Book Releases

Holding On (Colorado High Country #6) —
The Colorado High Country series returns with Conrad and Kenzie's story.

A hero barely holding on…

Harrison Conrad returned to Scarlet Springs from Nepal, the sole survivor of a freak accident on Mt. Everest. Shattered and grieving for his friends, he vows never to climb again and retreats into a bottle of whiskey—until Kenzie Morgan shows up at his door with a tiny puppy asking for his help. He’s the last person in the world she should ask to foster this little furball. He’s barely capable of managing his own life right now, let alone caring for a helpless, adorable, fluffy puppy. But Conrad has always had a thing for Kenzie with her bright smile and sweet curves. One look into her pleading blue eyes, and he can’t say no.

The woman who won’t let him fall…

Kenzie Morgan’s life went to the dogs years ago. A successful search dog trainer and kennel owner, she gets her fill of adventure volunteering for the Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue Team. The only thing missing from her busy life is love. It’s not easy finding Mr. Right in a small mountain town, especially when she’s unwilling to date climbers. She long ago swore never again to fall for a guy who might one day leave her for a rock. When Conrad returns from a climbing trip haunted by the catastrophe that killed his best friend, Kenzie can see he’s hurting and wants to help. She just might have the perfect way to bring him back to the world of the living. But friendship quickly turns into something more—and now she’s risking her heart to heal his.

In ebook and soon in print!

About Me

My photo
I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.


Seductive Musings

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coming Soon — SKIN DEEP: An I-Team After Hours Novella

Cover image by Jenn LeBlanc/Text design by Jennifer Johnson

Remember I was going to write a Christmas novella? And then I somehow couldn’t get Defiant done to my satisfaction until January 20, making a Christmas novella a bit untimely?  And then I got pneumonia so I didn’t write a damned thing for the entire month of February?

Good times! Not.

Well, I got to work the moment I started feeling better, opening the novella I had started, setting aside the Christmas theme and just working on a straight novella — my very first I-Team After Hours novella.

I’m using I-Team After Hours to brand these I-Team spin-off stories as being somewhat different than a regular I-Team novella and also shorter. My average novel is about 120,000 words. These novellas will come close to 40,000 words, making them about one-third the size of an I-Team novel. Accordingly, they’ll be priced at about one-third the cost of an I-Team novel — $2.99.  I’m self-publishing them straight to ebook through, and Smashwords. It will be available in all ebook formats, including Kobo (Smashwords) and Apple. If you don’t have an ereader, you’ll still be able to enjoy the story by downloading a free ereader application from Amazon or B&N that will enable you to read the story on whatever computer you’re using right now to read this blog post.

The first novella is titled Skin Deep. No doubt you’ve already noticed the delicious cover image provided by friend and fellow Colorado journalist Jenn LeBlanc, who is also a romance author. Jennifer Johnson of Sapphire Dreams did the text design. But what we all notice are the abs, the muscles in the arms, the veins. Yes, the veins... Ahem.

Skin Deep is about half finished and will be available as soon as I can have it edited, formatted and uploaded — perhaps before the end of the month, but definitely by early April. Make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter if you want to make certain you are notified when the book is released. To be added to the newsletter, click here.

This is a new venture for me and a way to give stories to characters in the I-Team series that would otherwise not get a story.

I’m starting with Megan Rawlings, Marc Hunter’s little sister. Those of you who’ve read Unlawful Contact know what a terrible life Megan has had. I won’t elaborate in order to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t read the book.

Here’s the blurb that would go on the back cover of the book (if it had a cover):

Broken on the inside

Megan Hunter has worked hard to get back on her feet, leaving the nightmare of her teenage years behind. The last thing she wants or needs in her life is a man. But when she is attacked by someone from her past, a scarred stranger intervenes, saving her life and that of her little girl. Looks can be deceiving, for despite the man’s rough appearance, she feels safe with him. And for the first time in her life, she knows the stirrings of desire.

Broken on the outside

Nathaniel West paid a high price serving with the Marines in Afghanistan. He returned to his family’s ranch in the Colorado mountains to heal—and be alone.  Disfigured as he is, he has put all thoughts of sex and romance aside. But something about Megan brings him back to life, heats his blood, makes him feel like a man again. As danger pursues her, and the truth about her past is revealed, he vows to protect her—and to heal her wounded spirit.

But confronting the past is never easy—especially when it’s carrying a gun. Megan will have to learn to trust Nate to survive and to claim a passion that is much more than … 
Skin Deep.

That gives you a quick overview. I’ll be posting an excerpt soon! Stay tuned for more!

MacKinnon’s Rangers news:  Jenn LeBlanc just finished reading Surrender and Untamed and loved them so much she decided on her own to start a closed Facebook discussion group for anyone interested in reading the series and discussion the stories in preparation for the release of Defiant.

Anyone who wants to read and discuss the stories can ask to join. Jenn’s plan is to start reading the books on April 1, I believe. If you’re on Facebook and are interested in joining, click here.

Project: Happiness Update: I continue to improve my eating and to go to the gym, though I find it difficult to write, keep a clean house, be on the Internet, go the gym, cook healthful meals and write. My instinct when the story stalls is to drop everything — good eating habits, the gym, getting enough sleep — just to get the story back on track.

