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. 

  

 

scott_booktwo

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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