Jul 25, 2019

Stress soothers – Kandy Shepherd

It’s been quite a stressful time for me in recent weeks. Our house is on the market and it was a frantic time getting it ready. Now there’s the constant pressure to keep it really tidy! 

Amidst all that I had my next story to finish for Harlequin Mills & Boon. A severe bout of the flu took me out of action for a month, which put me behind on my deadline. (I caught the flu before I’d had a chance to get vaccinated.) 

Thank heaven, I finally finished (just last night!) after long hours of BOC (butt on chair) and being very anti-social. Now I go through the nail-biting time of hoping my lovely editor likes the story...

Other stressful things have been happening too. So I thought I’d share some photos of things I love and think looking at might help to keep the blood pressure down!  (Of course that's apart from the obvious stress releases like exercise, meditation, massage, binge TV and so on!) I’d love to hear what are your favourite stress relievers.

The first thing I turn to at stressful times is chocolate, which I really, really shouldn't do. All those stress-relieving nibbles and all that sitting down leads to a new stressor – getting fatter! Deadly, my dietitian daughter warns...

Chocolate is not what I should be turning to!
I love to have flowers in the house, from my garden ideally. While my house is open for inspections I indulge in some flowers arrangements from my favourite florist. We go way back to my magazine days, and she knows just the flowers to lift my spirits!

The colours of these flowers soothe my soul! (Love the little cabbages.)
I absolutely love the water, swimming in the sea and walking along a beach are among my favourite past-times. Both these beaches are in the far northern suburbs of Sydney and easily accessible. One reason this particular LoveCat likes living DownUnder!

This is Bungan Beach on Sydney's northern beaches, view from a house for sale  (that we couldn't possibly afford, sadly!)
Too chilly (winter Down Under) for me to swim but others are braving the waters at Mona Vale, another Sydney  beach.

Who isn't cheered up by a rainbow. This one was taken on a walk around our little farm when I was seeking inspiration for a plot point. 

Stormy weather and a rainbow in the Blue Mountains

Food I haven't had to cook myself (or clear up afterwards) is a cheer-up treat. This cafe breakfast of corn fritters really hit the spot. 

That gorgeous green is a pea puree

Of course my cats always bring joy, just looking at them makes me feel happy. Stroking them and listening to them purr are proven stress releasers.

My precious kitties taking up my entire side of the bed! From left: Alfie, Tabitha, Ivy

Then there's spending time with my wonderful husband and gorgeous daughter. But they don't much like me posting pictures of them on social media!

What works for you when you need to distract yourself from stress? I'd love to read your comments!

Jul 22, 2019

Up, Up and Away by Amy Andrews.

As you read this, I will be on a plane winging it to the USA. To New freaking York to be exact for the Romance Writers of America conference.

New York, baby - Woooooot! 

I'll be there with fellow Cats, Clare Connelly and Michelle Douglas. 

Michelle and I are both up for a RITA award on Friday night (Saturday morning Down Under). Michelle for her Harlequin book, The Million Pound Marriage Deal and me for my Harlequin Escape book, Fair Game.

I'll be back with pics from my visit to the Big Apple next time but in the mean time everybody keep everything crossed for either Michelle or I to take out that RITA please :-)

Jul 21, 2019

Sunday Smooch with Amy Andrews

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from Amy Andrews but first......the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is .... Mary Preston!

Mary, can you please contact Michelle at michelle (at) michelle-douglas (dot) com to receive your prize!

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from The Kissing Contract!

Marshall Dyson wants one thing and one thing only: to raze his grandfather’s island to the ground. Everything is ready to go—except for the freakin’ bunnies! Hundreds of the furry critters hopping about and multiplying before his eyes. And then there’s the American Bunny League, along with one distractingly beautiful veterinarian, taking him to court to save them...
Dr. Augusta “Gus” North can’t believe the grumpy—and annoyingly hot—builder she’s facing in court cares more about demo-ing some cabin than the lives of 200 bunnies. But when the judge orders Marshall to stay on the island and help her rehome the rabbits—the entire month—she knows they’re going to need to lay some ground rules.
Like, for example, absolutely no kissing. Might as well go ahead and get that in writing. Sure it’s on a napkin, but that still counts.
How hard could it be to keep their hands off each other amidst all the fighting? Surprisingly, harder than wrangling 200 bunnies...

