I’m writing this blog entry only twelve hours before it’s due to go live. I have eyes so bloodshot they look like I crawled into a tequila bottle and forget to climb back out again. I’m chronically short on sleep, and the balls of my feet have been permanently aching for the last five days because I’ve been walking around in high heels for eighteen out of every twenty four hours. I’ve eaten little to no food for dozens of hours, then eaten huge amounts of food of the type that should never enter my body on general principles.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I was at RomantiCon 2009, where 4 a.m. nights were the norm, where authors and readers shut down the bar every night (there was one night where we drowned out the jukebox with our rendition of Margueritaville).
I was stunned and amazed when Ningaloo Nights won an Ellora’s Cave RomantiCon 2009 Superstar Award – for “The Most Erotic Use of a Chocolate Chip Cookie” – which it actually wasn’t. It was a packet of Tim Tams, which really aren’t anything like a chocolate chip cookie, which was why I wasn’t expecting to win the award at all. And I swiftly demonstrated how professional I was when they called out my name, by bursting into tears and crying all over cover model Rodney Chapman’s shoulder when he hugged me and handed me my certificate and statue.
I hate the guest blog posts that spend the entire blog blathering about the book that the blog tour is supposed to be promoting, but I hope you’ll forgive me for this one post, because I want to spend a little bit of time talking about Ningaloo Nights itself, instead of being coy about my book. I’ve suddenly realized that the book might actually be good, and that people might like to read it, instead of that being just my own personal opinion.
I wrote Ningaloo Nights originally because Ellora’s Cave invited me to contribute to their “Going Down Under” series. They asked all their Australian authors to provide a story set in Australia, that was evocative of the country, the culture and the unique way of life there. In many ways, this was a unique opportunity for me. It’s not often an Australian romance author gets to set stories in her own country unless she’s writing regularly for Harlequin/Silhouette, because most other romance publishers and romance readers prefer US settings or at the very least North American heroines in familar settings to help them identify with the heroine and enjoy the story more. So while you can get Australian set romances published (more and more, especially the e-publishers are willing to take chances on the “unusual” romances), you often find your book doesn’t do quite as well as it might if your story was set in locations that the majority of your reading audience knows and understands.
So a chance to write a book in my home territory was a welcome change of pace. But I knew right from the start I had to have an American heroine.
Introducing her to Tim Tams, which is an Australian institution, seemed kinda natural. And thus, the “scene” that got me my Superstar award was born.
As it happens, my editor is also Australian, and she laughed when she read the scene. She, like me, is more than familiar with the addictive quality of Tim
Tams, and thought the whole scene was a riot. I have a feeling that my editor had more than a little to do with the scene being brought to the attention of the people who were arranging the awards.
Australian woman have been using Tim Tams the way North American woman have been using icecream as a prop, soother, and a getting-over-that-bastard device for at least the last twenty years. I was describing the biscuits to fellow authors and readers at RomantiCon, and quite a few of them nodded and
said they thought they were available at their local stores. I know for a fact that Tim Tams are imported into Canada and are available at Safeway stores, so I’m sure there are grocery stores in the States that stock them, and more than likely the U.K., and parts of Europe, too. But probably not the full range of varieties you can get in Australia.
There’s lots of information about Ningaloo Nights on my site, here. But here’s the blurb of the book so you don’t have to go looking for it (and I’m deliberately trying to whet your appetite — I’m tired, but I’m not silly!).
New York cop Sherry Abandonato cashes in her savings and dashes to Ningaloo in remote north-west Western Australia to find her sister who disappeared ten days ago. The only one with the skill to guide her to Derremawan is Mason Hayward, once an official guide, and still with a reputation for getting people out of trouble, but now the town’s bad man.
In a searing afternoon of unexpected passion, Mason strikes a bargain: He’ll get her to Derremawan, if she agrees to go there with him unconditionally, on his terms, and his conditions. Sherry is astonished to find herself agreeing to the insane bargain, and worse, responding positively to the idea of three days of Mason Hayward dictating terms out under the Australian sun…
And here’s a spicy excerpt for you. It’s PG13, ladies.
In only three days Sherry had already got used to laid-back Australians but stark-naked ones were definitely a novelty. Especially this Aussie.
She hadn’t been expecting anything quite so…beautiful—not emerging from such a place as this. The shed she had stepped around looked like it had been slapped together with nails and sheets of rusted corrugated iron. When she peeked inside it on her way around to the rear, it was clear that the man she was seeking did indeed live in it, for there was a cot and an old mattress and a folding card table and a few basic living amenities. Very basic. She’d felt a long way from New York at that moment, despite some of the tenements she patrolled being just as run-down and unloved.
She’d heard sounds beyond the shed and rather than step inside, she’d moved around it, for the smell coming from inside the quarters had been less than savory. No wonder the sergeant at the tiny Ningaloo police station had been so reluctant to give her the man’s name.
Sherry stared at the naked man now, the heat of a torrid February morning forgotten as she watched him reach up to the bucket hanging over his head and pull on the rope attached to the lip at the bottom and running up through the same hook that held the bucket.
Water poured over his black hair, dousing him from head to foot, every inch well-tanned. He stood easily six foot two inches and as he controlled the flow of water from the bucket, Sherry assessed his physical fitness, running her gaze over the tight buttocks, the satin-sheened skin spreading over agreeable, wide back muscles as they worked under very little disguising fat. Long legs. The well-developed muscles clenched as he turned. His chest was as pleasing as his back, with hard pecs and heavy shoulders. The biceps were flexed, iron-hard.
