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

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.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Spring is on the Way!

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.

You can read the opening of Tessa’s story now. Check it out here: http://bit.ly/bombshellfirstchapter

https://bit.ly/TwinBombshell
Quirky Stories

Brrrrrr!

I know that it is February. I know that in Ohio, February often means cold…and snow. However, the Texan in me is NOT a fan. I prefer the cold to be in my books and if forced to deal with the white stuff, I like to do it from the comfort of my living room with a warm cup of coffee and fuzzy socks.

My children and husband have a very different view! So over the last several days they have been taking full advantage of sledding and snow ball fights. Though the snow we have is not the heavy wet stuff that is best for building snow men and snow balls. I had no idea there were multiple types of snow, and what the building properties of each was, until I fell in love with a man who yearns for cold winters!

I enjoy the pictures of my girls having fun in the snow. But I am the queen of having hot cocoa ready for when the chill eventually drives them back in (usually within thirty minutes for my youngest and after I have to warn my oldest, she could get frostbite if she stays out any longer).

What about you? Do you yearn for sledding and snow fort building? Or are you more partial to the less wet, warm and toasty inside? (Yes, this was a biased way to ask the question – and I stand by it.)

Hope everyone is having a lovely winter, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. And for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, please feel free to send a bit of your summer heat this way!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt: A Stolen Kiss with the Midwife

Let’s talk tropes! My sister and I love reading romance books and we’ve had more than one discussion on the tropes we love and hate. In fact, I still wish I had the discussion we had while I dished on my enjoyment of paranormal fated mate stories and her utter horror of the trope on tape! It was hilarious as I tried (in vain) to convince her of their wonderfulness. I still claim that if she could only find the right fated mate story…but I digress!

When I started A Stolen Kiss with the Midwife, I knew I was going to play with my sister and mine’s favorite tropes. She loves midwife stories and I will read anything with a best friends turned lovers tropes. What was born was Quinn and Milo’s happily ever after.

I have never had a book that was so easy to write. I think if I spent all my time writing best friends I’d be my happiest self. Though my editor might have something to say about it.

Quinn and Milo’s story is a February release, I hope you enjoy this short excerpt. You can find it from your favorite online seller here: https://bit.ly/StolenKissMidwife

Excerpt from A Stolen Kiss with the Midwife:

A hot cup of coffee pressed against her fingers and Quinn lifted it to her lips without opening her eyes. The black coffee was bitter, and a bit burned, but the caffeine kick was what she needed. And she was grateful for any distraction.

“Seriously, Quinn. What’s going on?”

A knee connected with hers as Milo slid into the chair across from her, and Quinn ignored the tingles that slid along her leg. She was tired, worried, and her emotions were tangled. That was the only reason she was reacting to Dr. Milo Russell this morning, she told herself, ignoring the fact that she’d felt those same tingles yesterday morning…and every other day since she’d walked into his arms at the airport eight months ago. Such a simple welcome that had shifted everything in Quinn’s soul.

Almost a year later and she still couldn’t explain the feelings.

Or why those emotions hadn’t made her pack her bags and flee.

Luckily, Quinn’s brain was too full of other worries to let that one take residency in the front of her mind today. Not that it ever wandered away for long, though…

Opening her eyes, Quinn tipped her cup at Milo as he took a seat beside her on the lounge chair. His jade eyes bore through her and she barely kept herself from leaning into him. Milo was her friend. Her best friend. He was the reason she’d leaped at the opportunity to work at St. Brigit’s.

Sure, he was gorgeous. Stunning. His deep dimples were the stuff of legend. She’d heard more than one single lady talk about what it might take to get those dimples to appear outside the birthing center. But Quinn never swooned over anyone. Not over her cheating ex-fiancé and certainly not over Milo. At least, that had been true until she’d moved back to California. Now she yearned for any contact with him.

