Thursday, February 22, 2018

Beverley Oakley's Tour and New Book

Beverley Oakley was seventeen when she bundled up her first her 500+ page romance and sent it to a publisher. Unfortunately drowning her heroine on the last page was apparently not in line with the expectations of romance readers so Beverley became a journalist.

Twenty-six years later Beverley was delighted to receive her first publishing contract from Robert Hale (UK) for a romance in which she ensured her heroine was saved from drowning in the icy North Sea.
Since 2009 Beverley has written more than thirteen historical romances, mostly set in England during the early nineteenth century. Mystery, intrigue and adventure spill from their pages and if she can pull off a thrilling race to save someone’s honour – or a worthy damsel from the noose – it’s time to celebrate with a good single malt Scotch.

Beverley lives with her husband, two daughters and a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy the size of a pony opposite a picturesque nineteenth-century lunatic asylum. She also writes Africa-set adventure-filled romances tarring handsome bush pilot heroes, and historical romances with less steam and more sexual tension, as Beverley Eikli.
Character Interview for The Accidental Elopement

Q -What’s your name?
Katherine: Katherine and I’m the daughter of Lord and Lady Fenton, though I spend a lot of time with my Uncle, the Earl of Quamby. That’s where I met Jack, the young boy from the foundling home who came regularly to be a playmate for my Cousin George. George didn’t know how to behave with honour and dignity so it’s funny to me that it was Jack, from the foundling home, who was his role model.
Q -Where did you grow up?
Katherine: I spent a lot of time in the gardens of Quamby House hiding in the apple tree with Jack when we were seven. George who was very spoiled and something of a bully. At the time, I didn’t realise how much George wanted to be admired by Jack and loved by me.
Sadly, the consequences of my dismissive attitude towards George has resulted in terrible tragedy for all of us. I’m hoping it’ll work out, but I don’t imagine any of us will get our heart’s desire, now. Honour is at stake and Jack is too much the man of honour to sacrifice his solemn pledge to his dying benefactor Zebediah Worthington which is that he’ll marry and protect his daughter.
Jack and I missed our chance. I must accept that, now.
But it’s hard.
Q -During what time period does your story take place?
Katherine: 1925 (when we were 7), 1836 (when we were 18), and 1843 (when we were 24).
Q -What’s your story/back story?
Katherine: I’m the daughter of Fanny Brightwell who, with her sister, Antoinette, is known as London’s Matchmaking Queen for having made scandal-ridden rags-to-riches marriages. Consequently, my mother has been very protective of me but I resemble her greatly in character.
Jack has been my best friend since I was 7 and it was terribly inconvenient when we met at 18 and fell in love, just as I was about to find a titled and well-connected husband.
Although Jack had been adopted by a good family and brought up as a gentleman from the age of eight, he was not the kind of husband I was looking for. Besides, he was off to the West Indies to make his fortune. But then I realised I couldn’t live without him.
Unfortunately, a terrible misunderstanding led to my eloping with the wrong man. Of course, Jack never knew. Not until his mother wrote and told him months later I was now Lady Marples. He thought I’d forsaken him.
Q -Why would someone come up with a story about you?
Katherine: I’m sorry to say that I think that is a rather impertinent question. I am considered rather fascinating by most of the gentlemen I meet.
Q -What’s your goal in this story?
Katherine: To be happy. I lost Jack once, and I must accept that, now he’s back seven years later – even though I’m a widow - there are too many conflicts standing in the way. I have my daughter as solace while my aunt is embarking on a madcap scheme to unite Jack and me. The trouble is, if I use my trump card to win Jack, it’ll destroy him.
I know that, but I love him too much to do that to him.
Thank you for taking an interest. I don’t think my story will have a happy ending, though my aunt says they don’t call her the Matchmaking Queen for nothing.

It’s true, I would swim through shark-infested oceans if it were to save the man I love.
But I won’t do anything to make him beholden to me.

 Excerpt from The Accidental Elopement:
In this excerpt, Katherine is hiding in a dark corridor to avoid dancing with someone she has no wish to see during her first ball as a newly arrived London debutante. She then receives a rude shock!

