Putting the ‘mmmm’ into Monsieur

Marriage is just a piece of paper.
Love demands a piece of his heart.

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“Ros’s sexy French soccer player can flash his tattoos at me any time. A fun and sexy read!” Laura Florand, International bestselling author

“Funny, clever and sexy: Ros Clarke delivers.” Kelly Hunter, USA Today bestselling author

It’s the release day for An Unsuitable Husband and that means you finally get to meet the French footballer I’ve been drooling over for the past twelve months. Emile is all tattoos, muscles, and – though you can’t really tell this from the picture – sexy grins. He’s fun and funny, he’s laidback except when it comes to his game, he’s confident and charming and I defy you not to fall for him. Theresa couldn’t help it, despite all her best intentions and her natural reluctance to get emotionally involved. She’s the perfect foil for Emile, ambitious, independent, totally career-focussed. She needs him to help her to relax and remember to eat lunch. He needs her to help him see that life is about more than football.

No, it is, honestly.

Check out the early reviews here. This one helpfully lists the reasons why you should read the book:

review

Thanks, Nicola! I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Whether you’re as football-obsessed as Emile, or like Theresa, you think it’s just ‘twenty-two men kicking a ball about as if it mattered’, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in An Unsuitable Husband. It’s funny, sexy and clever and even better, it’s on sale now at a special release bargain price of 99c.

Buy early! Buy cheap! Buy here:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | Google | All Romance

Oh, I almost forgot! There’s a blog tour and a giveaway and all sorts of exciting things, starting here and here. I’m giving away a $25 Amazon giftcard and Avery Flynn’s giving away a pendant and a t-shirt. Check out Avery’s new release, Betting the Billionaire.

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An Unsuitable Husband

Theresa Chartley has no time for marriage, and no room for disappointment–especially with French soccer player Emile Renaud. Sure, he’s gorgeous, but he’s wrong for a career woman like Theresa. If only her mother would stop pressuring her to get married and let her live her own life. Finding a very unsuitable husband to shock her parents into silence and put an end to the marriage campaign is the only answer. Emile will do just fine.

Theresa’s outrageous proposal is the answer to Emile’s problem. They’re complete opposites living in different worlds, but a fake marriage will let him ditch his clingy ex once and for all. Then he’ll be free of commitment and free to live his life the way he wants to.

A contract. Twelve months. And they walk away scot-free. But a year of marriage tests them both in unimaginable ways. Maybe Emile isn’t unsuitable after all, but how can Theresa let herself love him when she signed a contract to let him go?

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An Unsuitable Husband is a 50,000 word category romance novel.

Excerpt
The heavy thud of the beat blocked out all other rhythms. Every thought, every breath, every heartbeat drummed in time with the music. Theresa Chartley set her drink down and threaded her way through the crowds to the middle of the dance floor. Bodies on all sides formed a tiny cocoon, sheltering her as she gave herself over to the beat. The strong, deep pulse soothed her like nothing else could, giving her mind time to rest and the stresses in her subconscious a chance to seep away while she moved instinctively. In the music, she could be fully in the moment and it was bliss.

Half an hour later, she made her way back to the table and grabbed her bottle of water. She scanned the dark room to check on the friend she had come with. Julie’s distinctive white-blonde hair was easy to spot through the mass of people on the floor. Theresa watched her friend wrap herself around a guy so that their two bodies moved together perfectly. Briefly, Julie raised her head and caught Theresa’s eye. She winked. No rescue required there.

Theresa hadn’t come to the club to meet a guy. She’d come to forget about meeting guys. She’d called Julie on the way home from her parents’ house and arranged an evening designed to block out her mother’s latest insane plans. Melanie Chartley’s mission in life was to see her daughter married. She wanted the village church in June, decked with pink roses and white lilacs. She wanted Theresa in an ivory silk gown and all the men in top hats and tails. Mostly, Theresa suspected, she wanted a reason to boast to all her friends. For years, Melanie had dropped hints, subtle and not so subtle, but since Theresa’s thirtieth birthday, she’d stepped up the pressure and now she’d decided to take action. Next weekend, Theresa was expected to visit her mother so she could meet Hetta Black’s son.

