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2014 RITA Awards: The Inside Scoop

Editor Alyssa Morris gives us an insider view on the 2014 RITA awards.

After three days of conversation about the future of the romance in an ever-shifting publishing ClaimMe_CROPlandscape, the 2014 RITA awards celebrated romances of the past while honoring innovators of the present. Notably, J. Kenner took home the first ever RITA for erotic romance for Claim Me and the award for best Romantic suspense went to author Carolyn Crane for her novel Off the Edge. These awards reflect the widening romance market and the trends of the past few years, many wrought by the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, the Crossfire trilogy, and other similarly steamy independent titles (which 50 Shades of Grey and the first Crossfire book both, briefly, were).

Eloisa James presented the lifetime achievement award to Bertrice Small, a truly remarkable pioneer of the modern romance whom James, quoting Dickens, described as “the founder of our feast.” James recounted an anecdote from Small's early career, when her first publisher told her to stay home and take care of her baby. Small was undaunted, convinced that she would last longer in the publishing industry than he. And, indeed, she did. Leaving the ceremony, many people could be heard discussing their desire to track down some of Bertrice's novels.

Throughout the ceremony, video interviews revealed the first romances read by blockbuster authors. Emcee Simone Elkeles read Nobody's Darling by Theresa Medeiros, Julia Quinn was inspired to write by Jude Deveraux, Sarah MacLean was also inspired by Deveraux, citing The Black Lyon as her first romance. Kristan Higgins stole her first romance novel from her grandmother, knowing she wouldn't be allowed to read it otherwise. With the recent and forthcoming e-releases of many of these classic authors' backlists, it feels as though we are due for a resurgence of their popularity and a return to more adventurous themes in the modern romance.

Other RITA winners included Sarah MacLean for her historical No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, Molly O'Keefe for her contemporary Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Jane Porter for her novella Take Me Cowboy, Carla Laureano for her inspirational romance Five Days in Skye, Susan Kearsley for her paranormal The Firebird, and Leah Ashton for her short contemporary romance Why Resist a Rebel. Finally, Laura Drake won best first book for her western The Sweet Spot. All of these and the nominated titles are well worth delving into, and they may even inspire readers to look back in time and try the romances that paved the way for them.

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Alison Kent on RITA Nominations

Romance author Alison Kent discusses the honor of receiving a 2014 RITA award nomination for her book, "The Second Chance Café." The official RITA award winners will be announced July 26.

Interested in RITA nominees? Read more from romance author Nancy Kerkness on her RITA nomination experience.

My name is Alison Kent, and I'm going to tell you all about the RITA experience. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular writing award, it's the highest peer-judged honor given every year to published romance novels and novellas by the Romance Writers of America.

This is how the RITA contest works. For every author I know.

  • Early autumn, when the RITA registration opens, we rush to send our entry fee to RWA before the contest reaches its entry cap and we're left looking in from the outside. Through our tears.
  • Late autumn, when the deadline for receipt of RITA books approaches, we rush to send the copies to the RWA office before it's too late. Since I now live less than five miles from the national headquarters, I get to skip the postage and the post office lines and motor over!
  • Early winter, when the RITA judging packets hit our front doors, we rush to rip into the boxes, wanting to see what has arrived. It's like a late Christmas gift. Free books! New authors! Free books!
  • Late winter, when the RITA scores are due, we rush to the RWA website to submit them. Or at least I do. I'm sure there are some out there who are much more organized!
  • Early spring, when the RITA finalists are announced, we rush to get out of bed so we can then wait by the phone. The calls go out early. Twitter explodes with congratulations. Those whose categories have not yet been called try not to weep.

Funny how much rushing is involved when publishing is all about "hurry up and wait."

This year when the calls began, I was sitting in my kitchen coffee shop with my husband pretending the day was no different from any other. This is our morning routine. Coffee and Twitter for me. Coffee and Fark for him. I was reading the tweeted call announcements and cheering on friends. Then our house phone rang. The only unit we have is upstairs.

SecondChanceCafe_"That's my RITA call," I said, and didn't even move. My feet were propped up. I had my phone in one hand, my coffee mug in the other. There was no way I would be able to pry myself out of my cushy chair and get to the phone before it stopped ringing. My husband felt differently. He sprinted to my office and caught the call in time. I had entered three books in two different categories, but in my heart of hearts knew which had finaled.

