The Writing Life

Farewell to a Furry Co-author

Long before I saw my name on the spine of a book, I liked to say that my puppies were my co-authors. No, they didn’t add much to the story line, but they were always there to snuggle when a rejection note came in and later helped keep me company on late nights writing for deadline. A few weeks ago, I had to say goodbye to one of my dear friends, and I wanted to give a farewell to one of the goodest boys ever.

Domino was a pound puppy. When we brought him home, the shelter told us he was a six month old Lab and Dalmatian mix, and they thought he would be around 50 pounds. I still remember the vet’s face as she asked if it was okay if he was bigger. I said yes, but what are we talking?

He was a three month old Great Dane mix. We had many conversations over the years about the fact that just because he could put his head on the table, didn’t mean he got too. A lesson made more difficult when my girls came along. As toddlers they believed it was their mission in life to ensure he ate at least a part of their dinner every night. A mission he fully supported.

Domino was my gentle giant. He never met anyone who wasn’t a friend. In his younger years, he accompanied us on walks all over town, gladly taking any of the pets on the head offered. He barked whenever the doorbell rang and then promptly ran up the stairs to avoid whatever mischief might have been behind the door (brave was not an accurate adjective).

Agnes Sligh Turnbull is quoted as saying, Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really. And I couldn’t agree more.

He was not great at editing, in fact he couldn’t tell a run on sentence from an expertly crafted one. But he was always at my feet while I typed away. Or laying his head on my lab to beg for a treat – which worked almost always (writers do love to procrastinate).

We still have out Abby girl, and a rescue near us has a lovable big guy that we are going to visit. But Domino will always hold a very special place in my heart, as all my lost fur buddies do.

So here’s to Domino…may the fields be green and the tennis balls plentiful until we meet again.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, The Writing Life

Much ado, by Kate Hardy

Kate’s spaniels

I was going to write something else today (ha ha, sewing related…), but events on UK media (social and otherwise) this weekend have made me so cross that I’m going to write a rant. (A measured one, but still a rant.) Even a cuddle with my lovely pooches (above) couldn’t restore my equilibrium.

“The worst kind of wimmins fiction” – that’s what I (and my fellow M&B authors) write, according to Jeanette Winterson, who burned her own books this weekend to show her displeasure at being compared to it.

Now. Firstly, she would’ve been consulted by her publisher and signed off the blurb and cover. Surely that was the time to say ‘no, I’m not happy’, not when they were printed? (This is what makes me think it was a badly thought-out publicity stunt, rather than the tantrum she later claimed it was. That, and the fact she sent a photograph to the media. If you have a tantrum about something, do you really send evidence to a newspaper?)

Secondly, there’s the burning of books. That always makes me think of Bebelplatz and also Fahrenheit 451. It’s really not OK. 

Thirdly, there’s that dismissive swipe at a whole genre (one mainly written by women) AND by extension to its readers. And that is what really, really made my blood boil. Nobody has the right to sneer at other people’s choice of reading.

And just what is so wrong with romantic fiction with a happy ending?

I’ve had letters from readers who’ve told me that whenever they’ve had a really bad day, they reach for one of my books because they know it’s going to make them feel that the world is a better place. I’m very proud to have helped someone through a rough time. And, as a reader, I’ve done the same. When my dad had dementia (and visits were very, very hard emotionally) the thing that got me through it were books. Whenever life has been tough, I’ve lost myself in a book (often romance, precisely because of the happy ending) for long enough to let me cope again. 

Making the world feel a better place: I happen to think that’s something to be celebrated, not sneered at.  

So I want to do a shout-out to my M&B author friends. We include issues that women deal with on a daily basis – from divorce to infertility to miscarriage to bereavement to abuse, to being part of the sandwich generation caring for teenagers and elderly parents, and more. Our characters show that it’s possible to move on from the tough stuff to a happier place. That you can learn to trust again, to try again, to overcome the past and become who you want to be. That love will get you through. And if that message helps just ONE person… then it’s done something worthwhile. 

I’m proud to write books like this, and to write them with other authors who do the same thing. And it’s inclusive. It doesn’t matter how old we are, what our skin colour is, what our nationality is, whether we’re gay or straight or somewhere else on that continuum. We’re all about love.

And that definitely deserves to be celebrated.

Kate’s latest duet – about two doctor brothers and a kidney transplant – is available in August, and can be preordered now.

Excerpts, Guest Blogs, Origin Stories

Origin Story: Kathy Douglass

Today we welcome Harlequin Special Edition author, Kathy Douglass to our Origin Stories feature.