“He’s a few years older than you, darling,” Melanie had told her over the phone, “but still very handsome. And you mustn’t mind about the children. They’re away at boarding school most of the time.”

“Children?” she’d repeated in horror.

“Oh, didn’t I say? He’s a widower, poor thing. But he’s been very brave about it, and now the children are old enough, he’s looking for someone new.”

“He won’t be looking for someone like me.”

“Don’t be silly, dear. You can be quite pretty when you make the effort.”

Theresa had closed her eyes and counted to three. “I meant that he won’t want a wife with a career like mine. I frequently work fourteen hour days, and I don’t have time for shopping, cooking, or chasing around after teenage children.” She didn’t have the energy to invest in that sort of relationship, either, but that was beyond her mother’s ability to comprehend. Short, self-contained flings with minimal emotional involvement suited Theresa best. Messy, complicated long-term commitments scared the hell out of her, especially the kind that came with a ring and a legally-binding promise.

“Well, naturally you wouldn’t continue with your job when you’re married.”

She’d hung up. There was no chance of convincing her mother and no point having the familiar argument all over again.

She’d call later in the week and make sure lunch was cancelled. And pray that Timothy Black found someone more suitable very soon.

But here in the club tonight, there was no reason to think about her mother and her suitable widowers. No need to think about anything. Just feel the music. Just feel the moment. She swayed her hips, letting the rhythm of the beat sink into her until she could feel it pulsing through her veins. She threw her head back, closed her eyes, and let herself dance as though no one was watching.

It took her a while to notice the guy. He was behind her, but he was matching his moves to hers. She could feel his breath in warm, soft ripples against her neck. His hips just brushed against the curve of her bottom. His shoulder occasionally bumped into hers, but when his hand slid around her waist, there was no mistaking it. No mistaking the delicious shudder of sexual attraction that shot straight through her, either. Her body knew he’d make love with the same perfect timing.

They danced for hours, her back against his chest, mirroring and matching and making love with their fully clothed bodies. Eventually, the dance floor was almost empty, but Theresa didn’t want to be the one to break their connection and she sensed he felt the same. The club was a protected bubble away from reality. As soon as they stopped moving, the magic would dissolve.

He didn’t break the rhythm when his lips brushed against her ear. “My place?”

Julie had left with her guy hours earlier. Theresa leaned back against his chest. She wasn’t in the habit of hooking up with random men in clubs. On the other hand, whoever this guy was, he wouldn’t be dragging her off to see the vicar and expecting her to say “I do” any moment now. “Why not?”

He spun her round and pulled her in so they were face-to-face for the first time. She slid her arms around his neck and pressed herself deliberately along the length of his body. His eyes gleamed for an instant and then darkened as he bent and claimed her lips.

Maybe it was the recklessness of kissing a stranger, maybe it was the hours of foreplay on the dance floor, or maybe it was just him. Whatever it was, Theresa had never experienced such a rush of desire from a simple kiss. One of his hands rested lightly against her bottom and the other curled into her short hair. She squirmed into his touch, silently urging him to stroke and explore and push her senses further out into the stratospheric levels of lust he’d already evoked. But his kiss remained steady and somehow that just made her long for more.

The cab ride was agonizing. Buckled in on opposite sides of the back seat, he stretched out his arm so his fingers rested on the nape of her neck. She didn’t dare move closer. Taxi sex was really not on her agenda, even on a reckless night like this. She just hoped he lived somewhere nearby, because the beat of the music was still throbbing in her blood, and her breath was still coming as fast as if she were dancing hard. Touching without looking had been incredibly arousing. Looking without touching was unreasonable torture.

He had dark hair, slightly longer than her mother would consider respectable, curled over his collar and flopped on his forehead. Visible stubble shadowed his strong jaw but did nothing to disguise the sensuality of his full lips and wide mouth. Hooded eyes regarded her with smoldering lust that made her breath hitch. She turned away in an attempt to take hold of herself.

