I’m so excited that A Perfect Man is out! For those who are curious as to what it’s about, here’s the blurb:
How far will she go to find her perfect man? How far will he go to be one?
When Karen Hardeman sets foot on the Foothills University campus, it’s her first step toward proving her abusive ex wrong. Just her luck, her first writing assignment in Intro to Romance sends her in search of the perfect hero—a quest she’s never managed to conquer.
Worse, her professor forces her to collaborate with the most overconfident, annoying guy in the class.
Seth Sayers is also at Foothills to find new direction—preferably one that takes him far away from the family drama that’s followed him since his father’s death. He didn’t mean to humiliate Karen by rewriting her manuscript from the hero’s point of view. He blames the painkillers the ER doctor gave him after stitching up a wine-induced cut on his hand.
As their collaboration progresses, Karen begins to trust Seth with her manuscript, then maybe a little piece of her heart. But Seth’s half-brother resurrects Seth’s suspicions about his father’s death. Until he finds the truth, he can’t be the hero in anyone’s life. Even his own.
Warning: Some alcohol consumption. Okay, writer amounts of alcohol consumption. There are also some adult situations, but nothing too explicit. It is a romance-writing class, after all.
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Here’s a sneak peek at the first couple of scenes:
Karen Hardeman walked onto the campus of Foothills University, into her new life, and straight into her ex-boyfriend.
She was mentally counting the total number of steps from the Graduate Parking Lot entrance to the Student Center Annex, site of her first class, which had been intimidatingly dubbed a “seminar”, when she saw him. This was supposed to be a new beginning, a fresh start, a personal renaissance. But there he was, unmistakable with his hipster goatee, round tortoiseshell glasses, and hair just a little too long.
The thought, he probably needs to get new jacket photos done
, spiked her brain simultaneously with a shot of triple-espresso-strength adrenaline straight from her gut to her heart. Both sent her scrambling behind a magnolia tree as he approached on the sidewalk. Luckily he was looking at his phone, so maybe he hadn’t seen her. Although his average-at-best appearance hadn’t changed much, he exuded his customary attitude of I’m a bestselling author, and I will do what I want
Karen wondered if he’d forgiven her for telling him she had a surprise for him for his thirty-fifth birthday and moving out while he was away for the afternoon at a writing retreat. Probably not. He’d certainly been surprised, though.
She looked up from her phone, which she’d been studying with all the logic of a cat who doesn’t think you can see it if it can’t see you. “Oh hi, Marius.” She tried to pull her lips into the ice-queen smile she’d practiced for just such an occasion, but all she could manage was convenience-store-slushie duchess.
“Lovely day here in the mountains, isn’t it?” He grinned like he’d just caught her sneaking buttercream icing out of the fridge—that had only happened a few times, and she’d justified it as a better coping mechanism than alcohol—and she leaned against the tree to preempt her spirit’s fetal-position reaction to his inevitable insult.
“Well,” he continued with that huge gotcha
grin, “I was just visiting my good friend and former editor Sue Ellen Forrester-Schmidt. Maybe you’ve heard of her? She started the new MFA program in genre literature here. I just wanted to wish her luck on her first day.”
Karen reacquainted her upper molars with her lower ones so her mouth wouldn’t fall open. Of all the rotten, stinking luck!
“Yes,” he continued with a smug smirk, “my agent, Artie—you remember Artie, right?—introduced me to her at a party last year, and we hit it off. I heard she came here when Southern Lyon Books got bought and laid her off, so I was just checking in to see how she’s settling in.”
“How nice of you.” Karen sagged against the tree, its smooth bark solid under her arm and its steadiness supporting her, because life had become unfair once again.
“So what are you doing here? I wondered where you went.”
He wondered where she went, like she’d just left for a walk one day and hadn’t come back, not moved out of their little apartment and their life of almost a decade together.
“I decided to go back to school.” She tried to access her inner ninja and feinted left, then tried to pass him on the right, but he blocked her. He always blocked her.
“It’s a master’s program.”
Karen straightened to her full five and a half feet, almost as tall as him—which had always driven him crazy—and said, “It’s none of your business, Marius.”
He stepped aside and held a hand out for her to pass him, which she did. He waited until she was almost ten feet away before calling after her, “Tell Sue Ellen I said hello. Oh, and Karen? Surprise!”
She clenched her fists. Of course he knew. He always did. So instead of walking into her first class full of confidence and hope, she just knew the professor would hate her.
It was hard to move forward when the past kept biting her in the ass and dragging her back.
The cool of the Student Center Annex welcomed Karen like a polite hug—come on in, honey, but let’s not get too close
. She checked the schedule and found the room. Thankfully, the professor hadn’t arrived yet, so she had time to compose herself.
Eyes down, she slunk to the only empty desk in the circle of six and slid in. The seat snagged the back of her thigh, and she was sure she’d just gotten a huge splinter. The encounter with Marius had left her confidence shriveled at the bottom of her gut, like a tequila worm burned by the immersion in his intoxicating but deadly ego. The burn stayed with her, reddening her cheeks, and she barely noticed as her classmates’ glances brushed over her. Each felt weighted with judgment—too fat, too frizzy, too cowardly, imposter.
She almost ran a hand through her dark curls but remembered she should leave them alone or else they’d turn her into a frizz monster, which would make her look even lovelier on top of the sunburn she’d acquired when she moved in the previous weekend. She could almost feel the freckles blooming on her skin. Sophisticated writer, that’s me.
