(Today we welcome guest USA Today bestselling author Naima Simone, talking about where she gets the inspiration for her heroes)
Very recently, my mother-in-love (not mother-in-law, ‘cause I luvs me some her!) asked me a question: Do you read anything besides romance? And let me put this out there, she wasn’t asking it to be ugly. Because my mom-in-love has read every single one of my books, owns almost all the print copies and they occupy a special place on her bookshelf. She was genuinely curious. I answered her honestly. I do read some mystery thrillers—Lisa Gardner is the ish!—but for the most part, I’m a romance reader. There’s so much variety in romance that I can find it all there. Comedy. Suspense. Sci-fi. Historical. Horror. Contemporary. Paranormal. And of course. Love.
I freely admit it. I’m in love with love.
From the time my mother read me my first fairy tale, I’ve been completely enamored with love and everything it entails. The falling into it. The pitfalls of it. The dysfunction of it. The joys and pain of it. The edification and complications of it. The heroines and heroes.
Especially those heroes.
Because the heroes are my romance origin story.
Now, I have a confession. My first books and stories? Horrible. Like, hide in a chest, lock it, bury it and order three viciously horned dragons and a puzzle-wielding Sphinx to guard it, horrible. Yeah. That bad. LOL! But the heroes in them shaped the ones I write now. Who were these heroes? So glad you asked.
The first romance I wrote starred Ralph Tresvant, lead singer of the boy band New Edition. Soft voice, romantic and obviously sensitive. I mean, he serenaded women, sooo… And though I nearly killed him off in my book (hey, didn’t I warn you it was terrible?!), my kiss did bring him out of that coma, so it all worked out in the end!
The next short story featured Oliver from Oliver Twist. He was so cute with his tortured past. Kid has abandonment issues written all over him. And yes, yes, I know, he has a happy ending, but seriously. You know he has serious emotional baggage. And I live for the tortured hero he’s destined to become!
I followed him up with Duke from G.I. Joe. Alpha, strong, honorable, man in control Duke. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely loved the action and excitement and the whole good vs. evil of the cartoon. But I also obsessively watched for Duke and Scarlett. To see when, and if, they would ever get together. And since they didn’t to my satisfaction, I wrote their story. Over and over again.
Then there was Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block. Oh Donnie. *sigh* Bad boy. Rebel. A little wild. And from the way he could dance, you know he could…move. Whether he was a member of a boy band or a famous producer, or later, a millionaire, he provided the hero for several of my books and short stories. Including the one the first book I sold.
Though my writing has evolved—thank goodness!—the leading men in my books are all an amalgamation of my first heroes, my origin heroes. The core of honor, strength and alpha maleness of Duke. The sensitivity of Ralph. The tortured pain and hurt of Oliver. The bad boy wildness of Donnie. Their backgrounds, appearances and stories may change, but the heart of them remain the same.
Published since 2009, USA Today Bestselling author Naima Simone loves writing sizzling romances with heart, a touch of humor and snark. Her books have been featured in The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly, and described as balancing “crackling, electric love scenes with exquisitely rendered characters caught in emotional turmoil.”
She is wife to Superman, or his non-Kryptonian, less bullet proof equivalent, and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They all live in perfect, sometimes domestically-challenged bliss in the southern United States.
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I have recently cleaned out a large filing cabinet and consolidated what filled the drawers to the brim. I had over thirty years’ worth of valuable stuff in those drawers ranging from necessary papers dealing with the house, to children’s shot records, folders of travel information to tax papers but the most important was my cross-stitch patterns. Believe it or not, I had a drawer that was over half full of nothing but patterns.
I still cross-stitch but not as I once did. I have a number of projects put back, but I don’t need all the patterns anymore. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. Instead, I joined an online cross-stitching group and asked if I could post the patterns for free.
Over the last few days, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people who cross-stitch from all over the world. I’ve been giving some of my favorite patterns to homes that will love them as much as I have.
It has been a full-time job getting the packaging together, addresses collected but the giveaway has been successful and most of all I feel good about my precious patterns finding new homes.
Do you have anything you’ve had to part with that you took pains to find a new home?
Hope your April is going well. For us in the Northern Hemisphere it’s Spring, my favorite time of the year. Everything’s fresh and new. The plants are blooming and growing. Flowers. New baby animals everywhere. Vaccines for COVID finally going in arms. So invigorating!
Anyway, let’s talk Medicals. My next stories with the line release June 1, 2021 and are my first duet–First Response in Florida! Take two adopted brothers who both work in the medical field (Jackson is a top paramedic and Luis is an ER doc), a Key West setting, throw in tons of sexy, romantic conflict, and one nasty hurricane and you have the basis for the First Response in Florida duet!
The last time I was on the blog, I gave you a sneak peek into Book 1 in the duet, The Vet’s Unexpected Hero–Jackson and Lucy’s story. So, today, I thought I’d share and exclusive excerpt from Book 2 in the duet, Her One-Night Secret. This is Luis and Stacy’s story and it’s full of past regrets, second-chances, and one very special surprise.
I hope you enjoy this snippet from the story, where Stacy and Luis have their first conversation since their one night together four years before. And I also hope you’ll check out the First Response in Florida duet when it releases on June 1st! If you like action, suspense, heat, and happily ever afters, these are the books for you!