“Not long now, chérie.”

She hadn’t noticed the accent in his brief, murmured words earlier. “You’re French?”

“Indeed.” He leaned lazily back against his seat but his fingers ceased to trace patterns at her neck.

“Is it true what they say about French men?”

“That depends what they say.”

God, that accent was sexy, especially when delivered in his deep, husky voice.

“That they make the most incredible…” She paused, and he raised an eyebrow at her. “…food.”

Read more:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | Google | All Romance

April 2014
Entangled Publishing
50,000 word category romance

The dialogue tags of Lynne Graham

So, on twitter there was a discussion about dialogue tags, and when/if it’s appropriate to use anything other than ‘said’. Willaful made the bold claim that Michelle Reid is the Queen of the Dialogue Tag and, I admit, her evidence is impressive. But I think that while Reid is a contender, there can only ever be one Queen of the Dialogue Tag, the incomparable Lynne Graham.

Readers, I adore Lynne Graham. No matter what flaws I can see in her writing (and there are plenty), I cannot help but gobble up every word. She can be funny, tender and above all, romantic. Her books are the ultimate Presents/Modern fantasies and I love them. But boy, does she have an issue with dialogue tags.

I took a relatively recent example, The Pregnancy Shock, and examined it. In chapter one, there are 44 dialogue tags. Just TWO of those are ‘said’, and in both cases they are modified by an adverb. Thirteen of the 44 tags included an adverb. One tag includes a made-up word: chokily. One tag uses a non-speech verb: incised.

By character:

Alexei (hero): drawled (2), volunteered, repeated, told, asked, incised, pressed, declared, said, derided, countered.
He did them: deadpan, with a shrug, harshly, drily, silkily and with amusement.

Billie (heroine): told, cut in, declared, said, whispered, reminded, told, asked (3), argued, answered, protested, shrieked, launched, snapped, flung.
She did them: sharply, ruefully, chokily, innocently, stiffly, in a positive rage.

Other female characters: raged, prompted, demanded, scolded, reasoned, pointed out, remarked, prompted, queried, volunteered, asked, replied.
They did them: impatiently, soothingly, firmly, wryly

Other male character: questioned, added

You are starting, I hope, to get the picture. Ms Graham likes us to know exactly how every word is intoned. In the entire book, there are just 21 uses of ‘said’ in a dialogue tag. All of them are modified by an adverb or adverbial phrase:

Billie says things: sharply (2), jerkily, gruffly, shakily (2), ruefully, valiantly, deadpan, with a determined lack of enthusiasm, awkwardly, guiltily, in surprise, wryly, uneasily, apprehensively.

Alexei says things: drily (2), very drily.

Other characters say things: with an artificial smile, cheerfully.

Some of the best dialogue tags:
“Please don’t put me in a position again where I have to escort your lady friends around while they discuss your sexual performance during the night before,” Billie framed in a tone of tremulous rage, her green eyes as bright as emeralds, her face pink and set in censorious lines.

“I don’t sleep with hookers,” Alexei cut in, his rich dark drawl harsh in reproof.

“I don’t need this, Mum,” Billie breathed tautly.

“You have a long scratch and blood on your cheekbone and I suspect you may have a black eye by morning,” Alexei enumerated in curt explanation.

“Blamed you as well, no doubt,” Alexei incised with a gritty lack of hesitation.

“But Lauren’s gone as well, driven out of her own home,” Billie condemned emotively.

“As far as I’m concerned you invaded my private life last night in a way that you had no right to do,” Billie responded brittlely (sic).

“You couldn’t care less about my good name,” Billie riposted.

“Stop trying to change the subject,” he husked.

They also: vent, pronounce, proffer, proclaim, comment, enquire, instruct, forecast, censure, opine, rasp, bite out, needle, complain, command, warn, condemn, groan, confide, concede, and carol. Willaful, I see your Michelle Reid and I raise you a Lynne Graham.

So Predictable

Another little short story from the archives. Short, sweet, romantic.

