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Release Day – Chaos Theory

Mar 03, 2017

Whew! After delays and set-backs due to everything from illness to just plain bad luck, Chaos Theory, Book 2 in the Nerds of Paradise series, is finally here! And it’s just 99 cents, for this weekend only! Bright and early on Monday, it’ll be back to its regular price of $3.99, so scoop it up now! And to put you in the mood, here’s the beginning of Chapter One…

Will Darling was running late. Which meant he was only five minutes ahead of schedule. Late or early, it didn’t matter. If he wasn’t exactly where his daily schedule told him he was supposed to be, a deep-seated feeling of dread filled him. That’s what came from being raised in a military family.

He closed the spreadsheet he’d taken home from work, and pushed back from his desk. The clock on the wall above his workstation said 11:35. He checked his watch. 11:35. Yep, five minutes early. That gave him time to pop into the bathroom of his swanky, Paradise Space Flight-issued apartment to switch out his glasses for contacts. In theory, he could go around with his glasses and no one would think anything of it. It wasn’t like his father would find out. But he’d rather not risk it.

As soon as his eyeballs were taken care of, he headed across the apartment to the door, picking up his phone from where it was charging on an end table by the sofa and his wallet beside it. He tucked the wallet in his back pocket, and checked the phone. 11:37. He checked his watch to be sure everything was coordinated. Good. Perfect. Let others laugh at him, but there was something about keeping to a schedule, staying on course, that filled Will with contentment. It was why he had chosen to work for Paradise Space Flight in the first place. The company was new, innovative, and miles away from the distracting chaos of big cities and government bureaucracy. NASA might have been more prestigious, as his dad was constantly, constantly reminding him, but PSF was focused. It was comfortable.

So was his apartment. Another awesome perk of working for Howie Haskell. Like most of the rest of the young, single engineers and scientists who had come to Wyoming to build the space flight company from the ground up, Will had taken advantage of the special employee housing. His apartment stood in the center of town, on the third floor above a clothing boutique. It was newly renovated and ran on renewable energy sources. But what Will loved most about it was the clean, streamlined design. He headed out the door, locking it with the fancy, high-security, electronic key all of the apartments had, and made his way down the airy, white-painted stairway to the ground floor and the front door. Even though the building had been constructed in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t frilly and crowded. It got the job done, and that’s all he had ever asked of anything.

“Hey, Will.”

Will glanced up as he stepped out into the balmy, spring air and found his team member, Laura Kincade, waving to him from across the street.

“Laura.” He waved back with a nod, lips twitching to what, for him, counted as a smile.

“Are you heading over to PSF for the big luncheon?”

“In a minute,” he called back to her, then nodded to the General Store one building over from his. “I need to pick up a few things first.” He didn’t really want to have a shouted conversation across a street packed with pedestrians, but it was Laura, so he’d make an exception. Besides, everyone looked as though they were heading up the street toward the PSF building instead of browsing through the shops anyhow.

“Okay,” Laura called back with another wave. “I’ll save you a seat.”

“Thanks.” He raised his hand in goodbye, then strode a few yards down to the General Store’s entrance. The advantage of being slightly ahead of schedule, he guessed, was that he could take time to interact with his friends without tensing up. Although, if he was keeping track, he’d been much less tense since moving to Haskell than he’d been for most of his life.

The General Store was another part of the reason he loved his new hometown. It was the perfect size for dropping in to pick up a few essentials in a hurry. On top of that, whoever had built it had a keen eye for ergonomics. He could make one efficient pass from the toiletries section where he picked up shaving gel—which he would need in exactly two days—to the stationary section for pens—because he was not one of those people who took pens from the office to use at home like they were perks of the job—to the snack food section for a large bag of unsalted nuts—because you had to live a little sometimes.

Yep. Everything was just where it needed to be. Everything was in precise order. Everything was—

“Whoops!”

He rounded the corner and nearly crashed right into a splash of color and brightness and wild blond curls. His heart thumped against his ribs, like someone was punching him from the inside, and his groin tightened.

“Sorry.” Melody Clutterbuck laughed as she made her apology. Her blue eyes sparkled with happiness and light. She wore a long wrap-around skirt printed with an Indian pattern and a white peasant blouse decorated with embroidery that matched the colors in her skirt. Her arms were filled with items from around the store, otherwise Will would have had a big glimpse of the creamy skin of her shoulders and chest.

It took his brain far too long to catch up enough to say, “No, I’m sorry. I should have looked where I was going.”

