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To the Readers of The Light Over London

Dear Reader,

To live in London is to always have the memory of World War II with you, a whispered reminder of the unfathomable destruction and incredible bravery that was seen on the streets of this great city. 

When I moved to London, the omnipresence of the war drove me to read as much about it as I could, trying to understand how it had shaped this place. It was when I picked up a book about the Gunner Girls and other British women who went into service, a seedling of a plot for The Light Over London began to grow. If you’ve never heard of the extraordinary women of Ack-Ack Command who manned the anti-aircraft guns defending London’s skies during World War II, it’s my privilege to introduce you to them.

Made up of the women from the Army’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the Gunner Girls were formed to fill out the ranks of the Royal Artillery’s anti-aircraft batteries stationed in Britain and across Europe.

By parliamentary decree, women were not allowed to load or fire the massive guns, but they did everything else. Each battery had a spotter who could identify German aircraft, as well as a team of women to operate the sophisticated instruments used to aim the weapon and set its fuse. These teams moved fast, executing a complex set of adjustments in a matter of seconds. 

Working primarily at night, the Gunner Girls formed a special bond held together by the incredible danger of their jobs to shoot down enemy aircrafts amid air raids. They were also united in their knowledge that they were doing something few women had ever done before—standing down the enemy right in the path of bullets and bombs. 

More than 350 Gunner Girls lost their lives during World War II, and their contribution and sacrifice when their country needed them most to win the war cannot be ignored. The Light Over London is my way of honoring the women of Ack-Ack Command and their incredible stories.

Sincerely,
Julia Kelly

The Light Over London Is Here

A forgotten diary, a forbidden love affair, a desperate fight to save her country

2017 When Cara Hargreaves discovers a diary from the 1940s, its contents will change her life forever...

1941 When Louise Keene meets dashing RAF pilot, Paul Bolton, she is swept off her feet. Then Paul is sent to war and Louise, defying her mother's wishes, ends up a gunner girl in London.

Watching the pitch-black skies for bombers, Louise finds comfort recording her dreams in her diary. And as Cara reads her words, decades later, she learns that hope can be found even in the darkest of times, she just needs to take a chance...

 

After months of teasing, I'm now happy to say that The Light Over London is now available in stores. This is a romantic, heartbreaking historical novel about love, loyalty, and redemption.

If you're a US reader, this book is in your local bookstore and online in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook right now.

Amazon | Apple Books | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Google Play

If you're a UK reader, you'll have to wait just a little bit longer for a hardcover (February) but you can start reading the ebook today.

Amazon UK | Waterstones | WHSmith

You can share your thoughts about the book by using #TheLightOverLondon on social media or joining my Facebook Group just for readers!

One Month Until You're Transported into the Sweeping World of the Ack Ack Girls

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In just one month, my first World War II historical fiction The Light Over London comes out. Whether you're a print, ebook, or audiobook reader, you'll be able to sink into this sweeping story.

It’s always been easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than confront the present, which is why working with a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: among the treasures, a World War II-era diary and a photograph of a young woman in uniform. Eager to find the author of the hauntingly beautiful, unfinished diary, Cara digs into this soldier’s life, but soon realizes she may not have been ready for the stark reality of wartime London she finds within the pages.

n 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene’s life had been decided for her—she’ll wait at home in her Cornish village until her wealthy suitor returns from war to ask for her hand. But when Louise unexpectedly meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.

Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other Gunner Girls relish in their duties to be exact in their calculations, and quick in their identification of enemy planes during air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unanswered, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.

Illuminating the story of these two women separated by generations and experience, this heartbreakingly beautiful novel through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties.

AmazonApple Books | Kobo | Nook | Google Play

Lady in a Blue Dress — The Allure of Attraction's Got a Cover!

If you've ever wondered what it's like when an author gets a book cover from a publisher, it goes something like this: *email from editor dings to phone*

Me: Oh my god, please be good. Please be good. Please be good.

*opens email inbox on laptop for higher image resolution/because I'm terrified that I'm going to hate the cover and this delays the reveal for a moment*

Me: Just don't suck. That's all I want. I can handle mediocre. Totally. No problem. Oh, please, please, please don't suck.

*clicks on email and downloads image*

Me: OH THANK GOD.

That is an exact play-by-play of what happened when I opened the email from my editor for The Allure of Attraction's cover. And you know what, it didn't just not suck. I loved it.

AmAmazon | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | Google Play

Not only was I blown away by how striking that vibrant blue is, the cover model is smiling. Smiling! I've never had a smiling heroine on the cover of my historical books, and something about it makes me so incredibly happy.

In this book, you're going to meet Lavinia, our heroine. She'd be the first to tell you that a lot of bad things have happened in her life, but she's made the most of it. She's a successful dressmaker in Edinburgh, and between her shop, her friends, and her somewhat irresponsible but charming brother she has a full life. Everything is going well until the childhood sweetheart she was supposed to marry years ago walks back into her life.

Andrew's life sailing merchant ships has taken him across the globe—convenient given that he's also a spy for Her Majesty's government. He's all set to retire until his handlers give him one last job: go back home to Scotland and recruit Lavinia, the woman who broke his heart, to help him infiltrate a group at the center of a dastardly plot.

So yes, dear readers, in the summer you're going to get this beautiful book and all the second chance romance/enemies-to-lovers/espionage romance goodness inside. I hope you enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed writing it!