How did I know it was a RITA call? For one thing, no one who knows us to talk to us uses the house phone, but it is the number attached to my official RWA membership. The real reason I was so sure, however, is because The Second Chance Cafe has been a magic book since the moment it became a Montlake Romance - and I can't even explain why. I did nothing differently while writing it than I did while writing any of the forty-plus books that came before. It was a matter of the right book and the right publisher at the right time.

I think that's called luck. And mine was twenty years in the making.

My first book was released in 1993, years before social media was a thing. It took days to find out who had finaled. Some years I didn't see the full list until the Romance Writers Report (RWA's official magazine) arrived with the announcement weeks later. There was no hearing the news as the calls were made, no getting to celebrate with friends on the spot.

I'm so glad it took this long (no, really!) because of that experience. Congratulations from readers and authors alike chirping on my phone made "call day" the best ever. Flowers arriving from my publisher brightened my kitchen coffee shop for days. Wearing a RITA pin and ribbon during the RWA conference will make the week fun beyond words.

I've enjoyed every minute of being a finalist and will do so even after the winner is announced. It's an incredible honor to have my book selected by my peers as one of the year's best romances. I'm thrilled to death to be able to share it with Amazon Montlake.

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When RITA Calls...

Romance author Nancy Herkness discusses her experience receiving a 2014 RITA award nomination for her book, "Country Roads." The official RITA award winners will be announced July 26.

On Wednesday morning, March 26, I received a voice mail from Claudia Dain, asking me to call her back. Now I know who Claudia Dain is—a fabulous writer of historical romance - but I’ve never met her in person and she certainly wouldn’t call me out of the blue. 

Then I remembered that it was the day the RITA finalists were notified. You may not have heard of the RITA awards, but to a romance writer, they are the equivalent of the Oscars. There’s a huge ceremony at the national Romance Writers of America conference in July, attended by over a thousand people.  The nominees get dressed up in long elegant evening gowns and are treated like visiting royalty.  Your editor sits at the table with you while your head shot and book cover are flashed up on giant screens as they read the nominations.  If you win, you make an acceptance speech and receive a gleaming golden statuette.

CountryRoads_Claudia’s message lit a little flicker of excitement in my chest, although I told myself her call had to be about something else. I had just signed up for a new marketing program sponsored by RWA.  Perhaps they wanted to discuss some aspect of that.

However, I ran downstairs and told my husband about the message. It was a delaying tactic because I was afraid to call Claudia back, afraid it would douse that tiny flame of thrilling anticipation. Of course, my husband told me to call her back immediately!

I did and that tiny flame of hope turned into a raging bonfire of stunned joy as Claudia, in her role as an RWA board member, told me that my second Whisper Horse novel, Country Roads, had been nominated for a RITA award in contemporary romance. She patiently listened to me hyperventilate in her ear before she congratulated me and told me I’d be getting more details soon.

As soon as I hung up, I raced back downstairs to my waiting husband where I shrieked, kissed him, and began dancing around the room like a lunatic.

I’ve been dancing off and on ever since.

As soon as the list of RITA finalists was made public, a flood of congratulations poured into my email inbox, onto my Facebook page, and into my voice mail.  My publisher sent me a beautiful bouquet of red roses. In fact, I was stunned by how much attention and good wishes came my way. It warmed the cockles of my heart.

Next was a mad scramble to secure hotel and airplane reservations to San Antonio, Texas, for the conference and ceremony.  My proud husband decided I should travel like a movie star, so he used all our frequent flier miles to upgrade me to first class.

Then there was the shopping. Being Queen for a Day means you have to attempt to look like one.  My daughter and I set off on a tour of all the bridal salons in the area—and this is northern New Jersey, so there are a lot of them—and found the perfect evening dress, one that makes me feel like a star of the silver screen. We added sparkly shoes and glittering rhinestone jewels to make the ensemble even more glamorous.  (I considered a tiara but decided that was a little too over-the-top.) Nothing is more fun than shopping for a fancy outfit with your daughter!

Kindleblog-RITApic-Herkness_750A few days ago, the mailman delivered a little white box from RWA. I opened it to find my RITA finalist pin, a small silver replica of the figurine the winner receives, as well as the official invitation to the RITA reception. The dancing commenced again, because this was the first physical manifestation of my nomination.

