Tag Archives: novel

Status Update – RITA Finalists!

Mar 24, 2017

I intend to read all of the historicals, starting with these guys

Yay! The finalists for the 2017 RITA Awards were announced on Tuesday! And for those who don’t know that that is, it’s the industry award for romance novels…like the Oscars of Romance. Also FYI, the finalists are chosen by romance-writing peers who read a selection of novels in multiple genres and score them based on a series of guidelines. And to take it back one step further, those novels are submitted by traditionally published and indie authors, with a contest cap of, I think it was 2000 books this year. So after everyone reading and judging all of those 2000 books in a variety of categories, we now have finalists!

Click here for the complete list of finalists in all categories courtesy of the RT Book Reviews blog.

But today I want to talk about the finalists in the two Historical Romance categories, because when it comes to Historical Romance, I think the industry/category has some serious problems.

First, though, let’s celebrate these magnificent authors who made the finals!!!!

Historical Romance: Long

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase

How I Married a Marquess by Anna Harrington

No Mistress of Mine by Laura Lee Guhrke

Susana and the Scot by Sabrina York

 

Historical Romance: Short

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen

Left at the Altar by Margaret Brownley

The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

Taming the Highlander by May McGoldrick

 

A round of applause for all of these authors!

Bonus points to whoever came up with Tessa Dare’s title, because every time I see it, I get that song stuck in my head.

And now, let’s talk about what’s wrong with this picture. First of all, I hope you clicked on that link to the RT blog to see all of the finalists in all categories. See how many of them some of those categories have? Up to 10 per category! But notice how many there are for both historical categories combined? Only 10. And notice something else? Of those ten finalists, five of them have made the finals many, many times, year after year. That’s half of the finalists in the category popping up perennially.

So why do I feel like that’s just dead wrong? As my friend Caroline Lee said when we were discussing this, doesn’t that just mean that those authors are the best in the field, especially if they’re finalists almost every year?

Yes. Absolutely.

And that’s the problem.

As I said to Caroline, where is the new blood? Where are the hot young authors in the genre? If the same excellent authors are reaching the finals every year with relatively few first-time finalists in either of the historical categories, what does that say about the health of the genre as a whole?

Personally, I think it means two things. First, it’s just a fact that Historical Romance has been on a downward trend for a while. It doesn’t sell as well as it used to. Even my historical novels—which make up about 70% of my total catalog—don’t sell as well as the contemporary novels I have out there. And I think that becomes a problem when people are judging the books. Overall, they’re scoring them lower, because they’re just not that in to historical romance.

Okay, that’s fair enough. You can’t expect someone to get super excited over books that aren’t their cup of tea. But the other problem I have—and it’s not just this year, it’s every year—is that the number of non-Regency novels that make the finals are…well, there are two this year—one Scottish and one Western. And this is not just a problem with contests, it’s a problem with the industry.

Let me explain… Regency Romance takes up a gigantic percentage of the historical romance market right now. HUGE. But there are so many more eras and locations of history with rich, fabulous stories to be told. So with all of the vibrant history out there, why so much Regency and so little of everything else? Because traditional publishing claims that any historicals other than Regency don’t sell. But the vast majority of what they publish is Regency. So how can they sell something that they don’t publish or claim that volumes of ignored history won’t sell when there are so few case studies of non-Regency books out there?

Okay, I’ll admit that Elizabeth Hoyt is one of my very favorite novelists!

This is why Indie Historical Romance writers have become so valuable to the industry. We write the stories that no one else will publish. And guess what? They sell. Not as well as contemporary romance, mind you, but they put kibble in my cats’ dishes. So if we have proof that other historical eras do, in fact, sell, why isn’t the traditional publishing industry putting more effort into publishing them (and I won’t say they don’t publish anything non-Regency at all—they do, just not very much). Furthermore, and this is more of a question based on reality, have readers been trained to only consider Regency and to block out any other historical eras? (Except maybe Scottish, which is also mildly popular, but honestly, I’m not a fan)

This brings me around to my other question/concern/problem with the industry and readers and awards these days. Is it possible that Historical Romance is seeing such a huge downswing because readers are dead tired of dukes? Is the genre as a whole failing to attract new readers because those readers are SO over Regency, but that’s the bulk of the entire category these days? Is it not possible that the category as a whole could get a huge boost if publishers and contests alike pushed more Western, Medieval, later Victorian, 20th Century, Non-European titles? I’d give my eye teeth to read a romance novel set around the founding of Australia, for example. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to read a series like that. Or what about a romance or two set during WWI? Hasn’t Downton Abbey proven that the material there is rich and crowd-pleasing? What about romances that explore the history of People of Color? I definitely want to read those!