“You always look where you’re going.” She continued to smile as they headed to the counter at the front of the store. “I’m the one who was floating around like a leaf on the wind.”

Prickles of pleasure filled Will at the image. Melody was a leaf on the wind. He’d seen that the first time he met her, at the winter mixer Howie had held for his employees and the citizens of Haskell after Christmas. She’d been there with a group of her friends, looking just as amazing as she did now. His friends talked about that event as the day his supervisor, Scott Martin, had met the girl he was now engaged to, Casey Flint, but secretly, Will marked it as the night Melody had blown into his world.

He blinked himself out of thoughts that were, frankly, disturbing. He had a schedule to stick to, a routine. “Why don’t you have a basket?” He lifted his own blue plastic shopping basket.

Melody giggled, her face going pink. “I didn’t realize I was going to need one.”

They reached the register, and she spilled her purchases across the counter. Will did a double-take, brow sinking into a frown of confusion. Baby oil, sandpaper, latex gloves, and an enema.

“Hey Bernie,” Melody greeted the cashier, an white-haired guy who Will figured had been working there forever.

“Hey, Melody,” Bernie answered. “This everything?”

“Oh! I’ll take one of these too,” Melody added, face growing even pinker and her giggle more pronounced as she plucked a small jar of cherry lip balm from a display and popped it on the counter.

Will’s blood rushed to all the wrong places. Cherry lip balm? Baby oil? An enema? Why, why, why did that selection of items turn him on? And sandpaper? He swallowed hard, trying to rein in his imagination, and ran a hand over the bottom half of his face.

 

So are you ready to read? Chaos Theory is currently available at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble, and will be up on Google Play (as soon as they process it).

Release Day! – His Secret Bride (spicy)/Bonnie: The Secret Bride (sweet)

Nov 04, 2016

The day has finally come! I know I’ve been looking forward to telling Bonnie and Rupert’s story for a while, and now you get to read it! Man, these two have so much water under the bridge! Here’s your chance to enjoy it all. His Secret Bride (spicy)/Bonnie: The Secret Bride (sweet) is (are?) available now! (Links at the bottom)

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Between Haskell and Everland, Wyoming – 1876

There was only a short distance between Haskell, Wyoming and Everland, but every inch of the journey, every second that the train chugged along through wild territory, filled Bonnie Horner with dread. She’d known this moment would come. Known for years. She knew that she couldn’t keep her head buried in the sand forever, pretending everything was as it seemed and there were no secrets creeping under the surface. She just hadn’t thought everything would come to a head so soon.

Everything had been fine, rambling along as steadily as the train, until Honoria Bonneville finally did what Bonnie had been wishing and hoping she would do for years. The brilliant young woman, her friend, had broken away from her family—the family that had bullied and belittled her for as long as Bonnie had known them. She’d followed her heart and married the man of her dreams, Haskell’s unique, black banker, Solomon Templesmith. Bonnie had cheered and helped the couple in every way she could, but all that help had come at a heavy price for her. The carefully constructed relationship she and Honoria’s father, Rex Bonneville, had developed—a relationship as artificial as it was beneficial to them both—had reached a crossroads. Honoria wasn’t the only one who had put her foot down. Rex had issued his ultimatum, and now Bonnie was stuck.

“Are you all right, Miss Bonnie?” Lyle, the porter who worked the Wyoming train line asked. He knew Bonnie well, knew her because whenever the train stopped over in Haskell for more than an hour or so, Lyle jumped off so he could visit her establishment and spend time with her girls. He paid them generously and treated them kindly, so Bonnie approved of him.

She sent him a weary smile. “I’m fine, Lyle. Thanks for asking.”

Kind, if not exactly gentlemanly, Lyle sniffed and pressed on. “Because you look a might peaked.”

Bonnie reached out to pat Lyle’s arm. “I’ll be fine.”

She expected Lyle to move on, and, in fact, he swayed forward with the motion of the train. Then he stopped, his expression pained. “Um, congratulations on your engagement to Rex Bonneville.” It came out as more of a question than genuine felicitations. Worry clouded Lyle’s eyes.

“I’ll be fine,” Bonnie repeated, softer, less convincing.