Of course, winning an award is not what drives me to write. I do it for the joy of putting my stories into words and sharing them with readers. I find happiness sitting in my attic room in front of the word processor, conjuring up vibrant characters, taut dialogue, and gut-wrenching emotions. Nothing gives me more pleasure than hearing from a reader that my books have touched her heart in some way.  But it’s fun to have an unexpected reason to put on a pretty dress and high heels. 

The truth is: I don’t expect to win the RITA. Equally true is the fact that I’m totally fine with that. Just being nominated is such an amazing honor and validation. It means my peers consider my book among the absolute best of the best when it comes to a romance novel. Knowing this is more than enough to send me twirling into a pirouette whenever I think about it.

Now I have to go write my acceptance speech...

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Guest Post by Karen Harper: Small Towns Are Scary

91rRsF9%2B8KL.__AA300_[1]New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper walks us through the twist and turns of her romantic suspense novels that take place in small towns where eccentric characters abound and the enemy is too often “us.”  It’s someone the heroine knows and trusts, someone who is keeping deadly secrets.  What a great contrast:  a charming Americana ambience vs. fear and terror.  And often, with a small police force, average citizens must help solve crimes which seem worse in a rural than an urban setting.

In my new Appalachian suspense novels, small town, rural settings really up the ante for an average woman facing fear and crime.  When a murder or kidnapping occurs in such a charming place, the shock is magnified over that of urban crime, where we almost expect something to go wrong.  A long-deserted, picturesque barn can provide a setting more scary than an empty urban apartment building.  Many Americans long to escape to the country, but danger lurks there too, the kind that seems more dreadful set amidst fields and forests, quaint stores and down home restaurants.    

In Shattered Secrets, the first book in The Cold Creek trilogy, (with Forbidden Ground and Broken Bonds to follow at two-month intervals) danger hides in the tall cornfield surrounding a charming, old farmhouse.  Appalachian foothills loom over the rural area and small town of Cold Creek where young girls have been disappearing for decades. 

I love setting terrifying events in lovely settings because being pushed into a grain silo can be as deadly as a bullet in my suspense novels.  Fear is much more primitive and unsettling.  In a way, this is Stephen King territory, but in my books, there is a dangerous love story also woven throughout and an uplifting ending.

 Although strange people and unique criminals can certainly abound in the big, bad city, I have found small town and rural characters to be more eccentric, unique and therefore, fascinating.  Often the villain is someone known to the main characters, which means betrayal and treachery on an intimate, personal level.  Sadly—tragically—the enemy is too often “us,” someone trusted and perhaps loved. 

I’m always thrilled when readers tell me they had no clue who the murderer or kidnapper was until the last chapter.  One of my favorite reviews said it best: “Harper, a master of suspense, keeps readers guessing about crime and love until the very end.”  (Booklist, starred review, on Fall From Pride.)

The isolation of people in small towns and the surrounding rural fields and forests means help is not just a quick phone call away as in the city.  In some rural areas with rolling hills, especially in the Appalachians, cell phones don’t work.  Even with moonlight and starlight, it can be intensely dark in the country at night, and, of course, really dark scenes work well too.  I’ve also written two trilogies set among the Ohio Amish, who only use lanterns and don’t want to call the police, even if they have a public phone nearby.  And getting help in a horse and buggy can mean a long ride on a dark road.

 Police in rural areas can be a great distance away, even if someone in danger can get through to them.  In my Maple Creek trilogy, my Dark Road Home trilogy, and now in the new Cold Creek trilogy, the small police force tries its best, but danger seems much more terrifying in what should be a safe setting, especially if the heroine, with the hero’s help, must save her own life. 

An old, abandoned insane asylum, a defunct coal mine, an Indian burial mound—you may never look at small town and rural life the same way again if you read a Karen Harper romantic suspense novel!  Keep the lights on at night and your window locked.  Enjoy!

Author Lindsay McKenna's Cinderella Story

Romance author Lindsay McKenna discusses her new release "Never Surrender" and character transformations.

NeverSurrenderCROPAs a romance writer, I’m always attracted to Cinderella stories where love transforms my characters, even in the most dire of times. Never Surrender is a Cinderella story that captures both the dark and the light of that beloved tale. Bay is thrown into a torturous situation, but through the undying love of Gabe Griffin, is able to heal and be the woman, and live the life, that destiny holds for her.