But that’s what I can’t do. That’s what I’ve always done, and in the end it doesn’t do me any good. So, despite feeling stressed about finishing the story, I did go to the gym, cussing all the way. I wasn’t cussing when I came home, however. The moral of this story? Go to the damned gym.

I have never, ever regretted going to the gym. 

 Oddly enough, living a different life means doing things differently. And that’s what I’ve committed to through Project: Happiness.

And, dammit, I’m sticking to it!
Thursday, March 15, 2012

Interview with Elisabeth Naughton

 So you all know I’ve worked as a journalist most of my life. After I left the newspaper, I got an email from Joyce Lamb asking me whether I felt like interview authors for the brand new Happy Ever After blog on USA Today’s website. I thought about it for all of about an hour and told Joyce that I would be delighted.

During the few months that I’ve been working with Joyce, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing an number of fantastic authors. I decided I would share some of my favorite interviews with you from time to time, especially when I’m busy writing.

I’m starting with the lovely Elisabeth Naughton.


(Note: This interview originally appeared on USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog. Reprinted with permission.)

A junior high science teacher, Elisabeth Naughton never planned to be a romance novelist. Fate, it seems, had other ideas. From the moment she took up the pen — in secret, it turns out — Elisabeth was hooked, persisting through early frustrations as she learned about the craft and the industry until her fifth manuscript sold.

Her hard work has more than paid off. With eight novels to her name, as well as a novella, shes garnered a loyal following of readers who turn to her for action-packed adventures and sexy romance.

We caught up with Elisabeth in the wake of the release of Wait for Me, her latest novel, to talk about being a stay-at-home mom, her decision to become a novelist, and why she prefers to limit adventures to the fictional ones in her books.

Pamela: Unlike many authors, you didnt start writing at a young age. In fact, you didn’t start writing until you left your job as a science teacher to stay at home with your children. What was it that prompted you to try writing that first manuscript? Why did you choose to write romance specifically?

Elisabeth: Youre right. I never had dreams of being a writer. Id always loved to read and enjoyed the Peanuts cartoons where Snoopy's writing a book (who doesn’t?), but being an actual author just wasn't something that was ever even close to being on my radar.

After the birth of my second child, I took a years leave of absence from my teaching job to stay home with my kids. I quickly learned that being a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) mom was a lot harder than I'd anticipated. Not just the workload (anyone whos been a SAHM knows its the hardest job on the planet), but the mental toll it takes on a person. I'd worked my entire adult life — and I’d enjoyed working — so to go from being the teacher who took on everything at school (student council adviser, multiple sports coach, volunteer, etc.) to being housebound was tough. I lasted about six months (through the summer and the first couple months of school) before I decided I needed something more. Don't get me wrong — I love my kids and loved being with them, but not all women are created equal, and I quickly realized I needed to do something to keep my brain active or I'd go nuts.

Since I wasn’t ready to go back to my teaching job yet — and couldn't since it was the middle of the school year — I spent a lot of time reading. Id always been a good writer — in grad school the big joke is I wrote all my friends papers — and one day, while I was reading a romance novel, I thought, “You know, I could do this.” It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to write a book. Just something for me to do. And I didn’t tell a single person I was writing — not even my husband. I worked on that first book when the kids were napping or at night when they were in bed. About three months into it (and after several glasses of wine), I finally got up the nerve to tell my husband what I was doing. To my surprise, he already knew. He said he’d come across the file on my laptop and was thrilled I’d found something that made me happy.

That first book will never see the light of day. It was horrendous. But it was a huge learning process for me, and as soon as I was done — even knowing how bad it was — I knew I wanted to be a writer. When the year was up and it came time to decide if I was going back to teaching, I turned in my resignation. And I never looked back.

Pamela: What kept you going during those frustrating months when the first, second, third and fourth didn’t sell?

Elisabeth: Stubbornness. Without a doubt. Once I put my mind to something, I stick with it until I reach my goal. From the moment I decided I wanted to become a published author, I worked toward that goal. If I didn’t know something, I learned it. I took classes. I went to conferences. I joined writers’ loops, etc. Each time I got a rejection (and there were plenty), it spurred me to work harder. ”Failure is not an option.” That's a line from Apollo 13, isn’t it? For me, it rings true in everything I do.

The cool thing about my career as a writer is that once I reach a goal, there’s always another goal ahead, so I never feel like I don't have something to work toward. Plus, I love what I get to do for a living. And for me, that's the most important part.

Pamela: Between the artifact-hunting of your Stolen trilogy and the ancient aspect of your Eternal Guardian series, it's clear you have a real interest archaeology and ancient mythology. From where does this interest spring?

Elisabeth: I honestly don’t know. I loved The Odyssey and The Iliad when I was in school. When everyone else was complaining about having to read them, I was in pure heaven. A lot of it also comes from my background in science. I’m fascinated by the scientific study of past cultures and how things we learn today tell us not only about ancient civilizations, but also about how decisions we make now can affect our future tomorrow.

Pamela: Your Stolen series is romantic adventure more than romantic suspense. What's the most adventurous thing you’ve done in your life?

Elisabeth: Hmm … I'm afraid of heights and am pretty claustrophobic, so for me anything adventurous usually relates to something that scares the pants off me. Parasailing from a boat off the coast of Mexico ranks right up there in the ohmygod, I never should have done that! category, as does scuba diving. Ironically, I find it much easier to write about the adventurous parts of my books rather than do them myself.