No one had thought to light a candle sconce and this second corridor turning she’d taken was as black as a dungeon. Katherine couldn’t even see her hand but she wasn’t frightened of the dark. No, Katherine was not fainthearted.
Yet she did squeal when, taking another step, her progress was impeded by a very large object and, with no warning at all, she found herself flying through the air, landing with a painful jarring of her wrists upon the cold, hard flagstones.

“Good Lord!” came a disembodied young male voice in the dark before a groping hand located a piece of Katherine – namely a hank of hair – which caused her to shriek even louder when it was quite unnecessarily tugged. Whether this was to establish who or what she was, she had no idea – and perhaps neither did the tugger for immediately a profound apology was issued before the groping hand was operating with complete abandon in the dark.
This time it found Katherine’s breast just as the voice said in tones of utter mortification, “Forgive me! Are you hurt? Here, let me help you. That’s what I was trying to do, I promise. I didn’t realise you were on the ground? Take my hand. Really, I can’t apologise enough.”

Katherine had made one unsuccessful attempt to stand but it was a struggle in her flounced skirt and multiple corded petticoats. She swatted away the supposedly helping hand and hissed something unintelligible – somehow unladylike language seemed less of an offence when she couldn’t see to whom she was speaking.
But when the disembodied groping hand entered her orbit once more – in fact, brushing the bare flash above her garter and getting in a good squeeze of her thigh flesh, her temper which had never been one of her strong points, snapped and she lashed out with a sharp slice through the inky air.

A loud yelp made her realise she’d perhaps been a little peremptory and certainly too violent in this unladylike action and even though she felt disinclined to apologise she did say, ungraciously, “I’m sorry I hit you but a lady can only take so much of all this groping in the dark. I mean…what were you doing?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” came the response, now at ear level. In fact, she could feel the soft whisper of breath against her cheek which made her step back, saying, “I asked first.”

“I was chasing a cat. Bending down in fact. And then something crashed into me. Or on top of me.”
“That was me.”

“Yes, of course it was you. There’s no one else here, is there?”
Katherine bridled at his tone. She was unused to being spoken to as if she were at fault when, in this case, she most certainly wasn’t. “I think that’s a very rude response,” she told him. “Just as it was very thoughtless of you to crouch down where anybody could simply trip over you.”

“Anybody – or rather, anybody else – would be carrying a candle. I think I have every reason to be deeply suspicious of the motives of anyone who is not.”
“Well, you don’t have a candle. And I would suspect the truth of anyone hiding away in the dark, claiming they were crouching over an imaginary cat,” huffed Katherine. “In fact, I’d wager there was no cat here at all. I would have heard it. No, you were sneaking away from something, weren’t you?”

“And if I was, what business of yours? Whoever you are.”
Katherine could not imagine the audacity. “You certainly are no gentleman to speak to a lady in that fashion.”

“Since that lady hasn’t bothered to declare herself, I think I could be forgiven.”
“A gentleman would have declared himself first,” Katherine said hotly. “What were you sidling away from? There’s a noisy ball going on in the next room. If you were a gentleman, wouldn’t you be gallantly asking the ladies to dance instead of hiding in the dark? Perhaps there’s someone you’re afraid of seeing? A lady who has expectations of you behaving towards her as a gentleman.” Katherine said this triumphantly before elaborating on her theme. “My guess is that you’ve given some poor young lady the idea that you’ll dance with her all night and now you’ve changed your mind and are sneaking away.”

“Since you put forward the idea, I’d suggest the reason you’re here is exactly the same. You’re trying to sneak away from a gentleman to whom you’ve already promised two dances. Meanwhile he, poor fellow, is searching for you vainly in the ballroom while you’re here making a mockery of him.”
“He can do that all by himself,” Katherine sniffed. “But I never promised him anything and I never will.”

“Ha! I was right.” The voice sounded very pleased with itself. “Well, I feel sorry for this fellow without even seeing what you look like, miss. Poor fellow!”
“Poor fellow, indeed. George can pine til the cows come home. I’d even suffer talking to you than have to spend another five minutes with his sweating hands squeezing mine and his moon eyes boring into me…and his horrible, putrid breath choking me and his—”

“Poor George! I was just starting to feel sorry for him until you described the exact George I, too, am so at pains to avoid tonight.” The voice became more confidential and the mood relaxed.

