At the beach with Leo and Quinn

Every year, as part of the build-up to Coastal Magic, I participate in a blog series on Literary Escapism called At the Beach. I write a short scene set (where else?) at the beach, featuring two or more of my existing characters. 

I asked the Temptresses for input about who should have the starring roles this year. The response was varied . . . but I did choose one couple. I’ll share that when the post goes live on Literary Escapism. 

But there was so much interest in some of the others . . . and because this year I have time for this kind of writing . . . so I decided to share some other At the Beach posts here, featuring different couples. 

Today it’s Leo and Quinn, from the Keeping Score series. Enjoy! 

PS: The photo above was taken at the beach where I’m writing this, during a family vacation. 🙂 Talk about the perfect inspiration! 

***~~~***

“How many weekends out of the year are not in football season?”

On the blanket next to me, Leo turned his head and blinked. “What?”

I pushed to sit up, wrapping my arms around my bent legs. “How many weekends are you not playing football, or on a bye week, or in pre-season or post-season?”

My husband—and didn’t it still give me a thrill to think of Leo as my husband, a year after our wedding—sat up, too, sliding his dark sunglasses into place over those gray eyes that could make me melt or smolder at any given moment. “Uhhhh . . . I don’t know that number off the top of my head, babe.”

I lifted my shoulder. “Take a guess.”

“Okay. Four weeks of preseason, seventeen weeks of regular games . . . then you’ve got wild card, divisional

My husband and kids playing football in the surf

round if you’re lucky, conference championship if you’re really lucky . . . Pro Bowl if your team isn’t playing in the big game . . . and then the big one. The super one. I guess that’s . . . what, about 25 weeks if your team is having the kind of year we all want it to have?” He reached over to tuck a strand of my hair behind my ear. “Why do you ask? Are you thinking of renegotiating our contract?”

Leo’s voice was light, but I felt the undercurrent of worry beneath his words. In our past, football and the demands of the game had taken a toll on our relationship. But not now.

“Of course not.” I rose onto my knees, framed his face with my hands and kissed his lips. Instantly, his arms were around my waist, pulling me hard against his body, and I felt my pulse skitter into overdrive.

But now wasn’t the time—or more importantly, the place. This Florida beach was mostly private, but there were still more than a few curious onlookers, and I knew from experience that it would be all too easy for someone to capture a few frames of Leo Taylor, rising star of the Richmond Rebels, and his wife getting busy on the beach. We didn’t want or need those kinds of headlines.

So with great reluctance, I dropped back to our blanket, lacing my fingers through Leo’s as I did. “I was just thinking. We have potentially twenty-five weeks out of the year when you’ll be committed to football. Add in organized team activities, mini-camp and training camp, and we’re talking another ten weeks. More than half of our year.”

“Uh huh.” Leo nodded. “That’s true.”

“It seems to me, then, that the other weekends out of the year should be spent on the beach. I think it’s only fair.”

It took Leo a minute to process what I’d said. “Oh, really? That’s what you think? Hate to break it to you, babe, but some of those weekends could be pretty damn frigid. A good part of my off-season is in February, March and April . . . not exactly peak season for beach weather.”

“It doesn’t have to be this beach.” I grinned at him. “There are plenty of others we can explore. Think . . . Hawaii. Think the Caribbean. The Mediterranean. Go big, baby.”

“Hmmmm.” He frowned, but I knew that he was just playing with me. “Let’s think about this. If I agree to spend all my non-football time on a beach with you, does that mean you’ll wear sexy little bathing suits like this one all the time?” One of his talented fingers skimmed the edge of my bikini top, making my nipples pucker. Leo noticed that, of course, and one eyebrow quirked with interest.

“I think that can be arranged,” I whispered, linking my hands together behind his neck and pressing myself into his solid warmth. “Just imagine the savings in my clothing budget, if I only have to worry about beachwear during the off-season.”

“I’m thinking about it right now.” His lips were next to my ear. “I’m also thinking about that project we’ve been talking about starting . . . project Taylor, the next generation? How do you feel about telling our daughter or son that she or he was conceived on the beach?”

I giggled. “I believe having a story that embarrasses your offspring is a requirement for parents. Our parents have that one down, for sure.”

“True.” Leo’s hands inched lower until they covered my ass, griping me tight. “Mia? All this talk about the offseason has made me . . . uhhh, intrigued. Let’s go inside and talk about it some more. You know . . . in private?”