Lyle nodded and moved on. Bonnie watched his back as he moved down the train’s aisle, checking on passengers. Then she sighed and glanced out the window. Would she be fine? That was a question she had yet to answer for herself. On paper, life as Mrs. Rex Bonneville would be a good one. She’d never lack for anything—except affection, kindness, and human decency. She would be one of the most well-placed women in the state, in spite of her scandalous background. Most importantly, she would have all the funds she needed to continue her work at her Place. The young women under her care could continue to be safe, learn, and flourish. They could escape the fate life had handed them, make something more of themselves. As long as Bonnie was willing to sacrifice everything.

It all looked wonderful on paper.

It was a shame that paper was her biggest problem.

She let out another, painful sigh and smoothed her hand over the carpetbag on the seat beside her. The paper in question was tucked neatly inside, along with a couple of changes of clothes. Its corners were dog-eared, and it was beginning to yellow with age, even though the document was a scant four years old. She’d struggled to get the bloody thing—begged, bullied, and pushed it through all of the legal channels she could, expending more money than she should have in the process. And once the courts had granted her the blasted thing, what had she done with it? Nothing.

Until now.

The train’s whistle sounded, jerking Bonnie out of her increasingly morbid thoughts. “Everland,” Lyle shouted from the front of the car. “We’re approaching Everland. Get yer things in order.”

The train began to slow. Outside, the wilderness gave way first to ranchland, then to the inexplicably lush farmland that had always mystified Bonnie. Wyoming, as far as she had traveled it, was mostly high prairie filled with scrubby bushes, grass, and rocks, but Everland was a different story. Things grew there. She’d even heard tell of a lake, Lake Enchantment. It was enchanted indeed if it was all the way out in the middle of the wilderness. Almost like a magical land in a fairy story.

Well, she thought as she scooted to the edge of her seat, fussing with her carpetbag so that she’d be ready to disembark as soon as the train stopped, she could use a little bit of fairy magic right now. Because the task that awaited her was right up there in the category of curses that couldn’t be broken. And if she was being honest, it was a curse she’d hexed herself with almost ten years ago.

Ten years ago, when she was nineteen, wide-eyed, stubborn as a mule, and as stupid as one too. When she’d thought the best way to spite her overbearing family was to answer Rupert Cole’s advertisement for a mail-order bride.

The train’s whistle blasted again, and its brakes screeched. Buildings now slid past the windows. Bonnie stood, gripped her bag firmly, and marched up the aisle to stand next to Lyle by the door, waiting for the train to come to a complete stop.

“So, uh, is it true that Honoria Bonneville up and married that negro…uh…” He cleared his throat, flushing. “That fine banker man, Mr. Templesmith?”

“It is.” Bonnie smiled. “And they’re very happy.” Honoria and Solomon were happy, and all signs pointed to them continuing to be happy. They had supportive friends who had rallied around them, and now they were expecting a baby.

Her smile dropped as she wondered whether friends would rally around her after she married Rex. No one liked the man, not even the people who walked around ready to lick his boots. And as for a baby? Well, Rex might need to come to Everland to have the town work its magic on him if he thought he was even slightly up to the task, as it were, all his demands for an heir aside.

With one final screech of the brakes and cry of the whistle, the train came to a stop. Bonnie sighed, spared one last, weak smile for Lyle as he opened the train’s door and hopped down onto the platform to help passengers disembark, and wondered once again how she’d managed to get herself tied up in this impossible knot.

 

You can purchase Bonnie: The Secret Bride (sweet) at Amazon or read it through Kindle Unlimited – http://amzn.to/2ev6g1k

His Secret Bride (spicy) is available wherever eBooks are sold:

Amazon – http://amzn.to/2ev8IF6

B&N – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/his-secret-bride-merry-farmer/1125069369

iBooks – https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1172336292

Kobo – https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/his-secret-bride

Release Day! – Mistletoe and Moonbeams

Nov 01, 2016

It’s here! The Wild Western Women, Mistletoe Montana box set is here today! It’s available at Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited for the first 90 days, then will be available wherever eBooks are sold. Come to Mistletoe Montana to fall in love with these four connected stories, and to get in the Christmas spirit! And it’s only 99 cents!

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Stories include:

Mistletoe Mistake, by Caroline Clemmons – When he sent for a doctor, he didn’t expect a woman!

Mistletoe Scandal, by Sylvia McDaniel – A city girl, a cowboy, and a dog trapped together in a blizzard discover Christmas wishes can come true.

Mail-Order Merry, by Kirsten Osbourne – He wanted an independent wife, but he wasn’t so sure he wanted her to come with two young children and a nurse!