Until next time, stay safe and healthy and Happy Reading!
HER FIRST IMPULSE was to feign ignorance, but from the way he’d been watching her this whole time, it was clear he’d recognized her, so what was the point? Besides, the last thing Stacy wanted to do was draw more attention to her past indiscretions, so she hiked her chin toward the other members of her fire crew to go on out into the hall, then waited until they were gone before turning back to face Luis.
“It is.” She forced a smile she didn’t feel and looked him over. Man, he was still gorgeous as ever. At first, when she’d looked back on that night, she’d figured she’d been imagining that thick, curly dark hair, those velvety caramel-colored eyes, the impossibly long eyelashes that most women would kill for. Of course, then, as luck would have it, her own son was born with those same features nine months later, so…
Stacy swallowed hard and did her best to cover her nervousness with chatter. “Didn’t think I’d see you again. How are you? You look well.”
Luis blinked at her a moment, a slight frown lining the smooth skin between his dark brows. “I wondered what happened to you after that night, if you were okay.”
That slight accent of his sent a sudden shiver of unwanted awareness through her, taking her right back to that night on the beach, the stars twinkling above, his strong arms around her, sweet endearments on his lips as he’d moved over her, in her, so careful, so tender, so…
“I’m fine. Great, actually.” She needed air, and space. The walls of the room seemed to be closing in on her with him that close, his warmth and scent surrounding her—soap and sandalwood. Stacy turned fast and pushed out into the hallway, grateful for the bright lights and noise of the other meeting members to distract her. She pointed at her badge and headed down the corridor toward the entrance to the ER. “Captain now.”
“I see that,” Luis said, keeping pace beside her, adjusting his long-legged stride to accommodate her shorter one. Funny how that worked. She was a good six inches shorter than him, but that night they’d fit perfectly together.
Stop thinking about that night. Stop it.
“Are you living in Key West now?” he asked as they passed her fire crew, who were giving her curious looks.
“I am,” she said, leaving it at that. She and Miguel had moved into a nice apartment at a local complex the previous year when she’d taken the captain’s job here after leaving her department in Miami. “And you? Are you still traveling the world on your mission trips?”
“No. Not anymore,” he said, tapping the square metal handicapped button on the wall with his elbow so the automatic doors swung open ahead of them. “I’ve taken the position as head of the emergency department here at Key West General, so I’m staying put now.”
“Good to know.” Actually, it wasn’t good. Not at all. Because if they were both staying here in Key West, that meant she needed to tell him about Miguel. Honestly, Stacy had never meant to keep it a secret from Luis for this long. It was just that once she’d found out she was pregnant, he was long gone, and she’d had no way to get a hold of him. Then she’d had the baby and had to fend for herself, and she’d been too busy working and surviving to consider another trip back down to Key West to search for Luis. Being accepted into the fire academy training program had been a godsend—good pay, good benefits, good exercise and a new, extended family she’d always wanted but never dreamed she’d have. The guys in the Miami-Dade County Fire and Rescue Department had embraced Stacy and Miguel as their own, giving her son all the attention and positive male role models he could ever want or need.
Still, having a father—his father—in his life was important for her son, at least to Stacy. So, no matter how awkward, she would tell Luis. Just maybe when the time and place were more appropriate.
“You work with Reed?” Luis asked as they stopped near the nurses’ station in the bustling ER. “The injured firefighter?”
“I do. He’s on a different crew than mine, but we’re all in the same battalion.” She swallowed hard against the lingering constriction in her throat. “It’s like a big family.”
“That’s nice,” Luis said, turning his attention to a chart the nurse behind the desk handed him. “Your colleague is in for a tough battle.”
“Is there any word on how the surgery went?” she asked, glad for a topic of discussion.
“I can’t discuss the specifics because of privacy laws, but suffice it to say that when I left the OR upstairs, he was holding his own. With luck they got the bleeding under control and we can move on to evaluating his leg injury.”
“Will he walk again?”
“I can’t give you a prognosis on that at the moment, I’m afraid.” Luis continued jotting notes in the chart he was working on. “It will be a long recovery either way. Given the extent of the initial injury, there will be nerve and tissue damage that will take time to heal. Physical therapy and bed rest are definitely in his future whether he keeps that leg or not. It will just depend on what the focus is—restoring strength and mobility or retraining him to use a prosthetic.”
“Will he be able to return to active duty as a firefighter?” Stacy asked, her heart aching for his family and what they were going through. “He’ll have his pension, but I know Reed, and he’d hate sitting behind a desk all day.”
“We won’t know until after the surgery and the ortho consult.” He glanced over at her. “But if everything works out well, I don’t see why not. They’ve made huge strides in technology and many people with prosthetics can do just as well, and in some cases better, than their counterparts without disabilities. That would be up to your department, however, and what the physical therapists have to say once they work with and evaluate him. We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here, though.”
Now that Stacy had a chance to really study him as he worked, she could see tiny lines near the corners of his eyes that hadn’t been there before, and a hint of dark stubble just beneath the surface of his strong jaw. She wondered how long his shift had been, if he had someone waiting at home for him once he was done…
Not that it was any of her business. Nope. She was not looking for a relationship. She had plenty enough on her plate as it was with work and Miguel and now the hurricane heading in their general direction. It was just that if he was involved with someone else, that would add another dimension to him finding out he had a son from a previous liaison. She needed to tread carefully, since the last thing Miguel needed right now was more upset to his schedule. With his mild Asperger’s, routine was the glue that held their little world together. And most of all, she didn’t want her son hurt.