I kissed my husband’s neck. “I’m all over that plan, baby. Let’s go inside and . . . explore all the possibilities . . . deeply. Again and again and again . . .”

Leo groaned. “Killing me, babe.”

“But you love me.” I didn’t have any doubts on that front.

“Even more every single day.” His kiss was full of promise, full of the future. “Let me show you how much.”

And he did.

You can read all of Leo and Quinn’s story right here in the Keeping Score series, available at all retailers.

#AprilReadingChallenge: April TBR

 

Welcome to April! It’s my favorite month of the year . . . for many reasons. First, of course, it’s spring. When I lived in a more season-oriented climate, April was the first month when we could count on more warm days than cold ones. And it was the month of daffodils, tulips and forsythia. The air was filled with fragrance.

And April is *my* month–I celebrate my birthday on the 7th!

This year, I also have a huge release on that same day. AGE OF AQUARIUS goes live on the 7th.

So when I saw this reading challenge for April, I thought . . . why not?

APRIL 1st: April TBR

This is always complicated, because often reading time is hard to find. *But* I know some of my favorites are releasing amazing books this month, so . . .

Man Candy by Melanie Harlow I discovered this author very recently, reading her latest release If You Were Mine and then the one before it, After We Fall. (Yes, I’m reading them backward, but it doesn’t make any difference.) Man Candy is on this month’s list, for sure! These are terrific, well-written romances with tons of heat and well-developed characters (you know how important that is for me!). I highly recommend them

The Hot Shot by Kristen Callihan Yes, I am a sucker for all things KC and especially her Game On books. These are consistently well-written, amazing football romances, and I am counting the days until April 18th! 

All in the Landing by Olivia Hardin This is not an exact link as it’s not up for preorder yet, but I happen to know it’s coming April 25th . . . and I’ll have it in MY hot little hands even sooner! Wahooo! This is a new book in my favorite Rawley Family series by Olivia, and since I got hooked in the prequel, All in the Takeoff, I can’t wait for this one. 

What’s on YOUR April TBR? Well, along with the above, might I suggest . . .

Age of Aquarius Coming April 7th

 

Zone of Action: Career Soldier Book #4 Coming April 18th (Cover in the newsletter this week!)

 

What’s Cooking? Chicken Espagnole (Hanging By A Moment)

Various herbs and spices on black stone plate

By her own admission, Quinn Russell isn’t much of a cook–or at least she’s not very interested in the kitchen. (Will that change in Days of You and Me? Hmmm . . . stay tuned . . .) But her friend and college roommate Zelda Porter does love to cook and is something of an amateur chef. In this scene from Hanging By A MomentQuinn catches her friend making a special occasion meal . . .

“What’re you doing?” I closed the dryer and started it up, stepping away from it so I could hear Zelda.
“Uh, I’m cooking.” Her voice held a faint tinge of . . . I couldn’t read it. Embarrassment?
“Cooking? For you and Gia? Well, aren’t you a good roommate?” I flopped onto the sofa. “You never cooked for me.”
“No, doll, I’m not cooking for Gia. I have a . . . date. I guess. Sort of.”
If she had told me that she was a spy who was cooking for the head of the CIA, I wouldn’t have been more surprised. Zelda was predictable only in her cynicism about romance and relationships. She had regular sex with an abundance of men, and she liked men, but she didn’t trust them.
“Uh . . . okay. Can I ask the name of this date?”
“You can ask, but I’m not going to tell. This is way outside my comfort zone, Quinn. It’s probably not going to amount to anything. If I’m wrong and it does . . . then you and I can talk. I’ll tell you all the down and dirties. But until then—if there is a then—I’m going to play it close to my chest.”
When I didn’t respond right away, she hurried to continue. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Quinn. I just don’t trust me. I’m going out on a limb here, and I’m actually scared shitless.”
“Zelda.” I crossed my legs at the knee and kicked one foot in the air. “I’m not insulted that you want to be, um, discreet. It’s your business. But don’t be scared, okay? You are the most incredible woman I know. You’re beautiful, you’re funny and you’re smart. Any guy would be lucky to date you. So don’t mess this up just because you think you’re not the relationship type, okay?”
Something sizzled on Zelda’s side of the phone. “I appreciate everything you said, Quinn. I don’t necessarily agree with you, but still, I’m grateful. I can only promise to do my best.”
“Good. Have fun, and don’t think I’m going to forget this. When I get home next month, you are so cooking for me.”
She laughed. “You got it, doll. We’ll be in our new apartment with a real kitchen, not this lame ass kitchenette. So I’ll make you something special to celebrate moving in, okay?”
“It’s a date.” I giggled at my own joke.