Books have always been an important part of my life. I remember as a kid my mother reading Hop on Pop and Go Dog, Go to me and my siblings. I loved those times. But as much as I enjoyed having a book read to me, I loved being able to read to myself. I loved the freedom of being able to escape into the pages of a book whenever I wanted. And let me tell you, that was quite often. 

Our house was filled with books. I’m talking floor to ceiling, two books high and two books deep bookshelves. We had boxes of books in the attic as well as the basement. When I was a kid, I “found” age-appropriate books on the dining room table or the piano bench. I was an adult before I realized that my parents were actually leaving the books out for me (and my brothers and sisters) to read. 

As I got older, I began to go through the boxes in the attic and basement. I found some of my older brother’s Hardy Boys and some of my older sister’s Bobbsey Twins and became an instant fan of both. But it never occurred to me that I could actually write books of my own. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I even considered writing. 

The first time I thought of writing, I was on vacation with my best friend. As the plane was landing at the airport, I remember wishing I had a pen and paper so I could describe what I was feeling. And then a story formed in my mind. I told my friend about it and she agreed that it sounded intriguing. And then we went on with our vacation.

Fast forward a few years and I’m a mother with two small children. I had an idea for a story and once more told my best friend about it. She reminded me that I had talked about writing a book all those years ago.  I had forgotten. Somehow in the busyness of life, I had forgotten my dream. Well, this time I was determined that I wasn’t going to let my dream vanish without even attempting to make it a reality.

In the beginning finding the time and energy to write was hard. My responsibilities hadn’t vanished just because I had renewed my interest in writing. I bought some spiral notebooks and when my kids were in preschool or napping, I wrote some really horrible romances. And then one day, my husband surprised me with a computer. He said if I was going to be an author, I needed the proper tools. 

His faith in me sustained me when the rejection letters piled up. “The next book will be the one,” he’d say.

Eventually his prediction came true. 

My first book with Harlequin Special Edition, How to Steal the Lawman’s Heart, was published in February, 2017. Since then, I have published many more books with them. My latest, Redemption on Rivers Ranch, will be in stores on May, 25.

Excerpt: Redemption on Rivers Ranch

Lights were blazing in the house. No one was supposed to be there.

Carson considered calling the sheriff but decided against it. Only the world’s worst criminal would turn on every light in the house. He’d assess the situation and go from there.

Pulling into the driveway, he noticed an SUV with out-of-state license plates. Mrs. Johnson had given him a key to the house, so he headed up onto the porch, opened the door and stepped inside.

Whoever was inside had made themselves at home. They’d dropped suitcases by the stairs leading to the upstairs bedrooms. Music was blaring from the back of the house. Someone was singing at the top of her lungs. The fact that she was nowhere in the vicinity of the right key didn’t stop her from singing with gusto. Her attempt to hit a high note pierced his ears and propelled him forward if only to save his hearing.

A child laughed.

What in the world was going on here?

Carson stepped into the kitchen. A woman and girl of about seven were dancing around the old Formica table, trying to convince a boy who looked about ten to join them. The boy was leaning against the sink, his arms folded over his chest, clearly uninterested in participating in the revelry. The woman laughed and the sound struck a chord inside Carson, stirring a distant memory inside him. He silenced the echo, focusing on the matter at hand.

The intruders were so wrapped up in each other that they hadn’t noticed him. He twisted the knob on Mrs. Johnson’s ancient radio, silencing the music.

The woman spun around, then pushed herself in front of the girl. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” 

By rights Carson should be the one asking questions. “I’m the owner’s neighbor. Who are you?”

The woman stepped closer, sizing him up. She studied his face for so long that she could have been searching for an answer to life’s mysteries. After a long moment, she smiled. “Carson?”

He nodded and looked at her more carefully. The coffee-colored eyes danced with mischief. It couldn’t be. Fifteen years had passed since his friend had visited. But looking closer at her beautiful face with clear light brown skin, high cheekbones and full lips, he knew it was her. “Gabriella?”

She launched herself at him, squeezing him in a tight hug. “It’s been years.” 

“Yes, it has.” He’d been invited to her wedding years ago, but hadn’t attended. Carson hugged her briefly, then stepped back and forced himself to ignore the way his body reacted to the contact.   

Holding Gabriella had felt like sticking his finger into a live electric socket. And when they ended the hug, his blood was still humming. He smothered the response. He might be the son of a killer, but he’d never hit on married women. He wouldn’t start with his childhood friend.

Grab it now!

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Kathy is a born reader who as a child always had her nose in a book. That love of reading grew with her and she went from reading Bobbsey Twins to long romance novels. Then she started law school and her reading was limited to legal opinions. One day she discovered Harlequin romance novels. They were a perfect fit for her busy life. She could complete her required reading and enjoy a romance novel. 