Why don’t we see more variety in Historical Romance?

… That’s basically what it’s all about.

Covers: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Jan 04, 2016
image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

Okay, covers. It’s about time we had a little talk. Study after study has shown that the most important things to sell a book (particularly if you’re an Indie author) are your blurb (which we talked about here) and your cover. So many times, if a book isn’t selling well, there’s a good chance your cover just isn’t hacking it. And there are several reasons for this. So here we go.

If I could only say one thing to people about choosing the best cover for your book (a book you’ve worked too long and hard on to send it out into the world dressed badly) it’s this:

DO NOT EVER DESIGN YOUR OWN COVER

I can’t say that loud or frequently enough. (I know not everyone agrees with that, but I’m pretty passionate about it) Even if you think you’re a fantastic designer and are super capable when it comes to working with Photoshop or other graphic design programs. Just don’t do it. Just like you shouldn’t edit your own work because you’re too close to it to have a non-partial eye, you shouldn’t design your own covers because you aren’t going to be able to see the flaws in your work. Don’t go out that door with broccoli in your teeth!

Second, not all cover designers are equal. I know you love you sister’s daughter’s boyfriend’s brother who is really good with computers, but just because he knows how to cut and paste does not mean he has a designer’s eye or that he knows what images draw readers to certain genres of books. Book covers have their own language, their own symbolism, and it’s constantly changing. You need someone with an artistic eye, but also someone who knows what’s trending, knows how to blend light and shadow, and knows how to create vibrant, original images that pop and draw a reader’s eye. Talent does not come as an accessory to graphic design programs, and a designer who is talented at designing stationary, for example, may not be talented when it comes to book covers.

So let’s take a look at some things you should watch out for in cover design world.

mating with raptorFirst and foremost, readers are savvy these days. Unless you’re writing something deliberately tongue-in-cheek or trashy (like Mating with the Raptor), readers will click right past any covers that look Photoshopped. What does that mean? Anything that looks like the designer took a background and started randomly pasting stickers on it looks bad, Bad, BAD. You can tell one of these amateur covers a mile away because the light levels don’t match. Look for shadows that are going in the wrong direction, images that are disproportionate in size to other elements of the cover, figures or pieces of the image that appear to have more or less light on them. For example, in this delightful cover, the girl has a relatively bright, warm light illuminating her, but it doesn’t match the darker, shadowy light of the background. Same goes for the dino, which is in a cooler light. I used this example cover because I don’t think the designer cares how realistic and smooth it looks, but flip through Amazon for a while, and you’ll find covers where the designer just didn’t know what they were doing.

that guyI could find you a ton of examples of covers that look Photoshopped. You know what I mean. Also look out for lines that are too sharp around elements of the design, or that are too fuzzy because they’ve been blended with a particular tool. Anything that looks like stickers should send you running for the hills. Also, this guy on the right. Bless his heart, I don’t know who he is, but I’m not gonna lie—when I see him on a cover, I automatically pass on the book. Dude is everywhere!

warriors womanAnother problem I’ve seen in some covers these days is that they look dated. Ah yes, remember the good old Fabio-style cover? It’s just not the thing right now. These sorts of clinch photos with tons of wind and clothes about to fall off were all the rage a few years ago, but not so much now. Take a look online at the bestselling romance covers today (for example, if that’s your genre). We’re in the era of the heroine with the big skirt that takes up half the cover right now. There’s also variation in covers depending on the level of sweetness that the story entails. If you’re writing a Christian romance, for example, you don’t want this Fabio-style cover. It doesn’t send the right message. (All right, I’ll admit that my latest book cover for His Perfect Bride has shades of this era, but note the key differences: my cover isn’t an illustration, and the heroine is fully dressed, in spite of the hero’s shirtless good hair day.)

Okay, so what looks good on a cover? And how do you get a truly stellar cover design, especially for historical books, when there’s an extremely limited amount of historical stock photography out there?