This morning just got better and better, and now she was going to have to sit through an hour lecture on the romance genre. Hell, she needed Romance 101—the life course, not the writing course. What did she know about romance? Would she have to bare her soul and write sex scenes for strangers? What if they laughed at her like Marius had?
“Face it, babe.” His words from earlier that year echoed in her mind. “You can try this writing thing, but you just don’t have what it takes.”
The skin at the back of Karen’s neck tightened, and she knew Doctor Forrester-Schmidt had walked in and probably checked for her first, after talking with Marius. Oh God, what did he tell her? How screwed am I?
Karen had liked Doctor Forrester-Schmidt well enough at the program interview. Now, when the professor came in, she looked at each of the students intently, but her face didn’t reveal whether Marius had mentioned Karen. Not even a blink when their eyes met. Even now, at the end of August, the former editor in chief for Southern Lyon Books wore her signature long black skirt and suit jacket but seemed unfazed by the heat.
“Welcome, class,” she said and surveyed them with a catlike half smile. “I’m glad to see the inaugural class for the genre literature program has such a range of backgrounds and ages. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves, shall we?”
Karen’s heart gave a little squeeze when Forrester-Schmidt’s cold, gray eyes passed over her, but the professor’s javelin gaze speared the guy next to Karen. She hadn’t paid much attention to him, aside from noting he doodled spaceships in the margins of his yellow pad. His shaggy, light-brown hair hung in his hazel eyes and made hers itch by looking at them, but he had sweet dimples and nice-looking lips. The vintage men’s shirt he wore showed off his biceps and the breadth of his chest nicely, and Karen wished she’d at least said hi when she sat.
“Why don’t you get us started, Seth?” the professor asked.
The young man next to Karen cleared his throat. “I’m a programmer who wants to put his computer knowledge to good use by writing and editing science fiction.”
“And does he always speak in the third person?”
“Um, no,” he mumbled, “I was just trying to be grammatically correct.”
“And although you succeeded grammatically, you failed stylistically. Karen, tell us about you, but please don’t use the royal I
Karen felt for the poor guy. Marius had liked catching her out like that, especially when she tried hard to impress someone. With an apologetic glance his way, she said, “Hi, I’m Karen. I most recently lived in Atlanta, but I grew up in Birmingham and went to school in Arkansas. I was a front-office manager for a medical practice, but I couldn’t take the politics and left to pursue my first love of writing. I was actually just there to support my writing habit.”
She waited for the chuckle, which didn’t come. Now Seth sent her a sympathetic glance.
She shifted in her seat and straightened. She didn’t need another guy’s pity, not today. “And, um, I’m not sure where I want to specialize. I’m just open to learning new things right now.”
“Thank you.” The professor looked around the room. “If you’re already tied to a specific genre, then you will be miserable during parts of this program because we expose you to all of them. Whether you go on to be a published author or have other plans for joining the publishing industry, the best thing we can do for you is give you an idea of what genre fiction has to offer. Who knows?” She smiled at Karen. “You might find something you didn’t realize you love right under your nose. You never know until you try.”
The knot of tension loosened in her chest, but then the panic returned when she wondered if Forrester-Schmidt meant she, the professor, had feelings for Marius.
Karen’s mind bounced the possibilities around, and she missed the other four class members’ introductions, aside from snippets.
“Now,” Doctor Forrester-Schmidt said and handed out the syllabus, “this is the first part of the program: Romance. This genre sells thousands of new titles per year, making it the most popular fiction category. We’ll also cover related genres like chick lit and women’s fiction, which are fair game for your semester projects. And while these areas seem to be the stronghold of women, men’s voices are also needed.” She raised an eyebrow at one of the other students, a redheaded guy who had rolled his eyes. “Even those who were raised in semirural Georgia and like to wear all black on their first day in school.”
The guy blushed like a redhead.
“While we will be reading plenty of excerpts, as well as writing a novella, your first assignment is to go to the bookstore and pick out what you think is a ‘typical’ romance novel.”
Karen flipped through the syllabus as the professor discussed what the “typical” romance novel might be. She would only consider buying one author for this assignment—Delilah Phillips. She wrote lighthearted contemporary and had been Karen’s savior during her darkest times with Marius.
“If you will please rejoin us on this plane of existence. You may make your travels during speculative fiction, but writing romance, like love itself, requires your full presence and attention.”
This time the heat in Karen’s face wasn’t sunburn. “Sorry.”
Doctor Forrester-Schmidt towered over Karen’s desk and looked at the page she’d been reading. “Ah yes, our semester project. As an added bonus, I’ve booked one of my former authors to come into the class to speak toward the end of the semester. The student who has written the best project will go to dinner with this author and myself.” She looked around. “It’s someone who writes in the genre, but who has a more, shall we say, modern slant on it. The student with the best project, which will be judged by me and this author, will be able to spend an entire evening with…” she paused, “…Delilah Phillips.”
If it were possible to be simultaneously rooted to the ground and buoyant with joy, that was how Karen felt. She almost blurted out Delilah was her favorite author, but she didn’t want to seem an eager beaver trying to tip the odds in her favor.
She did a better job of looking like she paid attention during the second half of class, but her mind wandered to Ms. Phillips’s characters. She couldn’t wait to ask questions—like how did she come up with her heroines? Were they based on her life? What about the heroes? How did she come up with such flawed but utterly loveable men?
And did she have any advice on how Karen could find one for herself?
Thanks for stopping by! If you’d like to get first peek at the cover, blurb, and excerpt from my upcoming steampunk novel, please sign up for my monthly(ish) newsletter. I’ll also talk about the best devices for reading at night to minimize impact on sleep and my current favorite summer wine.