Katherine crossed her arms and waited for him to speak again for she was rather interested in his George and then quite amused when the voice began to describe the very George against whom she railed.
“Well, you have described my cousin to a very fine point,” she laughed. “And if you are as well acquainted with him as you seem to be, then you obviously know exactly why I am here in the dark.”

There was a small silence. And then, “Your cousin?”
“In my family there are two Georges: Young George who is the son of my aunt and her husband, Lord Quamby, and Odious George who is his uncle, George Bramley.”

“Then we’re talking about the same George!” The voice sounded stunned.
A quick gasp from both of them was followed up by a delighted cry in unison.

Buy Link for The Accidental Elopement
Order The Accidental Elopement now for the special price of $2.99 and you'll get an ecopy of Scandalous: Three Daring Charades in the Pursuit of Love. Just send a screen shot of proof of purchase to Beverley (at) and she'll send you the link for your free book.

You can get in contact with Beverley at:
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Free Kindle Promotion Days - Are They Still Worth It?

I’m posting another post from ALLi - Alliance of Independent Authors. This one is Book Marketing: Free Kindle Promotion Days - Are They Still Worth It?
By Katharine Smith Book Promotion & Marketing

When I first decided to self-publish, I remember speaking to another writer who had done extremely well from using the free Kindle promotional tool available to books enrolled in KDP Select, so I thought I’d give it a go with my first novel. I rushed into it with very little planning and was inevitably disappointed! To her 12,000 free downloads and multiple daily sales thereafter, I achieved about 200 and a subsequent sales flatline.
Since then, I have written and published three further novels of my own, and published about thirty books for other writers. I have also learned a lot more about running free promos.

Yes, they go against the general guidance to go wide’! You are giving away for free the book you spent hundreds of hours writing, and there are so many titles to compete against. I know it can seem a futile exercise. So why bother?

Reasons to Go Free
If, like me, you have extremely limited marketing time, you might find that running a free Kindle promo from time-to-time is a fairly quick, easy way of giving your books a little boost. I have had some good successes:
- about 4,000 downloads
- new readers for my mailing list
- some glowing reviews

As Part of a Wider Book Marketing Plan
Ideally it should form part of an overall marketing plan, to keep up momentum, but it is something you can do once every ninety days if you want to, and if you plan it well, it can be very worthwhile.

Top Tips to Make the Most of a Free Kindle Promotion
A few pointers to get you started:
- Plan – give yourself a month or so to set things up properly.
- Make sure the freebie is on Amazon UK an US – you have to set both separately.
- Choose dates wisely select dates when you will be available to do a bit of live promotional activity.
- Start mid-week – it’s a good time for people who are looking for their weekend reading.
- Put the word out if nobody knows your book is free, they won’t be downloading it. There are numerous sites where you can register your freebie, for no fee – although they may not guarantee your listing. (Collate the book details first – author name, ASIN, URLs, etc.)
- Select the right categories – don’t risk getting a bad review when your dark thriller is downloaded by people looking for a bit of light-hearted romance.
- Set a budget – if you can afford paid-for advertising, decide how much, and choose wisely. Some sites and services are definitely better than others.
- Stick to your budget – every promo will hit a peak. When those figures start to fall, it can be tempting to spend more. Don’t do it!
- Tell people when the promo is live – there are some great Facebook groups which you can notify and post to.
- Keep records Amazon rankings, daily downloads, numbers of reviews, which sites/FB groups you have had success with. This will all be useful for measuring success and planning future promos.

You can check out this and other articles at

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Business Models for Indie Authors: Which One Is Right For You?

I thought this might interest some of you, so I stole it from Alli (the Alliance for Independent Authors)
It’s a great group, full of lots of information. Check it out.

Authors can make enough money to make a living in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common business models employed by successful author businesses.

1. Single-Minded Model: Write Fast, Publish Often

Writing in a popular genre, writing fast, publishing often. Often Amazon only to take advantage of KU (Kindle Unlimited), and often ebook only, or with print and audio as an also-ran.

2. Wide Model: Multiple Formats and Retailers

Referred to in the community as “going wide”, publishing through Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, and distributors like Draft2Digital and PublishDrive as well as KDP, and IngramSpark as well as Createspace for books. And multiple formats: ebook, print, audio. The idea is to reach as many readers as possible and build a growing readership, steadily, over time.

