Aug 16, 2017

La Dolce Vita - Italian Rooftop Living by Annie West

Earlier this year I had the good fortune to spend some time in Rome. Yay! I loved the place for so many reasons, in fact I've posted here at LoveCats DownUnder about that very thing, and I may even have shared this photo of a potted olive tree on the rooftop of our hotel. It was one of my favourite spots in the city. At sunset it was the perfect place to unwind, to put your tired feet up after a long day of tramping the streets seeing the sights, and enjoy a cool drink. Apart from that there's the view. Personally I love the fact Rome isn't home to a stack of skyscrapers. You can look out across the city and feel that it hasn't burgeoned any higher than it was a few hundred years ago, which gives it a rather relaxed, homey feel, despite the bustle and traffic. But of course, if you're on a rooftop terrace, one of the joys is that all of that is far away.

Speaking of the view, how's this? It's just the local neighbourhood from our hotel, but so appealing to watch the sun go down from here.

What particularly fascinated me was the range of ways the roof terrace was used. Like this. And yes, as well as flowers, these hydroponic gardens were full of herbs and strawberries. Yum!

And of course, where else would put your pool in a crowded city but on the roof? Especially given the fact it looks out on the Colosseum.

Do you like the idea of rooftop living? If you live in an apartment it definitely makes sense to install and use a rooftop terrace. Obviously a lot of Romans feel that way.

It seemed that the more I looked the more little tucked away terraces I noticed on inner city buildings. This one is right next to the Vatican.

I think you'd feel like the king of the castle at this one.

And this one reminds me of a wedding pavilion. All it needs is the swathes of bunting.

And I particularly like this one that I noticed when I happened to look up from a corner.

So, can you see yourself somewhere like this sipping a glass of something cool while the sun goes down? Or maybe with a mug of coffee while taking a break with a book, or hosting a family party? Where's your favourite place to unwind outdoors?

Clearly I'm having a LOVE ITALY month! As well as reliving my rambles in Rome I've also got a new Hot Italian Nights novella  AT THE ITALIAN'S BIDDING  out this month. Yippee!

Aug 14, 2017

August Madness

August is completely mad for me.  

The first weekend is the Byron Writers Festival. I’m the Chair of the organisation so there’s lots of work involved. It all run beautifully, starting with my Opening Night speech all the way to the last session on Human Rights on Festival Sunday.  

Byron Writers Festival is Australia’s largest regional literary festival and this year we featured more than 130 writers, thinkers and commentators from across Australia and around the world converging on the beautiful Festival grounds at Elements of Byron to discuss, debate, enlighten and soak up the glorious Byron sunshine.

Photo by Lyn McCarth
To say I was a complete wreck for a few days is an understatement. But over 12,000 people enjoyed a fabulous festival of writing workshops, feature events, a regional writers' tour, primary school and secondary school days and the actual Festival, which featured 117 sessions.  

I then travelled up to Brisbane for the Romance Writers of Australia conference. What a blast. I had so much fun catching up with friends and talking all things romance.

Ally Blake
So many highlights (there were just too many to mention them all). Here are a few:

Ally Blake fabulous session on being an organised writer.

Michelle, Annie and Jen
Sitting with lots of LoveCats at the Butterfly Ball Gala Awards Dinner and cheering madly when Amy Andrew and Ros Baxter won the Romantic Elements Ruby Award for their book Numbered. How many Ruby Awards is that now Amy?

Catching up with Michelle Douglas, Annie West and so many more of my romance writing friends.

Jen and a feline friend
The Bring Out The Animal In You cocktail party was simply fabulous. Can you guess who my feline friend is in the photo? 

And so many more wonderful things.  Now I’m wrecked again from such an action packed weekend but am inspired, exciting and can’t wait to dive into the writing again.

How is August shaping up for you?

Aug 13, 2017

Sunday Smooch with Helen Lacey.....

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from Helen Lacey.......

The winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway will be announced next week.

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from The Rancher's Unexpected Family by Helen Lacey........


1 Cowgirl Cop + 1 Single Dad = Double the Desire!
Running a ranch for troubled kids, policing the town and raising a son — Ash McCune is in complete control of her hectic life. Until one sexy single dad arrives on her Cedar River ranch with his daughter.
Cole Quartermaine is rich, successful, a good father…and leaving. Cole needs this ranch to connect with his newfound daughter. What he doesn’t need is a jaw-dropping attraction to the cowgirl cop who runs it. He’s got three weeks to resist her and return to the city as a party of two…or stay and make a family of four.