When her first child was born, Kathy stopped practicing law to become a stay at home mom. Her second child followed nineteen months later. With two little ones in the house, reading suddenly became limited to children’s books. 

All too soon her children were attending pre-school two hours a day. She spent those few precious moments renewing her relationship with romance novels. After a while she felt the urge to write the stories she wanted to read – sweet, small-town contemporary romances featuring African American characters. 

Kathy’s first book was published with Harlequin Special Edition in 2017. Since then, she’s published nine additional books and one short online read with Harlequin. When she’s not writing, Kathy enjoys spending time with her family.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, New Releases

June New Releases

Happy June!

We have a bunch of new releases for you to enjoy this month.

The Vet’s Unexpected Hero by Traci Douglass

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…
A First Response in Florida novel 

First Response in Florida duet
Book 1 – The Vet’s Unexpected Hero
Book 2 – Her One-Night Secret

The Pediatrician’s Twin Bombshell by Juliette Hyland

The wrong time…
…to meet Mr. Right?
Why is pediatrician Tessa all work and no play? Well, she’s far too used to people not believing in her. Still, Tessa can’t resist one—incredible!—night in nurse Gabe’s arms…and the chance to feel wanted. But it’s not just Tessa who is battling her past. Widower Gabe has his own scars to heal. So when Tessa discovers she’s pregnant, he’s determined to look after her! But is Tess ready to trust Gabe?

Reunited with the Heart Surgeon by Janice Lynn

Life pulled them apart…
…Can fate bring them back together?
The minute nurse Natalie met Dr. Will, it was love. Still, that didn’t make the constant disapproval from Will’s wealthy family any easier to bear… At breaking point, Natalie ended their relationship. So, when they’re tasked with planning a charity gala—together!—Natalie is stunned. How can she work with the man she never stopped loving? And what happens when one last night leads to a lifetime of consequences?

Her One Night Secret by Traci Douglass

A return, a reunion…
…A shocking revelation!
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…
A First Response in Florida novel

First Response in Florida duet
Book 1 – The Vet’s Unexpected Hero
Book 2 – Her One-Night Secret

Healing Her Emergency Doc by Caroline Anderson

His runaway date is back…
…for good?
When Laura and Tom find themselves competing for a job in Yoxburgh Park Hospital’s ER, it’s, well, awkward! Last time they met, Laura ran…before they could become more than friends. But with just one job on offer, what’s the harm in giving in to temptation? They’ll hardly be working together. Right? Wrong! And when Tom gets a life-changing diagnosis, can Laura convince Tom that she’s ready to be by his side—always?

A Baby to Rescue Their Hearts by Louisa Heaton

From partners…
…to parents!
Paramedic Theo Finch is a confirmed bachelor—with his life spent caring for others, from his sisters to his former army buddies, he doesn’t need any romantic entanglements. So why can’t he get his new colleague, paramedic Sophie Westbrook, out of his mind? Sophie is pregnant and going it alone, so Theo knows he should stay away… But could this brand-new life help them find a brand-new beginning—together?

Happy Reading! xo

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

The Doctor’s Gift, by Fiona McArthur

Hello again dear readers, it’s Fiona McArthur here from Oz, I hope this finds you safe and well and smiling. I do believe that Love Is The Best Medicine, and books that celebrate love are a joy to read.

This month I visit with a story about two surgeon’s both passionately committed to improving quality of life for those with kidney disease. In fact, Dr Ailee Green is donating her own kidney to her brother, as a live donor. But she hasn’t told renal surgeon, and widower, Fergus McVicker, that tiny fact.

Starting in an aircraft from London to Sydney, with a heart-warming stop in Singapore, THE DOCTOR’S GIFT, is a story of two heroic people who put the needs of others first, and almost lose their chance of finding their own elixir of love.

Does this sound like something you’d like to read? If so, you can find the ebook here.

As a midwife, I used to work next door to a country renal ward, where dialysis went on seven days a week, helping to maintain health for people with kidney failure in the hope, if possible, that a transplant organ would be found and transplant would free that patient from a machine.

This difference between midwifery and renal medicine I found intriguing – as are the stories of the patients. There’s lots of cameo visits of patients in this book, fictious ones but still fascinating, and I found it such a fun aspect to share the different stories and questions we all have about this challenging medical reality.

I hope you enjoy THE DOCTOR’S GIFT out May 30. See you next time or drop me a line at http://www.fionamcarthurauthor.com/ xx Fi

The Doctors Gift - Front Cover (1) copy

Live donor dilemma!