The Allure of Attraction releases this summer, but you can preorder it now from all major ebook retailers!

Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | Google Play

Explore the Romance of Historic Edinburgh

It's no surprise that Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities. It has it all, from the elegance of the New Town to the historic mystery of the Old Town. It's also a great walking city—if you don't mind some hills—with plenty to discover. When I started to write my The Matchmaker of Edinburgh books, I wanted to make sure readers felt transported to 1870s Edinburgh. For Caroline and Moray, the heroine and hero of The Taste of Temptation, that meant sending them gallivanting all across the city on their journey to love. Whether it's bickering amid the dramatic beauty of Holyrood Park or dancing for the first time in the grand, Georgian Assembly Rooms, I hope readers will fall in love with this incredible place as much as they do my characters!

Click through this interactive map to read excerpts from the book, images and drawings, and little tidbits about the settings you'll see throughout the book. 

A previous version of this article appeared on XOXOafterdark.com.

You Can Start Reading The Taste of Temptation Today!

Those of you who’ve been reading my books for awhile will know that I used to be a journalist in New York City. In fact, I’ve set a book in the news business before—Nick from my Julia Blake title Changing the Play was a TV sports reporter—and I went back to that well again for The Taste of Temptation, my Scottish historical romance that came out this week. The second book in the Matchmaker of Edinburgh series, is set in and around the Edinburgh newspaper world. It was a time when steam presses clanged away to print the morning edition and horse and cart-delivered scandal sheets could set everyone atwitter. But the principles are actually not all that different from the news business I used to know. Journalists are still driven to get the story fast and first, and breaking news is a rush that's hard to replicate.

My hero in The Taste of Temptation, Jonathan Moray, is a journalist to the core. He owns a successful broadsheet and a less respectable scandal sheet that prints some of the best gossip in Edinburgh. That's why when Caroline Burkett, a woman the London press made famous for suing the fiancé who jilted her, travels up to Edinburgh, he's off in pursuit of the biggest gossip story of the year. Sparks definitely fly in this enemies-to-lovers book because Caroline hates Moray, thinking he's just another ruthless newspaperman. And he kind of is until he realizes that he wants her more than he wants the story.

I hope you enjoy the latest installment in the Matchmaker of Edinburgh series, merry band of journalists and all!

The Taste of Temptation is available at all major eBook retailers:

Amazon | iBooks |  Kobo | Nook | Google Play

If you’d like to try before you buy, you can read two exclusive excerpts of The Taste of Temptation:

Notorious Woman + Stubborn Newspaperman = Irresistible Temptation [Excerpt]

I’m celebrating my birthday today—my first in my new home! I love birthdays because, to me, they’ve always been about three things:

  • Family, friends and loved ones
  • New beginnings
  • Doing something completely indulgent just for you

Perhaps it’s fitting then that to celebrate my birthday I’ve decided I want to give my readers—my literary loved ones—a present. It’s a celebration of a new beginning—a brand-new book—and is something completely indulgent, just for you.

I’m sharing one of my favorite excerpts from my upcoming book, The Taste of Temptation. It’s a Scotland-set historical enemies-to-lovers romance and it’s about...well, here’s what you need to know:

  • Caroline Burkett sued her ex-fiancé for jilting her to marry an American heiress. The newspapers covered every aspect of the lawsuit, making Caroline one of the most notorious women in England. Now's she's fled London for Edinburgh to find a husband. Robert Trevlan, the only son of a prominent banking family, seems her most likely option.
  • Jonathan Moray is the owner of a respectable broadsheet and a less-than-respectable gossip rag. He stirred up a world of trouble for Caroline by reporting on her arrival in Edinburgh.
  • Caroline hates Moray with the fire of a thousand suns. Or at least that's what she tells herself...

You can preorder The Taste of Temptation now to make sure you get it sent to your eReader as soon as it's available on February 5th! Just click on your favorite retailer link.

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And without further ado, enjoy!

MORAY MADE IT over the wall of 63 Cumberland Street’s backyard with little trouble, but as he stood in the damp grass gazing up at the black drainpipe that snaked up the wall of the Burkett house a greater challenge presented itself. It was insane to even think about climbing it, but as Caroline had so sternly pointed out earlier that evening, she was never alone. Except when she was sleeping. This was the only way to ensure that they would neither be caught nor interrupted.

It was also the one most likely to land him—and her—in a heap of trouble.

As he pondered the situation, he realized one of four things could happen.

One: He could successfully make it into Caroline’s bedroom without waking the household, give her his message, and leave, all without kissing her or being detected, thus preserving her virginity, which he was trying his best not to think about at the moment.

Two: He’d be detected by one of the other residents or a well-intentioned neighbor, at best landing him in jail, at worst spelling the beginning of his life as a married man, because surely her brother would force the marriage to cover up the scandal.

Three: He could fall and seriously injure himself.

Four: He could fall and kill himself.

He didn’t like options two, three, or four, but despite his misgivings he had to make the climb. What Eva had dug up about Trevlan was too important for Caroline not to hear, and he hadn’t been lying when he’d told her that it was a matter of some delicacy. It wouldn’t do for anyone else to overhear their conversation.

“You’re a numpty, eedjit bampot with less brains than a house fly,” he muttered as he gave the metal one last tug to make sure it would hold his weight, sent up a prayer to whatever god looked after idiotic newspapermen, and began to climb.