Quinn and Milo had always just been Quinn and Milo. They’d been best friends since grade school when Quinn had refused to name the person who had started the epic food fight. She’d stood in the principal’s office, refusing to out the new kid, when Milo had marched in and declared that he’d thrown the first nugget. In truth, neither had thought tossing a few hard chicken nuggets would result in pandemonium and pudding on the walls—but they’d cleaned it together. And they’d had each other’s backs ever since.

Even when wanderlust had taken her to the other side of the country or the other side of the world, she and Milo always kept in touch. Video calls, emails and social media had meant they were only ever a GIF away. He was the one constant in her rambling life. Always there to make her laugh, to bounce ideas off about her next move, to make her happy.

He’d always just been her friend Milo and working together at St. Brigit’s was a first for them. She’d enjoyed every minute of it, even if she was in a constant battle to get her body to stop substituting friendly feelings with romantic ones.

The cover for A Stolen Kiss with the Midwife. The hero is embracing the heroine and almost kissing her forehead.

Quirky Stories, The Writing Life

Scribbles and Scribes!

How do you do it?

I think most authors get asked this question a LOT! I low-key hate it. Not because I mind answering, but because I don’t really have a good answer – at least not one that will work for everyone. And often I come up blank when it pops out of someone’s lips.

It came up over a zoom call a few weeks ago, and I went blank. Again! I spouted off nonsense about making lists (which I do) and just pushing through (also true). But it was not what anyone was actually looking for.

I recently spent a significant time quarantined due to a covid diagnosis, and it gave me plenty of time to myself – ugg. But I spent some time working through this question (there is only so much television you can watch when confined to one room for ten days.) And one truth kept popping in.

My writing group!

Several years ago, I saw an ad on Facebook stating that someone was starting a writing group at my local library. I decided to check it out. There was the leader, Kit, her husband and one other writer. We did some writing sprints and talked. It was one of the best nights!

Over the years others have joined us. We do not have any genre or age requirements. We have poets, romance writers, a children’s book writer, a fantasy writer and some that are just playing with any genre that fits them this week.

When Kit and her husband got transferred two years into the startup, she asked me to take over the job of leading. This mostly means that the library has me listed on the paperwork in case we tear the place down.

Writing is a solitary activity but when you are with a group of other creatives it really can get the juices flowing. I wrote one novel based on a prompt we had. Celebrating when we finish a story or get a poem or book published is so much fun. But mostly it has made me accountable to a group of people that I respect and love spending time with. Their cheers when things go well and encouragement when they don’t have gotten me over so many hills.

During 2020, we have met over Zoom. It’s not the same, but it has kept the connection going and I always look forward to Thursday nights. Though I cannot wait to be back in person (one day)!

So that will be my answer from now on. If you can find a writers group to join do so. If not, make one. Kit put a note on the library calendar and for several weeks only she and her husband showed up. Then there was three and then four, then more. It has been one of the best experiences of my writing career.

So from our latest zoom meeting here is my lovely group!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

Do Something with Your Writing!

I do not remember a time when I was not a storyteller. It’s cliché, but the truth. I was in my early twenties before I realized that other people didn’t put themselves to sleep by telling themselves a story in their head. I am in my late thirties now, and this is still how my brain shuts itself off.

Characters have been popping into my head for as long as I can remember. Some stay for a few hours, others are still crackling around years later. I have a fantasy heroine named Annabelle that has perpetually dropped in over the last decade. One day I may have to tell her tale—though maybe she is here only for me.

My first story

I was in the second grade when I wrote my first book. Here is a very proud me holding the book in the picture. Mrs. Jones required all her students to “publish” at least one book by the end of the year. This consisted of a few pages with author drawn pictures that the parents laminated and bound. I loved it—well, the writing part. I have never enjoyed drawing and if I had known how to hire an illustrator, and found one willing to work for lollipops, I would have gone that route!

 In high school my English teacher challenged all of us to write a short story. I say challenged, but it was a graded assignment. There are few assignments that I remember, but my short story was called Homeward Bound. While it didn’t strictly follow the rules for a romance, it was a love story. My first! I don’t remember the actual grade, but at the top of my page were the words Do Something with Your Writing.