As a New York cop, Sherry had long ago lost all shyness around the locker room and her assessing gaze flowed smoothly to his cock and testicles. He was all male, well endowed in a way she had rarely seen.
“Should I be charging admission?” His voice was deep, with a gravelly timbre and the tone was dry and completely devoid of amusement.
She jumped guiltily and forced her gaze to his face. He had eyes the same light blue as the Australian summer sky—transparent and depthless. “I’m sorry—” she began, then halted. There was no way to explain what she had been doing. What had she been doing? She was aware of her heart thudding in a way that she’d almost forgotten. How long had it been since she had felt this sort of racing charge? Abruptly, she became aware of the heat of the day again. It was beating at her temples, making her sweat. The heat was a live thing, curling around her, throbbing in time with her heartbeat.
He reached for a ratty brown towel hanging over a piece of wire hooked into the gutter next to his head. It was a casual movement. He wasn’t trying to cover himself up. Her presence here hadn’t caused him any concern at all. He wrapped the towel around his hips and tucked the corner in to secure it. “If you’re looking for Ningaloo, you need to turn around and head south about five kilometers. You’ve passed it already.” The heat didn’t seem to be bothering him at all but he hadn’t just flown out from the depths of a New York winter, either.
“I’m looking for you,” she told him.
His brow lifted and he smiled, showing white, even teeth. “My lucky day.”
“You’re Mason Hayward, aren’t you?”
Abruptly the smile was gone. He looked up at the sky, shut his eyes briefly, as if reaching for calm. “Bugger it,” he said softly. His gaze, sharp and assessing, fell on her face once more. “Who sent you?” he demanded.
His on-point sharpness surprised her. “H-he made me swear not to tell anyone.”
Anger flicked at his features. “What do you want, then?”
Her gut clenched in response. She had faced down killers with more calm than this. Mason Hayward was radiating fury and danger but of a kind she had no experience with and her Glock was back home in New York. “I need you to take me to Derremawan,” she said quickly, trying to appease him with the answer he wanted. “None of the registered guides will take me there.”
His eyes narrowed. “Derremawan,” he repeated softly and gave a short, sharp exhalation. “Why there, for god’s sake?”
She stared, astonished. “You don’t know why?”
He grimaced. “Indulge me.”
“My sister—” She blinked furiously, fighting back the flood of tears that threatened every time she tried to speak of it. “My baby sister, Pepper, disappeared ten days ago. In her last text message to me, she said she and her boyfriend were going up the trail to Derremawan. The local authorities…they haven’t closed the file but they aren’t pursuing the matter, either. They looked along the trail with a helicopter and they found the car but no…no bodies. And that was the extent of their investigation.”
“So you flew out here from America to do what?” His eyes were drilling her now. It was uncanny the way they seemed to pierce right through her. She knew she should resent the heavy-handed examination but she needed Hayward, so she answered truthfully. “I’m here to find her.”
He shook his head. “Go home, lady. I’m sorry about your sister but the cops are right. After ten days, they’ll have been out of water long enough to be dead, no matter what.”
“I know that,” Sherry told him as evenly as she could, although the admission wrenched at her. The tears blurred her sight and she blinked again. “I’m not stupid, Hayward. I know I’m a Yank and all that but I know that much. I said I wanted to find her. Not save her. I just want to find her and find out what happened to her. I think—no, I know that foul play was involved.”
His head tilted as he looked at her. “Are you a cop?”
“As it happens, yes, I am. Why?”
“You talk like one. ‘Foul play?’ Do you know the chances of that happening around here? Where are you from in the States?”
“New York,” she said, gritting her teeth against her rising resentment over his casual dismissal and the arrogance behind it. It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t born here.
He crossed his arms. “You’ve got over two thousand people per square kilometer there. Here, the official count is less than half a person. If you really think someone was up to no good out there at Derremawan, the chances that a third person came along and did ’em in are laughable. So that just leaves the boyfriend.” His gaze would not leave her alone. He was skewering her. Making her writhe with guilty shame. Because that had been exactly what she had been thinking on the long, long trip from New York to L.A., to Shanghai, to Singapore, to Perth, then back up to Ningaloo. She had never trusted Ryan to do right by Pepper. Not at all. And her fury had sustained her all the way here.
“I’m betting your parents are both dead and they died a while ago,” Mason Hayward added softly. “And you’ve been mum and dad to your little sister since then.”
She jumped. She couldn’t help it. “Fuck you and the motherfucker who bore you,” she spat, her voice thick with more tears and turned to go. She would find someone else. Anyone but this asshole.
“Wait,” he said gently, his hand on her elbow. “Wait a minute.” He didn’t hurt her but he halted her just the same. There was no arguing with the forced behind his hold.
She kept her head down to hide her tears. Those, she would not let him see.
“How much money have you got?” he said.
She had been warned it would come down to money with him but the confirmation filled her with an inexplicable sadness. She mentally converted the wad of US dollars she had stashed away and said warily, “The equivalent of about two thousand Australian.”
“That’s not going to be enough.”
She looked at him—tears be damned. “No wonder this town hates you. You can add one more to the tally, Hayward. You’ve got the sensitivity of a pack mule.”
She wrenched her elbow out of his grip and walked away from him.
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