Talking First Chapters with the Ladies of First Draught!

So I’m still hungover from RWA (and not even from excessive cocktails!), which I still have to recap. I think my recap is basically this, though:
happy shimmy

This week I got to talk some writerly stuff with the women of First Draught (Julia Kelly, Alexis Anne, and Mary-Chris Escobar) as well as Lindsay Emory. You can check out their other episodes and learn more about the episode here. Here is the video for those who want to hear about gripping first chapters (and my dogs barking in the background).

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Lead up to The Brightest Day: Let It Shine

Happy Thursday! Thanks for checking out the last stop on our The Brightest Day blog tour. Lena Hart kicked things off with her post about Amazing Grace, her 1866 set novella featuring an unlikely love between a former slave and a Confederate soldier. Injured hero! Mail order brides! Love on a cross-country train ride! You can’t resist those tropes can you? Next up, Kianna Alexander introduced us to her Gilded Age novella, Drifting to You. Can a baker with a dark past and a shipbuilder find love on the waves? This excerpt is steamy, guys. (My beta reading note for a certain section of this was: “Release the kracken!” You’ll know the part when you get to it.) Go read it if you haven’t. Piper Huguley kept the Brightest Day train going with her post about her story, A Sweet Way to Freedom. What happens when a good girl school teacher gets knocked up by the town bad boy who runs from serious relationships? Magic, of course! Read her excerpt for a taste of that.

And now, I’ll wrap things up and tell you guys about my story, Let It Shine. Here’s the blurb:

Sofronia Wallis knows that proper Black women don’t court trouble by upending the status quo, but it’s 1961 and the Civil Rights movement is in full swing. Sofie’s spent half her life being prim, proper, and reserved—as if that could bring her mother back—but the nonviolent protests happening across the South bring out her inner agitator.

Ivan Friedman has devoted his life to boxing, loving the finesse of a well-delivered punch and the penance of receiving one. His family escaped from Europe before the horrors of WWII, and Ivan decides to help fight injustice in their new country, even if it goes against all his instincts as a fighter.

When Ivan and Sofie meet, they realize that their pasts are intertwined and—with the sparks that fly between them—perhaps their futures will be too. With everything in their society lined up against them, will Sofie and Ivan be able to beat the odds? Or will their chance at love be destroyed by the tumultuous times they live in?


The bravery of the young people who participated in the Civil Rights movement has always inspired me. They put their lives on the line to ensure equality for all, with no guarantee that that they would win. And, of course, some of them fell in love along the way!


Here’s a sneak peek at Sofie and Ivan:

Ivan washed his hands and wiped them off on his jeans. “Okay, you ready to get to it?”

Sofie nodded, and felt the oddest trembling in her stomach as he approached her. She didn’t think she’d ever paid much attention to the way a man walked before, but she watched the play of muscle as he took each step and how his arms swung in a way that projected an unconscious self-confidence. He gave her his chip-toothed grin as he stopped in front of her and nodded in the direction of her hands. “You should take those off. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for sullying your gloves.”

“They’ll likely be destroyed at a real sit-in,” she said.

He took her hand from where it rested on the counter and undid the small button at the base of her glove, and it was if that one flick of his finger released a torrent of tingling heat that spread from her wrist to her arm and through the rest of her body. “I can only be responsible for my own actions,” he said. “And I don’t want to be the man who shredded these dainty little things.” He pinched the fingertip of the glove and gave it a tug, and Sofie felt the responding pull between her thighs.

She should have grabbed her hand away from him then, as soon as that first bolt of pleasure went through her, but she simply stared up at him with wide eyes as he gave four more swift, gentle pulls and freed her hand from its encasement. He took the other hand, moving one step forward as he did, so that now the roughness of his denim pants rubbed against her knee as he worked.

Sofie knew he could see her hand shaking, and her chest rising and falling heavily, and the way her knees were pressed together. She was embarrassed, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t disappointed too when he pulled her second glove off the final digit, her pinky, and laid it down besides its mate.

She forced herself to look up at him, and was happy to see that his cheeks were flushed beneath his fading bruises. Ivan may have been cool now, but not so cool that she didn’t affect him, too. “Okay, we should go into the living room.”

She stood on wobbly legs and clicked after him across the tiled kitchen floor. “Should I take off my shoes, too?” she asked. It was a brazen thing to ask, but her fingers were still tingling from his touch.

Ivan stopped and looked back over his shoulder. His gaze fixed on her pointy black leather heels, then up her stockinged leg until her skirt obstructed his view. His voice was low and his gaze intense when he answered, and his words made her throat go dry.