Scene set-up

Augusta shows up at Marshall's work site to deliver him his adopted rabbit, Thumper. It's the first time they've seen each other since the island and things get really heated, really quickly....

Smooch  -

A guy ran over from a truck, where he’d been talking to the driver, a frown on his face. “Lady…” he said, raising his voice a little, “you’re not supposed to be on site without permission and a hard hat.”
“Oh…right, sorry.” Gus also raised her voice. “I was just looking for Marshall. I mean…Mr. Dyson.”
The guy laughed. “Mr. Dyson? He’s over there.” He pointed to a group huddled around some plans before putting two less than clean fingers in his mouth and whistled. It was a piercing noise that cut above the din, and a bunch more men looked.
Including Marshall.
He was dressed pretty much like everyone else in heavy-duty pants, boots, a high visibility vest, and hard hat, but he was Marshall and her heart clunked in her chest as he stood and stared. Gus knew the feelings swelling inside her were more than just missing him feelings or even falling for him feelings.
They were fallen really hard feelings. Crap.
Suddenly, he was striding toward her, and Gus’s stomach clenched and her knees knocked as his long legs chewed up the distance. Sunglasses hid his gaze, so she couldn’t read him, but his stride was purposeful and…intent.
“Someone to see you, Mr. Dyson,” the guy said with a grin as Marshall drew level with them.
His eyes may have been hidden, but Gus could feel his gaze burning into hers. “Piss off, Brett,” Marshall said.
The guy saluted. “Yes, sir, Mr. Dyson, sir,” he said, and ambled off unhurriedly, chuckling to himself. He joined a huddle of men who clearly had no intention of getting back to work while there was a woman in stilettos, holding a rabbit in a cage, talking to the boss.
Marshall whipped his sunglasses off and Gus’s pulse leapt as his indigo gaze latched hungrily onto hers. He was cleanly shaven and it took her back to that day in court. Man, had a lot of water flowed under the bridge since then.
“What’s up, doc?” Then he grinned. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
Gus smiled. “I thought I’d hand-deliver your new best friend.” She held up the cage, but Marshall barely paid Thumper any attention.
His eyes roved over, and he shook his head. “It had to be the skirt? And the heels?”
Yeah, she shouldn’t have. But the Devil had ridden her this morning when she’d been deciding what to wear. She probably wouldn’t have if she’d known she was going to end up on a construction site, but the heat in his eyes as he looked at her made her decision worthwhile.
Not to mention curling her toes. She shrugged. “This old thing?”
Grinning, he shook his head. Reaching for the cage with one hand, he relieved her of it while circling her upper arm with the other. “Let’s take this somewhere more private, shall we?”
His tug was gentle but firm and, aware of their audience, Gus followed meekly. But her legs had started shaking again and her heart was rattling almost as loudly as the jackhammer in her ears.
Towing her toward the trailer, he opened the door for her and said, “Inside.”
Gus didn’t argue, walking up the two steps and entering the trailer, conscious of him following into the room. She looked around—two desks covered in paperwork complete with coffee ring stains, a filing cabinet with a box of tools on top, several hard plastic chairs, walls devoid of any decoration, and layers of dust clinging to all the surfaces.
Two pedestal fans, with rivulets of grime clinging to their cages, pushed warm air around the room. A wash basin that had clearly never been cleaned stood next to a bar fridge on top of which was a coffee percolator, the pot half full.
To say it reeked of testosterone was an understatement.
She stepped to the side and he brushed past, her body lurching at the slight caress as he put the cage down behind the far desk and quickly washed his hands.
“Shut the door.”
Gus did as he asked, the construction noise muffling instantly. So much for not being alone with him in an office. Turning to face Marshall, she leaned her back against the door, watching as he dried his hands on some paper towels then crossed to the window, where he reached for the cord of the blinds. With a quick pull, they dropped down.
A twist of his wrist and the slats snapped shut.
The room dimmed a little, stray fingers of sunlight still managing to poke in around the edges of the covering. His eyes met hers and locked as he took off his hard hat, ruffling his hair with one hand as he threw the hat on the nearest desk with the other.
“No, leave it,” she said, her voice husky with nerves and the way his gaze was eating her up. “I like it. Very blue collar.”
“Another time,” he growled, prowling towards her.
Gus pressed her knees together as he approached. Everything inside her heated, melted, liquefied. She shouldn’t be here with him, like this. No good could come of it.
He stopped in front of her, just out of reach. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he said, his eyes roving over her face. “Better speak up if you’re not down with that.”
Gus knew she should speak up. Knew she should move. She’d fallen for a man who came with a built-in expiration date. But she did neither.
She didn’t want to move. She wanted him to kiss her.
He nodded and muttered, “Okay then,” taking that last step toward her, slipping one hand onto her hip, cupping the other around her jaw, his mouth swooping down to claim hers in a hard, hot, hungry kiss.
Her head thunked back against the door at the force of it and sparkles of color popped behind her eyes. Her pulse thrummed through her veins as she grabbed for his shoulders, pulling him closer, his hand slid to her ass and hitched her closer again, her heels high enough to bring their hips into alignment.
He groaned against her mouth. He tasted like coffee and smelled like sunshine and shampoo, and her nose filled with the scent and the flavor of him as she kissed him back harder and hotter.
But it wasn’t enough. She squirmed against him, needing him closer. Needing more of him.
All of him.
As if he could read her mind, his hand was at her waist, pulling her blouse out of her skirt and his palm was pushing under the fabric, big and hot on her skin as it smoothed up, up, up until it hit the fleshy satin rise of her breast, and then he was squeezing and kneading and pulling the cup aside, his fingers taunting her aching nipple.
Gus gasped, breaking their lip lock as they squeezed. She arched and cried out and he kissed her again and again and again, his hands making short work of her buttons before groping for the zipper at the back of her skirt.
“Up,” she said, panting against his mouth. “Up is easier.”