Even when he’d been young and nimble he hadn’t pulled stunts like this, spending all of his time learning his craft and squirreling away every penny he could as he clawed his way up the ladder from apprentice to printer and then owner and editor. And here he was, thirty-five and getting ready to scale a wall to steal a few uninterrupted, unchaperoned moments with a woman. And he wasn’t even going to let himself enjoy them.

The fourth finger of his right glove caught on a craggy corner of one of the stone blocks making up the wall as he began his climb and ripped. Damn. He’d incur Jesper’s wrath when the valet went through his clothes in the morning and found the thin, supple leather destroyed. Never mind that the wall was doing a fair job of ripping up his now-exposed skin.

Somewhere between the second and third floors, Moray realized he didn’t exactly have a plan for figuring out where Caroline’s bedroom might be in the house. He might’ve deployed his network of informants to coax the information from one of the Burketts’ members of staff but that would have taken too long. By the time they’d reported back it could have already been too late. According to the Tattler’s informants, it was only a matter of time before Trevlan proposed to her.

He looked up the dark building to the one window on the third floor that glowed with the soft light of a lamp. That was the room to avoid. While it might be Caroline’s, it could also be where the master or mistress of the house slept, and he knew for a fact he wouldn’t be welcome in either of their boudoirs.

With his attention fixed on the windows above him, he stepped without looking for his foothold and his shoe slipped.

Fuck!

He swallowed down a shout as his feet scrambled wildly against the side of the building. His hands clamped harder around the iron pipe that was the only thing holding him up.

He was not going the way of option four. Not today.

Adrenaline roared through his veins as the window a few feet above him shot open. His head snapped up just as Caroline stuck hers out into the dark night. Bloody hell, he hadn’t been ready for the sight of her, hair loose around her shoulders and catching the light of the waxing moon.

“Are you mad?” she whispered louder than he would’ve dared. “What are you doing?”

“I just thought I’d get a little exercise.”

She stared at him as though he’d grown another head.

“I’m climbing up to see you,” he said, becoming acutely aware that a couple of his fingers were stinging rather badly from his scaling. “May I come in?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course not.” She reached for the latch to pull the window closed again.

“Wait, wait, wait!”

She paused.

“I don’t think I can get down without breaking something,” he admitted.

“You should’ve thought of that before you went climbing up a house like Scotland’s answer to Casanova.”

Despite the circumstances, he couldn’t help his grin. “Your faith that my exploits are Casanovaian is encouraging, Miss Burkett.”

In the moonlight he could see her roll her eyes, but he could also tell from the tug at her lips that she was fighting hard not to smile.

“May I please come in? This drainpipe and I are becoming altogether too acquainted,” he said. “You’ll be saving me from almost certain death.”

“You’re not that high up.”

“I could still die.”

She sighed and pushed the window open wider. “I cannot believe I’m agreeing to this.”

Neither could he.

You can preorder The Taste of Temptation now to make sure you get it sent to your eReader as soon as it's available on February 5th! Just click on your favorite retailer link.

Amazon | iBooks |  Kobo | Nook | Google Play

Get a Free Holiday Romance Today!

I've got a secret for you. Sometimes authors put out books and think, "I'm not so sure about that one." That's what happened when I put out "Kiss Me at Midnight" in the One Week in December anthology. It wasn't that I didn't like the holiday short story. I loved the characters and the premise. I just felt like it was missing something.

Fast forward to this fall and I figured out what was bothering me about the story. It needed more. Now I'm rereleasing Kiss as Midnight as a fully revised, much longer holiday novella under my Julia Blake name. I've also made the story a lot sexier. (TBH this is probably what was bothering me the most. I wrote a contemporary romance without sex it in? Well we can't have that.)

You can now download the fully revised version of Kiss Me at Midnight at all your favorite retailers for free.

Amazon | iBooksKobo | Nook | Google Play

This holiday novella kicks off my revamped Ticket to Love series with The Wedding Week and Seduction in the Snow. In honor of it, I'm putting those two books on sale for 99¢ for a for a limited time!

The Look of Love Is Out Now!

The wait's over! My new Scottish historical romance series is here! The Look of Love is out at all major ebook retailers which means you can start reading this delightful and charming series in which Edinburgh's most prominent matchmaker uses her uncanny abilities to help some unlikely couples.

Here's a quick look at what you can expect when you pick up The Look of Love:

An accomplished sculptor with secret ambitions, Ina Duncan has managed to avoid marriage for years until an accidental encounter at a party leaves her near ruin and in need of a husband. Fast. Determined to find a willing husband for Ina, Edinburgh’s most powerful matchmaker, Moira Sullivan, quickly realizes that the solution to Ina’s problem might be right in front of her.

Ina’s best friend, Gavin Barrett, has a secret no one knows: he’s loved her for years. As the second son of a baronet, however, he knows he has little chance with his brilliant, beautiful friend. All that changes when Moira convinces Ina to propose a marriage of convenience to Gavin to save her from ruin. Ina only wants two things from him in return: a vow she can continue to sculpt and a promise they’ll remain in Edinburgh.

After a rocky start, happiness—and maybe passion—seems on the horizon for the newlyweds until a twist of fate bestows the title of Sir Barrett on Gavin and forces him to assume responsibilities he’s never wanted. Forced to mold herself into the perfect baronet’s wife, Ina must choose between her dreams and the man she’s learning to love.