“Leave your heels on.”



I hope you enjoyed the excerpt! The anthology is available for the limited time, pre-order price of $1.99.

AmazonNook | iBooksKobo

And please join us at our Facebook pre-release party this Friday, May 29th!


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Excerpt: Julia Kelly’s “The Wedding Week”


So tomorrow is release day for my friend Julia Kelly’s second anthology, ONE WEEK IN HAWAII!!

Sun, sand, and seduction.

This summer, Alexis Anne, Audra North, Julia Kelly, and Alexandra Haughton sweep you away to paradise for One Week in Hawaii.

A wedding planner breaks all the rules to have just one night of pleasure, only to find that a stolen moment might hold the key to forever.

A movie star falls hard for her sexy co-star…who just happens to be her best friend.

A former black sheep risks falling from grace again when she seduces a handsome stranger with a dark history.

An artist has to choose between dating a guy who will please her parents and one who will please…and pleasure…her.

Sex on the beach is so much more than a drink in these four sizzling contemporary novellas by the authors who brought you One Week in Wyoming.

To get you ready for release day, I’m sharing this excerpt from Julia’s fantastic story, The Wedding Week. The book is available for pre-order here!

The champagne bottle was sweating by the time Chris found Annie on the beach. She stood with her arms wrapped around her, looking out over the crashing surf. During the day, this beach was packed, but under the moonlight it felt as though they were the only ones in Waikiki.

He loosened his shoes and ditched them, along with his socks. The cool sand squished between his toes. He was ten yards away when she tore her gaze from the horizon and glanced over at him.

“The man who can iron,” she greeted him with a smile.

He tipped the bottle toward her. “There are worse things to be known for. I’m hoping you’re off the clock.”

“I’m never off the clock. Not really. Do you always carry champagne around?”

“You can never be too prepared. Maybe I was hoping I’d meet a beautiful woman watching the waves.”

He watched the words sink in, two or three emotions crossing her face in quick succession. Still, he wasn’t ready when she said, “No one’s ever brought me champagne before.”

How was that even possible? “Then I’m glad I’m the first.”

“It’s part of being a wedding planner.” She gave him that small smile again, as though the admission were an apology. “We’re usually the ones coordinating the big gestures. Creating the fantasies.”

“Well, tonight you get champagne.” He pulled the glasses out of his pockets and handed them to her. “Do you mind?”

She took them from him, eyebrow raised. “Not at all.”

He set about peeling the foil off the champagne’s cage.

“Does this make you William Holden?” she asked after a moment’s silence.

His hand stilled. “William Holden winds up with glass in his ass. I’m Humphrey Bogart.”

“You know Sabrina?” she asked, a little incredulous as he stuffed the cage into his pocket and eased the cork out of the bottle. It sighed—one of the best sounds in the world.

“I know Bogey. A man’s man.” He poured out her glass with a flourish before moving on to the other one. “Besides, there’s a whole culinary school B-story in Sabrina. It’s practically required watching.”

When he glanced up at her, she was smiling. A real smile that lit up her whole face. “You could just admit you love the movie.”

He laughed, clinking the edge of his glass against hers. “Or I could just admit I love the movie.”

The joy was still dancing in her eyes as she tipped her head back to drink.

He swallowed hard, his gaze never leaving the spot where her muscle twitched as her throat worked. Maybe it was his own obsession with food, but there was something so effortlessly sensual about a woman eating and drinking. When her eyes fluttered closed, he nearly groaned. His champagne could have tasted like ginger ale for all he knew. All he wanted to do was suck it from her lips.

She opened her eyes slowly. “I never drink at work, but apparently I feel like breaking the rules tonight.”

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Free This Week: Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight


This week, my short Scottish medieval is free on Amazon! Hot highlanders, jousting knights, and historically accurate WOC heroine! :)

Agnes Moor knows her place in the court of King James IV—as one of the “exotics” in his employ. When the king makes a kiss from Agnes the prize of a tourney, a mysterious knight plows through his opponents to claim it. But it isn’t chance. The Wild Knight has come for her, and her champion is after after the most elusive prize of all: her heart.


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Yay! Today is release day for book 1 of my Off the Grid series (multicultural post-apocalyptic romance) from Carina Press!


Over the course of the next two weeks, I’ll be doing guest posts and interviews, along with giveaways of some fun stuff. I’ll keep you updated! In the meantime, you can get the book here. Happy Reading!