I treasured those words. I held them close with the belief that one day I might claim success. Then I took a college creative writing course. And it destroyed my burgeoning belief in my skill.

I am not so naïve as to believe that my early work deserved straight As or even Bs. But I do think they deserved more than the Nothing will come of this statement they received.

While I can’t prove it, and my memory is jaded by time and temper, I think my first foray into the world of romance turned off my professor. The belief that characters deserved a happily ever after, rather than an angsty end, was not welcome. The world does not reflect this—another line attached to a story I wrote. Which I still find interesting in a CREATIVE writing class.

Unfortunately, my professor was right. The world often doesn’t provide a happily ever after. But sometimes it does. And EVERYONE, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, deserves one.  A truth I will scream from the mountains until my final breath.

I wish I had been strong enough to tell my professor I thought he was wrong. To point out the countless romance writers who’d made careers out of happily ever afters, to state with conviction that romance is the bestselling genre and it’s not even close (though that was a piece of info I didn’t have).

Instead, I let my voice be stolen. I packed away my pens and did my best to ignore the flame within me. But those five little words scrawled on the top of a short story refused to disappear from my heart. It took many years, more than I wish to revisit even now, but eventually I burst one evening and told my husband I wanted to write. I needed to get stories out.

We’d been married for many years at that point, had two children not yet in grade school, were both working full time—basically not the perfect recipe for putting words on the page—but he looked at me and said okay. Then he followed through and let me go spend an hour or two at the library each week without complaint that there were other more pressing things at home (see real romance heroes exist).

It took one ridiculous fantasy novel (I’ve shown the opening to the writer’s group I run, so they can see how far you can come–it’s bad), a few false starts and a historical romance that I have finally admitted is just my proof I could write a romance novel but its characters will only live in my mind, to get to published status.

But all these years later, I can say I did something with my writing. I mailed my first book, Unlocking the Ex-Army Doc’s Heart, to my English teacher with a note of thanks. I did not mail it to my college professor (though I admit being tempted). 

I believe you should write what you want. And if that means angsty tragedies, go forth and conquer, but my stories will always leave you (and me) feeling happy. So tell the story growing on your heart, no matter what it is. 

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

525,600 Minutes

The first date my husband and I went on was to see the movie Rent. Neither of us knew it was a hit musical. But the song 525,600 minutes rolled around my head for weeks. If you don’t know, this is the number of minutes in a year.

And oh, what a year!

On September 30th, social media reminded me I was celebrating my one-year anniversary of selling Unlocking the Ex-Army Doc’s Heart to Mills and Boon. Since then Falling Again for the Single Dad has released too, and A Stolen Kiss with the Midwife comes out in February 2021. I actually turned in Book Four, as yet untitled, the week before this anniversary note.

I started reading romance because I needed a happily ever after. I began writing romance because it made me happy when my job, at the time, did not. Romance has been my escape for years.

And Book Four will always have a tender place in my heart – no matter how well it sells. I set this story in Dallas, Texas. I grew up in one of Dallas’ many suburbs. The movie theater the characters worked at in high school is where I spent hours behind the concession stand. The high school football rivalry is a single line reference, but for my friends still in the area, the payoff will be so sweet.

It was simply a fun retreat home when I first started it. But two weeks after I put the initial words to the page, we learned my mother-in-law had cancer. She left this world before I finished. In the haze of doctor visits and hospice talks, Dot and I talked romance books.

She had stacks of them!

And when I sat with Dot while she rested, I retreated “home” to work on my character happily ever after.

When I tell people that I am an author, I get all sorts of happy questions. But when I mention my genre, a light dims in some of those excited faces. A week after I sold my first book, a man sitting next to me on a plane told me he thought romance was the easy genre. Formulaic!

It is such a grating misconception about the bestselling genre. But it is one that over that last year, I have mostly learned to ignore. Romance offers what so many don’t. An escape with a guaranteed smile at the end. The promise of hope and love for everyone.