Kerry-Anna cast a practiced eye over the small heap on the conveyor belt. She didn’t need to look at the customer to know that the frozen lasagne for one, the bottle of cheap white wine and the expensive tub of cookie dough ice cream belonged to a thirty-something woman with hair all done up and make-up like the Queen. Kerry-Anna didn’t know where they’d all got this idea that they’d meet their future husbands at the checkout queue but she certainly recognised the desperate type when she saw it. Kerry-Anna wouldn’t want the kind of feller you’d find in Waitrose, anyway. She’d met her Wayne down the Roxy two Fridays ago. He knew how to show a girl a good time and it didn’t involve taking her to the supermarket.

“Thirteen pounds forty-three,” Kerry-Anna read from the screen, watching while the woman struggled to open one of the plastic bags. This one had obviously eaten too many lasagne and icecream dinners, judging by the bulge above her waistband. Her roots needed doing too. She scrabbled around in her handbag and pulled out a tatty-looking purse.

“Sorry, how much did you say?”

Kerry-Anna nodded towards the screen. “Thirteen forty-three,” she repeated slowly and elaborately, rolling her eyes.

“Oh. I… Hold on.”

Kerry-Anna sighed loudly and began to examine her fingernails. Pink with green stars. They were all right but they wouldn’t go with her orange top she wanted to wear on Saturday for Gary and Maeve’s party. They’d had some dead gorgeous yellow ones with orange sunrises on. She’d make an appointment tomorrow and surprise Wayne.

“Here.” Lasagne Lady was holding out a tenner. Kerry-Anna could see she had a pile of change in her other hand. Kerry-Anna pouted. She’d always hated maths. And that Christine who was in charge of the tills made a right fuss if they was out, even if it was only a few pence.

Kerry-Anna dumped the change on the counter. “Eleven… twelve… twelve-fifty…seventy…eighty…ninety…thirteen…twenty…five…thirty…three. You’re ten pence short,” she announced, not without a certain smug satisfaction.

“Oh, right. Um, hold on.” The woman began searching in the bottom of her handbag again.

“Let me.” Kerry-Anna looked up in surprise. The man who was waiting in line was holding out a coin towards the woman and smiling. Kerry-Anna checked. Six pack of Carling. Packet of chocolate digestives. Tin of dog food. Oh, and… Kerry-Anna’s eyebrows rose… a frozen curry. For one.

Lasagne Lady looked startled. Then Kerry-Anna watched her lips twitch into the beginnings of a smile and her cheeks turn the faintest of pink.

“It’s only ten pence,” Curry Guy pointed out, smiling back. Not bad-looking, Kerry-Anna decided, considering him critically. Old bloke, of course. At least forty, she’d say, but still fit if you liked that sort of thing. It looked like he had his own hair and all that.

“Thank you.” The woman held out her hand and he put the coin carefully onto her palm, closing her fingers tightly around it.

“You’re welcome.”

Kerry-Anna tutted loudly, holding out her own hand for the money.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Here you are.” Lasagne Lady turned a darker pink and began to pick up her carrier bag clumsily. Her eyes kept flicking back to where Curry Guy was waiting patiently for her to move out of the way.

“D’you want your receipt?” Kerry-Anna asked, holding it out to her.

“Yes, right. Thanks. And thank you,” she said again to the man.

Kerry-Anna raised her eyebrows. Couldn’t the idiot see what a fool she was making of herself? If she was really interested, why didn’t she just ask the guy out? That’s what Kerry-Anna did when she saw a bloke she fancied. She’d seen Wayne dancing with some other bird and decided she liked the way his hips rolled, so she’d just gone over and cut in. He hadn’t seemed to mind. He’d been snogging her by the end of the first song.

“My pleasure.” The poor bloke was embarrassed now. He was probably worrying that he’d got himself a stalker. She looked like she could be that type.

Kerry-Anna scanned his shopping and swiped his card. “Check the amount and put your number in.”

“There you go.”

“Your card and your receipt.”