F0r a chance to win a digitial copy of The Kissing Contract leave an answer to the question in the comments and come back next week for the announcement of the winner and another Smooch!

Question - hard hat yes, or hard hat no? :-)

Jul 17, 2019

My Happy Place

by Bronwyn Jameson 

This birthday gift should have been easy to hang. Neutral colours. Practical size: not too large, not too small.

But its significance left me mulling for some time over where it should be hung.

My “happy place” has always been non-literal. I find it in the pages of a beautifully crafted book. Planning my next travel adventure or helping someone else do the same. With beverage in hand, laughing with family or friends. Preparing a meal — or baking a cake — to share with aforementioned family.

My gift is not a book-mark. I can’t take it with me on my next adventure, to hang in the departure lounge. My favourite drinks place is my front verandah: with a view but without protection from the elements. Which left me with my final — and happy — option.

It now hangs in my kitchen and I’m happy to see it when I walk into the room, even before I start my next baking adventure. Lately I’ve been glomming carrot cakes. Here are two super-yummy successes: the first is a classic Carrot Cake with lemon cream cheese frosting. The second has a surprise twist: tea and spices. Masala Chai Carrot Cake

What is your happy place?

Where would you hang this wall art?

Jul 14, 2019

RITA smooch

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from Michelle's RITA-nominated romance The Million Pound Marriage Deal but first...

... the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is JennyW!

Jenny you please contact maggie on: maggiechritensen (at) maggiechristensenauthor (dot) com to receive your prize

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from The Million Pound Marriage Deal...

 A marriage of convenience...
With a price!

Billionaire playboy Will Trent-Paterson has one year to get married. His grandfather will disinherit him if he doesn't settle down, leaving his vulnerable sister homeless! So when old friend Sophie Mitchell jokes that she'd marry him for a million pounds, a temporary marriage seems like the perfect solution! Until, after spending time with captivating Sophie, Will realizes walking away will be the hardest part...

[Scene set-up: Will and Sophie are about to appear for the first time as an engaged couple and they're "practicing" at trying to appear as natural as possible when, in fact, they're both feeling impossibly awkward.]