And, of course, Mistletoe and Moonbeams, by yours truly, Merry Farmer. Here’s a taste of Chapter One to get you started!

 

Mistletoe, Montana – 1890

Randall Sinclair heaved a heavy sigh and climbed out of the crowded stagecoach within seconds of it stopping in Mistletoe, Montana. The other passengers grunted and shifted behind him, as irritated and weary as he was. He should have taken the train, but they’d all stopped running after rumors of snow further down the line.

“Shut the dang door,” one of the stagecoach passengers growled. “It’s cold out there.”

It certainly was that. For miles, days, the only thing the stagecoach passengers had been able to see out the windows was snow and ice. It was a wonder the coach and its team could get through the winter wonderland at all. Randall wasn’t that familiar with Montana, but in the last few weeks while he’d been traveling from town to town, he’d never seen so much snow.

“Here’s your trunk,” the stagecoach driver called down from the top of the coach, unfastening Randall’s huge brush trunk from the rest of the baggage. The driver wore a long, thick, wool coat with a fur-lined hat pulled down over his head and a muffler wound tight around his neck. He grunted as he handed the trunk to Randall. “That thing’s heavy. What have you got in there?”

Randall answered with a wry laugh, setting his trunk on the packed snow of the street. “The weight of the world.”

It was hard to tell through the layers of wool protecting the driver from the cold, but Randall thought he got a strange look for his comment. A second later, the driver shook his head and climbed back into his seat.

“Aren’t you going to stop for a while and take in the sights of Mistletoe?” he asked, confused. They’d at least stopped long enough for the passengers to get out and stretch their legs at every small town before this.

The driver made a low, warning sound, then said, “Nope. Not with the talk of measles in town, and not with those clouds on the horizon looking the way they do.”

Randall raised a hand to shield his eyes from the glare of light on the snow and looked toward the western horizon. He squinted. What he’d thought were mountains now looked more like cold, worrisome clouds. There was a definite bite in the air, and the wind nipped at his exposed cheeks and ears.

The driver snapped the reins over the backs of his horses. With a, “Yee-ah!” the stagecoach lurched and rolled on. Randall figured he’d better move on too, if he knew what was good for himself.

He thrust his gloved hands under his arms and glanced down at his trunk. The words “Mendel’s Marvelous Brushes” were stenciled on the side. They’d been crisp and dark when he’d started out from Chicago two months ago, but they were battered and worn now. A little like him. But no matter how monotonous the traveling had become, no matter how many plaintive telegrams he sent back to his enterprising, demanding father, he couldn’t stop.

Stomping his feet to coax blood back into them and to disperse the ever-present, gnawing frustration in his gut, Randall grabbed his trunk by the handle and hefted it high enough to walk. Not that he knew where he was going. The tiny town of Mistletoe seemed overly quiet, even for all the snow. Several businesses lined the road where the stagecoach had dropped him off, and several houses beyond that. Something that might have been a hotel rested down the way. There was even a church at one end of town. A few wrapped-up people scurried from one building to another, but none of them seemed in a social mood.

“Perfect,” he muttered under his breath. “Just what every traveling salesman wants to see.”

He slogged his way to one side of the street, spirits as low as they’d been in ages. A part of him wanted to just sit down in the snow and give up. This wasn’t the life he’d imagined having, it was the life his father imagined. No, it wasn’t even that. His father imagined him being a successful and powerful business magnate, like him. Randall imagined a simple life with a simple wife and a small business. He didn’t need to be grand, just happy.

At the moment, the only way to happiness was by keeping his father happy, so Randall squared his shoulders, put on a smile of false cheer, and headed for the closest business, a barber’s shop. His frustrated sense of duty was eased by a hair at the sight of a pretty Christmas swag of pine, tied with red ribbon and hanging on the shop’s door.

“Excuse me,” he announced as he walked into the business. A weary-looking man who must have been the barber sat in the barber’s chair, reading a yellowed newspaper. “My name is Randall Sinclair, and I come to you today from the Mendel’s Marvelous Brushes company.”

“Huh?” The barber frowned.

It didn’t bode well, but if there was one thing Randall’s indomitable dad had always told him, it was that only the weak took no for an answer.

“Mendel’s Marvelous Brushes manufactures every sort of brush a savvy businessman like you could want,” he went on, setting his trunk down and preparing to open it to display his wares. “Why, not only do I have shaving brushes and dust-brushes, I have a whole variety of—”

“No!” The barber leapt up out of his chair, shoving the newspaper aside. “No, no, no! I don’t want none of your fancy, overpriced brushes. I buy everything I need from the mercantile, just like any other person in this town. So you just stop right there and git!”