If you're still not 100% convinced that The Look of Love is for you, here's a preview of the first two chapters.

Get a Sneak Peek of The Look of Love

I'm thrilled to be launching a new historical romance series, The Matchmaker of Edinburgh, this fall! The Look of Love comes out on October 9, but I'm giving my readers an early look at the first chapter of this friends-to-lovers, marriage of convenience romance! You can click here or on the book's cover to download the first two chapters of The Look of Love for free and start this book early readers are calling "one that fans of historical romances will devour."

Want To Read More Sports Romance? Here's Where to Start

If you've had a chance to read CHANGING THE PLAY, first of all thank you! It was a really fun book to write, and seeing it in readers' hands is making me itch to get back to writing sports romance after spending the last nine months in the world of 19th-century Scotland for my upcoming Matchmaker of Edinburgh series. (As amazing as writing that series has been, I love variety in my writing as much as my reading!) If you have read CHANGING THE PLAY, would you do me a big favor and consider leaving a review on Goodreads, Amazon, iBooks, or any other ebook retailer? It just takes a couple minutes and it helps who might like my book find it!

Okay, now to the real reason we're all here: sports romances. These books are full of sexy athlete heroes, high drama on and off the field, and heroines who can stand up to some serious alpha man. The folks over at XOXO After Dark rounded up a list of their favorite sports romance and as well as naming CHANGING THE PLAY they name-checked a bunch of other great looking romances that I'm planning on trying. One of those is DIRTY BOXING by Harper St. George and Tara Wyatt, and today is actually their release day so be sure to check out their book and wish them a happy book birthday!

The best way to keep updated about my Julia Blake books is to join my reader group on Facebook. It's a spot for readers to hang out and get the latest updates, bonus and behind-the-scenes content, and giveaways. Come hang out and say hi!

Enter to Win an eBook of Changing the Play

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of my new sports romance CHANGING THE PLAY, you're in luck! My publisher has generously put 100 copies of the ebook up for a Goodreads giveaway. All you have to do is click on this link and hit the "enter giveaway" button. That's it!

The contest runs through September 4. And don't forget to leave a review after you read it! Good or bad, reviews help readers find their next favorite book.

Listen to the First Chapter of Changing the Play

I've always loved hearing stories read out loud. I'm sure it comes from Mum and Dad reading to me every night when I was a little kid, and even into adulthood I've never lost it. Audiobooks, podcasts, radio shows—I love all things audio. That's why, when my new Julia Blake book CHANGING THE PLAY came out earlier this week, I decided to do a little read aloud on Facebook Live!

On these videos, you'll hear me reading parts one and two of chapter one of my new sports romance. You'll also get a little insight into why I wrote the book.

If you want to keep reading, you can buy CHANGING THE PLAY from these fine ebook retailers:

Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | Google Play | Books-A-Million

Be sure to like my Facebook page, because I do a Facebook Live every Friday to talk about everything from new release news to the books I'm reading!

Changing the Play Is Out Today!

Today is a very exciting day. My brand-new contemporary sports romance, CHANGING THE PLAY, is hitting readers' eReaders as we speak! It's an enemies-to-lovers, second chance romance set in the tense weeks before the NFL Draft, but you don't have to be a football fan to fall in love with Rachel and Nick! Keep reading for more details.

The game changed when he walked back into her life.

Rachel Pollard has never been a push-over. That’s why she’s a superstar in the world of sports management, making a name for herself with a shrewd eye for overlooked talent. She certainly isn’t taking any chances with her latest NFL draft prospect, Kevin Loder, who’s poised to shake up the league. But when Nick Ruben, a tenacious sports reporter who also happens to be the crush who ignored her all through high school, picks up the scent of a long-buried story, Rachel suddenly finds herself playing defense for the first time in years.

Craving More Historical Romance? This List Is for You

A lot of new-to-me readers picked up my historical romance, The Governess Was Wanton, last week when it was on sale for $0.99. Thank you! It was great seeing it get into the hands of readers across the world! Since that book's short and sweet and might leave you craving a little more romance, here are some books from me as well as other authors to look at for your next historical romance read.

The Governess Was Wicked, by Julia Kelly

If you enjoyed The Governess Was Wanton, this is where the series starts. Elizabeth, our titular governess, is convinced that Dr. Edward Fellows would never be interested in a working woman. But little does she know that he's been pining for her for years...until the two of them share their first kiss.

The Governess Was Wild, by Julia Kelly

My road trip book! The Governess Was Wild starts when Jane (the last of our governesses to find love) wakes up in an inn and finds that her charge has disappeared and one very angry baron is missing his horse. That's a problem because her charge was sent away from London to keep her from following through on marrying a throughly unsuitable gold digger. Jane convinces the baron to accompany her on the road to find both horse and girl before the runaway couple can make it to Gretna Green, but it's Jane who finds true love on this trip.

The Look of Love, by Julia Kelly

When Ina, a near-spinster who loves nothing more than sculpting, finds herself in a compromising position that threatens to ruin her reputation, a matchmaker convinces her to marry her best friend, Gavin. But what she doesn't realize is that Gavin has loved her from a distance for years, and this marriage of convenience is going to be a lot harder than either of them expected. You can't read this one quite yet, but you can preorder it, making it a gift from Current You to Future You.