This is the first romance that I’ve written where Dot didn’t know the end. I wouldn’t put the final flourishes in until a few weeks after she’d left. But in so many ways, Dot knew when we talked about Tessa and Gabe, and all the struggles I was putting them through, how it would end. That Tessa and Gabe would ride off together.

And writing their forever love in the days after helped pull me forward too. Getting to focus on love healed part of me. I believe that love is so much more enduring than the other emotions.

Love’s feeling—even its memory—outlasts all the emotions.

So, a year later, a year that looks so much different, in so many ways, I am grateful to shout from the rooftops—I write happily ever afters!

Here’s to finding our way through the next 525,600 minutes. May they be filled with more love and laughter than tears.

–          Juliette

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, New Releases

Friends on the Long Road to Publication

NA CoverIt is hard to believe that I am getting to write the blog post for my second Mills and Boon Medical! An author may dream up the characters and write the stories, but, if they are lucky, the bumpy road to seeing their name on the cover of a book isn’t done alone. And I am incredibly lucky to have had more than a few people hold my hand or give me a shoulder to cry on when that long road felt never ending.

This book fulfills a promise I made years ago to my very first beta reader, Sarah. I always said that my first book had to be dedicated to my supportive husband, but if I was ever lucky enough to write more than one, the dedication would be to Sarah.

Sarah read works that have never, and may never, see the light of day. Though she is a good friend; she also never held back on telling me when something didn’t work, or when a hero was coming off a might (or a lot) evil! She cheered me on as rejections piled up and never hesitated to say she’d love to read what I had.

There are not enough words to say thank you for all Sarah read and her continued encouragement. But I hope this dedication makes a small dent in the enormous debt I owe her.

For Sarah, who lovingly read my early works and cheered me on.

An excerpt from Falling Again for the Single Dad – available September 1st: 

Chapter One

DR. ELI COLLINSS breath caught as he stared at the gaggle of new employees. The first night was always a bit disorienting for the new hires, and they tended to arrive in packs for the first week or so. A petite woman, with long dark hair, lagged behind the rest.

The graceful way she moved sent a pulse of need through him. Amara? He hadn’t seen her in years.

And he wasn’t seeing her now.

Still, Eli’s heart pounded as he tried, and failed, to control his reaction to the miniscule possibility she was here. Hope, need, love, all wrapped around him before pain dismissed the fantasy.

Amara Patel was the best part of his past—and the worst. Any time he saw someone who bore a vague resemblance to her, Eli would stare for just a moment. It was never Amara, but after nearly a decade of trying, he still couldn’t break the habit.

“The new crop of nurses and doctors start tonight.” Dr. Griffin Stanfred slapped Eli’s shoulder as he slid in front of him.

“I know.” Eli shifted, trying to catch another glimpse of the woman. But she’d disappeared with the rest of the group. He wanted to run after them, force his mind and heart to realize that the mystery hire was just another look-alike. A beautiful, graceful, jet-haired woman, a talented nurse or doctor, sure, but it wasn’t his Amara.

His—that was a ridiculous thought. Amara hadn’t been his for nearly a decade. It was just a symptom of Eli’s loneliness.

He had let his desire to be the perfect son of the great Dr. Marshall Collins cost him his happiness. At least he’d come to his senses before taking on a surgical residency he didn’t want. That decision had been the right one, but Marshall had refused to speak to Eli during the entire duration of his residency and subspecialty training or the years that came after.

Only after Eli had given a keynote address at the second-largest emergency medicine conference in the country, eight months ago, had his father reached out to him. Their relationship was still more professional than personal, but Eli couldn’t stop the hope that one day Marshall might finally soften toward him. If Eli just achieved enough…

He let his eyes linger on the staff lounge door for a moment longer. Eli took a deep breath. Amara wasn’t at his hospital—she couldn’t be.