He pushed them into his back pocket and lifted his bag. That woman was still hanging around. God, look at them both waiting for the other one to go first. He didn’t seem to know how to open his mouth and she couldn’t even walk in a straight line without running into a trolley. Unless that was the plan, ’cause he was pushing the trolley out of the way now and asking if she was okay.

Kerry-Anna had her mobile phone out and was texting Wayne. “Where r u?”

She watched the stupid woman nodding and saying she was fine. Then the guy put his hand on her elbow and turned away slightly so that Kerry-Anna couldn’t see what he was saying now.

“Wnt 2 come ovr 2nite?” she wrote.

The woman was laughing. They’d stopped right in the middle of the aisle so all the other customers were having to walk round them to get out.

“Letz gt drunk & gt laid. U up 4 it?”

She noticed the man shifting his shopping into his other hand. The woman paused, then did the same.

Wayne never held Kerry-Anna’s hand. He said that kind of thing was soft. Kerry-Anna looked at the couple, smiling nervously at each other and supposed that one day, when she was old like them, she might enjoy it too.

Another customer started unloading her basket. Kerry-Anna quickly pressed Send, then looked to see what was coming. A small bottle of Baileys, a bag of salad and a Chicken Kiev. So predictable.

What’s on my kindle and a call for recommendations

Here’s what I’ve been reading in the last few weeks:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
I finished! On April 1st, which was not too bad at all, considering how busy March was for me. It was an absolute joy to read. Mantel is a master of characterisation and has incredible skill with her prose. I most appreciated the unexpected, fierce flashes of humour that lit up the book every so often. I will be downloading Bringing Up The Bodies very soon indeed. I am a complete convert to e-reading for large books like this. Easier to carry around, easier to mark progress, easier on the hands.

Her Favourite Rival by Sarah Mayberry
I enjoyed this very much. It’s an office romance, with just enough conflict to keep it going. Both hero and heroine have complicated families (this is a Superromance, but there are no kids, yay!). I would have liked a bit more time to explore the dynamics of her family and the resolution with her sister felt a bit too neat for plausibility. But on the other hand, nothing about the hero’s family was neatly tied up. And I really liked the ending, especially in light of the next book I read…

Just The Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James

I suggested this as a twitter readalong because I’d never read James and JTSMA was on sale. The Sexiest Man Alive (TM) is a Hollywood superstar whose next film role is as a lawyer. He pulls strings to shadow the heroine. He messes her around, manipulates her by his influence over her company, and assumes she’ll fall at his feet like every other woman in the world. The good part is that she doesn’t. I genuinely enjoyed several of the early scenes between the two of them where she gets to show why she’s such a good lawyer and gets the better of him each time. But, sadly the book did not live up to its early promise. The dynamic between Jason and Taylor never changes. At the end he’s still assuming she’ll fall in with his plans. He’s still manipulating her for his own ends. And she… well, she goes along with it.

I said on twitter that the ending of this book made me angry. It still does. Taylor is portrayed as a strong heroine, who excels at her job, who has her life in her own hands and yet Jason’s assumption is that she will give up her job, her friends, her family and her life in Chicago in order to move to LA to be with him. Taylor initially refuses – because she’s afraid he’ll cheat on her like a previous boyfriend did. But when she does decide she wants to be with Jason, well then, she gives up her job, her friends, her family and her life in Chicago without so much as a thought. That was what really got me. Not that she ends up in LA, but that at no point does she (or Jason, for that matter) consider any other outcome. His career is still assumed to be more important than hers (just like it was at the beginning of the book when she’s expected to clear her schedule for him, and then he doesn’t even bother to show up). He never once offers to relocate, and nor does she contemplate it. He’s met her Chicago friends, and yet he doesn’t even ask whether she’ll miss them. He knows her family are there, but it never occurs to him that might be a reason why she might prefer not to relocate. She makes partner at her Chicago law firm – and turns it down to stay in LA. It’s FINE if she wants to give all that up, but the book never makes it an option for her not to. And it NEVER makes it an option for Jason to give anything up at all. He’s the movie star. Why couldn’t he move to Chicago and take his private jet wherever he’s filming? Or cut back on his schedule to spend more time with Taylor? Or at least think about the possibility that he might have to make some compromises?