Pamela: You're one of a growing number of authors who is getting books out both through a New York publisher and via indie publishing. You’ve now reissued your entire Stolen series and the first two books of your Eternal Guardian series as independently published e-books. Was that a complicated process for you? What are your thoughts on the changes in the publishing industry and specifically indie publishing?

Elisabeth: Not as complicated as I thought. Indie publishing is more time-consuming than anything else. As I tend to be a perfectionist, I want things done right. And knowing I have the power to change things and make them right is both liberating and can really suck up my time. I don’t think indie publishing is for every author. If you're someone who doesn't like dealing with details, if you'd rather just write and have someone else handle all the "other" stuff, then indie publishing wouldn't be a good fit for you. But if you’re an author who likes to be in control of his/her career, then it can open up multiple doors.

As for my thoughts on the changing publishing landscape … For years I’ve been getting e-mails from readers asking when I'm going to write another romantic suspense book. Those have always been hard e-mails to answer because I love writing romantic suspense as much as readers love reading it, and even though New York hasn't been buying much romantic suspense lately, I've been continuing to write it. The new indie-publishing wave is encouraging because it's getting books out there that might not otherwise be published. And readers are finally getting to decide what they want to read rather than what New York wants to take a chance on publishing. I see benefits to being both New York- and indie-published, and I’m excited about the opportunities authors now have to make their stories available to readers who are anxious to read them.

Pamela: We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the role that music plays for authors. You’ve said you can’t really listen to music when you write but that it helps you when you’re thinking about your characters. Is it the tone of the music, its mood, or the lyrics that influence you most?

Elisabeth: I love music. I make soundtracks for all my books, and every book has its own theme song — one song that for whatever reason resonates with me. When I'm writing, I can’t listen to anything with lyrics because I find myself singing along and lose track of my scenes, but I still love music, so I listen to a lot of movie scores while writing. My favorites are the film scores to Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, The Last of the Mohicans and Transformers. (I listen to the Gladiator film score station on Pandora a lot when writing, and it comes up with some great selections.) Because I write action and fight sequences, the tempo of the music also helps a lot to get me in the right frame of mind for each scene.

When not writing, though, songs that make me think of my characters keep me “in my book” during the day. When I’m driving, when I'm doing non-writing-related work at home, etc., they help me stay focused on the plot and characters and keep me thinking about the next scene I’ll be writing. And I have eclectic music tastes. I like New Age, rock, country, and alternative, so my book soundtracks run the gamut from Linkin Park to Kenny Chesney to Enya.

Pamela: Your books have garnered high praise for their tight action, thrilling suspense and steamy sensuality. How do you balance these elements as you write?

Elisabeth: I have no idea! That probably isn’t a good answer, huh? The truth is I let the story write itself the way it needs to be written. I’m a pantster — I have a vague understanding of a book when I sit down to write it, but I can usually only see about three chapters ahead at any one time. If I get stuck, I know it’s usually because I've let the tension drop somewhere — either the action or the romance or the suspense — and then I go back and figure out where I went off track. For me, the emotional experience of the book is the most important thing, so even though I’m letting the book flow on its own, I’m always checking to make sure the stakes are high, the emotion is deep, and that the reader feels what the characters are feeling. I want my readers to feel like they're in the story rather than sitting back reading about someone else’s life.

Pamela: Wait for Me is the first book you’ve written specifically for indie publishing. What is the story behind this book? What can you tell us about the story itself?

Elisabeth: Wait for Me is the story that’s been in my head the longest. It wasn't the first book I wrote, but it’s the story I daydreamed about over and over, and it's the one I always come back to. I love second-chance stories, and that's what Wait for Me is. It’s about a happily married man whose life is torn apart when his wife dies in a plane crash. Five years later he’s only a shell of the man he used to be, but he gets up and goes on every day because he has a daughter to raise. When a woman who looks like his long lost wife shows up on his doorstep, he thinks he's been given a second chance, until he realizes the woman has absolutely no memory of him whatsoever. This book is filled with emotional turmoil, hope and despair, suspense and mystery. But at its core, it's a story about fate and destiny, trust and forgiveness and taking chances.

Pamela: What can we expect from your Eternal Guardian series this year?

Elisabeth: I'm totally excited that the fourth Eternal Guardians book — Enraptured — releases April 3, 2012. Enraptured recently received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and will be featured on the April cover of RT Book Reviews. After that, book five — Enslaved — releases in November, and picks up right where Enraptured ends.

Pamela: That all sounds fantastic! Thanks for taking time to talk with us!

Elisabeth: Thanks so much for the opportunity to stop by!

Pamela: To learn more about Elisabeth Naughton and her books, go to
Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Project: Happiness — The Body

 Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. I’ve been writing and doing other things that have resulted in my having less time to be online.

Last time I wrote about Project: Happiness, I wrote how I was dividing life into three areas: body, mind and spirit. I wrote how I viewed those as a kind of personal trinity, these three aspects of each of us coming together in a whole. My goal, I wrote, was going to be to make sure each of those areas of my life received attention each day.

Today, I wanted to write about the body part of it, which is in some respects the most difficult for me and, I suspect, many other women. Our bodies are objectified, commodified, politicized, hyper-sexualized and subject to abuse and violence. This isn’t new. It has always been true.