3. Books Plus Mentoring Model: Information Products and Consultancy

A nonfiction model, whereby books are supplemented by speaker and consulting income, together with higher-margin, information products connected to the book, (often done as back of the “room” sales, after a speaking gig or webinar)

4. Books Plus Teaching Model: Supported Learning

This is true teaching, not just an information product. The time-honored way is through an educational establishment, like a university, but now it can happen online but it distinguishes itself from Model 3 by being real, active teaching in a supported learning environment, with the author, or another real person, correcting modules and exercises, not just giving information.

5. Books Plus Reader Membership Model: Benefits For Close Readers

Keen readers are invited to subscribe monthly or annually to a membership program that offers various benefits. Again, this generally works better for non-fiction authors, although some fiction authors, especially women’s and romance novelists, have made a great success of these.

6. Books Plus Sponsorship or Patronage: Support from Other Individuals or Businesses

Wealthy patrons have never been as generous to writers as to fine artists, for some reason, and these days, it’s more likely to be a brand, arts council or other sponsor offering money, and wanting something in return for the investment.  Often, awareness from your fans or followers. Another new opportunity for this model is crowdfunding through Patreon or similar.

7. Multiple Streams of Income

The most common, and perhaps the safest, business model but one that can make a creative business owner very time poor. In addition to combining any of the above, authors can also now benefit from affiliate income through their web Any comment site recommendations, paid freelance writing gigs, prizes, grants and other options. Combining these is a workable way can take time, but when you get the mix right, it can be very rewarding, creatively and commercially.
Anybody work with some or all of these? How about crowdfunding? How do they work for you?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Janet Lane Walters and 50 Years of Writing

Janet lane Walters was born in Wilkensburg, Pa July 17, 1936 reported to be the hottest day of the summer. She has been a published author since 1968 beginning with short stories and moving into novels when an editor told her a short story sounded like a synopsis for a novel. In the 197os and 1980s she published 4 sweet nurse romance novels. Then she returned to school to earn a BS in Nursing and a BA in English. Returning to work as a nurse to help put four children through college she put her writing career on hold. In 1993 she retired from nursing and began writing again. A new nurse romance followed in print. Then she discovered electronic publishing and since 1998 has been electronically published.

Janet calls herself an eclectic writer since she moved from genre to genre. There are mysteries featuring Katheine Miller a former nurse who seems to stumble over bodies wherever she goes. Using her interest in Astrology, she ahs several series that use Astrology as a premise for the stories. Once she earned enough money to travel to Ireland by casting charts for people. She has many books in the romance genre, some of them are contemporary and are nurse romance, others fall into the fantasy or paranormal forms of romance. Interested in reincarnation, she has used this as a jumping point for at least two novels. Two of her novels deal with alternate worlds using a love affair with Ancient Egypt.

Under her other name J.L. Walters she has written a YA fantasy series called Affinities. She has also written a non-fiction book when her co-author Jane Toombs that won the EPIC Award in 2003 for best Non-fiction. During her career she has received other awards and has a number of great reviews.

Besides her four adult children, she has seven grandchildren. Five of them are the models for the YA series. The other two arrived too late to play a large role in the series. Four of her grandchildren are bi-racial and 3 are chinese so the eclectic even invades her family. She has been married to the same man for more than 50 years. He's a psychiatrist who refuses to cure her obsession for writing.

A funny thing happened on my way to publish my first novel. I had sent a short story to an editor who had purchased several others. Her response set me off to do some research. "Your story sounds like the synopsis for a novel." I had mastered short stories and had no intention of writing a novel. Two things intervened. The short story market was dwindling with fewer magazines printing short stories. The second was the challenge. Could I write a novel? My short stories were short between two thousand and five thousand words. A novel was a lot longer. I went to the library and took out every book I could find about writing novels and sat down to read. The first bit of advice was "Write what you know." Though the short story had been a mystery, I felt writing one was too complicated, so I looked for another idea. I knew about nurses, doctors and hospitals. I also knew romance might be something to try so I sat down and planned and plotted. Pages of character development. Searching for the perfect settings. Visiting a small town to get a feel for the location. 