MF_SavingGrace_2_smallWell, great book covers have all the design elements in harmony with each other. Truly stellar designers know how to put color and light and background ambiance to work for them. This cover of mine from Saving Grace, by designer Kalen O’Donnell was nominated for a cover design award last year. Frankly, that book sucked (well, it didn’t suck, but it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, which is why I stopped writing sci-fi), but man, based on that cover, you’d give the blurb a look, wouldn’t you? The color, the light levels, the visual impact are all stunning. And that started with a very simple stock photo.

EdenTheDangerousBride_smallAs for the problem of there not being enough original images out there, well, one of the reasons I hire the immensely talented Erin Dameron-Hill to do my covers is because she’s so good that she can dissect images and create new models from various parts! This truly awesome cover, she tells me, is actually three different images combined to make an original image. And as you can clearly see, the foreground blends with the background, the color scheme matches the rest of the novels in the series (peek over to the right), and there is no sticker-ness anywhere.

At the end of the day, “good” and “bad” is subjective, but only up to a point. There are standards, and if you’re in this business to win it, you’ll want to find the highest quality designs that you can. The good news is that covers aren’t super expensive these days. You can get good ones for under $100! And so, I leave you with a pretty amazing list of cover designers, shared with me by author Christine Miller:

LIST OF RECOMMENDED COVER DESIGNERS

99-DESIGNS http://99designs.com/book-cover-design

ALCHEMY BOOK COVERS http://www.alchemybookcovers.com/

AM DESIGN STUDIOS http://amdesignstudios.net/sample-page/

ART BY KARRI http://artbykarri.com

AUTHOR MARKETING CLUB http://authormarketingclub.com/members/pre-made-book-covers/

AVALON GRAPHICS http://www.avalongraphics.org/books.html

BEYOND DESIGN http://www.tamianwood.com

THE BOOK COVER DESIGNER http://thebookcoverdesigner.com/shop/?vendor=jesrdesign

BOOK COVERS GALORE http://bookcoversgalore.com/

BOOK COVERS MARKET http://bookcoversmarket.com

BOOKS DESIGN http://www.books-design.com/

BOOKFLY DESIGN http://www.bookflydesign.com/

BOOK GRAPHICS http://bookgraphics.net/

CANDESCENT PRESS http://www.candescentpress.com/coverdesign.php

CAROL’S COVER DESIGN http://carolcoversdesign.com/

CHARISMA KNIGHT http://designsbycharisma.yolasite.com/book-covers.php

CHIP KIDD http://www.chipkidd.com/gallery.html

COVERS BY ALDELM JOHN FERRIOLS http://www.coroflot.com/Maggs/Book-Covers

THE COVER COUNTS http://thecovercounts.com/

CREATION WARRIOR http://www.creationwarrior.net/

CREATIV INDIE COVERS http://bookcovers.creativindie.com

CUSTOM INDIE COVERS http://www.customindiecovers.com/

DAFEENAH JAMEEL http://dafeenah.deviantart.com/gallery/

DAMONZA http://damonza.com

THE DARK RAYNE http://www.thedarkrayne.com/book-covers/

DIGITAL DONNA http://digitaldonna.com

EBOOK COVER DESIGNS http://www.ebook-coverdesigns.com

EBOOK INDIE COVERS http://ebookindiecovers.com

EBOOK SERVICES https://ebookcovers4u.wordpress.com/cat…/covers-weve-made/

EL DESIGNS http://www.eldesigns.net/index.html

ESTRELLA COVER ART http://estrellacoverart.com/

EXTENDED IMAGERY http://www.extendedimagery.com

FANTASIA FROG DESIGNS http://fantasiafrogdesigns.wordpress.com/premade-bookcovers/

FICTION BOOK COVER http://fictionbookcover.com/

FLIP CITY AUTHOR SERVICES http://flipcitybooks.com

FOR THE MUSE DESIGN (Pre-Mades) http://www.forthemusedesign.com/pre-made-covers.html

FOSTER COVERS http://www.fostercovers.com

FOSTERING SUCCESS http://www.fostering-success.com/autho…/ebook-cover-design

GO ON WRITE http://www.goonwrite.com

GRAPHICZ X DESIGNS http://graphiczxdesigns.zenfolio.com

HARPER DESIGN http://louharper.com/Design.html

HUMBLE NATIONS http://humblenations.com

I DREW DESIGN (FIVERR) https://www.fiverr.com/idrewdesign

INDIE AUTHOR SERVICES http://www.indieauthorservices.com/pre-made-book-covers.html