As someone who knew the struggle of being an only child, raised by a single mother, Stacy knew all too well the pain of letting someone in, only to have them walk away or disappoint you. She remembered when her own father had walked out on them. At first, she’d cried and cried, running to the window each time a car drove by their house, thinking it might be him. Then, after a while, she’d turned the pain and hurt inward, thinking it was her fault he was gone. That it must’ve been something she’d done, or if she’d only been better, somehow, her father wouldn’t have left them. Eventually she’d internalized that feeling of never being enough and translated it into constantly pushing herself to do more, be more, hoping someday it might be enough to keep those she loved from leaving.
Stacy refused to have her son experience that same trauma by exposing Miguel to a man who might just as likely disappear from their lives as quickly as he’d arrived. She’d never really explained to Miguel about where his father was, and luckily he hadn’t asked. It had always just been the two of them. Now, though, as he was getting older, she feared the questions would come and, with them, the knowledge that he’d been a surprise baby. But in the best possible way. Stacy couldn’t image her life without her son. He was her reason for being, her reason for getting up every day, her reason for everything.
There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for Miguel, including telling Luis the truth.
Soon. Just not yet.
They stood there a moment, neither knowing what to say, until finally Stacy spotted Reed’s wife and daughter in the hall and seized on her opportunity to escape. “Uh, I should get back to my crew and Reed’s family. Excuse me. It was nice seeing you again.”
“I’d like to have dinner,” Luis said as she was walking away, halting her in her tracks. “To discuss coordination of our protocols for the hurricane.”
Her heart thudded harder against her rib cage. The hurricane. Right. “Uh, I…”
“Stacy,” he said, handing the chart back to the nurse then stepping toward her, a hint of his tanned chest visible through the vee of his light green scrub shirt. She concentrated there and not on his eyes, those too-perceptive eyes that sent tingles of heat through her like fireworks and always saw way more than she wanted to reveal. Like how nervous she was around him. Like how he still affected her, even after all these years. Like how almost five years later and a lifetime of changes apart, her attraction to him burned bright as the sun. “Just dinner. That’s all. How about tonight? Say, 8:00 p.m., after my shift? Unless you have other plans already.”
There it was. Her out. She seized on it with both hands, even as she cursed herself a coward. “Actually, I do have other plans tonight. Sorry.” Namely, mac and cheese and homework with Miguel. “Maybe another time.”
She took off before he could ask any more questions, the weight of his stare prickling the back of her neck all the way down the corridor.
First Response in Florida Duet
In the midst of the hurricane…
…will she find safety in his arms?
Vet Lucy Miller is happy with her quiet, ordered life. But when a tropical storm bears down on her Florida Keys animal sanctuary, the arrival of devastatingly gorgeous, yet equally guarded, emergency medic Jackson Durand brings disorder—and desire! He’s there to rescue her, but Lucy suspects her red-hot reaction to Jackson will be much more dangerous than the storm raging overhead…
Firefighter Stacy Williams knows two things about her return to Key West. Her promotion gives her the security she needs to raise her son, and it will be almost impossible to suppress the memories of her passionate night with Dr. Luis Durand. Almost…until working on the hurricane response team brings an encounter with the tall, dark and nomadic doc! And the chance to make her life-changing confession…
It’s April, and in the Hyland house that means it’s time to try not to kill the veggies my girls have been begging me to grow for years. Here is the thing…I covet my neighbor’s beautiful bounty, but my thumb has no touches of green. I joke that plants see me coming and push their nearly dead friend forward.
Come on Fred…take one for the team!
This year my brother-in-law (an avid gardener) set my girls up with twelve seedlings…each. So there are now twenty-four plants spouting on a table in my dining room. My co-authors have both voiced their displeasure that the plants are taking up prime window sun space.
If all goes well, we will have cantaloupe, cucumbers (my oldest wants to make pickles), tomatoes, watermelon, carrots and lettuce. Plus, I promised I would buy strawberry plants. May as well go all in right? Anyone else trying their hand at gardening? Or do you have a bright beautiful green thumb?
While I have never been a big gardener, I have always been impressed by them (and secretly jealous). So my next medical, The Pediatrician’s Twin Bombshell, has a heroine that loves creating green spaces.
Happy April! March seemed to go by in a blur. I feel like I was sucker punched and missed it, but I didn’t. I think April might go by just as fast and I figured out why, deadlines. Yep, that was my problem in March and now April.
Of course, deadlines do bring about new books, so that’s a positive spin!
And here are some brand new books that were once an author’s DREADED deadline. 😉
Also, we’re celebrating a MILESTONE this month with Marion Lennox’s amazing 125th book! Congratulations!
