So I’ve been a journalist for…let’s see. Almost 23 years. I started my career in radio, then worked at a really small weekly newspaper in Massachusetts, then at small dailies in New England. Eventually I made my way to the (then) St. Petersburg Times and to The Associated Press, where I am now.
Along the way I’ve thought about writing books. Non-fiction. True crime. And romances. I’ve always been a fan of the romance genre. I like sexy, smart books. Even as a teenager, my favorite book was Fear of Flying by Erica Jong – not exactly a romance, but almost. The romances with strong heroines are my catnip. I’m of the firm belief that writing a romance novel is a feminist act.
As author Sarah MacLean says: “the heroine is the hero of the story and she is taking action.”
This summer I began toying around with a romance story. I somehow had the space in my brain to think about a fictional tale of two young reporters. I wrote the first chapter, then another, then another. Eventually I enrolled in a Media Bistro class taught by the very talented Susan Squires, who has published lots of smart romance novels. She was kind and encouraging and didn’t laugh at me. I’ve learned a lot from her about conflict and story structure.
Fast forward a few months. My first few chapters are a finalist in a contest. An editor at Entangled Publishing has asked for the full manuscript. I actually finished the manuscript. I’m tweaking (thanks to my talented copy editor Carol Druga) and rewriting the manuscript and have an idea for a second book. It’s pretty damned exciting.
I’ve joined Romance Writers of America and met lots of really wonderful and talented women (Hi Kate, Tina and Leona!) and have learned a lot about writing just for fun, not because there’s a deadline. But I’m also looking at journalism in new ways. If nothing else comes from this project, I have a renewed sense of excitement about my job as a reporter because I’m writing creatively in my free time.
My novel, Uncovered, is about a rookie reporter in Florida who meets a mysterious Italian man while covering a plane crash. (No. It’s not an autobiography). It’s in the New Adult romance genre, which means it’s a coming-of-age tale about a young woman in her first job, falling in love for the first time and breaking away from her family’s values and traditions.
The heroine is Skylar Shaw. She’s 22. She in love with Florida, her job at a small newspaper and a handsome Italian man.
Here’s an excerpt.
I turned off my car and hobbled into Greenway, the upscale health food store that smelled like fresh-cut flowers and strawberries. Note to self: don’t wear three-inch heels to press conferences in Florida in August. My feet were swollen and achy.
I scooped up a container of my favorite greens at the to-go counter and wandered over to the produce department. Fresh guacamole and tortilla chips sounded like good comfort food. I dropped a bulb of garlic in the basket. Shopping here was like a religious experience because the vegetables and fruits always seemed to sparkle while gorgeous Baroque music wafted throughout the store. I was squeezing the Haas avocados for ripeness when I heard a voice.
“Skylar Shaw.” I looked up, startled. It was him. The guy from The Sanctuary who wouldn’t talk to me after the plane crash.
I froze, my hand on an avocado.
He gave me a full, seductive grin. It was the first time I had seen him smile, and oh my God, it was glorious. Like someone had sent the best-looking man to the health food store for my viewing pleasure. The produce misters blasted fine spray onto the nearby organic micro-greens, as if the guy was so hot that the sprinkler system came on to extinguish an invisible blaze. I suppressed a giggle at the thought.
I wondered if he was going to be a jerk again. He looked happy to see me.
He wore dark blue gym shorts and a white t-shirt that had the word “Napoli” in black on the chest. I saw a few letters of his tattoo peeking out from his shirtsleeve. He wore flip-flops and unlike the other day, he had dark stubble on his face.
I lamely attempted to flirt. Why, I’m not sure, since my effort had been so dismal after the plane crash.
“Oh. Hi. I didn’t recognize you with your shirt on.”
His eyes widened. He liked that. I could tell because he laughed.
“You’ve been doing a great job with all of the plane crash stories,” he said in that sexy accent. “I’ve been reading you in the paper every day. Your articles are very detailed and well written. Lots of sources. Impressive.”
He’s been reading me in the paper. That might be the hottest thing any guy has ever said to me. My words. In his brain.
“No thanks to you,” I said, laughing. “For all I know, you were the best source there.”
“Maybe I was. But I owe you an apology. I’m afraid I wasn’t polite to you that day. I’m sorry.”
I shrugged. “Oh. It’s okay. I’m a reporter. I’m used to people saying mean things to me. Or weird things. Or nothing at all.”
“I’m just glad you didn’t put me in the paper. Thank you for that.”
I tilted my head and opened my mouth to ask a question but he derailed me by sticking his hand out.
“I’m Luca. Luca De Rossi.”
Luca. What a sexy name. Italian. I rolled it around in my mind. Luca.
My hand was still on the avocado, squeezing it in a death grip. He looked much friendlier today, and I wondered why, since I was a sweaty mess.
I released the avocado and slipped my palm into his. Luca’s hand was big and swallowed mine in a firm grip. I wondered what it would feel like if he grabbed my body with that kind of force.
“I’m Skylar,” I said. I had momentarily forgotten that he already knew my name. It was embarrassing that I was giggling out loud. Raised by a feminist, I was not brought up to giggle like a helpless girl around men.
I conjured my best, professional voice and looked deep into his eyes. “You already knew that, though. From my byline.”
“Yes,” he laughed. “You’re in the paper every day.”
He didn’t let go of his hand when we stopped shaking. I didn’t, either. A warm tingle spread from my fingers, up my arm and into my body.
“I’m just getting off work. The governor was on the island today at a memorial for the plane crash victims and I had to cover the service and news conference. I think it was totally more of a campaign stop for the governor, though. He didn’t seem like he cared too much about the victims.”
Like he’s interested in the governor. Maybe I should shut up now.
He still had that delicious half-smile on his face. “Politicians. Can’t trust any of them. They’re all the same, in every country in the world, no?”
His eyes unlocked from mine and his gaze traveled to my lips, then my breasts, then further down to my hips. He quickly looked up at my face. I was a little shocked that he checked me out so obviously.
“I’m glad to see you aren’t in tatters today, Skylar.”
I bit my bottom lip and smiled. He seemed so casually confident, with more than a touch of ultra-masculine edge in his voice. Even though he wore gym clothes, he commanded attention with his dramatic features and amused half-grin. I wasn’t used to a man being this bold with his eyes or his words, and felt like I only had dealings with college boys up till this moment. Boys being the operative word.
I was warm all over, even though the market was air-conditioned. Was that a bead of sweat running down the back of my neck? I had a vision of his tongue in the same place.
Since he was being flirtatious, I would be too. Or at least try. Flirting usually doesn’t come easily to me. I’m more of the serious type.
“I didn’t have to slip through any fences today, so my clothes are intact.”
He grinned again and looked like he wanted to consume me.
“And what are you making for dinner tonight, Skylar?” He glanced in my basket. “Garlic. Well. You won’t be going on any dates tonight.” He opened his mouth in a lazy smile and his tongue slowly licked the corner of his mouth.
We could fix that, I wanted to say. But didn’t.