She’d landed a job at a prestigious university research hospital a week before graduating with her nursing degree. And two weeks after they’d broken up. Eli had watched from the corner of the room as she celebrated with their friends.

He’d wanted to reach out to her, to tell her how proud he was, celebrate with her. But he’d worried that if he said anything, he would beg her to take him back. Instead, Eli had made his excuses and left the party. It was one of the many moments in his past he wished he could change.

But life didn’t have a rewind button.

Eli hadn’t gone into surgery, but every activity he did was weighed against what it could do for his career. How it would improve Boston General. Make the institution great. Get it noticed.

Get him noticed.

Because no matter Eli’s achievements, he couldn’t stop the questions about his father. Even when he was surrounded by emergency professionals, someone always asked if he was related to Dr. Marshall Collins. Their eyes inevitably widened when Eli admitted he was his son. And part of him evaporated as they peppered him with questions about his father’s legacy.

You’re enough…

Eli’s soul lifted a bit. Even after all these years, Amara’s voice still floated through his memories just when he needed it. That constant kept him sane and yet sometimes drove him mad.

Eli had considered calling Amara so many times. Just to check in, say hello. See if she’d like to catch up; if she’d gotten the life she wanted; if she’d moved on. But he couldn’t, because if she had, then the tiny ball of hope Eli had never managed to extinguish would die. His heart didn’t want to accept that final loss.

It was easier to imagine Amara in the ER than at home with a husband and family who loved her. Safer… They’d both believed emergency medicine was their calling. Even if he’d doubted it for a brief period.

“Gina quit. Took a job in Baltimore.” Susan Gradeson, the ER’s head nurse, sighed as she laid her laptop on the charging pad at the nurses’ station. “Luckily, one of the new hires agreed to take her shift.” Before Eli could ask any questions, Susan hustled away.

Boston General’s emergency room had one of the highest trauma rates in the nation. It was used by physicians and nurses as a launching pad to one of the nationally ranked academic hospitals that dotted the city. If only they were recognized on that list, then maybe the other hospitals wouldn’t have such an easy time siphoning away Boston Gen.’s talent.

Eli had been offered a position at several of those academic hospitals too. But he loved the chaotic nature of Boston Gen. He thrived on the constant challenges, and even took pleasure in turning down the jobs. He’d bring in the offer letter and let the staff help him draft a blistering no-thank-you note. Eli never sent those, but it was an excellent way to let his friends and colleagues blow off steam.

His cell dinged with an image of his niece, Lizzy. She was waving at the camera; her cheeks covered in chocolate pudding. Eli darted around the corner and video called his mother. She’d taken to the role of grandma the minute Lizzy was born. And she’d refused to allow him to hire a nanny when Lizzy came to live with Eli eight months ago. He didn’t know how he would have survived without his mom’s calming presence.

He’d never expected to be a father. Marshall hadn’t set a great example, but Eli was doing his best. Which mostly meant Googling everything and hoping the mistakes he made were minor. His insides relaxed a bit as Lizzy waved again. Lizzy looked a lot like her father—a man she’d never remember.

Eli pushed his grief away. The months since his brother’s passing had dulled the pain, but there were still moments where Eli had to remind himself that he couldn’t call Sam after a hard day. Or text him a celebratory note after an unexpected success.

At least he had Lizzy.

“Hi, cutie!” Eli cooed as his niece played with the chocolate pudding on her high chair tray. Lizzy needed a happy parent, not a concerned, uncomfortable uncle who was still terrified that he was going to screw everything up.

He smiled and laughed at her silly antics as worries niggled at the back of his brain. Eli never wanted Lizzy to see how terrified he was to be a father. He may not have planned to be a dad, but he couldn’t fail Lizzy now that he was.

“Did she eat any of that?” Eli shook his head as he stared at the messy, almost two-year-old.

“A bit.” His mother laughed. “I was just getting ready to put her in the bathtub. Figured she might as well have some fun. Every kid loves to play with pudding at this age. I’ve got pictures of you and—” she paused for just a moment “—and Sam covered in the sweet stuff.”