He’s trouble with a capital T! Can she walk away? Starting a new job is never easy. But for Dr. Kirsten, the hardest part is cracking the enigma that is Snowden—the surgeon she’ll be working very closely with! Kirsten can’t help but ask how he can he be so standoffish…yet so irresistible. Still, Snowden is clear: a fling is all he can offer. Can Kirsten say yes and still protect her heart? A New York Bachelors’ Club novel
New York Bachelors’ Club duet Book 1 – Consequences of Their New York Night Book 2 – The Trouble with the Tempting Doc
Just one night… …double the consequences! Dr. Adeline Turner is horrified when Dr. Elias Garcia arrives as the chief rival for her dream fellowship. She could really do without their instant—and inconvenient—mutual attraction! Burned before, Adeline never mixes business with pleasure. Until Elias has Adeline breaking all her rules. But when she finds out that she’s pregnant with twins, they’re suddenly forced to rethink their dreams—together!
A wounded princess, an off-limits surgeon Can they heal each other? Adjusting to life as an amputee, independent medic Princess Georgiana refuses help from anyone. Yet using surgeon Edward Lawrence’s state-of-the-art clinic would speed her recovery and escape from the palace for good… Rehabilitation with the gorgeous—and off-limits—Ed means letting her guard down, something Georgiana finds hard… But can Ed make her see just how strong her scars make her and how much she has to offer?
Can he prove… …her heart is safe with him? For single dad Dr. Angus Knox and his little son, a move to Shearwater Island for a slower pace is just what they need. Angus just didn’t count on the intense pull he feels to new colleague nurse Freya Mayberry! She’s super professional, but there’s something behind her smile that leaves Angus wondering who the real Freya is and how he can persuade her to let him into her world…
An irresistible fling that changed his life forever… What’s the key to a happy life? Well, for relationship-weary Dr. Kaleb, it’s simple… Keep love out of the equation! But when diagnostician Nicola is introduced as his new colleague, life gets complicated. Why? Nicola is the beautiful stranger Kaleb spent one incredible night with—and couldn’t forget! Yet, it’s another unexpected arrival—in nine months’ time!—that will truly shake up Kaleb’s world… A New York Bachelors’ Club novel
New York Bachelors’ Club duet Book 1 – Consequences of Their New York Night Book 2 – The Trouble with the Tempting Doc
She’s tempted… But can she trust him to stay? Mallory’s life is turned upside down when she finds a sexy French stranger in her house. Handsome doc Josue pushes all the right buttons, and before long helicopter pilot Mallory is in his arms and in his bed! But while passion sizzles, Mallory can’t be sure of what’s in his heart. Josue has always run from love…but will Mallory’s life-changing revelation be enough to change his mind?
What’s on your reader or to be read pile this month?
Some years back, I tried to talk my editor into letting me write a plague book. Archaeologists working in London in an area that would be dug up for a tube line (all right, the London Cross-Rail) and finding a burial pit, and the plague… My editor did the usual ‘hahaha – no. I know what you’d do with it and it is NOT a romance’, so I had to rethink. Hence Plague Squirrels – aka my working title for ‘It Started with No Strings’.
That particular year, I won the RoNA Rose at the RNA Awards (for Bound by a Baby).
It was a strange, exciting year.
This year has also been a strange, exciting year. Strange because – well, the pandemic we’re living through is quite close to what I’d envisioned with my original plague book. Exciting, because this happened at the RNA awards last month. (Although it’s not a medical, I reckon Meds reader would enjoy my scientist heroine. And you get to learn lots of exciting facts about butterflies. And glass. And there’s a matchmaker from beyond the grave. Hence the title of ‘A Will, a Wish, and a Wedding’.)
When you’re a prizewinning author, your editors are all happy with you and they say yes to your ideas, right? So, all happy and bouncy, I pitched the idea of Bridgerton meets House. A Regency doctor hero whose older brother dies so he has to become the duke. The heroine is a bluestocking and can help him in his work. All the medical advancements of the age. Lovely super-duper ground-breaking medical romance – right?
Editor: ‘hahaha – no.’
So it’s back to the drawing board. I haven’t quite sorted out the new outline yet. But I’ve been doing a lot of plot-stitching, and this kit happened to be the spit of my elder spaniel. (22,000 stitches or so. 16 shades of brown. Well, with a bit of white.) Once the framer’s open again, I’ll take it in to be sorted out. Or I might wait and do a second picture, with the pattern based on a picture, because my younger spaniel insists on equal treatment! (He turned one last week. I made him a special doggy birthday cake. As you can see… it went down well! Battersea Dogs’ Home recipe, with mashed potato icing…)
It’s been a strange year. But I’m grateful for my family who live with me, the dogs, the friends who kept me sane, and for the readers who’ve read my stories and kept me working.
How’s this year been for you?
Kate’s latest book is Surprise Heir for the Princess – it isn’t a Med and she didn’t manage to sneak a dog into it, but if you love the film Roman Holiday, have ever wondered how you can get privacy in an age where everyone has the phone and the internet in their pocket, and you love sandy beaches or bluebell woods or starry skies, then you might enjoy it 😉
It was such a pleasure to see how many people participated in the Medicals Romance Includes You pitch session, and the variety of plots was impressive! As an author who joined the medicals family through So You Think You Can Write, I know how nerve-wracking pitching must have been. Congratulations to everyone who put themselves out there, and even if you didn’t get that ‘thumbs up’ from one of the editors, please don’t give up.