Obligatory dancing shark

Obligatory dancing shark

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12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop: A Mitzvah

Hanukkah Sameach, everyone! I want to thank Julia Kelly for being an excellent co-blog hop organizer/partner-in-crime, as well as all of the amazing authors who are participating in the hop. I’ve had so much fun reading everyone’s stories!

To celebrate the first day of the festival of lights, I decided to write a short story featuring  Sofie and Ivan, who are celebrating their first Hannukah together. It’s 1964 and the couple, who met during Freedom Summer, are learning that sometimes life’s biggest obstacle can be the one closest to you: your family. Sofie and Ivan’s full love story will be featured in a novella, Let It Shine, coming out in the summer of 2015—it’s part of a special project I’m working on with Lena Hart, Piper Huguley, and Kianna Alexander. More news on that in the new year, though. </suspense>

For now: enjoy!


12 Days Revision


A Mitzvah

Virginia, 1964

Sofie placed the to-do list on the freshly scrubbed laminate of the kitchen counter. Like everything else in the small room, it was a bright, buttery yellow; something straight from the 1955 edition of House Beautiful magazine. She’d hated it when she and Ivan first moved in, but it was actually nice to come home to something cheery when the neighbors all gave you the cold shoulder. She wondered if it was the afro she was growing out; when she’d viewed the apartment, her hair had been straightened with a hot comb ­­so that it was limp and lifeless, nonthreatening. People had only been mildly rude then, not openly hostile. Ivan joked that it was because he refused to do their taxes. They both knew the real reason.

She scanned the list, or rather the complex groupings of items, complete with headings, sublists, and footnotes. The orderly rows of fastidious handwriting made her feel in control, even when she was so nervous that she was sure she’d sweat through the pretty pink A-line dress she’d sewn specially for today. Under the heading HANNUKAH she’d written little notes that she could reference if she got too nervous: Maccabee story; oil is important; mitzvah (need definition); berakot (blessings)  l’hadlik, she-asah nisim, she-hekhianu; do not blow out the shamash; ask Ivan’s dad to touch his horns.

“Ivan!” she shouted in amused annoyance. He liked to make his own additions to her lists, especially when he knew her nerves were frayed.

He stepped out of their bedroom, still in the process of pulling his simple white t-shirt down over his muscular chest and abdomen. She caught a glimpse of smooth skin and a dark trail of hair, and then he tucked the shirt into his Levi’s. His black eyes honed in on her as he walked toward the kitchen. Maybe it was his crooked nose, broken countless times over the course of his boxing career, that gave his approach a thrilling hint of danger. Or the way his full lips pulled up into the kind of smile that usually ended with her bent over the arm of the couch, the kitchen sink, or the dining room table. Everywhere but the bed, which good girls like her had been taught was the only place for such activities. She knew better now.

Sofie had learned a lot of things since Ivan walked into the meeting of non-violent protestors at her college two years before, bruised and skeptical but determined to help. He’d changed from the angry little boy her mother had nicknamed Stubb, short for Stubborn, when she kept house for the Friedman’s so long ago; Sofie had changed from the little girl nicknamed Goody, too. She’d learned how to fight for what she wanted. How to be her authentic self. How to accept that life might never be easy for her and Ivan, but being together would be worth it.

Now, Ivan walked up and gripped the counter on either side of her, hemming her in. The old Sofie would have been embarrassed at the way he made her blush like a sinner at a church revival. The new Sofie was still embarrassed, but leaned her hips forward, loving the contact with his muscular thighs.

“I’ve told you not to tamper with my lists,” she said, holding his gaze. His hands still gripped the counter, but now they slid along the metal trim, both of them reaching her hips simultaneously. His hands briefly cupped her curves as they moved upward, and then encircled her waist. The weight of them resting there was just as potent as a caress, maybe more so; it was a silent reminder of everything he could do to her.

Ivan grinned, heedless of the chipped front tooth that he was usually embarrassed to reveal; she found it so endearing her heart hurt. “And I’ve told you that if you intend to make me sit through a Hanukkah dinner with both of our fathers, I’m going to need something to look forward to besides malevolent stares from one side of the table and blatant disapproval from the other. I get enough of those as it is.”

His hands began to make small smoothing motions over her hips, as if he were fixing her dress or contemplating taking it off. She never knew with him.

He lifted one shoulder. “I figure you can ask my dad if he has horns under his yarmulke, I can ask your dad if he wants some watermelon, and they’ll both be so mad about those put downs they’ll forget we’re living in sin. It’ll be a gas.”