Two strangers save a life on a plane and then share one tender Singapore night en route from London to Sydney. Dr Ailee Green knows a relationship is not an option before she gives the gift that will save her brother’s life.
But surgeon, Fergus McVicker has other plans, plans that don’t include Ailee walking out of his and his daughter’s world and he offers her something she’s always wanted. Can these two special surgeons find a life together?

Guest Blogs, Origin Stories

How a Love of Reading Turned into a Career

Today we welcome a special guest, Harlequin Romance author, Therese Beharrie, to our Origin Stories feature.

The first time my mother took me to a library, I was shocked. I had already loved reading, so the shelves of books were a dream come true. There were so. many. books. As I worked my way through them, I discovered my favourite parts were always romantic. If there was no romance, or the romance, in my opinion, was inadequate, I would make it up. (That’s how Nancy Drew and Ned ended up married with three children, all of whom shared their mother’s inquisitive nature, in my head.) By the time my cousin slipped me my first Mills & Boon—when I was much too young to read them—she was introducing me to a genre I had already fallen in love with, albeit unknowingly.

I don’t know at what point that love turned into a desire to write romance. All I know was that for as long as I can remember, that’s what I wanted to do. In my final year at university, I realised that if I was serious about this dream, I needed to see if I could actually write. In the same year, I discovered the Harlequin So You Think You Can Write competition. It felt like fate, so for the first time in my life, I tried my hand at a writing a full-length romance novel.

And finished the worst thing I’ve ever written.

(At least, so I hope.)

The first chapter was in good enough shape to enter the competition though, and I made it through to the second round. I didn’t win, but I got the attention of an editor. She was the same editor who reached out after I entered the following year’s competition. We worked together to make my entry worthy of a publication contract with Mills & Boon, and here I am, five years and nineteen books later.

I’d tell any aspiring author to never give up on their dreams. It doesn’t matter how unlikely you think becoming published is—the chances are almost always higher than you think. You only need to take a chance on yourself.

Because if you don’t, who will?

Image of Therese Beharrie

Therese Beharrie is a South African romance author of several acclaimed novels, including her One Day to Forever series. She takes pride in writing diverse characters and settings, and her books are often recommended for their heart and banter. She lives in Cape Town with her husband, her inspiration for every hero, and two adorable baby boys.

You can find her on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and Bookbub, or catch up with her on her writing blog. You can also learn more about her in the following interviews: TygerburgerCapeTalk, and TimesLive.

She publishes with Harlequin Romance, Carina Press, and Kensington, and is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Travels Around the World

The Write Way to Travel

How globe-trotting influenced my Harlequin Medical Romances

 

Ten years ago, before my Harlequin days, I planned to write a young adult novel set in Nashville, Tennessee. Being a British citizen whod never even been to Music City, it seemed the logical thing to do, to book an Airbnb, start chatting with cowboys on dating sites, get on a plane, and move there for three months. 

 

Somehow, amongst the boot-scooting, whisky-shooting and country music, I wrote the book. Not only were my descriptions of Nashville that much much more realistic and colourful, I wound up moving in with a guitar-playing Icelandic/American man whom I almost married.

 

I said almost. I quickly realised that sometimes you need to know when to end a chapter – so to speak – and move on. Were still great friends, the books still on Amazon, but more importantly, I had a real romantic adventure in the name of research. And it spurred me on to base more novels in the far-and-wide and wonderful places Ive already been. Well, they do say, write what you know.

 

Canal-side inspiration in Amsterdam

Writing on my Amsterdam balcony copy
Writing on my Amsterdam balcony

These days Im pretty settled with my man in The Netherlands, even though sadly he doesnt wear a Stetson to the supermarket like my ex. (You cant have everything you want in one man, unless youre a Harlequin heroine, I suppose). I moved to Amsterdam in 2016, which was also the year I became a Harlequin author. I always meant to base a Harlequin Medical Romance here, but I guess it took being stuck in a pandemic to make me do it… er, thanks, COVID? 

 

June 2021s new release, FLING WITH THE CHILDRENS HEART DOCTOR is a reflection of the city I now call home, plus a rich surgeon with a luxury houseboat and windmill. Get ready for passionate Dutch lovinoutside – and maybe a little inside – of the childrens hospital!

IMG_1398

 

Getting ditched by a dive guy in Bali

It was a summer romance that went awry, the time I got involved with my scuba diving instructor on Gili Trawangan, just off the coast of Bali. In reality, it wasnt exactly a torrid above-water affair, but it was enough to get the imagination going – how could I set a romance novel on a small island renowned for big gossip, preferably one with a happier ending?