Baylee Ann Thorn is in love. She is a navy combat corpsman, part of a supersecret Pentagon project:  Operation Shadow Warriors. When ordered to work with a US Navy SEAL platoon out of Afghanistan, Bay met the warrior she would fall in love with, Chief Gabe Griffin.  

Because of her commitment to the top-secret program, one of forty women trained in combat to see if they could handle it, she is to be deployed one last time to Afghanistan before she marries Gabe. Their parting is bittersweet. Instead of the woman being left behind while the man goes overseas into combat, it is reversed. Gabe is fearful for her and that she’s been sent to an army special forces A-Team, not to the SEALs, as he’d hoped.

Bay comes from strong stock, the Hill people of West Virginia. Born and raised on Black Mountain, her marine corps father, Floyd, taught her to shoot at twelve, to track and live off the land. When Bay is captured by a Taliban leader, it is a combination of her own background and what Gabe has taught her as a SEAL sniper that will make the difference between her living and dying.  

Gabe gets orders cut to go over to Afghanistan to join the hunt to try and find Bay among the Hindu Kush mountains. He knows what the Taliban will do with a military woman and he has to control all his wild, anguished emotions and concentrate on finding her alive.

Bay is traumatized and tortured. It is her Hill backbone of steel combined with her fierce love of Gabe that gives her the strength to escape her captors and make a break for freedom. She knows if she’s caught, they’ll kill her.  But after what she has suffered already, death is a reprieve. Still, it is her love for Gabe that drives her to try. In the early-morning light, Bay hides from the Taliban, who are hunting her down. But she’s her father’s daughter and knows tracking and backtracking. She uses Gabe’s sniper SEAL knowledge to hide out in plain sight.  

Gabe’s world comes apart and is haphazardly sewn back together again when he finds Bay and is able to rescue her from sure death at the hands of the Taliban. On a medevac flying to Bagram’s hospital, he realizes the harsh truth and the daunting recovery it will take to get his Bay back to him.  

Bay slowly returns over time, with the patience and love of the man who will not give up on her for any reason. She works to transform the dark evil that has stolen a part of her soul and return herself to the light and love that Gabe holds for her.    

Love is the most powerful human emotion in the world and Bay’s heart allows her to begin the long road to her recovery, to reordering her life, with Gabe’s steadfast belief and love. The stresses, the challenges, are daunting. Together, they learn to empower themselves to create the life they had dreamed of having, no matter what the ashes of the past have decreed.

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Kendra Elliot's Thrillerfest Homecoming

Author Kendra Elliot comes full circle as her Thrillerfest nomination for "Buried" has her finally saying, "I'm an author."

KElliot_CROPFive years ago I attended my first Thrillerfest Conference in New York City. I was unpublished, but I wasn’t a total newbie; I’d been honing my craft for a few years, had a few manuscripts under the bed, and had paid close attention in my local writing groups and conferences, trying to figure out this odd world of publishing. When I noticed the Romance Writers of America conference was in Washington DC a week after Thrillerfest in NYC, I made plans to attend both in one long trip back east.

One of the main reasons to attend conferences is to rub shoulders with the authors you admire. My highlight that year was standing guard for Lee Child’s signing line. I was a serious fan. I’d volunteered for the signing and had been assigned to keep his rowdy autograph seekers under control. I spent most of the time holding up a nearby wall as I chatted with one of his editors. She asked if I was an author, and I said, “No, I’m a writer.” She asked the difference, and I told her that I felt I couldn’t call myself an author because I wasn’t published. She nodded, but gave me an odd look.

I didn’t go to the awards banquet. I wasn’t an author, so what would be the point? I’d never been to NYC. A good friend made certain my friends and I saw the highlights of New York, turning it into an amazing experience.

The next few years brought changes to my writing life. I got an agent. I sold. I quit the day job and sold again. My publisher put out four of my books in eighteen months and bought more.

Fast forward to Spring 2014. I was chatting with a writer buddy on Facebook when someone from my publishing house posted on my wall, congratulating me for an award nomination. I assumed she was talking about a Romantic Times nomination I’d heard about four months prior. I replied, asking which award she meant.

Her: The Thriller award

Me: WHAT??

Me: Are you sure?

Her: My phone won’t let me post the link. Of course, I’m sure.

I found the announcement, saw my name, and burst into tears.