She made an incredulous noise and pushed at his solid shoulder, which didn’t budge. “If you even breathe the word watermelon in front of my father, he’ll stick that menorah where the sun don’t shine so fast it’ll still be lit. And I’ll help him.”

“Weren’t you the one who talked me into the whole nonviolence thing?” he asked, brows raised.

“Violence is never the answer,” Sofie replied solemnly. “Unless you sass my daddy. Then I’ll have to put a hurtin’ on you.”

He laughed. “Okay, then. I guess I’ll use my endurance training to withstand the family fun we’ll have to sit through tonight.” His smile faded as he ducked his head and looked into her eyes. He ran one calloused knuckle over her jawline. “Sof? What’s wrong?”

“I’m…I’m nervous.” She knew Ivan was too, which accounted for his joking, but this was important to her. She wanted Ivan’s father to like her. She wanted her father to accept Ivan. She wanted to have the fun family gatherings she remembered from her childhood, before her mother passed away, not an acrimonious night where everyone merely tolerated one another. Was that not in the cards for her, just because she’d fallen in love with a Jewish brawler instead of an Alpha Phi Alpha?

Ivan looked down at her, that crushing tenderness that was so at odds with everything else about him etched onto his face. “Listen to me. I’ve watched you stare down an officer with a rifle pointed in your face. I’ve seen…” He paused, closed his eyes briefly. His Adam’s apple bobbed. “I’ve seen you take a punch from a full-grown man that might have knocked me on my ass. You didn’t cry, and you never flinched. You’re the bravest woman I know. One holiday dinner with our fathers? Piece of cake, baby.”

Sofie’s eyes heated with tears. “You’re going to mess-up my make-up, you schmoe.”

“See? You’ve got the Yiddish down already. Dad’ll welcome you to the tribe with open arms.” She leaned her forehead against his chest as she laughed. He smelled like Ivory Soap and starch, even if he didn’t act like a man who would. “As for your make-up; yeah, you’re gonna have to reapply it.”

“What?” When she looked up, his mouth was already on a collision course with hers. Their lips met and the same sweet explosion rocked her, the one that lit her up every time. She’d thought kissing the same man would get boring after months and years, but the press of Ivan’s pouty lips and the slide of his tongue just did it for her. His fingers inched her dress up her thighs.

“This’ll help with the nerves,” he said as he pressed her into the counter and began kissing his way down her neck.

His mouth trailing kisses toward her breasts was far from calming, but she tugged his t-shirt out of his jeans and ran her hands over the warm swath of skin he had flashed earlier.  “I’m willing to give anything a try,” she said.





Hours later, Sofie retreated to the kitchen in defeat. She opened the door of the Big Chill fridge and contemplated crawling inside.

Mr. Friedman was distant and overly formal, to the point that he seemed almost angry at her. When she explained that she’d had the menorah shipped from New York City by a friend she’d met during the protests, he hadn’t reacted with delight, or even been impressed. Instead, he’d critiqued her placement of the candelabra, saying it wasn’t public enough, and had responded with a huff when she placed it in the front window, despite the risk to her curtains. When night fell, Ivan lit the shamash and invited his father to light the candle representing the first night of Hanukkah and to sing the berakot. Mr. Friedman had put him off. The shamash still burned alone, a flickering reminder that nothing she could do would please the man.

Her father was just as bad. Every attempt at conversation Ivan threw out was rebuffed, or somehow came back around to how her mother was rolling in her grave knowing her Sofie was living with a man who hadn’t asked her to be his wife. It never occurred to him that Sofie was the one who didn’t want to get married; despite her running off to join in the protests years before, in his eyes she was still the good, obedient daughter, and wasn’t marriage what all good girls wanted?

The two older men didn’t speak to each other at all, as if Sofie’s mother hadn’t worked for Mr. Friedman all those years ago. As if there weren’t so many important threads of their lives binding them together. Perhaps her father still resented the time he had lost with his wife to this family, and now he had to share his daughter with them, too.

She left the three men sitting in tense silence as she went to prepare the final part of the meal. She had been so looking forward to this particular aspect, experimenting with batch after batch while Ivan was at work until she had the recipe down pat. She remembered her mother doing the same thing when she started working for Mrs. Friedman, who had been a kind but exacting woman. If you couldn’t make latkes to her specifications, you had to go.

As Sofie pulled the schmaltz out of the fridge, having hidden it behind the okra where Ivan would never venture, she thought of the standoff in the living room and felt like all her preparation would come to naught. But then she remembered all the times she had almost let despair win the day. If giving up was the way to go, the Civil Rights Act wouldn’t have passed just that summer, beginning what was hopefully a brighter day for the children she and Ivan might one day have.