 

Look for the scuba diving hero who also happens to be a celebrity plastic surgeon, plus palm trees, coral reefs and HOT disasters based on island reality in my Harlequin Medical Romance, ENTICED BY HER ISLAND BILLIONAIRE

 

Canoes, caimans and kisses in South America

Mating tarantulas, harrowing thunderstorms and sandflies dont sound like the sexiest base for a romance novel, but back when I spent nine months travelling South America, I fell in love with the Amazon rainforest itself. I spent hours romanticising situations and mentally embellishing relations with a hot jungle guide. When it came to writing my very first Harlequin Romance – TEMPTED BY HER HOT-SHOT DOC, there were plenty of elements of truth scattered amongst the medical madness. Expect snakes (of all kinds?), hot and heavy adventures in tents, and a reality TV star wary of fame in the face of a journalist/ex-nurse who wont stop questioning him about his mysterious past.

 

Hopefully there will be more adventures to come, both in person and in the pages of my Harlequin Medical Romance stories! I really hope youll come with me. Meanwhile, dont forget to visit me in Amsterdam via Junes new release – FLING WITH THE CHILDRENS HEART DOCTOR! 

 

Thanks for travelling with me,

Becky Wicks x

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

If you could go anywhere in the world…

Where would you go?

I am preparing to write my next book and my editor and I think it should be set somewhere exotic. When I sat down to think about it, I realised exotic can mean a whole lot of different things to a whole lot of people, so I’ve decided to see what you are in the mood for with a poll!

I’ve just set a book in Hawaii and another in Nashville, so those are out as options (unless you convince me otherwise!). As many of you know, my characters love to eat, so bear that in mind.

Right! Time to put your thinking caps on. My hero (or heroine) will be going somewhere unfamiliar to them – but alluringly delightful. In short, a perfect setting for falling in love. I love travel, so am pretty sure I could fall in love just about anywhere, because even if the setting is wrong, but the object of my affections is right??? It’ll be a great story for later. So whether it’s Scotland or the North Pole or Bora Bora – there is NO WRONG ANSWER.

Okay…over to you…what places light your proverbial fires? If you have any input beyond the quiz, feel free to leave comments – or pictures!! xx Annie O’

Can’t wait to get writing!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Red Door of Wonders

So some of you are going to laugh. Because my idea of wonders may not be what you’re thinking. So there is a red door. And there are wonders. At least they’re wonders to me. So let’s go back to the red door. Here’s a picture of it. And the wonders behind that door? Chickens.

That’s right. Chickens. From the time I was a little girl, I’ve wanted chickens. So when we finally bought our little farm in the country, it was one of the first things we added. This last fall, my husband built a coop for them. We call it The Poultry Palace, because to me, it is. When he asked me what I wanted in this coop, I said I wanted him to use some of the old wavy glass windows that we salvaged from our old house. To me, that glass is beautiful and represents the love and hard work that went into remodeling it. And I wanted curtains and an old door. And I wanted the door painted red. Well he did a beautiful job building that coop. But the door (which I was supposed to paint) was white. For months. But yesterday, that changed. I bought a quart of red paint and took up my brush. This coop is a childhood dream come true for me. And The Poultry Palace’s residents? Well they seem fairly happy with their palace and the old dresser-turned-laying-area inside.

So that’s the story of my red door of wonders. What about you? Any childhood dreams that came true? I’d love to hear about them!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt for The Pediatrician’s Twin Bombshell

First, for those keeping track. In my last post, Spring is on the Way, I mentioned trying to grow plants my brother-in-law helped my girls plant. I am not so proud to say that we killed them all. But fear not, my neighbors have taken pity on me, and my plant killer tendencies, and helped me transplant some plants they swear I can’t kill (only time will tell).

Now on to the SUPER FUN news!

Oh my gosh it’s a little less than a week until The Pediatrician’s Twin Bombshell releases. I love the hero of this story! I know authors are technically supposed to say that about all their characters, unless they’re villains. But some characters jump into your heart and nestle themselves there long after their stories have been written and that is how Gabe is for me. He is so ooey gooey!

So below is the first scene of the book. I hope you love Tessa and Gabe’s happily ever after too!

DR. TESSA GARCIA leaned against the bar and slid the back of her heel out of the four-inch peep-toe shoes she’d crammed her feet into. The shoes had been uncomfortable when she’d purchased them three years ago, but she didn’t remember them being such torture devices.

What had possessed her to wear them?

The same ridiculous urge that had driven her to give in to Lily’s plea that she come tonight. Tessa had hoped that this outing might stem the loneliness that clawed at her when she collapsed into bed. At least for an hour.

She should have known better. But she’d wanted to believe she might still have a place with these people.

That she wasn’t completely alone.

Tessa glared at the martini sign hanging from the bar. The former dive bar had been revamped over the last year. The pathetic-looking burned-out neon bar signs were now upscale artwork. But the worn bar and exposed brick walls were still the same. Likely a design aesthetic Tessa didn’t understand—or maybe the new owners had run out of money during their revitalization effort.