A nurse with dark hair passed by in Eli’s peripheral vision. Amara? She’d already slipped into a patient’s room by the time he turned to get a better look.

Why was his mind playing tricks on him tonight?

“Look!” Lizzy giggled as the pudding dripped off her fingers.

Focus, he reminded himself. Smiling at Lizzy, Eli shook his head. “You really are a mess—a cute mess.”

“Daddy!” Lizzy stuck her tongue out at the camera.

Eli’s stomach clenched. That title still felt off. Like he was robbing Sam somehow. “It’s Uncle Eli, sweetheart.”

“Daddy,” Lizzy repeated.

“Well, I’m going to get her cleaned up.” His mom offered a soft smile, though he could see her blink away a few tears. “It’s okay to be daddy, Eli. Maybe it’s what she needs. Sam would understand—even give you a hard time about it.”

“Probably.” Eli agreed, then waved one last time before his mother shut off the video connection. Eli wasn’t Lizzy’s father. Sam was…always would be.

But he was gone.

He’d been killed in a plane crash along with his wife, Yolanda, heading to a surgical conference, just as Lizzy was starting to say her first words.

Like Daddy.

Daddy… It held so much meaning. Eli still felt lost, but Lizzy was his responsibility. No, she was his daughter. When she was older, he would make sure that Lizzy knew as much about her parents as possible.

Sam was the good son, after all. The one who’d followed in his father’s footsteps, though he’d refused to take on any roles at his father’s research facility after Yolanda announced she was pregnant. It was unfair that Eli was now the one putting Sam’s daughter to bed, getting to watch silly pudding videos, planning her future.

And hearing the word Daddy.

When Sam and Yolanda had asked him to be Lizzy’s guardian less than a week after her birth, Eli had agreed without thinking about it. But he’d never expected to take custody of Lizzy. He loved Sam, though watching him with his wife and daughter had always sent a wave of jealousy through him. But Eli’s goals didn’t include a family.

Hadn’t included a family.

In the horrid days after the accident, Eli had held their sleeping child feeling devastated. But he’d sworn to raise her with all the love Sam had shown for her. Somehow, Eli was going to be both an amazing father and a top emergency room doctor. The patients and Lizzy came first. He could do this—he had to.

Turning, he stared at the room where the dark-haired nurse had disappeared a few minutes ago. Eli didn’t think she’d exited yet. If a patient was being difficult, she might need help. That was why he was moving toward the room. Not because he needed to prove to himself that it wasn’t Amara.

Just before he got to the door, Susan grabbed his arm. “I’ve got a kid in room 7 that needs stitches and an elderly man in 4 that probably needs to be admitted for pneumonia. Any chance you can clear either of them out of my ER?”

Your ER?” Eli echoed. “Last time I checked, I was the senior doctor on staff this evening.”

“That supposed to mean something?” Susan quipped as she marched toward another room.

That was Eli’s running joke with Susan. The head nurse had worked at Boston General longer than anyone, and she ran a tight ship. Everyone fell in line when Susan Gradeson ordered it.

Eli looked over his shoulder one last time. But the nurse, or more likely, the figment of his imagination, still hadn’t materialized.

He tried to convince himself that it wasn’t Amara. It wasn’t.

Eli had a few hours left on his shift. He’d see the dark-haired woman before he went home. Then his brain could stop hoping that a miracle had occurred. He had never stopped loving Amara, but that was a feeling he’d learned to live with.

***

Amara held her breath as Dr. Eli Collins finally walked away from the room where she was hiding. Her pulse rate was elevated, and she could feel the heat in her cheeks. Eli was here…here.

She’d already double-checked on the patient, a young woman waiting on her release papers following a minor fender bender. Amara had gone over the concussion protocol with her and made sure she knew the indicators for internal bleeding. Now Amara was hovering. Her stomach twisted as she tried to work out what to do.

