MUCH more. She’s one of the strongest women I know.

So to all you strong mammas out there today, I salute you, and Judith Harris. I can’t wait for you to fall in love with Scott’s mamma.

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victoriajohnson

Meet Tori

Last week I was having a conversation with my husband as to when it would be best to share Tori with the world.

Me: (to my husband) So check it. I made this great graphic of Tori. I just don’t know when the best time to share it is.

Him: Next Wednesday. It’s a holiday after all.

Me: (stares at him blankly)

Him: Yeah, it’s steak and blowjob day. Ya know. Valentines day is for chicks. That day where guys go out of their way to give cards, and chocolate and all kinds of shit to girls. Steak and blowjob day is the male equivalent. We get a steak and blowjob.

I threw my head back and cackled like a madwoman (just like Tori would do).

(Yes, my husband put it on our Google calendar. Just in case you were wondering.)

Ok. I’ll play.

You see Tori is a feisty and fiery heroine. She’s not intimidated by a man who needs to be a man. She gives her man what he wants, and if he wants a steak and blowjob by all means he’s gonna get it.

Why? Because Tori is the kind of girl that knows Steak and Blowjob day is satirical. She knows that Steak & BJ day is NOT really meant that men feel that they are being asked to much.  Tori (like me) also knows that her man is going to satisfy her desires as well.

Steak and Blowjob day. It’s funny ladies. Get. OVER. It. There are so many more things in this world to let ruffle your feathers.

So. All that said let me tell you all about Victoria Johnson aka Tori (and don’t EVER call her Vic, unless you are her bestie Keith).

Tori let out a breath and kept scanning the crowd. Her eyes stopped on a muscular, sandy haired hottie with hair almost to his waist. “Him. The waiter.” She pointed toward the table a few rows over.

“You mean Tarzan?” Keith sighed. “It’s like you don’t know me at all, Vicky.”

Keith was the only one she’d ever let get away calling her Vicky. She always went by Victoria at work and he shortened it to Vicky the night they met and it stuck. Victoria or Tori she allowed, but never Vicky-except for Keith.

“What’s wrong with him?” she protested. “He’s hot if you ask me.” If they weren’t in a gay bar Tori may have done some flirting with him herself. It was going to be a dry night for her tonight she realized as she peered over the sea of attractive young men.

Yes. Tori is wild uninhibited in her sexuality. Some would call her promiscuous, I prefer to call her sexually liberated. It’s time to get over the slut-shaming. Girls CAN and DO enjoy sex. Even KINKY sex.

Scott trailed his fingertips down the curve of her spine all the way to her ass, pulling her cheeks apart exposing her back opening. A grin stretched his lips. Would she let him get away with his filthy fantasy?

What the hell, it was worth a try.

He took two fingers and glided them into her pussy, getting them nice and wet for where he was headed. Her back arched as she screamed his name into the sheets that were now balled up underneath her. He pulled his fingers out, gliding upward, tracing the outline of her opening with his fingers that were wet with her juice. She tensed at first but didn’t protest; in fact, she lifted her bottom higher-inviting him to do as he pleased.

“Do it!” she said impatiently.

(He always waits for her to always give consent).

Scott knows there is more beneath her surface. He knows Tori is much more than a sexy vixen. She’s an artist; through and through. She’s got a wild heart and a gypsy soul. She loves beauty and knows it comes in all forms. When my hero (Scott) loses his leg in Afghanistan they have the following exchange:

She pulled back and rubbed her fingers gently over the stitched cuts on his face.

“Those are gonna leave a mark.” He chuckled wryly.

“Scars are sexy.” Her mouth wrinkled into a slight smile. Lord if her blue eyes weren’t the warmest thing he’d ever seen.

“Not all of them are.” He glanced at his stump under the sheet and rolled his eyes.

“Says who?” She furrowed her brow. “Society? Fuck em. Own that shit.” She nodded to the sheet. “You, Scott Harris, can make anything sexy.” She kissed him again.