So who was Zelda cooking for, and what did she make? Well, no spoilers here–though you may have guessed the who–but I can tell you that for her mystery date, the enigmatic Ms. Porter prepared Chicken Espagnole, a dish that tastes fabulous and looks elegant but is actually fairly simple to prepare. This recipe was adapted from one served at The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, where I’ve enjoyed all their food on multiple occasions.

If you want to know more about Zelda’s secret lover, preorder Days of You and Me–and then get ready for her spin-off standalone book, Wildest Dreams, coming in 2017.

Zelda’s Chicken Espagnole

2 small chickens, backs removed, cut in half

CHICKEN SEASONING:

3 tsp Italian seasoning

2 tsp cayenne pepper

4 tsp black pepper

4 tsp white pepper

5 tsp onion powder

5 tsp garlic powder

2 Tbs paprika

4 Tbs salt

***

3/4 cup butter

3/4 flour

VEGGIES:

2 medium  onions, roughly cut

2 ribs of celery, chopped

1 medium green pepper, chopped

SAUCE SEASONING:

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp sage

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp salt

***

4 cups chicken stock

6-7 baby bella mushrooms, sliced

5 green onions, diced

Directions:

Place chicken halves in roasting pan with sides at least 3 inches. Sprinkle CHICKEN SEASONING over chicken and roast in 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove and set aside.

While chicken roasts, in a large pot melt butter and add flour to make a medium roux. Add VEGGIES and stir until coated. Cook about 20 minutes, then add SAUCE SEASONING. Cook until combined, then add chicken stock slowly, stirring well. Bring to a boil and cook on low for about 20 minutes. Add mushrooms and green onions, mix well and remove from heat.

Spoon sauce over chicken in roasting pans and return to the oven, roasting at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until chicken is tender. Serve over rice.

Two weeks until football–let’s talk parties and food!

 

Football

Is there anything that goes better with football than food? The perfect Sunday afternoon party has to include dishes that are delicious, fun and easy to eat. Each dish is the perfect opportunity to score big for the home team!

The top five must-serve football foods for the 2016 season are:

  • Beermosa Let’s face it: mimosas aren’t really football drinks. In those prissy little flutes, they don’t hold up to yelling at theIMG_2732 refs or chest bumps when your team scores. But a beermosa, served in a sturdy mason jar, is just what you need for a Sunday late morning or early afternoon gathering . . . or basically any time.  My recipe is simple: two fingers of orange juice, then fill the jar with my favorite beer. I used Bud Light with Lime, to add a little more citrus kick.
  • Buffalo Chicken Pinwheels Wings are a football party staple, but they’re a mess to make and to eat. These pinwheels give you a taste of buffalo and bleu cheese together without all the napkins! They’re quick and easy to make, and they go a long way. There are many variations, but this is one I like.
  • Roasted Garlic Cheese Dip Football party dips have to possess enough ooomph to knock down a linebacker. This one seems delicate enough, but it packs a punch. The cheese is rich, FullSizeRender 22but it’s the roasted garlic that makes this dish soar like the pigskin through the uprights. Serve this dip with toasted croutons, and you can’t go wrong.  Find the recipe here.
  • Tot Skewers Plain old French fries are so 2014. And even if you dress them up with cheese and bacon, they tend to become soggy–and hard to eat. But these tot skewers are a step up: they stay crispy, and they’re super-yummy, too. The ranch seasoning is the secret here–get the whole story!
  • Bread Bowl Chili Having a football celebration without chili is a definite flag on the play. But serving it up in a way that’s new and fun is the real challenge. That’s why these adorable bread bowls are perfect. They contain just enough chili to satisfy–and these crusty sea salt and rosemary rolls are just the thing to add both flavor and a brand-new way to enjoy it. Pipe a little sour cream over top to form the football stitching and add FullSizeRender 20some creaminess.  Use your own favorite chili recipe, scoop out the rolls and dish it up.