We all have stories to tell, and you can be sure there are people in the world who want to hear them.
I want to hear them.
Just prior to the pitch session, a lady contacted me through my website and asked for my opinion on her pitch. I was extremely flattered, because this profession can be an extremely isolated one, where I write and write and never know if what I’m putting out is really liked. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really think about it much anymore (and I rarely, if ever, read reviews) but it is nice to hear from the occasional reader.
Giving her a few pointers took just a few minutes of my time, and I wished her all the best, hoping she’d attract the editors’ attention, because I’d like to see how she handled her plot.
So, that’s my next point to all those hopeful authors out there.
Don’t let anyone’s opinion make you think you’re laboring in vain, even if it feels that way.
If this is something you really want to do, keep trying. Bad writing, if done frequently, can lead to good writing, as you keep learning and find your voice.
On a slightly less upbeat note, I saw a few pitches that had me thinking that perhaps that particular person hadn’t read any Harlequin/Mills & Boon medicals. There were plots points and situations I’d think many more times than twice about pitching to my editor. High drama is wonderful, but there are ways to take that to extremes and risk turning off the readers.
So, if you’re determined to break into the Medicals line, read the books. That’s really the only way to figure out what the editors are looking for. While preferred plots, characters, etc. change, the tone of the line remains fairly constant.
There were also a few pitches with typos, and missing punctuation. Now, let’s all be honest, typos happen to EVERYBODY. Yet, if ever there was a time to get obsessive about what you’ve written, it’s when trying to attract an editor or agent’s attention. Typos will get you attention—of the wrong sort!
But the bottom line really is, congratulations to everyone who pitched, because it takes guts to do! To those who got the nod, all I can say is, “Get writing! We’re all waiting…”
As the world slowly comes out of the dreadful fog that was 2020 there is the hope that, with vaccinations, we will be able to go about our lives more normally very soon. In Australia we have been relatively lucky and domestic travel is opening up even while our international borders stay closed. As the northern hemisphere sees summer approaching a literary trip to Bondi Beach in Sydney might be something to enjoy.
My latest book is the first in my four-book Bondi Medics series about the Carlson siblings – Lily, Jet, Poppy and Daisy. This is Poppy’s story.
‘Easy? Keep an eye on Backpacker’s Express, I reckon we might have trouble.’
Jet Carlson’s voice came through the radio, catching Ryder’s attention as he stood beside the lifeguard buggy. Jet was up in the circular lifeguard tower that overlooked Bondi Beach, keeping watch over the one-kilometre curve of white sand, issuing updates to the lifeguards on patrol. Ryder reached into the buggy and picked up his binoculars and scanned the beach, looking towards the troublesome rip to the south. He picked out a dark-haired man swimming alone where the first waves were breaking as the Pacific Ocean rolled into the shore.
He picked up the walkie talkie, certain he was looking at the same man Jet had spotted. ‘Copy that, Central, I see him,’ he responded.
He stood by the buggy as he kept his eyes on the swimmer. The water to the man’s left was deceptively calm between two sets of rolling waves. Ryder knew the tide was turning and the calm water indicated a passage of water flowing out to sea. If the man got any closer, he’d be pulled out to sea with the tide.
It was the danger period, after lunch on a hot Sunday. It wasn’t peak season yet; it was only the middle of spring and school hadn’t finished for the year but the beach was still busy. Holiday makers, shift workers and backpackers all flocked to Bondi at any time of the year. The tide was going out and the notorious rip was going to cause grief. Most likely to an unsuspecting tourist. No matter how hard the lifeguards tried it was impossible to get all the beachgoers to swim between the flags. Ryder knew it was sometimes because they didn’t understand English or the dangers or where to swim, at other times they just chose to ignore the lifeguards and the risks, thinking their swimming ability was better than it was or that the warnings were some kind of joke or scaremongering tactics and the treacherous conditions wouldn’t affect them. It didn’t help matters that the main access point to the beach was closest to the dangerous southern end. But no matter what the reason was for swimmers ending up in the wrong place, the lifeguards’ job was to look after them all. The drunk, the ignorant, the stubborn, the unlucky.
Life was precious and Ryder felt a strong sense of responsibility and, at the end of the day, a strong sense of satisfaction in a job well done whether that had been saving a life or just preventing a disaster. Not every day brought an emergency although there was always some excitement but a quiet day on the beach was preferable to one filled with drama. Either way he enjoyed the work. It was interesting and varied and he met people from all over the world and from all walks of life and he reckoned that would hold him in good stead for his future career as a psychologist. If he could cope with the Bondi beachgoers, he could cope with anything.
He hadn’t worked at Bondi for long. It had only been a couple of months since he’d been offered a position and had become one of several lifeguards employed by the local council to patrol the popular beach three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. It was a highly coveted job and usually went to qualified Sydneysiders who had grown up surfing the waves at the local beaches and had years of experience of the conditions. He’d had years of experience as a surfer and as a lifeguard at Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia but that was on the opposite side of the country, on the shores of the Indian Ocean. But the Pacific Ocean was familiar to him – he’d spent his childhood surfing the breaks at Byron Bay on the coast north of Bondi. The ocean on Australia’s east coast had been home to him until one fateful day, just before his eighteenth birthday, when he’d been uprooted from everything that was special to him and moved thousands of kilometres away to the other side of the continent.