Finally, New Nurse In Town was born. The heroine needed to get away. She had caught her fiancé in bed with another woman. Though he tried to assure her this meant nothing, she was crushed, and she runs to the town where her brother lives. There she meets the local doctor and applies for a job at the clinic. I began the book in 1969 and felt confident that I had written a great book. Weren't my short stories bought almost as soon as they were written. Wrong. But I learned. The book was finally published in 1972. There may be copies, other than the ones on my shelf, floating around.

As you can see, I've been published for a long time. Fifty years ago, things were different from today. At the time I began, both magazine and book publishers abounded. Then the short story market dried up, unless you wrote literary stories and could be published by a university press. When I began submitting my novels, there were dozens of book publishers. Some only published hard cover books and the others published paperbacks.  Now the number has dwindled and changed. There are print only, print and eBook, publishers and eBook only. When I began, there was something that really helped me hone my writing skills. The editors wanted the whole manuscript. The editors often made comments all over your manuscript or put words of advice in the rejection letter. New Nurse in Town was rejected many times, but the comments came back, such as "Your characters are acting in vacuum." "Your characters sound the same. Where are their voices?" There's a weakness in your plot line." "Revise, revise, revise." All of these suggestions helped immensely and finally the first book became published. A version was published in England and it was also serialized in a newspaper. All in all, these past 50 years have been an adventure, alone, with friends and with the characters in my books.

Buy Link for Murder and Bitter Tea:
You can Find Janet at

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Computer Tech Scams

My husband experienced a scam I hadn't heard of so I thought I'd share info about it in case it happened to any of you.

He turned on his computer and a loud voice said "Your computer has been locked and blocked. Do not turn it off or you could be exposed to id fraud and virus. Call this number right away.
He immediately called that number and someone answered and helped him unlock the computer and explained that he had been hacked and about the number of virus that had infected the computer, but they would clean it up for him. However he had to purchase one of three plans, immediately before they could start work. The plans were 1-2 and lifetime and went from $400 - $700. It was with American Geek.
I told my husband to tell them no and hang up, and searched American Geek and it immediately came up tech scam.

Here's some of the information it said.
One easy way to quickly detect a Windows tech support scam is to look at the domain name that appears in the address bar of your browser. If you're being told that Microsoft has found a problem on your computer and the address says something confusing like originifitsnormalpro.xys, you can be pretty sure someone's trying to scam you.
When the scammers go full screen on you things get a little more complicated. At first glance, everything seems legit: the browser has that reassuring green button at the left that indicates the web page is secure and belongs to Microsoft. The address bar reads The scary alert pop-up even shows " says:" at the top.

It's a full-screen webpage that's pretending to be a browser. Like other tech support scams, this one does its best to convince you that there's really something wrong with your computer. The alert assaults users with warnings about very real malware.
And just like a good late night "as seen on TV" pitch, the scammers try to create a sense of urgency. They tell you that your computer will be locked and blocked from the network "to prevent further damage." To make sure you feel compelled to take action, they ask that you call in the next five minutes... just like the Sham-Wow guy so famously did.
Beware of American Geek.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Self-publishing News

I’m having a few challenges with my blog, so I hope you’ll hang in there with me. You think you have everything under control and then life comes up and smacks you down.
I lost one of my Shiba’s this past week, my best friend for sixteen years. It’s an extremely difficult thing losing a family member as I’m sure many of you know. And Thursday my guest blogger didn’t show up.

I’m trying to get back in to a routine – so here’s the blog I should have posted Tuesday.  This is from ALLi. You can read it the full article at
Not so long ago, we were waiting for Apple to smash through the ceiling to become the first $1Tn company. That may still happen, but there was a brief wobble as iPhone sales dropped from 78.2 to 77.3 million in the last quarter of 2017, though revenue of $88bn with an eye-watering $20bn profit is still pretty extraordinary. Amazon, meanwhile, on sales of $60bn, made a profit of “only” $1.9bn, though this was double their previous high and the first time they’ve broken through $1bn. I took home several messages from these figures (how very different the business models are, for example), but the main one for us as indies is salutory and it is this: we are a tiny tiny part of the pie for these behemoths, and when we start talking about flexing our muscle  when we don’t like changes, that’s what we need to remember. And talking of big moves and big numbers, Facebook‘s drive to reduce the time we spend there seems to be paying off, with a reported 2.14% drop in time spent on the site – which equates to 184 million daily US users, down from 185 million.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Kathleen Rowland's New Book and Tour

Book Buyers Best finalist Kathleen Rowland is devoted to giving her readers fast-paced, high-stakes suspense with an erotic love story sure to melt their hearts.  Her latest release is One Night in Havana, #34 in the City Nights series.
Kathleen also has a steamy romantic suspense series with Tirgearr Publishing, Deadly Alliance is followed by Unholy Alliance. Keep an icy drink handy while reading these sizzling stories.