During much of history, women were viewed as less capable, weaker, less intelligent creatures whose purpose in life was to serve men in and out of bed and to have babies. At one point, the male leaders of the Catholic Church actually debated whether or not women had souls. It’s not surprising that so many men and women viewed being born in a female body as a kind of curse.

Many still do.

In ancient Greece, as in many places today — Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, parts of Africa — baby girls were often killed after birth because they were viewed as useless and expensive. The ancient Greeks sometimes gave their daughters to brothels, a practice mirrored in Nepal and India, where young girls are often handed over to traffickers or straight to brothels by their own family members in exchange for money.

Even here in the United States, being female comes with strange expectations foreign to men. No one debates the need for Viagra, because it seems clear to people that Men Need Sex! Erections are important! No one asks whom men will have sex with once they pop their blue pill. Their wives? Their lover? A prostitute? Their porn co-stars? (Viagra is used widely in the porn industry to help men perform.) Apparently, we don’t feel the need to question men when it comes to sex.

But when it comes to contraception for women, some folks can’t accept that Women Need Sex, Too. The discussion becomes religious and revolves around chastity, marriage, and motherhood. The double standard is still alive. Men can enjoy sex for its own sake, but women must be chaste till marriage and then pay for sexual pleasure with the suffering of reproduction. Women who don’t live according to those standards can expect to be called names. There are even people alive today who think women shouldn’t be given pain relief during labor because of some words in Genesis. Give me a break! Can you imagine such widespread debate regarding what men can do with their bodies? It won’t happen. Ever.

I have strong feelings on these subjects, which I don’t intend to debate. You’re free to believe what you want—and to post it on your own blog. From my point of view, a woman can choose for herself what she does with her body sexually and reproductively. Period.

But let’s not get sidetracked by the culture wars. The point I’m getting at is that we still haven’t reached a point in human history where women’s bodies are considered their own. So if you grew up feeling confused about your body, whether you were supposed to be a fertile Madonna who lives to please her husband and her 25 children or a skinny, sexy nymph with big breasts who knows how to adorn a set of satin sheets you’re probably not alone.

So that was the macro view. Now let’s get personal. Every woman has her own unique relationship with her body. What follows is a history of mine. You may not wish to read this.

I was a skinny, very active little kid, who hiked, played outdoors all day, got stung by bees every summer because I ran around barefoot, who climbed trees in dresses and generally enjoyed being alive in a body.

That changed when I was 10. I went to a friend’s house after school to play. She wasn’t home, but her father invited me in to wait for her. He raped me on the living room floor. Soul Train was on TV, and I remember an ugly black velvet painting of a burro on the wall. He threatened to tell my parents what a dirty little girl I was if I told anyone what had happened, and so for a year I was silent and terrified and alone.

I saw a program about sexual assault on television, and I told my mother. What followed was in some ways worse than the assault, as I was taken to a male doctor and examined. I remember thinking that all men really cared about, whether they were a friend’s father or a doctor, was whatever was between my legs. It was horrible and humiliating. There was no concrete evidence by then—no semen, no DNA—and so the whole thing was basically shoved under the rug.

The fallout from both experiences was devastating for me. Night terrors in which I woke up shaking and terrified and thinking I was going to vomit. A withdrawal from the world into myself. Serious depression. A desire not to be alive any longer.

Kids picked up on this in school. I’d been a little on the shy side before, but after that I was bullied, truly bullied. I pleaded to stay in for recess because being on the playground meant being shoved around and called names. My parents actually had to call the school, and I was sent from the classroom while the teacher chewed out the entire class for picking on me. I remember it vividly.

I hit puberty, and it got worse. My hormones added to the confusion I felt about sexual assault. I avoided boys like the plague, while finding fault with the body that had been such fun when I was a little girl. My body went from being a partner, an ally, my friend, to being something to be controlled and manipulated. A part of me wanted a boyfriend, and another part of me didn’t. A part of me wanted to be attractive, and a part of me just wanted to hide.

I ended up joining the track team, where I pretty much blew everyone else away when it came to long-distance running — both boys and girls. I outran every girl and half the boy’s team every day. Running became a refuge for me, but it wasn’t necessarily positive. I learned to abuse it, running to stay thin. Six days a week. Three to 10 miles a day. Rain or shine. Up at 6 AM and out the door. If I ate too much, I’d make myself run more. I think it may even have been a form of exercise bulimia.

Rape victims seek above all else control over their bodies. Eating disorders run rampant. But I digress...

Gradually, I made friends again starting in junior high — pot-smoking artsy friends — and the worst of the pain of what had happened to me just kind of slipped away. Except that something like that doesn’t just go away.

My relationships with men were rarely positive. As I posted before, I was beaten up when I was 14 while stoned at a party with adults in their 20s and 30s for refusing to have sex with a guy who was 22. In Denmark, I met a man, fell in love, and then fell into a depression when he couldn’t find it in himself to be faithful. I called off the wedding and came back to the U.S. reluctantly, got married on the rebound and got pregnant (by choice) my freshman year of college.

Some women enjoy pregnancy. I did not. I was very sick throughout my first — pre-eclampsia and hyperemesis. I had high blood pressure and constant nausea and vomiting for nine months. It sucked. I wanted natural birth. That sucked even more. The pain was obscene, ridiculous, brutal, unforgiveable. More than that, the entire experience conjured up the nightmare of being raped and left me traumatized. I actually had nightmares about it. Some 7 percent of women suffer from trauma after giving birth, and most of them are... rape victims. Sounds crazy, right?