 (Ash and Cole are in her kitchen, quietly discussing their past relationships)

He chuckled softly. “Perhaps cynicism is a rite of passage for those of us with a history of failed relationships.”

Ash’s brows rose sharply. “You’ve had more than one?”

“One divorce,” he replied. “More meaningless encounters than I care to remember.”

His words jarred her and Ash didn’t want to wonder why. Who Cole slept with was none of her business. Still, the discomfort lingered and she asked the question teetering on the edge of her tongue. “Like Deanna?”

He nodded. “The truth is, I can barely recall what she looked like. Pretty, blond, blue eyes. That’s all I remember about the woman I have a child with.”

“You were young,” she said and lifted one shoulder. “And most people sow oats at that age.”

“But not you?” he asked, his eyes darkening.

Ash’s skin prickled. “I had a child, a job and a ranch to run when I was that age. Sowing oats wasn’t on my radar.”

He nodded a little. “You know, having a kid changes things. And priorities. It made me realize what kind of life I want to lead and the kind of example I need to be for my daughter. I don’t want Maisy to think it’s okay to jump from bed to bed. Which is why I haven’t been on a date in over six months.” He gave a rueful grin. “Or anything else.”

Ash stilled and met his gaze. And then laughed softly when she remembered how long it had been since she’d shared any kind of intimacy with a man. “You make that sound like an eternity.”

His blue eyes glittered brilliantly. “It sure feels like it right at this moment.”

His words were inflammatory. Flirtatious. Hot. Sexy. Everything she should ignore. If she had any sense. Which she was suddenly all out of. In a few days, he’d somehow turned her world upside down. Desire, raw and untamed and wildly galloping out of control, surged through her blood. Ash couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t control it. Couldn’t see a way to ignore it and experienced an intense tug of attraction and longing that made her move closer, forgetting every lick of good sense she possessed. Forgetting the rules she’d set out for her life. And the handbook she’d written in her head about getting involved with someone like Cole—a man who lived in another state and who was the parent of a child she was supposed to be helping. She never did this. She never broke the rules. She was always in complete control of her life and her good sense.

Until Cole had walked into her life.

His eyes had darkened, his jaw was tight, his hand steady as he touched her skin. There was no denying it, no fighting it, even if she wanted to.

“Oh, hell,” she whispered as his hand moved to her nape and edged her closer. “You’re going to kiss me.”

“Yeah,” he said, threading fingers through her hair and gently anchoring her head back. “I am.”

“This is crazy.”

“Totally,” he said, his voice raspy. “But I’m still going to do it. Maybe you should make a run for it?”

She should. “Okay.”

“Or not,” he said and groaned low in his throat.

Ash closed her eyes and took a breath. And waited. And finally, when the waiting was over and his mouth touched hers, she was lost, dragged into a vortex of feeling so intense she grabbed his arms for support as her knees weakened. His muscles tensed beneath her fingers, his breath sharp as he slanted his mouth across hers and coaxed her lips apart. She opened her mouth and let him inside, felt his tongue slid along hers and drug her senses with a heady, erotic expertise that was mind-numbing.

Her hands moved up his arms and found his shoulders, holding on to him as though he was a lifeline as his tongue continued its seductive foray inside her mouth. She vaguely wondered when she’d last been kissed in such a way. Maybe never. She pushed closer, pressed against him, his body all hard angles and muscle against her curves. It felt so good she could barely draw breath. She wondered how she’d ever look at him again without remembering the feel of him, the taste of him, the scent of him that assailed every sense she possessed.

I love writing stories about blended families, and this one was extra special because Ash and Cole come from such diverse and different backgrounds. She's a rancher, he's an ex-NASCAR champion. She's been parenting her own child and many others for over a decade, he's only recently discovered he's a father to a teenager.

Have you a favorite book , TV show or movie that deals with the blended family theme?

Leave a comment to go into the draw to win a signed copy of The Rancher's Unexpected Family and thanks for stopping by!