 ‘If we mess this up. If we lose our heads and forget ourselves…just once…then we’re not going to want to see each other again.’
  Her words were like a punch to the gut. Because they were true.
  ‘It’s what I meant when I said we were playing a dangerous game.’ Her eyes flashed. ‘If you found me unattractive that would be—’ She broke off. ‘But you don’t.’
  And he realised then what she’d made explicit but had left unsaid. She didn’t find him unattractive either. The knowledge made his blood roar.
  He ground his back molars together and counted to three, pulled in a breath. ‘You have my word that I won’t lose my head.’
  He would not let her down.
  ‘And you have my word.’
  They had to be cautious, circumspect. He couldn’t let himself feel too comfortable with her…and yet they both had to cultivate an appearance of tranquillity with each other for outside eyes. She was right. This could be trickier than he’d first envisaged. But not impossible.
  Before he knew what she was about she’d leaned in, stood on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to his cheek. ‘Thank you.’
  His heart crashed in his chest. His cheek burned where her lips had touched him.
  She eased back, adjusted her cardigan. ‘Right. Your turn.’
  She was trying to make kissing him as natural as possible, and he had to do the same. ‘Believe it or not,’ he said, ‘it’s my pleasure.’
  He pressed a kiss to her brow and tried not to notice how soft and warm and vibrant she felt beneath his lips.
  She huffed out a laugh. ‘Well, in that case I choose to believe it. Right, sit.’
  She gestured to the sofa and he took a seat. She came from behind. Her arms slid around his shoulders, making him start.
  ‘You do that downstairs and you’ll give the game away.’
  He nodded and gritted his teeth. ‘Do it again.’
  She eased back, walked away, and then moved towards him again and bent down to slide just one arm about his shoulders. He rested his hand on her forearm and felt a tiny tremor run through her. He pulled in a measured breath and her scent flooded his senses. ‘You smell nice.’
  Nice? That’s the best you can manage?
  She smelled sensational—fruity and warm, like Christmas. Though Christmas was months away.
  ‘It’s my body lotion. Frosted cherry. My favourite.’
  They broke apart at exactly the same moment. This was exhausting, but he saw the wisdom of it. They needed to give the impression that they were physically comfortable with each other.
  When nothing could be further from the truth.
  ‘Your turn.’ He waved her to the armchair.
  She sat, leaned back, crossed her legs—for all the world as if she were completely at ease.
  Time for them to get this over and done with.
  Her eyes widened when he braced his hands on the arms of the chair and leant down towards her, effectively locking her in and leaving her nowhere to escape. ‘Lips?’
  She glanced at his lips and then back into his eyes and nodded. ‘Dry lips,’ she whispered. ‘And we keep it brief.’
  Every cell in his body burst to life. He recited, Peter’s sister, Peter’s sister, Peter’s sister, over and over in his mind. ‘I want to tell you something before we do this,’ he murmured, his gaze not dropping from hers.
  ‘She swallowed. ‘Okay.’
  ‘You’re wrong. I like you just fine, Sophie Mitchell.’
  Her lips parted as if in shock. He couldn’t resist the pull any longer. His mouth lowered to hers, lips brushing lips—light, teasing and nowhere near enough. She stiffened, but then he felt her force herself to relax. And then she leaned forward a fraction and pressed her lips more firmly against his and kissed him back.
  Wind roared in his ears. It took all the strength he had to not deepen the kiss, to not engage lips, mouths, tongues and hands.
  Biting back a groan, he pulled back to stare into stunned blue eyes. They were a deeper shade of blue than he’d ever seen before.
  She pushed him away and launched herself from the chair like a horse from a starter’s gate. ‘We better keep that to a minimum.’
  She was darn right they were keeping that to a minimum!
  He’d kiss her cheek, her brow, the top of her head, her hand, but he had every intention of staying as far away from those lips as possible. They were lethal!


I'm currently away in New York -- Yay! And I'm so looking forward to living it up at the RITA Awards ceremony. Leave a comment to go into the draw to win a copy of The Million Pound Marriage Deal, and I'll make sure to send it as soon as I return home. 

Come back next Sunday, when the winner of today's giveaway will be announced and a smooch from Amy Andrews will be posted!

Smooch Graphic by WebWeaver

Jul 10, 2019

Leaving on a jet plane

At some ridiculous time tomorrow morning when it's still dark (as in really, really early morning!), I set off for the airport. I’m so OMG-excited! :-)

We’re spending four nights in Singapore before hitting New York. I’ve not visited Singapore before and I’d love to set a story there—so we get to lose ourselves in a brand new city for a few wonderful days. How good does that sound?