Randall sighed, re-buckling the straps of his trunk. “Oh. Um, all right, sir. Thank you for your time.” So much for not taking no for an answer. But if he was honest with himself, he hated confrontation, and he hated pushing brushes on people who didn’t want or need them. He lifted his trunk and headed back out into the frosty, Montana afternoon. The clouds had drawn closer.

He looked around, searching for any business that might need brushes. Farther down the street was a building that looked like a bathhouse, though it didn’t seem to be doing much business at the moment. He cleared his throat, stood taller, and headed down that way.

“Good day to you, sir,” he announced himself as soon as he walked into the bathhouse to find a stocky man at work scrubbing out a large tub. Perfect. “My name is Randall Sinclair, and I come to you today from the Mendel’s Marvelous Brushes company. We provide a wide range of brushes designed to—”

“No offense, sir, but can’t you see I’m busy?” the man said, turning to Randall with drooping shoulders and tired eyes.

“Well, yes.” Randall hesitated. He could hear his father’s voice in his head, pushing him on…relentlessly. “I think I can help. Mendel’s Marvelous Brushes carries every sort of scrub brush and bath brush that a business like yours could need. If you’d allow me to demonstrate…” He bent to open his trunk.

“If it’s all the same,” the bathhouse owner stopped him with a sigh, “I’d rather not. It’s been a heck of a month here in Mistletoe, and I can’t spare a second to listen to salesmen.”

“It’s…it’s not a long presentation.” At least it wasn’t if Randall did the short version.

The bathhouse owner shook his head. “No can do. I’m up to my elbows in work, what with the measles and all.”

“Measles?” The driver had said something about that.

“Sorry.”

Whether the bathhouse owner meant to be dismissive or not, Randall took the hint. Working hard not to be discouraged, he took up his trunk once more and headed out into the bitterness. The sun was gone entirely. Once more, he searched the town’s main street for any signs of life, any sign of someone who needed a brush. His gaze settled on a newspaper office across the street and down a ways. Figuring he couldn’t do any worse than he had already, he headed over, slipping on snow and ice as he went.

“Good afternoon, sir. My name is Randall Sinclair, and I come to you today from the Mendel’s Marvelous Brushes company,” he said, voice dripping with weariness as he stepped into the small office.

The man at work over the printing press glanced up. “Brushes?”

“Yes.” Smiling had never been so hard. “Mendel’s Marvelous Brushes has every kind of brush you would need to keep your office neat, tidy and in order.” He stopped at the end of his sentence, at a loss for what else to say.

The newspaper man blinked at him. A sympathetic grin pulled at the corners of his mouth. “My friend, you know there’s a measles epidemic raging through town right now, don’t you?”

“I heard something about that, yes.”

“And the weather has been awful.”

Randall glanced over his shoulder out the window. He needed to stay positive, he needed to make the sale. … Or was that his father talking. “It should make for a beautiful Christmas.”

The newspaper man chuckled lightly. “Yes, it should. But it makes for a mighty pitiful market for a traveling salesman in the meantime.” He stepped away from his press and approached Randall. “I’m sorry that I don’t need any brushes. I’m even more sorry that you probably won’t find a single taker in town right now. At least not until the epidemic is over.”

Randall sighed and returned the man’s kindness with as much of his own as he could muster. “Thanks anyhow.” He nodded, then picked up his trunk one more time and headed back out into the cold.

Well, that was it. He was stranded in a frosty town with a measles epidemic, no clue when the next stage would come by, fairly certain the trains wouldn’t stop at all. Not if the ever-increasing clouds were any indication. No one was in the mood to buy brushes. By his father’s standards, he was a complete failure. By his own standards, he was due for a change. He rubbed his gloved hands over his face, warming up his red nose. He needed something else to warm him up, and fast. The only thing he could see that would help with that was the saloon across the way.

“Well, at least I’ll be able to forget my troubles for a while,” he said aloud. And now he was talking to himself.

He picked up his trunk and headed on to the saloon. Something in his life had to change, and soon.

 

Come find out what Randall discovers at the saloon, how he and Miranda weather the blizzard, and celebrate Christmas in Mistletoe Montana. Only 99 cents for four stories from four bestselling authors!