I’ll be serving all these dishes on September 27th, when we celebrate the release of DAYS OF YOU AND ME. I think Leo would approve of this menu!

Endings are hard. And I don’t like them.

STORIES

It’s late, I’m bleary-eyed and exhausted, but I felt compelled to write this tonight, when it’s still August 27th in some time zones.

One month from today, on September 27th, Days of You and Me, the third and final book in the Keeping Score Trilogy, will release. The book is finished, has been beta’d and is going through its final stages (fun stuff like dedication, acknowledgements and last minute-tweaks) before it heads off to formatting.

Like a mom reluctant to let go of her final baby as he heads off to college, I find that I’m perhaps dragging my feet a bit. Could I add more here? Explain more here? Elaborate more there? To be completely honest–and I’m too tired to be anything else just now–this book is probably the best-constructed one I’ve ever written. Usually in the weeks after I finish a story, I’m thinking of things I wished I’d added, even if they’re not always in the best interest of the plot. But with Days of You and Me, I’m not doing that. I feel that I’ve given everything to this one.

But I’m still not ready to let it go.

I’ve finished a series before. I remember when I sent off Endless, the final book in The King Quartet, my daughter asked if I were sad to see it end. I answered, “No! I’m done with them. I’ve written everything I have to say about this group of characters.”

(Incidentally, I was wrong, as Tasmyn, Michael and company will be back next April in Age of Aquarius. Stay tuned.)

Since that day, I’ve finished trilogies, but usually, I end up writing more in the same world. The One Trilogy continued in the Always Love books. Neither the Perfect Dish Romances or The Crystal Cove Romances have come to a conclusion yet.

Hmmm. Maybe I don’t like endings.

The Keeping Score Trilogy is different than anything I’ve ever written, and as such, it is precious to me. This story began to take root in my mind back in 2009, although it didn’t hit paper until November of 2010. Back then, it wasn’t what it is now. The characters had different names, and it was intended to be one book. But over the years, as I thought about it, the true plot began to emerge, and Leo, Quinn and Nate came to life in a way I’d never expected. They’ve become more than just characters.

These three have been with me for nearly seven years. They are dear to me. And ending their story was hard. It made me cry, like, a lot. More than I cried writing Joss’s scene in Undeniable. (No spoilers, but yeah, I cried.) See the graphic above: as the Prophet Chuck says, Endings are hard.

Yup. It’s official. I really don’t like endings.

But I’m proud of this book and of this trilogy. It is completely what it was always meant to be: the story of three people, three flawed, normal people, who encountered more than their share of life’s pain and challenges. Or maybe it wasn’t more than their share; perhaps they paid for later happiness with their early heartache. They were friends from birth, and between Leo and Nate, there was always Quinn, who was called on to make hard choices that very nearly broke her heart.

My beta readers have been sending me messages like . . .

OMG, thank you for sharing this with us. Thank you for letting me beta read for you. You are such a wonderful story teller. I admit I cried in a few places. 

How am I supposed to beta read if I keep tearing up?

I absolutely loved the book.  There are no other words to describe it than a perfect ending to an amazing love story.

I haven’t had a book make me cry in a really long time, and this one got me 3 times.

So much emotion reading this one. Today at work everyone kept asking me if I was okay my eyes were so swollen from crying.

Gah… I’m crying again. You’re killing me, Smalls… In a fantastic way.

I started reading slower and slower as I felt I was nearing the end, because I wasn’t ready to let go of Mia and Leo. And the epilogue…. What was the line in Steel Magnolias? Something along the line of “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” My reaction through the epilogue was just like my reaction to M’lynn during the cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias….crying so hard I could barely see, laughter, more tears. Tears of happiness, tears of tenderness, and I’m sad to see the end of the trilogy but looking forward to the spinoffs.

Hey, at least I’m not crying alone. No doubt - endings are hard. But then again... nothing ever really ends, does it-

PS: No, nothing really ends. There will be three spin-offs of this trilogy, three Keeping Score Romances. The first chapters of two of the three are included in DOYAM. 🙂

PPS: Days of You and Me is available for exclusive preorder on iBooks. You can also get a sneak peek chapter there. Check it out on iBooks’ very cool promotion, sitting pretty as the very first book in the same row with, oh, you know . . . Roxanne St. Clair. JD Robb. Susan Mallery. Whatever.

Screenshot 2016-08-28 00.35.18