Eventually he’d settled in his new home and when he’d arrived in Bondi, part way through his transcontinental road trip, he hadn’t planned on staying but he’d been offered a temporary position and it had been too good to refuse.
He was happy with temporary, he knew he couldn’t stay forever, he was needed back west, but for the moment this was good. Casual work would allow him to extend his break and make sure he was refreshed and energised when he went home.
It was a perfect situation, he thought as he had a quick glance along the beach, trying to figure out if there was anyone else keeping an eye on the man he had under watch. Was anyone else aware of his position? In situations like this it could be helpful to speak to someone who knew the swimmer. It could help determine how competent they were in the water. But he didn’t really need confirmation, he’d bet his next pay check on the fact that this guy wasn’t a strong swimmer. He could see him pushing off the bottom, not wanting to get out of his depth, but the outgoing tide was already taking him further from the beach and the minute he got washed off the sandbar he’d be in deep water.
As Ryder watched a wave broke over the man’s head, submerging him. That second or two when he went under was long enough to make him lose his footing. As he surfaced, he was swept into the channel and away from the beach.
He was in trouble.
‘Easy?’ Jet’s voice came through the radio, using Ryder’s nick name.
‘I’m on it.’ Ryder leapt out of the buggy, whipped off his distinctive blue lifeguard shirt, grabbed the rescue board from the rack on the side of the all-terrain vehicle and sprinted into the surf. He threw his board in front of him and dived onto it. He paddled strongly out past the small waves that were crashing onto the shore, past the swimmers who were oblivious to the drama unfolding a few metres off the beach, past the break.
He scanned the sea as pulled his board through the water and caught a brief glimpse of the man’s head as it appeared behind a wave before he lost sight of him again. He dug deep, paddling harder, knowing time was of the essence. His shoulder muscles bunched and already he could feel the burn but he was used to that. He was breathing deeply, his lungs straining and he could feel his heart racing but he wouldn’t stop. He was getting close now.
He crested a small wave just in time to see the man go under again.
Two more strokes.
He reached over the side of the board, plunging his arm into the water up to his elbow. He scooped his arm through the water but came up empty. He could see the man’s dark hair. He leaned over further, plunging his whole arm into the ocean, the sea reaching to his armpit, and this time his fingers grabbed hold of the man’s head. He pulled him to the surface by a fistful of hair. He knew it would hurt but having your hair pulled was a small price to pay in exchange for your life.
He dragged the man from the water, holding him by one arm. He wasn’t breathing. Ryder needed to get him securely onto the rescue board and back to shore. The man was of slight build and probably weighed no more than seventy kilograms. Ryder was six foot three inches tall, fit and strong, a muscular ninety kilograms with no excess weight but even so, he strained with the effort of pulling a dead weight out of the water. He grabbed his patient under his armpits and hauled him up, draping him across the board. He pulled his legs out of the ocean and waited to see if he would start breathing on his own.
The man coughed twice, expelling sea water, and began breathing. Now Ryder just had to get him back to the beach.
He got the man balanced, getting him to lie on his stomach in front of him. It was a long paddle back to shore and he didn’t want the board tipping. He didn’t want to lose his patient and have to go through the process of getting him out of the water a second time.
Poppy changed into her swimming costume, shorts and a t-shirt as Lily left for work. She’d go to the beach for a quick swim she decided, say hi to her brother and then come back and make a start on dinner.
She checked her phone for what felt like the hundredth time as she slid her feet into her flip flops. Still nothing. She tossed it back on the bed. She wouldn’t take it to the beach, she wasn’t planning to be gone for long, if Craig called while she was out she’d call him back later.
She left her car parked on the road in front of the house and walked down Edward Street towards the beach. After consecutive six-hour days in the car driving from Brisbane to Sydney she needed to stretch her legs and the fifteen-minute walk to Campbell Parade would help to clear the cobwebs.
She turned onto the pedestrian path and walked along the Promenade past the skate park and the mural wall towards the Lifeguard Tower.
She stopped before she reached the tower and lent on the railing and looked out over the beach. The sun was behind her and the sea shone in the afternoon light. The sand was crisp and white and, despite the fact that it was not yet the summer holidays the beach was busy. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the sea air and stood for a moment enjoying the feeling of warm sun on her skin as she watched the water.
The waves were small but she could spot the rips, the deceptive smooth waters between breaking waves. She had years of experience as a surfer, growing up in Byron Bay she and her siblings had learned to surf almost before they could walk, but she could see why the tourists and the locals who weren’t familiar with the ocean could be fooled into thinking the rips were safe spots to swim.
She turned to the south to see if she could pick out Lily’s house perched on the cliff before she spun on her heels and headed for the circular lifeguard tower. She knocked on the blue door and waited, if Jet wasn’t in there someone would be able to tell her where he was.
‘Poppy! You’re here.’ Jet grinned as he swung the door open. His welcoming smile was wide, his perfect teeth white and even in his tanned face. His blonde hair was pulled back into a messy man bun but that was all Poppy had time to absorb before he stepped out of the tower and wrapped her up in a tight hug. He stood well over six feet tall, and even with his slim but muscular athlete’s build he managed to make her feel small. She was five feet seven inches, not short for a girl, but Jet made her feel petite.