Think of England, by K.J. Charles

This is a wonderful Edwardian M/M romance...with spies! Think Downton Abbey with more political intrigue.

An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole

More spies! This time during the Civil War! (I really like spy historical romance.) Alyssa's book is the wonderful, richly layered romance that everyone's been talking about this year.

The Countess Conspiracy, by Courtney Milan

One of my favorite historical romances, this is a great book if you like your romances sciencey and your heroines nerdy. Be prepared for some deep angst in this friends-to-lovers book.

"Sweetest Regret" in What Happens Under the Mistletoe, by Meredith Duran

If you're craving some Christmas a little early, this is a wonderful novella to tide you through the end of the summer. It reunites a diplomat's daughter with the rogue who ruined her reputation, forcing them to face old wounds during the holiday season.

Your First Look at a New Sports Romance

As much as I love writing historical romance, you need to spice things up from time to time. That’s why, in just a couple weeks, I’m giving you a taste of a sexy, fast-paced new sports romance series published under a brand-new name—because what lady doesn’t need a second, not-so-secret identity?

My new Julia Blake book, Changing the Play, is the first book in the Game Changer series, and it comes out on August 21. It’s a second chance romance between Rachel, an agent at the top of her game, and Nick, the sports reporter trying to wheedle a story out of her biggest new client. Things are extra sticky because Nick also is Rachel’s high school crush who never paid her any attention—or so she thinks.

You can preorder Changing the Play now to make sure you’re in the game the day the book hits stores.

Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | Google Play | Books-A-Million

To give you a little taste of what you can expect, here’s the first chapter.

Chapter One

Rachel Pollard huffed out a breath and wished desperately for a shot of whiskey in her coffee. She’d been up all night reviewing an endorsement contract for Katerina Baranova, and now the spoiled tennis player and her equally loathsome father were tying up her office line with even more demands. Not a fun way to end a workday.

“Why does Serena get to design her own dresses?” Katerina whined, her Russian accent softened by years of training at an exclusive Palm Beach tennis academy.

Because Serena Williams revolutionized the women’s game, and you only cracked the quarterfinals of your first Grand Slam last month.

“Katerina should be focusing on her forehand,” barked Yuri. “Not dresses. Not shoes. Not visors.”

His daughter sniffed. “I’m interested in more than just hitting a ball around a grass court.”

“If you’d learn to respect the grass, you wouldn’t have lost in the second round of Wimbledon last year,” Yuri said.

Rachel pressed two fingers to the bridge of her nose and pinched. Hard. She had neither the time nor the desire to get dragged into the middle of another Baranova brawl. What she did have was a hot date with a bottle of cabernet, a scalding bath, and three contracts on her iPad. Not exactly an evening of romance, but the contracts had to be read, and doing the work at home trumped late nights in her midtown Manhattan office any day.

“Look,” she interrupted, “your contract very clearly states that you’ll be given a selection of clothing at the beginning of each season. For now, all you can do is keep winning, Katerina. Wins mean more leverage when it comes time to renegotiate with the sponsors.”

“See,” said Yuri. “Miss Pollard tells you to win. You do what Miss Pollard tells you.”

Rachel was so happy to hear a Baranova agree with her that she didn’t even point out that she went by Ms. and not Miss. Not that Yuri cared. He was more focused on grooming his daughter to be the next Maria Sharapova than he was on pleasantries. Typical nightmare tennis dad.

Five minutes later, Rachel dropped her desk phone unceremoniously into its cradle and slouched in her chair. A glance at the gold watch she always wore on her left wrist told her that Katerina and Yuri had sucked up twenty-four minutes. Much too long. It was time to start weighing whether the troublesome tennis player was worth the investment—Grand Slam appearances or not.

Most of Rachel’s clients weren’t a problem because most treated her with the same reverence a fifth grader holds for a strict but beloved teacher. In her business, reputation was key, and over the years she’d become known for finding raw, untested young athletes and grooming them into stars.

Working with her came with some caveats, of course. She operated under strict rules. You work out. You practice. You don’t fuck up. If you don’t fall in line, you get dropped.

You do not want my cell phone to ring at three in the morning because you’ve done something stupid, she told each of them. Most—if not all—followed that rule.

Rachel unplugged her iPad and slid it into her purse along with a file of loose papers. She blindly felt for the unforgiving black pumps she’d kicked off under her desk hours ago and wiggled her feet into them before gathering up her coat.

“Night, Nathan,” she called to her assistant as she passed his desk. But then she stopped. “You’re going home, aren’t you?”

The tall, skinny young man with spiked brown hair blinked a couple of times before shaking his head. “Sorry, yeah. I’m just finishing up the edits to this press release.”

“It can wait. Go home.”

He mumbled something that sounded like a yes, but the way he bent his head over the keyboard told her odds were slim he’d actually follow her instructions. She couldn’t fault Nathan’s work ethic. She’d been the same way when she was an assistant—hopeful and hungry for her break.

Halfway down the hall, the door to Emma Robbins’s office was still open. Rachel stuck her head in and found her friend on the phone, pacing the room in stocking feet.

Emma smiled when she spotted her but held up a finger. “I’ll send you all the details ASAP. I’ve got to go. Call me first thing tomorrow, and don’t even think of talking, texting, or tweeting anything. To anyone.”