Kathleen used to write computer programs but now writes novels.   She grew up in Iowa where she caught lightning bugs, ran barefoot, and raced her sailboat on Lake Okoboji.  Now she wears flip-flops and sails with her husband, Gerry, on Newport Harbor but wishes there were lightning bugs in California.
Kathleen exists happily with her witty CPA husband, Gerry, in their 70’s poolside retreat in Southern California where she adores time spent with visiting grandchildren, dogs, one bunny, and noisy neighbors.  While proud of their five children who’ve flown the coop, she appreciates the luxury of time to write.

Character Interview from One Night in Havana
What’s your name?
Veronica Keane, but family and friends call me Roni.
Where did you grow up?
New York City
During what time-period does your story take place?
What’s your story/back story?
You might say I’m a parent-pleaser, but what only child isn’t? My dream is to continue my late father’s research for the octopus’ nervous system by winning the grant at Cephalopod conference in Havana. I’d gain my mother’s respect, but she’d be even more ecstatic if I settled into a marriage and had children.
Why would someone come up with a story about you?
I only appear to be living an opulent lifestyle. Frustration is building. Except for research, my existence is sterile.
What’s your goal in this story?

Will I ever love a man enough to want to be with him for twenty-four hours? After that day is over, will a longing to be together follow or will I go back to my passionless life?
What conflicts are you facing?

I meet my competitor for the grant, Dr. Carlos Montoya. He’s smart, funny, and as ironic as it is, our research intersects.  After a couple of hours of talking and loving, I’ve met my soulmate. He’s a communist. I love my country.
Do you have a plan for resolving them?
What can star-crossed lovers do? Just when I met the love of my life, we’ll have to go our separate ways. How can I make the dream to be with this vibrant man come true?
confroIs there anything else you’d like us to know about you?
In spite of the fact Carlos is prideful and somewhat confrontational, I bring out the best in him. He needs a pushy New Yorker like me. She listens to his ranting until the bottom falls out. Trepidation builds inside me, and I don’t know what to expect at the final rewards ceremony.

Blurb from One Night in Havana:
A desperate competition and sizzling attraction leads to dangerous desire.
New York Marine biologist Veronica “Roni” Keane is attending the Havana Bay Conference in Cuba. Tomorrow only one grant will be awarded which will provide the winner with professional recognition, resources for a project, and living expenses for two years. She hopes to continue her deceased father’s work, but smooth operator, Carlos Montoya, has won many grants in the past.

 Carlos, a freelancer for the Havana Port Authority, works to help protect Havana’s reputation as a bastion of safety. As international travelers flock to the island, attracted by its 1950’s time-warp and colonial architecture, the drug business is running rampant, particularly on Roni’s cruise ship. Something’s not right, and when her scuba tanks are tampered with, Carlos brings in the military police to investigate. For her safety, he keeps her close, but he craves her body.

Their attraction leads to a fun night with a bit of kink. But Roni finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for when the criminals blame her for alerting the military police and come looking for her. Can Roni trust Carlos to protect her? Will she stay in Havana if Carlos wins the coveted grant, or kiss her lover goodbye?