JAMES LEDGER CONCEPTS http://www.jamesledgerconcepts.com

JANET HOLMES http://www.seejanetwork.com/

JH ILLUSTRATION https://jhillustration.wordpress.com

JOE SIMMONS ILLUSTRATION http://www.jsimmonsillustration.com

KATIE W. STEWART http://www.katiewstewart.com/cover-designs.html

KILLER COVERS http://killercovers.com/#ebook

***THE KILLION GROUP http://thekilliongroupinc.com

KIT FOSTER DESIGN http://www.kitfosterdesign.com/Home.aspx

LEAH KAYE SUTTLE http://www.leahsuttle.com

LFD DESIGNS http://mycoverart.com/

LITTERA DESIGNS http://www.litteradesigns.com

LLPIX PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN http://www.llpix.com

MARIYA KRUSHEVA http://mishka19.deviantart.com/gallery/33572981?offset=0

MELCHELLE DESIGNS http://melchelledesigns.com

NESS GRAPHICA http://www.nessgraphica.com/

NINJA MEL DESIGNS http://www.ninjameldesigns.com/portfolio/

PHAT PUPPY ART http://phatpuppyart.com

PERMED EBOOK COVER SHOP http://www.premadeebookcovershop.com/

Q42 GRAPHIC DESIGN http://www.q42graphicdesign.com

REBECCA SWIFT ARTWORK http://www.rebeccaswiftartwork.com

ROBIN LUDWIG DESIGN http://gobookcoverdesign.com/pages/book_cover_design.html

ROCKING BOOK COVERS http://www.rockingbookcovers.com

RROXX (FIVERR) https://www.fiverr.com/…/create-awesome-professional…

SARAH JANELEHOUX http://sarah-janelehoux.com/coverart.htm

SCARLETT RUGERS BOOK DESIGN AGENCY http://booksat.scarlettrugers.com

SCRIBBLELEAF http://www.scribbleleaf.com

SELF PUB BOOK COVERS http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/

SHAYNE HELLERMAN http://shaynehellerman.deviantart.com/gallery/

STREETLIGHT GRAPHICS http://streetlightgraphics.com

STEFAN LINDBLAD http://www.canvas.nu/illustration-bokomslag-eng.htm

SWEET ’N SPICY DESIGNS http://jayceedelorenzo.com/sweetnspicy/

TUGBOAT DESIGN http://www.tugboatdesign.net

YOCLA DESIGNS http://yocladesigns.com/

WALKING STICK BOOKS http://www.walkingstickbooks.com/…/Ser…/Cover-Design.cfm

WICKED SMART DESIGNS http://www.wickedsmartdesigns.com

WINTER HEART DESIGN http://winterheart.com/category/covers

WORD SUGAR DESIGNS http://www.wordsugardesigns.com/

 

There you go. So now you can’t tell me you can’t find a good cover designer. 😉

Romance – Now More Than Ever

Dec 14, 2015
image courtesy of Christian Muñoz via Flickr

image courtesy of Christian Muñoz via Flickr

Every six months or so, the knives come out. Somewhere on the internet, someone will shake their fist and proclaim that Romance is a worthless genre, that romance writers are all hacks, and that no self-respecting reader out there should be caught dead reading such drivel. 

*ahem* 

Every six months or so, someone makes an idiot of themselves. 

Romance is the heart of humanity. Clearly it’s a hot-button issue, because every time the arguments begin to rage, defenders of romance rush forth to set the cynics straight. More than that, they remind the world that the romance genre is the top-selling genre out there, a six billion dollar a year industry. The fact that romance sells so well AND the fact that it is always attacked with such ferocity is proof that love, relationships, yearning, and intimacy are at the heart of who we are. 

I would like to propose that in today’s world, romance goes further than that. Right now, in a world that has been whipped up to epic levels of hysteria, in a world where loud-mouthed individuals and groups with a dark agenda can captivate billions and instill them with fear like never before, romance is essential. Now more than ever, the world needs romance novels. 

Because it’s scary out there right now, folks. Every time you turn on the news, you can’t help but cringe over something that someone said or about violence and injustice going on somewhere in the world. We sometimes forget that this isn’t the only time in our history that this sort of thing has happened. What I find interesting, though, is what happened last time the world found itself mired in senseless war, questionable conflict, and the strain of social injustice. 