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

Aug 11, 2017

The Long Way Round

Since the 7.8 earthquake in November the main road south to Christchurch has been shut and it now takes us at least six and a half to seven and a half hours to drive down there from home.
As tomorrow is our granddaughter's second birthday we wanted to get down to Christchurch and as we've driven the long haul more times than is fun since November we decided to fly.
Simple. Go on line and book. Turn up, check in, and go. We chose Nelson over Blenheim for our departure as that saved having to fly UP to Wellington first.
So up at 5.00am, one and half hour drive to airport which was cloaked in fog, as was Christchurch. Flight cancelled. No problem, booked on another. Cancelled. Fog lifted. Guess what? Fly to Wellington then down to Christchurch.
Off we went, back over home, to Wellington, take off again, back over home to Christchurch, arriving six and a half hours after we'd pointed the car down our drive back in the Sounds! But will say I felt more relaxed than if we'd gone by car as the current road is a nightmare with long haul trucks too big for the road being used until we have our main one back.

And at Wellington Airport I got to see this magnificent and massive creature hanging from the roof. Created by the workshop who did work for the Lord of the Rings movie and others, plus many displays in our museums, this one is absolutely wonderful. Made the round about trip worthwhile.

And now we have a birthday to look forward to tomorrow. Lots of prep going on.
How do you cope with changes to plans like this? We were lucky we had choices, the car was in the airport car park if necessary, and it wasn't as though we had a specific time we had to be in Christchurch but there were plenty of unhappy people pacing the terminal.

Aug 9, 2017

You put your left hand in...

Have you ever tried to do your usual chores with your non-dominant hand for any length of time? I’m a righty, along with approximately 90% of the population, but I have a family member with chronic issues to her right wrist (like me she’s a righty), and it makes life ridiculously difficult.

However, practising a little left-handedness can be beneficial for our brains. Research has shown that musicians who use both hands to play their instruments have a larger corpus callosum, which is the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres. [Hmm…now I’m wondering if typing can create similar results?] Apparently using our non-dominant hand can stimulate our brain’s plasticity, and strengthens neural connections in the brain. In effect, it’s exercise for the brain.

What’s more, it can help increase creativity too. When we use our non-dominant hand, both sides of our brains become active—an ideal environment for creativity and problem solving, according to the experts. This is good news for writers, evidently. We’re always looking for ways to increase our creativity. But I think creativity can benefit everyone.

When I was a teenager and the ironing became my chore, there was only one available power point in the living room that I could use to plug in the iron. If I wanted to watch the TV while I ironed, I had to iron left handed. Naturally that’s what I did.

I rarely iron these days (I mean, seriously, who has the time? Besides, I loathe ironing). Yet I can still iron just as well with my left hand as I can with my right.

All of this has had me trying out a few experiments. I mean, it can’t hurt right?

 I’ve started brushing my teeth with my left hand—dear lord, who knew I could be such a klutz at brushing my teeth! I’ve been eating yogurts left-handed, though I still open them with my right because…well, I know yoghurt is supposed to be good for you, but perhaps not so good for your hair, lap and the kitchen. ;-) For the same reason I’ve not advanced to using sharp knives with my left hand either and I doubt I will (I’ve no intention of getting carried away). But I’m prepared to soldier on with a few minor tasks in the interests of increased brain plasticity (can you tell I just love saying brain plasticity?)—like playing solitaire on my ipad (frustratingly slow), and moving my trackpad to the left every now and again. We’ll see how it goes…

What about you—are you ambidextrous? Are there any surprising things you do with your non-dominant hand? Or, like me, are you an absolute klutz?

P.S. Sarah and the Secret Sheikh is  available in Australia and New Zealand on August 21! And you can grab the ebook now at the Harlequin store.


Aug 7, 2017

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

Right now is conference season for romance writers. The USA RWA conference concluded just recently, the Australian RWA conference commences Friday, 11th August (concludes Sun 13th August) and the New Zealand RWNZ conference commences on Friday, 18th August, to conclude that Sunday.

It's no secret what goes on at these events. If you follow your favourite romance author on Twitter or Facebook, sooner or later a selfie will pop up, followed by a string of more photos, as the weekend progresses, and we decide we really need to share THIS moment. Oh, and that one, too. It's a time for all of us romance authors to crawl out of our writing dens, blink at the harsh sunlight, and then find other like-minded individuals who don't find conversations such as "they're going to do it during the snowstorm", or "I need to kill off the uncle so they get a chance to meet", or "he's going to get bit by a rabid werewolf, and then hunt her..." completely weird or disturbing (I'm not even going to mention the secret surprise baby conversations).