Sofie reached into the cabinet and pulled down the little plastic recipe box.  Her name, Sofronia, was inscribed on the label in fading black ink. The handwriting was so similar to her own that it still threw her off at first sight, until she remembered it belonged to the woman who was little more than a patchwork quilt of memories and emotions: her mother.

She pulled out the recipe and stared at it for a moment. That this was in her possession was, in a small way, responsible for Ivan having come into her life. She gave the creased index card a kiss for luck before reading the instructions she had already committed to memory. Her movements were automatic now: she lit the tabletop range, placed the cast iron skillet on the flames, and added a healthy coating of schmaltz to the pan. She began spooning in the mix of grated potatoes, onion, and egg a dollop at a time, spreading it out into flat discs.

If this didn’t appease them, at least she could say she hadn’t gone down without a fight.




Things were no better when she bought out the platter of piping hot latkes. Ivan shot her a look of desperate relief when she came back into the room, and rushed to relieve her of the bowls of sour cream and applesauce she balanced precariously on each forearm.

“Happy Hanukkah,” he said quietly as he took the bowls from her and dropped a kiss on her temple. There was no sarcasm in his voice; he meant it.

They sat at the table, no one making eye contact. The dreidel lay unspun. The shamash flickered away at the center of the menorah, the lone candle on the rightmost side still unlit.

“Well, dig in!” she said in her bright hostess voice even though she was tense enough that her jaw was starting to cramp. The men began stuffing their mouths, seemingly happy to have something to do to end the awkward silence.

Ivan made a sound of pleasurable surprise when he bit into his first latke. For a moment she thought she had made some miscalculation: too many onions or too little salt or the schmaltz had gone bad. But when she glanced at him, he was regarding her with such adoration that it seemed too intimate for the dinner table. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes were wide as he slowly chewed, savoring the taste.

“Sofie.” Mr. Friedman cleared his throat. His eyes were glossy beneath his shaggy brows when he looked her full in the face for the first time that night. With his defenses down and his brow unlined, the similarity between him and his son was remarkable. “This tastes like…” He paused and pressed his lips together.

“Your mother’s,” her dad said quietly at the same time Mr. Friedman rasped out, “My wife’s.”

There was a silence around the table. Sofie dropped her hand into the space between her and Ivan’s seat. His hand was waiting, as she knew it would be, and the sweet relief that coursed through her when his fingers slid between hers made her throat tight with emotion.

Mr. Friedman stood and walked toward the menorah. He lifted the shamash with trembling hands and began singing the first blessing in a soft but commanding voice as he lit the first candle of Hanukkah. “Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam…”

When Ivan’s deep voice joined his father’s, when her own father reached across the table for both of their hands and joined the blessing on the only word he could make out of the Hebrew—Amein—she finally understood what that term “mitzvah” meant. It was the kindness that allowed people to overcome all the differences society had erected as walls between them. It was a shared memory of love that could bridge what seemed to be an insurmountable gap. It was being surrounded by those that you cared about most, and knowing that, against all hardship, you were going to make it.


Thanks! I hope you enjoyed the story! Be sure to check out today’s other story, from Rebecca Grace Allen! And if you’re so inclied, you can view the entire list of authors, with links and descriptions of their stories, here.


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Multicultural Historical: Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight Cover Reveal

So, I have a thing for Scots: probably because when I was growing up my mom’s bookcase was stuffed with every Highland romance she could get her hands on. Although Trainspotting proves that not every Scot is a HILF (Highlander I’d Like to…), there’s always been something massively appealing about the genre. Less appealing? The fact that the heroines generally never go beyond “pale” in the foundation section of their keep’s apothecary. When I read about the court of King James IV and The Tournament of the Wild Knight and the Black Lady, I thought it would be an awesome setting for a romance. That idea eventually became:


“There she is!” an excited voice called out across the crowded tourney grounds. “Agnes Moor!”

Ah, so it’s Moor today, Agnes thought with a twinge of resentment. That was what they called her when they were feeling good-natured. It was Agnes Black when they wanted to stress that she wasn’t one of them, as if her umber skin and cap of short, tight curls weren’t reminder enough…

Agnes Moor knows her place in the court of King James IV—as one of the “exotics” in his employ. When the king makes a kiss from Agnes the prize of a tourney, a mysterious knight plows through his opponents to claim it. But it isn’t chance. The Wild Knight has come for her, and her champion is after after the most elusive prize of all: her heart.

The story should be available in the next week or so. I’ll keep you updated!

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