I’m talking about the 60s, of course. The Vietnam War. The racial unrest. The uncertainty across the globe. But what else do we remember about the 60s and the Vietnam Era? We remember hippies, peaceniks, music, and The Summer of Love. 

HisPerfectBride_smallLove goes hand-in-hand with peace. We all want peace, but you could definitely make the argument that without love first, without the opening of our hearts, peace isn’t possible. And what are romance novels but deep, expressive examples of love? 

The whole point of a romance novel is to have a hero and heroine (or hero and hero, or heroine and heroine, or…you get the point) meet, have a spark between them, and overcome odds to be together. I was struck this summer when I heard Catherine Bybee speak at the Ind’Scribe Conference about how for her, romance novels were how she learned about monogamy and happily ever after in romantic relationships. She was so right. Too many of us don’t have those examples in our real lives. What we learn, we learn between the pages. 

I think it extends beyond relationships and happily ever afters. Romance novels go one step further to show us that it is not only possible to conquer demons (literal and figurative) it’s right. In today’s world, it is far too easy to give up and assume that the bad guys will win because they’re louder or more ruthless. Romance novels show us that that’s not the case. No matter how dastardly or clever the bad guy is, love saves the day. 

We need this sentiment in the world right now. We need to be reminded over and over that good will triumph over evil, that great acts of compassion are possible, that the future can be filled with peace and happiness. It may be hard to have those feelings when you turn on the news right now, but when you open the pages of a book, a romance novel, you see that it can be done. We may be skeptical, we may be tempted to join those detractors and think that it’s all just fiction, but I think that the more we immerse ourselves in those examples of love and happy endings, the more we can not only come to believe they are possible, the more we will work to make them possible. 

So turn off the news. Ignore the detractors. Let your soul breathe for a few hours. Pick up a romance novel and change the way you look at the world. Welcome in peace to a world that needs it, and learn to believe that we can all have our happily ever after.

Things I Learned at the Ind’Scribe Conference 2015

Sep 25, 2015
Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD'Tale crew!

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD’Tale crew!

I had such a good time at the InD’Scribe conference for indie romance writers in Palm Springs, CA, that I almost don’t know how to put it into words. A good time was had by all, a lot of super talented writers came together to share knowledge and laughter, and even though there were only a few workshops and panels, I learned SO MUCH that will be incredibly useful from them. 

I think the first and most important lesson that I learned is that above all else, story is the most important part of any writing process. Sounds obvious, right? Well, this year’s conference and my experience judging the RONE Awards really drove that home. The actual prose itself could have problems (although another lesson I learned is that we must always, ALWAYS work to improve out craft), but at the end of the day, it’s the story you’re telling that will grab the reader.

We’re all storytellers. That’s why we got into this gig in the first place. Or at least it should be the reason why we got into this gig. We can try to chase trends and follow the market and write from a financial-type motivation all we want, but at the end of the day, it’s our deep, deep desire to tell stories that’s going to push our careers along and take us to the next level.

That being said, one of the key elements of storytelling is to have characters that are likeable. They don’t have to be good, they don’t have to be nice, but they do have to make the reader want to know more about them. Again, pretty obvious, right? But one thing that our first keynote speaker, Anne Perry, said that really stuck with me is that to make a character likable, sometimes you have to know a whole lot of backstory about them. Backstory that may never come out in the book. 

I don’t know about you, but when I have written some of my brightest and best characters, I’ve known far more about them than hits the page. In fact, I’d say that the characters of mine that have resonated the most with myself and with readers have rich inner lives that sort of just came to me whole. But after listening to Anne, I think that I might start investigating those backstories more and writing things down. These characters deserve a chronicle of their lives, even if it’s just in my head. And the net result, as Anne said, is that the characters will appear richer on the page with more of a real sense of why they do the things they do. So backstory. Yay! But don’t dump it all on the page. 

My view from the spot where I sat to work!

My view from the spot where I sat to work!

The other things that Anne Perry mentioned that hit home and that I really want to investigate more is the idea of plotting from the middle of the story, as she said she learned from James Scott Bell. Apparently he wrote a book about it. I NEED to go find this and read it. The concept is that in every book, your main character has a moment—a moment that usually comes right in the middle of the plot—where they stop and take stock of themselves, reflect, and then change direction mentally. Everything they do after that point is different. That’s the center of your plot right there. I want to read this book and explore more about it, because, well, heck. It just sounds awesome and right and true! So I’ll report back once I read that book. 