Oh right, because he’s the guy.

Neanderthal Meets Human, Friends Without Benefits, Love Hacked by Penny Reid

I normally avoid books about knitting clubs. Someone always has cancer and dies at the end. But not in these books! These are real knitters who know the value of a Madelinetosh limited edition colourway and aren’t afraid to use it. But also, they’re fun, interesting, clever people who have romances to match. The books are funny, unpredictable, a little bit sexy, and very romantic. There are some editing issues, especially in the first one, but I think they’re worth persevering with despite that. Also, there are no actual neanderthals. I realise probably no one else thought there might be, but I have read too much Jasper Fforde to be sure on that point. And, well, that was part of the reason I hadn’t picked up the first book before someone told me about the knitting. So, yeah, no neanderthals.

And now I need your help. I need recommendations of books to read on my holiday. Anything set in Iceland, DC, Philly, NYC or on a cruise ship! I have Emma Barry’s Special Interests in mind for the DC part of the trip, but would love some more ideas.

From holiday to story

Last summer some lovely friends took me with them on their family holiday to Scotland. From the first day as we drove up through the mountains and past the lochs, I knew I wanted to write a story set in the Highlands. I thought it was going to be about a male artist and a female gallery owner.

Where we stayed:
Eilean Donan Castle
Not really. That’s Eilean Donan Castle and it is stunning. Really well worth a visit even on a sunny August day when it is full of tourists. There was a lovely lady doing spinning demonstrations who let me have a go. In my story I talk about the Mediterranean blue of the sea. My editor commented that she didn’t quite believe this until she looked it up and checked that, in fact, the sea in Scotland can be as blue as you like on the right day. This was the only properly sunny day of our two week holiday, and you can see how bright it is.

Scottish loch on a sunny day
This was taken from Eilean Donan. I used this (or possibly one of the other ones taken from this spot, not sure) for the background of the cover of Island Fling.

One day we all drove out to Arisaig and took the little ferry to the Isle of Muck. As soon as we arrived on the tiny island, I knew that I wanted to set my story there, not in the Highlands after all. And it wouldn’t be a male artist who lived here, it would be a woman. And the gallery owner would have to come and see her, taking the train up from Edinburgh and then getting seasick on the ferry. I was not actually sick, but I admit that the outward journey did leave me a little queasy. Going back to the mainland is much easier because you’re travelling with the waves, not against them.

small concrete jetty and grey sea
This is the ferry ‘terminal’ on Muck. There’s a little hut and the tip Household Recycling Centre. And then a few minutes walk along the only path you find a little, unmanned shop, where you can buy vegetables, postcards, arts and crafts, and a few yards beyond that is the tea room. They serve very delicious cake in the tea room. They also sell knitting wool and various things for tourists. It was a grey, damp day when we were there so there was no one in the garden. Except the sheep.

picnic tables with sheep

Muck is TINY. We were only there for a couple of hours, but that’s plenty of time to walk over to the other side of the island. I didn’t, but some of my friends did. Visitors aren’t generally allowed to bring cars onto the island, though there is a car ferry a couple of times a week, and islanders do have vehicles. The ferry we took is mostly for tourists. On the way back, we passed a basking shark and the ferry stopped for a few minutes to let us all have a good look at it. They are huge, ugly creatures but rather glorious.

As we left Muck, a lady in bright orange work trousers and a fleece was saying goodbye to someone. I guessed he was her son. She got out her bagpipes and played as he left. I loved that it wasn’t done with any ceremony. It was just the way that was right for her to mark his departure, and for him to leave with the sound of the pipes in his ears. I couldn’t help but include that little scene in my story.

dim outline of an island blurred by seaspray
Looking back at Muck from the ferry.

There were several times where my editor wanted more detailed description. Almost every one was about something real that I’d seen and remembered from this trip. Because it was vivid in my head, apparently I forgot to make it so on the page! Hopefully in the final version, the real things are as vivid to the reader as the made up ones!

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