Revitalization. Tessa hated that word. Out with the old, in with the new—the phrase applied to people, too, apparently.

A cackle went up from the patio, and Tessa hated the heat coating her cheeks. She didn’t belong here now. This had always been Max’s place. His social circle, his

night to shine. She’d been a girlfriend, and then a wife, but never a friend. That realization sent more regret washing through her.

They’d divorced a little over a year ago, though they’d inhabited the realm of uncomfortable roommates instead of spouses for far too long. She and Max might not have been able to save their union, but she hadn’t thought the women she’d considered friends would also be casualties of their failed marriage.

But they were all married to Max’s college buddies. God, Tessa wanted to slap herself. She should have been smart enough to make that connection.

Maybe if she had spoken to anyone outside the hospital in the last month besides food delivery people…

Tessa’s eyes looked to the ceiling as her foolishness washed over her—again. The people in the corner had all stared when she’d popped in, the press of pity in their gazes as they tried to pretend it was fine that she’d stopped by. Even Lily’s bright exclamations hadn’t been able to cover the pink on her cheeks as her eyes darted between Tessa and her ex-husband’s new bride.

Her divorce had been easy—at least on paper. Her lawyer had called it textbook. She and Max had divided their savings account, sold the starter home they’d purchased and said goodbye to their shared lives. It was the after that had rocked her.

In all her failed attempts to make him happy, Max’s hobbies and dreams had taken precedent. When she’d suggested hiking or visiting the botanical gardens, or even hanging out in the backyard where she’d cultivated a relaxing green space, he’d balked. He’d point out that she was always asking him to do more than his share of things. That she should want to do what he wanted, since he was handling everything at home so she could advance at the hospital.

That hadn’t been the full truth. He’d done slightly more than half the chores and complained every step of the way. But she’d given in every time. That still rankled.

Her father hadn’t appreciated being asked to do anything for his family, either. Tessa’s mom had always made excuses for him—just like Tessa had for Max. Tessa had watched her mom try everything to hold on to her marriage. Then she’d watched the catastrophic aftermath.

She’d witnessed all of it, and rather than protecting herself, Tessa had given in to a man’s desires, too, hoping that by ceding her likes, her friends, her dreams,Max might look at her like he had when they first started dating, hoping that she could have the happy family she’d always craved.

As an only child, Tessa had longed for siblings. For a home life that didn’t rock between stony silence and angry shouts. Tessa had wanted to believe her union would differ from her mother’s. But life rarely produced fairy tales, and the Garcia women always seemed to end up alone.

At least she had a thriving career as a pediatric attending at Dallas Children’s Hospital. Her ex-husband hadn’t been able to strip that from her, though he had stolen the promotion they had offered her at Cincinnati Children’s.

Maybe Tessa should have moved without him. But she hadn’t been willing to admit what, deep down, she’d already known. Her marriage had been over long before they’d finalized the divorce decree.

She’d put so much of herself aside for Max, and what did she have? A closet full of colorful scrubs—and comfy shoes. And no one to grab drinks with. No one to see a movie or go to the botanical garden with. No one at the other end of the phone. And no senior attending position.

Hell, she’d even given up the garden she’d cultivated so carefully because Max had wanted to sell their home. Instead of fighting or making a sound argument for why she should purchase it, Tessa had just consented to the sale.

Her townhome didn’t have a lot of extra space for a gardenTessa harrumphed as she spun the ice around her cup. She’d been so focused on finding a spot close to work—and away from her ex—that she’d rushed the purchase. But she had her independence, and she would never let a man dictate her path again.

“I didn’t think Max and Stephanie were coming.” Lily’s cheeks were red as she fanned herself and waved for another drink. “I swear, she’s barely old enough to be in here.” Lily dramatically rolled her eyes to the ceiling as she leaned against the bar.

“Mmm-hmm.” Tessa kept her gaze focused on the ice melting in the glass that once held club soda. Lily might not be drunk…yet, but the wife of her ex-husband’s oldest friend was tipsy enough to repeat anything Tessa might say.

At least the bubbly blonde had interrupted Tessa’s pity party.

“It was nice to see you. Guess I probably shouldn’t—”

She bit back the last part of that sentence, but Tessa had no problems filling in the silence. This would be the last time she was invited.

A martini appeared in front of them, and Lily sighed. “If I hear one more word about college sports…” Her first sip almost emptied the fancy glass. She laid her hand on Tessa’s arm and then flounced back to the patio.

College athletics might not be interesting, but, apparently, neither was spending time with an ex-wife who didn’t know her place. Lily clearly regretted the multiple texts she’d sent begging Tessa to show up tonight.