She raised her eyebrows when Emma ended the call and let out a long sigh.

“What’s going on?” Rachel asked.

Her friend flopped down in her leather desk chair and tucked her platinum blonde hair behind her ear. “Someone leaked to the press about Dante not being happy with his contract. Now this reporter from the Seattle Times is threatening to publish some bullshit story. I’m working up a press release saying—”

“Dante Helms loves Seattle and wants nothing more than to help bring another Super Bowl win to the city,” she finished for Emma.

“Exactly.”

“And the truth?”

“Dante wants to get back to Chicago so badly, he’ll burn rubber on I-90 doing it.”

“Looks like you’ve got a long night ahead of you. Are we still on for the Nets game on Wednesday?”

Emma nodded. “Wouldn’t miss it. I need to get out of this office.”

She laughed. “Don’t we all? See you tomorrow.”

In front of an office a few feet down the hall, Rachel’s other friend, Louise, was poring over something on her computer.

“Hi there,” Rachel said, stopping in front of Louise’s desk.

The younger woman slid her glasses off, rubbed one of her eyes, and froze. “Dammit. I forgot about my mascara.”

Rachel did a quick check of Louise’s makeup. “You’re good.”

Louise sighed. “That just means I rubbed it all off earlier.”

“Is Brad making you stay late again?” she asked.

“I’m doing his expenses, but I promised myself I’d break free at eight no matter what.”

A few years younger than Rachel and Emma, Louise had the misfortune of working for “Brad the Bad.” The agent had installed her in an assistant’s chair four years ago and had been coasting on Louise’s hard work ever since.

“You’ve left after me every night for the past three weeks. I wish you’d let me talk to him,” Rachel pleaded.

Louise shot her a tight smile. “It’s just a busy time.”

“Too busy to catch the game Wednesday?” she asked.

Louise’s shoulders slumped. “Probably, but I’ll let you know if it changes.”

She said her goodbyes but made a mental note to talk to Emma. They had to figure out a way to get Louise off the assistant’s desk and building a client list of her own. She deserved it.

Rachel should have been able to make the forty steps from Louise’s desk to the elevators with no interruptions, and she would’ve been home free if her cell phone hadn’t rung just as she stopped in front of the stainless steel doors.

The number was blocked. She was tempted to let it go to voice mail, but it was her job to be reachable, day or night. Sometimes, she thought as she swiped to answer, being available 24/7 sucked.

“This is Rachel Pollard.” She pushed the elevator’s down button with one red-polished nail.

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. She repeated her greeting—her voice clipped and short this time as she tapped her foot.

No response.

But just as she was about to hang up, a man’s deep voice broke the silence, “Rachel, it’s been a long time.”

She frowned. “I’m sorry, I don’t know who this is.”

“It’s Nick.”

“I know a lot of Nicks.” She glanced at the elevator display. The closest car was fourteen floors away.

The man cleared his throat. “Nick Ruben. We went to high school together.”

The ball of her foot hit the floor with a sharp click and stayed there. Nick Ruben. Oh, she knew exactly who he was. The two-sport star of Prescott High School. The golden boy. She’d spent most of their sophomore and junior years wondering if he’d ever notice her, and all of senior year forcing herself to get over her crush. And now, he was calling.

“How can I help you, Nick?” she asked, putting on that little edge of professional ice she used when speaking to reporters, because while she’d grown up to become one of the most in-demand young agents in sports management, she knew Nick had become a journalist. One, it would seem, who couldn’t ignore her any longer.

“I was feeling nostalgic, so I thought I’d call and see how you’re doing.” His voice might be sweet as honey, but it wasn’t thick enough to coat the bullshit that lay under the small talk. She didn’t have the time or inclination to wheedle out why he’d called. He’d have to come out and ask for whatever interview with whichever of her clients he wanted, just like anyone else.

And that’s when Nick would learn that she was the gatekeeper, and the gatekeeper didn’t do favors.

Mashing the elevator’s down button again, she said, “Nick Ruben. Reporter and sometimes anchor of New York Sports Network’s Sports Desk. You got a job in Kansas right after college covering the Royals for the Associated Press. Then you made the move to TV in Kansas City. After that you headed to one of Seattle’s local stations, and two years later you landed in Chicago. Your work was good enough that NYSN snatched you up to cover the Devils out of their Newark bureau. Since getting there, you’ve worked your way into a general assignment and fill-in anchor position. You’ve been in the tristate area for the last three years, here in New York City for the last two. You won a Murrow Award for your reporting on sub-concussive hits on high school football players in 2014. You also occasionally land in the gossip columns. Page Six in particular seems to like reporting on your dating life.

“I’m not big on nostalgia, Nick. Consider us caught up.”

When he didn’t respond immediately, she was certain she’d scared him off. She talked fast and took no prisoners—not everyone’s favorite set of qualities and ones that didn’t jive with most men’s first impression of her. All they saw were a pair of legs and a lot of red wavy hair standing quietly behind some of sports’ biggest stars during press conferences. Most men weren’t prepared for her to steamroll them.

Instead of sputtering, Nick began to laugh, the rich tone filling her phone’s speaker, and all at once her stomach clenched. How many hours had they spent just feet apart from each other in their high school baseball team’s dugout? In those days, she’d just wanted a sign that he saw her as something more than the gangly manager who took down game stats. A long time ago, she would’ve paid anything to elicit that kind of laugh from him.