Excerpt from One Night in Havana::
Chapter One
“Why, Veronica Keane.” A voice heavy with a Spanish accent drawled from behind her. “A dive bar?” A taunting tsk. “What do we have? A slumming New Yorker?”
She stiffened and closed her eyes. She knew that voice and its owner, Dr. Carlos Montoya, a finalist like her, competing for the same damn grant at the biggest Cephalopoda conference of the decade. Her heart pitter-pattered against her ribs. To turn toward him would intimate distress, or worse yet, weakness. She wouldn’t fail to win this grant, not when she was a final contender. “I like this funky little place.” Sia Macario Café, smack in the center of Havana, allowed her to observe locals and their daily lives.
“You need to eat with all the mojitos you’ve downed.” The big tease wasn’t counting. This was her first drink, but his rumbling, sexy timbre hinted at all kinds of dark, hot promises. She’d rubbed shoulders with the Cuban scientist all week. This splendid specimen of Latin male brought on a physical ache that punched low.
A flare-up stirred fear. For her own good, she needed to resist. “I ordered camarones enchiladas.” By now she knew the menu on the chalkboard by heart. She tipped her head back to whiff grilled shrimp soon to arrive in sofrito sauce with fried sweet plantains.
“The flan is good. Just like my abuela makes.”
I bet. Your grandmother would be happy to hear that,” she said, knowing he brought out the best in most people. Two days ago he'd invited her and a handful of others scuba diving. The chance to ogle him had been one of the perks. He’d worn nothing but swim trunks, his bare chest on display. Every glistening muscle was finely etched. Not a drop of fat on him. Since he’d not given her the time of day, she’d checked him out without him noticing.
The hard-bodied host had led the way toward habitats of soft-bodied creatures. To find where invertebrates lived was never an easy task. Octopuses squeezed into narrow passages of coral for protection and gave females a place to keep their eggs. She’d discovered the remains of a few meals nearby. Octopuses scattered rocks and shells to help them hide.
This grant meant so much to her and no doubt to him as well. Veronica mindlessly toyed with the gold necklace around her neck, but anxiety crackled through her brain. Unlike this man of action, she lacked the flamboyant personality necessary to talk people into things. Carlos had that ability. He'd made friends with judges on board while she’d conversed with an older woman about a box of scones made with Cuban vanilla cream.
That day the wind had picked up to a gale force, and this woman named Bela with Lucille Ball red hair needed help walking to her home. The half mile down the seaside promenade, The Malecón, had provided her with time to practice her Spanish. Turned out Bela was Carlos’s grandmother. She’d worked as a maid when the Castro government came to power. When private homes were nationalized, titles were handed over to the dwelling occupants. Bela owned a crumbling home in the respected Verdado district and rented out rooms.
What Veronica detested about Carlos was his abnormal level of talent for schmoozing. Not that he wasn't charismatic; he drew her like a powerful magnet with emotions hard to untangle. Why was a self-assured woman who ran her own life thinking about a man who commanded everyone around him?
She inhaled a breath and turned around on the barstool, caught fast by a gut punch of Carlos Montoya in the flesh. She sighed and surrendered to the tendrils of want, sliding up between her thighs.
Tall and muscular, his lush dark hair curled to his collar giving him a wild, roguish appearance. His face was lean and chiseled. His mouth full and tempting. His eyes the smoky-gray of a grass fire and fringed with black lashes as dense as paintbrushes. He smiled. A faint hint of mockery curved his mouth, a sensual mouth she imagined to be either inviting or cruel. Or both at the same time when he leaned over a woman with a diamond-hard gleam in his dark eyes while she drowned with pleasure. She fought a fierce desire to run her hand across his broad chest, tip her face upward, and…
His breath tickled her face.
Not going there. She blinked and forced her mind to focus. Carlos Montoya was not the kind of man you lost focus around. But that image of putting her mouth full on his and peeling away his shirt once introduced in her mind was impossible to expunge. Pointless even to try.
He was an intimidating blend of intellect and sexy danger. Both qualities had her leaning back against the bar’s edge. If it weren’t for him, she’d have a chance at winning the grant.
His lips twitched. “You’re staying on one of the cruise ships, am I right?” He rolled up the sleeves of his linen jacket to reveal a dusting of manly hair.
”Yes." Her cabin served as her hotel room while attending the January meetings with perfect high-seventies temperatures. His eyes locked with hers. She willed herself to move and yet she remained seated, clutching heat between her legs, a wetness so intense that her breath stalled in her chest while her heart hammered faster. Soon she’d return to freezing New York City.