Not that it really mattered.

Over the years, girlfriends had come and gone, and now she was the first wife who was being booted from the group. It was past time for her to go home.

“Those heels look like hell.”

She sighed. Flirting in a bar had never been her scene, but flirting in a bar where her ex-husband and all his friends were drinking felt like an extra level of desperation.

And she was not desperate. Lonely, but not desperate. Never desperate.

“I’ve already asked for the check and am going home to get out of these torture devi—” Her tongue froze as she met the honey eyes next to her.

God, he was gorgeous! His dark hair was trimmed, but a bit of a five o’clock shadow accented his firm jaw. His arms were muscular without looking like all he did was grunt in front of a gym mirror and drop weights on the floor.

Clearing her throat, she held up her empty glass and tried to push the unexpected arousal away. The man before her was extraordinary.

“Just let me strike out. Then I can tell my sister I tried and go home myself.” He winked before waving over her shoulder. “If you want to throw the ice in my face to make it look really convincing, she will definitely let me off the hook.”

Tessa laughed and had to stop herself from leaning closer. “I’ve never thrown anything in someone’s face. But now I kind of want to.”

“The option stands.” Two dimples appeared in the Adonis’s cheeks. “But if you keep laughing, it won’t be believable—though I wouldn’t complain. Even with the air-conditioning, this place still feels like an outer ring of—”

He caught the last word, and Tessa beamed. “Not from Texas, then?” The question slipped between them, and she gripped her glass. She hadn’t meant to drag out this encounter, but she suddenly didn’t want it to end.

She really needed to make some new friends…or set up a dating profile on one of the apps the single medical professionals were always discussing. No. She was not interested in that.

But what was five extra minutes in this hellhole, if it was with the dreamboat before her? At least he’d give her something delicious to think about in her lonely bed tonight.

“Originally, yes. But I’ve been out of the state for years. I forgot how hot it was in Dallas in June.” He leaned over her shoulder, then shook his head. “She just gave me a thumbs-up. Ah, well, I can still tell her you told me to take a hike in a few minutes. I’m Gabe.”

“Gabe?” The subtle shift in his voice tickled the back of her brain. Her gaze wandered his chiseled cheeks, and the bite of recognition stole through her. It couldn’t be…“Gabe Davis?”

Tessa blinked as she tried to reconcile the stunning hunk before her with the teenager who’d spent a summer working with her in the Tinseltown theater. The honey eyes and smile were the same, and her mood lightened even further as he tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. He’d been cute then, and most of the staff had swooned over him.

Tessa had, too. They’d even shared an impromptu kiss late one night.

Then he’d disappeared.

She gave her best fake smile, “You forgot to tell me you’d like extra butter layered in your popcorn. Of course it’s not too much trouble to get you a fresh one.”

“Tessa Garcia!”

Gabe’s deep chuckle rumbled through her, and this time Tessa didn’t stop herself as she leaned closer. “I’d heard you left Texas. I assume it was for someplace cooler, given your hatred of this lovely June evening.”

She bit the inside of her cheek as that piece of information floated out. She hadn’t gone looking for him…not really. He’d been a recommended friend on social media, and she’d clicked on his profile once. Just for nostalgia’s sake.

There’d been a picture of a lot of snow and a notice that he only shared his information with friends. She’d almost pushed the bright blue request button, but she’d resisted. Barely.

“I was in Maine. Just moved back.” A shadow passed over Gabe’s eyes as he signaled for the bartender, but it disappeared quickly.

If she’d had something other than club soda in her glass, she might be able to pretend the haunted gaze had never existed. But she was at a bar avoiding her ex-husband and his friends, so who was she to pass any judgment?

“Can I get a Coke and—” he turned to Tessa “—I owe you a drink for saving me from my sister’s matchmaking schemes.”

“Club soda with lime.” Tessa pursed her lips as the barkeep barely kept the smile on his face. She’d worked in a bar through college and knew their tab wasn’t enough to keep the great service coming. Still, she laid some extra on the counter as he put the two cups in front of them. “To cover the first club soda.”

The man’s shoulders relaxed a little, and he added an extra lime before passing them the drinks.

“If you’re up for it, why don’t we see if there are any seats on the patio? Get you off those dastardly high heels.”

“My ex-husband is back there with his new wife.” The words slipped from her lips, and Tessa could have throttled herself. The last person she wanted to talk about was her ex. But she also didn’t want to sit back there talking to Gabe while all the people she’d thought were her friends either ignored her or studied this interaction.

“I really was getting ready to leave when you walked up. It wasn’t a lie.” She raised the drink to her lips, enjoying the bubbles tickling her nose. “Pathetic, I know.”