Well, think of birth as losing control of your body again, as suffering inside your body again, as being in pain because you’re female. I have no idea what most women feel emotionally during labor. I felt rage and despair. It felt unfair, like a form of torture that was being inflicted on me because I was a woman. I asked for pain relief, and I didn’t get it because I had no insurance. (The second time I had health insurance and demanded an epidural the moment I hit 4 cm, and that was that.)

Of course, I love my kids. The one very female thing I’ve done with my body that has been very positive is breastfeed. There’s no relationship more pure than that of a mother and her newborn. And although there were challenges learning this new skill, I stuck with it until we had it down. I breastfed my older son for 15 months and my younger for 10. 

 For a lot of women, childbirth and breastfeeding bring them a greater appreciation of their bodies. For me... Not really. Though I came to a place of comfort with sex, learning to enjoy it and even revel in it, I can’t say I made peace with my body.

I was eager after my second child to get fixed so that I would never get pregnant again. Some would argue that having surgery to control your fertility is a form of violence against yourself. Whatever. For me it was a great help and a source of comfort to know I couldn’t get pregnant again. I was taking control. Permanently. I had never intended to have more than two kids, in part because I had other things I really wanted to do with my life and in part because I just didn’t want to go through all that again. Nor did I want to risk getting pregnant through sexual assault. Yes, I actually thought about that.

And why wouldn’t I worry about that? Alec was only nine months old when the creeps with the switch blades broke into my apartment. Almost being raped again — this time by two men — threw me in to a tailspin of post-traumatic stress disorder, complete with waking nightmares, panic attacks and severe depression. My body became a thing that did work — child care, cleaning, making meals, going to the store, carrying laundry. I used food to escape stress and depression. But I didn’t nurture myself. I was barely surviving.

 That pattern continued after therapy and after the PTSD was brought under control. I began working at the newspaper, and I channeled a lot of rage about what had happened to me into my work. I covered women’s issues primarily, and somehow writing about other women’s traumas gave me strength and was immensely healing. But I still wasn’t in sync with my body. Although I was still working out at the gym and running, I moved into the “work till you drop” phase. It didn’t matter how tired I was. If I needed to write an article and it kept me up till 4 A.M., that’s what I did — while still raising two little kids. And if I ate a pound of M&Ms while writing that article so that I could stay awake, so be it.

Then I fell off a mountain, broke bones, lost about a third of my right quad, had a brain injury. (Click here for the gory details on that story.) No more gym. No more running. It was infuriating and frustrating, and I think this revealed the truth behind my relationship with my body. The two of us, though intimately joined, were adversaries. The only things my body and I enjoyed together were food and sex. And now I had finally reached a point where I could no longer banish the calories I ate by running too much. So I just forgot about my body and focused on work. My body was a tool, nothing more. This went on for 15 years.

Which pretty much brings us up to the end of 2011.

 So now what?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that, and I’ve concluded the only thing I can do is become friends with my body again, just like I was when I was a little girl. I need to recapture that joy. I need to rediscover the fun of having a body.

If I think of my body as a person, I can feel great compassion for it. It has survived sexual assault, violence, a serious fall down a mountain. It has been neglected, overworked, deprived of sleep so that I could write news articles and books. It has been fed too much junk and too much caffeine in an effort to make it stay awake so that I can keep working. It’s had multiple surgeries, the most recent to repair my cervical spine. Its needs have been ignored no matter how loudly it shouted for me to pay attention and help it. And yet it still serves me as faithfully as it can each and every moment.

Why do I neglect this ally of mine, this lifelong friend, my body?

This is going to be the greatest challenge I face in Project: Happiness because it brings together so many things — sexuality, food, physical injury and limitation, overall health, self-image, how I deal with stress, my need to get work done vs. my need to get enough sleep.

I came up with a set of goals to help me navigate these rapids, some of which are physical and some of which are emotional:

1. Go to bed on time and get enough sleep.
2. Stop eating sugar and other empty calories.
3. Go to the gym, hike or walk six days a week, but don’t go crazy. Start slowly.
4. Find new ways to deal with stress.
5. Rediscover ways to have fun (riding my bike, swimming, horseback riding).
6. Don’t let emotional stress build up in the first place by demanding too much of myself.
7. Listen to my body.
8. How I look and what I accomplish matter less than how I feel.

I’ve fallen short of these goals already, however, I’ve also taken steps to meet them.

Although I’ve stayed up late to write (I’m up too late now so that I can get this done), I’ve gone to bed on time lots of times and have taken naps.

I’ve eating things that weren’t good for me, but not for a while. I can feel a difference.

I’ve missed the past two days at the gym because I was writing — not a good excuse — but I’ve been to the gym four times. One of those times I went swimming — first time in more than a decade. That was amazing, as was the five seconds of running I allowed myself to do on the track. I just took off running, and it felt so good. I knew I couldn’t do it for long without hurting myself, so I stopped. Benjy said, “That’s not something you see an overweight person do everyday.” Because I still run fast. Even though I’ve been injured and have no feeling in my lower legs, I’m still pretty darn strong. All of those years of activity are still inside my body somewhere. If I care for my body, maybe I can have that back.