“So, Bonita, give.” He slid onto the bar stool next to her. “What brings you down from a lofty ship to grace us lowly Cubans with your presence?”
Bonita. Pretty lady was not an endearment coming from the mouth curved in a taunting smile, but not a slight either. Not with his deep, melodic voice speaking words as if he knew secrets about her. What secrets did he know? Would he pry into her personal life? She doubted this bad-boy college professor acknowledged boundaries.
“Just drinks and dinner.” She scrambled for composure. “Aren’t we attending a world-class conference? I find the local population to be friendly and kind. That’s not slumming.”
The bartender set down a saoco. “Hope you like it, senorita.”
“Gracias,” she said. “Very nice, served in a coconut.”
“Ah, the saoco,” Carlos said. “Rum, lime juice, sugar, and ice. The saoco,” he repeated, disbelief heavy in his words. “Um. Wow. Once used as a tonic for prisoners of the revolution.”
“Medicinal?” She couldn’t help it. She chuckled and sounded as if a rusty spoon had scraped her throat raw, but it was genuine. The warm glow in its wake was welcome and needed.
He leaned an elbow on the bar, his beer bottle with the green-and-red Cristal label dangling between his fingers. “Be careful with that one.” He dipped his head toward the front door as if he needed to go somewhere soon.
That fast, the glow snuffed out. She cleared her throat and gripped the fuzzy surface of the coconut container.
He placed a five-peso coin with a brass plug on the counter and whirled it. The spinning motion mirrored a dizzying attraction going on in low parts of her belly.
She cleared her wayward mind and nodded toward artwork on the opposite wall. “I plan to buy a painting tonight.”
Don’t buy anything unless the seller gives you a certificate. You’ll need one to take art from Cuba. Artists deal in euros in case you don’t have pesos.”
She’d come prepared but said, “Thanks for the info.”
His coal-black eyes widened as he gazed from her head down to the tiny straps around her ankles as if she wore high heels and nothing else. “You give off a Barbie doll image,” he replied and stood up.
“Where’s Ken, anyway? Kenneth Morton. He came with you to the talks in Antarctica. Five years ago.” He grinned, and the mortification in her belly gave way to a longing which she had no business feeling toward her competitor.
“Ken and I broke up.” She hesitated for a moment. “You have a gift for remembering names. Like a salesman.”
A person’s name is, to that person, the most important and sweetest sound. Back then I introduced myself to Ken in the men’s room.”
“I remember now. Didn’t you give a talk on a specialized pigment in the octopus?”
“Ahh, si.” He splayed his fingers over his chest. “A pigment in their blood is—”
 “—called hemocyanin. Turns their blood blue and helps them survive subfreezing temperatures. Were you awarded something?”
“The antifreeze protein grant? No. It went to a deep-diving photographer. He wasn’t chicken about getting lost or trapped under the ice.”
She slid from her stool and strutted around, jutting her chin in and out like a chicken. “Bock, bock, bock, bock, bock, begowwwwk.”
He chuckled. “Cute chicken dance. Very cute in that skimpy black dress.”
Her cheeks heated, and she clutched her necklace. He’d seen plenty of women in body-fitting attire. In Cuba, women wore dresses to meetings. If she'd harnessed sexier mojo, she’d have livened up presentations. Her presentations with an abundance of dull data went south. She slid back against her stool and clutched her purse to her stomach as if the small satin bag could calm the nerves playing deep down kickball. She belonged in her tidy New York office filled with computers, modems, and research manuals. Not in this softly lit café where passion oozed from a man’s pores, and artists displayed their canvases. Here was where Havana’s trendsetters congregated, and Ernest Hemingway wrote about desire.
“Good luck with your purchases, Veronica Keane.”
Okay, so they weren’t going to pretend they were going head to head for the grant.
As if he had more to say, he grinned at her, his perfect white teeth flashing.. “Do you find us different, like apples and oranges?”
“What am I, an apple or an orange?”
“Hmm. You’re an apple.” He was doing that sexy voice thing which made her brain shut down. Heady.
It started with an unexpected spark, an instant attraction, the jolting jab of oh-I’m-feeling-something. Something like a flashfire in her belly, but now they were talking. “Am I the apple of desire? Want to take a bite out of me?” She pulled in a breath. Had she really said that?
Bonita, do I ever.”
“Tomorrow is the final ceremony.” Would she watch him walk to the podium to accept the grant?

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Tirgearr Publishing - Leading The Pack