It's also the time when a fair amount of awards are announced, and I'm awfully chuffed to share that my Nocturne novel, Warrior Untamed, has picked up a Prism Award at this year's RWA Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal (FF&P) event at the RWAmerica conference.
Admittedly, this was a tricky story to write. I had a bad boy hero who was ... bad.
Now, one of my pet peeves in a romance novel is when the Alpha Hero is what I call an Alpha Hole. You know that guy, the one who is an absolute prick to the heroine, who is either rude, disrespectful or just plain mean and nasty, and when our heroine falls for her, you scream at the book because you're so frustrated your fictional gal pal is sacrificing her dignity for someone who doesn't deserve her... the kind of guy you'd warn your best friend/sister off, because he's no good.
See, the problem with the bad boy hero is making them bad, but redeemable (OMG, check out Amy Andrews books for seeing that done really well. And sexily).
 Buy Tribal LawI first introduced Hunter and Melissa in Tribal Law (another award-winning book, if I do say so myself), and that's where the bad karma for these two start. Warrior Untamed continues their story, and I have to say it was one of the most satisfying books to write, to make this couple, who are so bad to each other and dysfunctional with each other, find their way to bringing out the gold in the other, and realising they've become better people because of each other.

To celebrate the award wins, I'm giving away 2x copies of each book, Tribal Law and Warrior Untamed. Just leave a comment - what is a deal breaker for you when it comes to a romance hero? I'll pick two winners from the comments and contact you!

And, just because I mentioned 'Chicken Dinner' in the title of this post, I'm going to share an ultra easy recipe for those looking for a simple slap-up dinner...

Apricot Chicken
1x double breast chicken (or 8x thigh fillets), diced.
2 tblspns olive oil
I cup flour
salt and pepper for seasoning
1x 405ml tin of apricot nectar
1x 410 tin of halved apricots (drained)
1 packet French Onion Soup Mix
chopped parsley for garnish

  1. Turn oven on to 180 deg C (160 deg C fan-forced).
  2. Put flour, diced chicken and salt and pepper for seasoning in a plastic bag, and jiggle until chicken is coated in seasoned flour. 
  3. Add oil to a pot that can transfer to oven, heat on medium, and fry coated chicken until golden brown. 
  4. Pour in apricot nectar, drained apricots and soup mix, stir until combined.
  5. Place pot, with cover, into oven for approximately 1-1/2 hrs. 
  6. Garnish with parsley and serve with rice or pasta and steamed greens.
*This recipe can also be used in the slow cooker. At step 5, place in the slow cooker, set for a minimum 5hrs, and walk away. Then do step 6.

Enjoy! And don't forget to leave a comment! I want to know your deal breakers!

Aug 6, 2017

Sunday Smooch- Melanie Milburne

Hi everyone,

But first let me announce last week's Smooch winner-  Therese Ferguson, if you could contact Annie West at she will get the book to you. 

Thanks for asking me to do another Sunday Smooch. A Ring For The Greek's Baby is the second book of a Presents/Modern duet - Wedding Night With Her Enemy was featured last month.
This novel is a one night with consequences story and I really enjoyed writing Emily's character in particular. She sprang up in Wedding Night With Her Enemy as my heroine's legal secretary and demanded her own story! Well, not really demanded as she's not that sort of person. She's warm and loving and incredibly clumsy.
Loukas Kyprianos is a locked down loner who never stays in a relationship longer than a night or two, but something about his one-night stand with sweet and shy Emily makes him go back to offer her an affair, only to find out ( by accident because Emily was trying to work up the courage to tell him) that he's to be a father- the last thing he ever planned to be because of his sad and tragic past.

Here is their smooch after Loukas brings her back from hospital after she hurt her hand in the comedy of errors when he finally finds out about the consequences of their one night of passion...