He released her and dragged her into the tower where he introduced her to the other lifeguards.
‘Guys, this is my little sister, Poppy. Poppy met the guys – Gibbo, Bluey and Dutchy.’
Poppy smiled at Jet’s use of the guys’ nicknames.
‘Are you going to hang around here for a while?’ he asked as Poppy finished saying hello.
‘No, I just wanted to say hi. I’m going to have a swim and then head home. I hear you’re coming for dinner.’
Jet nodded and looked as if he was about to say something else when the radio on the desk crackled into life.
‘Central, this is Easy, we’ve got a problem down here, south of the flags.’
He held up one hand in Poppy’s direction, asking her to wait as he grabbed the radio. ‘Go ahead, Ryder.’
‘The tourist I pulled from Backpacker’s, he’s not looking great. I’m bringing him back to the tower for an assessment.’
Poppy’s ears pricked up as she listened to the exchange. Ryder was an unusual name. She’d only ever known one and he had been Jet’s best friend when they were at high school. He’d also been her first crush. But the Ryder she knew had moved away when he was seventeen, breaking her young, impressionable heart in the process – although she’d kept that to herself – and she hadn’t seen him since.
It couldn’t be him though, could it? Surely Jet would have said something.
‘Ryder?’ she said as Jet put the radio down.
‘Yeah, Ryder Evans, you remember him?’
Of course, she remembered him.
She could feel herself colouring as she thought about the last time she’d seen him. She hoped Jet didn’t notice the blush she could feel creeping up her neck.
She nodded. ‘You never told me he was in Sydney.’
‘Didn’t I?’ Jet shrugged. ‘Probably figured you wouldn’t care, you haven’t seen him for the best part of twelve years,’ he said over his shoulder as he went to open the door to the tower.
He had a point. He wouldn’t think it was important. It wasn’t important really, although that didn’t stop a frisson of nervousness from shooting through her at the thought of seeing him again. She hadn’t thought about him for years, had finally let the idea of him go, yet at the mere mention of his name all the old feelings rose to the surface along with all the memories of how much he’d meant to her teenage self. She could instantly recall all her teenage fantasies and the memories made her blush.
The lifeguard buggy pulled to a stop at the bottom of the metal stairs that led from the sand to the tower and Poppy’s jaw dropped as a lifeguard jumped out. Tall and muscular, tanned and fit.
Was that Ryder?
She managed to close her mouth as she watched him help his patient out of the buggy and up the stairs.
She hung back, out of the way, as Ryder got the man into the tower and onto the treatment plinth. Jet went to assist, instructing Bluey to keep an eye on the beach. Poppy stayed near the desk by the windows, the lifeguards had a job to do and she didn’t want to be a nuisance but staying out of the way also gave her a chance to check Ryder out unobserved. She knew he hadn’t noticed her; he was too focussed on his patient.
The last time she’d seen him there had been a hint of the man he would become, of the man waiting to emerge, but he’d still been a gangly teenager. He’d been tall but he’d yet to have a fast growth spurt or develop the muscle definition that would come with young adulthood. But all traces of adolescence had disappeared now. Now there was no hiding the man. And no ignoring the feeling of warmth that was spreading through her belly and into her groin. Poppy leant on the desk, taking the weight off her suddenly shaky legs.
Fortunately Ryder had his back to her and wouldn’t be aware of her reaction but she was very aware of him.
He’d grown even taller and he’d definitely filled out. He’d developed muscles where he hadn’t had them before. He wore only a pair of black boardshorts with “Lifeguard” emblazoned across his hips and she had plenty of opportunity to admire the view of sculpted muscles and smooth tanned skin. His shoulders were broad, his biceps bulging, his waist narrow. He looked fit. He looked healthy. He looked magnificent.
She ran her gaze up the length of his spine and up his neck. She could see where the knobs of his vertebrae disappeared into his hair. He’d always had amazing hair, dark blond and thick, and at almost twenty-nine years of age it seemed he’d lost none of it.
Her gaze traced the line of his jaw. It was strong and square. He looked good, even better than she remembered, and she felt another rush of blood to her cheeks as her heart skittered in her chest.
Her hands gripped the edge of the desk as she observed him, keeping her fixed in place and she wondered at the involuntary response. Was she stopping herself from crossing the room? While her rational mind might tell her that Ryder’s unexpected appearance was of no consequence it seemed her body had other ideas. Her palms were clammy and her mouth was dry and she suddenly felt like the sixteen-year-old schoolgirl she’d been when she’d last seen him.
When she had kissed him.
And he had kissed her back.
She knew from talking to her girlfriends that first kisses often weren’t anywhere near as fabulous as they’d dreamed about but the kiss she and Ryder had shared had been everything she’d hoped for and more. It had been the biggest moment of her young life. It had changed her life.
She’d fallen in love.
She had only been a teenager but that didn’t make it any less real, any less all encompassing, any less all consuming.
And it hadn’t made it any less painful when he’d walked out of her life.
In Australia this book has been released as a print duo with Meredith Webber’s 103rd (and final) book – amazing!!