The loss of his leg never defined him, it was just part of him. She sees Scott for exactly who was and always will be. Masculine. Strong. Sexy as hell. Beauty is about MUCH more than what lies on the surface. (Although the fact that he’s ruggedly handsome doesn’t hurt).

After Scott’s injury Tori stays by his side and heals his heart. She brings him back to the man he was, refusing to let him wallow in self-pity.

Tori will do anything for those she cares for but her walls are high and her guard is always up. She trusts no one but herself. Slowly Scott chips away a her walls brick by brick.

She is the one he wants to spend the rest of his days with. Problem is fate always has a way of wrecking his best laid plans.

I’ve made it no secret that Tori faces a tragedy of her own. There is no big reveal because we find out in the prologue that Tori is blind. An accident rips her life apart, leaving her without sight and struggling to recover the sexy woman she once was.

(Yes, the blind artist trope. So cliche. I know. Don’t lie. You know you love it. At least I poke fun at my own cliches.)

“I’ve devoted my whole life to art, a visual career. Not just that it’s in my soul. I’m the tragic blind artist.” Her words dripped with sarcasm. “This is so fucking cliché it’s like I’m a god-dammed after school special or something.” She laughed nervously.

Tori is notorious for covering up her pain with humor. She doesn’t want people to see what’s inside.

She wilted in his embrace as the fight of holding back her pain drained from her.

She hides behind her strength. It’s her mask to the world that protects her. (Scott of course knows this.)

She also hides behind her snarky sense of humor.

“Hey, you know me, I never half ass anything, even going blind apparently,” she feigned pride. “Well I better get going. I have a very full day of sitting in the dark and listening to Metallica’s Fade to Black.” She laughed a little too loud her crass joke.

She never takes herself or her disability too serious. She doesn’t want it to define who she is. She wants to be the same sexy, mischievous girl she always was. (To all her O&M teachers dismay she refuses to stop wearing heels.)

Blind girls can still rock heels, drunk blind girls, well, that's questionable

I tried very hard to not make her a “Mary Sue” character. (You know, the character that is just everyone’s dream.) I wanted her to be flawed and realistic, but not SO flawed that people hate her. I wanted her to be strong, but not a bitch. (Let’s face it writers, we all know how readers will rake you over the coals for an unlikeable heroine). I wanted her to be most of all REAL. Someone that every girl could possibly relate to. I wanted her to be quirky, strong, funny, (and in book two we realize she’s actually quite insecure).

I wanted her to be a girl that other girls would be comfortable hanging out with, but not a girly-girl. I wanted her to be a girl that can hang with the guys.

“That girl of yours is something else, Harris,” Chief said. “Smart as hell. Hot as fuck too.”

“Yeah, it’s rare to find someone who can hold her own in a cocktail dress at a DC fundraiser, and dance topless on a picnic table in Texas while downing Jack.” Scott smiled proudly.

Tori doesn’t play into gender roles and stereotypes. Tori doesn’t fault other women who are girly. She also isn’t intimidated by a man being a man. He can let the full weight of his masculinity into the room and she’s perfectly ok with that.

She could adapt to whatever social group she was around it seemed. Chad had seen her hang now with what some would consider the lowest in society, himself included, but also knew she worked in that fancy circular building he could see in the distance. The girl was a chameleon.

This is what Scott loves about her. She’s unlike anyone he’s ever met. Some days she’s a breeze and other days she’s a hurricane. I won’t spoil for you HOW they get to their HEA. (Yes we all know the HEA is coming. This IS a romance after all. But in romance it’s about the journey, not the destination).

It’s a saga full of loss and growth for them both (with lots of steam along the ride). I LOVE Tori’s character arc. As an artist who loses her vision she has to learn to find the beauty in life in other ways. She begins to realize that years of meaningless sex is no longer gratifying. Hiding behind the walls of her sexuality becomes quite lonely. She longs for more.

I'm not scared of the dark anymore

But this is what makes their story even more special. Scott and Tori understand each other in a way that nobody else could. They truly are best friends with benefits. Fate may have ripped them apart several times over the years, but it also has a way of working out things exactly as they are meant to be.

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