I’m having an easier time not hating my own guts when I’m not happy with how my writing is going. I tell myself, “It will work out. It always does.” And then I do something else for a while, because nothing is worth getting so upset about that I put my body or my spirit through hell. The tortured author thing has to stop because the impact it has on my well-being is extreme.

I can’t expect to forge this new relationship with my physical self overnight, but by consciously focusing on it, by trying hard to hear the voice I’ve ignored since I was 10, I can help bring balance to my life overall and become healthier in my late 40s than I’ve been in a long, long time.

Now I think about it this way: I’m having fun with my body, and I’m in training not for a race or to look sexy in a bikini, but to live a healthier, happier life.

This was a very long post. Thanks for reading through it, those of you who made it to the end. I didn’t intend for this to be so long. I hope that by sharing it, it can help other women who face similar challenges.

I hope those of you who’ve committed to your own version of Project: Happiness are making progress, too.

Next Project: Happiness update: The Mind

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A MacKinnon’s Rangers special — Valentine’s Day 1760

The main room and hearth of the MacKinnon cabin

(Editor’s note: This was first published at Under the Covers Book Blog and was written specifically for a giveaway there. I wanted to share it with you all in case anyone missed it. Eventually, I’ll archive it on my website.)

St. Valentine’s Day wasn’t always a “Hallmark” holiday dominated by pop culture smarm. At one point it was more of a minor religious holiday, hence my use of the often-omitted “St.” By the 18th century, it was not uncommon for lovers to exchange tokens of affection on February 14.

This little story features Iain and Annie from Surrender (MacKinnon’s Rangers Book 1) and Morgan and Amalie from Untamed (MacKinnon’s Rangers Book 2). In order to make it fit the story without giving away spoilers from Connor’s book, Defiant, which won’t be out till July 3, I’ve set this on the St. Valentine’s Day that occurs between the ending of Untamed and the epilogue of Untamed. I pick up in the story where it was at that point to add this mini-story. Annie had just had a baby, and Amalie was only about a month away from giving birth to her first child.

The time is February 13, 1760. The place is the MacKinnon Farm on the New York frontier north of Albany. Two husbands conspire to make St. Valentine’s gifts for their wives amid the uncertainties that marked life at that time…

“There’s naugh’ like a good breakfast to warm a man’s belly. I thank you, lasses.” Iain MacKinnon shared a glance with his younger brother Morgan and caught Morgan’s barely perceptible nod. He took a last gulp of coffee and rose from the table. “We’d best be seein’ to the new calf, aye, Morg?”

“Aye.” Morgan gulped back the last of his coffee and stood.

Annie looked over at them from the hearth where she’d just set wash water on the hob to boil. “Do you think it survived the night? ’Twas frightful cold.”

“We’ll soon ken.” Iain let his gaze travel over his wife, her golden hair twisted atop her head, a gray woolen shawl around her shoulders.

She’d gotten little sleep last night, newborn Mara having woken several times to feed. But even with dark circles beneath her eyes, Annie was the most beautiful sight Iain had ever beheld. “I hate to think of it sufferin’ in the cold and dark.”

Iain rounded the table, drew his wife against him, sorry to have made her fret. “You think of Iain Cameron and little Mara and let us worry about the calf. We willna let the wee thing suffer, I promise you, mo leannan.”

Morgan bent down to press a kiss against Amalie’s cheek. “Your johnnycakes are unmatched.”

“At least I have learned to turn them without breaking them.” A mug of tea in hand, Amalie smiled up at him, her face aglow. Heavy with child, she was the center of Morgan’s world. If she did not make it safely through her travail…

Nay, Iain would not let himself think such thoughts.

Besides, they had other matters to tend to today, and the weak calf was only an excuse to give the two of them more time away from the women in the barn.

Tomorrow was St. Valentine’s Day.

Iain bundled up against the cold, opened the door and stepped into the winter morning, Morgan following close behind. The sky to the east glowed pink against a bank of clouds, the bare branches of the trees tangled against the heavens. A cold wind pushed down on them from the north, biting the skin, carrying with it the scent of snow.

Inside the dark warmth of the barn, they found the calf nursing, its mother lowing protectively as Iain and Morgan approached.

“We’ve no’ come to trouble you, missy,” Iain called to the restless cow, which watched them with a dark eye. He lit a lantern and set it on a nearby shelf, then blew puffs of breath against his fingers to warm them.

“Do you think they ken?” Morgan went to the back wall and withdrew the skin bundle that held the wampum band he was making for Amalie’s wrist.

“Nay.” Iain took forth the bundle that held the bit of wood he’d been carving at all week, drew out his penknife and sat on a nearby stool. “Like as no’, they think we’ve forgotten what day it is.”

Iain busied himself with the bit of chestnut he’d been whittling at for the past month. He’d finished carving it yesterday. Now it remained only to polish it to a shine. And yet…

He gaze at the carven amulet in his palm and found it naught but a trifle. How could a bit of wood convey to Annie how very much he loved her? After all she’d done for him, it seemed nothing. “A woman suffers to bear a man two children. He ough’ to be able to gi’ her somethin’ of worth.”