And then we’re catching the world’s longest haul flight from Singapore to Newark: 18 hours and 40 minutes. My friends’ eyes have all bugged when I’ve told them how long the flight is. But you know what? I finished my PhD earlier in the year, and I haven’t stopped since—chasing my tail and trying to catch up on all the things—and the thought of sitting on a plane with nothing to do except read a book, watch a movie, and to dream (and sleep) sounds like absolute heaven to me.

I’ve had an epic to-do list to get done:

* Finish first draft of next romance—check.
* Type up said first draft—um, not quite I’m afraid.
* Finish copyedits of my January release: The Maid, the Millionaire and the Baby—check.
* Check what bills will arrive while we’re away and pay them—check (gah, I think!).
* Make sure all taps are turned off nice and tight because some of them drip—check. Except this is unnecessary as a family member is housesitting for us and therefore will be here to check all drips and any irons and ovens left on. Peace of mind—happy sighs.
* Post a month’s worth of Beach Monday pics to my Facebook author profile, even though I’ll probably upload so many pictures from my holiday that Beach Monday pics will be superfluous. Nah…the beach is never superfluous, right?
* Write an acceptance speech in case the unthinkable happens—um…not yet, but there’s a very long plane ride, so…
* Pack—check.
* Download the ebooks I want to read while I’m away—check.

So…can you think of anything I might have missed?

If you’re on Facebook or Instagram, I’ll be doing my best to share my trip while I’m away. But, never fear, I’ll share the highlights of my trip in my next post here. Happy July everyone!

Jul 8, 2019

Festival Time

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know I used to be heavily involved with Byron Writers Festival. After the 2018 Festival, I stepped down as Chair. It was a bittersweet moment as I loved heading up the Festival, but combining that with full-time work and a writing career proved too much.

The new program has just come out and once again it is shaping up to be absolutely wonderful. Not only is there the three-day Festival in a beautiful, beachside location, but also many satellite events and workshops.

Some of the sessions I circled in the program include:

  • Writing Process: The Agony and the Ecstasy with Isobelle Carmody, Karen Foxlee, John Marsden chaired by Nicole Abadee
  • AC Grayling on How Philosophy has Changed History
  • Markus Zusak in conversation with Angela Ledgerwood
  • David Gillespie on Teen Brains with Mandy Nolan
  • Landscape as Muse with Gail Jones, Di Morrissey, Peter Watt chaired by Nicole Abadee.

And that’s just Day One!

The Festival is being held on 2-4 August. Hope to see you there, breathing the sea air, listening to the stories from around the country and around the world.

Jul 3, 2019

The Reading Hour by Clare Connelly

I'm really struggling to dig my way through my TBR pile at the moment. Between the kids, school, designing our new house, and writing lots of words, I'm finding it really hard to get my reading time in. I don't really like to read fiction while I'm writing it, so I'm limited to non-fiction much of the time (I'm working my way through a fascinating book right now that's waaaay outside my usual proclivities). I find non-fiction stretches my brain without distracting me from the characters of my own creation, though it's a lot less gripping and therefore I can go days at a time without picking the book back up.

Up until about six months ago, I had a really good system. At 2pm every day, almost always without fail, I'd fold my laptop up and take to the sofa for my Reading Hour. Yes, a Reading Hour. I set an alarm on my phone for 3pm, because I would generally doze off at some point and that way I could be sure I wouldn't sleep through school pick-up time!

But in 2019, I've started walking every day, about 6k in the mornings. It's been amazing for my health, and for my writing because I use the time to plot up a storm, but it squeezes my writing time and makes it harder for me to adhere to a set Reading Hour because I find I have to work that bit later in the day, using every available minute. I read in the bath - I'm a recreational bather, give me bubbles, vino and a book and I'm happy! - but I'm still not getting through enough books.

What about you? Do you find you're reading as much as you'd like? Where do you squeeze your reading time into the day? How much do you read in a week? Maybe I'm just being too hard on myself but for someone who used to devour a Mills & Boon novel in a night, I'm finding my snail's pace very frustrating! And I have a permanent kindle bruise on my forehead from where I drop my kindle on my face as I fall asleep reading - tell me I'm not alone!?