“Sounds like you’ve been following my career pretty closely,” he said.

The elevator doors opened and Rachel stepped inside, her grip on the phone just a little bit tighter. “It’s my job to keep an eye on the talent at all of the major broadcast outlets. You’re no exception.”

You’re not special. I’ve been watching your career because this is what makes me so good at my job.

“So tell me, Nick,” she said, forcing the chill back into her voice, “what can I do for you?”

* * *

Nick stared at his cubicle wall, unsure of his next move, which was annoying as hell. He always knew what to do—even when someone turned him down, there was always another angle to get what he wanted—but somehow Rachel Pollard had managed to put him on his ass in two minutes flat. Just like she had in high school.

He caught his producer’s eye as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He should’ve have taken the call privately, but Mindy had insisted on being there. She was as invested in getting this interview as he was, but now she hovered over him like a mother hen, knocking him off his game.

Or maybe you’ve just never had game when it came to Rachel.

No. He had too much riding on this call to start thinking like that.

He took a deep breath. Time to turn on the charm and try again. “Like I said, can’t old high school friends—”

“The most you ever said to me in high school was ‘Can I get my game stats?’ or ‘Hand me that water bottle,’” Rachel interjected.

He frowned. That wasn’t true. Was it?

He remembered her, skinny as a string bean with her long red-brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and stuffed through the loop of an Arizona Diamondbacks ball cap. Quiet and closed off, she was always around, standing just a little apart. Unapproachable.

In the fall, she was never far from the football field, watching practice armed with a pad of paper, constantly taking notes on plays and strategy. The football coaches mostly tolerated her—probably because having her hanging around the bleachers didn’t really hurt anyone.

Each spring, she’d ride at the front of the baseball bus, crunching stat lines and talking tactics with Coach Callahan. The man used to brag about her knack for defensive positioning and her encyclopedic knowledge of pitchers—and how it was a damn shame none of the boys on the team ever developed a head for “that kind of advanced strategy.”

But while Coach Callahan treated her like a protégé, Nick’s teammates were ruthless, breaking her down in the locker room, where she couldn’t defend herself. They said she was weird. They dismissed her because they figured she must be crushing on someone. And then they’d try to guess who she had the hots for. As a wide receiver and a pitcher who saw a lot of game time in both of his sports, his name came up a lot. The mentions had made the back of his neck burn red because, deep down, Nick had liked her.

He hadn’t gone after her like he had Melanie Crawford, who he’d talked into kissing him in an empty hallway at Winter Formal sophomore year. Rachel wasn’t the cheerleader that he, the jock, was supposed to chase. She was the quiet girl, and somehow that made her seem cool, distant, and unattainable. He’d been so sure she’d turn those deep blue eyes on him and shut him down.

And now here he was, trying to stave off another kind of rejection a decade and a half later.

“Look, I apologize for being an idiot teenager,” he said, switching tactics and swallowing his pride. “Most teenage boys are idiots.”

“They are.” She hesitated. “An apology is a start.”

For the first time since she’d picked up, he heard something underneath the ice—the faintest hint of a smile. It wasn’t much, but Nick knew from a lifetime of experience that the moment he could make someone smile, he was in. Now all he had to do was get Rachel in front of him for five minutes, long enough to convince her to grant him the interview he needed.

Taking a calculated risk, he asked, “Meet me for a drink?”

Mindy shot him a horrified look, so he fixed his gaze on the dozens of press passes hanging on his cubicle wall.

“Like I told you, I’m not big on nostalgia,” Rachel said. “Look, I’m kind of busy right now . . .”

Damn. He’d miscalculated. She was going to hang up, and he was going to have to call back and beg.

Quickly he said, “Last time I was back home Coach Callahan asked about you. You’re right, I do have a favor to ask, but I also want to be able to tell him how you’re doing next time I see him.”

There was a slight beat—a gap in her armor—but he wasn’t expecting the warmth in her voice when she asked, “Did he really?”

“He got on my case about not having met up with you, since we live in the same city. He still thinks you could teach me a thing or two.”

That got a laugh out of her. “I’m not so sure about that.”

She had a good laugh—full and throaty. It made all of the bullshit worries about sucking up his pride and calling her fall away. Suddenly, hearing her laugh again seemed very, very important.

“Is that false modesty from Rachel Pollard?” he asked.

“It’s knowing a lost cause when I see one. You never really listened to your coaches. You just kind of did your own thing.”

He couldn’t help the urge to test the elbow he’d injured in college. Too many pitches in his freshman season and a natural weakness in a tiny tendon had landed him on the surgeon’s table. Even after months of physical therapy, his pitching arm had never been the same.

“Guilty as charged,” he said. “So what do you say? Meet me for a drink.”

“I’ve got a lot going on tonight,” she said, starting to hedge.

He took another gamble. “No you don’t.”

“How do you know?” she scoffed.

He grinned. “Because you thought about it for a split second. You were weighing whether meeting with me was really worth your time. My guess is you’re bringing work home. Maybe you have some plans to see your boyfriend—”

“I don’t have a boyfriend.”

His grin spread into a full-on, shit-eating smile as he stored that little bit of information away. Not that he’d ever pursue Rachel. Chasing after an agent with her client list would be as stupid as running headfirst into a wall over and over again, never mind that it would land him straight in his news director’s office as soon as word got out that he’d made a play for a high-profile woman who could also become an important source.