Release Day! – Drifter’s Darling

Sep 30, 2016

It’s Release Day for Drifter’s Darling, book 12 in the Culpepper Cowboys series! I know you’ve been waiting for it, so here you go, I won’t make you wait! Get started reading Chapter One right here, and then zip on over to Amazon to pick it up!

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Chapter One

Culpepper, Wyoming had never been a particularly hopping metropolis, but after eight years running the rat race in Denver, it was exactly the speed Elvie O’Donnell was looking for. There were more cows than people per square foot throughout the state, which was good for the vet business Elvie’s brother, Doc, had going in the remote ranching town. It was a vet business Elvie had happily joined when Doc floated the idea to her a couple of months ago. Culpepper was where her heart was.

Culpepper was also a great place to hide.

“Here you go, Raspberry Rush.” Denise Bonneville pulled a tube of lipstick from its display in the cosmetics aisle of Culpepper’s one and only convenience store and handed it to Elvie’s newly-minted sister-in-law, Nancy. “This one will match your complexion much better than the shade I saw you wearing the other day.”

Nancy took the lipstick with a dubious expression. “I’m not used to wearing make-up in the first place.” She rolled the tube in her fingers, reading the ingredients on the back, of all things.

Denise snorted and brushed away Nancy’s comment. “Honey, I’ll help you out all you want.”

“You will?” Nancy’s eyebrows inched up.

“Sure I will. I’ll do your colors too. Oh! Then maybe we can go on a big shopping trip to Cheyenne or something!”

“You planning to do my colors too?” Elvie asked. Her smile reached all the way down to her gut. She hadn’t had a fun group of girl friends since high school.

“I’d love to.” Denise brightened. “Although you’ll be easy to beautify. You’re so pretty already.”

Elvie blushed. The last thing she ever felt was pretty. Competent, yes. Powerful, occasionally. But pretty just wasn’t something she’d ever cared about.

“Thanks,” she managed at last. “I credit whatever prettiness I have to the O’Donnell genes.”

“You guys sure have a lot of them,” Denise grinned, that look coming into her eyes that all women wore when talking about her brothers. “I had such a crush on Doc for all those years. Not that I do now,” she rushed to add for Nancy’s sake, holding up her hands to prove her innocence. “He’s all yours now, and I don’t believe in chasing other women’s men.” She paused. “At least, not anymore.”

Denise’s lighthearted expression drooped. Elvie reached out to squeeze her arm. “We know you don’t.”

“Yeah, and you’re right about the O’Donnell genes,” Nancy said, steered away from the painful subject. “I still can’t believe I managed to bag such a hot guy.”

“They’re all hot, Doc, Sly, and Arch.” Denise perked up a little, then burst into a full, naughty grin. “I don’t know how you and Doc ever manage to leave the bedroom.”

“Let me tell you,” Nancy drawled, arching one eyebrow. “There are days when we don’t.”

“Eew, eew!” Elvie clapped her hands to her ears, laughing. “That’s my brother you’re talking about.”

“Yes it is,” Nancy teased her, licking her lips. She held up her tube of lipstick. “And pretty soon, he’s going to have Raspberry Rush marks all over his body, including his—”

“No!” Elvie laughed even louder. “Who do you think you are, Chastity Culpepper?”

The three of them giggled like a pack of teenagers talking about the guys on the football team. It was the kind of thing that helped Elvie’s soul breathe. The few friends she’d made in Denver didn’t understand why she wanted to leave the vibrant city for Nowheresville, as they called it. But this was it. There was just something about the friendships a girl could make in a small town. These were the ladies she would call in the middle of the night if her crying baby was running a fever.

Not that she had a baby.

Not that she was likely to anytime soon.

“So what shade would you recommend for me?” She turned back to the shelf of cosmetics. “Ooh! I like this one. Cinnamon Sunset.”

She reached for the tube, but Denise pulled it out of her hands. “Not with your coloring. This one is too warm. You need a cooler shade.” She put the Cinnamon Sunset back and reached for a dark rose tube. “This one. Dusty Rose Dreams.”

“Ooh!” Elvie took the tube, and turned to the tiny mirror built into the display, holding the lipstick up to her face. “I like it. Now all I need is someone to make kissy marks all over.”

The other two laughed.

“I’m sure you won’t have any trouble with that,” Denise said, growing wistful again. “Everyone and their brother is probably falling all over you, considering how few women there are around here these days.”

“Not after Sly and Rachel’s stunt,” Nancy corrected her. “The hotel has been packed full of husband-seeking ladies from as far away as Seattle.”