It wasn’t possible. The thriller awards are for the BIG, IMPORTANT writers. I scanned the list of names. …Lisa Gardner, Stephen King, AND FREAKING Lee Child in the hardback category. I was listed in the paperback category along with my good friend and mentor, Allison Brennan.

I don’t belong on this list. Where are all the other authors? The real authors?

In my head, I was still the newbie. Possibly I was perceived as being successful in publishing, but I was terrified that someone would figure out that I was a sham. That my books weren’t that good or deserving of praise. Even though I’d sold over a half million books in two years, I still had doubts. Big ones. When people ask me what I do for a living, I still struggle to say “I’m an author.” It feels like a lie.

Would the self-doubt ever go away?

Another good writer friend (yes, I have a lot of good writer friends. The writing community is a close, supportive one) sympathized with my doubt, assuring me that it was normal for a large percentage of writers and sent me this quote

The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their life.― Jaggi Vasudev

It made me laugh, but it also resonated deeply.

I wasn’t an idiot for my doubt, but I couldn’t let it control me.

I frequently use the full circle as a theme in my books. Toward the end of a story, my characters often return to a key place or event in their life, but the second time they are armed with new skills they’ve learned in their journey.

So I will return to New York City for another amazing experience. This time as a recognized author in my genre, and I’ll hold my chin up and smile at that awards banquet, proud that this book has received important nominations from the romance and thriller communities.

I’m an author.

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Q&A with Sarah MacLean and Loretta Chase

In this exclusive Q&A, romance author Sarah MacLean interviews Loretta Chase about historical high-end dressmaking and her new book, "Vixen in Velvet."

VixenVelvetCROPSarah MacLean: With The Dressmakers series, you've turned the classic historical romance heroine on her head - here we have three heroines who have skill and income, not always marriageable traits for women in the 1800s. If that's not enough, the Noirot sisters might be described as scoundrels in their own right. What drew you to these heroines?

Loretta Chase: Well, the clothes. But seriously, high-end dressmaking in the 1830s was like haute couture today, and this is not a job for sissies. Competition is brutal. Success demands steely determination, ruthlessness, single-mindedness, and all those other sterling qualities I and my heroes like in a heroine. Plus the clothes, which in the 1830s are highly entertaining.

SM: Your heroes, on the other hand, are historical romance perfection - wealthy, arrogant, and titled. Each one must at some point come to terms with his heroine, who not only cares more for business than for love, but is also descended from scandalous bloodlines. What is it about the cross-class romance match that we just can't resist?

LC: It’s a great romance fantasy, so subversive. In real life, cross-class relationships were usually disastrous for women. In romance, the woman triumphs over centuries of class-consciousness, and makes the hero a greater man than he would have been otherwise. Too, I always like a good fight—with wisecracks—between two strong-willed people who come from different worlds.

SM: A hallmark of your novels is your attention to historical detail. One of my favorite scenes in all of romance is the moment in Lord of Scoundrels when Dain breaks the sticks of Jessica's fan-slash-dance card--a dance card plucked straight from history. In The Dressmakers series, the dresses and hats designed by your heroines come alive on the page--thanks to your effortless descriptions (the product of no doubt meticulous research). Does your love for the research inspire your stories? Or does the story come first and the research follow?

LC: It works both ways, but I love research and it definitely juices my imagination. Prints and paintings help me envision a scene:  the setting, the mood, and the ways I can use elements of the environment, like the British Institution or Vauxhall, for action. With a fashion plate, I’m looking at it usually from the hero’s point of view, which is often comical as well as sex-focused (he’s a guy!), and as a way to forward action. In Vixen in Velvet, the (mostly dreadful) poetry so popular in 19th century ladies’ magazines inspired a subplot.

SM: While we're on the subject of Lord of Scoundrels: The book is regularly identified as one of the best romance novels of all time. Why does Jessica & Dain's story resonates so powerfully with readers?

LC: I wish I had the answer. All I know is that the writing gods must have smiled on me when I created those two characters. It was a special book. It felt that way when I wrote it, but I cannot analyze it.

SM: So many historical writers (myself included) are influenced by your work. Who do you count among your literary influences?

LC: Thank you for saying that!  It’s a major compliment. Because, look: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, and all those screenwriters of screwball comedy—are just a few of the writers who’ve inspired and influenced me.

SM: What can readers expect from Dressmakers #4?

LC: Lady Clara Fairfax will finally meet her match. And so will the hero. There will be clothes, off and on. But probably no poetry.