“Nope.” Gabe shook his head. “Plus, this saves me having to politely pretend I’m not sweltering back there while we nurse our nonalcoholic beverages and try to figure out how long we have to play catch-up.”

He tilted his glass toward her, and his dimples sent another rush down her back. Pressing her fingers to her lips, she shook her head. How did this man make her swoon with just a few minutes of conversation?

“What if I want to catch up?” The question surprised her, but it was the sincerity behind it that nearly made her knees buckle. She wanted to catch up with Gabe. Wanted to know what the gorgeous, clever man—whose sister was thrilled he was talking to someone in a bar—had done for the last two decades.

Maybe discover why he’d disappeared after they’d kissed. No. That was not a question she was going to ask.

They’d had fun working behind the concession stand at the theater and goofed off more than they probably should when the theater was dead on the weeknights. But they hadn’t gone to the same high school. Their final flirtation, which had led to her first kiss, had felt like…well, it had felt like the rush of first crushes that only teenagers could experience.

She still remembered being hurt that he hadn’t warned her he was quitting. If it had been a few years later, cell phones and social media could have transitioned their flirtation into a more genuine connection. But those things had still been just over the horizon.

“I wouldn’t mind playing catch-up. Do you want to down that drink, and we can head to another place? Someplace where your ex isn’t around?” The ridges of his cheeks darkened as he made the offer.

Was he as out of practice at this as she was? Tessa doubted anyone could be as rusty in the dating field as her. She and Max had met in their freshman dorm and dated all through college. They’d married just before she started med school, and he’d gone to work in finance. She’d been off the market for most of her adult life.

“My place is just around the corner. I have wine and a patio that overlooks the community pond.” Heat engulfed her body as she met those sultry eyes again. “I… I… I just meant that it’s a good place for me to dump these shoes. And then you can come back to your sister after a drink on my patio.”

Nope… There was definitely no one rustier than her at this. And she wasn’t even trying to flirt. Well, maybe a little, but not like “invite a stranger back to your condo fifteen minutes after he buys you a club soda.”

He took a sip of his drink, and her breath caught as she watched him mull the offer over. If he said no, it would be fine. Better than fine—it would be the right answer. But Tessa didn’t want Gabe to say no. She wanted him to want her—at least for a night of friendly conversation on a condo porch.

How long had it been since someone outside the hospital wanted to spend time with her? Tessa didn’t want to calculate that answer.

“Sure,” Gabe finally stated. He looked over her shoulder again and smiled. “But just so you know, I’m telling my sister this went perfectly and counting it as a date. That will get her off my back for at least the next three days. Maybe even an entire week!”

Laughter again bubbled in Tessa’s chest. How had he taken the most awkward moment ever and made it seem like she was helping him? And how was this gorgeous man still single?

He grinned, dimples deep in each cheek before heading to speak to his sister.

Another round of laughs echoed from the back corner, but most of its sting had evaporated. She laid another couple of dollars on the bar and spared one more glance at the over-the-top decor, then let her mind wander to Gabe’s delicious dimples. She could get lost in that smile.

Maybe for more than one night.

That thought sent a cold bead of sweat down her back. She was not interested in dating anyone—even if she was more than a little tired of curling up with a pillow each night.

The position for senior emergency room attending was opening in a few weeks. Assuming the rumors were true.

And she’d learned the hard way that men did not appreciate a successful woman. Oh, they claimed to. Max had said he loved Tessa’s drive for success. Asserted that her being so successful made them a power couple—a term Tessa hated.

Then his finance career had stagnated following several poor business decisions and the recession. When he was laid off, Max had grown increasingly agitated by his lack of job prospects. She’d understood, but after he accepted another position, their relationship had still raced toward its explosive end.

Particularly when she’d been offered the senior attending job at Cincinnati Children’s. He’d refused to even consider moving for her job and suggested that it would be too much of a commitment if she wanted to start a family anytime soon.

So she’d stayed. Given up the promotion hoping that her sacrifice could repair the divide that had widened between her and her ex. Instead, he’d filed for divorce, claiming Tessa didn’t need him for anything besides housework.

It had been a BS excuse—particularly considering he’d married again before the ink had dried on their divorce decree. But it was proof that many men couldn’t handle being equal partners in a relationship. They always wanted to be more than their partner. And Tessa didn’t have the time to wade through the dating landscape to figure out the good from the bad.

She licked her lips as she subtly checked out Gabe’s beautiful derriere. If her heart thumped a bit as Gabe leaned over to tell his sister he was going to Tessa’s place for a short while, that was just a symptom of loneliness and nostalgia for an old crush. A one-night escape.

Nothing more.