“Annie kent you were no’ a wealthy man when she wed you.” Morgan did not look up, his gaze fixed on the tiny bits of purple and white shell he was threading onto sinew. “She’s given you bairns, aye, but you give her a warm home, a full larder. You keep her and the wee ones safe. You keep her happy in bed—”

“I told you no’ to speak of that again.” Iain frowned.

Morgan chuckled. “’Tis no’ my fault if Annie’s cries wake everyone in the house. As I said, you keep her happy.”

“’Tis past time we built you a house of your own and got you out from under our roof.”

Morgan grinned at his brother’s sour temper, but his own heart was beset by fears. In a month at most, Amalie’s time would come. She was already so great with child, he could not imagine her belly growing bigger. Having been nearby both times Annie had given birth, he could not help but fear what Amalie might suffer. And yet there was naugh’ he could do about it. He tried to tell himself late at night that women had been giving birth since Eve, but knowing that did nothing to lessen his anxiety. If anything should befall her or the child…

Worse, he knew that Amalie was afraid. And what lass wouldn’t be? Women died in childbed as men died in battle. He wished he knew how to assuage her fears, to ease her last weeks before the birth.

He bent his thoughts around the beads in his hands, the image in his mind of what he hoped to create for her. He slipped on a purple bead, made a small knot, then two whites, then another knot. Would it look the way he’d envisioned it by the time he was done? He hoped so.

Iain peered over at him. “What is it you’re making there? Is that some kind of strange hatchet?”

Morgan frowned, held up his handiwork. “Nay. ’Tis supposed to be a single tree growin’ from two entwined hearts.”

Iain tilted his head, squinted. “Och, aye. I can see now. When did you learn to bead wampum?”

“Not all of us spent our time among the Mahican tuppin’.”

Iain chuckled. “Or perhaps you couldna find a black-eyed Mahcian lass who wanted to take you to her bed.”

“You ken that’s no’ true.”

For a time they worked in silence.

Morgan looked at the wooden heart Iain was polishing. Round and about the size of a gold sovereign, the golden wood was streaked with veins of rose as that kind of wood often was when beset by certain beetles. “I’ve some sinew if you need it for the cord.”

Iain shook his head. “I’ve a bit of silk ribbon. It will be softer against her skin than sinew.”

“Have it your way.” Morgan worked swiftly, hoping the band would fit Amalie’s wrist and be neither so large that it slipped off as she worked nor so small that it pinched her. This was Amalie’s first Valentine’s Day as a married woman. “I dinnae ken whether Amalie thinks of St. Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers, or whether she thinks of it only  as a  saint’s day.”

She’d been raised in a convent under the strict supervision of the Ursulines. Morgan very much doubted they’d spoke with her about romantic love.

“I trust you, brother, to reveal the full joy of the day to her.” Iain gave him a wink.

The talk shifted to the farm and the work that needed to be done ere spring. An old plough to repair. Tack to polish. Manure to haul and spread on the fields. One horse that needed to be reshod. Seed to bring from Albany.

And soon it was time to set their work aside once more to see to the livestock.

St. Valentine’s Day was coming, but the farm could not wait.

# # #
February 14

Annie nursed Mara, then tucked her in her cradle, taking a few minutes for a hot bath. Iain and Morgan were still outside, seeing to the wee calf, and Annie was happy to have a few moments to prepare for her husband. Her body was not yet healed from childbirth, so she could not lie with him. But what woman didn’t want to feel clean and fresh for her lover?

She slipped into a warm nightgown, drew her shawl around her shoulders, and went to check on Iain Cameron, who was already fast asleep. How like his father he looked! His dark hair, tiny dark brows, the features of his face. She drew up the bearskin that covered him just as the door to their chamber opened, and Iain stepped inside.

The sight of him made her smile. “The water is still warm if you’d like a bath.”

Iain nodded, his cheeks ruddy from the cold. “My thanks.”

He quickly shed his clothing, setting his knife and pistol on the table and shucking off his leather breeches, his man’s body appealing to her, no matter than she could not receive him. He slid into the water with a groan, and she knelt beside the tub to wash him.

“How is the calf?” She took up a cloth and spilled water over his broad chest, watching as his muscles tensed, rivulets trickling down to his ribbed belly.

“The calf? Och, aye, the calf.” Iain grinned as if responding to a secret jest. “He’s well enough. I think he’ll pull through.”

Annie felt a warm surge of relief. So much depended on the livestock. “I’m glad to hear it.”

She rubbed soap on her palms and indulged herself, skin sliding over soap-slick skin as she washed his chest, belly, arms and back, his cock growing rigid as she bathed him. But when she reached down to grasp him, he caught her hand.

“Nay, lass. ’Tis no’ right of me to seek my pleasure when you cannae do the same. Until you’re healed, I’ll be just as chaste as you must be.”

Taken aback by his refusal to accept her intimate touch, Annie stared at him in confusion. It was St. Valentine’s Day, and although he had clearly forgotten, she had hoped to bring him some joy. “But you’re aroused and…”

He grinned. “If a wife were expected to tend to her husband’s every cockstand, there’d be little else that would happen upon this earth. Now help me finish this bath.”

Soon he stood dry and dressed in soft cotton under-breeches, ready for bed. While Annie crawled beneath the covers, he built up the fire, then walked over to his breeches and returned, something in his hand.

He sat beside her on the bed. “This is for you — a St. Valentine’s gift.” He placed a small object bound in parchment in her palm.