  Emily slowly lifted her head out of the handkerchief and focussed her gaze on his dark inscrutable one. She bit her lower lip. 'Hormones. Sorry.'
 A ghost of a smile flickered at one side of his mouth and his hand moved to cradle her cheek, his thumb stroking back and forth in a barely moving movement that set her facial nerves dancing. His became hooded and he slipped his gaze to her mouth, lingering there for an infinitesimal moment. Emily sent the tip of her tongue out over her lips in a darting movement, unable to stop the impulse even though she knew it was a primary signal of arousal.
  The air tightened. Crackling with possibilities. Erotic possibilities that made her blood tick and her heart trip.
  His thumb moved to her bottom lip, stroking it like someone smoothing out a tiny crease in silk. It was as if every nerved in her lip rose to the surface, swelling, pulsing, heating against the pad of his thumb.'You have the most beautiful mouth.' Loukas's voice was so deep it sounded as though it had come from beneath the floor.
  Emily touched his face with her uninjured hand, losing herself in the depths of his deep-brown gaze with its fringe of inky lashes. His eyes were so dark she couldn't tell where his pupils began and ended. 'What are we doing, Loukas?' Her voice was not much more than a whisper.
  His warm breath wafted over her lips. 'This is what we're doing.' And his mouth came down on hers.
  His lips moved with sensual expertise over her mouth, rediscovering its contours, drawing from her a response that made her blood sing in her veins.
  Emily's hand crept up his chest and then linked around his neck, her body pressing closer to the warm, hard heat of his. His tongue stroked over the seam of her mouth and she opened to him on a sigh of pleasure. The glide of his tongue was just as intoxicating as the first time he'd kissed her. It sent every female hormone in her body into paroxysms of excitement. His tongue found hers and cajoled it into play, teasing it, stroking it, chasing it. Seducing it. Loukas's hands settled on her hips, holding her close to his body, where his blood pumped and his flesh surged. She moved against him instinctively, driven by primal urges she had no control over. He angled his head to depend the kiss, one of his hands coming up from her waist to cup the side of her face, his fingers splaying through her hair.
  He nudged against her lips and then nibbled the lower one until she was whimpering against his mouth. She sent her hands through the thick silk of his hair, tugging and releasing the slight curls, delighting in the way he made deep, guttural sounds of approval....

I hope you enjoy Emily and Loukas's pathway to Happy Ever After. I have a signed copy of both books for a reader who leaves a comment to the following conversation starter: Is there something you have done in the past that had consequences you didn't expect?

Best wishes,
Melanie xxx

Aug 4, 2017

'Being Organised': One Writer's Life's Dream

My name is Ally Blake and I am a planner.

In fact, I honestly don't understand people who aren't!  How can you nutty non-planners possibly keep track of all that has to be done without writing it down?  Without a to-do list how do you wild and crazies live with that fluttery feeling that you might have forgotten something?!?!

I also adore symmetry.  And even numbers (petrol gauge, volume on the TV, even always).  I like stripes and spots. I love black and white. I adore renovation shows but would happily only watch the big reveal. All that neatness!  And tidiness!  And paint that's yet to be marred by a single dirty fingerprint!  The unclutter movement is my bliss.  I've done KonMari. The William Morris quote “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” gives me happy chills!

And yet - in the eternal dichotomy that is human existence - I don't see mess. It's comes part and parcel with my (diagnosed) 'Off With the Fairies' disorder. How can one possibly keep ones house tidy all the time when there are imaginings to be imagined? For example, I could walk over a bobby pin sitting on the stairs a dozen times and not notice it.  Or if I do I'll tell myself to pick it up later.  Just ask my husband - he's the one with the (undiagnosed) Just Pick It Up when You See It condition.  This also comes down to the fact that I have no willpower.  Am distracted by bright shiny things.  And happily lose great tracts of time to faffing.

And thus, in order to maintain a base level of sanity, my eternal pursuit for Being Organised is real.

Here are a few mantras and hacks that have helped me at least feel more organised:

Answer emails, texts and invitations the moment you read them!  The longer you leave them unanswered the more weight they place on your shoulders.  And it just keeps piling up.

Think of something you need 'to do' write it down.  On a scrap, on your hand. Keep a master list somewhere - I use my Bullet Journal.

Ticking things off you to do list is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It's been scientifically proven that you'll get a dopamine hit every time you make that tick. And you feel physically lighter!
Before getting to the meat of my day (the writing of the books) I now know I need to do a few things to clear my head first.  Admin things, preparation things, creative things. For me its a form of meditation.  Cleansing of the creative palette.

Once the preparation is done - unplug.  Switch off.  Put your head down and work.  Distraction is the key to your undoing.

I'm a big one for finding your bliss and swimming in it till you're all pruney. So ditch the clutter and surround yourself with things that give you joy.  Lighter and brighter all the way, baby.

And if anyone has a magical piece of organisational advice to add, please share!  My learning on this score will never be done.

- - - - - -

Anyone coming to the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Brisbane this month, I'm holding a workshop entitled The Organised Writer in which I'll share hints and hacks to help others like me to organise their space, their time and their heads in order to write more, write clean, write better.  Head over to The Organised Writer facebook page for more.