But for me, perhaps the biggest lesson of the conference is the thing I suffer with the most when it comes to writing and navigating my way through a world of author friends who are, in some cases, more successful than me. I was a finalist for the RONE Award in the American Historical category, but I didn’t win. That’s generally when the demons of self-esteem and comparison come after me. I’m terrible at comparing myself to other authors—heck, I am and always have been terrible at comparing myself to other PEOPLE and coming up feeling less than nothing—but that way lies madness. 

We are all on this journey of life and writing for different reasons. The world is a diverse and vast place. There is definitely enough room for all sorts of different talent, and at times, reaching any given audience takes a little more patience than at other times. One thing Catherine Bybee said in her keynote address (and let me tell you, I actually got to hang out with her a lot and go to dinner with her, and she’s FABULOUS!) is that it takes a huge amount of patience, time, and persistence to make it in this business. Actually, Tina Folsom said the same thing in her keynote. Patience is the key, but so is writing the next and the next and the next book. And so is being really energetic and aggressive about going after what you want from your career. 

So I KNOW I need to stop constantly comparing myself and my career trajectory to other authors around me. I also know that I’m utterly incapable of doing that, because that urge to compare is so deeply ingrained in my personality and has been from such a young age that it’s not going to ever fully go away. But the most mature thing I can do is to see it, accept it, let it be, and move on. There is no power in this business greater than writing the next book. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all the things I’ve learned here during InD’Scribe 2015. I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more excellent ideas for blog posts and whip those off at some point. If you ever get a chance to come to this conference, DO! And it you aren’t already subscribed to InD’Tale Magazine, please zip on over and sign up. It’s free!

Trail of Longing – Release Day!

Jan 05, 2015

TrailofLonging_3D

It’s here! At long last, Trail of Longing is here! And here’s where you can get it….

Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00RQOJA9K 

Amazon UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00RQOJA9K 

B&N – http://bit.ly/1BsLNg1 

Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/505145 

iBooks –  http://bit.ly/179sz64 

Kobo – http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/trail-of-longing

 

How about a little excerpt to whet your appetite?

Emma was busy rinsing tin plates and packing them in a crate for the day’s walk. Her eyes were fixed on her work, but she couldn’t hide the tremor in her lips as she fought not to smile.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Dean nodded. He checked in with Mrs. Sutton. Her color was high, the same as Emma’s but her eyes shone with eagerness instead of Emma’s timidity. “I’m pleased to see that yesterday’s upset hasn’t dented anyone’s spirits.”

He deliberately darted a look to Emma so that her mother could see it. His gamble paid off.

“Oh dear, where are my manners.” Mrs. Sutton burst into action. She left the food she was storing for some later meal and crossed the small camp to the back of the wagon where Emma worked. “Dr. Meyers has been so kind to inquire after our well-being. The least we could do is provide him with a touch of polite company for the day’s walk. Emma, I’ll take care of that. Why don’t you walk with dear Dr. Meyers once we get started.”

“Oh!” Emma squeaked when her mother plucked a plate right out of her hands. Her cheeks were as bright as roses. Her gaze met Dean’s for half a heartbeat before her lashes fluttered down. “I… I suppose… if you’re sure you don’t need me…. That is to say, I usually—”

“Go!” Mrs. Sutton snapped. She covered her order with a light laugh. “I mean, young people shouldn’t spend all of their time in chores and duties. Go and enjoy each other’s company.” She patted Emma’s arm, then put her hand on the small of Emma’s back and pushed her toward Dean.

Dean covered his urge to laugh at Mrs. Sutton’s antics by rubbing his chin and smoothing his hair. “I’d be delighted to walk with you, Miss Emma,” he said. “If that’s what you want.”

Emma pressed a hand to her chest as though she was having trouble breathing, then lay her hand on her cheek. “I would. That is to say, I would be pleased… I… if you really want to…. I mean….” She let out her breath, the slightest frown creasing her brow for a moment as she pursed her lips. Dean had never known anyone to struggle so hard to be so charming. At last she drew in a breath and with great effort said. “Yes.”

I hope you enjoy this latest installment of the Hot on the Trail series! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for book 4, Trail of Dreams, coming February 16th!

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