“That was a smart move on my brother’s part,” Elvie added. “And last I heard, Rachel’s underwear company had so many orders that it pushed them way into the black for the year.”

“So she’s going to be able to keep the company?” Nancy asked.

“Yep.” It felt incredibly good to say that.

But as triumphant as Elvie felt, the feeling deflated as soon as she noticed Denise mulling over the lipstick with a sad frown. Elvie exchanged a look with Nancy. Neither of them were going to stand by and let Denise get depressed. Not since discovering how nice the woman really was underneath the layer of prickles and tragedy that Chastity Culpepper had started to scrape away back in the spring.

“I think we need to find a great shade for you,” Elvie said, scanning the tubes of lipstick still in the display.

“Yeah.” Nancy joined in. “We do have a town full of single men, after all. You’re bound to snag one of them.”

“Sriracha Siren?” Nancy held up a spicy-looking tube of lipstick with a hopeful look.

Denise tried to smile. “It’s not going to work,” she sighed.

“Why not?” Elvie put an arm around her and hugged. “If you think it can work for me…”

“Yeah, but you’re thin and pretty and everybody likes you,” Denise said. “I’m fat and mean and I have a reputation.”

“No!”

“That’s not true!”

Elvie and Nancy spoke over each other in their haste to set Denise straight.

Denise held up her hands to stop them. “It’s true. You can’t argue with it. I’m all puffy and doughy.”

“Men like curves on a woman,” Nancy argued.

“And everybody knows all about how mean and spiteful I’ve been all these years,” Denise went on. “I’ve been a royal bee-otch since high school, since Wes Fulbright knocked me up and dumped me.”

“Yeah, well, you ended up with the best part of that whole thing, Destiny,” Elvie argued.

“It’s true, Destiny is an awesome kid,” Nancy agreed.

“She is,” Denise admitted.

“She’s been a super big help over at the clinic,” Elvie added.

“I’m so grateful to you for hiring her after school,” Denise said, then rushed on with, “But that doesn’t change how I’ve behaved since she was born. It doesn’t erase years’ worth of being rotten. And every guy in town knows just how easy I was.”

Was being the operative word,” Nancy rushed to clarify.

“Still, I don’t think I’ll ever find a guy who can love me,” Denise finished, taking the Sriracha Siren out of Nancy’s hand and shoving it back in the display.

“You don’t know that,” Nancy persisted. “I ended up with Doc, even after a billion misunderstandings and false starts. Well,” she cocked her head to the side, “not a billion. But I found him, and I’m lucky.”

“Yeah,” Elvie added. “And I never expected to find a guy who made my heart skip a beat and my girly bits tingle, not after—”

She stopped, clamping her mouth shut. She’d just come way too close to blurting out the big secret she’d been sitting on since the rodeo last month. It wasn’t even a secret either, just something she hadn’t planned on telling anyone. How could she even begin to explain her excitement at the memory of those blue eyes and those shoulders, as broad as the Wyoming horizon, even if she’d only seen them once? Guys like that didn’t come around every day and—

She blinked as soon as she realized her friends were staring at her. “What?”

Nancy grinned and peeked at Denise. Denise smirked and crossed her arms. “You get the feeling there’s something she’s not telling us?”

“Uh-huh.” Nancy crossed her arms as well and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Denise. “Spill it, sister.”

Elvie’s cheeks suddenly went hot. The only way she was going to get out of this with her dignity intact was to act like it was no big deal. “It’s nothing. I was just thinking about the one that got away.”

 

Drifter’s Darling is out NOW! At the moment, it’s exclusive to Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited, but in three short months, it will be available at iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo as well!

Writing Spicy and Sweet

Sep 20, 2016

sweet-spicyA lot of people who have read my Brides of Paradise Ranch series have been intrigued by the fact that I’ve been doing both a sweet and a spicy version of each book. People love the idea of being able to choose which heat-level they’d like to read, but I’m often asked “How do you do that? How do you write two versions?” 

The first and most important part of the answer to that question is that I start out knowing that I’m going to be writing two versions all the way in the conceptualization phase.  

But let me back up a little bit further to answer the question of why I started doing this in the first place.  