Her gaze shot to his. “You didna forget!”

“Nay.” He smiled, the masculine features of his face softening, becoming boyish, then he frowned. “’Tis a trifle, really, no’ fittin’ for a woman as beautiful as you, nor the mother of my children.”

Quickly, Annie unwrapped it, parchment falling aside to reveal a wooden amulet in the shape of a heart. It was clear he’d been working on this for weeks. The wood gleamed in veins of gold and red, smooth to the touch, heavy in her palm. A small hole had been bored at the top through which he had passed a slender ribbon of red silk.

Annie’s vision blurred. She blinked. “Oh, Iain, ’tis lovely!”

He caught her chin, tilted her head, looked deeply into her eyes. “There are no words I can speak to tell you what you mean to me, naugh’ I can give you worthy of the gifts you’ve given me — your love, your smile, our two wee bairns.”

She pressed her fingers to his lips. “You risked your life for mine more than once. You gave the skin off your back to save me. If that is not the fullness of man’s love, what is?”

He seemed to consider her words for a moment, then took up the necklace and slipped it over her head, the wooden heart coming to rest in the valley between her breasts. “My heart is yours for the keepin’, Annie.”

She pressed her hands against his gift, the warmth of it settling against her heartbeat. “As mine is yours.”

# # #

Amalie took Morgan’s hand as he helped her rise from the washtub, wrapped her in a warm blanket and settled her on her side on the bed. He sat behind her and began to rub the small of her back, which he knew ached fiercely.

She moaned with relief, her eyes drifting shut. “Oh!”

“Does that help?”

“Yes. O, merci.”

Inside her womb, the baby moved restlessly. It was almost never still now, whether it be night or day, and though she lost sleep, she was grateful to know the child was vigorous.

“It is a boy.”

Morgan chuckled, his lips pressing a kiss against her hair, his hands easing the pain from her lower back. “Last month, you said it was lass.”

“It must be a boy. No little girl could wriggle as much as this one does.”

“We’ll ken soon enough. In six weeks’ time, he or she will be sleepin’ in yon cradle.”

Amalie opened her eyes and gazed at the cradle Morgan had carved, ignoring the trill of fear she felt at the thought of her approaching travail. It was a beautiful cradle, a thistle carved into the head and a fleur de lis carved in at the foot—the symbols of their two countries.

She smiled, took Morgan’s hand and pressed his palm against the place where the baby was kicking the hardest.

Morgan rubbed her belly lightly, chuckling softly. “He — or she — is strong. You are strong. All shall be well, lass.”

Amalie closed her eyes again, taking in her husband’s strength, letting his sureness push her fear away. She’d been with Annie when Annie had given birth and had been amazed by Annie’s strength, the sight of the child emerging from Annie’s body making her stare in awe.

If Annie could endure it, Amalie could, too.

She glanced over at the votive candle she’d lit, both in honor of St. Valentine — and as plea for strength during her coming ordeal.

Morgan kissed her again. “Close your eyes.”

She did as he asked, listening as he moved about the room. He returned quickly, his weight pressing the bed down beside her, making the ropes creak.

“Dinnae open them.”

She laughed. “What are you about?”

He took her wrist, bound something about it, the feel of it cool against her skin. “Now open your eyes.”

She did as he asked, raising her wrist to find herself looking at a bracelet of delicately woven wampum. The edges were scalloped in white shell, the body of it in purple. And at the center, running the length of the bracelet, was an image that immediately put a lump in her throat — two entwined hearts, and, growing from them, a great tree.

She sat up, gazed up at her husband in amazement. “Oh, Morgan! It’s beautiful! But why… ?”

“’Tis St. Valentine’s Day, is it no’?” Morgan smiled. “It is the custom among my people for men to give gifts to their lovers, small tokens of their affection.”

But this was not small token. It was clear he’d spent hours working on it. And she understood.

She narrowed her gaze, fighting a smile. “The calf — it was never truly in peril, was it?”

“No’ as much as we led you to believe. How else could we get time away?”

Amalie gazed down at the wampum bracelet again, touched by its meaning both as a gift and as a symbol. “Two hearts. A great tree. The baby?”

Morgan knelt down before her, raised her hand to his lips. “I ken there are uncertain days ahead, but we have come through so much already. The fact that we both survived to see this day proves to me that our love was meant to be. Together we shall build a beautiful life — starting with this fellow.”

He pressed a palm against her belly.

“Let me be your strength in the coming weeks, Amalie.” The sincerity on his face brought the lump back to her throat, his face so handsome it made her heart ache.

She smiled up at him. “Two hearts. One life.”

And as Morgan gathered Amalie into the refuge of his embrace, his warm hands sliding beneath her nightgown and over her skin, joy filled her heart, chasing her fears away.

# # #

Defiant, Connor’s story, picks up six weeks later when Connor is sent to save the niece of the MacKinnon brothers’ most hated enemy — Lord William Wentworth — from captivity among the Indians. Visit my website for excerpts from Surrender Untamed  and Defiant. Be sure to stay tuned here for more MacKinnon’s Rangers specials.

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"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
—James Joyce

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."
—Jane Austen

"Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others."
—Ernest Hemingway

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."
—Kurt Vonnegut

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—Toni Morrison

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—Robert Frost.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
—the character of Chaucer in
A Knight's Tale