It’s officially spring here in the Western hemisphere, but I’m not feeling it. I hate to admit it, but at this time of year I actually miss living in Canada. Just to be clear, I often miss Canada but usually for very different reasons, which usually include the family and friends I’m away from. Especially now, after a year of separation and at what I hope is the tail end of the lockdown.
No, Canadian weather isn’t something I usually miss, now that I’m living in Florida. Any of my Canadian friends will tell you that I don’t like winter. Ice on the ground? Snow blowing sideways? Days and days of grey skies and then, when the sun comes out it means the temperature drops? Ah, no thank you.
Sometimes, even when it’s supposedly spring in Ontario, that includes the occasional snow flurry, along with very cold rain. Often spring seems like just winter’s younger, just as ugly brother. Here it’s 84 degrees, while in London, Ontario, where I used to live, it’s about 48 degrees, at the time of writing. Now, I prefer warm over cold, usually, but the reality is that spring in Central Florida actually often feels more like summer come early.
One of the things I enjoyed in Canada was the visual evidence of spring slowly but surely coming into its own. Red buds on the trees, showing the first tentative evidence of leaves bursting forth. Little green sprouts courageously pushing through winter’s grime, reaching for the sun.
Then, suddenly, front gardens showing hints of color, as the bulbs begin to bloom. Tiny little wild flowers, which some gardeners may consider weeds but I love, peeping through the grass. And then the glory of the cherry and crabapple trees in full glorious blossom outside the office I worked at.
Once cameras on phones became a thing (yes, my sweet summer children, once upon a time this wasn’t even conceivable LOL!) I loved taking pictures of these signs, and my heart was happy. It was a tangible way to know another snowstorm was unlikely, and I’d turn my face up to the sun (when it was around) sort of like a flower myself, yearning for new beginnings.
Please don’t think that where I live now doesn’t have its own particular beauty, and signs of spring. I still take pictures of tiny flowers and some not so tiny ones, but now it doesn’t quite have the same meaning. Before it was a transition from a season I disliked to one that held the promise of really warm weather on the way. Now it’s Florida ramping up to become ever-so-slightly unbearable, unless you’re in a boat, on the water, slathered in sunscreen.
Yeah, now I’m left asking myself, “What on earth are you complaining about? Boating season is around the corner…”
Now, for the promised cover reveal!
Here is my M&B UK cover for Island Fling with the Surgeon, which will it the shelves in August. I love it! This book takes readers back to my fictional island of St. Eustace (not the be confused with the very real island of Sint Eustatius, in the Dutch Leeward Islands), first introduced in Best Friend to Doctor Right. Here’s the blurb:
Or more than she bargained for?
When Dr. Genevieve Broussard convinces nurse Zach Lewin to enter a fake relationship to help keep her meddling mom off her back, she’s confident there’s no danger of it turning into anything more. Her first priority has to be her surgical career, and both Gen and Zach are still reeling from recent betrayals. But as the summer heat in the Caribbean loosens inhibitions, their fake “affair” is at risk of becoming all too real…
As a writer I’d like to be able to subscribe to certain people’s WhatsApp conversations, you know?
I think they’d be great character studies. Imagine if you could spy on relationships, especially romantic ones, from the sensual/ suggestive sexting to the sad point at which you’ve sunk so low you’re actually revelling in your own passive aggression, writing snarky one-liners, totally misusing grammar and emojis thanks to the pathetic tears clouding your eyes.
I wonder if I could start an app of my own for this. Imagine, if you break up with someone, you ‘donate’ your digital relationship to a romance writer looking for inspiration – someone who can dredge the life and love back out of it, wrap it all up in a happy ending and use it as a gift to set you both (and others) free.
Maybe it would be a paid service for those who’ve been scorned, and the ‘buyer’ would get a say in how their own story should play out in the romanticised version of their shoddy excuse for a relationship.
Together we could shame a thousand exes in a million different ways.
Did Mark send you an ‘I’m just not ready for a relationship right now’ text, and then bail? Well, sucks for you Mark, cos you know what’s happening in my next Mills & Boon…
You know the surprise ranch that was left to you by your millionaire uncle, Mark? Well, his big blue shiny tractor’s gonna roll right over your smug, chiselled, fictionally-embellished face (that still sounds a lot like you, Mark), right before the prized bull you loved so much tramples on what’s left of your commitment-phobic carcass.
And that delicious woman whose soul you drank from and dismissed like a teabag? She’s not even crying at your funeral, Mark, don’t flatter yourself. She’s too busy having sex with your hot best friend in the wine cellar, writhing in a sticky pool of gratuitously-poured Chateau Margaux, which you would have been framed for stealing, had you still been alive.
How do you feel about dumping people by text message now, Mark?
EVERYONE knows that book is about you.
I think I’d need investors for this. And lawyers. And money. And more of a business plan. And no morals. And quite possibly, therapy. But hey, it’s something to think about in lockdown none-the-less.
I should tell you, there is no Mark. He is simply every weak man there ever was who broke a heart. My own man is quite lovely, thankfully.
But if YOU have a Mark, and words you wish you’d said but didn’t, do let me know. I’m always looking for inspiration. Conflict is key after all.
Alternatively, (because love is lovely too) perhaps you have a story about an exceptional man-person you wish to see hunked up/praised in a spirit-lifting, not-so-‘literary’ novel? Holla my way, ladies. I am at your service.