I generally write spicy. I like to write spicy. I like to read spicy. Not erotica, mind you, but sizzling. When I first started reading romance novels all those years ago, I read spicy pirate romance novels. That level of spice just seems natural to me. But as I started writing historical westerns (and I never intended to write historical westerns when I started out, it happened by accident—but that’s a whole other blog post), I came to see that a lot of readers preferred the sweet stuff. And I’ll confess, I looked at the success of my sweet historical western-writing friends and thought, “Well, I’m trying to make a living off of this, and I’ve got to pay the bills somehow.” 

So I decided to give sweet a try…without sacrificing the spice. Because anyone who knows me knows that the spicy side is a huge part of who I am. =D 

Back to how I do it… HisHeartbrokenBride_Libby

Like I said, I know going into a spicy/sweet novel that it’s going to have two versions. I thought about going back and rewriting some of my older books in sweet versions, but it didn’t take long to realize that it wouldn’t work. In so many of those books, major elements of the plot and the characters’ journeys center around what happens in the bedroom. It’s impossible to take that out without changing the focus of the plot entirely. 

So keeping that in mind, when I set out to write books with both sweet and spicy versions, I knew I had to include the spice in such a way that it wasn’t the pivot point of the plot. The major thrust of the action (no pun intended) had to focus around something that could still be told without following the characters into the bedroom. In other words, the tension of the plot needed to be something other than “will they or won’t they.” 

I think that plotting this way has actually made me a better writer. In the past, I’ve always considered external plots to be the weak point in my writing. Well, here I was writing stories that needed to depend on external plot rather than just the relationship between the hero and heroine. At the same time, that relationship has to play a major role in the story. After all, the spicy version wouldn’t work if the schmexy scenes felt tacked on or superfluous. 

That leaves me with a complex dilemma for each book. How do I write one version in which sensual scenes play a major part in character development without the entire plot hanging on them? And how can I remove those scenes and still maintain an intimacy between the characters while keeping the story sweet? 

HisTemptingBride_Miriam_2coversI think the answer lies in my process of writing. When I draft each of the Paradise Ranch books, I draft the spicy version. The first draft is spicy. Actually, the second and third drafts are too. Once I have everything just the way I want it, I send it off to my editor. And then I go back and start working on the sweet version while she works on the spicy one. 

The sweet version is all about subtracting and adding. I go through and take out everything non-sweet. Gone are the schmexy scenes, gone are any swear words or even references to alcohol. I have a kind of silly list of words that I do a search for when I’m writing that sweet version. But of course, most of the time if you take something out, you leave holes. That’s when I go back through and add many more Christian references and rewrite any sensual scenes to be emotionally powerful, fully-clothed, upright scenes. 

This is another area where preplanning is key. When I’m writing the schmexy scenes in the first draft, I always have a point where the action will veer off into the sweet scene in later drafts. I build that jumping off point into the draft to save myself the work of rewriting tons and tons of words later. I keep both versions in mind even as I’m spicing it up. 

Once the spicy draft comes back from my editor, I go through and make all the changes she suggests in both versions. After that, they go off to various proof-readers and beta-readers I have, depending on which draft they prefer. Once those come back, I make final changes and corrections, and voila! Two versions. 

I’ve had a lot of positive response from readers about the fact that two versions are available, even though they prefer one or the other. And I also get a lot of questions about whether I will be going back and writing sweet versions of my older books. The answer to that is no, it would be way too much work, and I’d rather focus on writing new books.  

HisBewilderingBride_Wendy_2coversThe second question I get is “Will you be doing sweet and spicy versions of new books/series?” That’s a much harder question to answer. Harder not because I have to think about my answer, but I’m afraid my answer will disappoint people. Because the answer is no. No, this series has taught me that I really do prefer writing spicy. It comes more naturally to me, and so I’ll be sticking with just the spicy in all new series. BUT, I’m going to continue to write both sweet and spicy versions of the Paradise Ranch series, and that has many, many, MANY more books to come! 

I want to add one final note before ending, though, based on a few private comments I’ve had from readers. I do not think sex is dirty. That’s why I will never refer to a sweet novel as “clean.” I take offense to that term. I don’t think sex is shocking or scandalous or evil, and especially not dirty. It’s a natural part of human relationships and intimacy. I don’t think it should be treated as an unmentionable topic, because I believe that that way lies dysfunction and fear. So all those 1-star reviews that say “This book has too much sex in it?” Those are like 6-star reviews to me! For those who like to leave those reviews, just know that those kinds of reviews sell more books than the best of the best 5-star reviews.

Check out all of the books in The Brides of Paradise Ranch series on my “Other Works by Merry Farmer” page!