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Q&A with Toni Blake and Lori Wilde

Romance authors Toni Blake and Lori Wilde discuss small town romance and their new releases, All I Want Is You and Love With a Perfect Cowboy, in this exclusive interview.

Toni Blake: So Lori – we’re here to talk about small town romances, a topic which is near and dear to both of our hearts. They come in so many shapes and sizes, though – where do we begin?  Maybe a good starting point is – what do you think readers find so appealing about small town romances? For me, I think that for many people living in this fast-paced, technology-driven world, a book set in a small town feels like a return to a simpler place in time, and it’s a setting where people are connecting in more traditional ways than, say, through Facebook or Twitter.

Lori Wilde: I agree. A small town romance is more than just a love story set in a small town. It's about the community and the setting as well. Small towns stir feelings of nostalgia for a time and place where happy memories reside.

TB: So true that the community is such a large part of these books, particularly books like ours, written as a series.  I’ve loved building a community in my Destiny, Ohio series and then focusing on different couples in each book, as well as using the books to explore different aspects of the town.  Do you find that your readers get more attached to the characters in small town books?

LW: I think readers get attached to characters in any series. It's like a great TV show, they keep coming back book after book to see what's going to happen next.

TB: Reader loyalty is an amazing and wonderful thing!  I love building up interest in a secondary character over a number of books until finally telling his or her story. And it’s so fun when readers want more of a character you never planned to write a book about – and they ask for that character’s story until you give them one, as they did for Duke Dawson in Half Moon Hill.

AllWantisYouCROPLW: And you did a wonderful job with Duke's story. I just heard Half Moon Hill was nominated for a RITA award. Congratulations. That's got to be gratifying that when a character that generated so much reader interest turns out to pay off big!

TB: Thank you so much!  I’m thrilled with the nomination, and you’re exactly right – apparently the readers knew what they were talking about when they asked me to give Duke a story, and I really loved writing it!  And Half Moon Hill is the last book – for now anyway – in my Destiny series, so it’s nice to see it get a nod like this as I move on to a new small town setting in my Coral Cove series.  The first book, All I Want Is You, came out at the end of May, and I can’t wait to introduce readers to this quirky little beachside town.  What can readers look forward to next from you?

PerfectCowboyCROPLW: Ooh, a new series with a beach town just in time for summer. I'm already thinking sand and pina coladas and the scent of coconut oil and fried shrimp and, and...I know readers will love getting their hands on this series! For me, my June book Love With a Perfect Cowboy wraps up my Cupid, Texas

TB: Ah, I know readers will be all over that! And who doesn’t want the perfect cowboy in the perfect little Texas town? I know you and I both grew up in small towns, and that’s probably how we ended up writing about them.  May they forever have a big place in readers’ hearts!

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Exclusive Excerpt from Bella Andre's New Release

Enjoy an excerpt from Bella Andre's new contemporary romance series about the Morrisons, "Kiss Me Like This."

KissMeLikeThisCROP"I know we got off to a rough start,” Sean said, “but if you'll give me another chance, I promise I'll take things slow this time.”

They were nearly at the doors of the library when Serena stopped and faced him. “I know you probably think I'm easy because you've seen my pictures in magazines, but―”

“I didn't know who you were last night.” When she looked him in disbelief, he raised two fingers on his right hand. “Scouts honor. I thought you looked a little familiar, but it wasn't until after you left that my friend Kurt told me who you were.” 

The way she tensed at that told him more than she likely intended to reveal about how she felt about her fame. Clearly, she wasn't too big on it. The thing was, Sean wasn't too surprised by this because his rock star brother was like that, too. Drew hated when his ever-increasing fame got in the way of his music.

Then again, Sean thought, modeling wasn't exactly the same as writing and performing songs, was it? So if she hadn't done it for the fame, why had she done it? And why was she here at Stanford when she clearly could have been in Paris or Milan making thousands of dollars an hour in front of the cameras?

“If you didn't recognize me, then why did you come up to me like that?”

Was she joking? Did she really not know how beautiful, how sensual, she'd been out on that dance floor...or how stunning she was now as she stood in the morning light in her baseball cap and baggy clothes? Did she truly think that the only reason a guy would approach her was because she was famous and he wanted to say he'd made out with a celebrity?