She’d left Massachusetts Research after her relationship with Dr. Joe Miller had crashed and burned in full view of all her colleagues. No matter how high she’d held her head, there’d been whispers when Joe immediately started dating her ER colleague Kathleen Hale. Louder whispers when they’d eloped a few weeks later.

Amara had been considering a change for years. If Joe’s affair was the catalyst for it, so what? But now she was facing working with another ex—and she’d never fully recovered from their breakup…

Amara was independent. That was the word she used to describe herself. Independent…that word sounded so much better than afraid of commitment. Terrified of losing your dreams to someone else’s goals. Of disappearing in the one relationship where you were supposed to stand out.

That was the fear that had driven her to walk away from Eli. It had been the right choice. But it didn’t stop the regret that sometimes seeped deep into her bones as she lay awake at night. They wouldn’t have worked. It was the mantra she’d repeated for years. He wanted to chase glory, like her father. Eventually, that need destroyed everything it touched.

She’d watched her mother give all of herself to her father. All her dreams, her goals had been sacrificed to support him. And she’d gotten almost nothing in return.

Even after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Amara’s father hadn’t put away his bid to secure funding for his newest start-up. Her mother had fought for her life without her husband by her side. And it had been Amara holding her hand at the end, not the man she’d stood beside for nearly forty years.

The patient coughed, and Amara’s cheeks heated again. The young woman hadn’t commented on her extended presence—yet, but she was watching Amara count the supplies in the cabinet. Amara made a note to restock the extra-small gloves, and wanted to shake herself.

Coward! her brain screamed. She should march out of the room and pretend that Eli was just any other doctor on the ER floor.

Boston General was supposed to be her fresh start. Her new place.

And Eli was here.

Did he still have to look so handsome?

Amara hated the selfish thought. Eli had been gorgeous in college, and the last decade had been very kind to the man. No beer belly or receding hairline for him. No, he was still the tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired medical student that had been every woman’s dream date. Except now, he was an ER doctor. Not a surgeon.

Joy tapped across Amara’s skin. Eli had evidently followed his own path. That didn’t make it any easier to walk out the door and say hello, but she was surprised by how much it warmed her heart.

Amara once believed they’d grow old together. That they’d work in the same ER and go home to a small house with a couple of kids. It had been a good fantasy, and for a short period, she thought those dreams were enough for Eli too. But what was a happy home life compared to medical glory?

Amara’s heart clenched as she forced the past away.

What was Eli doing at Boston General?

She’d assumed he’d gone to Chicago. It was ridiculous, but every year she checked the online annual hospital report to see if he was listed with the other top surgeons. He’d wanted to be like his father so much, but working at Boston Gen. wasn’t likely to land Eli on that list.

In a city full of prestigious academic hospitals, Boston Gen.’s administration wasn’t interested in attracting investors that would make demands that took resources away from the hospital’s patients. Which meant it was chronically underfunded in its quest to provide quality care. Eventually, many of its talented physicians and nurses sought out the hospitals with research dollars, beautiful new buildings and better hours.

The low retention rate for employees at Boston Gen. was well-known. It was one of the reasons why, when Amara figured she needed a change to jump-start her life, she’d applied here.

If she’d known Eli was working at this hospital… She forced that thought away. It didn’t matter. Amara was not going to be another retention statistic on Boston Gen.’s ledger.

Squaring her shoulders, she marched from the room and ran directly into the head nurse, Susan.

“Sorry!” Amara grabbed her to keep them from tumbling to the floor. She instinctively looked over Susan’s shoulder. Eli was gone—at least he hadn’t witnessed her bout of clumsiness.

What would he say when they finally crossed paths?

Amara ignored that thought. She didn’t want to think about Eli, now. Or ever, though there was little hope of that.

“No harm done…?” Wrinkles ran along Susan’s forehead as she stared at her.

“Amara,” she said helpfully. She’d stepped in at the end of their orientation yesterday when Susan had announced that the ER was short-staffed for this evening’s shift. Amara doubted the head nurse had even bothered to write her name down before rushing back to her post.