“The fact that the boyfriend is the thing you’re correcting me on just proves I’m right,” he said. “You’ve got a free night.”

“A better man would have let that go.”

“Good thing I’m not a better man,” he said, swiveling around and raising an eyebrow at Mindy. His producer rolled her eyes.

“Come get a drink with me,” he continued. “Unless you’re scared.”

That laugh filled his phone’s speaker again. “You haven’t scared me since I saw you wipe out into a bench of Coconino High School players.”

Automatically his hand went to his chin to rub the thin, pale scar he’d gotten that night.

“You know Artemis in Columbus Circle?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“I’m going to be there in twenty minutes.” Without another word, he hung up the phone and put it facedown on his desk.

“Well, that was either the most brilliant or the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen you do,” said Mindy. “And I’ve seen you do a lot of stupid things.”

“No you haven’t,” he said as he stood to put on his suit jacket.

“I’ve wing-womaned all over Manhattan for you. That means I’ve seen you karaoke ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ with some blonde you were trying to talk into bed. You still owe me for that one, by the way. Your singing voice is even worse when you’re drunk.”

He remembered the night in question. Mostly.

“That was two years ago. Let it go,” he said.

Mindy smirked. “Never.”

“I’ll bet you twenty bucks that I get Rachel to agree to grant this interview by the end of the night,” he said, smoothing his lapels against his chest.

Mindy folded her arms. “Right. Because she sounded so willing to walk down memory lane with you. Are you sure she’s even going to show?”

His phone buzzed, and he glanced at the screen. It was one of his college friends asking for fantasy basketball advice.

“Got a hot date?”

He looked up and caught Mindy’s smirk.

“None of your business,” he said.

“Who is it this time?” she asked. “A hedge fund analyst? A lawyer? A publicist? Or do I have to wait until you two wind up in the tabloids to find out?”

He shot her a dirty look and put his phone away.

“Why do you think Rachel’s not going to show?” he asked.

“From right here it sounded like you were bombing pretty hard. Even if she comes, there’s no way she agrees to work with us.”

“So take the bet.”

Mindy adjusted her black-framed glasses in that way that reminded him of librarians and elementary school teachers. Only none of the teachers who’d taught him paired them with leather leggings, long slouchy sweaters, knee-high boots, and piles of wood bracelets.

“Fine,” she finally said, sticking out her hand to shake. “Twenty says you can’t convince her to let us do the interview.”

He clapped his hand on hers and squeezed. “That twenty will buy a couple of sweet-tasting victory beers.” Just barely, damn New York prices.

Nick glanced at his watch. It’d take him ten minutes to walk to the bar, which would give him another ten to settle in, order a drink, and wait. Every man had his game, and part of Nick’s was making sure that he was never the last one to show up to a meeting—whether it was a date or a drink with a source. He wanted to pick the location, the time, the mood. He wanted the other party on their toes, just a little flustered at finding him halfway through a drink.

“I’m looking forward to taking your money, Ruben,” Mindy shouted after him as he walked out.

Never going to happen, he thought as he made his way out of the newsroom. There was no way he was going to let Mindy or himself down.

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SALE: Get The Governess Was Wanton for $0.99!

The Governess Was Wanton is on sale for a very limited time! The second book in the Governess series is a retelling of my favorite fairytale, Cinderella, but this time The Fairy Godmother gets her happily ever after!

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Mary Woodward, a young veteran governess, has one job: guiding a young debutante through her first season in high society. And up until now, keeping her focus and avoiding temptation has been easy. But never before has the father of her young charge been as devilishly handsome as the single, wealthy Earl of Asten.... Convinced to risk it all, Mary let's herself enjoy one night of magic at a masked ball in Asten's arms, but will they both regret everything when the Earl learns her true identity?

#5forFriday: One Week in Hawaii Is Breaking Up! (And That Means You Save)

This is a special #5forFriday today because it isn't every week I get to announce TWO deals for readers.

  1. My anthology ONE WEEK IN HAWAII is breaking up! What does that mean for you? A 99¢ book that gets you not just one but four sexy novellas just in time for summer beach read season. But remember, you've got just one week for the sale because after that the ebook comes down and you'll only be able to get it via paperback.
  2. Speaking of great deals, my publisher has put together a bundle of 12 free reads including THE GOVERNESS WAS WICKED! It's all in honor of a great site redesign for XOXO After Dark. Definitely check it out, and don't miss this video the authors of Pocket shot for the big anniversary. I'm in there, big hair and all.
  3. My sister and her Scottish boyfriend are coming to NYC! In fact, mere hours after this post goes up, they'll be on the ground (and probably jet lagged). My sister used to live four blocks from me in New York, so it's been tough not having her around. Fortunately...
  4. ...my moving to the U.K. going along about as well as I could hope. There are a million little things that need to be done before I get on a plane, but I'm crossing things off the very long to do list.
  5. Normally I'd round this out by saying I finished a draft of a book (true!) or turned in proofs (also true!) since my last #5forFriday, but really the best thing that's happened to me all week has been seeing friends and getting together those last few times. Even though I'll see many of them in a couple months — I literally just booked airfare to come back to the U.S. for my best friend's bachelorette party in Austin AND RWA in Orlando — there's something about celebrating seeing each other in the same city that makes all the difference.