Of course, the more he thought about it, the more he could see that plenty of guys were probably exactly stupid enough to be more interested in Serena's notoriety than anything else.

Wanting to be as honest with her this morning as he'd been a jerk the night before, he said, “You were the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen.” She flushed at that and was about to walk away, when he told her, “But it was more than just your beauty that drew me, Serena.” When she looked back up at him, he felt like he was falling into her deep blue eyes. “You saw.”

“And when we touched―” He reached for her cheek the exact same way she had reached for him the night before. “―it was the most explosive, most intense thing I've ever felt in my life.  And everything bad just disappeared.”

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Q&A with Kristan Higgins & Jill Shalvis

In this exclusive Q&A best-selling authors and best buds Jill Shalvis and Kristan Higgins explore the subject of first love and reunions, a theme represented in their books, "Once in a Lifetime"and "Waiting on You."

Q: Who was your first love?

Kristan Higgins: Danny Rice, who would occasionally babysit for us. He played guitar and had green eyes. I once threw a toothbrush at him to demonstrate my feelings. We saw each other a few years ago, and he was very sweet. He even said I’d turned out kind of pretty. The nerve! How dare he wait 40 years before making his move?

WatingonYouCROPJill Shalvis: My first love was the library—oh, wait. You mean a guy. Yeah, sure, I’ve got one of those, too. My first boyfriend was the boy next door. He had both a dog and a cat…and a pool. And his mom always had cookies out for us to eat. In hindsight I think it was his mother I loved....

Q: Say your first love walked into your life again, the way Lucas shows up in Manningsport in Waiting on You. Would you A) fall into his arms; B) briefly contemplate the potential prison sentences for various criminal acts involving his head and a stapler; or C) hide?

KH: Well, if it was my first boyfriend (not to be confused with babysitter), I’d definitely go with (B) the stapler. Did I mention he dumped me?

JS: I might be tempted to (C) hide. I can’t eat cookies like I used to…

Shalvis_LifetimeCROPQ: Describe the scene in your books when the hero and heroine see each other after all this time.

JS: In Once in a Lifetime, Aubrey is very busy tossing her drink in a guy’s face when the guy ducks and the drinks goes…right into Ben McDaniel’s face. Ben, of course, is Aubrey’s first crush, her first love and the guy who is on her list of wrongs she must right. Painful. Humiliating. Just as an opening scene should be. :)

KH: Hey! Colleen and Lucas meet up in a bar, too in Waiting on You! Colleen is trying to coach her friend on getting a guy, and things are going disastrously wrong.… Her friend knocks the guy over, spills her drink on his head, steps on him, the usual. Then all of a sudden, Colleen sees Lucas. She freezes, then begins babbling, and her thoughts bounce between homicide and how her hair looks. She’s completely unprepared to see the guy who broke her heart ten years ago.

JS: Aw. I can feel her pain from here! I love it when a book makes me feel, which by the way, yours always do, Higgins.

KH: Right back at you! There’s a reason we’re friends, and it’s not just because we both love dessert.

JS: It’s not?

KH: Fine, it doesn’t hurt. There’s no one I’d rather go to The Cheesecake Factory with than you, Jilly.

Q: Why do you think readers love a reunion story?

KH: First love is so powerful and consuming…and obviously, it doesn’t always work out. You have to have guts to try again with the same person who shattered your heart.

JS: A reunion story cuts right to the heart because the characters already know each other. I love the sense of intimacy we get from that. There’s nothing like dredging up a heartbreak from past misconceptions, misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Q: What are some of the challenges of writing a reunion story?

KH: I’d say making sure the characters really are older and wiser now. What have they learned? Why will things work out this time? They can’t be the same sweet, naive kids they used to be, but they’re the same people.

JS: When the characters already have a history in place, it’s even more critical for the story to be well written so that the readers don’t feel like they’re missing the first part of the story.

Q: What are the rewards?

KH: It’s the second chance, you know? They’ve overcome all that hurt and heartbreak, they’ve grown up, and that overwhelming, incredibly powerful and delicious first love…it was real all along. I’m getting choked up just typing this.

JS: That’s because you get choked up at cereal commercials.

KH: They can be very compelling, Jill. For those of us whose hearts aren’t made of stone, that is.

JS: Uh-huh. But let me just say that I ditto the second-chance thing. Overcoming all is a prominent theme in romances anyway, and it adds another layer of satisfaction to the happily ever after.

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