She looked around Susan one more time and then mentally chastised herself. Amara needed to get Eli out of her head.

“Looking for someone?” Susan raised an eyebrow.

“A doctor… I…no,” she stuttered.

Amara suspected Susan knew she was lying, but at least she didn’t press her. “While we have a lull, I wanted to see if you’d help with the health fair in a few weeks. All the hospital’s departments have a few booths. Several of the ER doctors always run their own. There is a competition—the winner gets two extra vacation days.”

Eli would love that. He’d thrived in competitive environments in college—always pushing himself to come out on top. But Amara hadn’t been the right prize. She knew that wasn’t fair, but a decade later, she still woke up from dreams where he was holding her. Her subconscious refused to give up the whisper of hope Amara was too scared to voice while awake.

Pain rippled up her spine, but she ignored it. Amara was starting a new chapter, and it did not include Dr. Eli Collins. Straightening her shoulders, she gave Susan her full attention. “Put me down for whichever booth needs help.” Her voice didn’t sound as strong as she wanted, but at least it was a start.

A man walked behind Susan, and Amara made sure to keep her gaze focused on the head nurse. She was not going to look for Eli again—she wasn’t.

“You might want to get to know the doctors who are participating first. Like I said, this helps the community, but the competition…”

Amara waved away Susan’s concerns. “It’s fine. I don’t need extra vacation time.” Her father and his new wife lived in California now, and she had no desire to visit.

Not that she’d been invited.

Jovan Patel had barely waited until her mother was gone to set a wedding date. No long mourning period for him.

“We’ve got a four-car pileup coming in!” one of the nurses cried as she ran past Amara and Susan.

Susan turned and yelled, “Dr. Collins was talking to his daughter over by room 3, but he might be in room 7, putting in a few stitches now, and Dr. Stanford is in room 6.”

Amara’s insides chilled. Eli had a daughter. Perhaps even a wife. Her heart raced as she headed for the ambulance bay doors. It was her body prepping for the incoming wounded, not because of Eli.

How simple would life be if she could believe that?

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Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Quirky Stories, The Writing Life

After the Happily Ever-After

Romance is the only genre that guarantees a happily-ever-after. That warm fuzzy feeling that everything will be alright is baked in. If that premise isn’t met, then the book is not a romance, despite the multitude of lists that routinely tout non-happily ever afters as the “Greatest Romance.” Looking at you, Wuthering Heights and Great Gatsby!

What we never really get to see is the “after” story. Sure, we may get a brief epilogue a few months or a few years later. Usually, it’s a snapshot showing that the couple is still happy and often starting or growing their family. But then what?

The truth is that what happens next looks a lot less exciting to the outside world. It doesn’t have the tension of will they or won’t they to keep the story going. If I included it in my novels, I know my lovely editor would tell me that it might be better on the cutting room floor.

But it’s the simple bits after the grand declarations that make a great love story. On Tuesday, my husband and I will celebrate thirteen years of marriage. Our day to day life is routine now. We’re raising two girls, going to the office, making dinner, and binge-watching Netflix. He’s on his tablet as I type these words. It is not the stuff that lands between the covers of my books.

But it is what my books are based on. That feeling that love can last forever. That years into the future, two people can look past the gray hairs and smile lines and wonder how did I get so lucky?

My husband still gets up and shovels the snow off my car, even when he doesn’t have to be at work until much later than me. He always starts the electric kettle so I can pour hot water over my coffee grounds as soon as I come downstairs. Though that may be self-preservation – I am a nightmare before caffeine! And he’s shouldered more than his fair share of housework, homework, and carpooling when I am on a tight deadline.

These are the moments that make a real happily ever after. And I want my readers to believe my characters are still doing these things for their partner long after the epilogue has ended. Because no matter who you are or who you love, we are all worthy of someone who treasures us – years after the vows have been said.

Happy early anniversary to my hero. Thanks for the inspiration.

Juliette Hyland_Wedding